Hey, it’s Anna. This episode today is part of our series about getting older right now. And before we get into it, I want to let you know that we are doing a live national radio call-in about aging on Wednesday, February 3rd from 8-10pm Eastern time. I’ll be hosting along with Jo Ann Allen, whom you heard hosting our episode Just Ask Us: Your Stories about Life After 60. We had to postpone this follow-up special because of all the breaking news out of Washington, and we are excited to talk together, live, about what those of you over 60 are noticing about aging right now.
Again, that’s coming up Wednesday, February 3rd on public radio stations across the country, or you can listen on the Death, Sex & Money Facebook or Twitter pages, where we’ll be streaming the whole thing. You can also text the word “AGING” to the number 70101, and we’ll send you a reminder of when we’re about to go live.
Beverly Glenn-Copeland: I really believe that we are constantly affecting everything around us and it responds to us. So if we can hold or primarily hold a positive feeling about the world, about ourselves, and hold hope, we can change the world.
This is Death, Sex and Money. The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot and need to talk about more. I'm Anna Sale.
BGC: Welcome the spring, the summer rain
Softly turned to sing again
Welcome the bud, the summer blooming flower
This is Beverly Glenn-Copeland, whose music has been an essential salve for me through these last several months. Glenn is a Canadian musician and singer-songwriter who's been quietly putting out albums since the 1970s. This song, Ever New, was released by Glenn in 1986, on an album called Keyboard Fantasies.
The album went largely unnoticed until 2015 when a Japanese record collector emailed to ask Glenn if he had any more copies.
BGC: I wouldn't go so much as to say it was exciting. I would say, I was thinking, "Oh, that's great! And we must have some around here somewhere." I didn't even remember where they were. My wife said, "Yes, this is where they are," and she went and pulled them all out.
BGC: Otherwise, I'd still be looking for them. [laughs] And he sold those within a week and a half. And then, what happened was, all of a sudden, within probably a month of him selling those records, I started getting calls from record companies. Then, at that point, that was when my jaw hit the floor.
Suddenly, in his 70s, Glenn's career took off and 2020 was supposed to be the year when all this new attention and opportunity was going to come together. A new documentary about Glenn was headed for film festivals. A new collection of his music was being released and an international tour was planned. Then of course, the tour was called off.
BGC: It was interesting because I really didn't have much time to think about the loss of the touring. I was so busy thinking about the loss of a home.
Last year, Glenn and his wife were also in the midst of moving. They'd already sold their old house. When their projected earnings from the tour went away, they could no longer afford the place they planned to buy.
BGC: We ended up being homeless.
That's how I first learned about Glenn's music. Producer Afi Yellow-Duke told me about a GoFundMe his daughter had started that raised about $75,000 for Glenn and his wife. Word had spread quickly among his fans and people in the queer community who wanted to help out Glenn, a trans elder.
BGC: Almost 3,000 people from all over the world, donated $25, $20, $30, whatever they could afford, and they were people who we knew were also going through difficult times as well because everybody was going through uncertain times.
Glenn and his wife were also given a place to stay. When we talked, Glenn was sitting next to his electric piano in a guest house overlooking the Atlantic coast in New Brunswick.
BGC: We were offered this place in June when we no longer had a home. It's absolutely stunningly beautiful.
Anna Sale: Who offered it to you?
BGC: Two people married to each other, both international lawyers, a man and a woman, who had made a whole lot of money, found out about our situation and offered it to us for nothing until we could until Spring, at which point they considered that we would have found another home.
AS: Wow. These are people you did not know previously?
BGC: Not at all.
AS: They said, "We have this home on the coast, come stay here." What was that like, Glenn, when people you didn't know said come stay?
BGC: It was a point of being stunned actually because my wife and I had been under such stress to essentially not know where we were going to live for five months. They called it paying it forward.
AS: Did that feel comfortable to accept for you?
BGC: Oh, absolutely. [laughs]
AS: Good. [laughs]
BGC: Totally. If you can’t accept a gift when a gift is being given by the universe, you got problems. [laughter] Hello?
