Category Archives: Music

Sipping Beyonce’s Lemonade

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Up until last night, I wasn’t a Beyonce fan. I liked her, even if I only knew ‘Single Ladies’ and some of her Destiny’s Child work, but I was not a fan – certainly not a member of the Beyhive. Now, I’ve sipped the lemonade, and I’m a big damn buzzing bee. She debuted her visual album ‘Lemonade’ on HBO last night, and it was a marvel. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it surpassed much of Madonna’s most recent work, and will hopefully be a little reminder of the possibilities of what an artist can accomplish these days.

Visually stunning, it tells the loosely plotted story of a relationship fractured and then put back together. While the ending is a happy one, it doesn’t feel entirely complete, and the issues that Ms. B raises are not simply or easily solved. I have no idea what it means to be a black woman in this country, and I certainly have no idea what it means to be Beyonce, but this work juxtaposes the two, with chilling references to the past, and a few terrifyingly personal moments of the present.

Most impressively, the hour-long work was a masterpiece in that it kept the viewer guessing as to how much of this was Beyonce’s life, and how much of it was artistic license and expression. That’s the sort of thing that always moved me most about Madonna, and it’s something I’ve tried to create in my own way right here on this blog. We each inhabit characters, playing up different versions of ourselves, all in an attempt to get closer to the truth. When we get comfortable, we tend to stay put and live in that comfort. The best artists don’t do that. They refuse. And they come up with some wonderful stuff to prove it.

Beyonce did that last night, and after tasting this ‘Lemonade’ I’m a proud member of the Beyhive.

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Adam Levine Rocking Purple Rain

Adam Levine

Perhaps the best tribute to Prince I’ve seen thus far – and delivered with a wish and prayer. Who knew Adam Levine could rock the guitar with such amazing skill and musical poetry? I think even Prince would blush with pride looking at this performance of ‘Purple Rain.’ This is just further proof that Adam Levine can do no wrong.

For more of Adam Levine (the skin-baring kind of more) check out this post.

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Hunk of the Day: Frankie Z

Frankie Zulferino 101

With those piercing blue eyes and that tender way around a beloved pop song, Frankie Z is a shoo-in for the Hunk of the Day. Not everyone can cover a Madonna song in a way that impresses or even halfway amuses me, but his rendition of ‘Like A Prayer’ rivals her very best covers (which I would attribute to Tori Amos). He wisely treats the track with delicate reverence, choosing to highlight its timeless ethereal quality rather than attempt any sacrilegious reworking of what’s undeniably perfect in its original form.

As for Frankie Z’s future, he possesses the handsome good looks of a proper pop star in-the-making, one who can take a boy band beginning and craft it into a durable long-term career. He’s about to embark on a new solo project, so we’ll see if ‘Like A Prayer’ takes him there.

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #124 – ‘Spotlight’ – 1988

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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.}

You can dance.

For inspiration.

Such was the mantra for Madonna’s first remix record, ‘You Can Dance.’ It came at her white-hot 80’s platinum crest, and for an album half-filled with dub versions it did relatively well, even without a single. The lone new song ‘Spotlight’ should have been given the single and video treatment, as it could have better bridged the gap between the nefarious ‘Who’s That Girl’ period and the amazing ‘Like A Prayer’ majesty. Instead, this throwaway track (reportedly from the ‘True Blue’ sessions) is an 80’s time-capsule with its synthesized everything and Madonna’s full-throated delivery.

SPOTLIGHT, SHINE BRIGHT

TONIGHT, SPOTLIGHT…

There’s nothing ground-breaking here, though it does mark Madonna’s first reference to the spotlight (one that, oddly enough, wouldn’t rear its now-ubiquitous head until she started examining her own fame in tracks like ‘Human Nature,’ ‘Survival,’ ‘Drowned World,’ ‘How High,’ ‘American Life,’ ‘Hollywood,’ ‘I’m Addicted,’ ‘Joan of Arc’ and ‘Rebel Heart.’)

NO ONE KNOWS YOU BETTER THAN YOU KNOW YOURSELF

DO THE THINKG YOU WANT, DON’T WAIT FOR SOMEONE ELSE

LIFE IS JUST A PARTY, THAT’S ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW

IT;S YORU TURN TO SHINE, BABY LET YOURSELF GO.

Carefree days of childhood, when dreams of fame and fortune actually seemed possible, all within (far) reach. I didn’t know how or when, but one day I knew that spotlight would shine on me. Whether or not I’d be ready, accepting, or appreciative of it was also unknown. But the possibility was there, and this song was very much an inspiration.

EVERYBODY IS A STAR

EVERYONE IS SPECIAL IN THEIR OWN WAY

SO YOU SET YOUR GOALS HIGH AND GO FAR

DON’T PUT OFF TOMORROW WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY…

It hasn’t weathered the passing of time very well, but for an 80’s trifle it reminds of a more simple period, when all was neon and bangles and 80’s glory. It was gaudy and garish, and, much like the ‘You Can Dance’ artwork, more than a little cheesy. It wasn’t the prettiest time, but it was flashy. More than that, it was the background to my childhood. Good or bad, that was the era that informed my view of the world, and my place in it.

SPOTLIGHT, OPEN UP YOUR EYES AND SEE

SPOTLIGHT, SHINING THERE FOR YOU ME

SPOTLIGHT, THIS WORLD IS YOURS AND MINE

SPOTLIGHT, THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO SHINE.

