Category Archives: Music

Hunk of the Day: Jacob McCaslin

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The process of choosing a Hunk of the Day is haphazard and random at best. There is no scientific method involved in such sexy madness. Mostly, it’s whatever crosses my FaceBook or Twitter feeds. Such was the instance in the selection of Jacob McCaslin as Hunk of the Day. I’d seen his handsome face on a photo promoting his appearance at the Trophy Room in Boston. I haven’t been there since it was Fritz, and from all indications I’ve been missing some good things (and not just the killer cocktails).

The best part of this hunk feature is that he already has a website delineating his accomplishments, so my work in writing this has been whittled down to this intro. Check out excerpts from his bio below:

Jacob McCaslin is an award winning vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. While only 19 years old, and having never taken any music lessons, he is recognized as an advanced guitarist by respectable guitar players and dubbed a gifted singer by vocal instructors.

He received a songwriting scholarship from Berklee College of Music. Jacob has also been recognized for his songwriting abilities by winning KTUB’s One Song One Chance songwriting competition in 2011. Winning One Song gave Jacob McCaslin and his band at the time, Jacob McCaslin & Roll the Credits the opportunity to record an EP. In May of 2012, the band released Walk a Mile – EP, which is now available on iTunes. The Limited Edition version, which includes bonus tracks, behind the scenes footage, as well as remastered tracks, is available exclusively at jacobmccaslin.bandcamp.com.

After the success of the Walk a Mile EP and the summer tour, in which a majority of shows were primarily centered around the Seattle area, the band was able to afford their own recording equipment and began tracking songs for their future album. In addition to producing their own songs, Jacob McCaslin and Colton Stapper started Stapper Studios, a mobile recording company which focused on bring professional recording quality to local artists. As Colton and Jacob both engineered all the projects, Jacob also mixed/mastered everything.

In the start of 2013, the band announced that the album, Cautionary Tales, was being recorded and produced and would be released soon, and a hiatus from performing shows would be initiated.

Shortly after announcing the band’s hiatus, the single, and cover of Mama’s Gun’s, ‘Get a High’ was released on YouTube and Bandcamp for free. Jacob McCaslin & Roll the Credits received an amazing response and the video grew very popular, reaching 50,000 views within the first 2 weeks of being released. After the success of ‘Get a High,’ the band focused on recording the rest of the album. In September 2013, the band released ‘Cautionary Tales,’ exclusively on BandCamp.

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #113 – ‘Rebel Heart’ – Right Now

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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.}

[On the eve of my 40th birthday, a most-fitting Madonna Timeline: the title track to her latest album (and current tour) ~ 'Rebel Heart.' The demo leaked early, and remains, in my humble opinion, the superior version, but I’ll include the more acoustic and stripped-down album version at the end, as that’s almost as good.]

When Madonna turned 40, or shortly before or after, she delved into yoga and put out her magnificent (and yet-to-be-topped) album ‘Ray of Light.’ According to a New York Times interview at the time, yoga had brought about a profound transformation in the once-material now-ethereal girl. At one yoga session she once found herself in a particularly strenuous pose and suddenly just started crying, letting out emotional baggage she’d been carrying for 40 years. I’ve always been struck by that image, and I’ve since wondered what will come of me when I hit 40. I guess we’re about to find out. Will the torrents of four decades of pain be released or relieved? Will I heave forth some cleansing expulsion of pent-up sadness or anger or fear? Will I rejoice in a new freedom? Somehow, I don’t think it will be as dramatic as all that. It’s just another day, and a Monday at that. Still, like it or not, the number means something, even if it’s been impressed upon us by a society hungry for drama and terrified of aging.

I LIVED MY LIFE LIKE A MASOCHIST 

HEARING MY FATHER SAY, “TOLD YOU SO, TOLD YOU SO.

WHY CAN’T YOU BE LIKE THE OTHER GIRLS?”

I SAID, “OH NO, THAT’S NOT ME,

AND I DON’T THINK THAT IT’LL EVER BE.”

