Barbra, the Agassi and the ecstasy

WHEN Andre Agassi gave Barbra Streisand a special little wave on Wednesday at Wimbledon, all eyes were on Barbra. Nothing like this had happened in tennis circles since the Seventies, when Chris Evert dated Burt Reynolds. Wearing a nautical blazer and little sailor hat, Barbra, near tears, was heard to mutter 'One more, baby]' But not even the power of love could help Andre, as the tabloids noted, not even the power of Barbra.

Still, he has the comfort of what he terms a 'very special friendship'. He has the respect of the woman he has called 'a real good friend, more than that I cannot say'. Maybe it rained on Andre's parade on Wednesday, but as consolation, he has the attention of America's one great female superstar, and a nice Jewish girl besides.

There was a gasp when Barbra arrived at Wimbledon, just as there was a communal intake of breath when she appeared at Bill Clinton's inaugural in January. That night in Washington, the place went nuts. Kids, oldies, rockers, gays broke into endless applause. 'I was singing a lullaby to my four-year-old goddaughter,' she is saying and you think: somewhere there's a kid who gets sung to sleep by Barbra.

In her current, sometimes criticised, role as friend to President Clinton, she is to him perhaps as both Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe were to Jack Kennedy. In the past few months she has dined at the White House an awful lot. It has been even been hinted that she was somehow implicated in the Bill Clinton Haircut Disaster in which the President kept LA's airport tied up while he got a designer trim. But if you thought you might run into Barbra, wouldn't you?

Streisand is the only performer in this half of the century to approach Sinatra as a cultural phenomenon. She is 51. Back on Broadway, just released her 50th album] She has made scores of television specials and dozens of movies - Funny Girl, Hello Dolly, Prince of Tides. Obsessed for years with Yentl, she got it made. It was, as the critic Pauline Kael wrote, 'rhapsodic, yet informal'. She could have been talking about Streisand, who has always known how to puncture her own pomposity, with the gawky comedy and self-deprecation of the girl from Brooklyn who put on second-hand clothes and changed the way America saw its stars and its style.

Like Sinatra, Streisand is absolutely urban, and quintessentially ethnic. There was nothing white bread about the Jewish girl from New York City who started singing in the Sixties wearing vintage rags and her own nose. Sinatra would not change his name, Streisand would not change her nose; it set them both on a course that would buy them the right to do and say whatever they wanted. Both were also extraordinary talents.

Her voice, as someone has said, was pre-rock, almost pre-pop. She was as universally accessible as the great stars of a different age, most of all Fanny Brice. It was no coincidence that Streisand became a superstar as Brice in Funny Girl. First on Broadway, then in the movies, she seemed actually to inhabit Fanny Brice.

Call Me Barbra and her other early albums were haunting, evocative, funny. She sang show tunes, love songs and ditties such as Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf and Happy Days are Here Again, the unofficial anthem of the Democratic Party. People, her My Way, still causes goose pimples.

She went to Hollywood and took up with her hairdresser, Jon Peters, who would become one of Hollywood's biggest producers. At Oscar time, she could out-Cher Cher. It became fashionable to trash her; she had become a sacred monster.

Streisand is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, campaigning for women, for gays. If she occasionally lapses into feminist psychobabble, or Broadway uplift, who cares? If she calls Andre Agassi 'the Zen Master of tennis', why not?

Streisand has persevered. Somewhere along the way, she became an icon. There have been rumours she might run for the Senate.

When she appeared at the inaugural concert, it had been a decade since she'd sung in public. As the fans rose, she grinned and said: 'I'm here. In the flesh.'

(Photograph omitted)

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in