The red carpet was a dazzling array of the usual celebrity clutter. An actor wore a big hat, a singer fell over, a TV presenter made a bold political statement. Cameras flashed as cameras do, and for a second, a minute, an hour, it truly felt like every pair of eyes in the world were cast down here at the Staples Center, Los Angeles.
Waiting in the back of a limousine half a mile from the carpet itself was Liza Minnelli. She was here at the Grammy Awards to receive a lifetime achievement award. Liza Minnelli quivered slightly as she absent-mindedly messed about with her Balenciaga dress. Nervousness wasn't a feeling she was particularly acquainted with, but she thought that the fact her stomach was undulating and her mouth hangover-parched was a sign that she might just be experiencing it.
Nerves were to be expected, of course, for this was a genuine honou, a full stop on a career of high after high. Diva, icon, the greatest vocalist in dance music history—she had done all this and more. She was Liza fucking Minnelli and tonight was her time to shine. The door opens. The lenses zoom and snap. In that split-second she feels like she'll never breathe again, like she's about to be sucked out into the endless ocean on a fearsome current. The split-second passes. She broadcasts a million-dollar smile. She is Liza fucking Minnelli and these are her people.
Liza Minnelli is an icon. Liza Minnelli is a diva. Liza Minnelli is not generally regarded as the greatest vocalist in dance music history, and nor is she a Grammy Awards lifetime achievement recipient. There was no limousine and no adoring crowds, no paparazzi or fawning flash-bulbs. In another world, though, there was all that and more. In another world Liza Minnelli is the voice you hear on every hands-in-the-air summer screamer, the siren singing her way into ecstatic raptures in clubs the world over. And it's that world I'm homesick for.
This isn't just baseless fantasy or trite conjecture, the witterings of an addled mind that steadfastly refuses to accept reality as-is. In 1989, after Cabaret and before David Gest, Minnelli released Results, a record of freestyle-inflected bombastic hi-NRG floorfillers and Hollywood romance that was largely written and entirely produced by the Pet Shop Boys back in their imperial heyday, when everything Chris and Neil touched was 24 carat gold. It is patchy, spotty, and often frustrating, but at its best—the towering, world class "Losing My Mind," the swaying Broadway lilt of "So Sorry, I Said," the technicolor slush of her "Rent" cover—Results is a tempting glimpse into alternate reality where Judy Garland's daughter is the voice of every night out you've ever had.
Results sees Minnelli playing a character she seems to have played a lot: the spurned, sad, slightly crushed lover left to her own romantic devices. That character resonates in the confused world of clubbing, a place where lust and longing coagulate, accentuating those sensations to the point of near-unbearableness. Very few places on earth allow us the level of freedom that a good club does; down there in the dark, under the disco lights we can reinvent who we are at 120BPM. We seek out new adventures and mourn those that ended in miserable failure. Which might be why the human voice cuts through us so readily: we're not alone here, after all, in neither our sorrows nor pleasures.
Liza Minnelli doesn't possess the world's best voice, that much is true. What she does have—and what she shares with a lot of the singers of the stage and the silver screen—is gusto, grit, and the kind of end of the pier glamor that sounds best on those nights when all seems lost and you're gripping onto anything—booze, cigarettes, an old friend's old boyfriend—for dear life.
Results showcases those quavers and cracks impeccably, with the PSB production—all MIDI-rococo and hyper-unreality—buttressing the whole thing in a knowingly cloying manner. The record makes you want to imagine the world where every heartbreaking slab of disco you've ever tried not to weep to at 3AM is sung by Liza Minnelli. You find yourself reconfiguring songs you thought you knew inside out just to slot her in. Could she pull off the Skirk-ian melodrama of Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way?" Absolutely. Would she inhabit "If You Could Read My Mind," with as much painful pride as Viola Wills? Undoubtedly. How much would I pay for a rendition of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "The Love I Lost?" Here, here's my entire bank balance. Take it, it's yours.
It isn't all a sad and sorry tale of another set of regrets hovering into view, though. The aforementioned "Losing My Mind," is a triumphant stomp of a thing, an OTT ode to the maddening powers of love. Few songs sound as close to their subject as that one. In its throbs and stabs, its rushes and crescendos, it encapsulates the unforgettable feeling of total subsumption that comes with falling for someone. The nights are sleepless and we really do find ourselves in a middle of the day daze, wracked with fear of the whole thing unravelling it before it's begun; the daydream shattering front of the one o'clock news. She instills the whole thing with a nervous kind of joy—hovering on the precipice with a smile on her face.
And that, of course, makes you want to reimagine her as a house diva, belting out piano-jam accompaniments like her life depended on it. You sit closer to the speakers and suddenly it's Liza Minnelli you hear on "I Get Lifted" or "You Gave Me Love" or "Don't You Want It," and you'll hope it stays that way forever. You begin to reimagine music as you know it; songs take on new lives, shed old skins.
One morning you wake up and see Liza Minnelli everywhere. She's there in and on every 12" you own; stuck deep in the recesses of every old laptop you've lumped under the bed; the sound of every radio station you can tune in and out of. It is wonderful, like life turned up to ten at all times. In reality we have a single spotty record; in our dreams we have a whole new world. Opt out of reality for bit. Join me and Liza. We're having a great time. We might, of course, be losing our minds. But who's judging, anyway?