Category Archives: Music

The Madonna Timeline: Song #131 – ‘Freedom’ – Spring 2004

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{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.}

Created during the ‘Bedtime Stories’ sessions, this song was not included in that final funkified R&B slow-swing album, probably for its rather demo-like feel and lack of focus. It was officially released as part of Madonna’s ‘American Life’ follow-up remix EP (the most eclectic and puzzling release ever). It actually would have worked fine as a filler fodder on the original 1994 release, which found Madonna at one of her most casual and carefree musical moments, because it sounds out of place next to almost everything else she’s done (especially the remixed versions of the ‘American Life’ tracks). But no one says no to Madonna, so she had it on.

“NO” IS JUST A WORD
THAT PEOPLE SAY WHEN THEY’RE AFRAID
AND IF YOU SAY “NO” TO ME
THEN I WILL FIGHT YOU TILL I’M FREE

SAY FREEDOM, BROTHERHOOD
JUSTICE, JUST SAY “YES”
SAY FREEDOM, BROTHERHOOD
JUSTICE, JUST SAY “YES”

It’s mostly a rough musical riff or two, stripped down to a couple of guitars and Madonna’s lofty platitudes broken down into simplified cries of ‘freedom’ and ‘brotherhood’ and ‘justice’ – and all of it boils down into a not-so-promising and completely-unfulfilling musical doodle. Bogged down by the whole ‘justice’ angle, this is not one of my favorites.

‘CAUSE “NO” IS JUST A WORD
THAT PEOPLE SAY WHEN THEY CAN’T COPE
AND IF YOU SAY “NO” TO ME
THEN I WILL FIGHT YOU TILL I’M FREE

SONG #131 – ‘Freedom’ – Spring 2004

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THE MADONNA TIMELINE: SONG #130 – ‘BEST NIGHT’ – SPRING 2015

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{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.}

Why this plotting thud wasn’t excised and replaced with something like ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ on the otherwise mostly brilliant ‘Rebel Heart‘ album is beyond me, but here it is. A filler track at best, ‘Best Night’ is Madonna at her laziest, both musically and lyrically.

There’s really nothing more to say, but this is far from her ‘Best.’

YOU CAN CALL ME ‘M’ TONIGHT

YOU CAN BE MY MAN TONIGHT

SONG #130 – ‘Best Night’ – Spring 2015

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #129 – ‘Pray For Spanish Eyes’ – Fall 1991

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{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.}

Smoke hung in the air, gray like everything at that time of the year. Somewhere, someone was burning leaves. It was already November, and fire would inform everything for the next few months. In summer we smolder; in winter we burn. Though the ‘Like A Prayer’ album had been out for two years, I was just getting into the deep cuts, and ‘Pray For Spanish Eyes’ came on the walk-man as I raked up the oak leaves in our endless backyard.

I KNOW FOR SURE HIS HEART IS HERE WITH ME

THOUGH I WISH HIM BACK I KNOW HE CANNOT SEE

MY HAND’S TREMBLING, I KNOW HE HEARS ME SING.

The earth was dry, which was best for raking and bagging, and all life had died back in the frosts and frigid nights of the weeks before. From my hands, decayed and desiccated leaves sifted through my fingers, as if I was Father Time sprinkling the sands of history over a barren land. Beneath the leaves was the brown ground, still scorched from the end of summer.

I LIGHT THIS CANDLE AND WATCH IT THROW TEARS ON MY PILLOW

AND IF THERE IS A CHRIST, HE’LL COME TONIGHT, TO PRAY FOR SPANISH EYES

AND IF I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO SHOW BUT TEARS ON MY PILLOW

WHAT KIND OF LIFE IS THIS? IF GOD EXISTS, THEN HELP ME PRAY FOR SPANISH EYES. 

Looking up, I peer through bare branches and pine boughs, one running into the other, weaving a tapestry of limbs and needles. A cold wind moves overhead. Soon, snow will appear, but not on this day. We teeter on the edge, not quite ready to plummet into winter. It is dreary weather. It ebbs away at the soul with its overriding monotony, the dull way a barren landscape blunts the viewer’s gaze.

HE HAD TO FIGHT LIKE ALL THE REST

IN THE BARRIO ALL THE STREETS ARE PAVED WITH FEAR

I DON’T UNDERSTAND; AT LEAST HE WAS A MAN.

It is a difficult time in my life. The scent of fallen oak leaves will remind me of it in the years to come. A mournful, earthy scent fronted by the tomb-like mineral mist rising from the soil. I look around. A line of black garbage bags stands closer to the house, a conflux of short, abstract watchers, mute and faceless against the white house. The cleared expanse around me looks neat and clean. A small sliver of pride surfaces, but I tuck it away. No one extols the virtues of a spoiled teenager.

I LIGHT THIS CANDLE AND WATCH IT THROW TEARS ON MY PILLOW

AND IF THERE IS A CHRIST, HE’LL COME TONIGHT, TO PRAY FOR SPANISH EYES

AND IF I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO SHOW BUT TEARS ON MY PILLOW

WHAT KIND OF LIFE IS THIS? IF GOD EXISTS, THEN HELP ME PRAY FOR SPANISH EYES.

