Quiet Legend

Iconic crooner Johnny Mathis still has insecurities about music

 

2007-Pose-1
MATHIS EASY | For years, Mathis refrained from talking about his being gay, calling it a ‘generational thing.’ Now he laughs that, as a septuagenarian, there isn’t much to talk about anymore.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

 

In a career tenure exceeding 50 years, Johnny Mathis has touched many with his singing — witness his three Grammy Awards and a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records for having sold 350 million albums worldwide. It’s enough to make a man an icon.

You wouldn’t know it to talk to him. Without much ego, Mathis doesn’t deny or disparage his accomplishments, but neither does he relish them. It’s only when someone brings up his achievements that he thinks about what he’s done in the world.

“Once in a while, I’ll get an inkling of it,” he says. “The only time I get euphoric about my career is when people with extraordinary circumstances in their lives — illness, deaths, stuff like that — say how my music has helped along the way. You try to live up to some of this stuff and so you take care of these God-given talents. It can be a little humbling.”

When Mathis steps on the stage of the Meyerson this week for two concerts with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, it marks a homecoming of sorts. He was born in Gilmer and his memories of Texas include the same heat that Dallas has been beaten with this summer.; some things never change. Surprisingly, what has also remained the same are doubts about his own talents. The voice stuff, he’s got down; the rest — he’s working on those.

“I’ve always been insecure about not being a better musician,” the silk-voiced crooner admits. “I’m always a bit hesitant about my talents mostly because I wasn’t playing piano lessons or how to read music. I didn’t learn about harmony and theory and I was never good at that. That did tend to make me reticent in everyday life.”

That reticence extends to other areas. After famously coming out in the early 1980s in a interview with Us magazine, he soon after retracted it, due, he later explained, to death threats. When he later discussed his views on homosexuality, he said that some of his reluctance was generational.

Now, though, he has good humor about it, and with a quiet air of class, he stands for that community that felt they had to hide to get by.

“It was hard enough for my [gay] fans while growing in the business,” he recalls. “They treaded pretty lightly but they knew about me. I had their blessings and everybody pretty much knew what was going on. I never had any issues really with it but everybody then took it as their own business.”

He doesn’t go into any specifics about the current state of his private life, joking, “I’m 75 — what’s there to talk about?”

Last year, Mathis released Let it Be Me: Mathis in Nashville. Known for his jazz and pop standards like “Chances Are” and “Misty,” this collection of country classics may sound like a departure for Mathis, but he has made those tunes his own working in his sophisticated signature style without stripping away the heart of each track. The collection was a sort of tribute to his father.

“I was jazzed to be able to do those songs,” he points out. “My dad was born and raised in Texas and he was a singer and piano player. He would sing these songs and those were the first songs I remember hearing. Plus, I’ve always been a fan. I play golf with Larry Gatlin and Vince Gill and we’re all sort of on the same page musically.” (The album earned him another Grammy nomination for best traditional pop vocal album earlier this year.)

With all his superstar friends, awards and concerts, Mathis doesn’t forget he’s a Texan. At one time, he might have, but a different sort of pride has surfaced within him.

“ I love that I was born in Gilmer,” he declares. “Because we were poor, we just had each other. I always thought I wouldn’t tell anybody I was from Texas because I thought it sounded ragtag. As I grew, I discovered a certain sophistication about it. Then I became proud of the fact — of who I am, what I am and where I’m from.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 19, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Sunny and sharing: Chaz Bono is a new man

Transitions

Transition by Chaz Bono (with Billie Fitzpatrick), (2011, Dutton), $26; 245 pp.

The face in the mirror is instantly recognizable: The chin, the eyes that droop when fatigued, the mouth that’s etched parentheses around itself. The hair, they eyes, the nose. But what the little girl America knew as Chastity Bono saw on the outside was not what she felt inside.

In Transition, the biological daughter of pop icons Sonny and Cher explains what it’s like to feel like you’re in the wrong body, and how a tiny Hollywood darling went from daughter to son.

On the wall of his home, Chaz Bono has a picture of himself and his parents, taken when he was a toddler. They all look happy, though Chaz says he doesn’t remember the day it was  taken —or much else of his childhood, for that matter. What he does remember is that he always felt like a boy.

As a kid, he dressed in boy duds as often as possible and answered to a male nickname. He played with boys at school, including his best friend. Nobody thought much about it, he says — that’s just how it was.