As Patrick Bateman prowled the streets of New York snorting coke and fucking hookers, as Wall Street boomed and busted, and the coldness of an imagined war loomed and darkened the steps in the distance, we grew up. Yet in my bedroom, with the scarlet lining of the cassette tape and Madonna intoning me to step into the light, all was wondrous and rosy and limitless imagined stardom.

DON’T STAND IN THE CORNER WAITING FOR THE CHANCE

MAKE YOUR OWN MUSIC, START YOUR OWN DANCE

WHEN YOU FEEL THE RHYTHM, I’LL BE BY YOUR SIDE

NOW YOU HAVE THE POWER, BABY, LOVE IS ON YOUR SIDE.

Caught between the well-traveled world of my brother – a realm of sports and easy friendships and carelessness to all attire – and the fantastical vision of Madonna – a realm of glamour and power and beauty, clearly I was siding with my main muse. In her music and her attitude, she offered a fun and sexy and confident manifestation of the age-old belief that dreams really do come true – even if no one else believed in you. That was a lesson I needed more than anything, and it was something I’d have to go through in my own way.

EVERYBODY WANTS TO SHINE

DON’T STAND IN THE SIDELINE, STEP INTO THE LIGHT

BUT IT’S GOT TO COME FROM INSIDE

LISTEN TO YOUR HEART, AND STEP INTO THE SPOTLIGHT

EVERYBODY IS A STAR,

YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE

THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO SHINE

IT’S GOT TO COME FROM YOUR HEART…

SONG #124 – ‘Spotlight’ – 1988

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New York on Sunday

shirley horn light

Early this morning, Suzie and I will (weather-permitting) drive to the station to hop a train to New York. We will dine at the Plaza Hotel, then browse the scents at Bergdorf Goodman. After which we’ll make our way to a friend’s wedding, then board the train back home. I can’t think of a lovelier way to spend a Sunday.

And I can’t think of a better soundtrack than Shirley Horn. Here’s her rendition of ‘Sunday in New York.’

New York on Sunday, Big City taking a nap,
Slow down, it's Sunday, Life's a ball, let it fall in your lap.
If you've got troubles, just take them out for a walk. 
They'll burst like bubbles in the fun of a Sunday in New York.

You can spend time without spending a dime, watching people watch people pass,
Later you pause, and in one of those stores there's that face next to yours in the glass.
Two hearts stop beating, you're both too breathless to speak.
Love smiles her greeting, then the dream that has seen you through the week
Comes true on Sunday in New York.
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Hunk of the Day: Jason Derulo, Nude Again

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Sweaty R&B sensation Jason Derulo already got buck naked for his first Hunk of the Day crowning way back in February 2014, but he more than deserves a second honor thanks to a steamy new music video (fittingly titled ‘Naked’) in which he goes nude again. I’m sure everyone’s eyes will be glued to the bottom of the screen to see just how low Mr. Derulo will go. Dibs for what got left on the cutting room floor. This is a case of cropping as infuriating tease, something we know quite a lot about on this racy but never vulgar blog. The hint of cock will always be greater than a glimpse of the whole schlong.

As for Mr. Derulo and his naked ass, it’s a definite bid for immortality in these butt-baring parts.

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #123 – ‘Jump’ – Fall 2005

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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.}

THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH YOU CAN LEARN IN ONE PLACE.

THE MORE THAT I WAIT, THE MORE TIME THAT I WASTE.

This is one of those songs I wish I’d heard during my first days at any number of jobs. It turns out I’ve had more than my share – beginning with a decent retail stint at Structure and a first office job at John Hancock. Obviously, the retail one was the more fun of the two, but I didn’t know that at the beginning. In fact, as I started on my first day (just an early Sunday meeting to try on the new fall line) I wondered if I could do it. So much so that escape plans played out in my head, ways I could politely exit before I had to talk to people or step up to the register. That’s always how it is in the beginning.

I HAVEN’T GOT MUCH TIME TO WASTE, IT’S TIME TO MAKE MY WAY.

I’M NOT AFRAID OF WHAT I’LL FACE, BUT I’M AFRAID TO STAY.

I’M GOING DOWN MY OWN ROAD, AND I CAN MAKE IT ALONE,

I’LL WORK AND I’LL FIGHT TIL I FIND A PLACE OF MY OWN…

Standing in the dressing room at the Faneuil Hall Structure, on the sixth floor of its stand-alone building amid an island of historic cobblestone, I look at myself in the mirror, almost trembling with nerves. The new crop of employees is changing into the Fall Collection of Structure. Each of us had been given an outfit to try on and model. One would think I was in my element, but I was just starting to learn about fashion, and only just realizing that my own style was not necessarily something that would fly in the mainstream retail world. (Structure was, after all, an off-shoot of The Limited Company, which ran just about every mall store that existed in the 90’s.)

I did what I did best and put on my game face. I pulled on a pair of silk and wool pants, adjusted a crisp white shirt, and eyed a gray jacket hanging behind me. As I buckled my belt – the final piece of armor for this battle – I took a deep breath. Stepping out and strutting down the middle of the store with all the attitude and swagger of a super-model, I overcame my shyness and pretended to be someone else. Someone confident, someone who didn’t care. To the amusement of my colleagues and managers, I worked it like RuPaul taught us from the time of Star-Booty. This wasn’t something that came from my wardrobe, this wasn’t about the sillage of cologne left in my wake or the perfectly-coiffed hair that sat upon my head – this came from somewhere deep inside, something that I didn’t even know was there. It wasn’t from my parents or my family or my friends, it wasn’t from my upbringing or past or anything I learned at school. It was a spark that was mine and mine alone – the start of an adult life that I could and would control on my own terms. It was one of the first times I jumped, and it was scary and exhilarating and nerve-wracking all at once.