Seeking a savior of some sort, I search the sky for signs of impending change. Simultaneously, I wish to be rescued and to wreak vengeance. Punishment and forgiveness, banishment and rebirth. I suppose I was seeking God, if God is indeed Love. Where was He? Where was I meant to be? As evening descended, and the grays all around me grew darker, I walked out of the forest back to the house. There was darkness in both places.

In my bedroom, I play the penultimate track on ‘Like A Prayer’ and light a candle in my mind.

This was the album that brought us such emotional tracks as ‘Promise To Try’ and ‘Oh Father’ – and this song was in the same Catholic and confessional vein. The greatest Madonna songs tell a story – either in their lyrics or their video accompaniment. In this instance, a loose narrative of a savior – it could be Jesus, it could be a soldier, it could be a stranger, it could be a lover – carries through the guitar-laden flamenco-tinged ballad. This mysterious male phantom figure, perhaps a ghost of her then-recent divorce from Sean Penn, leaves Madonna questioning herself, her love, and the very existence of God.

HOW MANY LIVES WILL THEY HAVE TO TAKE? HOW MUCH HEARTACHE?

HOW MANY SUNS WILL THEY HAVE TO BURN? SPANISH EYES, WHEN WILL THEY EVER LEARN?

In Madonna, I found my savior. In her I found something more resonant than a God who sent his only son to die for others. How many suns will they have to burn? Those suns could be read as sons, and the first-born will always bear the brunt of the burn. 

YOU WERE NOT THE MARAVILLA IN OUR MIND

WE WERE PROUD TO FIGHT BUT WE CANNOT WIN THIS BLIND

STAND YOUR GUNS AGAINST THE WALL, WHO’S NEXT IN LINE TO FALL?

I LIGHT THIS CANDLE AND WATCH IT THROW TEARS ON MY PILLOW

AND IF THERE IS A CHRIST, HE’LL COME TONIGHT, TO PRAY FOR SPANISH EYES

AND IF I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO SHOW BUT TEARS ON MY PILLOW

WHAT KIND OF LIFE IS THIS? IF GOD EXISTS, THEN HELP ME PRAY FOR SPANISH EYES.

My ghostly reflection looks back at me from the window, features smudged in the dirty glass, form abstract and ill-defined. In the darkness and haze, I hide my tears. Even if they ran as red as the blood of Christ, you would not see them. Though they burn my cheeks, I do not make a sound. Someone else will have to speak for me. Amid a flourish of trumpets, Madonna cries out in passion:

HOW MANY LIVES WILL THEY HAVE TO TAKE? HOW MUCH HEARTACHE?

HOW MANY SUNS WILL THEY HAVE TO BURN? SPANISH EYES, WHEN WILL THEY EVER LEARN?

There is nothing to do but sleep. That fall, it is the only place I find peace.

A guitar fades into oblivion.

A whispered prayer escapes my lips.

Tears betray my eyes.

TUS LAGRIMAS DE TRISTEZA

NO ME DEJAN OLVIDARTE

SONG #129 – ‘Pray For Spanish Eyes’ – Fall 1991

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #128 – ‘Messiah’ – Winter 2015

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{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.}

 

Madonna doesn’t always get the credit she deserves for some of her lyrics. Yes, she has a tendency to go a bit banal at times – and I know no one wants another waiting/hesitating/anticipating couplet – but if you dig into her deep cuts there are some jewels of gorgeous poetry at work, such as in this installation of the Madonna Timeline – the miraculous ‘Messiah’ from the stunning ‘Rebel Heart’ opus. The majestic track, with its dramatic orchestral flourishes and impassioned delivery ranks among Madonna’s very best ballads – a blending of ‘The Power of Goodbye’ and ‘Falling Free’ with a little ‘Drowned World: Substitute for Love’ thrown in for good measure. In other words, a track that can cut you to tears – and I absolutely love it.

 

I AM THE PROMISE THAT YOU CANNOT KEEP.

REAP WHAT YOU SOW, FIND WHAT YOU SEEK.

I AM THE SORCERESS DOWN IN THE DEEP.

I AM THE EARTH UNDER YOUR FEET.

 

Winter.

The sky is dark gray, despite the early hour.

There is a brutality in the air, in the scent of smoke and snow.

An acrid metallic taste left on the tongue like blood.

An empty stretch of holidays, surrounded by family and friends, and feeling acute isolation.

Forlorn, forsaken, and forgotten – and from that we forge our fortitude.

Or we wait for another to rescue us.

A savior.

~… A messiah. …~

We seek him in the sky, on every distant horizon.

We wait in joyful hope, on every solemn occasion.

We think he will come, and change everything that’s wrong.

 

I AM THE MOON WITH NO LIGHT OF MY OWN

YOU ARE THE SUN GUARDING YOUR THRONE

I HEARD THE ANGELS WHISPER TO ME

LOOK FOR THE SIGNSHE IS THE ONE…

 

A son who never quite felt loved, who had to go out on his own to find unconditional acceptance.

