Category Archives: Music

Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered

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It’s a memory that may not have actually happened. The time of the year is accurate, the weather quite distinct, and the location a very tangible one. The tail end of August, after a rainy day, on the very tip of Cape Cod ~ Provincetown. It was still summer, but barely, and the first hints of fall were seeping into the night. The year was 1995, and Suzie and I made our virgin trip to what might as well have been the edge of the world. Foolishly, we hadn’t thought ahead to make any sort of reservation (things were slightly different back then) so we entered the town after a long drive, exhausted and not in the mood for the lack of vacancy that was going on. Finally, we found a place – well, Suzie did – and I went along, relieved to lie down on a stationary object.

It was on a quiet side street, and after the rain the town had seemingly gone to sleep. The forecast had not been a happy one, but Suzie and I were just glad to be out of upstate New York, and near the water. Overcast and cool, we couldn’t care less. Depositing our suitcases in the room, we rustled up some grub and had a leisurely dinner. That night, Suzie stayed in while I took a short walk along Commercial Street.

A long line of men stood watching me pass by. In a tight black t-shirt and flowing linen pants, I must have looked like a cross between ‘The Birdcage’ and the clearance section of International Male. I was too young and inexperienced to know any better, and I strutted down the street like a bashful peacock, a haughty, arrogant air defying anyone to say hello, a mask of outward confidence barely betraying a bottomless well of insecurity. I pretended so long and so hard that it would eventually come true, but back then it was ordinary make-believe, a case of flimsy affect that I was certain people could see right through. Quickly, I passed the crowd, much quicker than it felt I’m sure, and made my way further into the evening. The air had cooled from the rain, and that glorious fragrance of its aftermath, the scent that always made the rain worth it, was lingering like a few scant straggling blooms of the privet. A few still managed to hang on, perhaps tricked by the upcoming change in season.

I’m wild again, beguiled again, a simpering, whimpering child again
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I
Couldn’t sleep, and wouldn’t sleep when love came and told me I shouldn’t sleep
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I…

That much of the memory is clear. Pristinely so. The only haze was that of the actual evening – my head recalls every nuance perfectly – until this moment. On a street off of Commercial – and it may be directly off, or the one just above, running parallel – a quiet portion of Provincetown revealed itself between green hedges and immaculate yet lush landscaping. There stood a guest house, and through its windows a warm amber light glowed. It was painted richly in shades of purple and lavender, with accents of brick red that somehow worked (though I would never combine them in any outfit outside of a circus). Gold was at play too, either in gold leafing or brass handles or some sort of filigree that wound its way into my memory. There was music too, faint at first, but it came to the ear if you stopped pushing gravel around, if you stood still and listened like we never really do. Scratchy at first, like the muffled old spinning of a true record player, it smoothed itself out into a soulful and creamy voice singing of love and sex and loss and relief.

Lost my heart, but what of it?
He is cold, I agree…
He can laugh, but I love it
Although the laugh’s on me.
I’ll sing to him, each spring to him,
And long for the day when I’ll cling to him…

I looked deeper into the house through the windows. A bookcase stood on one side of the room. A chair was placed by a small table. I thought of two old men having tea and coffee together, sharing a moment, sharing a lifetime ~ a lifetime of twists and turns exemplified by the languidly-paced music.

This was, I believe, my first brush with ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.’ I’d just heard it in the film version of ‘Love! Valour! Compassion!’ so looking back it was probably that soundtrack that was playing. Ella Fitzgerald’s version, so dreamily slowed down into a dirge of desire, a meandering tale of the blossom and decay of romance, the tricky, capricious nature of love, and the way most of us would do it all over again no matter what.

He’s a fool and don’t I know it, but a fool can have his charms
I’m in love and don’t I show it like a babe in arms
Love’s the same old sad sensation
Lately I’ve not slept a wink
Since this half-pint imitation put me on the blink

I stood there, alone outside a guest house that wasn’t mine, near rooms that would remain forever closed to me, and looked into the dark sky. I wanted for something I could not put into words, for someone who seemingly did not exist. If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s possible to miss someone you’ve never met, yes, it is. I learned that then, as Ms. Fitzgerald told her wonderful, woeful, wild and winsome tale.

