I started listening to Johnny Mathisas a joke. Well, not a joke, exactly -- but I first embraced his honey-dipped hokeyness with a punk smirk and an ear for kitsch. Years ago, a friend turned me onto the ossified tones of KEZW, 1430 AM, shortly before the film Swingersshowed a new crop of hipsters just how suave Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin could be. KEZW plays the death out of the Rat Pack and its ilk, and Mathis was one of the station's most ubiquitous spins.
But what started as sarcasm gave way to grudging respect and then utter adoration. Born in 1935, Mathis declined college scholarships and a shot at the Olympic track team to try his hand at music. But after his jazz-oriented debut flopped in 1957, he switched to pop ballads, a move that made him a multi-platinum star. His voice, full and dusky enough to blot out the sun, turned chestnuts into epics; few crooners have crammed so many shades of subtlety and harmonics of emotion into a single flutter of the vocal cords. And his repertoire is unimpeachable: hits such as "Chances Are," "The Twelfth of Never," and "Wonderful! Wonderful!" are as swoon-inducing as they are impossibly bombastic. Sure, it's easy to laugh off Mathis's overripe cheese as the epitome of easy listening. But shouldn't some things in this world be easy?
In October 2003, I sat in the darkened Denver Civic Theatre alongside nine other people waiting to judge potential talent for the national tour of Puppetry of the Penis. While several of the contestants made a passable attempt at changing the angle of their dangles, it was these two hometown boys who wowed our jaded eyes with their deep knowledge of the ancient Australian art of genital origami. They could do things not seen in at least seven states. They made their meat puppets into wristwatches, the Eiffel Tower, even the Hamburger. They were hired.
Wanna know how they did it? Then head over to the Civic, 721 Santa Fe Drive, to see them in their triumphant return to Denver. The penis masters will perform their two-man show Tuesdays through Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. and Fridays through Sundays at 7 p.m., beginning tonight and running through October 16. Tickets, $32.50 to $39.50, are available by calling 1-866-464-2626 or at www.denvercivic.com.
Just be sure to ask them how it's hanging. They love that joke. -- Amy Haimerl