Sunday, March 3, 2013

THE PERFECT GAY CRUSH SONG


I mentioned that a Barbra Streisand concert helped me come up with the idea for Crush Month. When she sang “The Way He Makes Me Feel” from YENTL, it triggered vivid memories of how that song brought on butterflies every time I heard it. Thankfully, it still does. Nervous little schoolgirls don’t have a monopoly on fluttery feelings that come with a crush and, if we’re lucky, love.

Released in 1983 when I’d just turned nineteen and was still obediently holed up in The Closet, the movie YENTL allowed me to sit in a crowded movie theater in Fort Worth, Texas and gleefully imagine a longing being realized. Barbra’s Yentl Mendel disguised herself as a young man for the purpose of getting an education. An unexpected consequence was that Yentl developed growing feelings for Mandy Pantinkin’s Avigdor but she could not express them, in part, because she was portraying a he.

The movie is further strengthened by a collection of songs featuring the brilliantly penned lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman. “The Way He Makes Me Feel” proved to be the standout among standouts.

There’s no chill and yet I shiver
There’s no flame and yet I burn.
I’m not sure what I’m afraid of
And yet I’m trembling.
There's no storm, yet I hear thunder.
And I'm breathless, why, I wonder.
Weak one moment,
Then the next I'm fine.
I feel as if I'm falling every time
I close my eyes
And flowing through my body
Is a river of surprise.
Feelings are awakening
I hardly recognize as mine.
What are all these new sensations?
What's the secret they reveal?
I'm not sure I understand,
But I like the way I feel.
Oh, why is it that every time
I close my eyes he's there?
The water shining on his skin,
The sunlight in his hair?
And all the while I'm thinking things
That I can never share with him.
I'm a bundle of confusion,
Yet it has a strange appeal.
Did it all begin with him,
And the way he makes me feel?
I like the way he makes me feel...

I have never linked the song with a particular man. It was enough that YENTL provided a frame of reference and genuine inspiration regarding same-sex love.

As I watched the movie, I saw the objective beauty in Amy Irving. She was as beautiful as any woman could be. In spite of that, I recognized that I would never feel a longing for a woman the way I would for a man.

I simultaneously watched two versions of the movie. In the first, I viewed the director’s cut and enjoyed the humor that came in all the misunderstandings resulting from Yentl being a woman disguised as a man. The alternate version was my own cut, in which the title character was never female, but simply a man, processing feelings for a man. It worked perfectly. Streisand in male drag became more iconic than ever. She/He gave me hope that one day I would find my own Mandy Pantinkin (though hopefully softer and kinder than the actor’s real life personality).

I am still hoping and I remain mesmerized by this song.

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