Category Archives: Music

Hunk of the Day: Chris Botti

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Ever since my days in the Empire State Youth Orchestra, I’ve had a soft spot for those dedicated talents who have made a career as professional musicians. I’m not talking the rock stars or pop singers that frequently populate this portion of the site thanks largely to their looks or appearance, but the classical musicians who work so hard to perfect a craft in which it is very difficult to find glory. Sometimes, those worlds collide, such as in such classically trained gents as Josh Groban or current Hunk of the Day Chris Botti. In a couple of days Mr. Botti will be performing at the Egg, and having recently seen a few excerpts from one of his live performances, it’s going to be a treat for those who like to listen, and look.

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Bitch, She’s Madonna

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Vivid of color, silly of purpose, and chock-full-of-stars (pop-and-otherwise), Madonna’s new video for ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ is a vibrant and fun romp through a party pastiche. Reminiscent of her look from 1985′s ‘Dress You Up’ moment (with a stunning pink studded jacket by Discount Universe – thanks for the info Kyle Brincefield!) it’s a bit of a throwback to the 80′s and its black-lit neon brilliance, but re-packaged for a completely of-the-moment freshness.

A lot of people, including some Madonna fans, have complained that this is her worst song and video in years. I’ll admit, initially it was not one of my favorite tracks from the otherwise-epic ‘Rebel Heart’ album, but like the savviest of entertainers, the video sells it in unexpected ways, and I’ve come around to it.

If you want serious, deep, high-minded art, look at ‘Ghosttown‘ – if you want a fun, light-hearted summer ditty, this is your jam. It’s always nice seeing Madonna let her hair down, especially when it’s pink. (And I seriously need that jacket.)

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #112 – ‘Take A Bow’ – Winter 1995

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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.} 

Surrounded by a decorative circle of mosquito netting, I cradle the phone against the side of my head. In the dramatic tableau of my childhood bedroom, which has grown up along with me, I have created a world that is somewhere between Norma Desmond’s cocoon of a boudoir and the sumptuous candle-laden lair of the Phantom of the Opera. In the dim light of a fading winter’s night, I listen to a man’s voice but it doesn’t betray lust or love or even like, and I wonder if it’s all just a game. The January darkness has fallen quickly, and a thaw has left pools of fog across the hazy streetscape outside the window. At the tail-end of my winter break from Brandeis, I alternately dread and wish for the return to campus, and to Boston. My longing for connection supersedes any rational suspicion; my want for love overpowers any hesitation or concern. More than anything else, I’m in love with the idea of being in love, but I do not see that then. All I feel is longing, and so I stay on the line and listen and try to be funny and lovable and witty and enthralling. Nerves get the best of me, so there is mostly silence from my end.

 

Take a bow, the night is over
This masquerade is getting older
Light are low, the curtains down
There’s no one here
(There’s no one here, there’s no one in the crowd)
Say your lines but do you feel them
Do you mean what you say when there’s no one around?

Watching you, watching me, one lonely star
(One lonely star you don’t know who you are)

A phantom vision, a gentleman rising from the fog, appearing in the light of a street lamp. Whispers, glances, furtive eyes and tentative touches – a wisp of an encounter, ephemeral and fleeting,

For someone who had such little actual experience in matters of love, who’d never had a love affair that went beyond a year or so, my heart felt battered and bruised. Mostly my love went unrequited, and there’s a different kind of heartbreak in that. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all… or was that not the case? What happens if there was nothing to lose because you never really had anything in the first place? Does that discount the hurt? I would not know enough to compare.

I’ve always been in love with you
I guess you’ve always known it’s true
You took my love for granted, why oh why
The show is over, say good-bye.
Say good-bye, say good-bye…

On the radio, Madonna was beginning her longest run at the #1 slot, as ‘Take A Bow’ shot to the top thanks in part to an American Music Awards appearance with Babyface, who co-wrote the song. It was sweet and beautiful, and went with the softer vibe of the ‘Bedtime Stories’ album. The song itself was saccharine but effective, and Babyface’s luscious melodies were candy for the ears. Still, it was imbued with enough sadness and regret to make it more than just a passing fancy. The best of her songs straddle that line.