ARE YOU READY TO JUMP?

GET READY TO JUMP

DON’T EVER LOOK BACK, OH BABY

YES, I’M READY TO JUMP

JUST TAKE MY HAND, GET READY TO JUMP.

Soon, though, I rather expectedly came into my own, excelling at all things that had to do with retail. I was one of the top sales-people, and the one who consistently led the (literal) charge, opening up the most store credit cards every week. My average sale was reliably high (and when it wasn’t, there was always the next-to-the-register special of three pairs of socks for ten dollars to bump it up a bit). But more important than the prowess I gained as a retail worker was the real sense of confidence and self-worth I felt from doing a job and doing it well. No one had handed me this position, and no one there knew what I had, or hadn’t, done with my life up until that point. I made myself into someone, and I did it on my own. People may scoff at the silliness of a sales-person job, but it was everything to me. I held onto it, working several shifts at various locations throughout Boston – Boylston/Newbury Street, Harvard Square, and a couple of inventory days at Prudential and Natick. I even moved to the Rotterdam Square location when I had to go home for the summer. My Structure family accepted me for who I was, and because I had proven my worth, there was respect there too. That emboldened me for my next job, even if it didn’t take away all my nerves.

WE LEARNED OUR LESSONS FROM THE START, MY SISTERS AND ME

THE ONLY THING YOU CAN DEPEND ON IS YOUR FAMILY.

LIFE’S GONNA DROP YOU DOWN LIKE THE LIMBS OF A TREE

IT SWAYS AND IT SWINGS AND IT BENDS UNTIL IT MAKES YOU SEE.

A few years later, and a few days into my new job at John Hancock, I still had butterflies. The girls were snickering as I returned to my researching figures on microfiche. I had finished my lunch and started working a few minutes before my lunch hour was officially over. One of them, Angie – a loud and boisterous woman – sat next to me and said something I’ve never forgotten: “Never give up your lunch. It’s not a lot of time, but that’s yours. Don’t give that up.” Normally a wise-ass, joking about everything and everyone, she was unquestionably serious as she said that to me. (To this day, I will almost always take my full lunch, and it makes a definite difference.)

It would take a few weeks to feel comfortable in a new office, and I remember gauging how long it took me to overcome my nerves at Structure, comparing it to how many days I had been at John Hancock. (This was a game I would repeat at every new job I’d take over the years – trying to figure out when I would be truly comfortable and have a few friends.) I stuck with it, and when I was asked to be one of the research managers on the floor I realized I had stopped counting the days and had already made a number of friends.

We went out to lunch together, as well as to a number of after-work gatherings at The Pour House or the Hard Rock Café. I also hosted parties and occasional Saturday lunches when we worked overtime. It was only a temporary assignment, for some years-long financial settlement in the making, and we came together for a few months in our youth, which somehow made it all mean more. Most of us were in our very early twenties, but a few teenage college interns were there as well, and a couple of older temp people shifting to another job in between life-events. A mixed bag, to be sure, one that was as entertaining as it was dysfunctional.

Fights would flare up, a few minor flirtations would result in some random drunken hook-ups, and a nude photo scandal once erupted ending up in two people getting fired on the spot, but I was largely uninvolved with the drama (not even the nude photo fiasco, which was less a result of the naked photographs and more due to the fact that the two ladies involved had threatened to physically, and violently, resolve the issue on the research library floor). In other words, I soon felt like a member of the John Hancock family, and I’d stay there far longer than my original plan of six months. It was only when I moved to Chicago with my boyfriend that I broke those ties. Still, I’ve held on to two dear friends from that time – JoAnn and Kira – and I keep them close.

ARE YOU READY TO JUMP?

GET READY TO JUMP

DON’T EVER LOOK BACK, OH BABY

YES, I’M READY TO JUMP

JUST TAKE MY HAND, GET READY TO JUMP.

A few more years passed. I ended up living in Albany with Andy, and I needed a job. A couple of his friends suggested taking a government exam, and in a few months I had procured permanent employment with the State of New York. In that first job – a Grade 5 Date Entry Machine Operator – I went back to counting the days. In my second state job – a Grade 6 Keyboard Specialist, I kept counting. By the third, a Grade 9 Keyboard Specialist 2, the days seems to go quicker, my comfort level rebounding at a faster pace, and my confidence less shakable. By the time I advanced to a Grade 18 Senior Personnel Administrator, my nerves and jitters at new jobs had dissipated, and rather than dread the feeling of being the new guy, I almost missed it in the nine years I maintained that position.

When a promotional opportunity for a Grade 23 position came up two years ago, I had to take it, even if it meant leaving the agency where I had spent more time than all of my previous jobs combined. I would have to start over again, almost from scratch, and as much as I knew I could do it (because I’d done it so many times before) it was a daunting prospect. I was almost 40 years old, and about to go back to the beginning. By this time, ‘Jump’ – the song – was in my library, and I hastened to retrieve it. No matter how many times I’d done it, I still got nervous.

THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH YOU CAN LEARN IN ONE PLACE.

THE MORE THAT YOU WAIT, THE MORE TIME THAT YOU WASTE.