A man who never quite felt loved, who had to be out on his own to realize his worth.

And I did that.
I went into the world to find what I could not get at home.

It was love – the love of another person who didn’t care that I was gay, who didn’t care what I looked like, who didn’t care that my jacket was Gaultier.

Yet it was elusive.

Hidden.

Unknown.

Fumbling in the darkness, I could not see where I was meant to be.

I could not find the one.

 

I’LL LIGHT A CANDLE HERE IN THE DARK

MAKING MY WAY TO YOUR HEART

I’LL CAST A SPELL THAT YOU CAN’T UNDO

‘TIL YOU WAKE UP AND YOU FIND THAT YOU LOVE ME TOO

‘TIL YOU WAKE UP AND YOU FIND THAT YOU LOVE ME TOO

 

By the light of a candle, late in the night, I chant my prayers.

The flame wavers, distorted by salty water, and multiplies in shards of kaleidoscopic light.

Shadows on the wall encroach on the single source of illumination.

They approach but they never quite reach it.

The light is untouchable.

 

I’LL BE THE BRIDE THAT IS MARRIED TO LIGHT

YOU ARE THE DAY, I AM THE NIGHT

WEAVE YOU A BLANKET OF SILVER AND GOLD

I’LL KEEP YOU WARM, DO AS I’M TOLD

 

Loneliness makes us do strange things.

Sick, sad, twisted, desperate things.

A lack of love does that too, until we reach a point where our desperation is written in everything we do.

Hurt begets hurt. Pain breeds more pain. A generous heart is doomed.

We put up with less than we deserve because we have been so beaten down.

For every queen, there is a dominant king.

Such power plays are deeply ingrained in our history. Their poisonous roots run deep, housed in darkness, buried in cold. They can be masked as protection, disguised as safety, but they rot you from the inside out. The sudden wilt betrays a lifetime of unhappiness.

 

I NEED YOUR STRENGTH, IT WILL KEEP ME FROM HARM

I’LL BE YOUR QUEEN, SAFE IN YOUR ARMS

DON’T WANT TO GET TO THE END OF MY DAYS

SAYING I WASN’T AMAZED

 

I’LL LIGHT A CANDLE HERE IN THE DARK

MAKING MY WAY TO YOUR HEART

I’LL CAST A SPELL THAT YOU CAN’T UNDO

‘TIL YOU WAKE UP AND YOU FIND THAT YOU LOVE ME TOO

‘TIL YOU WAKE UP AND YOU FIND THAT YOU LOVE ME TOO

 

Then, all of sudden, and just when you were about to give up on the whole thing altogether, the key: acceptance.

Resignation.

It takes a great many battles and wars before there is any sort of peace.

But there – here – it was, arrived at after numerous attempts at love – at the very moment you realized you didn’t need it. Maybe you didn’t even want it. There’s a victory in that too.

A sad victory.

Because not every victory means you won something.

Sometimes a victory is merely escaping certain death.

 

I’LL LIGHT A CANDLE HERE IN THE DARK

MAKING MY WAY TO YOUR HEART

I’LL CAST A SPELL THAT YOU CAN’T UNDO

‘TIL YOU WAKE UP AND YOU FIND THAT YOU LOVE ME TOO

 

Awakened, you rise and repeat the mantra…

 

‘TIL YOU WAKE UP AND YOU FIND THAT YOU LOVE ME TOO

 

You say it with bone-chilling conviction, with all the desires you ever spent or wasted now conjured like ghosts backing up your army of one.

 

‘TIL YOU WAKE UP AND YOU FIND THAT YOU LOVE ME TOO

 

And all those you’ve ever loved, all those you’ve ever wanted to love you, and all those who didn’t know the first thing about love suddenly dissipate into nothing. It was only ever about waking up to yourself. You have no control over anyone else.

You never did.

No one does.

Love – true love – only arises when you learn to let go.

 

‘TIL YOU WAKE UP AND YOU FIND THAT YOU LOVE ME TOO

 

At the end – and only at the end – they do.

 

SONG #128 – ‘Messiah’ – Winter 2015

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Hallelujah

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A moment of peace in the middle of the day.

We all need one.

A powerful performance of a powerful song.

I always a cry a little at something like this.

A cold and broken hallelujah…

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Adam Lambert: The Sexy & Shirtless Show

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Adam Lambert gets all shirtless and sexy, while simultaneously a little deep, in his new video and song, ‘Welcome to the Show.’ I can dig it, and would expect nothing less from this two-time Hunk of the Day.

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That Little Fire Is Still Alive

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This has already been a Madonna Timeline, but I feel like there’s more to that memory, more to that time in my life, than I was able to convey that first time around. Summer days often come with a tinge of melancholy, a sense of longing that creeps in among the sunny days, leaving a mark like a water stain having dried too soon in the heat.

