Category Archives: Music

When Snowflakes Fall…

BlogPics006

Most of us complain when a snowstorm wreaks havoc with our plans, but lately I’ve learned to embrace them. For a few hours, or as long as the snow keeps us inside, we are bound in one place. A favorite place to ride out a winter storm is at the condo in Boston, where I can watch the falling snow from the cozy environs of that stalwart structure.

A cup of hot tea in hand, a book waiting to be opened on the table, and a slow song like this one on the stereo.

Goodbye, no use leading with our chins
This is where our story ends
Never lovers ever friends
Goodbye, let our hearts call it a day
But before you walk away
I sincerely want to say
I wish you bluebirds in the spring
To give your heart a song to sing
And then a kiss, but more than this, I wish you love

And in July, a lemonade
To cool you in some leafy glade
I wish you health, and more than wealth, I wish you love
My breaking heart and I agree
That you and I could never be
So with my best, my very best, I set you free
I wish you shelter from the storm
A cozy fire to keep you warm
But most of all, when snowflakes fall, I wish you love
But most of all, when snowflakes fall, I wish you love.

Continue reading ...

Ice Castles: My First Graduation

ice castles memory
Please, don’t let this feeling end
It’s everything I am, everything I want to be
I can see what’s mine now
Finding out what’s true since I found you
Looking through the eyes of love

Now, I can take the time, I can see my life
As it comes up shining now
Reaching out to touch you
I can feel so much since I found you
Looking through the eyes of love

The year was 1986.

The scene was the gymnasium at R.J. McNulty Elementary School.

We were in sixth grade – our last day of sixth grade – and those of us in the band were playing the ‘Theme from Ice Castles’ – in likely rather-sad fashion. Yet the melody came through, and as I read the lyrics that went along with the song, I wondered if our band conductor/football coach Mr. Pangburn had chosen the song for its sentiment or sound. Did he know that some of us were realizing that our childhoods were coming to an end?

And now I do believe
That even in a storm
We’ll find some light
Knowing you’re beside me
I’m all right…

Like most kids, I didn’t fully fathom that the last years of childhood were in fact the last years of childhood. Turning into a young adult always seemed far away, just out of reach and tantalizingly unavailable. While most of me couldn’t wait to get there (I found kids to be, for the most part, tiresome and foolish) there was a small portion of my heart that held onto my youth, that didn’t want to grow up. That little boy was the one playing the oboe in the hot, stuffy gym of McNulty School, during his sixth grade graduation, in the only school he’d ever known since kindergarten.

He thought back to that first day, when his mother set him free all those years ago. He sobbed at the ankles of his teacher, Miss Delamater, so sad and terrified was he at being left alone in a room of strangers. It took a few days before he would talk. But eventually he found his way. He made friends, and was especially popular with the girls. He survived the usual battles of childhood – chicken pox and forgotten homework and being sent to the back of the class for laughing too much (as if he could control that!) – and less-than-usual battles as well – a lactose intolerance that left his stomach in such pain he missed weeks at a time, a strange fear of being away from home that made him look up at the fluorescent lights to dry the tears that came suddenly from seemingly nowhere, and the nagging, gnawing suspicion that the difference he felt in himself from his classmates was indeed very different from the difference that most kids feel. Now, at the end of his elementary journey, he understood that he didn’t want it to be over. All the pain and the sadness was coupled with such joy and happiness, and the whole path was so rich and wonderful and varied that he wasn’t ready to let it go. But the band played on…

Please, don’t let this feeling end
It might not come again and I want to remember
How it feels to touch you
How I feel so much since I found you
Looking through the eyes of love

And now I do believe
That even in a storm
We’ll find some light
Knowing you’re beside me
I’m all right

My eyes turned watery. I looked around at my classmates, at my friends, and I knew it would never be the same. They didn’t seem to notice. The song ended with a spattering of applause. The ceremony continued. At the end, we had some refreshments, said a few good-byes, and headed off into the summer.

Now, I can take the time, I can see my life
As it comes up shining now
Reaching out to touch you
I can feel so much since I found you
Looking through the eyes of love.
Continue reading ...

Friend Like You

josie alan

The only way I can get through winter in upstate New York is by seeking out friends to share the misery – and the light. It was my friend JoAnn who introduced me to Joshua Radin – the singer-songwriter responsible for this musical gem of solace and comfort. JoJo and I go back over sixteen years, and winters in Cape Cod, Boston, and Albany have all been made a little easier when we’re together. Frigid walks in the South End to find a basenji, snowy hikes and parking lot doughnuts in Cape Cod, and cozy dinners in Albany have all been part of our winter repertoire.

