Roses Turn (the re-invention anthem, out of order on purpose):
Mama’s talkin’ loud. Mama’s doin’ fine. Mama’s gettin’ hot. Mama’s goin’ stong. Mama’s movin’ on. Mama’s all alone. Mama doesn’t care. Mama’s lettin’ loose. Mama’s got the stuff. Mama’s lettin’ go. Mama? Mama’s got the stuff. Mama’s gotta move. Mama’s gotta go. Mama? Mama? Mama’s gotta let go. Why did I do it? What did it get me? Scrapbooks full of me in the background. Give ’em love and what does it get ya? What does it get ya? One quick look as each of ’em leaves you. All your life and what does it get ya? Thanks a lot and out with the garbage, they take bows and you’re battin’ zero.
Ya either got it, or ya ain’t. And, boys, I got it! Ya like it? Well, I got it! Some people got it and make it pay. Some people can’t even give it away. This people’s got it and this people’s spreadin’ it around! You either have it or you’ve had it!
Well, someone tell me, when is it my turn? Don’t I get a dream for myself? Starting now it’s gonna be my turn. Gangway, world, get off of my runway! Starting now I bat a thousand! This time, boys, I’m taking the bows and everything’s coming up Rose! Everything’s coming up Roses! Everything’s coming up Roses this time for me! For me! For me! For me! For me! For me! For me! Yeah!
The general patriarchic summary of the stage play Gypsy often describes the mother, Rose, as a self centered harpy- but as I watched once again with an older, and more nuanced eye I saw the subtlety and wit that would make Nora Ephron (RIP) proud. There is a reason the character of Rose can be on stage for almost the entire show and still be engaging. If she truly were a one-note character largely made up of a self-centered harpy the show would not work. The greater themes about parenting, aging, and the necessity of adapting are what keep us engaged as they play out in a larger than life woman and her relationships with those she loves. That Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurent got it right is really impressive (and that some of their other work is such schlock makes me think they both might just BE versions of the Rose character). Clive Barnes understood the psychological and entertainment brilliance of Rose when he said she was one of the few truly complex characters in the American Musical (Thank you Wikipedia for reminding me of this review: Barnes, Clive. ” ‘Gypsy’ Bounces Back With Zest and Lilt”. The New York Times. September 24, 1974).
While Rose is deeply and uniquely gendered, I think the character and the struggles she experiences (warts and all) as well as the impulse for reinvention goes beyond gender and is a truly humanist construction. For decades swaths of people in LBGT communities have been drawn to the story of theater, parental conflict and the character of Rose. So much so, fandom of Rose has become a sort of hair pin, and I would like to think I can make a claim to affinity for Rose without the hair pin, and reappropriate her for middle aged women.
I am struck by how well the tension between Gypsy and Rose captures the continuum all women face. We start out as young women, exploring our lives as sexual beings, pretty girls (if you recall the mirror scene), resisting the objectification that comes with that time of life, and fashioning our presence as our own. Slowly, over time, we grow and change and there is an epiphany many, many of us go through when we sing the Roses Turn song in our own way as we become a Rose, and leave Gypsy behind. Oh, and all that “Mama’s getting’ hot”? Layered meanings, folks- and the multiyear wind up to menopause is in it.
The necessity in middle age of taking stock and reinventing ourselves is not special to women, but can play out in very different and gendered ways that Roses Turn deftly captures. What superficially may seem grasping, even delusional, is not. The song is fully self-aware and instead of devolving into self-pity, asserts the character as adaptive and open to a new time in life with fierceness, intelligence, charm, and gusto (but does not avoid the attendant sadness and regret either). We should all be so lucky to have the bravado of Rose!
I am still on the continuum, shifting. I think of all the Red Hat ladies who designated women my age as Pink Ladies, not yet old enough, not yet ready to wear the brash, assertive red. Aging and parenting can have dark, cruel, cruel sides for women. Marketers count on that. But it is the infinitely creative, funny, and strong presence of all the Roses I have known that provide my texts as I advance, and a bulwark against the all too common reductive, diminishing, and dismissive forces of culture towards middle aged women (in arenas of employment, entertainment, health care, and journalism especially).
I took great pleasure in watching Rosalind Russell belt out Roses Turn today. Pleasure of a complexity I never had before. I cant help but think so many of the women who stump and squawk about issues that force women into untenable corners (healthcare and abortion rights as one example) and are on the side of regressive, suppressive policies might gain something from watching Rose, and start to recognize the Roses in their lives, and in themselves.
There have been many extremely stressful, unasked for corners in the past few years and I am deeply grateful for the love and support of my husband, friends, and family. Huge holes in this blog are one example of the collateral effects. But today, this morning, if just for a little while, I am humming and singing to myself, Mama’s talkin’ loud. Mama’s doin’ fine. Mama’s gettin’ hot. Mama’s goin’ stong. Mama’s movin’ on. . .
Thank you Rose.
All you Roses, thank you.
To my peers, lets start to shimmy a little and get loud. . .