I’ve sinned a lot, I mean a lot
But I’m like sweet seventeen a lot
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I
I’ll sing to him each spring to him
And worship the trousers that cling to him
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I
When he talks he is seeking words to get off his chest
Horizontally-speaking he’s at his very best
Vexed again, perplexed again, thank God I can be oversexed again
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

Not having ever had your heart broken doesn’t mean you can’t access or know heartbreak – and sometimes loneliness exists even when you’ve never lost someone. I listened to the end of the song and walked back to our room. The next day, before departing, we’d visit the beach. A windy and wild day, it remained slightly overcast. The photos we took show us squinting into the rush of air and sand, hair blowing messily, propped against a travel pillow for whatever buffering effect it might produce. We read a bit there on the beach, listening to seagulls and the occasional snippet of conversation carried by the wind, and then it was time to go.

On our way back from the Cape, we brushed Boston, where these photos were taken. In a few weeks I’d return to Brandeis, but there, in the sudden dark, driving with Suzie, I was in a holding pattern. Waiting. Wondering. Watching for signs. The turn of the song, then, a surprise twist lending whimsy and humor and pathos, and for the next few years I’d find it all, even, and especially, when I didn’t want anymore.

Wise at last, my eyes at last are cutting you down to your size at last
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered no more
Burned a lot, but learned a lot, and now you are broke, so you’ve earned a lot
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered no more

Love, then, was a difficult business. It came in fits and stunts, it arrived unwanted and unheralded, it was there when you least expected it and elusive when sought out. It was a funny thing, made that way out of necessity. We’d all be crying if we couldn’t turn it on its head, but for me at least, it was hard to make a laugh out of such sorrow. Ella knew this, and her voice comforted and soothed. She said it would be all right, it would work out in the end, because sometimes we end up with the wrong people. Sometimes we have to go through the silliness, the sexiness, and the sadness, as she took us through the last lines of the song. Determined to leave it all behind, the words are a final declaration of defiance, and a chance to start it all over again with someone else. Back then, that was hardly an appealing notion. I wanted to fall in love once and for all and have it last forever. That was the romantic in me.

Couldn’t eat, was dyspeptic, life was so hard to bear
Now my heart’s antiseptic since you moved out of  there
Romance finis, your chance, finis, those ants that invaded my pants, finis
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered no more.

And there it ended, not with a bang or a boom but with a simple “no more.”

The song haunted me for years. I wanted it to have a happy ending. I wanted it to work out. I wanted there to be something that matched the longing and yearning and wistfulness of the music. But it wasn’t happening, and eventually, after trying to force a few failed romances to be what they would never be, I understood. If it’s meant to be it will be. If it’s not, it won’t. Once I got that into my head, once it was understood, the world of romance became a much happier one, and I became a lot happier too. It was then that I embraced the song, every twist and turn of it, from the unlikely hope at the start to the freedom of the finish.

 

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Flash Me Anytime

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My teary-eyed love for a flash mob has already been documented here, but here’s a bit of an addendum, spurred by this video of a ‘Lion King’ cast setting the take-off scene in an airplane. Everyone wishes they were on a flight like this, and once again I teared up a bit watching it unfold, as often happens when people spontaneously burst into song.

Most of us, myself included, reach a certain state of complacent ennui as we age, a sort of stagnant and sad plateau of steady-as-she-goes. We succumb to a bit of ‘There is nothing new under the sun’ syndrome. I don’t believe in that. I like ripples and dips and ravines with ravishing drop-offs. So when something like this comes along to beautifully upset the status-quo, even in the hum-drum exercise of a plane take-off, I take notice and smile.

Those moments when we are jolted awake are what inspire me. That’s what a flash mob or unexpected round of singing does. And as touching as it is to see a group of people joining together to make strangers smile, it is the smiles on those who get to witness the event that are just as moving. That is the ultimate human experience for me – strangers making each other smile. I’m not good at that, but my closest friends are. People like Skip and Suzie, who care just as much for their fellow human beings as they do for themselves. There’s a grace and generosity of spirit that they have, and which I most often lack, so from them I try to learn to be better. Watching a moment like this restores a little bit of my faith in humanity. It reminds me that things aren’t as bad as they sometimes seem.

There is more to see than can ever be seen,
More to do than can ever be done…
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Hunk of the Day: Lenny Kravitz

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A welcome suggestion by my friend JoJo, Lenny Kravitz is the Hunk of the Day, lending a little musical slant to this stalwart feature. Mr. Kravitz has long held that smoldering, reserved sexual power – a sleepy sort of confidence that one suspects explodes in the bedroom, or whatever other room in which he deigns to do the dirty. Coupled with his rock star status, he’s irresistible. It’s a not-quite-scientifically-proven fact that once you strap a guitar on someone, they become ten times sexier in that instant.

