' ' Cinema Romantico: A Toast to Kylie on Her 50th

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Toast to Kylie on Her 50th

This blog needs no excuse to write about Kylie Minogue. I mean, we are not shy about trying to find excuses to write about her, of course, concocting all manner of inane hypotheticals to work her way into this space. We have written less about all these “Star Wars” sequels and spinoffs combined than we did about Kylie Minogue’s 60 second appearance in “San Andreas.” Dwayne Johnson, after all, is like The Rock he is sometimes called, like a whole hulking planet, one you see right up close, whereas Kylie is like a star, so small yet so bright. And maybe that’s why the movies have never been able to contain her; the screen amplifies everyone, and if you amplify Kylie too much at one time, the sheer wattage would blind you.

Even so, in her scattershot silver screen appearances she has mostly always imbued them with her patented brand of je ne sais quoi. “Moulin Rouge” is high, believe you, me, before Kylie appears as The Absinthe Fairy for a walk-off sing-along, but, like when the Harlem Globetrotters used to bring out a ladder to extend themselves higher than the basket itself, she briefly takes Baz Luhrmann’s epic higher. “Bio-Dome” is pretty low, and while Kylie turning up might not be enough to save the proceedings – she isn’t a good enough actor if only because she really isn’t an actor at all – she still offers a brief pop diva redemption. She doesn’t necessarily need to offer her musical skillz because her glowing, figuratively gold flake dusted presence is enough, like an embodiment, say, of Elvis’s “Return to Sender” popping up amidst the dreck of “Girls! Girls! Girls!”

That infusion of her specially made angelicized (sic) electrolytes, however, just as ably describes her aura across the entire cultural, pop or otherwise, spectrum. Consider this Scissor Sisters performance at Glastonbury where Kylie emerges from the wings to sing along on “Any Which Way.” I mean, the Scissor Sisters could have handled this on their own, obviously, but Kylie becomes this kind of black-clad additive burst, a mini, in-set fireworks show of gyrations, sing-alongs and overall Kylie-ness. There is a remarkable Rufus Wainwright quote in The Guardian from a dozen years ago when he says Kylie is the gay shorthand for joy. I cannot comment on the gay part, but I do know that Kylie is my own shorthand for joy, and this Scissor Sisters’ cameo exemplifies it. Of course, she is shorthand for so much more.

I knew about Kylie for a long time, of course. I was listening to Casey Kasem when “Locomotion” was on the Hot 100; I watched the Sydney Olympic Closing Ceremonies when Australia’s real Queen turned up to sing. But I never really heard her until “Can’t Get You Outta My Head” and “Love at First Sight” invaded American airwaves in 2002. I had a serious earworm relationship with those two songs. But then, I have, like, 75 earworms a year; these songs had staying power. More than staying power, though, they had a deeper meaning that took years not so much to extract as simply…emerge. That meaning, in retrospect, took shape when I left a Jewel concert in the summer of 2002 at the Des Moines Civic Center and heard “Love at First Sight” emanating from some downtown after hours establishment.

It’s a little embarrassing out here in the iPhone-enhanced future to admit how much I once enjoyed Jewel, but these were the late 90s and the early aughts, and, as they say, it was a different time. And I was a different person. I was a twenty-something idiot, one emotionally, physically rambling about who kept screwing up the railroad switches of life. I didn’t know where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, or who I was, which are all ancient, boring refrains, assuredly, particularly for us moronic white males, but then that’s why I heard Jewel singing “But your heart like grape gum on the ground” and nodded along while drinking Keystone Light from a can and being self-consciously sad.

I enjoyed the Jewel show that night in Des Moines (she was funny – like, acerbically funny in-between songs, whether you want that to be true or not), but I remember thinking as notes of “Love at First Sight” wafted through the summer air afterwards that I enjoyed them more than anything I’d just heard; I realized I enjoyed “Love at First Sight” more than any song I’d heard all year. So I dug up Kylie’s back catalogue, listening to “Light Years” (2000) and “Rhythm of Love” (1990), which had a lightness of being, one that agreed with some part of me I was struggling to access, and this effortless, glorious sense of being nothing more than what they were.

If she dabbles in genres and personas, what always cements her music as Kylie is, well, Kylie. Like on “One Boy Girl”, a funky number that goes so far as to include a mid-song rap to try and capitalize on the way rap had entered the mainstream in the 1980s. Kylie, however, thankfully, does not rap herself; she leaves that to The Poetess. Instead Kylie becomes something like a milquetoast hype woman, just responding to The Poetess’s rhymes. It’s wonderful, in its own way, with Ms. Minogue not trying to be something she’s not, which she never ever is, no matter what twists and turns her album production she takes, no matter what outlandish costumes she so wonderfully dresses up in. “Did I forget to mention that I found a new direction?” she rhetorically asks on her gold hot pants masterpiece “Spinning Around”. “And it leads back to me?”

I want to make something clear – Kylie was not the catalyst for personal change. That would be unfair, reductive, and, above all, ridiculous. But as I came into my own in the twenty-tens, with Kylie’s “Aphrodite” (along with the aforementioned “Light Years” and “Rhythm of Love” comprising my tri-headed Favorite Kylie Album) there in 2010 to melodically signal land ho!, I realized the spirit of Kylie’s music had always been there, improbably running parallel to my chicken-scratched journey, even though I could not always hear it, waiting for my mind to pick up the frequency of my self. It’s why I’ve never stopped listening to her.

I’ve had a lot of musical flings in my times, bands I fiercely cherish for months, even years, and then just sort of drift away from. Even ones I still love on an emotional level, the music doesn’t instinctively take hold. Not like the title track to “Light Years”, which I can go months, months and months, without hearing and then just fall right back into. That song, one of my 127 favorite Kylie songs, imagines some metaphorical, futuristic rocket ship – “Welcome to KM air” – with Kylie Minogue as the self-professed “purser”, one who promises to take good care of us. I always thought of her that way, as my spiritual caretaker. But now, here, today, on Kylie’s 50th birthday, I realize that’s not quite right.

Kylie’s music is not my purser; Kylie’s music is my pulse.

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