I like the way you’re not afraid
You got the world planned in your mind
People say you cannot do well
They don’t know a friend like you.

The girl you love has gone away

 

Still too young to know her heart

 

She’ll return her love renewed

 

‘Cause she’ll never find a friend like you

 

Continue reading ...

Going Home

ASGEIR
Home, I’m making my way home.
My mind’s already there.
Yes, my mind is
Light, you’re with me in the dark.
Light my way at night.
Let your light shine

Oh sweet melancholy, how you dwell in these winter months, even as I try to sweep you out with the dust and dirt. Too early, too soon, I know. The heart wants what it wants, and it wants spring now. That’s an impossible request. The heart, though, still wants. It is, perhaps, the saddest and most hopeful part of us, this heart that keeps on wanting, that spends its energies longing, that never stops until the day we die.

Now, this burden weighs me down.
The heaviest of weights
knocks me to the ground,
right down to the
Dew that sparkles on the ground.
Blue mountains loom above.
Blue mountains loom

This is winter music. This is a winter song. It makes one pause. It leaves space for listening to the fall of snow. It eases the muffled roar of the snow plow. It calms the rioting heart which launches brazenly into the winter madness, trying to rush through it all before it’s had its time. The music is languid. The sounds are soft. This is Ásgeir.

And I walk alone; one wish
won’t be forgotten,
never forget that
Long, is the path ahead.
And though my body tires,
and I have far to go,
I know I’m going home.
Know I’m going home.

Maybe it’s this winter, maybe it’s some recent event, or maybe it’s just getting older, but home feels very far away. Once upon a time that might have bothered me. No, it would have frightened me, so terrifying had it been to think of such an unmoored state, such a little-boy-lost scenario. Yet I’m no longer afraid. I’ll make myself a different home. A better home. A home where I’ll always belong.

Home, I’m making my way home.
My mind’s already there.
Yes, my mind is
Light, you’re with me in the dark.
Light my way at night.
Let your light shine
Now, this burden weighs me down.
The heaviest of weights
knocks me to the ground.
This burden weighs me down.
Burden weighs me down.
Burden weighs me down.
Burden weighs me down.
Continue reading ...

Gay Anime And A Little Bit of Death

antirockstars 1

My pal Alexander fronts antirockstars, and he asked that I share this video. I get a few requests to share things, most of which are not my cup of tea, and while the music is decidedly not Madonna or Ella Fitzgerald, there’s room enough for some diversity here (and I never claimed to have any musical taste), so give this a whirl. More compelling, and surprisingly moving, was the accompanying video. Give me a teddy bear as a supporting player and I’m all over that shit. Give me a cute cuddly couple in the first flush of love, and I’m even more entranced. But give me an interlude of death and a baby scythe, well, it’s all over. Sign me up and call it a day.

For more of antirockstars and Alex, check out his website here. This is, in his words, what antirockstars is all about:

You may be wondering, what does antirockstars mean and why am I going by that name?   It’s my opposition to the vulgar excesses and disingenuousness that all too often accompany rock music.  It’s a chance for me to be me and to do what I want musically.  I have no handlers, no image-makers, no men in suits marketing me to kids in jeans.  I’m not doing this to get rich or to get girls.  I’m an artist who wants to share his art with those who are receptive to it and who are touched by it.

That’s the kind of artist I like, and the artists I’ve always admired are those who have a drive and determination to create not for money or fame or fortune, but because it makes them feel alive.

Continue reading ...

A Madgestic Surprise

mad rebel

When an album’s worth of Madonna demos leaked last week, all eyes were on the woman herself as to how she would handle the mess. (I’m sure someone got the worst rim job of their life if she found the culprit behind the leak.) Some have said it’s all a marketing ploy, but I’m not sure – this was just a little too messy to be more than unintentional. Regardless, the solution that Madonna shrewdly took was to offer six of the finished songs on iTunes, and the EP immediately went to Number One around the world.

The general consensus is that the new music is Madonna’s best in at least a decade. (Personally, I’m still entranced by many of the ‘MDNA’ cuts, but a lot of fans gave up after ‘Hard Candy‘.) Of the new songs, planned single ‘Living For Love’ is getting a lot of talk, but I’m less impressed by that than the shimmering brilliance of ‘Ghosttown’ and the sing-and-clap-along genius of ‘Devil Pray.’

More interesting and compelling yet may be tracks like ‘Illuminati’ and ‘Unapologetic Bitch.’ Whether or not she intended to make it an early Christmas, Madonna’s given us a glorious glimpse of the new sonic territory she’s staking out for a triumphant return to the pop fold next year. As always I’m chomping at the bit to hear more.