Yet whether it was all those years of practice, or the simple maturation and letting go of the silly worries that had plagued me in my youth, I found myself quickly comfortable, and surprisingly valued, at my new job. In fact, I didn’t even have to go back to my previous practice of comparing how many days it was before I felt at home, and I remarked to a few people how it was the fastest I had ever become an integral part of an office. It helped that I was old(er) and married and comfortable enough in my own skin not to pretend to be anyone else. The biggest, and longest-to-learn, lesson I’ve taken from my years of employment is that people aren’t ever going to be truly won over until you reveal your genuine self to them. Most of us can read when someone is hiding something, when they’re trying too hard or pretending to be someone other than their authentic selves. As the jobs progressed, so did my experience in the world, and the various quirks that made me who I am were no longer something to be hidden, but something to wear proudly on my peacock-colored sleeves.

I’LL WORK AND I’LL FIGHT TIL I FIND A PLACE OF MY OWN

IT SWAYS AND IT SWINGS AND IT BENDS UNTIL YOU MAKE IT YOUR OWN.

The last single from Madonna’s disco-ball inferno ‘Confessions on a Dance-Floor’ is a highlight of that album, with its Pet Shop Boys ‘West End Girls’ nod and theme of self-empowerment. It is also one of those Madonna songs that works on different levels, for different moments, giving it a timeless aspect that echoes its multiple-decades of influences. There’s nothing groundbreaking about this one in Madonna terms, but it’s a perfectly crafted pop song by one of the genre’s finest, which makes it groundbreaking compared to practically anyone else.

It’s also a great song to pump someone up for beginning a new endeavor – whether that’s a new job, a new relationship, or a new anything. It’s one of those crossroad songs – an indicator of a life decision that may or may not change the entire trajectory of your existence. That gives it a certain bit of tension, but the good kind – the kind that propels you to move ahead.

I CAN MAKE IT ALONE, I CAN MAKE IT ALONE

I CAN MAKE IT ALONE, I CAN MAKE IT ALONE

We all have those moments, when we have to decide whether to jump or whether to stay put. Timing is everything. Sometimes you have to be pushed a little, but a jump is a jump, no matter how it happens to happen.

ARE YOU READY TO JUMP?

GET READY TO JUMP

DON’T EVER LOOK BACK, OH BABY

YES, I’M READY TO JUMP

JUST TAKE MY HAND, GET READY TO JUMP.

And sometimes you have to leave to find your way home again.

ARE YOU READY?

SONG #123 – ‘Jump’ – Fall 2005

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I’m Down On My Knees…

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Behold, the magnificence of the almighty 12” Extended mix of Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ – back when remixes retained the original integrity of a song instead of deconstructing them to the point of unrecognizable beats and samples. This one begins with the basic guitar chords, slowly building to the immortal opening lines and bridge, “Life is a mystery, Everyone must stand alone…” I still get chills every time I hear it. Listen through to the end, when the one and only Prince provides guitar licks  to take the song to another level – the holy grail of rock ‘n’ roll.

This is ‘Like a Prayer’ season. The album was released in March of 1989, back when I was thirteen years old. According to Jewish lore, by way of Madonna, thirteen is the age when one’s soul solidifies, and you become the core of the person you are destined to be. It’s only fitting then that thirteen was when ‘Like A Prayer’ came into my world. There’s no need to go into everything I’ve already written on the song, but every year at this time I recall those magical days when it was first released.

The arrival of spring after a trying winter is almost a religious event. Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ album was a similar exercise in spiritual salvation through the art of pop music. Its quartet of top-ten singles remains a cornerstone and highlight of a storied and impressive career (‘Like A Prayer’, ‘Express Yourself’, ‘Cherish‘, and ‘Keep It Together‘). It may, however, be the album as a whole that solidified Madonna’s stature as serious artist, one to be reckoned with for the long haul, and one destined for the historical firmament.

Take the heart-wrenching double-punch of ‘Promise To Try‘ and ‘Oh Father‘ – those two songs alone won over  her harshest critics, at least for the moment. The whimsical ‘Dear Jessie‘ offered a softer side to the woman who rarely revealed a vulnerable or nurturing nature. At the time the most revealing track was likely ‘Til Death Do Us Part‘ – the brittle examination of a marriage gone to wreck – and it’s a harrowing but brilliant song that races along and raises as many questions as it purports to answer. This was the first Madonna record that earned her almost universal praise. (Even B-side ‘Supernatural‘ held its other-worldly charms.)

All in all, the ‘Like A Prayer’ album was a cathartic collection of songs designed to exorcize Madonna’s demons past and present, and going on such an intensely personal journey helped us all work some stuff out. At the turn from winter to spring, it thawed the coldest of hearts and melted the most frigid of countenances.

IT’S LIKE A DREAM

NO END AND NO BEGINNING…

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Madonna’s Tears of a Clown

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It sounded like a guaranteed train-wreck. As much as I love Madonna, her ill-conceived and poorly-executed stand-up bit during an appearance on a Jimmy Fallon show for her Rebel Heart promotional tour was proof that her greatest strengths are her musical performances. (Witness the insanely good ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ dance-fest of that same show.) This evening – a gift to her Australian fans – promised to be an intimate and raw affair of music, stories and comedy, but I didn’t have much faith in how it would play.

Making a whimsical entrance on a tricycle, Madonna makes an effectively glamorous clown. Make-up is flawlessly spot-on, costume is sexy but innocent, and the flaming-pink wig and off-set top hat are a new take on some Madonna stand-by accessories. She’s done the sexy circus theme before (‘The Girlie Show’) and it fits her well. Still, I had my doubts.