The steady stream of water falls hot from the shower head. I stand there in the wet, stilled suddenly by the woman who has never failed to thrill me, and thirty years into her storied career the words and music touch me like the very first time. As her new song sounds brilliantly against the tile of the bathroom, I stop in my scrubbing, look through watery eyes, and simply listen. So much of my shower and car music is Madonna, but most of the time it’s background noise. Far more intent on testing out a new Aveda body wash or jockeying the Ice Blue Show Queen out of a bottleneck situation, I hear her, but don’t always listen. On this night, I do. Standing there, naked and quiet, I listen to ‘Rebel Heart’ while water surrounds me. Forget a reinvention, this is a rebirth. Thirty-nine years into my life, it feels like a baptism.

Her voice reveals further shades of vulnerability, with an underlying resilience that has allowed her to survive, and thrive, this far into an entertainment career, unrivaled by almost everyone. In ‘Rebel Heart’ she was a little girl, a grown woman, and the very sensitive human who registered hurt and love in ways both wizened and misunderstood.

THOUGHT I BELONGED TO A DIFFERENT TRIBE

WALKING ALONE, NEVER SATISFIED, SATISFIED 

TRIED TO FIT IN BUT IT WASN’T ME, 

I SAID, “OH NO, I WANT MORE,

THAT’S NOT WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR.” 

It is just another number, and tomorrow is just another day, yet there is an albatross of significance to the person turning forty years old. Society has largely assembled such an onus, creating a false notion of anxiety upon hitting the much-maligned milestone. Some, like Madonna, have pushed back against such limitations, railing in opposition to the notion of the prim, proper, and age-appropriate – subjective terms at best, ageist and elitist at worst.

In that respect, it is not the number that scares me. It’s the question of whether I’m where I want to be, four decades into this journey. That’s a question that has plagued me since I was first cognizant, and I hope it bothers me until the day I die.

SO I TOOK THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED BY AND I BARELY MADE IT OUT ALIVE

THROUGH THE DARKNESS SOMEHOW I SURVIVED

TOUGH LOVE – I KNEW IT FROM THE START, DEEP DOWN IN THE DEPTH OF MY REBEL HEART.

During my freshman year at Brandeis, I took an Introduction to Astronomy course. I thought it would be all stars and moons and romantic dreamy prose, so when it turned out to be mostly physics and difficult calculations, I was less than thrilled. The scope of it, however, was impressive, and on clear November nights, we’d ascend to the top of the science building and view the skies through telescopes and binoculars, and begin to feel just how large the universe was. Up until then I’d eyed my professor’s unruly and unkempt beard with disdain, judging his soiled jeans and dilapidated belt with profound displeasure. Now, I realized something. It wasn’t that he didn’t care. He simply knew it didn’t matter. Not when other worlds expanded ad infinitum, not when we were smaller than specks of dust in both time and distance.

Whenever these big-picture conundrums rear their weighty, philosophical heads, I panic a bit. There’s nothing reassuring about being nothing, and it’s frightening to think about how minute our place in this world is. To combat that, part of my existence has been dedicated to making myself seem larger-than-life. Maybe Madonna does that subconsciously too. It’s a fear of oblivion, a fear of not being known, a fear of not mattering. ‘Rebel Heart’ might be her way of reassuring us, and herself, that it’s ok. We did what we had to do to survive, to feel safe and secure and prominent when the reality of the universe was doing everything it could to make us feel small and insignificant. We acted out, we dressed outrageously, we thrashed our bodies and brains to excesses of emotion just to leave an effect, an impression. We loved ourselves because sometimes it felt like no one else in the world did, and even if we were faking it, there was truth and loneliness and hope in that.

 

I’VE SPENT SOME TIME AS A NARCISSIST,

HEARING THE OTHERS SAY,

“LOOK AT YOU, LOOK AT YOU!

TRYING TO BE SO PROVOCATIVE.”

I SAID, “OH YEAH, THAT WAS ME.

ALL THE THINGS I DID

JUST TO BE SEEN.”