That summer of ’92 was a haze of confusing emotions as I struggled with unfurling my wings and clipping them at the same time. Such conflicting thoughts left me outwardly stoic and a little paralyzed. And yet I went so far – Boston, New York, Finland, Providence – and back to Amsterdam in the end, where I spent the final warm weeks of the waning summer before my last year of high school.

Madonna This Used to be My Playground [Long Version]

WELL THE YEARS THEY FLEW

AND WE NEVER KNEW,

WE WERE FOOLISH THEN

WE WERE NEVER TIRED

AND THAT LITTLE FIRE

IS STILL ALIVE IN ME…

IT WILL NEVER GO AWAY,

CAN’T SAY GOODBYE TO YESTERDAY…

As the hollyhocks reached the sky, and I plucked Japanese beetles off their leaves, I remembered where I had just been. A stone staircase leading down to a statue of bears, a wedding receiving line covered with a hand-held arch of birch boughs, a dinner backed by the first Cowboy Junkies album I ever heard, and a long stretch of dirty road bordered by the lofty ears of corn.

It’s almost corn season again.

This post was for me. So I can remember. Maybe one day each of those tales will be told, but not yet.

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #127 – ‘S.E.X.’ – Spring 2015

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{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.}

When you read my mind, get down and discover me
I’m an open door, let you come inside of me
Wanna put my hands around your neck
Gonna take you to a place that you will not forget

Sex, what you know about sex?
Tell me what you know about sex
Sex, what you know about sex?

Welcome back, Dita. When the world is telling you to shut up about sex, Madonna does what she has always done: talk about sex. While she may never scale the provocative heights of the ‘Erotica’/’Sex’ era of 1992, she continues to be as genuinely controversial as ever, only now it has a deeper, if less pervading, resonance. By simply living her life as a fifty-something woman who still gets turned on by the notion of sex, Madonna is crafting what may be her most shocking reinvention yet. And it ruffles the feathers of a bird that should no longer be quite so bothered by the ruffling.

Madonna and Sex go way back. Theirs is a symbiotic relationship from which each has benefitted in some way. Madonna gets the attention and controversy; Sex gets the promotion and demystification. From the heady days of ‘Like A Virgin’ to the ‘down on my knees’ double-entendre of ‘Like A Prayer,’ Madonna has sprinkled sexual references overt and subtle into just about everything she has done. There was ‘Justify My Love,’ there was ‘Girl Gone Wild,’ and there was ‘Erotica.’ Even in more somber works such as ‘Bad Girl’ and ‘Rain’ there is an element of the sexual.

As for this blatant and blunt cut from the deluxe version of ‘Rebel Heart,’ Madonna re-treads her exciting titillation of the early 90’s, but it’s a saucy echo more than anything with substantial ‘raw meat’ on its bones. The strange thing about ‘S.E.X.’ is that it actually sounds a bit like the bad reviews of ‘Erotica’ from 1992. Back then, Madonna was accused of being cold and remote, and the entire ‘Erotica’ album was maligned as a clinical examination of the topic rather than the brittle musical essay of wanting to connect on a deeper level. On ‘Rebel Heart’ there are sexier and more erotic themes that piggy-back on love in songs like ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Ghosttown’ which means that something like ‘S.E.X.’ pales in comparison.

That’s not to say that this track is wholly without spark. When Madonna ticks off a list of fetishes, it’s equally hilarious and erotic, and if there’s one thing that most of her critics miss it’s Madonna’s acknowledgement that there is not only fun to be had in sex, but humor as well.

Twisted rope, hand cuffs
Blindfold, strings of pearls
Necktie, silk scarf
Silver chains, pretty girls
Thigh highs, feather masks
High heels, gold damask
Perfume, switchblade
Absinthe, Novocaine

Chopsticks, underwear
Bar of soap, dental chair
Fishnets, satin sheets
Garter belt, raw meat
Candlelight, key hole
Leather belt, mink stole
Golden shower, latex thong
Licorice whips, strap it on

Like the act itself, ‘S.E.X.’ the song is a bit messy, but even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

A lesson in sexology, indeed.

SONG #127 – ‘S.E.X.’ – Spring 2015

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Hunk of the Day: Seth Sikes

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The thrill of naming this Hunk of the Day is that he’ll be performing in a couple of days just a few miles away at The Mansion Inn at Saratoga Springs, NY. Seth Sikes will be bringing his set of Liza Minelli songs into that thoroughly-thoroughbred town for a performance on June 23, 2016. He’s also known for his take on Ms. Minelli’s famous Mom, Judy Garland, and since we need a little happiness right now I’m posting the link of his indelible performance of ‘Get Happy’ below.

As the Assistant Director for shows such as ‘The Nance’ and ‘Sondheim: The Birthday Concert’ he has spent a number of hours behind the scenes, but in a role that puts a show together. In his work showcasing the careers of Ms. Garland and Ms. Minnelli, Sikes steps into the spotlight himself to make their best-known songs his own. Sometimes in channeling the work of someone else, an artist reveals a little more of themselves. That’s the beauty of a great song, and the wonder of a great interpreter.