[Beverly Glenn-Copeland - "La Vita"]
BGC: And I work and I work all day and night
I wonder if I'm ever gonna get it right
I push and I push to get ahead
I know I gotta make my daily bread
(Ascolta il cantore)
I know I don't have time to lose
I wonder if I really have time to choose
I barely have time to shed a tear
I hardly have time to shake the fear
(Lui che canta)
And the body says "Remember you gotta breathe"
The body says "Take the time to grieve"
Before he wrote and performed his own music, Glenn studied classical singing and performance. He grew up playing piano in a Quaker family in Philadelphia that had a steinway in the living room. He left to go to school in Montreal, where he was one of the first black students to study music at McGill University. After McGill, he realized he wanted to take his career in another direction.
BGC: I want to start to write music that incorporates the music from all over the world and many other cultures. That's what hit me. What I did was, I took the guitar and I didn't know anything about anybody else doing this either. I started retuning the strings and every piece that would come to me would have a different tuning on the strings and I'd have to retune the thing. I played it with a pic as though it was a drum.
AS: Did it feel, do you remember a feeling of fear as you were stepping away from all of those familiar slots?
BGC: Not even one ounce of it.
BGC: I don't know. No, I just went, "Oh, this is what I'm going to do next. I don't get it."
AS: Can you tell me about, what is it about you that you think makes it feel like not a big deal to say, like they're all these ways that people have done this before, but I'm just going to try something really different and not feel too worried about it.
BGC: I don't think I'm too sensitive. [laughs] I really didn't think about I'm doing this because I want to create a career. It was a drive.
AS: How were you supporting yourself with money at that point?
BGC: Oh, listen, I had no money. [laughter] When I started doing that, I had just finished breaking my foot off of my bone. Literally. I was in a full cast on one leg, not walking. The only thing I could afford was one little room that was on a second floor. I had to go up on my cast. I ate peanut butter. That's how I met peanut butter and sardines and it was fine. I felt totally free. I wasn't afraid of it. It was just like, this is what it is. I'm free to explore this. I'm going to explore this.
I look on it now with great amazement because youth is like, no, the great thing about youth is that it isn't afraid of anything, and the difficulty about youth is it has no idea what it should be afraid of.
AS: How did you get into children's television?
BGC: I had a very dear friend, and she had a very good friend, and this good friend she was a writer for this show. She got in touch with me and asked me if I would be willing to be on this program called the Mr. Dressup show. She said, "We'd love to have you on this show and we're writing you in as a character, but we also would like it if you would write music for this show, for this particular episode." I did, and I had just the most wonderful time. I was just like, "Oh, goody two shoes."
You know, I had to get dressed up in all these silly costumes, right? And I had to talk to these puppets who were just amazing. And um, and then I wrote music for the show. Well, afterwards they loved it so much, that all the other writers started writing me in. And after a while, I became a character who was considered to be one of the neighborhood folks in the show. And um, and I probably wrote a hundred songs for them and 20 years passed by.
AS: Wow! That's a large portion of your adult life.
BGC: Yes, it was.
AS: What was like the thing you wanted to convey to a child who was watching?
BGC: I wanted to convey to children that what they were looking at made them feel safe, made them feel loved, made them feel seen, not talking down to them, but engaging them in their own imagination.
AS: Did you feel seen and heard and safe when you were growing up?
BGC: Yes and no. It depends on what aspect of it. I felt very safe as a child in terms of that my home was a safe place and my parents were very safe from that perspective. Now, the ways in which I did not feel safe did not happen until I revealed to my parents that I was a boy in a girl's body.
Coming up, Glenn talks about how he began to understand his gender identity and how his parents reacted to it.
BGC: My parents were Black for God's sakes and they knew what it was like to have to be able to be safe in a society in which you were basically second-class citizens.
Last week, we asked you to tell us what it's like to be dating during COVID.
Rachel: My name is Rachel. I'm 26. I'm single and looking sometimes.
Rachel has been trying to meet people during the pandemic, which has been very strange. She felt that acutely, when she hit it off with a guy she'd met on a dating app recently.
Rachel: We'd had a video date. We'd had a walking date and then going to his apartment for the first time in this feeling like I didn't even know this person and I wasn't asking for a one night stand, but suddenly we were in this really intimate situation because restaurants weren't open, movie theaters, bars, nothing's open. The only place you can go is into someone's private home.
Keep sending in your experiences of dating during COVID or of wanting to date, but not knowing how. Send in your thoughts if you're single and looking, especially if you're not straight or not a woman. Separately, Rachel's mention of one night stands got us reminiscing about when you could go home with someone without worrying about getting coronavirus.