It begins in somewhat-shaky but moving fashion as Madonna tackles the Stephen Sondheim classic ‘Send in the Clowns.’ To my knowledge, it’s the first time she’s sung Sondheim since her stunning ‘Sooner or Later’ performance from 1991′s Oscar telecast.

It’s always a thrill when Madonna performs my favorite song she’s ever written, so the appearance of ‘Drowned World/Substitute for Love‘ from her magnificent (and thus far best) album ‘Ray of Light‘ was a welcome beginning to her string of songs this evening.

The unfairly-maligned ‘American Life’ album got a welcome revisit, with emotional renderings of ‘X-Static Process‘, ‘Intervention‘ and the first-ever live performance of ‘Easy Ride.’ Though I’ll never be a big fan of ‘I’m So Stupid’ it fit in well with the raw, sometimes-self-flagellating nature of the night.

Some of the intervening “comedic” bits fall as flat as expected (that dumb donkey joke) but they are less harsh and more endearing than previous comic efforts. She also pokes fun at herself, not something she does often, but one of her unheralded strong-points when it happens. Sipping from a Cosmopolitan, she was more relaxed in a free-form style that usually leaves her more rigid. How, at this late stage of the game, she manages to reinvent and surprise after what we’ve already seen is a real revelation.

The mostly acoustic style of the songs neatly aligned with the intimate feel of this loosely-plotted show, and sets Madonna up for an even longer run should she choose to maintain her unprecedented sway. She expounds upon the creation of one of the most emotionally-wrenching songs she’s ever written – ‘Mer Girl’ – before giving it a stark reading – a haunting highpoint, a raw wound, a glimpse behind the curtain. This clown had many sides, this clown had depth, and this clown had some serious feeling.

By the time a gentle, easy-going version of ‘Borderline’ comes along, the music is finally, and reassuringly, revealed as her one true salvation, as the single aspect that has buoyed her career and changed the entire landscape of pop culture – for better, for worse, and forever. Her penultimate song for this event was the too-rarely-performed ‘Take A Bow’ – the perfect ending both thematically and lyrically; all the world does indeed love this clown.

I expected the whole thing to be a dud, an embarrassing mis-step at the end of her otherwise-amazing ‘Rebel Heart’ Tour, but I was proven wrong. That’s the majesty of Madonna at work, even when the unlikeliest naysayers are ready to wag our naughty fingers at her. Touché, Madame, and well-played.

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Hunk of the Day: Matt Dusk

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When your voice is as smooth as Matt Dusk’s, you don’t even need to take your shirt off to be named a Hunk of the Day. In a rare classy turn for this saucy website, Mr. Dusk manages to earn his Hunk status through his vocal stylings alone. This Canadian jazz crooner has been impressing audiences for quite some time, as a recent tick through his website reveals:

“Matt Dusk is one of Canada’s most beloved male vocalists, forging a career in music that has resulted in 4 critically-acclaimed studio albums. Dusk’s latest release, MY FUNNY VALENTINE: THE CHET BAKER SONGBOOK, features an eighty piece orchestra and numerous special guests including: GRAMMY award-winner Arturo Sandoval, JUNO award-winner Guido Basso, JUNO award-nominee Emilie-Claire Barlow, and Straight-No-Chaser alumn Ryan Ahlwardt.  Together they pay homage to one of the most popular musicians of the twentieth century, Chet Baker.   Dusk has been awarded two GOLD albums: TWO SHOTS (Canada) and GOOD NEWS (Poland), one PLATINUM album: MY FUNNY VALENTINE (Poland) had three number one radio hits: ALL ABOUT ME (Canada), BACK IN TOWN (Japan), and GOOD NEWS (France), is an alumnus of the St. Michael’s Choir School and studied under jazz piano legend Oscar Peterson at York University.”

He can now add ‘Hunk of the Day‘ to that impressive roster.

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #122 – ‘Autotune Baby’ – Late 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’s B-sides and Bonus Tracks have only gotten better over the years (see ‘I Fucked Up‘, ‘Super Pop’ and ‘Beautiful Killer.’) This Madonna timeline selection – ‘Autotune Baby’ – is one of the best, wrapped in an annoying baby gimmick that almost – almost – ruins the whole beautiful affair. But I guess babies tend to do that, so we will make do. It’s a bonus track from the excellent ‘Rebel Heart’ album, and got lost in that release’s mad shuffle.

I TOLD YOU I DON’T WANT YOU ALL THE TIME CAUSE YOU’RE NOT MINE

I’M NOT IN LOVE BUT I’M IN LIKE, SO FAR IT’S WORKING FINE. 

BUT WHEN I NEED YOU THEN I’M DESPERATE,  I’M A LITTLE CHILD

JUST LIKE AN ANIMAL, DOWN ON MY KNEES AND BEGGING…

She’s employed the baby thing once in the past – in an unobtrusive bit of recorded laughter reportedly by Pat Leonard’s daughter in ‘Dear Jessie‘. That one was forgivable given the whimsical childhood fantasy of the song. This time around, an annoying child’s cry is used, distorted, and turned into a jarring musical recurrence.

YEAH, ALL WRAPPED UP, I WANNA BE YOUR LITTLE BABY NOW

PUT MY HEAD ON YOUR SHOULDER, YOU CAN ROCK ME, ROCK ME NOW

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT YOU CAN HEAR ME CRYING LOUD

PUT MY HEAD ON YOUR SHOULDER AND ROCK ME.