The video for the single was a lavish piece of cinematic beauty and breadth, shot in Spain and documented for an MTV making-of special entitled, “No Bull!” in which Kurt Loder interviewed the blonde diva, and the video would end up winning accolades and awards for its simple heartbreaking story of a woman’s love for a bullfighter. Something went wrong somewhere along the way, and she ended up alone, streaks of tear-stained mascara running down her face.

In the video, Madonna cradled a television, caressing it like a loved one ~ the notion of loneliness obvious and crushing. I sympathized with her lonely obsession, the tinges of want and desire, and the echoes of what once was coupled with the realization of what could never be.

We thrashed beneath the sheets, we cried out streams of anguish, and in the end we ended up right where we began – alone and unlucky and heartbroken.


Make them laugh, it comes so easy
When you get to the part
Where you’re breaking my heart
Hide behind your smile, all the world loves a clown
(Just make ‘em smile the whole world loves a clown)
Wish you well, I cannot stay
You deserve an award for the role that you played (role that you played)
No more masquerade, you’re one lonely star
(One lonely star and you don’t know who you are)

After winter break, I returned to Boston by myself, the temporary thaw and fog-filled nights turned into memories, the veracity of which I could never be quite sure. I worked on creative projects that I’d send out to my friends – ‘Whimsy’ and ‘Preference’ – in a desperate attempt to stay close to people, to not give up. Yet increasingly I felt isolated and alone, trapped in a turret of Usen Castle, with Boston but a dim glow in the distance.

The sun filtered through the bare branches of an oak tree, falling in orange shafts and moving over walls of painted cinder blocks. I’d sit and stare at the digital red numbers of my alarm clock, before the light drained from the room. I thought of the first man I ever kissed. I thought of the last time I saw him, and of the cold winter that followed. I listened to Madonna and wondered how far my heartache was from hers.

All the world is a stage (the world is a stage)
And everyone has their part (has their part)
But how was I to know which way the story’d go
How was I to know you’d break
(You’d break, you’d break, you’d break)
You’d break my heart?

Her paramour took a bow, then took his leave. Is this what men did? The only guy I’d been with had left before the snow came. He’d done worse things to me before that, but whether I was blinded by love or too young to know any better, I hadn’t wanted him to leave. He’d left a wake of regret over something in which I had no say, no control. The terrifying and forlorn barren desert of the heart. A literal no-man’s land.

I’ve always been in love with you
(I’ve always been in love with you)
Guess you’ve always known
You took my love for granted, why oh why
The show is over, say good-bye

Yet after every winter came the thaw. Not the tricky, brief ones of January or February, but the lasting, sustaining and final thaw that obliterated winter once and for all. It happened that year, as it did every other. Maybe it was messier than usual, maybe it took a little longer, but soon enough spring had arrived. Winter took its bow, and said its farewell.
Say good-bye (bye bye), say good-bye
Say good-bye.

SONG #112 – ‘Take A Bow’– Winter 1995

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Getting High With Adam Lambert

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Adam Lambert released his latest album ‘The Original High’ this past week, and it’s being propelled by summer-anthem-contender ‘Ghosttown.’ With its whistling that harkens some sort of fabulous futuristic Western, it’s a unique and cutting-edge soundscape perfect for the heat of summer. Mr. Lambert has been the Hunk of the Day not just once, but twice, and looks poised to gain the ultra-rare third nod in weeks to come, particularly as he’s been getting fitter and fitter each time we see him.

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I’m Going To Go Back There Someday

Don’t call it a comeback.

It’s a return.

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

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

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

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

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

The Final Tour.

2015…2016

Come with me…

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

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

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

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

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

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Marathon Kiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s Just A Little Crush

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

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

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

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

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

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I Won’t Shed A Tear

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

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

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

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Hunk of the Day: Bright Light Bright Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hunk of the Day: Diplo

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

 

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Adam Lambert: Ripped Rock God

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

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To the Extreme: More Than Words

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More than words.

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Helplessly Aware

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Once upon a time I was a romantic.

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

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

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

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

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

This ever changing world pushes me through another door

I saw you smile

And my mind could not erase the beauty of your face

Just for a while

Won’t you let me shelter you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold on to the nights.

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A Little Bit Dangerous

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You pack your bag.

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

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

It was the quiet ones you had to worry about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Senior Recital: Caleb Eick

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

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

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

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

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

The Senior Recital of Caleb Eick

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

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