Puberty was rough; eventually, Bono came out as lesbian, but something still wasn’t quite right. He didn’t identify with women, gay or otherwise, and distant feelings of masculinity colored his relationships with them and with his family. Still, he lived his life as a woman: falling in love, starting a band, buying a house and trying to stay out of the public eye.

Bono’s father seemed supportive of his lesbianism; his mother had trouble with it.  Happiness eluded Bono so he turned to drugs to cope with the frustration. By then, though, he thought he knew what he needed to do.

On March 20, 2009, he “drove myself to the doctor’s office… I felt only confident that what I was doing was right. … After all the years of fear, ambivalence, doubts and emotional torture, the day had finally come. I was on testosterone, and I have never looked back — not once.”

Chaz says he was never very good at transitions, though he did a pretty good job at this one (with a few bumps along the way).

Transition is filled with angst, anger, sadness and pain, but topped off with wonderment and joy. It’s also repetitious, contains a few delicately squirmy moments, and its occasional bogginess is a challenge for wandering minds.

For wondering minds, however, Chaz is quick to defend and explain away his family’s reluctance to accept his gender reassignment, but he’s also willing to admit to being hurt by it. Still, contentment and awe shine forth at the end of this book, and readers will breathe a sigh of relief for it.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 27, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

BREAKING: Appeals court grants stay of Prop 8 ruling; gay marriages won’t resume Wednesday

A federal appeals court reportedly has granted a stay of Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional. This means same-sex marriages will not resume in California on Wednesday, the deadline for Walker’s previous stay to expire. From the National Center for Lesbian Rights at about 6 p.m. Dallas time on Twitter: “BREAKING: 9th Cir grants stay but puts case on expedited schedule & orders parties to address whether #Prop8 proponents have standing.”

This is a developing story. Stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates.

UPDATE: Some early analysis of the appeals court’s decision courtesy of the Courage Campaign:

Three things:

First, and drastically most importantly, the Court granted the stay. Consequently the thousands of couples who were waiting for the day of equality will have to wait at least a few more months until December.

Second, the Court wants this case to be resolved quickly. Appellants’ opening brief is due in just a month and the hearing will happen on December 6th. This is lightning quick for a Federal Court of Appeals, and it’s a very good sign. The Court understands that this case is important, and it doesn’t want it to linger.

Third, the Court specifically orders the Prop 8 proponents to show why this case should not be dismissed for lack of standing. Here’s a discussion of the standing issue. This is very good news for us. It shows that the Court has serious doubts about whether the Appellants have standing. Even better, the Court is expressing an opinion that its inclination is that the case should be dismissed. That being said, the panel that issued this Order (the motions panel) is not the same panel that will hear that case on the merits. The merits panel will be selected shortly before December 6th and we don’t know the three judges who will be on the merits panel. But this is a very good sign that the appeal could be dismissed on the ground of standing alone.

UPDATE NO. 2: Here’s a statement from the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is representing the same-sex couples challenging Prop 8:

Today the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit set a highly expedited schedule for briefing and argument of proponents’ appeal from the district court’s August 4, 2010 decision striking down California’s Proposition 8 as an unconstitutional violation of the rights of gay and lesbian citizens to due process and equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment, and it granted proponents’ request to stay the judgment of the district court’s order while the appeal is decided. This means that although Californians who were denied equality by Proposition 8 cannot marry immediately, the Ninth Circuit, like the district court, will move swiftly to address and decide the merits of Plaintiffs’ claims on their merits. Today’s order can be found here:  http://www.equalrightsfoundation.org/legal-filings/9th-circuit-ruling-on-motion-for-stay-pending-appeal/

“We are very gratified that the Ninth Circuit has recognized the importance and pressing nature of this case and the need to resolve it as quickly as possible by issuing this extremely expedited briefing schedule. As Chief Judge Walker found, Proposition 8 harms gay and lesbian citizens each day it remains on the books.   We look forward to moving to the next stage of this case,” said Attorney Theodore B. Olson.

“Today’s order from the Ninth Circuit for an expedited hearing schedule ensures that we will triumph over Prop. 8 as quickly as possible. This case is about fundamental constitutional rights and we at the American Foundation for Equal Rights, our Plaintiffs and our attorneys are ready to take this case all the way through the appeals court and to the United States Supreme Court,” said Chad Griffin, Board President, American Foundation for Equal Rights.

UPDATE NO. 3: We’ve posted a full story here.

—  John Wright