And as we are coming up on Valentine's Day, we thought it would be fun to get nostalgic together. So we want to hear your best one night stand stories. This time, we'd really like you to send in voice memos. Record it and email it to us at email@example.com. No matter how long ago, tell us about that magical moment of connection that stands out. I, for one, a married mom with two little kids would really like to hear them.
On the next episode, we continue our series about being over 60 right now. I talk with 74 year old writer, Norma Elia Cantú. She grew up on the US-Mexico border, the oldest of 11 siblings, and spent a lot of her young adulthood making trade-offs, like when she had to leave her college and work at the electric company to support her family.
Norma Elia Cantú: I would cry every night because that's not what I wanted to be doing. I didn't want to be working in an office, typing up contracts for businesses or to let people have their lights, no matter how I justified it as it being an essential job that, you know, people need their electricity, it didn't mitigate the feeling of, "I don't belong here."
This is Death, Sex, and Money from WNYC. I'm Anna Sale.
From the time he was a child, Beverly Glenn-Copeland knew he was different from the people he saw around him. But the words he used to describe his gender identity and sexuality changed over the years. In the 1960s, when Glenn was a student at McGill, he identified as a lesbian and his parents were alarmed when they found out he was dating women.
Beverly Glenn-Copeland: Well, they were frantic, absolutely frantic because first of all, the literature coming from the psychiatric community at that time called it all a disease. They were trying to protect me from every perspective but in the protecting of me, of course, it turned into being, you know, quite repressive.
Anna Sale: Did you feel their anxiety and their worry as protection or did it feel?
BGC: You mean around this particular issue?
AS: Like how did you experience it? You are, you say that you can understand their urge to protect, what did that feel like?
BGC: Yes. No, I, I understood it as that they were deeply worried about me. Um, and that it wasn't something that I would be able to talk with them about. So, from that perspective, it was like, um, not safe.
AS: This is a part of you they can't handle.
Beverly: Yes, they can't handle. But later, it turned into a bit of a witch hunt, unfortunately, and they did some things that were actually quite dangerous to my freedom and my health. I was in danger of being put in a hospital and electroshocked.
AS: How did you stop that from happening?
BGC: One time, they literally forced me into an automobile, overpowered me and they took me to this ordinary doctor. He wasn't a psychologist or a psychiatrist or anything. I was force-marched into this guy's office and he starts picking up the phone to call the hospital to have me committed. I literally ran out the door and outpaced my parents.
AS: You ran away from them.
BGC: Yes, I ran away from them.
AS: Do you remember where you went when you stopped running? Where did you end up?
BGC: I ran into a telephone booth and put my finger down the list of psychiatrists and my fingers stopped at one. It was within two blocks of where I was. I raced to this guy's office with my parents on my heels. They came in shortly after me, but I said, "I need to speak to this psychiatrist by myself." I told him what was happening. He freaked out. He called my parents into the office and said, "If you do not cease and desist, I will take this person into protective custody." [laughs] Oh, I couldn't believe it. Of all the psychiatrists in the world, I found one who understood.
AS: How did you come back to a relationship with your mother that felt safe after having to outrun her?
BGC: It was extremely interesting. At one point, my mom, from my perspective, became so upset about me and so it became so difficult that I felt that every time I spoke with her, that she was actually becoming abusive. I understand what was happening. I do understand but at that time, I just said to her, "I don't think I'll ever speak to you again in my life," and I hung up the phone. I really didn't give my mom a second thought and that's the honest truth of it.
Then one day, a year later, I suddenly went, "Oh, I think I'll call my mom." I reached for the phone. Literally, the phone rang. It was my mother on the other end. Her words were, "Oh, my darling, please, forgive me." That was the end of that problem.
AS: Wow. What did it feel like to hear those words from her?
BGC: Oh, it was like, "Oh, of course, I forgive you. Let's just get back to being mother and child. I love you. I've always loved you. Let's just get back on that." We were back on it and she was, from that point on, a champion for me, constantly telling me to live my life and defending me in any way.
AS: I'm curious having had that experience and feeling the dangers that you could face because of your lack of emotional protection and also legal protection. Did you feel at risk as you were a professional person as you were working in children's television about who you were? Did you have to hide?
BGC: No, it didn't have to change my life. I just went off and continued living my life. I was well aware of the fact that if it became known in the general public, that I was transgendered, that it would be a difficulty for the parents who had their children watching The Mr. Dress Up Show. I waited. Once I understood that I was transgender, which was in 1990 or whatever to say, 1996, 1995 I let all my close friends know but I did not discuss it in public until 2003.
Since coming out publicly in the early 2000s, and having his music rediscovered in 2015, Glenn has reached a whole new younger generation of fans. His backing band is also made up of young musicians who are mostly in their mid-20s.
BGC: My great dream is that I could take all seven of them with me wherever I go, for which I will need thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. I don't know how it's going to happen but it is my prayer.
AS: How has your life been changed by spending all this time with your band?
BGC: They became like, teachers.
AS: Oh, teachers.
BGC: Yes, teachers. That's what young people are teachers for older people and older people are teachers for young people. They were totally hip to absolutely everything that was going on in the world, musically from one pole to the other in every single country. They would sit around discussing it all and blah, blah, blah. It was like they were speaking Greek.
I would say to them, like, "Well, could you tell me a little bit more about this?" They'd go, "Oh," not only tell you and then they'd put on music. I go, "Oh my God, listen to that." They were constantly educating me, musically. Then of course, just the way they were together was, they were so at ease with each other. Check this out. They were so at ease that they could sleep all in the same bed together males and females without it being about sex. Just about protection and the need for company like, "Okay, check that out." That's a whole another level of reality.
AS: That felt new like, "Oh, this is a way of being."
BGC: Yes. I understood that, but to actually see them be able to be like that, it was like, "Okay, this is a step in human growth. Good grief. Look at this."
AS: Like seeing them move through the world with fewer hang-ups than you felt like the world's had when you were young.
BGC: Yes, exactly. Exactly. I cannot tell you how refreshing it was. How absolutely, because they were manifesting what I knew was possible. I had never seen it.
AS: I do wonder when you were first touring together with your band, did you have moments where you noticed just your age difference in ways that made you feel self-conscious, like just needing to move a little slower than them or anything like that?
BGC: Oh no. It didn't make me feel self-conscious. I played it up for all it was worth.
AS: You know how it's done. I hear you.
BGC: Seriously. I have a knee that really should be replaced. Sometimes it'll go out and I'll be on crutches. I have to travel with crutches in case it goes out and gets stuck in a bent position. I've been going down the steps backwards for many years to lessen the stress on knees that are old. Of course, I'm not going to be carrying anything going down the stairs backwards, so they would lug all this stuff and they treated me as though I was an elder, like their grandparents. They were totally caring, caretaking in that kind of way and I loved it.
[Beverly Glenn-Copeland - "Deep River"]
My home is over Jordan
Deep river, Lord
I want to cross over into camp ground
AS: When you think about what 2021 might look like for you in a time when, hopefully, maybe some point it will become safe for us to gather again, what do you picture?
BGC: I think that I will do at least one and I don't expect to do many others, but I know that I have to go and thank my audiences around the world. I actually want to do that, then you know I'm going to have to take my crutches and then doot, doot, do, and nyah, nyah, nah, we will figure out how we could do it in such a way that I'm not worn out because I need to go and say thank you. I think that we all have a purpose and it's a purpose that is uniquely ours through whatever our unique gifts are or our skills or whatever because every person is unique and every person is a part of the universal design.
The universe doesn't design anything it doesn't want and Lord knows I didn't design me. On a given day, it may look hopeless or you may get depressed or you may go through really feeling just, "Oh my God, I can't make it." It's like, if we can come back to a positive feeling about things, we can change the world. I came here to encourage people about that.
[Beverly Glenn-Copeland - "Sunset Village"]
Let it go
Let it go down
Let it come
Let it take all
That's Beverly Glenn-Copeland. All the music in this episode came from his latest album, a compilation of music from his career called, Transmissions: The Music of Beverly Glenn-Copeland, which is out now. There's a Spotify link to it in our show notes. Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production from WNYC Studios in New York. Afi Yellow-Duke produced this episode. The rest of our team includes Katie Bishop, Anabel Bacon, Emily Botein, and Andrew Dunn. The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music.
I'm on Twitter @annasale. The show is @deathsexmoney on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Thank you to Lauren McCabe and Malverne, New York who is a sustaining member of Death, Sex & Money. You can join Lauren and support what we do here by going to deathsexmoney.org/donate. I'm Anna Sale and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.
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