At times of feeling unseen and small, when the universe expands in terrifyingly exponential form – unending and beyond the scope of my limited comprehension – I try to shrink the view, to narrow my focus on the most minute particle I can hold in my hand. There may be something to this theory of relativity after all. A ragged cube of salt, a jagged piece of sand, an oblong grain of rice, or a seed in a sea of thousands of seeds – there is comfort in carrying the whole of their existence in the wrinkled landscape of an upturned palm. I limit my gaze to a single coneflower, and follow the circles to its very center, or blow off all but a single parachute of a dandelion seed.

A drop of water joins another, collecting en masse, running into tiny rivulets, gaining in volume, rushing into small streams, raging into rivers, surging into seas, overflowing into oceans and finding their sunlit way into the sky again, in sunbeams transporting them back to the clouds, from which they will fall again. The push and pull, the rise and fall, the ebb and flow – it begins and ends and begins again.

OUTGROWN MY PAST AND I’VE SHED MY SKIN, LETTING IT GO AND I’LL START AGAIN, START AGAIN

NEVER LOOK BACK, IT’S A WASTE OF TIME

I SAID, ‘OH YEAH, THIS IS ME, AND I’M RIGHT HERE WHERE I WANNA BE.”

I SAID, ‘HELL YEAH! THIS IS ME, RIGHT WHERE I’M SUPPOSED TO BE.”

Above me, the shower spurts more hot water over my head. It runs down my body, this body that has grown around me for almost forty years, that has carried and cushioned me from a hard world. Here, a scar on my shoulder from when I scraped the rough bottom of my parents’ pool – there, above my knee, a recent red welt from where a bamboo stake pierced the skin in an over-zealous pruning expedition. I watch a drop of water travel down from my chest, pausing for some literal navel gazing around the spot where they cut me off from my mother, and follow it as it drips off the tip of my sex, landing on my toe and trickling away down the drain. I stare down at the glistening, damp patch of hair surrounding where I’d create life if ever I were to have a child. I know now, and I’ve known all my life, that I will never use it for that purpose. I won’t have children. Turning forty won’t change my thoughts on that, but it does cause pause, and wonder. It also brings up the prospect of mortality looming on a distant horizon. I’m probably about halfway there. What, if anything, will I leave behind?

 

SO I TOOK THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED BY

AND I BARELY MADE IT OUT ALIVE

THROUGH THE DARKNESS SOMEHOW I SURVIVED

TOUGH LOVE – I KNEW IT FROM THE START

DEEP DOWN IN MY REBEL HEART 

I’ve tried different ways of leaving a legacy, desperate attempts at not being forgotten – attention-getting antics, doing something or wearing something or writing something that wants only to be remembered. I won’t have anyone who will tell my stories later on, just what exists here, in this virtual online realm, a ghost until my host stops receiving payments, and then a page that cannot be located. One day I may only be an Error – Not Found. Then will I truly be gone? I don’t know. I don’t know how dark that place may be.

Until that darkness arrives, however, I will be here. Even if it’s futile, I’ll go down fighting. I will do my best to display a galvanized compassion, to uphold a nobility that may not even count for much in this world. Even if it doesn’t matter to anyone else, it matters to me. Maybe these words will live on, maybe they won’t, but for now, for this day and night, I am here. You are here. We are here, and we are together.

The shower stops. The song ends. I wipe the water off of my face. Tomorrow I will be 40.

Madonna has said that ‘Rebel Heart’ is the embodiment of two sides of her personality – the rebellious controversial part, and the romantic softer side. It’s a fitting juxtaposition: a warrior is nothing without heart, and a heart cannot beat without some protection. It seems both strange and inevitable that thirty years into her game, and one day short of forty years into my life, she has become the woman warrior forging the way to the future – unstoppable, heroic, and brave.

SO I TOOK THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED BY AND I BARELY MADE IT OUT ALIVE

THROUGH THE DARKNESS SOMEHOW I SURVIVED

TOUGH LOVE – I KNEW IT FROM THE START, DEEP DOWN IN THE DEPTH OF MY REBEL HEART.

IN MY REBEL HEART… IN MY REBEL HEART.