My love for Lenny comes down to a single musical moment – his first big breakthrough song: ‘It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over’ from 1991′s ‘Mama Said’ album. It defined that summer for me.

Fittingly, ‘It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over’ is one of the poppier records of the rocker’s career, which is why it was so easily accessible to my aural-candy-loving ears. Key to my enjoyment of the track are all those violins – plop a string section into a pop song and I’m a happy camper. Also of aid was its summer release – songs like this always sound better in the summer. Sun, pool, flowers, and languid lounging in air-conditioned space.

That was the summer I read ‘David Copperfield’. I watched hollyhocks search for the sky, picking off Japanese beetles and dropping them into a jar of oil. It was another summer of solitude, and I did not mind it in the least. Something called to me in this song, though I couldn’t begin to access what it was like to try to hold onto a romantic relationship when I’d never even been in one. Somehow I’d always known heartache.

That was also the summer of ‘Truth or Dare’, and the first motions toward my own truth, the path to my becoming a man. Mr. Kravitz sang out almost plaintively that it wasn’t over until it was over, giving a jolt of hope to the journey that was about to get much rockier for a few years. I would carry that carefree summer with me in the darker, colder days to come.

As for Mr. Kravitz, his style is a little too hippie for me (other than at 60′s-themed summer parties) so this post is mostly for JoJo. And those who like a naked male celebrity with a washboard stomach and a rocking ass.

Any other musicians you’d like to see as Hunk of the Day? Keep in mind we’ve already featured the sexy likes of Justin Timberlake, Adam Levine, Enrique Iglesias, Jon Bon Jovi (hello Ann!), Adam Lambert and Jake Shears.

Are you gonna go my way?

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Treacherous Emotional Thaw

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It happens much the same way – the transition from winter to spring, that certain smell in the night air, the warmth on the night wind, the heart-rending churning of emotional mayhem that the arrival of the season of birth invariably brings. To that end, no one embodies such dramatic angst better than Madonna. Underneath all the hype and hoopla, the sexiness and showbiz pizzazz, I always sensed the wounded hurt of a lonely heart. It takes one to know one. In the span of the few minutes of a song, she could zone in on the basic longing and yearning for love that most of us have come to know and want at some point.

It’s there in the watery brilliance of the ‘Ray of Light‘ album. From the first (and deepest) cut ‘Drowned World/Substitute for Love‘, to the brutal memory-tripping of ‘Little Star‘ and ‘To Have and Not To Hold‘ – and the farewell implicit in ‘The Power of Good-Bye‘ it rings of loss and hope.

It’s there on the cusp of adolescence, in the tender final days of boyhood innocence, in the desperate want of ‘Crazy For You.’

It’s there in the eclipse-crescents of shadows beneath the leafy boughs hanging over my first year at Brandeis University, and the gentle melancholy of ‘I’ll Remember.’

It’s there in the beautiful brutality and spiritual transcendence of ‘Like A Prayer.’

And it’s there in the mysterious dim beauty of the ‘X-Static Process‘ of love.

The ache of the coming spring. The death of another winter. The power of a pop song.

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The Man in the Mirror

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I’m gonna make a change for once in my life
It’s gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference, gonna make it right
As I turned up the collar on my favorite winter coat, this wind is blowing my mind
I see the kids in the street with not enough to eat,
Who am I to be blind, pretending not to see their needs?

A good song will withstand any number of renditions – a great one can become something so much more when given a treatment like this. Listen to Michael Henry and Justin Robinett lift Michael’s Jackson’s classic ‘Man in the Mirror’ to an even higher plane. Minus production pyrotechnics, special effects, or fancy costumes or choreography, these gentlemen sell the song from a simpler place of musical purity, from the very origin of its message. 

This song reminds me of the very end of winter and the start of spring – in other words, this very time of the year, when dirty snow and roads are just giving way to cleansing rains and warmer days.

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and make a change.

Back in 1988, I wasn’t anywhere close to becoming a man – some days I still wonder – but I took this song’s message to heart. Granted, it was at key and selective moments, and it would take years before any real sense of love for my fellow human beings was born, and some days it’s still difficult to access that. You see, you have to start with yourself first, and that’s always been the hardest part.