On repeated listens, however, it becomes an integral part of the song. Not that it isn’t for a moment anything less than grossly agitating, but there’s a useful purpose for it. That bothersome grating on the ears actually makes the chorus, when it arrives, that much sweeter. And what a gorgeous chorus it is – probably one of her best in a long time. Such a shame it had to be bound with the baby.

OPEN THE DOOR, UNLOCK ME

WE’VE GOT TONIGHT, SO ROCK ME NOW.

Lyrically it’s a casual relationship gone obsessive, a sweet love song surrounded by emotionally sadomasochistic tension. The push and pull of power and weakness, of domination and subjugation, of love and hate – it finds fruitful musical resolution in the chorus. (Again, this could have been one of the great ones were it not for that damn baby.)

I’M IN MY BED AND I’M OBSESSED AND LYING WIDE AWAKE

I NEED SOMEONE LIKE YOU TO COME AND PUT ME IN MY PLACE

CAUSE IN THE DAY I CAN’T BE TAMED, BOY YOU DON’T WANNA KNOW

BUT IN THE NIGHT MY HANDS ARE TIED, YOU TELL ME WHERE TO GO.

It’s a fuck you/fuck me lullaby, filled with barbed sweetness and poisoned candy. We all want to be so strong in the light of day. We wrap ourselves in armor and pretend that we don’t need anyone, that we are not dependent or needy creatures. Nobody wants to be the weak one.

YEAH, ALL WRAPPED UP, I WANNA BE YOUR LITTLE BABY NOW

PUT MY HEAD ON YOUR SHOULDER, YOU CAN ROCK ME, ROCK ME NOW

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT YOU CAN HEAR ME CRYING LOUD

PUT MY HEAD ON YOUR SHOULDER AND ROCK ME.

Once the night falls, however, most of us just want to be held. Rocked gently to sleep. Comforted and wrapped in loving arms. We aren’t supposed to admit it, but there it is. From the moment we enter this cold world, we just want to be loved.

OPEN THE DOOR, UNLOCK ME

WE’VE GOT TONIGHT SO ROCK ME

OPEN THE DOOR, UNLOCK ME

WE’VE GOT TONIGHT SO ROCK ME NOW.

{I just can’t get over the damn autotune baby. I tried, but I can’t.}

ROCK ME NOW… ROCK ME NOW.

SONG #122 – ‘Autotune Baby’ – Late Winter 2015

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Hunk of the Day: Sean O’Reilly

sean o'reilly 101

Not to detract from the handsomeness that is our Hunk of the Day Sean O’Reilly, but sometimes the greatest attribute of a Hunk is an incredible talent. In this case, Mr. O’Reilly’s magical hands and their masterful way of tickling the ivories result in this Hunk crowning. Check out his wondrous rendition of an 80′s classic ‘Take On Me’ below – giving it emotional heft, moving life, and a brand new beauty. (Bonus video of his introduction, and some sentiments on ‘Piano Man’ – which is why I’ve excluded any references to that overdone chestnut!) Be sure to visit the Sean O’Reilly Band YouTube channel for further evidence of his brilliance.

 

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #121 – ‘Survival’ – Fall 1994

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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.}

“No need to listen for the fall. This is the world’s end.” ― Rudyard Kipling

We were nearing the end of 1994, and I was about to have one of the worst illnesses of my life thus far: a raging case of mono that would land me in the Brandeis University infirmary. The nurses there were wretched… but I’m getting ahead of myself. We will be there soon enough. First, a bit of background and a brief lead-up.

Madonna had just released ‘Bedtime Stories’ – her first major artistic output in the aftermath of the tumultuous ‘Erotica’ and ‘Sex’ fall-out. The only particularly notable (and nefarious) thing she had done after ‘The Girlie Show’ tour was the infamous David Letterman interview where she said ‘fuck’ a whole bunch of times. It was mostly awkward because of the interviewer’s weaknesses, though Madonna was hardly at her best at the time. (There was also the sheer brilliance of the soundtrack single ‘I’ll Remember’ but for some reason nobody seems to follow the title’s sentiment.) ‘Bedtime Stories’ was a lovely little reminder of what had always mattered most in Madonna’s career, even when she herself didn’t feel it: the music.

I’d traveled into Boston for the midnight release at Tower Records. The vibe was exciting enough, but nothing like former and future frenzies (‘Erotica’ and ‘Ray of Light’ for instance). This was a mellow record, and its reception was warm but muted, not unlike the music itself. Madonna had scaled back the shock factor, and turned down the sizzle, resulting in a softer and quieter release. Still, lead single ‘Secret’ was a slow-burning bona-fide smash, and it paved the way for a pleasant return to form.

It was a cold November evening, and I would not make the last commuter rail back to campus, so I’d had to take the T to the last Green Line stop at Riverside, nearest to Brandeis, and hop a cab the rest of the way. It didn’t matter much – the new album kept glorious aural company, and the first track ‘Survival’ was a soft-focus R&B shuffler that sounded as sweet as its message was strong, with lyrics that were self-empowering and referential from a woman who rarely looked back or owned her failings.

I’LL NEVER BE AN ANGEL,

I’LL NEVER BE A SAINT IT’S TRUE

I’M TOO BUSY SURVIVING,

WHETHER IT’S HEAVEN OR HELL

I’M GONNA BE LIVING TO TELL

SO HERE’S MY STORY,

NO RISK, NO GLORY

Sometimes November feels colder than the depths of deepest winter. By February or March the body is mostly hardened to the chill, but the first few seriously cold snaps are a jolt no matter how many winters you’ve weathered. This was one of those nights, and in spite of how tightly I pulled my coat around me, the chill was already inside.