SONG #113 – ‘Rebel Heart’ – Right Now

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Holding On To Each Other

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The Sunday of departing after a weekend of friendship and revelry is always such a mixture of sadness, sorrow, happiness and joy, that the heart runs a riotous path no matter how you’re getting home. On this particular journey back to New York, the sun was shining brightly, the heat was on, and the nodding heads of goldenrod were just beginning to bloom. Fall was coming. The tour had just begun. And I had some beautiful memories to keep me company on the road. Still, the sadness that it was over was equal only to the beauty of the aftermath. In some respects, it sometimes felt like life was one big morning-after.

Rain falls hard
Burns dry
A dream
Or a song
That hits you so hard
Filling you up
And suddenly gone

We were all searching for something. For peace, for contentment, for purpose, for love ~ and on that night I think we found a bit of it, a bit of everything. Here, in this backyard, beneath the sky, beside the fire, and close to the sea, we found it.

Breath Feel Love
Give Free
Know in you soul
Like your blood knows the way
From you heart to your brain
Know that you’re whole

And you’re shining
Like the brightest star
A transmission
On the midnight radio
And you’re spinning
Like a 45
Ballerina
Dancing to your rock and roll

Someone once said that JoAnn and I were like rock stars ~ flaming brightly, burning hotly, and loving deeply ~ sometimes scorching everything in our wake ~ but I don’t think we’d do anything differently. I would never want to tame my love, I would never want to pull back from feeling anything, even – and especially – the hurt. That pain is proof of love. That pain is proof that we matter. It is the heartache of making a difference and tearing apart your soul to prove you still feel.

Here’s to Patti, and Tina, and Yoko
Aretha and Nona and Nico and me

And all the strange rock and rollers
You know you’re doing all right
So hold on to each other
You gotta hold on tonight

And you’re shining
Like the brightest stars
A transmission
On the midnight radio

And you’re spinning
Your new 45′s
All the misfits and the losers
Yeah, you know you’re rock and rollers
Spinning to your rock and roll…

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The Tree of Friendship

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“There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met…”

The weather was sunny and warm. Unusually warm for Cape Cod, but there was a breeze coming in cool off the shore, and it was summer after all. Water glistened all around us. In canals, in eel ponds and on the ocean itself. The sparkle wouldn’t leave the entire brief weekend we were there. Everything would come together to make this one beautiful.

Along with the bloom of the ocean there was the bloom of the gardens. Hydrangeas and roses, Black-eyed Susans and petunias – they burst forth in what would likely be the final big show of the season. They were giving it their all. Even the seed-heads of grasses had risen high into the air, exploding like miniature fireworks in the moving air. The whole of the Cape surged with summer, and we held onto it like it was all we had. In some ways, it was.

Arriving early to beat the insane bridge traffic, we drove on the cusp of all the others migrating to the Cape for one of the last summer weekends. It can be a lonely trip to make, especially if one gets caught in a traffic snarl, so I brought Kira with me. She’s wanted to explore new experiences, and there would be no greater way to expand our worlds than in the purpose of this trip. We stopped for an iced coffee and threw off the previous Boston night’s fatigue. The Cape has a way of lulling your shoulders down a bit, of coaxing an easy, relaxed smile across your face.

JoAnn’s house was already bedecked with the makings of a grand gathering. Tables and tents and bouquets of hydrangeas dotted the expansive yard. Those gorgeous Cape hydrangeas – in blues and purples and magentas and colors so bright they feel like confirmation that there is reason to all beauty. They don’t deign to bloom like this anywhere else in the world.

After months of work, it was the gardens that most impressed. Toils of blood, sweat and tears were apparent in the pretty start to her new gardens, thanks to the help of her very own Mary Poppins, a.k.a. Sarah. Straps of Japanese iris rose before the lovely weathered background of a fence, sunny orbs of coreopsis glowed in one corner, and a hearty stand of lavender held onto a few more late-season blooms. This was where she had spent much of her spring and summer, and it was happy proof that a garden can be a place of healing and growth.

The seaside town, so cruel and brutal in winter, forged forgiveness in this perfect summer idyll. A warm afternoon sun slowly began to lower itself in the sky. Music grew in volume as friends began to arrive.

 

You know, the sun is in your eyes
And hurricanes and rains 
and black and cloudy skies.
You’re running up and down that hill.
You turn it on and off at will.
There’s nothing here to thrill
or bring you down.
And if you’ve got no other choice
You know you can follow my voice
through the dark turns and noise
of this wicked little town. 