“When it all falls, when it all falls down, We’ll be two souls in a ghost town…”

Continue reading ...

Misty Watercolor Memories

way we were

Having recently declared my non-fandom of Barbra Streisand, I’ll backtrack a bit to give it up for this song from ‘The Way We Were.’ It inspires a snowy memory, a warm and happy memory, a memory of solitude tinged with family ghosts…

It was a night in January. My parents were out of town, so I stopped by Amsterdam to see my brother (who then lived a few blocks away) and to check on the house. We would do similar nights in the future, but for now I was alone in the house in which I grew up.

As evening fell, ghosts from the past entered timidly, whispering friendly words of forgotten scenes – those departed family members who stayed with me through the years, whenever things got quiet, whenever the world let up on me, and sometimes when it felt like everything was crashing down. On this night, it was peaceful and still. A thin layer of snow fell from the sky as I turned on the lights in my parents’ bedroom and searched for something comforting on the television. A Barbra Streisand film – ‘The Way We Were’ – had just begun, so I let it play for a while, as the saccharine melody of Marvin Hamlisch filled the empty room.

In a large dark house, even if you grew up within, it’s easy to get spooked. The wind can make things creak, the floor can make things moan, and if you’re not careful your head has suddenly wrapped itself in terrors that would be unthinkable in the light of day. Thankfully, that didn’t happen on this night. I had the silly curls and serious nails of Ms. Streisand to take my mind off other frights.

Memories,
Light the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories
Of the way we were
Scattered pictures,
Of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were.

I watched the unlikely love story between Streisand and a very youthful Robert Redford, looking golden and in his prime, and I was drawn in as the night progressed. It wasn’t what I expected – it was actually much more enjoyable – and I settled onto the bed from which I used to watch ‘Santa Barbara’ if I could get home from school in time.

Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we? Could we?

You can never go back. No matter how wonderful or awful it was. All we can do is move forward, keep going, keep trying to be better. Streisand’s Katie Morosky fought for the world to be a better place. Redford’s Hubbell did it in his own way too. I don’t quite have that drive, or that star power. What started out as a comfort left me feeling deflated, as if every endeavor on my plate was an exercise in futility, in simply stalling, or trying to recapture days that were more fun, more vibrant, more alive. Time marched on, leaving the good memories dusty and forlorn.

Memories, may be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget
So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember…
The way we were…
The way we were.
Continue reading ...

Barbra Streisand Goes Back to Brooklyn…

Barbra Streisand

… and I just couldn’t be bothered. Just kidding. I have friends who adore Ms. Streisand, and I’ve always admired her work and her legacy. I just haven’t been a fan. However, when her last concert – ‘Back to Brooklyn’ – aired on Great Performances, I took a moment to watch this icon in all her adulation.

She wore some kooky outfits (as much as I love sequins, they can be trite on, say… Barbra Streisand), and she did some kooky dancing (does she know any other kind?) Yet unlike other icons (ahem), Ms. Streisand’s enduring appeal is due to her most valuable asset – that voice. Like buttah indeed. Studied, nuanced, pure and powerful, it has lasted all these decades, and remains one of the world’s most astounding natural gifts. Youngsters may want to note the complete lack of auto-tune madness, and take a lesson from the sheer presence this woman commands with a few delicate notes held in just the right manner.

Yet for all the perfection and passion, part of me simply doesn’t connect with her, and that’s all right. Different strokes for different folks, and in the way that not everyone has to love Madonna, I don’t quite love Barbra. I do, however, have the utmost respect for her, and she’s a powerhouse and institution worthy of honor and accolades.

Continue reading ...

A Christmas Waltz

Doris Day My Heart album

Fulfilling a promise made in this Christmas kick-off post, here is ‘The Christmas Waltz’ as interpreted by Doris Day herself. A fitting performance from a woman who epitomized the sugar-coating in which we’d all like to believe. With a voice soft as warm butter, an earnest wish for a happy holiday season, and a wholesome throwback to an era that exists only in pictures and dreams, it’s a saccharine treat with an underlying bit of wistfulness that cuts it just enough to be deadly.

Frosted window-panes, candles gleaming inside, painted candy canes on the tree
Santa’s on his way, he’s filled his sleigh with things, things for you and for me.
It’s the time of year when the world falls in love,
Every song you hear seems to say, ‘Merry Christmas, may your New Year dreams come true.’
And this song of mine, in three-quarter time wishes you and yours the same thing too.