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #126 – ‘Act of Contrition’ – 1989

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{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.}

OH MY GOD, I AM HEARTILY SORRY FOR HAVING OFFENDED THEE…

More an act of controversy than contrition, the closing track to Madonna’s otherwise-flawless ‘Like A Prayer’ album had even die-hard fans like myself scurrying for our rosary beads and saying a little prayer to escape the wrath of God Almighty. I’ve already gone into that in excruciating detail, so won’t bother with it again. Instead, let’s get into a very brief analysis, or commentary really, on one of the strangest songs Madonna has ever recorded. (Ok, ‘Cry Baby’? I mean, ‘Autotune Baby‘… Actually, I mean ‘Bye Bye Baby‘…)

With the backing track from ‘Like A Prayer’ playing in reverse, and Prince’s avant-garde guitar licks striding hellaciously forward, it’s Madonna’s rendition of the ‘Act of Contrition.’ (She would later employ it to better effect as the opening to ‘Girl Gone Wild.’) Back then, it comprised the bulk of the song, a rather tuneless affair that sounded more like Madonna freestyling her way through a remembered childhood prayer than any carefully-crafted work of song-writing.

At the end, with guitars screeching wildly out of control, Madonna dissolves into histrionic screaming, “I resolve, I reserve, I have a reservation… I have a reservation… What do you mean it’s not in the computer?!?!”

An utterly bizarre ending to one of her most powerful albums, it is somehow courageous in its raw, unpolished, amateur-like lack of grace. Still, the ‘Like A Prayer’ opus deserved better than that, and ‘Act of Contrition’ was one of the louder thuds in Madonna’s history of atrocious album-enders.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT’S NOT IN THE COMPUTER?!?!?

SONG #126 – ‘Act of Contrition’ – 1989

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She’s Got the Best of Me

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While it has yet to make the Madonna Timeline, ‘Borderline’ has been resurrected from the deepest vaults of the Madonna oeuvre, thanks to her recent stellar performance of it on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. It would have been difficult to top the first Tonight Show appearance by President Barack Obama, so Madonna managed to perfectly complement the rather dignified proceedings. Three-decades and some change ago, she scored her first Top Ten hit with ‘Borderline’ – and though I was just slightly too young to remember it, it has since become one of my favorite tracks from her debut album. That’s all for the future timeline, however, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, enjoy this lovely performance of the song, proof that all Madonna needs to do is sing one of her many hits, do a few cute turns around the stage, and bring us all back to the spark that made her so special in the first place. It’s still there. The rebel heart still beats in fine form, and the plucky little girl who only wanted to dance and sing can still elicit rapture. Something tells me she always will.

As for the performance, it was perfection. I know I always say that, but listen to her voice and tell me she doesn’t sound amazing. The girl’s still got it.

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Hunk of the Day: Richard Hadfield

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Swing it, mister! The Hunk of the Day is Richard Hadfield, an across-the-pond bloke who reportedly just split with his grip Collabro (who give him shirtless backing support in this photo from Attitude). Currently, Mr. Hadfield is moving into the swing and standard realm (check out his take on The Killers’ ‘Mr. Brightside’ below) which seems to suit his soothing voice just fine. Music has provided a number of hunks with inspiration, including Justin Timberlake, Adam Levine, Keith Urban, Tom Goss, Jake Shears, Eli Lieb, Lenny Kravitz and Nick Jonas.

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Hunk of the Day: Zachary Gordin

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The costumes are usually spectacular, the staging is often splendid, and the talent is unsurpassed, but I’m still not the biggest fan of opera. That said, I might be swayed should the Hunk of the Day honoree Zachary Gordin be part of the production. His rich voice is about the only thing that surpasses his practically-perfect body, sculpted into opera jock form. But don’t take my mumblings for anything, read through the long list of accomplishments as furnished on his website:

Zachary Gordin is renowned for bringing masterful singing and strong physicality to a wide variety of roles: from baroque heroes, to contemporary works written specifically for him. For his performance of Schumann’s Dichterliebe at the Olympic Music Festival, the Seattle Times hailed him as “a singer already capable of some arresting musical insights. The occasional big effects were commanding and intense without ever descending into coarseness, and the delicacy and tonal allure he brought to the cycle’s preponderance of quiet songs were deeply impressive.” Recent operatic performances include Joseph De Rocher – the convict – in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking with Dayton Opera, Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte as a guest artist with the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro with Visalia Opera Company, Escamillo in Carmen with Diablo Symphony Orchestra and San Francisco Lyric Opera, Silvio in Pagliacci and Monterone in Rigoletto with Sacramento Opera, Aeneas in Dido and Aeneas and El Cantaor in La vida breve with West Bay Opera, Germont in La Traviata with West Bay Opera and Center Stage Opera, Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor with North Bay Opera and Center Stage Opera, and many others.