 

The same way we make it through the winter is how we celebrate the summer: together. It’s more fun on this side of the sun, that is certain, but the love remains the same – unyielding, unchanging, and true.

The fates are vicious and they’re cruel.

You learn too late you’ve used two wishes

like a fool and then you’re someone you are not,

and Junction City ain’t the spot,

remember Mrs. Lot and when she turned around.

And if you’ve got no other choice, you know you can follow my voice

through the dark turns and noise of this wicked little town.

For quite some time now, maybe since the day I met her, it has seemed like JoAnn has been searching for something, for some place to call her own. As hostess for this party, a party for her long-time cherished friends from Manchester, she brought us all together. Perhaps this then was her purpose, perhaps it had always been in her backyard, wherever that backyard happened to be. There’s a certain glory and honor in being the conduit that bridges friends, and sometimes even countries, but she wears that mantle better than anyone else.

She has always had a way of bringing people together, uniting old ones and forging new friendships. It takes a special alchemist to succeed in that, and a special person to be the touchstone for such an enterprise. Yes, there are burdens and responsibilities involved, but there is something in the goodness of connecting people that, I hope, makes it all worth it.

On this weekend, the JoJo magic was in full effect. After years of listening to the stories and heartfelt affection she felt for her Brits, it truly felt like I had known them all my life, like they had been a part of my own journey – and in a way, they had. JoAnn is such an important person in my life that they couldn’t help but be important too. That sweet rush of relief at finding you’re a little closer to finding your tribe, upon discovering a few more key players you didn’t even realize your heart was missing until they arrive and fill the hole with warmth and affection – well, that has a way of galvanizing the fading sense of hope I sometimes feel departing the coldest days.

This world will slam us in ways too painful and numerable to seem bearable sometimes, but we get through it by leaning on our friends and loved ones. Thank you, JoAnn, for broadening that circle a bit.

To my new/old friends Lindsay, Mickey, Andy, Zoe, Sharon & Ian, I’m so glad to have finally met you in person. The world became a little smaller, a little warmer, and a little more filled with happiness now that I know you’re in it. (An across-the-pond shout-out to Emma, who I was lucky enough to meet when she was last over.) And to the friends I’ve been fortunate to have already met because of JoAnn, thank you for always welcoming me as if I belonged ~ you are a good crew (Wally, Carolyn, Ali, Kim, Courtney, Tony, Sarah, Dena, Jen, Sherry, Rich, Pete, and my beloved Peaches).

Forgive me,

For I did not know.

‘Cause I was just a boy

And you were so much more

Than any god could ever plan,

More than a woman or a man.

And now I understand how much I took from you: That, when everything starts breaking down,
You take the pieces off the ground ,and show this wicked town something beautiful and new.

You think that Luck has left you there, But maybe there’s nothing up in the sky but air.

And there’s no mystical design, No cosmic lover preassigned.
There’s nothing you can find that can not be found.
‘Cause with all the changes you’ve been through, it seems the stranger’s always you.
Alone again in some new wicked little town.

So when you’ve got no other choice, you know you can follow my voice
Through the dark turns and noise of this wicked little town.
Oh it’s a wicked, little town.
Goodbye, wicked little town.

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Summer Memories: I Want Tomorrow

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Tricky month, August is. Last full month of summer. Tricky nights, August nights are. They carry with them the hint of fall. Felt it for the first time this year last night. Cool. Brisk. Nice. Not unwelcome, not yet. Still, stave off a bit. Give us a little more summer. A little more sun. A little more heat. I’ve not yet grown tired of it. We remember the winter. We don’t want to go back there. I find myself staying up so as not to end the days too soon. It is tiring, but it’s a happy exhaustion. The giddy sleep that can come only after a day of splashing by the sea, soaking up the sun.

 

Dawn breaks; there is blue in the sky.

Your face before me

Though I don’t know why.

Thoughts disappearing like tears from the Moon.