It’s the perfect song to go with a Christmas cocktail. Not with a loud and boisterous crew, not with a gaggle of gregarious friends, but alone, on your own, surrounded by the dull drone of strangers, the few friendly words of a bartender, the solitude and sadness of Christmas, no matter how loved you are by the masses. Because if you’re not loved by the one person you want to love you back, the rest of it doesn’t seem to matter.

I’ve often wondered at the happiness that everyone else seems to feel at Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I feel it too, in my niece and nephew, in my friends and family, in my husband and parents – but there’s always been something intrinsically sad to this time of the year. Maybe because it’s so close to the end of it, so near the darkest and shortest days of the season. No one wants to talk about that. It’s easier to turn your face to the sparkling lights, the bombast, the glitter and the drums. Better to hear the dulcet tones of Doris Day than the throbbing ticking of the time clock, running out for another year, reminding you of everything you never got to do.

And so we waltz along on a holiday breeze, we raise a glass and a toast to the season. The violins swell, the chimes charm, and it’s simple to get swept away with the voice of Miss Day. How can you resist? Why would you try?

It’s that time of year when the world falls in love,
Every song you hear seems to say, ‘Merry Christmas, may your New Year dreams come true.’
Continue reading ...

A Thirty-Year-Old Virgin

mad virg100

Yes, they do exist – in this case it’s Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’ album, which was released three decades ago this week. Hard to believe that such a long time has gone by since she first preened a la Marilyn in ‘Material Girl’ or acted anything-but-like-a-virgin in the titular track, but time waits for no woman, virgin or not. ‘Like A Virgin’ was the first Madonna album that entered our home, and for all the supposedly titillating fodder, it made for harmless background music as we went on family vacations. Clearly my brother and I didn’t know what ‘virgin’ even meant, but we knew a good hook and a catchy pop song, and that’s all that mattered to my ears at the time. Here’s a quick look back at those LAV songs that have made it onto the Madonna Timeline.

We’ll begin with lead-off track ‘Material Girl’ – since this is where it all started for me. I loved it. I could dance to it all night long (and often did). Fueling the greed-obsessed 80s, the materialistic song was turned on its head with Madonna’s video for the single. In the end, she chooses love over material possessions – something everyone seemed to miss.

Angel‘ was a fluffy bit of day-dreamy swooning, as Madonna literally sighs and laughs over someone who’d caught her fancy. Harmless, escapist pop at its best, it was sugar for the ears, and nothing sounded sweeter.

Title track ‘Like A Virgin‘ is arguably her best-known and most classic work. Whereas ‘Like A Prayer’ was spectacular in a different way, ‘Virgin’ was Madonna’s first entry into the pop stratosphere – and you never forget your first time. The numerous subsequent interpretations she’s given the song are a testament to its staying power and eternal themes.

It was on ‘Kids Incorporated’ when I first heard ‘Over and Over‘ – as rendered by a Madonna-wanna-be Martika. In spite of that, I still loved the song.

As far as my favorite ‘Virgin’ cut goes, I’d have to give the edge to ‘Dress You Up‘ – this is the song that had me jumping up and down on my brothers bed and squealing with absolute excitement at how good a song could sound at ear-throttling volume.

The album closed with a plea to ‘Stay‘ – a request I would not understand for a few more years, but something called out to me even back then – a longing, a wish, a prayer – and Madonna gave it all a voice.

Continue reading ...

The Moon & The Fag

moonf1

Apart from my first and last semesters of college, I didn’t socialize much on campus during my years at Brandeis. I didn’t relate to much of what college-age kids were talking about or going through – I wanted out, and I wanted out as quickly as possible. For such a supposedly progressive group of people, so many were so immature. Yet there were glimmers of hope, along with the possibility of friendship in that first semester, so when I started hanging out with my next door dorm mate Tony I thought I might have made a friend.

He was from the south – New Orleans I believe – and he had a smooth Southern drawl and a bit of charm that matched his earnestness. Don’t misunderstandI did not have a crush, I did not have an infatuation, and it was clear that Tony was very straight. At that time I was still pretending to be too, with a girlfriend from high school still in the picture. Tony didn’t have anyone, and he also wasn’t confident or courageous enough to ask anyone out, even if he was rakishly handsome in his way. So that left us alone, and together.