Having just been unceremoniously dumped by the first man who ever kissed me, my heart felt a little battered. It made sense that my body would soon follow suit, and as I stood there in the sad yellow lamp of a single street lamp, alone and waiting for a taxi cab to take me back to a dark and empty dorm room, I allowed myself a quick moment of self-pity. I shuddered. At the cold, and the emptiness. The voice of Madonna was my sole companion.

A LITTLE UP & DOWN & ALL AROUND
IT’S ALL ABOUT SURVIVAL

A LITTLE UP & DOWN & ALL AROUND
IT’S ALL ABOUT SURVIVAL…

 

A few days later, a sore throat came upon me – hard and swift and debilitating. Despite all appearances to the contrary I’m actually not a baby when it comes to sickness – it takes a lot to fell me. I went to class and swallowed through the pain, but by Saturday it was difficult to simply get saliva down. I went to the infirmary for some guidance, and was promptly dismissed by a rude nurse. Returning to my dorm, I laid in bed for the rest of the day, alternately reading and sipping at water, even as it felt like shards of glass tumbling down my throat. By evening, unable to stand the pain, I called my parents. On the verge of tears, I listened to an endless string of rings; there was no answer.

I’LL NEVER BE AN ANGEL,

I’LL NEVER BE A SAINT IT’S TRUE

I’M TOO BUSY SURVIVING,

WHETHER IT’S HEAVEN OR HELL

I’M GONNA BE LIVING TO TELL

SO HERE’S MY STORY,

NO RISK, NO GLORY

A few hours later, I tried again. My brother answered and said they were at a party. After hanging up, I did cry a little. Not for the loneliness, but for the pain. It was literally becoming impossible to swallow. Somehow, I did not panic. I pulled a coat on and hurried down the Usen Castle stairs, then outside into the cold night and down more stairs to the infirmary again. I insistently told the nurse on duty that something was wrong and that I wasn’t being a baby. I couldn’t swallow because it hurt too much. She sighed, gave me some Tylenol with codeine, and told me to lie down on a cot in one of the rooms there. Out of fearful exhaustion, and under the cloud of codeine, I fell asleep.

The next morning I awoke in more pain, and a somewhat hazy state, in which I saw my parents standing up beside the cot looking concerned. I blinked to be sure it was real, but they remained. At that moment I got scared and realized I was sicker than I’d thought. Somehow they’d found out where I was and driven the three hours to be there.

It’s good to have a doctor and nurse advocate for you when surrounded by cruel and inept nurses (and those staffing the infirmary during my stay were horrid). Thanks to my parents, who advised the doctor to up the pain meds because I wasn’t someone who complained without good reason, I was put on some horse pills that knocked me out for the next three days while the mono worked its way into submission.

These were The Lost Days. Into and out of consciousness I went, trying valiantly to finish ‘Kim’ by Rudyard Kipling for a literature class I was in, and getting confused between the fever-ravaged antics of the pages and my own cloudy predicament. Vaguely, I recognized fellow dorm denizens making their volunteer rounds, proffering paper cups of water and little bowls of unappetizing soup. I could barely swallow, and my stomach was entirely uninterested in filling itself up. For most of the day, I slept. My waking moments were mainly in darkness, beneath a solitary lamp over the bed, where I tried to keep reading and not fall behind in my classes. It was an indication of how sick I was that I did not stress over that. Usually I’d have freaked out royally from missing an entire week of classes, particularly as we neared finals for the first semester.

Instead, I gave up.

After love (or the dismal thing I mistook for love) departed, I gave up on it. It’s laughable when I think of how soon and how easily I gave in, but at the time all I knew was that it hurt. The loneliness I had always felt was not going away, and I reconciled myself to that. After a chilly fall of sadness, my body followed suit, giving up in its own way and landing me in the infirmary.


SO, HERE’S MY QUESTION:
DOES YOUR CRITICISM HAVE YOU CAUGHT UP
IN WHAT YOU CANOT SEE?
WELL IF YOU GIVE ME RESPECT,
THEN YOU’LL KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT.

I didn’t quite know who I was yet (some days I still don’t). I only knew that I was a very young guy, just nineteen years old, and I was barely beginning to feel rocked by the world. In the recent aftermath of a heart that didn’t know what it was to be broken, and in the blissful ignorance that likely helped me not to feel such pain, merely surviving was a Herculean effort in itself. I couldn’t, at the time, see the larger picture, the troughs and swells of the oceanic journey that, with time and distance, evened out into a placid pool of calm. The dark, ominous bottoming out was all I could feel.

Yet it was at the darkest moment that Madonna sang this song to me.

As the feverish state broke, and I came back to awareness, I was strong enough to climb the stairs back to my dorm room. It was a sunny, slightly brisk day. My friend Kate was arriving on the commuter rail to pick me up. We would go into Boston, where her parents and mine were in town for the weekend. All glory to God for providing my Dad’s conference and his accompanying room at the Ritz Carlton (then at its original location overlooking the Boston Public Garden) on that weekend. I made the most of it, recuperating in a gorgeous room overlooking Newbury Street. Indulging in a room service breakfast of French toast, I began making up for lost food in fine fashion, and aside from a few strolls through Back Bay stayed largely by the hotel.

