The first week of school at Syracuse University was overwhelming.
Nerves and insecurities were kicking into high gear as we unpacked our familiar belongings in this new unfamiliar place. As Pioneer stereos systems were being set up in dorm rooms, the recognizable sounds of “Smoke on the Water” and “Shambala” could be heard blaring through the dorm halls day and night, bonding the students.
My new roommate poked through my meager record collection disappointed at not finding at least one Allman Brothers album.
While other kids my age were unpacking their albums that invariably included Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Deep Purple’s Who Do We Think We Are, my collection of vinyl consisted of Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, The Best of Barbara Streisand and a comedy album of Joan Rivers entitled The Next to Last Joan Rivers Album.
My roommate eyed me warily. ( Was she rooming with a gay man?)
A Cut-Up on Vinyl
As other kids grooved to Grand Funk Rail Road, I cracked up to the biting wit of that brassy, raspy-voiced quintessential NY dame, Joan Rivers. Alice Cooper may have claimed “No more Mr. Nice Guy,” but no one was safe from Joan Rivers acerbic tongue.
Least of all herself.
Never shy about mining her own insecurities for a laugh, her sharp brand of self-deprecating humor inspired me, resonating with my own self doubts.
Defying the status qu0 she fearlessly critiqued our culture, thumbing her well turned nose at cultural expectations for women. Joan continually mocked her looks which in turn mocked the cultural expectations and pressures that drove women to worry about their looks and sex appeal in the first place.
Feminism made funny.
The Upstairs at the Downstairs
The well-played, well-worn album in question was a live recording from 1969 at the chic Upstairs at the Downstairs supper club in mid-town Manhattan.
Though Joan Rivers had her comedy roots in Greenwich village clubs like The Duplex, by 1969 after being a hit on the Tonight Show she had moved uptown to this club on West 56th Street.
Joan Rivers and the Big Apple
Sitting in my upstate NY college dorm room listening to River’s riffs, I would mentally transport myself to the cabaret scene of late 1960’s New York City far away from the freezing, fraternity antics of college.
My Huckapoo shirt and Landlubber bell bottoms would miraculously transform into some sophisticated Halston ultrasuede number.
Suddenly it would become New York at night. Despite the continual strikes and riots that plagued NYC that year, NY was still “Fun City”, swirling in excitement and adventure.
As my big checkered taxi would wind perilously in and out of traffic along noisy Sixth Avenue, until it turned up an attractive quiet side street lined with shops in remodeled town houses stopping in front number of 37 West 56th Street with the canopied entrance announcing “ The Upstairs at the Downstairs.”
A smiling uniformed doorman would graciously greet me, along with other couples arriving from Broadway shows or late dinners at Qua Vadis to be ushered inside to join the crowd waiting to ascend the circular marble staircase leading to the upstairs room where the show was about to begin
The upstairs room, formerly the sitting room of the mansion was lined with rich red fabric and softly lighted by glowing globes from the past century. Seated at a little tables, the would lights go down and the room would be taken over by a sheer force of comic energy as Joan Rivers appeared.
Yes, while others my age went to the dark side of the moon with Pink Floyd, I was happy to be sitting in the darkened room lit up with the light that was Joan Rivers.
Copyright (©) 2014 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved