Category Archives: Music

I’m Going To Go Back There Someday

Don’t call it a comeback.

It’s a return.

A return to a place where I’ve been before, for one last round.

It’s not a place you can get to by car or boat or plane, though each will be employed.

It’s not a place you can find on a map or program into your GPS.

It’s not a place that’s been named or documented or seen.

It’s not a place that exists in any sense of existence you might know.

The Final Tour.

2015…2016

Come with me…

This looks familiar, vaguely familiar,
Almost unreal, yet, it’s too soon to feel yet.
Close to my soul, and yet so far away.
I’m going to go back there someday.

Sun rises, night falls, sometimes the sky calls.
Is that a song there, and do I belong there?
I’ve never been there, but I know the way.
I’m going to go back there someday.

Come and go with me, it’s more fun to share,
We’ll both be completely at home in midair.
We’re flyin’, not walkin’, on featherless wings.
We can hold onto love like invisible strings.

There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met.
Part heaven, part space, or have I found my place?
You can just visit, but I plan to stay.

I’m going to go back there someday.
I’m going to go back there someday.

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Marathon Kiss

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Long before I met Andy, I was a bit of a slut. Well, not exactly a slut, but my lips slid against more men than I care to remember. The spring of 2000 was an emotionally perilous period, rife with anger and hurt and sorrow. I tried to put it all together with torrid affairs and messy hook-ups, seeking to further wreck a ruined trust in the world.  I’d had my heart broken a fair share of times, and I felt on the verge of losing all feeling. Yet physical intimacy was still a form of intimacy, and I craved it to a desperate extent. In many ways, all I wanted was a kiss – a marathon kiss – one that went on for days and left my lips swollen and happily sore. A kiss would always mean more than a fuck.

Marianne Faithfull wailed plaintively on the stereo on a misty late morning. A young man no older than myself pulled his socks and shoes on before somewhat hastily bounding down the stairs onto the gray street below. I listened to him go, feeling both regret and relief at once, then turned over and closed my eyes. I’d like to say I forgot his name in all the years that have past, but the truth is that I forgot it before he closed the door. Such was the state of affairs in those days.

I cherished the night of your marathon kiss,
Chemicals flying, oh I love this.
What’s it all for if you can’t feel the ecstasy?
What’s it all for if you can’t touch the power,
The will to live in the hour?

There was a sad and lonely beauty to that time in my life. In hindsight it appears a lot rosier than it ever really was, and sometimes I look back on it with a romantic fondness that isn’t quite deserved. Spring brings me back to the headiness of it all, when the beauty of the world sang softly as each day’s sun set.

Don’t steal what I have got, baby,
‘Cause it’s hardly enough for myself.
Don’t steal what I’ve got, baby,
‘Cause the balance is thin like a shell.

I cherished the night of your marathon kiss,
Chemicals flying, oh I love this.
What’s it all for if you can’t feel the moment?
What’s it all for if you can’t feel the moment,
The moment of kiss.

Late in the evening I walked beneath cherry trees that dropped their pink petals like ballerinas being stripped of their ruffled tulle. Warm night winds brought the promise of summer in through the darkness, while lights of homes filled with laughter and happiness and enviable otherness twinkled all around me. I peered surreptitiously into the windows of strangers, seeking out some semblance of a scene of stability. The rooms of others always felt warmer, happier and fuller than mine. I would sometimes gaze up at my own window, dark more often than not, and wonder what others saw. It was my belief that no one bothered to look.

Fearless when I’m with you,
Fearless when I’m with you.
Fearless when I’m with you,
Fearless through and through.

What am I gonna wear? I don’t care.
Nobody sees the inside.
Oh, the radio’s gonna take us out
Take us out on a ride.
I put on perfume and I walk in the room
The world stands still with you in the room.
I cross the floor and I’m high and I’m rich
When I’m under your lips and your fingertips.

On some nights a stranger would become less of a stranger, with a smile and flirtatious dance around pleasantries before tripping over frantically-discarded clothes. In the dim gray light of the bedroom I could hide my timidity and my tears, and even if the saltiness seeped into a kiss, no one ever cared enough to comment or question.

I cherished the night of your marathon kiss,
Chemicals flying into the mist.
What’s it all for if you can’t feel the moment?
What’s it all for if you can’t feel the power?
What’s it all for if you can’t, can’t live right here
In the hour, in the hour, in the hour?

When the unsaid and mutually-agreed-upon exchange of physical pleasure was symbolically signed by a second glance or a hand upon the knee you jostled against him, there was no promise of anything more. In fact, the additional preponderance always felt like a hindrance to most guys. I learned to sense that, to pull away. Having jumped into love, or what I thought was love, too quickly and too many times, I understood the game even as I fought against its silly rules. Still, there was good reason to keep an aloof distance.

It was far easier to shield the heart than to repair it.

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It’s Just A Little Crush

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I don’t know much about girls, but I know what it’s like to have a crush, and that’s what’s speaking to me in this song by Little Big Town. ‘Girl Crush’ is really about being envious of the girl who has everything, including the guy. More than that, though, it’s one of those spring songs that cracks through the cruelty of winter and offers a ray of hope to render the heart raw and tender.

Spring has that power, and when aided by an evocative song like this, it turns everything into emotional flotsam and mental debris. Obsession and longing, wanting and desire ~ these are themes that informed my early life, and as I ease into middle-age, I look back and remember how they changed my world, in ways both destructive and delicious.

I was never one to do something in a half-assed way. Even my crushes would be epic. Sometimes all it took was a quick throw-away smile that I caught on the fly, some small insignificant gesture of simple kindness or matter-of-fact decency. I  collected such meaningless trifles, imbuing them with all sorts of nonsensical backstories and symbolic import, erecting the grandest sandcastles from the flimsiest shambles of carelessness.

I fell for boys who glanced over my head, but tripped over my pile of bones. I stepped in their way and refused to be ignored. I wrote them love letters and made them mix tapes and felt so strongly that they were meant to love me back that I was blind to how little I mattered. How could all that I felt for them mean so little? How could they not feel anything?

They were mad crushes. Mad in every sense of the word. Crazy, some would say. They made no sense, and for someone whose every move was intricately planned-out and deliberately choreographed, the wilderness into which my heart wandered was foreign and thrilling, and it scared the shit out of me. It made me sad too. I cried a lot, over a lot of people who never even noticed. That sort of lonely terror is something you never forget. Yet it gave me a sliver of strength, some inner-structure like the steel ribs of a corset that pained and protected. Those crushes destroyed me, but I rebuilt myself, again and again, until, phoenix-like, the burning no longer stung and the ashes were no longer bitter.

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I Won’t Shed A Tear

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If you’re lucky enough to watch a classic movie when you’re the same age as some of the protagonists, it can be a life-affirming moment. There are three examples of this for me: ‘Adventures in Babysitting,’ ‘The Goonies,’ and ‘Stand Be Me.’ The latter is probably the most moving of the three (even if ‘Goonies’ will always be my favorite.) I was reminded of its greatness when Tracy Chapman performed this wondrously stripped-down version of the Ben E. King masterpiece:

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No, I won’t be afraid
Oh, I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
So darling, darling
Stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand, stand by me
Stand by me
I think it happened around this very time of the year. My brother and I had spent the day and the early part of the evening playing an epic game of hide-and-seek at a friend’s house. Exhausted but not sated from that adventure, we popped in a video and hunkered down into a fluffy bed to watch. ‘Stand By Me’ began, and Rob Reiner’s take on Stephen King’s coming of age novella instantly entranced us. Back then, we were lucky enough not to have been touched by the themes of loss that now seem so apparent to me. We only cared about the adventure – the freedom of being away from your parents, your hometown, your school, and all the social boundaries that came with them. We courted and craved similar excitement and similar freedoms. It was easy to long for such thrills when you had a more or less safe childhood.
If the sky, that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountain should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry
No, I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
And darling, darling
Stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand now, stand by me
Stand by me
The movie was also a subtly-complex treatise on boyhood friendships – the ones that lasted, and the ones that didn’t – and always the importance of those shared moments. To this day, I remember that night with a friend I’ve long since lost touch with, and a brother I sometimes wonder if I ever knew. I mourn and celebrate a childhood that was ordinary in so many ways, average in ways I often wish it wasn’t, and extraordinary at just a few sacred moments – and that night was one of them.
The television glowed in the room, the only light as midnight approached. My brother and our friend had drifted off to sleep. We’d kept up some small-talk and chatter during the start, but it had petered out as we more closely followed the boys’ journey along the train tracks. Eventually, their measured breathing and lack of response to a quiet question indicated they were both asleep. I watched the scene where Gordie, awake first, watches a deer walk by. He was alone, and he kept the moment to himself.

It didn’t move me enough to cry then, as it sometimes does now. I was too young to feel that kind of pain. For that I remain grateful. As for my boyhood friendships, none has lasted (except for one girl). Perhaps because of that, I hold my close friends a little closer.
So darling, darling
Stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand now, stand by me, stand by me
Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me
Oh stand by me, oh won’t you stand now, stand
Stand by me
Stand by me

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Hunk of the Day: Bright Light Bright Light

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If he wasn’t chosen as Hunk of the Day for all his cuteness, he’d have been selected for his showbiz name. This is Bright Light, Bright Light – an electronic musician currently taking the world by storm. His website sums it up in this epic introduction:

Bright Light Bright Light is the moniker of Welsh born, London/New York based Rod Thomas who released his debut album ‘Make Me Believe In Hope’ in 2012 year to rave reviews. Starting out as a busker on the London Underground, where he cut his teeth and was first noticed by Q Magazine, Rod has gone on quite a journey.

Honing his skills over the years, and evolving from busker to “the boy Robyn in all but name” according to NME, Rod is performer, songwriter, producer and DJ. His debut record was put together with Boom Bip (Neon Neon), Andy Chatterley (Kylie, Nerina Pallot), The Invisible Men (Jessie J, Rita Ora, Iggy Azalea). Hailed by Sunday Times Culture as “a songwriter of extraordinary dexterity”, by Elton John as the hottest new thing in music, and ending up at no.4 in the Guardian Reader’s Albums of 2012 poll, it’s clear that ‘Make Me Believe In Hope’s sparkling electro-pop won the heart of journalists and fans alike since its release.

Not to mention the hearts of artists. Rod went on tour opening for Ellie Goulding, Erasure and Scissor Sisters on their sold-out UK tour. Pet Shop Boys themselves praised his cover of ‘West End Girls’ recorded with Scissor Sister Ana Matronic for US charity Hetrick-Martin. Other Sister Del Marquis brought him into his solo project Slow Knights as key songwriter and vocalist in the live shows. And, unbelievably to Rod, Elton John loved his work so much he joined Rod on duet ‘I Wish We Were Leaving’ which features on second album ‘Life Is Easy’, and signed him up as the support act for his UK and European dates in June and July of 2014 just as ‘Life Is Easy’ hits stores.

As a remixer, his Kelis, Ellie Goulding Erasure, VV Brown mixes and his series of bootlegs have hit blogs and clubs. He made DJ mixes for Ministry Of Sound, Butt Magazine, fashion brands and magazines, DJd at Glastonbury, Bestival, Festival no.6, numerous Pride events, and runs successful London 90s clubnight ‘Another Night’ in Dalston’s Vogue Fabrics.

In the US, he played a string of sold-out Bright Light Bright Light shows, appeared in New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix, was Time Out NY’s critics’ pick on multiple occasions, was highlighted by Billboard Magazine as a “bubbling under” artist to watch and was picked ‘Song Of The Week by USA Today for his duet with Elton John which also scored him his first Triple A radio add and #4 most added at RPM College Radio.

From ‘Life Is Easy’, Radio 1 have already supported ‘In Your Care’, ‘An Open Heart’ and ‘I Wish We Were Leaving’ on the Introducing show. ‘I Wish We Were Leaving’ also saw his break into Radio 2 with Graham Norton playing the track two weeks in a row. ‘I Believe’ also scored Norton support in the build up to the album’s release.

While life may not always be easy, Rod’s transition from busker to beatmaker – with a loving and ever-growing fanbase – demonstrates that, with hard work and the right attitude, you can achieve great things.

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Hunk of the Day: Diplo

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One of the many mad musical geniuses that aided in the creation of Madonna’s majestic ‘Rebel Heart’ album, Diplo provided some of the most interesting and exciting work Our Lady has produced in the last few years, beginning with the insane ‘Bitch, I’m Madonna’ track that she just performed so winningly on ‘The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.’ Who knew that he was also such a hot Hunk? As with most DJs these days, he gets all sweaty by the end of a set and doffs his soaked shirt like the best of them. More than that, though, it’s his musical madness that makes him so compelling.

 

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Adam Lambert: Ripped Rock God

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This is a little late, but when Adam Lambert is involved, any time is a good time. Here are a few photos that shook the internet a while back, featuring Mr. Lambert in all his gym-sculpted pumptitude. While he’s fluctuated in weight over the years, he’s always been incredibly hot and cute, but this just goes above and beyond that. The Glamberts had a well-deserved field-day over these shots – all of which are drool-worthy. He’s been honored by sexy tributes before, as in this Hunk of the Day crowning, and this follow-up Hunk of the Day redux – dare we hope for a third go at it? Take your shirt off, Adam – and you’ll be golden. Hell, you already are.

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To the Extreme: More Than Words

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The chain link fence ran the length of the bridge, preventing anyone with half a heart from climbing over and jumping into the slumbering Mohawk River below. The wind whipped through it in typical unapologetic and unrelenting fashion. We walked single file; there wasn’t really room to do otherwise. As dusk settled over Amsterdam, we made our way across the bridge that linked the southside with downtown.

To the right was the Amsterdam Mall, that low monolith which divided the once-whole downtown into two uneasily disparate sections, and then slowly emptied into hollow cement corridors of faded storefronts. In 1991, there was still a spattering of places that struggled to stay open, but the mall had been a bad idea from the beginning and was limping on its last legs. We eyed it as a teenage destination, and pulled out jackets closer in the night wind.

In my head, the song of the moment was playing on endless repeat, this acoustic ditty by Extreme:

 

Sayin’ I love you
Is not the words I want to hear from you
It’s not that I want you
Not to say it, but if you only knew
How easy it would be to show me how you feel
More than words is all you have to do to make it real
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me
Cause I’d already know

My best friend Ann was walking ahead of me, leading the way as she often did. I followed  a little behind, perpetually in awe of her steely courage, sky-high hair, and uncanny ability to give the world the middle finger with attitude and Guns ‘n’ Roses. I leaned on her in more ways then she knew.

A few other misfits joined our less-than-rowdy crew: Jessica, Autumn, Amy, and John. The latter was the wild card of the bunch – prone to mischief and fits of crazed, maniacal laughter in between moments of melancholy and something much deeper. There were whispers of a troubled family life, but we were all part of such whispers to a certain extent. No one had a perfect familial existence; no one ever will.

We began the slow descent onto the ramp that dropped us in a parking lot littered with the glitter of broken bottles and stray weeds poking through cracks in the pavement. Such a sad set of surroundings, and yet I couldn’t have been happier, Free from my own angry family, on a Friday night with my friends, I felt the first tugs of young adulthood pulling me forward. I also felt the warm heartstrings of friendship emboldening my otherwise insecure countenance. Here was a group of people that accepted me, misguided hair and questionable fashion aside, with all my mood swings and unlovable attributes.

What would you do?
If my heart was torn in two
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real
What would you say
If I took those words away
Then you couldn’t
Make things new,
Just by saying, ”I love you”
More than words,
More than words…

I carried my camera everywhere in those days, with a six-pack of 35-mm film bulging out of my coat pocket. I was forever waiting for the big capture, the shot that would change our lives, or simply make me laugh on a later, colder day, when I’d be missing my friends and longing for a night like that. I posed for more than a few pictures myself, trying to find someone in that gangly little boy who was all unruly hair and baggy clothes and silly grins. Some days I still find myself looking.

We turned onto the tiny Main Street, burning yellow and supremely surreal beneath the buzzing street lamps. Conover’s, the office store I remembered visiting as a little kid, still had a faded green sign above its fuzzy glass front. A few doors down, a band was setting up. We peeked in the back door and I snapped a quick photo before rushing out from fear of our ridiculously-underage status. We were a good group, staying clear from booze and other teenage explorations. Christ, we were Honors kids more afraid of a B+ than practically anything else.

Still, being out on our own, in a part of town that my parents would surely not approve of me traversing after nightfall, felt like a grand thrill. A little forbidden, a little adventurous, and a whole lot of what I needed. I don’t think I realized then how lonely I was, how much I needed those friends. It would have crushed me, and I was already pretty beaten down at that point.

Now that I’ve tried to talk to you and make you understand
All you have to do is close your eyes and just reach out your hands

And touch meHold me closeDon’t ever let me go
More than words is all I ever needed you to show
Then you wouldn’t have to say
That you love me
Cause I’d already know

The night ticked on. I didn’t go out enough to even have a curfew. (See, I really was a good kid.) The minutes flew by and soon it was time to step back onto the bridge. We climbed the stars and rose above the river, the tiny city behind us. Cars whizzed by, engines roaring, light beams blinding us from the other side. I zipped my coat up, the wind whipping even more viciously, colder too. I didn’t mind in the least. My stomach was sore from laughing, the corners of my mouth aching happily from uncontrollable smiles. A joy I could never feel at home – the joy of fitting in, even if it was in a group of outsiders – resonated from within, and it was something I’d hold onto when things got really bad. We’d done nothing but walk around and goof off, and it was better than any fancy night I could have imagined.

What would you do if my heart was torn in two
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real
What would you say if I took those words away
Then you couldn’t make things new
Just by saying I love you…

More than words.

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Helplessly Aware

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Once upon a time I was a romantic.

In the summer nights between seventh and eighth grade, on the verge of adolescent angst and leaving boyhood brilliance behind, I wrestled with the bedsheets as the outside breeze rustled the curtains.

The red glow of a digital clock and the yellow light of numbers 87 through 108 from the radio illuminated the inner-sanctum of the room, while shafts of a street lamp fell in through the finely filtered cross-hatching of a wire mesh screen.

Seventh grade had been rather dismal for me, as I struggled with algebra and allergies – the latter of which knocked me out for weeks at a stretch, further alienating me from school-mates who were already feeling distant and less-than-friendly. It didn’t help matters that I was suddenly allergic to cats, and the few whom had found a home with us were slowly being shipped out all because of me and my sickness. The arrival of spring that year marked a new beginning, as our last cat was given away in the cruel month of January.

Now, in the summer stretching out before me, in the darkness and the humid heat of a night in which the screeching of an insect matched the buzzing of the search for a proper radio station, I felt relief and release. The treacly opening chords of a Richard Marx power ballad came through the haze:

Just when I believed I couldn’t ever want for more

This ever changing world pushes me through another door

I saw you smile

And my mind could not erase the beauty of your face

Just for a while

Won’t you let me shelter you

I sensed, even without having experienced the sensations yet, the loss and desire in a song like this. My heart felt something far in the future reaching back and connecting, some foreshadowing of pain and heartache that was soon to come. How I knew to access and fathom that sadness made no sense, but beneath the dim light of the night, I held on for dear life.

Hold on to the nights
Hold on to the memories
I wish that I could give you something more
That I could be yours

I didn’t like boys or girls then. I didn’t know what I liked. Stirrings of fraternal connections made certain body parts tingle, but it wasn’t yet sex or even love I was after. It was closeness. I craved a kindred spirit. I didn’t want to be so alone. And yet I kept a safe distance from kids my age, lazily usurping my brother’s friends when I wanted a bit of adventure. We’d ride our bikes beneath the leafy canopy of Pershing Road, popping wheelies on mismatched sidewalk ledges and skidding out over grassy islands, leaving dirty scars in our wake.

Most boys realize their boyhood in the sun of summer, and though I was no exception, I sought out something more in the night.

How do we explain something that took us by surprise
Promises in vain, love that is real but in disguise
What happens now
Do we break another rule
Let our lovers play the fool
I don’t know how
To stop feeling this way

I breathed in the air in the space between my bedroom and the lofty boughs of an old hawthorne tree outside my window. A dog barked in the distance, a lonely plaintive sound that echoed my own loneliness. In later years, I’d combat that sinking feeling by opening a book, but at that age, in that summer, I listened to the radio and found solace in the noise that masked the heart while revealing it at the same time.

Hold on to the nights
Hold on to the memories
If only I could give you more…

Fleeting moments of friendship flashed across my brain from the previous school year: sitting next to Ann in art class as she created an epic Bon Jovi collage, sharing answers with Jeff for a health test and trying the wrath of a very scary health class teacher, walking to band with Tim and laughing as he mentioned how a certain person was surprised to see the sun come up in the morning.

It dawned on me, earlier than most I suppose, that I wasn’t just trying to hold onto the nights, I was trying valiantly to hold onto my youth. As dismissive as I was of the silliness of being a kid, I knew it was a realm I’d regret having to leave. As much as I wanted to grow up as fast as possible, I was cognizant enough to know how much I would miss it. That awareness was childhood’s greatest – and quickest – killer.

Well, I think that I’ve been true to everybody else but me
And the way I feel about you makes my heart long to be free
Every time I look into your eyes, I’m helplessly aware
That the someone I’ve been searching for is right there.

I had a few more years before I’d leave all that innocence behind. For that night, the summer felt a little endless, and somehow there was comfort in that abyss. We never know what is in store for us. That’s the beauty and the rub. Though I’d never be one to really hold on to anything, I was still just a boy trying to find his piece of the kingdom. “You may know what you need, but to get what you want, better see that you keep what you have.” One midnight gone…

Hold on to the nights
Hold on to the memories
I wish that I could give you more…

Hold on to the nights.

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A Little Bit Dangerous

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You pack your bag.

You take control.
You’re moving into my heart
and into my soul.
Get out of my way!
Get out of my sight!
I won’t be walking on thin ice to get through the night.

It was 1990. The dawn of a new decade. I was a freshman in high school. Scared, frightened, meek, but just a little audacious, I wanted to be the girl in this song – the dangerous one. The one who had eyes that hit like heat. There was power in being perceived that way. There was power in beauty – and a sinister elegance in danger. I knew then, however, that true power and danger didn’t need to announce themselves boldly and grandly. They didn’t shout or cause a commotion. They didn’t attack or assault.

It was the quiet ones you had to worry about.

If I portrayed danger, it was in the name of protection, like those poisonous caterpillars who displayed their colorful plumage-like shells to ward off any would-be predators. I was small and slight. Against a brawny football player I didn’t stand a chance. Against a riled-up teacher, I was powerless. It’s a wonder I was so daring and so mean. (Sometimes you have to be a little mean to survive.) That was the business of high school. That was the game.

Hey, where’s your work?
What’s your game?
I know your business
but I don’t know your name…
Hold on tight,
you know she’s a little bit dangerous.
She’s got what it takes to make ends meet
the eyes of a lover that hit like heat.
You know she’s a little bit dangerous.

Popularity was the main currency of those ridiculous high school days. That wasn’t what I was after. Hell, after a while I didn’t even hope for acceptance. Mostly what I wanted to do was survive. I wanted to get through it all relatively unscathed. Brutality waited around every corner ~ the burning end of a cigarette in the bathroom was always attached to the hairy arm of an older boy who would either smile or stub it out on the back of your neck as soon as you took your place at a urinal and unzipped your pants.

In the locker room, in those scant minutes we had to change after physical education, roving packs of pugnacious and puerile boys ran amid the maze of metallic boxes, honing in on their prey and taking their squirming catch around the corner to the showers. I never stayed to watch what happened next.

You turn around, so hot and dry.
You’re hiding under a halo, your mouth is alive.
Get out of my way!
Get out of my sight!
I’m not attracted to go-go deeper tonight.

Somehow I managed to skirt all of that. We’re often a little more popular than we think we are. (And sometimes, a lot less.) I was never great at reading the crowd, so I did my own thing – flagrantly and yet unassumingly. The stray skirmish at lunch, the random bloody nose, the whispers of a knife – they passed right by. I was more cloak than dagger. When I eventually did come out of my shell, I’d already built a fortress around me.

Hey, what’s your word?
What’s your game?
I know your business
but I don’t know your name…
Hold on tight…

A few years later I really did turn a little bit dangerous. I was careless with hearts, dismissive of love, and had a predilection for hurting anyone before they could get close enough to hurt me. Strangely, and somewhat sadly, that sort of danger seems to hurt the one who wields it more than anyone else.

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A Senior Recital: Caleb Eick

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Back in my high school days, I played the oboe. I was pretty good, but I was far from great. While music came pretty naturally to me, the oboe is an unnatural, and decidedly difficult, double-reeded woodwind to master. Thanks to a wonderful private teacher, Mrs. Green, and hours of work and perseverance, I managed to do decently enough for various NYSSMA performances and ultimately ended up making it into the Empire State Youth Orchestra – a rather competitive place for young local musicians. I also had the opportunity to perform with the Albany Symphony Orchestra and the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra. The point of this thin musical résumé is that I know how much hard work and effort goes into making a career in the arts – especially in the world of music. You have to be dedicated, driven, and basically obsessed with perfecting a craft that is largely imperfect. Very few are the times when you feel you’ve had a perfect performance – but that is precisely the goal of many a musician. It’s an elusive quest, but a noble one, and so my heart always feels a certain tug for those who attempt such a path.

Caleb Eick is one such musician. Currently, he is preparing for his Senior Recital this Friday. A baritone majoring in Vocal Performance, Mr. Eick knows the discipline and work ethic involved in a musical career. Music also opened a world of acceptance and possibility for someone who preferred Chopin to science or sports. (Not that classical artists were his sole inspiration; he equally favors the work of Panic! At the Disco and Paramore.) Last year he was named the first Auriel Scholar at the College of Saint Rose:

The Auriel Scholar program is an educational program, aimed at mentoring college-aged voice students, that provides practical experience and knowledge of the inner workings of a professional arts organization. Students involved in this program have the opportunity to sing in a fast-paced professional choir, acquire advanced choral and vocal skills, learn challenging repertoire and add practical performance experience to one’s resume – all the while learning the business skills it takes to become a music professional. The Auriel Scholar program is a valuable apprenticeship that helps students get a head-start on their professional musical careers.

His Senior Recital is scheduled for this Friday (you are are all invited) and will feature works by Lully, Campra, Bellini, Verdi, Schumann, Bizet, Gounod, and Vaughan Williams. A challenging program, Mr. Eick has been preparing for it for over a year, and it contains pieces that span from the Baroque period to Late Romantic and 20th Century works. Great music transcends time, and great musicians remind us of that.

Music made sense. It allowed one to move in ways you couldn’t in any other situation. Music allowed me to connect with people on a deeper level that we don’t allow ourselves to in our everyday interactions. ~ Caleb Eick

The Senior Recital of Caleb Eick

Friday, March 13, 2015, 7:00pm
Kathleen McMannus Picotte Recital Hall
The College of Saint Rose
Albany, New York

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A Revelation & A Rebellion: Madonna – ‘Rebel Heart’ Review

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It’s become almost impossible to objectively review any Madonna album at this point in time. Thirty years of an unprecedented stint in the spotlight (a light that continues to shine brightly as everyone continues to offer their take on the woman). It’s worth resurrecting one of my favorite Oscar Wilde quotes: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” To cavort, wrestle, and entangle yourself with the fickle beast of fame takes something altogether superhuman – to win more often than not takes a miracle. The fact that the world still has an opinion on Madonna– no matter what it may be – is proof that she’s still winning.

Ageist, sexist, and below-the-belt jabs aside, the single constant that most people side-step when it comes to the woman herself is what she has always done best: music. With ‘Rebel Heart’, the music once again almost gets lost amid the tumultuous journey to get here: early leaks and piracy, sexy photo shoots and red-carpet ass-flashes, and that dangerously epic tumble on stage. Now that the album has seen its official release, the world can hear things as Madonna originally intended.

Opening with an instant Madonna classic, ‘Living For Love,’ things get off to an anthemic powerhouse start, as a gospel-tinged chorus builds to a rousing hand-clapping climax. At first I was oddly unimpressed by the song. Yeah, it was good, but was it great? It took a few listens, one magnificent video, and a pair of live performances to reveal the merit of this. Madonna knows what she’s doing. That some of us still doubt and wonder only makes her prove it, and such drama is what drives much of the album.

“Tell me I’m no good and I’ll be great,” she defiantly commands on ‘Iconic’, following up, “Say I have to fight and I can’t wait.” With a spoken-intro by Mike Tyson and a bit by Chance the Rapper, ‘Iconic’ is a pretty pop song draped in other distractions. As on bonus tracks like ‘Autotune Baby’ there’s a gorgeous song trapped within the skittering rap and musical madness, and she’s going to make you work to find it.

For ‘Rebel Heart’ Madonna worked with everyone and their mother ~ Diplo, Avicci, Nicki Minaj, Chance the Rapper, Natalia Kills, Nas, Kanye West, Alicia Keys and even Mike Fucking Tyson ~ and it’s apparent in the sometimes-jarring stand-alone construction of the songs. While some Madonna albums (‘Ray of Light’ or ‘Confessions on a Dancefloor’) work best as a cohesive whole, others offer a smorgasbord of songs that have nothing to do with one another (‘True Blue’ and ‘Music’). Each format has its merits and drawbacks, and ‘Rebel Heart’ is decidedly in the latter bunch. The first eight songs alone are the very definition of extreme, veering from the wild and wonderfully crass ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ to one of the most tender songs she’s written in her career ‘ Joan of Arc.’ Such a roller coaster is sometimes difficult to stomach, but to her credit Madonna manages to wrap it all up into one giddy ride.

‘Devil Pray’ is a glorious folk song accented by electronic flourishes, vocal distortions, and a melody-line oddly reminiscent of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ while rumored second single ‘Ghosttown’ is the sort of power balladry that Madonna has never been given the due respect owed for such majesty. (See ‘Rain’ or ‘Live to Tell’ or ‘Drowned World.’) ‘Ghosttown’ is rife with apocalyptic images of the end of the world, but Madonna finds solace in holding onto another person. That sort of rumination is what lifts the album through its sagging points. Like the pair of bitch songs: ‘Unapologetic Bitch’ and ‘Bitch I’m Madonna.’ The former stings an ex-lover over a reggae-electronic beat and the latter is an all-out aural assault on any naysayers. Those two cuts fall clearly on the ‘Rebel’ side of the equation, but they veer toward the grating. Madonna does rebellion more convincingly on ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ where she ticks off a list of all the provocative and milestone pop culture markers she’s staked over the years (name-dropping ‘Ray of Light’, ‘Music’, ‘The Power of Goodbye’, ‘Like A Prayer’, ‘Open Your Heart’, and ‘Justify My Love’) and on challenging tracks like ‘Illuminati’ where she espouses the ‘all-seeing eye’ and shoots down conspiracy theories with commanding authority.

Madonna’s own hurt and vulnerability form the crux of what makes her so lovable in spite of her self-obsessed tendencies. Scars form a metaphor for a number of cuts here: “We made it through the fire, Scarred and we’re bruised but our hearts will guide us,” she sings on ‘Hold Tight’, while ‘Beautiful Scars’ expounds upon its titular theme atop a percolating modern-disco backing track. After everything she’s been through (and put herself through) a few battle wounds are to be expected. For the woman who once showed off her naked body in ‘Sex,’ she’s been largely uncomfortable in her skin – no one who shape-shifts in such chameleon-like ways could be entirely happy with herself. Madonna works that out through the music here.

One of the strongest cuts on the album, ‘Inside Out’ finds her seeking a deeper connection: “I wanna know what you’re all about, You’re beautiful when you’re broken down, Let your walls crumble to the ground… Every scar that you try to hide, all the dark corners of your mind, Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” It also boasts the best bridge Madonna has written in years ~ big, beautiful, and soaring: “Let’s cross the line so far we won’t come back, Can’t read your mind, I shouldn’t have to ask, Cynical smile, Time to take off your mask, I’m on your side so let me love you, let me love you.”

Madonna has said that she wanted to focus on solid song-writing this time around, and she’s largely succeeded, even if you have to hunt to find some of them. (Buried gems lie in hidden wait behind the distractions constructed around ‘Illuminati’, ‘Veni Vidi Vici’ and ‘Iconic.’) Other songs are more readily accessible. ‘Heartbreak City’ is emotionally haunting, chronicling the dark ending of a relationship, as the steady drum march drones toward its inevitable ending.

 

Despite its double entendres of soft porn and some almost-clunky car lyrics, ‘Body Shop’ allows Madonna to make the most casual and breezy delivery of a song in her entire career. Thanks to some super-sweet melodies, this is actually a stellar cut. It’s got wisps of world music to it, a gently-driving undertow of clap-along percussion, and a whimsical banjo base that lends a wistfulness that defies the listener not to sway along.

Then comes ‘Holy Water’ in which she out-Princes Prince himself – straddling the line between sacred and profane, sexy and silly, earnest and completely comical. It’s over-the-top, ridiculous, and epic in its electronic soundscape of the moment. Bonus: it directly quotes one of her biggest hits with an incomprehensible wink and nod.

Percussion plays a main role on this album, driving in some songs, dropping out in the middle of others, and it comes in all forms. From the natural hand-clapping of ‘Body Shop’ to the thundering beats of ‘Hold Tight’ to the racing programmed power of ‘Graffiti Heart’ it’s always exhilarating. Remember, Madonna got her start playing the drums, and the beat has always been her most powerful stock in trade. Even when something starts out as quietly as ‘Wash All Over Me’ the percussive march of time arrives to obliterate: “Torn between the impulse to stay, Or running away from all this madness. Who am I to decide what should be done? If this is the end, then let it come, let it come, let it rain, rain all over me.”

In the end, Madonna is at her best when stripped down and working a pop song within its basic framework. The lush orchestral grandeur of ‘Messiah’ and the gorgeous melody of ‘Joan of Arc’ find her at her most vulnerable (“I can’t be a superhero right now, Even hearts made out of steel can break down”) but the music is so rich the introspective lyrics are buoyed by her delicious delivery.

Title track ‘Rebel Heart’ provides the emotional apex and namesake centerpiece of the beautifully unwieldy collection, finding Madonna at a certain peace: “I’ve spent some time as a narcissist, Hearing the others say ‘Look at you, look at you’ Trying to be so provocative, I said ‘Oh yeah, that was me,’ All the things I did just to be seen.”

Three decades into the fascinating career we’ve had the privilege to watch unfold before our eyes, she’s still finding new ways to surprise and rebel, and it’s still the best show in the business. As the brilliant ‘Graffiti Heart’ reminds us, Madonna played with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring in the 80’s, and the artistic scene of New York City that was so fresh and vibrant and raw is something that Madonna, even in all her commercial success and polished personae, has kept as key to her artistic merit. Now she’s inviting the rest of us to show her our graffiti hearts, to reveal our scars, to confess and to be ourselves. Throughout all the guises she adopts in this latest romp ~ a rebel heart, unapologetic bitch, martyr, lover, sinner, and queen, there’s one thing she can’t help but be: Madonna.

Like its various versions (Standard, Deluxe, Super Deluxe) ‘Rebel Heart’ is a fragmented affair ~ a fascinating patchwork that almost becomes a rich tapestry, but even when it’s a mess, it’s a gorgeous mess (witness the sonic wonder of ‘Holy Water’ or the scattered multiple-personalities of ‘Iconic’). In the end, Madonna reveals and revels in the rebellion of her heart, and as she continues to forge new ground in the way a female artist is perceived and behaves, she proves to be as relevant as she was thirty years ago.

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Hunk of the Day: Ed Sheeran

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All sorts of gentlemen have been named as Hunk of the Day since the popular feature debuted a few years ago. You’ve seen the hairy and the hairless, the hefty and the twinky, the old and the young, the chic and the clueless – and in the end I hope there’s been someone for everyone. Today’s Hunk is a somewhat polarizing choice, which makes him one of my favorites. Long before Shawn Gillie challenged his hotness, I actually thought that Ed Sheeran was kind of cute. Look, there’s no accounting for taste, it is what it is. Besides, he’s a ginger, whether you like it or not, and gingers rule the world.

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Where Academia & Pop Art Collide: Special Guest Blog

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{Had history and biology played out differently, I might be in Dr. Joseph Abramo’s position right now. He’s married to my first girlfriend. Yeah, that could have been me. For his wife’s sake, and his I guess, it’s better that it never worked out. Joe has become one of my rare, and therefore treasured, straight guy friends. I still remember the first night I met him: I welcomed him to my attic with typical theatricality, and I’m not sure he knew what to make of it all. Through the years though, he’s become a friend in his own right, and he’s one of the few people who can appreciate Mahler as much as Madonna. (Don’t even get him started on a treatise of ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears because he can go deep.) He’s also one of the only people on earth to get me to sing along with him (I croaked out a few bars of ‘Like A Prayer‘ as he strummed the guitar.) We also worked on some artistic creation as well, in the form of a few Halloween songs that were more of an excuse to hang out with people I love than any real hope at Billboard glory. When I first contemplated the notion of a Guest Blog, his was one of the first names that came to mind because I knew it would be interesting, intellectual, and just a little bad-ass. It does not disappoint.}

The Crux of Academia & Pop Culture

By Dr. Joseph Abramo

It is a pleasure to write a guest blog for Alan’s website. I’ve been an admirer of his musings, photography, and writings ever since my wife and his childhood friend, Melissa, introduced us. One of our first in-depth conversations was about Madonna. This makes sense because, for a day job, I am a professor, where I teach courses in music and education. I work with twenty-somethings who want to be music teachers.