By Sunday, I was feeling much better. The sun was out again, though the wind was cold. Fortified by some family time, and all that French toast, I returned to Brandeis. In another week it would be Thanksgiving. Life went on. Already, my mono madness felt like the stuff of dreams – a hazy patch of medicated stupor through which I stumbled. Some nights I still wake up in a panic recalling that period, worried that I didn’t complete all the work I needed to pass those courses.

A LITTLE UP & DOWN & ALL AROUND
IT’S ALL ABOUT SURVIVAL

A LITTLE UP & DOWN & ALL AROUND
IT’S ALL ABOUT SURVIVAL…

I wonder at how I did manage to survive that year all alone, as I was just awakening to the fact that I was gay, that it wasn’t a phase, that the one that I was searching for would be a man. I wonder at how I managed to make it through the early-to-mid-nineties when being gay was intertwined with the AIDS crisis, and so much misunderstanding and prejudice. I also wonder at my naiveté, and whether that helped or hindered me. Probably a little, or a lot, of both. Being ignorant of what one is supposed to feel, and of what we are truly capable of surviving, enables a sort of blind strength. The kind of courage that sees you through those times that might otherwise have ended up very differently.

I’LL NEVER BE AN ANGEL,

I’LL NEVER BE A SAINT IT’S TRUE

I’M TOO BUSY SURVIVING,

WHETHER IT’S HEAVEN OR HELL

I’M GONNA BE LIVING TO TELL

SO HERE’S MY STORY,

NO RISK, NO GLORY…

In the liner notes to the ‘Bedtime Stories’ album, Madonna thanked her then-assistant Caresse Henry for “keeping me from doing something I might regret later.” There was always something ominous about that chilling note of gratitude, a crack in the armor of the woman who was so seemingly invincible. The rocky road after ‘Sex’ and ‘Erotica’ may have been darker than any of us realized, even for a person who thrived on a love-hate relationship with the world at-large. I read those words and wondered what Madonna meant. Maybe there was something deeper in this Survival. Maybe the opening salvo of the album was a triumphant victory that spit in the face of chart positions and Billboard glory, and started Madonna on the path where mainstream success and acclaim mattered less than artistic expression and creative fulfillment. She would straddle both for the next two decades, so it needn’t have concerned her.

Ms. Henry, in an upsetting side-note, would end up committing suicide herself. Not everyone is meant for survival, even if you’ve personally managed one of the world’s preeminent survivors.

“This is a brief life, but in its brevity it offers us some splendid moments, some meaningful adventures.” ― Rudyard Kipling


A LITTLE UP & DOWN & ALL AROUND
IT’S ALL ABOUT SURVIVAL

A LITTLE UP & DOWN & ALL AROUND
IT’S ALL ABOUT SURVIVAL.

SONG #121 – ‘Survival’ – Fall 1994

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Almost Bedtime

mad surviv300

The Madonna Timeline returns in a few short hours with a cut from her 1994 album ‘Bedtime Stories’ – and it’s a bit of a doozy. Not for any surprises or earth-shattering revelations, but more for a specific memory frozen in time, one that exists quietly, softly echoing when the nights first start to go cold. It’s more of a fall timeline entry, but the random shuffle that constitutes the selection process is a fickle taskmaster. Before we get to that, however, let’s revisit two of the other songs that have appeared here from the ‘Bedtime Stories’ album.

It began with lead-single ‘Secret’ – a return to form while blazing a soulful new direction – and no one does that hat trick better than Madonna.

Second single ‘Take A Bow’ was the album’s biggest hit – and Madonna’s longest-running #1 Billboard single to date. She recently performed it for the first time on any tour while on the Asian leg of the Rebel Heart Tour.

Next up is a non-single that marked the defiance and sweetness that characterized the fall of 1994. Dry, brittle, brown leaves lined the streets of Boston. The first deep chill of the season had set in. There would be no more warmth until the next spring.

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Happy Hump Day Song

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Let me just own something from the very start: I’m a pop lover through and through. Despite early concerts of Guns ‘N Roses and Metallica (shout out to my high-school bestie Ann!) and even earlier folk inspiration like Peter, Paul & Mary, my heart belongs to light and frilly pop, and I’ve never apologized for it or pretended otherwise. From the very first time I heard ‘Material Girl‘ by my main muse, pop music has held me rapt, inspiring me as much as any other art form. There’s just something about a simple pop song that cuts to the very core of  the human experience, and as universal as many of them are, they can also be intensely personal and individual. The best ones straddle both worlds.

Today, I’m presenting an old one, at least by pop culture timeframes, which move at a lightning pace. This is ‘Dear Future Husband’ by Meghan Trainor (who just won a Grammy, not that it means anything these days). You’re going to judge it, I know you are, but that’s ok. Just press play and see what happens. if it doesn’t lift you in some small way, we should probably not be friends. I need to be the cynical one in all my relationships.

For a lot of pop songs, I tend to go deep and remember those darker and sadder experiences that they bring to mind. On this happy hump day it’s nothing but light-hearted happiness. So take a couple minutes to look around you on this Wednesday morning, and if the coast is clear feel free to bop along. Some days the only thing to do is dance.

AFTER EVERY FIGHT JUST APOLOGIZE
AND MAYBE THEN I’LL LET YOU TRY & ROCK MY BODY RIGHT
EVEN IF I WAS WRONG (YOU KNOW I’M NEVER WRONG!)
WHY DISAGREE? WHY, WHY DISAGREE?

YOU GOTTA KNOW HOW TO TREAT ME LIKE A LADY
EVEN WHEN I’M ACTING CRAZY
TELL ME EVERYTHING’S ALL RIGHT.

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