I’ve been a victim of a selfish kind of love
It’s time that I realized
That there are some with no home, not a nickel to loan
Could it be really me pretending that they’re not all alone?
A willow deeply scarred
Somebody’s broken heart
And a washed out dream…
They follow the path of the wind you see
Cause they’ve got no place to be that’s why I’m starting with me.

At the end of every winter, when I was typically at my darkest, mood-wise, I would revisit this song, trying to remember what was really important, trying to do something that mattered, something that was bigger than my small self. As the years passed, it grew in resonance, as I grew up. In ways, I would need to become more selfish before I learned what it was to be generous, I’d have to become mean and cruel before I could become kind. Throughout it all, though, this song put me back on track whenever I stopped to truly listen to it.

Set-backs came at regular intervals, as they do in anyone’s life, and there were moments when I was battered, bruised, and not believed. That was difficult to accept. And when you live as bluntly and honestly as I do, you tend to get a reputation for being cutting and cruel when it’s not always warranted. It’s hard to pull yourself out of that pigeonhole – well, that’s not accurate – it’s hard for others not to see you in that pigeonhole – I never had a problem moving on to a better place. Others usually had a problem seeing me move on, because it was easier for them to keep me trapped like that, to believe that I could not be capable of growth or compassion or even love.

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and make a change.

There’s no way I’m anywhere near finishing this work. I’m not even close to being the good person I most wish I could be – that kind and caring and generous and non-judgmental guy that on my best days I only barely approach. But slowly, I’m getting closer. And on the day that I get there, I am certain that I’ll still not be satisfied, which is as it should be. Several words appear as goals now:

Grace. Serenity. Transcendence. Freedom.

I need not mention Truth, for that has always been on my side, an integral part of my world, as problematic as it might be for some to handle. I need not mention Loyalty either.

You can say a great many things about me – many unflattering and unkind things that may be accurate – but you cannot claim the least bit of a lack of self-awareness. I am the most honest, the most harsh, and the most glaringly unforgiving with myself. You can never be as honest with me as I have been with myself. That’s not self-delusional, and it’s not self-denial. I know the man in the mirror. I know he has to change. And I know he can.

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #106 – ‘Like A Prayer’ – March 1989

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

It began, of all places, in the middle of ‘The Cosby Show.’ Then a part of America’s must-see Thursday night NBC line-up, it was the perfect time and location for maximum exposure. A preview – one of the only commercials for a commercial – had aired the week before. In the midst of a desolate arid landscape, tumbleweed rolling in the wind, a solitary tribal man stumbles into a hut that incongruently houses a television and a Pepsi dispenser.

“No matter where in the world you are on March 2, get to a TV and see Pepsi present Madonna with her latest release ‘Like A Prayer’ for the first time on the planet earth,” an ominous voice-over announced. The new Madonna single was to premiere in a Pepsi commercial. Soft drink preference aside (I had always been a Coke boy, when I had the luxury of drinking soda, which wasn’t often) I was excited. While nowhere near the levels of fanatical devotion I would attain in a couple of years, I enjoyed Madonna much more than the next guy. It was in the gay genes.

On March 2, 1989, I sat on the edge of the chair by the television in the cellar of my parents’ house. I can still picture its plaid upholstery, black and gray and brown, and straight out of the 70’s. Leaning forward, I watched with rapt attention as the laugh track faded and the commercial break began.

Madonna’s voice sounded the opening lines of ‘Like A Prayer.’

 

Life is a mystery,

 

Everyone must stand alone

 

I hear you call my name

 

And it feels like home.

My very first impression? I didn’t like it. I was used to the simpler, disposable, instant ear candy of ‘Like A Virgin’ and ‘True Blue.’ This was challenging, darker, more complex… and was that a Gospel choir? It marked the beginning of the way I would learn to love a Madonna song slowly at first (‘Frozen’) but also more deeply. This would be a love that lasted through time and space, and such life-long loves don’t always begin with immediate gratification. It took some time, but once ‘Like A Prayer’ embedded itself in my head, once those grand cathedrals of mighty thought and musical rumination erected themselves in my mind, it was there for good.

As for the Pepsi commercial, it was sweet-enough, but it would only air twice. The official music video was released next, and it was then that all hell broke loose. A startlingly brunette Madonna (we’d only known the dirty and platinum blonde of the 80’s) sang her new song while dancing in a black slip, receiving stigmata, kissing a black saint come-to-life, and standing defiantly in a field of burning crosses, while a plain-as-day story of a black man wrongly accused of murder played out almost as an afterthought.