The professorship is not as glamorous as one might think. We are not the bespectacled, elbow-patch-wearing ilk the general population imagines us to be. In fact, we usually dress more informally than other professions, something I’m sure Alan would be horrified by.

As part of that informality many of us often study topics that some people may be surprised by. One of my topics of study, for example, is how music teachers can incorporate popular music into the classroom. If you were one of the many adults who think back to music lessons as the banging out of awful classical music on the piano, or inducing headaches by blowing air into the oboe, as Alan did, then you can imagine the need for music teachers to have the discussion about using music that is a little more relevant to students. The truth is that the classical music that I and most music teachers love is simply not interesting to most people.

But popular music is incredibly interesting to many people, and for good reason. It allows us to escape repeatedly into our own worlds. My mother tells me that when she was a teenager, she listened to her recording of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” so many times that the record turned grey because she wore the grooves out. For me it was hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, and buying an electric guitar to learn how to play the song. The repetition irritated her, but she endured it thinking back to her similar relationship with Simon and Garfunkel. For Alan, it is his indefatigable love for Madonna, which he chronicles on this blog.

But our love for popular music is not just frivolous indulgence. It is not simply, as Dick Clark blandly said, “the soundtrack to our lives.” It tells us something about ourselves and about the important issues of the day. Beyoncé’s sudden use of feminism, for example, tells us about contemporary womanhood. In many ways it has shown how feminism, once reviled as radical, has become as bland as singing about wanting to “rock and roll all night and party everyday.” This is both a blessing and a curse for feminists. It shows the inroads feminists have made in helping everyone understand issues of equality. But this mainstreaming of feminism might also water down and misrepresent its message. Some, for example, interpret Beyoncé dancing on a stripper pole in front of the giant word feminism as a misunderstanding and dismantling of feminism through this popularization. Others see it as an important demonstration of contemporary feminism—that “women can have it all.” Which is it? Probably both and neither; it is a double-edged sword.

Reactions to popular music also tell us about society, too. Former Arkansas Governor and Fox News Channel host, and presumed 2016 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s critique of Beyoncé as imposing liberal urbanites (read as “Black”) values upon the humble conservative middle Americans (read as “White”) demonstrates that not everyone embraces equality.

Similarly, recording artist Hozier’s video “Take Me to Church” suggests progress for Gay rights and marriage equality. The song’s lyrics are about heterosexual love; a man sings about a lover, using the pronoun “she.” But the video depicts images of queer love. This mixing of queer and hetero love blurs them, erodes the indefensible distinction that society has made between them and puts them on an equal plane. The fact that such a video was inconceivable twenty years, but passed with little comment today, shows real progress in gay rights and marriage equality. But predictably, like Huckabee’s reaction to Beyoncé, some decry the mainstreaming of queer culture as an indication of the decay of “good ol’ American values,” and perform rational, ethical, and legal gymnastics to fight equality and restrict freedoms.

It is because of this “academic” aspect of popular music, along with its ability for us to escape into ourselves that I love popular music, and why I think it has educational value. The cultural theorist Stuart Hall said that he studied popular culture because it is “one of those sites where this struggle for and against culture of the powerful is engaged: it is also the stake to be won or lost in that struggle….That’s why popular culture matters.” Popular music serves as a mirror to ourselves, it tells us about our desires and pleasures. It is a barometer: the ways people react to popular music gives us a reading of where society currently sits on important issues. Use any other metaphor you want to describe its ability to clearly reveal to us the state of society. For Hall, this is the power of popular culture. “Otherwise, to tell you the truth,” he continues, “I don’t give a damn about it.”

So next time you listen to your favorite artist, take some time to ask, “What does this say about society?” Does it articulate my values? Are those who are quick to devalue the music I love creating a veiled critique of me and my values? Or maybe you don’t ask these questions; maybe you just listen and escape into yourself. Either way, to tell you the truth, I don’t give a damn.

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Zephyr in the Sky At Night, I Wonder

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On this date way back in 1998 Madonna released what remains her best album to date: ‘Ray of Light.’ It’s my personal favorite as well, thanks to the time in my life when it came out, in addition to its own musical merit. ‘Light’ remade Madonna into the critically-acclaimed artist she has remained through this present day (continuing with next week’s release of ‘Rebel Heart.’)

Whenever winter starts to crumble, when spring is in the night air, I’ll play this album start to finish, and go on the emotional roller-coaster that was 1998 all over again. It’s Madonna’s most fully-realized album, a soundscape held together by William Orbit’s production, grounded in the warmth and resonance of Madonna’s voice, and lifted by the higher concerns of our place in the universe. It’s also a marker of my youth, of a time when I was searching for love, stumbling through my 20′s, and wondering whether I’d always be alone. When music comes out at such personal cross-roads, it becomes part of your soul. That’s what ‘Ray of Light’ is for me, and if you ever want to get closer to me, listen to that work and we’ll talk.

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