Equally at home as a soloist on the concert stage, Gordin has performed Monteverdi’s Magnificat with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder with the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, Brahms’ Requiem and Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem with the Oakland Symphony Chorus, Duruflé’s Requiem with the Valley Concert Chorale, Mendelssohn’s Magnificat with the Dominican Winifred Baker Chorale, Schubert’s Mass in E-flat and Psalm 92with the San Francisco Choral Society, Bach’s Cantata #82 “Ich habe genug” and Mozart’s Coronation Masswith the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra, Mozart’s Requiem with the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra, Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht, Duruflé’s Requiem, and Schubert’s Mass in G with San Francisco City Chorus, Tippett’s A Child of Our Time with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and Women Sing, and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with the Center Stage Opera Orchestra. Upcoming performances include:  Joseph De Rocher in Dead Man Walking with Shreveport Opera.

Gordin has been in high demand as a guest artist with the Oakland East Bay Symphony, where has sung Handel’s Messiah, Fauré’s Requiem, Verdi’s Otello, Kurt Weill’s Street Scene, “A Night at the Opera”, as well as Orff’s Carmina Burana, for which Maestro Michael Morgan writes “Zachary Gordin is the ideal baritone for Carmina Burana. In addition to having a very full, powerful baritone, this is the best singing of the high, sensual music that I have ever heard. This is as good a rendering of those solos as one is ever likely to encounter.” As Carmina Burana has become a signature piece, over the past few seasons he has reprised this demanding role in performances with the YOSA Philharmonic and San Antonio Choral Society, Pacific Shores Philharmonic, Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, the Santa Clara Chorale, the Choral Project, the UC Berkeley Choruses, and others. Recent premieres of works written for him have included “Constant Fever” by Sheli Nan, The Myth of Kurva by Loretta Notareschi, and “A Nation Announcing Itself” by Clint Borzoni for the Sacramento Pride Gala “Courage to Stand”.

Gordin’s talent has been recognized as a winner of prestigious vocal competitions, including: the Pacific Musical Society Competition, East Bay Opera League Vocal Competition, Bellini International Voice Competition, and the Ibla Grand Prize Baroque Music Competition. He was the recipient of the Irene Patti Swartz Encouragement Award for the Florida Grand Opera National Voice Competition, and Grantee of the Vocal Arts Foundation in San Francisco.  He was also World Finalist for the Academia at Teatro alla Scala, Regional Finalist for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and the youngest candidate selected for the ORFEO 2000 World Competition of International Finalists hosted by Hannover Staatsoper. In addition to his performance calendar, Gordin maintains an active schedule training singers, and presenting workshops and master classes for opera companies and universities throughout the US.

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Summer Memories: The Best Guardian for a Red Sox Game

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This weekend Skip and I head back to Fenway Park to take in a ball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. For the record, it is a win-win scenario for me, as the Blue Jays are my second favorite team (after the Red Sox). The very first professional baseball game I’d ever attended was a match-up between these two teams in 1986, the year the Sox went on to win the pennant. (We’ll leave Bill Buckner out of this for now.) At the time, I was more interested in the brown bag of paperwhite narcissus we’d just procured at a market than I was in the game. My Dad and brother had the better seats, by the third base line, while Mom and I were further back. It meant more to them than to us.

Last year I returned to the Green Monster’s lair with Skip, and it was an unexpectedly enjoyable experience. I’m not sure what sort of scene we made, what with the beer, the insults to the other team, and the runway rating I insisted on giving every player as their visage flashed across the screen for each of their at-bats. Surely it was no more incendiary than cutting the entire ‘Thor’ movie line.

I SEE THE DAWN OF A NEW BEGINNING

THIS TIME, THIS TIME WE CAN’T GO HOME

I HEAR THE STREETS OF TOMORROW CALLING

I GO, I GO WHERE YOU GO

‘CAUSE WE BELONG TO SOMETHING

WE BELONG TO SOMETHING NEW

As we sat down for the game, I found myself once again getting philosophical about the whole idea of baseball, its place in our culture, and the attraction that gets an entire park filled with grown adults hooting and hollering like kids at Christmas. Skip explained my various questions on the game itself, while the undulations of the crowd held me transfixed. I wanted so badly to do the wave, but I don’t think they did it that day.

Shaded somewhere behind the third base line, I was taken back to my first Red Sox game, while very much inhabiting the game at hand. Past and present selves existed, and the solitude I so often courted and craved in both childhood and adulthood found momentary abatement in the enjoyment of a friend – and a group – all of us watching the same thing, sharing the same experience,

IN THE MIST OF THE MIDNIGHT HOUR

YOU SAID TO ME

WE ARE, WE ARE A DIFFERENT KIND

OH LIKE WE’VE BEEN KISSED BY HIGHER POWER

SAYING DON’T WAIT, DON’T WAIT UNTIL IT’S GONE

‘CAUSE WE BELONG TO SOMETHING,

WE BELONG TO SOMETHING,

WE BELONG TO SOMETHING NEW…

Most of my happy summer memories go back to the 80’s, but every once in a while a new one is created, and it gets filed away for those winter days when things can get a little lonely. Ever since last year’s Red Sox trip, Skip has been part of a new summer memory. It’s reminiscent of the days of ‘Stand By Me’ or ‘The Goonies’ when my brother and a friend would join me for an adventure. Most days it was simply riding our bikes around town or traipsing through the woods or racing around the garage if it was raining. Some boyish things are better shared. A baseball game is one of them.