There’s no set way for how a friendship develops, particularly between two young men. A few shared walks to class, a couple of shared dinners, and the usual freshman dorm ice-breakers and monthly meetings are sometimes enough to spark it if it’s ever going to happen. Living next door aided in that too – so much of life occurs due to sheer proximity. We passed each other first thing in the morning, and last thing in the evening. In boxers and t-shirts, in glasses and mussed hair, in hope and in dread. He also had a dick of a roommate whom we all pretty much disliked, and I had a roommate who was hardly ever there (and whom I loved for it.) In some ways it was only natural that we’d become friends.

He also had a fondness for pop music and for guessing which songs would hit the top of the charts. At the time, Ace of Base was big, but the latest entry from Mariah Carey was also about to begin its Billboard climb. Tony was thrilled with ‘Hero’ and proclaimed it the next big smash. While never a big Mariah fan, I did enjoy the song, though I wondered if it would make it to Number One. Of course, it did. (To this day that and her Christmas song are about all I can stand.) ‘Hero’ brings me instantly back to that late fall at Brandeis, when I was first starting to awaken to the fact that I’d made a new friend. And it was a guy – a straight guy – something rather rare in my female-centric cloistered world.

 

There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
you don’t have to be afraid
of what you are…

Now, it sounds like Tony could very well have stood on the gay side of the Kinsey scale (Ace of Base? Mariah Carey?) but believe me, he most certainly was not. There was incessant talk of hot girls and breasts and butts and sometimes it was all I could do to hold my tongue to stop the flow of objectification that spilled from his southern mouth. It was never mean-spirited though, and never degrading – it was simply child-like and unrefined. In short, it was the stuff of straight guys – and it fascinated me. More than that, though, it taught me that I could be friends with someone who didn’t share all my politically-correct beliefs. No one was perfect, as I was finding, and you had to take the bad with the good because sometimes it was worth it. We challenged each other, and those challenges often led right to the verge of real arguments, but in the end we could agree to disagree and still walk back to the dorm together and meet up the next morning. This was new for me.

There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away…

By November of that year, I was finally getting the hang of college life after a couple of questionable months. I’d whittled my class-load down from an initial overly-ambitious schedule to just four courses (one of which was Water Aerobics – much more inviting at the end of August than in the first chill of November). I also had two difficult science courses, the first being Astronomy (which I also took with the hope it would be an easy pass of looking at the stars, not counting on all the physics and equations involved). In addition to the math, however, we did get to go outside and look up at the night sky from the roof of the observatory building.

Around us, the campus laid in quiet wait, and in the distance the glow of Boston once again beckoned to my desire. Above, the sky opened up and revealed more of itself as our eyes adjusted to the darkness. The moon, brilliant if only halfway in light floated in a corner, while the belt and sword of Orion stood at an angle. There was a brisk wind, and we hurriedly plotted things out on paper, took some measurements, and soon were set free by the professor. I walked down the stairs and back to my dorm. The hissing of the radiator was the only thing that greeted me in the darkened room. That hiss could be the loneliest sound in the world. Outside, the branches of a pine tree shifted shadows from a streetlight. I popped down the hall to see if Tony was around. There was no answer to my knock, and I went back to my room. The mark of a friendship is the dejection you feel when they’re not around. I put on the stupid Mariah Carey song and smiled. Maybe a guy could be a friend and a hero and I didn’t have to fall in love with him.

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive

So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you.

For his part,  I’d like to believe that  Tony felt similarly about me. Neither of us had a large circle of friends, and his southern friendliness was somewhat shocked by our cold northeastern indifference. We were both outsiders for vastly different reasons. He was on a pre-law track, and I was about to default to a degree in English and American Literature (hence all the science and water aerobics courses [?]) While we didn’t share any classes or interests, we had started sharing dinners at Sherman Hall, and spirited conversations that ranged in topic from Madonna to racial divides. I think each of us thought that he had the upper hand, and when that happens you sometimes create an unintended equality between friends that results in a mutual admiration. It’s so much easier to think better of someone if you actually believe that you’re better than that someone. Yet as misguided as we both may have been, that didn’t mean the burgeoning affection wasn’t real. Of course, I don’t know that for sure. I haven’t seen Tony in about eighteen years. Maybe he just didn’t want to eat dinner alone.

It’s a long road
When you face the world alone
No one reaches out a hand for you to hold.
You can find love
If you search within yourself
And the emptiness you felt will disappear.

In the way that it has often happened in my life, all it takes is one person – one friend – to galvanize me into confidence and serenity. Just knowing that another person out there cares, and is willing to come up to you across campus to say hello and have a chat about the day – it eases any loneliness in a way that no other source of strength can match. This was in the time before the bromance was an acknowledged part of life, a time when guys kept their distance for fear of being thought gay. It was only 1993, and it feels like a world away.