I remember being profoundly perplexed by all the controversy. The Catholic Church was pissed about the religious imagery, seemingly oblivious to its message of truth and justice. Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority found fault with just about everything Madonna did, and planned a boycott of Pepsi who, scared shitless, immediately dropped the commercial and their ties to Madonna (while kissing the millions of dollars they paid her good-bye.) Were people seeing the same video I was seeing? This was a tale of right and wrong, of innocence and guilt, of wrongdoing and murder and misplaced blame, of racism and violence, and ultimately of vindication and justice. The imagery was powerful, and effective, and the resulting firestorm of publicity only served to solidify Madonna’s status as cultural icon and zeitgeist master.

For anyone with the slightest ability to comprehend a video narrative, Madonna’s character stands for justice and truth, and the story is one of an innocent man wronged, and finally righted. The burning crosses were more for impact of imagery, conjuring the historical context of racism over a story in which racism plays an integral part. The religious moments, too, were more of a touching on key Catholic components that today seem both archaic and harmless. At the time, though, ‘Like A Prayer’ ignited an inferno of rage from all sides. For a thirteen-year-old gay boy, it sparked something else – the transcendent power of a pop song, and the way it could take one away from a miserable and mundane existence.

 

When you call my name
it’s like a little prayer

 

I’m down on my knees,
I wanna take you there

 

In the midnight hour
I can feel your power

 

Just like a prayer
you know I’ll take you there

Every morning before going off to school I would watch the video on MTV’s Top-Ten countdown. It filled me with a thrill and a vague sense of danger, but the music moved me, every listen growing more powerful, touching something deeper. Despite the fact that I did well in school, had a few friends and a pretty good time there, it still required a bit of effort to gear myself up to face another day. There was always the possibility of being called out, of being called ‘faggot’, of being targeted and taunted. I felt myself apart from all my classmates, something that distanced me from them no matter how close we got. Some of these kids I’d known since I was a baby, and yet I never felt part of the class.

After each period, the halls filled with the noisy rushing masses of burgeoning adolescence, each scrambling to find peace, acceptance, or their next class. After a tumultuous and sickly 7th grade, I found my footing in my final year at Wilbur H. Lynch Middle School, but still never managed to truly belong.

In the middle of the building, a marble staircase rose across from the auditorium, and if you peered over the windows looking out you had a view of the hills rolling down to the Mohawk River. I stopped there, feeling the rush of life move around and past me, like some bit of time-lapse photography where my body was the stationary point around which all else evolved and changed. Standing still, I looked out the window. I wanted to be free.

I hear your voice, it’s like an angel sighing
I have no choice, I hear your voice
Feels like flying, I close my eyes
Oh God I think I’m falling out of the sky
I close my eyes, Heaven help me

I was breaking free of parental and parochial restraints, unfurling wings I never knew I had, challenging dogma that I’d never thought to question, and not because of Madonna, but because of knowledge and information and the realization that there was more to life than I was being taught and told. When I got home from school, I searched the television for her again, catching another countdown and re-examining what everything in the video might mean. More than the images, though, it was the music that moved me.

She was there in the night, to see me through. On the radio she sang to me as I laid in bed. The lights were out, and in the darkness I prayed. It was a prayer and a wish for love all at once, where the hunger of desire matched the hunger for something spiritual, and the soul demanded something both carnal and emotional and only found it in the orgasmic swelling of a choir. This was a song for eternity. A God anthem. A glimpse of heaven, a taunt of hell. In me something moved. Something recognized that soon I would have greater struggles, and the life I had, the love I would feel, would be at direct odds with what the church would have me be, what my family would have wanted for their first-born son, and what society would not be ready to accept until many years later – until, perhaps, many years too late. Luckily, I did not see that then. It would have been too much for my thirteen-year-old mind to comprehend. Instead, I got lost in the majestic swelling of the music, the rousing spirit of the choir, the glorious licks of an electric guitar.

It lifted me up. It raised my spirit. It spoke to me like the voice of God – perhaps greater than the voice of God because up until that point I didn’t think God had ever spoken to me. It gave me strength to get through whatever obstacle came my way. It was a covenant between me and Madonna, that whatever might come she would be there.

After my initial hesitation, I grew to love the song, feeling that wonderful pull to listen to it over and over – the kind of addictive draw I only felt with Madonna songs. Late at night, when I should have been asleep, the song would come over the radio, and I’d sit up and listen, slowly turning the volume up just a bit, getting lost in the chords and the choir, feeling a stirring from deep within my soul – and I knew I wanted to be a part of that one day, to inspire that feeling, to make something that touched someone.

When you call my name it’s like a little prayer
I’m down on my knees, I wanna take you there
In the midnight hour I can feel your power
Just like a prayer you know I’ll take you there

The ‘Like A Prayer’ album, however, was another story. Being raised as a strict Catholic, and being shamed and scared into behaving lest I burn in the fires of hell, I could stand the vague religious teasing in songs such as ‘Like A Prayer’ and ‘Spanish Eyes,’ but not the sacrilegious squealing of the last track ‘Act of Contrition,’ where she turned the traditional prayer of confession into a screeching, jarring, in-joke of borderline-blasphemy. I played only a few minutes of that before shutting it off and taking the cassette tape out of the stereo. Frightened, I fled outside under the falling light of day, quickly traversing the length of lawn, then into the woods beyond the pool. I paused at the top of a bank, where forest weeds parted in a bit of a clearing, and placed the cassette on the ground. I found a rock – a large one for my small self – and raised it over my head, planning to smash the cassette into a multitude of plastic shards.

Conflicted, I paused, the muscles in my arms slowly starting to burn beneath the weight of the stone. I wanted to prove something to God, to prove something to myself, to prove, perhaps, that I did have faith, I did believe, I did have love in my heart. It was a sign of repentance. A sign of solidarity and support for the Lord. A sign of respect for Jesus Christ.

Yet it was all for show, and God would know that. I stood there, hovering over the tape, Madonna’s navel gazing up at me, and I wondered at my faith, not knowing whether to laugh or cry at the ridiculous predicament in which I had just placed myself. I put the rock down, lowered myself onto my haunches, and balanced there, contemplating what I was supposed to do. Dusk was at hand. The light was fading. Soon the woods would be dark.

I decided then… not to decide then. Pocketing the tape, I trudged back inside, and once in my bedroom I shoved it far back into one of my desk drawers, closing it into darkness. Something in those whispered prayers scared me. I feared what might befall my family if I listened to that. I feared whatever wrath or dark magic might be conjured if those words were released in my home. I wasn’t so concerned with myself – in fact, quite the opposite – but the idea of my behavior causing pain or harm to loved ones was where all that Catholic guilt manifested its treacherous power. There was also the question of my own soul – what might happen to it if I were to embrace Madonna’s blasphemous album? The tape stayed hidden for a couple of years. From time to time I’d catch a glimpse of it when searching for something else, sniffing a hint of its patchouli packaging, then quickly shutting the drawer again. I put it so far from my mind that I almost forgot about it.

But then a strange thing happened. I wanted to die. To kill myself. And suddenly I wasn’t so scared by God and religion and what might happen to my soul. It wasn’t that I stopped believing, I simply stopped buying into the dogma and the fear. If God was love, why should there be such fear? Why would He be so vengeful? Why would He hate me for my love?

When you’re freed from such fear, a song like ‘Act of Contrition’ means nothing – while ‘Like A Prayer’ could mean everything. The only moments I felt alive back then were when I listened to that album. Raking leaves and feeling profoundly hurt by my parents, I’d put ‘Promise to Try‘ and ‘Oh Father‘ on my walkman. I’d listen to ‘Spanish Eyes’ and let my own tears burn the pillow, begging for Christ to redeem and rescue me before taking my soul and body away.  I even found the betrayal and loss in ‘Til Death Do Us Part‘ a comfort for my downtrodden state.

In the months and years ahead, ‘Like A Prayer’ – the song and album – transformed into something life-changing. The music was good. It was inspiring. The driving force of ‘Express Yourself’ was all I needed for motivating the worst day, and the giddiness of ‘Cherish‘ and ‘Dear Jessie‘ lifted the heart when I was on top of the world. Madonna had crafted a cohesive tapestry of sound and experience, the very best kind of pop art an artist could muster. And I felt, in connections small and large, the power that certain songs had of making sense of the madness.

It was far more serious than her previous pop efforts, deeper and richer as well. Crafted during the tumultuous death-throes of her marriage to Sean Penn, it is heavy with both tension and release. An impending divorce is a heavy burden, the pain of loss magnified by Madonna’s familial ruminations at the same time.