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The Boy You Always Wanted to Be

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TURN AROUND

EVERY NOW AND THEN I GET A LITTLE BIT LONELY AND YOU’RE NEVER COMING ROUND

TURN AROUND

EVERY NOW AND THEN I GET A LITTLE BIT TIRED OF LISTENING TO THE SOUND OF MY TEARS 

TURN AROUND

EVERY NOW AND THEN I GET A LITTLE BIT NERVOUS THAT THE BEST OF ALL THE YEARS HAVE GONE BY

TURN AROUND

EVERY NOW AND THEN I GET A LITTLE BIT TERRIFIED AND THEN I SEE THE LOOK IN YOUR EYES

TURN AROUND, BRIGHT EYES

EVERY NOW AND THEN I FALL APART

TURN AROUND, BRIGHT EYES

EVERY NOW AND THEN I FALL APART…

Give me a cheesy dance cover of a classic 80’s tune and I’m in adolescent heaven.

It was the mid-90’s, and I was working at the Faneuil Hall Structure store, sandwiched between Bath & Body Works and Express and loving every minute of it. The new spring music mix had been delivered and I was trying to get my head around how I would listen to these songs non-stop for the next three months when the familiar chords of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ came on. Backed by its racing BPM and the diva-lite vocal stylings of one Nikki French, it thundered through the store and framed that spring with its romantic longings intact.

Oddly enough, the memory that this song sometimes provokes is of the second guy I kissed. Unfortunately, he had to deal with the relatively cruel aftermath of the first guy I ever kissed, and as such I treated him like shit. It’s not something in which I take any pride. I was young and foolish and stupid and mean, and if I could do it again differently I would. But that’s fast-forwarding through things I need to exorcise.

Back to the beginning, when I was waiting at the Porter Square commuter rail stop after a day in Boston

AND I NEED YOU NOW TONIGHT

AND I NEED YOU MORE THAN EVER

AND IF YOU ONLY HOLD ME TIGHT

WE’LL BE HOLDING ON FOREVER

AND WE’LL ONLY BE MAKING IT RIGHT

CAUSE WE’LL NEVER BE WRONG TOGETHER

ONCE UPON A TIME I WAS FALLING IN LOVE,

NOW I’M ONLY FALLING APART

NOTHING I CAN DO ~ A TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART.

Spring had arrived, and with it the usual restless New England excitement that comes following a winter of snowbound darkness. I only had a couple of weeks before returning home for the summer. (Despite the fact that we had the condo in Boston by this time, there was something better about being somewhere with a pool and central air conditioning that appealed to my comfort zone.) Still, there were a few days of spring fun to be had, and after that fall and winter, when my heart had been broken in ways I didn’t quite realize at the moment, I needed it. I also needed to inflict my hurt on someone else. At least, that’s how I felt at the time.

The Porter Square station has one of the longest escalators I’ve ever ridden. To get from the T platform to the commuter rail platform is a lengthy ordeal, and when one of those escalators is out of order, there’s a mini-marathon waiting to wreak havoc with your knees. On this day, it was fortunately operating as usual, and I waited as it slowly brought us up to the light. Whimsical subway art in the form of tiny statues of gloves provided passing interest as we rose higher. I’d arrived early, as always, and there were a few more minutes before the commuter rail would stop to begin the trek to Brandeis. I sat on the bench inside the station door and waited.

Across from me, a tall man with blonde hair stood and looked at me. He waited there without briefcase or bag or coat, and I detected the slightest smile as he caught my eye. This was in the pre-Grindr days, the days before your phone could find the nearest guy looking for sex, the days of luck and chance and destiny, when it seemed both harder and easier to find someone. The smile I returned was more of a sneer; my heart was in protection mode, my head was ready to attack. There’s something hot about sadistic tendencies.

TURN AROUND

EVERY NOW AND THEN I KNOW YOU’LL NEVER BE THE BOY YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO BE

TURN AROUND

BUT EVERY NOW AND THEN I KNOW YOU’LL ALWAYS BE THE ONLY BOY WHO WANTED ME THE WAY THAT I AM

TURN AROUND

EVERY NOW AND THEN I KNOW THERE’S NO ONE IN THE UNIVERSE AS MAGICAL AND WONDROUS AS YOU

TURN AROUND

EVERY NOW AND THEN I KNOW THERE’S NOTHING ANY BETTER, THERE’S NOTHING THAT I JUST WOULDN’T DO.  