As November ripened, and we neared the Thanksgiving break, it was dark when we headed out to dinner. The first brisk days and nights that hint of winter to come are not always unwelcome, and I wrapped my arms around each other, pulling my coat close. We sat down to a warm dinner and talked of holiday plans. My drive in Thanksgiving Eve traffic would likely be just as long as his flight south. I realized then that I might miss him. I was just getting into a new way of life when suddenly I’d be whisked back to Amsterdam, to the past, to the town I’d tried to escape. Tony was excited to be going home, though, and I was happy for him. He missed Louisiana, he said. His friends and family. Even when it’s less than ideal, there’s no place like home. We finished our meal and dropped our trays off near the exit. Pulling our coats on, we met the night and the cold and hurried up the hill back to our dorm.

As we neared Usdan Center, the moon appeared from behind a stand of pine trees. It was glorious, almost full, and I said innocently, my recent Astronomy class still in my mind, “Hey, look at the moon,” as I pointed to the sky.

He paused in his stride and looked at me quizzically, in the way he sometimes cocked his head and questioned something I said. “You’re not going fag on me, are you?” he asked, rather seriously, and without a laugh or a smile.

Somewhere, the joy and hope I’d thought I was finding in another person froze. Something shifted right then for me, not only in our friendship, but in the rest of my world, and for the rest of my life. Something died in me. The little amount of faith I held in humanity diminished just a little bit more. And I felt someone I trusted – someone who was, or had already become, a friend – slip away. I waited for him to qualify the remark, to offer a joke or something to take away the sting of what he had said. I’d been called a fag before, and I would be again, but never by someone I considered a friend. Never someone so close.

I’m not one who usually cries, but at that moment, in the instant the words came out of his mouth, I wanted to cry. I swallowed hard instead, and then insisted of course I was not a fag, even managing to embolden the lie with a convincing laugh. I explained that I was merely commenting on the moon and what I’d learned in Astronomy that week. We were quiet for a few moments, then separated and went our ways. I think we both knew then.

The Lord knows dreams are hard to follow
But don’t let anyone tear them away
Hold on, here will be tomorrow
In time, you’ll find the way.

We had a few more dinners after that, and carried on outwardly in much the same way as before. But after Thanksgiving break, I stopped going to dinner with Tony. I wanted to be alone then anyway. I was coming to terms with the fact that I was gay, and even if I wasn’t, I knew I couldn’t be friends with someone who could use the word ‘fag’ so flippantly even if it he didn’t mean it, even if it didn’t mean anything. Words matter – at least they do to me.

After winter break, when snow was on the ground and trudging through campus proved both depressing and difficult, it would have been nice to have someone to bear the burden, shoulder to shoulder, but when he knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to grab dinner, I repeatedly bowed out. He stopped knocking soon enough. When our first year was over, and my parents had loaded the last of my things into the station wagon for the ride home, I didn’t say good-bye to Tony. I’m not even sure where he was that day, because I had honestly stopped caring.

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you.

Somehow, I never saw Tony for the next two years. It’s strange, as Brandeis is a relatively small college, but I was keeping to myself, lying in wait until I could get into Boston and away from college guys who equated looking at the moon with being a fag. He may have nudged my closet door closed completely, but in the ensuing months it only made me want to kick it down more.

In my last semester, I saw him for the last time. It was at this time of the year again – November or December – and I was waiting for the commuter rail to go into Boston – where I had just moved. He was getting off the outgoing train, and I remember watching him walk down the steps and thinking I knew him from somewhere. He flashed the same puzzled recognition before we realized and recognized. We exchanged hurried pleasantries and caught up a bit. I noticed how his eyes traveled down my outfit: a velvet scarf tied around my neck, and a top coat in black wool. His gaze focused on the velvet.

“That’s an interesting… scarf,” he said with the slightest bit of derision. It looked like he wanted to say more, but he didn’t. I wanted to say more too, but I followed his lead. It was almost dark, and the wind was picking up. We said our good-byes, and when the train pulled away I watched him cross the tracks as I stood there waiting for the next train to Boston. The velvet scarf fluttered behind me as I stood facing the wind.

There comes a time when you have to be your own hero.

Continue reading ...

Losing My Mind

Follies Set-Ups

There’s a special bit of alchemy that explodes when a Hunk of the Day like Jeremy Jordan meets a song by Stephen Sondheim. I was lucky enough to catch Mr. Jordan in his recent creation of the J.M. Barrie in ‘Finding Neverland.’ His version is slightly more subdued than the usual female versions of this song of desperation. In that respect I tend to prefer someone like Bernadette Peters, whose histrionic tear-addled take on it tells of more heartache than any human should have to bear. Which do you like better? Both are wondrous, but everyone cottons to their own favorite for a reason.