Years ago, August meant the encroaching approach of college. The end of summer vacation. I’d lie in bed at night and listen to this song by Enya. A lullaby and a march, like the relentless passing of time, some gentle ticking of the clock that never wavers come sun or moon, come waves or wind. It marks its moments easily, subtly, yet the end result is the same: the end of summer. It’s in the night air now. I want to mourn, but by the morning I will forget. There will be more heat, more sun, and I will not remember what the darkness whispered.

Waiting here, as I sit by the stone,
They came before me
Those men from the Sun.
Signs from the heavens say I am the one.

Now you’re here, I can see your light,
this light that I must follow.
You, you may take my life away, so far away.
Now I know I must leave your spell
I want tomorrow.

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Hunk of the Day: Scotty Dynamo

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Once upon a time, a music video had the power to define an artist, firmly planting them on the pop culture map with one fell swoop of imagery and choreography. In a throwback to that time when videos had the eyes of the world, Scotty Dynamo has just released his latest, and it’s a doozy. The almost-criminally-catchy ‘Show Me Yours’ song and video, in which Mr. Dynamo gets hot and sweaty to his work-out groove, delivers a delicious not-so-surprise ending, and shows off Dynamo’s rockin’ bod to great effect. It’s more than enough to earn him his first Hunk of the Day honor. (By the way, this is probably the most entertaining coming-out I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something.) Check out his YouTube channel for even more hotness.

 

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Peering Over the Edge of 40

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LIKE A SMALL BOAT ON THE OCEAN

SENDING BIG WAVES INTO MOTION

LIKE HOW A SINGLE WORD

CAN MAKE A HEART OPEN

I MIGHT ONLY HAVE ONE MATCH

BUT I CAN MAKE AN EXPLOSION

 

AND ALL THOSE THINGS I DIDN’T SAY

WRECKING BALLS INSIDE MY BRAIN

I WILL SCREAM THEM LOUD TONIGHT

CAN YOU HEAR MY VOICE THIS TIME?

There comes a time, usually around the age at which I now find myself, when you have to make a decision to keep fighting to carve out a place in the world, or to resign yourself to what you’ve been given and what you’ve earned, and make the best of it. At its essence, the decision is one largely dictated and designed by a society in which getting older is more frightening rather than something to be revered. Maybe it’s getting worse, or maybe I’m just noticing it more as the world around me grows younger and I go in the opposite direction. To be honest, age has never mattered much to me, and it never will, but that won’t make a difference to everyone else. Too much of our existence is based on perception, and once you hit forty, particularly among gay men, the perception is that you’re too old to play in the big league anymore.

THIS IS MY FIGHT SONG
TAKE BACK MY LIFE SONG
PROVE I’M ALRIGHT SONG
MY POWER’S TURNED ON
STARTING RIGHT NOW I’LL BE STRONG
I’LL PLAY MY FIGHT SONG
AND I DON’T REALLY CARE IF NOBODY ELSE BELIEVES
‘CAUSE I’VE STILL GOT A LOT OF FIGHT LEFT IN ME

Madonna has been attacked for it for the last decade or so, and I know my time is just around the corner. The gray hair has come, the stomach around me thickens, and it’s just a matter of time before I metaphorically disappear from society’s sight. It’s a world for the youth. Always has been, ever will be. When you’re young you don’t always realize that because it certainly doesn’t feel that way, but I had glimpses of it. I relished my time there, even as I guarded against giving into such a dreamer’s paradise. It’s the surest way of losing your footing, to lose sight of the future and gain glory for the moment.

I’ve seen it more as I get older, which makes sense. The college-age revelers I watch stumbling along the streets late at night get younger and younger – only they’re not. I’m simply getting older. They don’t see me, partly because of their drunken stupor, partly because I’m beyond their interest. At a certain age, we all become invisible. I don’t mind that – it’s the aggressive attacks against someone older than them that indirectly sting more.

I was never vicious that way, not when it came to age, or gender, or race, or religion. I’ll judge you for your crocs and capris, not for the God in which you do or don’t believe, not for the size or shape of your body, or the color of your hair or skin, or for how long you’ve been walking on earth. I respected and looked up to everyone who was older than me, and often the older someone was, the more wisdom I assumed they had. That’s a fallacy in itself, but a graceful one.

