2016 was a shit year, there is a clear consensus amongst likeminded individuals on that assessment. This isn't a post about the details of Brexit or the impending Trump presidency (I threw up a little in my mouth as I typed that) or any other disastrous event of 2016. No, this is about a song, no, a musical, based on a book, set in a time that could be today but was over eight five years ago. A time that would alter the course of humanity, warfare and challenge right and wrong. Yes, its Cabaret.
Cabaret needs no real introduction. But in case you have never seen or heard it, it stars Joel Grey (Master of Ceremonies,) Michael York (Brian Roberts) and Liza Minnelli (Sally Bowles). It was loosely based on Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin part of his well known Berlin Novels and I Am A Camera, a 1951 also based on Isherwood. It was made into a musical in 1966 and into a film in 1972 (not debating its quality either). The story is set in the final days of Weimar Berlin and juxtaposes the excesses of the time with the upheaval of political violence. Caught in between, are star crossed lovers and "everyday" people whose allegiances change from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin formed a part of my MA dissertation and yes I could go into the academic arguments, but frankly I left academia behind years ago and we're discussing Cabaret, not Goodbye to Berlin.
This past December, hubby and I found ourselves in London at a drag show off Trafalgar Square in which Cabaret was sung by the hostess; the crowd sung along loud and drunk, legs kicking Broadway style (as you do). Let's face it, it's a song that never fails to get the crowd going. A few weeks later we were in Plymouth and found ourselves at drag karaoke, where again "Cabaret" was sung by the hostess, as well as a cringe worthy take of Mein Herr by yours truly. I need to brush up on my German, seriously. A week later, Cabaret makes an appearance at drag karaoke again. Hubby had never seen the film all the way through so Christmas night after a lovely and relaxing meal with a dear friend, we decided to rectify that. I hadn't seen it in at least three years, the last time being on an afternoon when we lived in Berlin and I felt like I was on death's door. Hubby enjoyed it a lot more than he thought and was struck by the parallels to today's events.
There are two scenes in the film that stood out and made the hair on our arms stand up. The scene in which Brian confronts his fellow boarders in the flat about their growing sympathy for the Nazis. Their response being that as it is in the papers, it must be true. Well of course that doesn't resonate at all in the modern world, now does it? The second, and to me the most haunting scene in that film is the biergarten scene in which the Hitler Youth sing Tomorrow Belongs to Me. Throughout the film you see the excesses and fun pinned against political flyers, deaths in the background but when this scene passes, you know that the end has finally come. It is a feeling that is too close to home these days. That said, I'm not ready to throw in the towel and call this the end just yet.
Before the end though, we return to the song in question and the namesake of the musical and film, Cabaret. I couldn't help but wonder why this song kept following us? Why now? I am by no means suggesting that the song is a call to arms. I do though have a major belief in synchronicity and it is something that as I get older, I find it harder to ignore. I wonder if the gay community is becoming aware of the urgency of the political situation around us. I wonder if that feeling is growing even amongst the less political members of the gay community. I wonder if subconsciously this is a musical call to solidarity. I wonder if we are remembering that once these numbers were sung too and performed in illegal spaces when living our very lives was illegal. Most of all though, I wonder if it is time to look back on our struggles and take strength from that journey, that fight to protect ourselves going forward.
What I don't doubt is that we should heed the call of the song and remember that there is no good being alone in your room, not in 2017. This is a year we need to lock arms and kick our heels up; together.
John Lugo-Trebble considers this more of a space to engage personal reflections and memories with connections to music and film.