I like the way Ms. Peters inhabits the past and present of this character. Suzie and I saw her in the revival of ‘Follies’ captured here, and she was as fantastic as expected. (Well, Suzie thought she cried too much, but Suzie’s harsh that way. She once crushed my five-year-old hand in a car window.) I found her richly dramatic and beautifully brittle. No one writes an unrequited love song like Mr. Sondheim.

I think it’s the first few lines that touch me the most:

The sun comes up
I think about you
The coffee cup
I think about you
I want you so
It’s like I’m losing my mind

Such stark simplicity, such naked emotions, such heartbreaking solitude. I remember mornings like that. Sometimes part of me even misses them, the passion they broke in me. As I grow out of my 30′s, I understand what they mean by ‘The Big Chill.’ This icy remoteness, the further we move from our youth, the further we seem to move from feeling. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. The hardening of a heart finally coming years after I could have really used it. It’s so hard to get worked up about things. So difficult to find anything that really matters.

The morning ends
I think about you
I talk to friends
I think about you
And do they know
It’s like I’m losing my mind

There was such longing then, but that longing inspired and drove my restless heart. Every unreturned love letter, made more vicious in its vacuous silence, singed my tattered hopes. I burned willingly, from the inside out, and I “decked myself out in every little feather that floated my way” just to hang onto something so flimsy it would not matter if it could not hold me. In fact, all the better if it didn’t. I wanted it to fall apart. I wanted to fall. And I did.

All afternoon doing every little chore
The thought of you stays bright
Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor
Not going left
Not going right
I dim the lights
And think about you
Spend sleepless nights
To think about you
You said you loved . . me
Or were you just being kind
Or am I losing my mind

Being kind. Such a nice sentiment. Such a sweet turn of phrase. Such a fucking lie. There, in a fiery instant, the rage. The fury. The thousands of lonely nights gathered in a single black sheet of wrinkled memory, cast down and thrown up into a starless sky. What despair hides in a tear that never falls. Choke it all down. Purse the lips. Glaze the eyes. And, always, smile when you say goodbye.

Does no one know
It’s like I’m losing my mind…

I’ve forgotten what I was going to say.

Sometimes this blog is just one big nervous breakdown waiting to happen.

Or maybe it already did.

You said you loved . . . . me
Or were you just being kind
Or am I losing my mind?
Continue reading ...

When October Goes

october goes

{NOTE: The song here is not the rendition that Betty Buckley sang over my sad little stereo in 1996. I couldn’t find that on YouTube. Instead, it’s Nancy Wilson, who does an equally-admirable version. It seems that for the first time one of my musical memories is too obscure even for the all-encompassing YouTube. I don’t know if I’m angry or proud about that.}

The month: October

The year: 1995

The location: Waltham, Massachusetts

The more specific location: Brandeis University, Usen Castle – the turret room

The mindset: Alone and almost lonely, a little lost

And when October goes

The same old dream appears
And you are in my arms
To share the happy years
I turn my head away
To hide the helpless tears
Oh how I hate to see October go

It would be my last year living on campus. We’d already found a family home in Boston, but I held onto a campus room since I was still a full-time student. I was also working 35 hours a week at Structure – which was practically full-time. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it, but I suppose there was no other way, or, more importantly, no other way of which I knew.

 

In my little turret room, vaguely shaped like a piece of pie or a piece of Trivial Pursuit, the walls were made of painted cinder bricks. There had been two long twin beds taking up most of the space, so I stacked one frame on the other, and did the same with the mattresses, creating a lofty princess-and-the-pea scene that rose above the bottom ledge of one window.

 

On the rickety wooden dresser that stood against one wall, my stereo played ‘When October Goes’ when it wasn’t playing ‘I Want You.’ It was, after all, time for October to go.

 

It’s strange – I distinctly remember that fall in the dorm room, but not the following winter and spring. By then, I’d already moved much of my life into Boston. It wasn’t a huge move - my head and heart had been there for months anyway.

 

Still, for that one semester it was just me, on an absurdly high bed, in an absurd turret of an absurd castle, on a campus I could not wait to leave behind. The departure of October was a welcome one. I wanted out of college and into life. Out of Brandeis and into Boston. Leaving a smaller room of solitude for a larger one.

 

I should be over it now I know
It doesn’t matter much
How old I grow
I hate to see October go.
Continue reading ...