LOSING FRIENDS AND I’M CHASING SLEEP
EVERYBODY’S WORRIED ABOUT ME
IN TOO DEEP
SAY I’M IN TOO DEEP (IN TOO DEEP)
AND IT’S BEEN TWO YEARS
I MISS MY HOME
BUT THERE’S A FIRE BURNING IN MY BONES
AND I STILL BELIEVE
YEAH I STILL BELIEVE

AND ALL THOSE THINGS I DIDN’T SAY
WRECKING BALLS INSIDE MY BRAIN
I WILL SCREAM THEM LOUD TONIGHT
CAN YOU HEAR MY VOICE THIS TIME?

As I approach the stroke of forty, that golden hour when you can’t really claim to be young anymore, not in any conventional sense, I find myself sidling slowly out of the race. That’s what it sort of feels like to me now: the race to stay in fashion, to stay in vogue, to stay relevant and popular and on everyone’s tongue. Part of me wants to fade away, leaving the party first instead of lingering, because there’s nothing worse than a party guest who doesn’t know when it’s over. Better to leave sooner than later, best to leave them wanting more, the hope that they might even miss you still a happy possibility. At those moments, I have thought of stepping down from this self-appointed/self-anointed throne, and letting someone else take on the mantle of all this nonsense. It’s a bunch of fluff and frivolity anyway, right? When dissected and broken down, there’s not much to any of it. Yet it’s all I have. It’s all that I’ve ever had. And it’s mine, and mine alone.

THIS IS MY FIGHT SONG
TAKE BACK MY LIFE SONG
PROVE I’M ALRIGHT SONG
MY POWER’S TURNED ON
STARTING RIGHT NOW I’LL BE STRONG
I’LL PLAY MY FIGHT SONG
AND I DON’T REALLY CARE IF NOBODY ELSE BELIEVES
‘CAUSE I’VE STILL GOT A LOT OF FIGHT LEFT IN ME

Then I think… fuck it. I’m still here. I still matter. I can still do ten times what someone half my age could only dream of doing, and that little fire burns a little brighter, and suddenly I’m mouthing the words to this silly empowering pop song, popular with a demographic of which I’m proudly a member (since 1975) and my fists are pumping in the air and the sparkle in my eye is a tear of joy, a tear of glory, a tear of reconciliation.

LIKE A SMALL BOAT
ON THE OCEAN
SENDING BIG WAVES
INTO MOTION
LIKE HOW A SINGLE WORD
CAN MAKE A HEART OPEN
I MIGHT ONLY HAVE ONE MATCH
BUT I CAN MAKE AN EXPLOSION

Whenever I’ve doubted myself, I’ve done it. Instead of hesitating, I’ve held fast. That won’t change as I round the corner to forty. Or fifty. Or sixty. And if at the age of seventy I still want to go on “tour” and wear a cape and flash my ass on Instagram, by God I’m going to do it. You may remain seated and watch all you want. The ones who decry those older than they are usually do so out of deeper-seeded reasons: jealousy or fear or the insidious notion of not having the balls to do it themselves. Rarely is it as simple as petty meanness or small-minded cruelty (though sometimes it is). We each have our demons. They rear their ugly heads in different ways.

As for me, I’m embracing every step of this life. With age, comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes power. It’s not a power you can wield over others, it’s not a power that controls. It’s a power that is intrinsic to each of us. You will find it within, and when you do you will carry it with you through life. It’s not something you can give away, and it’s not something that can be taken. It’s an indestructible charm, a magic all your own. Find yours, and don’t ever look back.

THIS IS MY FIGHT SONG
TAKE BACK MY LIFE SONG
PROVE I’M ALRIGHT SONG
MY POWER’S TURNED ON
STARTING RIGHT NOW I’LL BE STRONG (I’LL BE STRONG)
I’LL PLAY MY FIGHT SONG
AND I DON’T REALLY CARE IF NOBODY ELSE BELIEVES
‘CAUSE I’VE STILL GOT A LOT OF FIGHT LEFT IN ME

NOW I’VE STILL GOT A LOT OF FIGHT LEFT IN ME.

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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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