At that point in my life, after the let-downs of my first brushes with love, I knew that I was not quite ready to begin again. At least, my head knew that. The heart is a different story, and though everything I would eventually do came out wrong, the initial attraction to another person was real, and when we sat in close proximity to each other on the train, I was nervous and hopeful. There was excitement in eliciting the notice and thrill of someone else. Where this rather false jolt of confidence originated, I’m not entirely sure, but I was certain he was interested. When you’re young and only slightly cute, you become quickly adept at noticing when someone notices you. It’s survival. I’d never felt particularly attractive, but in rare instances, and in certain company, I was aware that I could cast a spell. Maybe everything I did and would ever do revolved around this dilemma. Every photo I would take, every word I would write, every outfit I would wear – they would all be done in the name of making me pretty. It was a fool’s errand, and I would make it over and over and over again.

From my seat I could see he had pulled a pen and small piece of paper out of his pocket and had written something down. At my stop I stood and slowly eased into the aisle. I saw that it was a name and a number. Walking by him, I paused and held out my hand. He put his number into it, and I walked off the train without saying a word. I mastered aloof nonchalance in the face of a pounding heart long ago.

TURN AROUND, BRIGHT EYES

EVERY NOW AND THEN I FALL APART

TURN AROUND BRIGHT EYES,

EVERY NOW AND THEN I FALL APART…

That night, I called him. No game-playing, no strategic waiting, no hesitancy whatsoever on my part. That’s how it always was with me, and it usually ended up badly because of it, but this time things were different. I’d given up control before. I’d been battered and punched, all my innocent questions crushed, all of my ideals pounded with the cold renouncement of one man who couldn’t extend a hand of help or simply humanity. Yet my heart still yearned. My head, however, still hurt, still pained. And it sought out someone to punish.

It was true. My heart was being eclipsed – by hurt, by sadness, by the brutality of a world where no one really cared, not in the way I wanted them to care, not in the way I needed them to care. Yet maybe this was the world. Maybe no one ever cared after your parents, and sometimes not even them, and I had to get over it in order to get on with it. It was a possible truth I was not quite ready to acknowledge. Not at that young age. Hope was still my driving force, even if I’d learned to not reveal that hand. So I went the opposite direction.

I can’t really explain it. Hurt is hard to explain. Our actions in the face of it are even harder to explain. In some ways, it appears I’m still trying. To explain. To justify. To make right. And I know it’s probably not even possible. You can never undo pain. You may apologize and regret and wish to rewind, but hurt is not retractable. It is incontrovertible. Once it happens, there is no refuting or reversing it. And so I carried it with me – then and now – like some unlucky penny that appears when at last you thought it was gone.

AND I NEED YOU NOW TONIGHT

AND I NEED YOU MORE THAN EVER

AND IF YOU ONLY HOLD ME TIGHT

WE’LL BE HOLDING ON FOREVER

AND WE’LL ONLY BE MAKING IT RIGHT

CAUSE WE’LL NEVER BE WRONG TOGETHER…

We met up a few times, and had a number of nice calls. There was passion and excitement, but always a safe distance. I didn’t get too attached too quickly. Quite the opposite. I was cutting and blunt, hurtful and sarcastic. When the smallest thing didn’t go my way I was ready to be done with the whole scene. It was all giving on his part and all taking on mine, and I demanded it as such. His every kindness was met with suspicion and meanness. His romantic overtures were greeted with disdain and ridicule. And somehow he kept coming back for me, because he knew I was unforgettable. I knew it too by that point. I was channeling Linda Fiorentino in ‘The Last Seduction’ and it was not a good look on me, but I didn’t give a fuck.

In a very childish way, I was testing him. Seeing how far I could push it before he would be forced to leave me, like they all left me. Like I gave them any other choice. To his credit, he saw right through it all and took my petulance not to heart, but as an aspect of my personality that needed to be reconciled. I couldn’t forgive him for being so reasonable and so patient, and I lashed out even more.

The strange thing is that the worse you treat someone, the more they want you. A dangerous power lurks within each of us at some point in our lives, and how we wield it is the true test of our character. I did not wield mine well in the beginning, and I have no excuse for it.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO I’M ALWAYS IN THE DARK…

There won’t be any further specifics here. The detailed recounting of what I said and did matters less than the cumulative effect it had on him and on myself. Like a real eclipse, the darkness came on suddenly, as much as it was predicted and expected. Hurt is like that, whether you are the giver or taker, and it’s always too late once it’s set into motion. What starts out so solid and crystalline – the sharp piercing of icy, unrequited love – eventually subsides, gently eroding into something softer, less striking perhaps, but no less resonant. It becomes a dull thing, an emptiness more than something of substance, and that makes it all the trickier.

Many, many years ago, before humanity figured out what was happening, an eclipse felt like the end of the world. Striking terror into the hearts of all of us who did not know any better, it must have seemed as though Armageddon was at hand. A total eclipse of the heart inspires similar fear – the fear of being loved as much as the fear of loving too much.  When I look back at the young man I was twenty years ago, more than anything else I want to tell him not to be afraid. I want to tell him that nothing awful ever came from being kind to someone else. Maybe even more than that I want him to listen, even when I know he won’t.

ONCE UPON A TIME I WAS FALLING IN LOVE, 

NOW I’M ONLY FALLING APART

NOTHING I CAN DO ~ A TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART.

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