Like a child you whisper softly to me
You’re in control just like a child
Now I’m dancing
It’s like a dream, no end and no beginning
You’re here with me it’s like a dream
Let the choir sing…

For me, I was on the brink of such turmoil, about to be tossed into the raging river of adolescent angst, teenage rebellion, and the messy and difficult struggle of coming to terms with my sexuality. It was a maelstrom of emotions, a mass of moving moods which all of Madonna’s burgeoning messages would come to mollify. She was searching, I was searching, we were all searching for something – meaning, magic, love… and it came to fruition in a pop song ~ a magnificent, majestic, moving song that melded electric guitar and a Gospel choir and the voice of the woman who once sang ‘Like A Virgin.’

The fear that first accompanied the album, and that first supposedly-blasphemous performance of ‘Like A Prayer’ during the Blonde Ambition Tour had dissipated into something else, like the curling tendrils of incense that encircled the air, gripped the lungs, and then drifted off like they had never been of consequence.

Every year during Lent, the rituals of the Catholic church haunted me, in a good way. There was comfort in that dim smoke-laden atmosphere, in the hush and quietude of the cavernous church. All the mysteries of the crucifixion and the resurrection, in the alchemy of the Body and Blood of Christ, hung in the air like, well, Jesus himself. And bound like His bloodied head in a crown of thorns, shot through like the nails in His hands, the guilt that once bled from me was rendered into a similar collection of religious cyphers and signs – echoes of what once held such sway. ‘Like A Prayer’ was the musical embodiment of this time of the year, and I cannot think of it without thinking of the church.

When you call my name it’s like a little prayer
I’m down on my knees, I wanna take you there
In the midnight hour I can feel your power
Just like a prayer you know I’ll take you there

As for its place in the Madonna canon, ‘Like A Prayer’ remains, almost across the board, her most beloved song. Critics, fans, and non-fans alike agree on that much. It marked the first bit of widespread critical acclaim that she’d enjoyed for her music. (I still remember a hard-core Metallica fan, one of my classmates in high school, begrudgingly giving props to the guitar chords of ‘Like A Prayer’.)

Live performances of ‘Like A Prayer’ have proved to be perennially powerful, beginning with the epic Blonde Ambition staging – the first time she performed it for an audience. That version (Catholic misgivings aside) was a stunning church-themed tour-de-force of choreography and vocals.

Oddly enough, she would not perform it live again for over a decade – at an MTV release special for ‘American Life’ in 2003. Since then, though, it has been a staple, not only for tours, but for one-off live performances. On the Reinvention Tour – the closest she’s come to a greatest hits tour – ‘Like A Prayer’ was given a stripped-down but rousing treatment, a testament to the power and construction of the song, and Patrick Leonard’s vital impact on Madonna’s musical legacy.

My very favorite live performance of ‘Like A Prayer’, however, may just be the one she performed for Live Aid 8, mostly because of her genuine and touching interaction with the girl whose face had embodied the original Live Aid dream. It’s a rare moment of earnest and unguarded joy in a career where very little has ever been left to chance.

On a much smaller scale, she also performed at the Hope For Haiti benefit. That acoustic version was intimate and somber, yet filled with hope, and it flew largely under the radar, which was a shame, as it was quite a compelling argument for Madonna’s oft-questioned musical prowess. As for those who had pegged Madonna as a pop star capable only of disposable, frothy throwaway hits, ‘Like A Prayer’ displayed a deeper and darker side to her songbook. A techno-infused mash-up that soars to a hand-clapping climax, the apocalyptic performance from the Sticky and Sweet Tour reveals the darkness at the heart of ‘Like A Prayer’ – even if there is light and salvation at its resolution.

That salvation would be found in the finale to her Super Bowl appearance – when thousands of lights glowed in the stadium, and one woman stood alone in the center of it all, commanding the stage and finishing up one of the greatest Super Bowl half-time shows in history.

Most recently, Madonna performed ‘Like A Prayer’ on the MDNA Tour. There is usually one moment in every Madonna tour that brings me to the verge of tears: the opening salvo of the Drowned World Tour, the intimate ‘Crazy For You’ on the Reinvention Tour, the powerful ‘Live to Tell’ on the Confessions Tour, or the haunting ‘Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You’ on the Sticky and Sweet Tour – but for the MDNA Tour it was the climactic ‘Like A Prayer.’ It was here that the transcendent culmination of the evening found its footing in the united fans, all of us joined across the globe – a connection to each other, a connection to Madonna, a connection to whatever God or higher power in which we each believed.

Life is a mystery
Everyone must stand alone
I hear you call my name
And it feels like home. 