The Madonna Timeline: Song #109 – ‘Lucky Star’ – 1984

madlucky star

{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

With the last few Madonna Timeline entries – ‘Like a Virgin‘ and ‘Burning Up‘ and ‘Dress You Up‘  -  we’ve delved deep into the early days of M’s musical career. We stay in the 80′s with the latest, ‘Lucky Star.’ Now brace yourself, because I have to say something rather blasphemous to die-hard fans, and many casual fans of that heady early era as well I suppose: I’m not a fan of ‘Lucky Star.’ And you know what? It’s ok to say that. If Matthew Rettenmund can have issues with ‘Take A Bow’ and ‘Crazy For You‘ then surely I can scoff at ‘Lucky Star!’

Come on, Shine your heavenly body tonight
Cause I know you’re gonna make everything all right

I also don’t have any fond or not-so-fond memories of when the song came out. My first Madonna memory was a short while later – when ‘Material Girl‘ marched onto the scene. Prior to that I was too young to listen to the radio.

That said, I understand that ‘Lucky Star’ is a highlight in her catalog, particularly to many who were bopping to the early MTV beat back then, so I will not discount its importance. For her video career, it was crucial in establishing her style (and it’s historic in the back-up dancing by her own brother, Christopher, who would prove to have a crucial presence in the first half of her career) and her soon-to-be dominance of MTV. Yet for some reason, and it’s a personal preference more than anything else, I never connected to the song or the video.

So you see, I don’t like absolutely everything Madonna does. I’m a sick fan, but I’m not a sycophant.

You may be my lucky star, but I’m the luckiest by far.

SONG #109 – ‘Lucky Star’ – 1985

Continue reading ...

I’ll Teach You How to F@&k…

mad erotic 101

Yesterday marked the day, way back in 1992, when Madonna released her ‘Erotica’ album. It was the fall of my senior year in high school, and I was in a very dismal place. The prospect of leaving home in less than a year was a frightening light at the end of a tunnel from which I wasn’t sure I could escape. The last days of October ripped the leaves from the trees. Summer had long since surrendered. In the moments that led up to the release of ‘Erotica’ I felt like those leaves. Torn. Shredded. Fallen. Falling…

It was a dark time, and ‘Erotica’ was one of Madonna’s darker albums, which makes it one of her best. There were scorching spots like ‘Fever‘ and ‘Thief of Hearts.’ There were softer stretches like ‘Bad Girl‘ and ‘Rain.’ There were even funny bits like ‘Bye Bye Baby‘ along with under-rated, overlooked gems like ‘Words.’ And there were classic tracks like ‘Deeper and Deeper‘ and ‘Erotica‘ itself.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I would ever hear the album. At that time, I wasn’t sure I’d need my math homework the next day. I felt on the verge of self-annihilation. In the backyard, I stood lonely sentry by piles of oak leaves, after raking the expanse of dying lawn behind the house. From my hands, cold and wet clumps of leaves and twigs dropped into black garbage bags. In the folds of plastic that was the shade of clear night sky, I looked at molten-like reflections of clouds and pine trees and the bare branches of deciduous nudity.

Sometimes I feel emotionally naked on this blog. This is one of those times. It’s always easier to take your clothes off than show your heart and share your secrets. Suddenly I want to clam up and stop the telling of this story – and since this is my blog, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. For now, at least. I don’t feel like talking about it. But it’s already been said, and written about, and if you delve deep enough here it’s not difficult to piece it together. Tricksters don’t like to be caught, but sometimes we do get trapped.

In a similar way, ‘Erotica’ was the trap that Madonna set for herself. We all do it at some point. We design situations to test, to try, to risk, and, yes, to die. Bound by the ropes we weave, tied up in chains of self-construction, she exorcised her demons publicly, brazenly baring her body in her ‘Sex’ book and aurally releasing herself in the ‘Erotica’ album. It was a piece of pop art that pissed people off, because it raised a mirror to the world. No matter how vain we secretly (or not-so-secretly) are, the world despises anyone who points that mirror at it uninvited. I did not understand that then. I don’t think Madonna did either.

Whenever someone questions me about my love and adoration for Madonna, I think back to the fall that ‘Erotica’ came out, and how she was partly responsible for saving my life. It would be foolish to attribute my survival solely to her, but she most certainly played an integral role in getting me through the rough times.

She still does.

Madonna would make it past the critical and commercial downturn that the ‘Erotica’ period became, and I would make it past that frightening fall. Sometimes, though, on rainy nights late in October, I remember when the leaves fell in 1992, and I marvel that we escaped.

Surrender to me, to love…

Continue reading ...