I came across singalong piano bars, and gay piano bars in particular, in my first decade out, in what I now know to have been their dying days. There are still remnants here and there, particularly in New York City, but the world in which there is an assumed general cultural knowledge of singable songs suitable for a piano is pretty much gone. I suppose at the time I should have paid more attention to the fact that I was often the youngest person at the piano by perhaps thirty years and sometimes more, and thought about the longterm implications of this.
Early in my homosexual indoctrination I learned that there were two songs that gay men of the fifties took to their hearts as their own: "Secret Love" and "We Kiss in a Shadow". Many of the gay mens choruses have sung these songs, for that reason.
Once I had a secret love
That lived within the heart of me...
Well, of course. It's our story. Or it was.
But it's really "We Kiss in a Shadow" that gets to me. You have to imagine a bunch of well-groomed middle-aged men with ties, happily and sloppily drunk, sitting around the piano, singing this bit of Oscar Hammerstein as if their lives depended on it:
We kiss in a shadow,
We hide from the moon,
Our meetings are few,
And over too soon.
We speak in a whisper,
Afraid to be heard --
When people are near
We speak not a word!
Alone in our secret,
Together we sigh
For one smiling day to be free...
At this point the music swells up with all the emotion a heart can hold:
To kiss in the sunlight
And say to the sky:
"Behold and believe what you see!
Behold how my lover loves me!"
It's simple and it's corny but I think about those guys at the piano and the tears well up. Together we sigh for one smiling day to be free to kiss in the sunlight. Behold how my lover loves me!
It's the song Jack and Ennis would have sung if they'd listened to a different radio station.