Darkness. Anger. Fire. Danger. Life. Death. Heaven. God. From the depths of hell to the upper echelon of glory, the spiritual journey of ‘Like A Prayer’ is epic. It began at the beginning of some of my darkest times. Adolescence. Puberty. A time of questioning and wondering, doubting and despairing. But the trajectory of ‘Like A Prayer’ had to begin somewhere. It had to start from the lowest point and move steadily and slowly toward ascendance, ever-reaching upwards. It was a long journey. A spiritual journey. A journey I needed to make alone, and the only guidance was the voice of Madonna.

Just like a prayer,
Your voice can take me there,
Just ike a muse to me,
You are a mystery
Just like a dream
You are not what you seem
Just like a prayer,
No choice your voice can take me there.

Life was a mystery, but she was there to help me along the way. Madonna was the Beatrice to my Dante, calling me up from the depths of the despair and guiding me through the hellish journey, bringing me higher, raising me up, lifting my heart and spirit and soul.

I didn’t know it then, but I was lost. And I would be lost for a very long time. It was Madonna who helped me to find myself. Unbeknownst to her, it was her voice that carried me through those dim days, and any dim day that followed.

‘Like A Prayer’ continues to evolve and transform in the way that the most lasting songs do. Gaining resonance, growing in significance, and becoming much more than it ever originally was, the song has withstood the tests of time and taste. Listening to it today I still get goose-bumps. I still go back to those early days of being so lost and so alone. But it’s okay. Like a prayer will always take me there.

For the longest time, I’d been looking forward to writing the Madonna Timeline for ‘Like A Prayer’ – as one of my favorite Madonna songs, I knew it would be a totem for this series. Yet as the songs progressed, and we passed #100, I began to feel a certain dread and pressure to do it justice, to properly impress upon you the import of this song on my life – and it turned out that’s impossible to do. Like the very faith it embodies, my love for ‘Like A Prayer’ is ethereal, untouchable, and indefinable – defying all explanation, at once intrinsically and universally personal. There would be no way to convey the myriad ways this song has informed my existence, the way it’s been a part of my life for the past 25 years. There are certain songs that become a part of our existence, woven delicately yet inextricably into the fabric that makes up the tapestry of our time on earth. They bind us to this moment, to this world, taking a stand and making a mark in the timeline of the universe. That will always be what ‘Like A Prayer’ is for me.

The best way to understand… is to listen.

No choice, your voice can take me there
Your voice can take me there…
Like a prayer.
Song #106 – ‘Like A Prayer’ – March 1989 
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Hunk of the Day: Enrique Iglesias

enrique iglesias 101

Though he has proclaimed himself a grower-not-a-shower in the size department, Enrique Iglesias more than makes up for it elsewhere, most notably in his bi-lingual crooning. A well-developed body doesn’t hurt either, which makes his steamy half-naked music videos all the more impressively effective. As Hunk of the Day, he joins fellow shirtless singers like Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake, Nick Jonas, Joe Jonas, Keith Urban, Adam Lambert, Brett Gleason, Lance Bass, Jake Shears, Jon Bon Jovi, Sam Harris, Steve Grand, Josh Groban, Adam Levine, Adam Levine, Adam Levine, Adam Levine and Adam Levine (and you’re going to want to click on each of those Adams.)

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The Frozen Winter

frozen let it go

Yes, I am still obsessed by the song ‘Let It Go‘, finding in its message a way out, an escape, an empowerment that I thought I had given up years and years ago. It turns out I haven’t. I can recall a cold winter morning filled with snow almost a decade and a half ago, when I was supposed to go to Boston but didn’t. This weekend I’m going back, because sometimes you can go back, no matter what anyone says.

This instrumental mash-up of ‘Let It Go’ and Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’ movement is pretty inspiring. I’m keeping it in my head when I need a little jolt, when I start to doubt myself. These days, that’s happening less and less. On the verge of spring…

Let it go, let it go… Can’t hold it back anymore…

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Just Another Manic Monday

mani monday1

The first time I heard this song I must have been in fourth or fifth grade, and I knew little to nothing about what a real ‘Manic Monday’ felt like. Still, no kid liked Mondays, so we had our own connections to this anti-work diatribe and weariness-of-life pop song. In the grand tradition of ’9 to 5′, it listed the hardships of facing the start of another work week, the set-backs that seemed to compound one another, and the wish for a rewind to a more pleasant Sunday-fun-day state. Whenever I get down about Mondays, it helps to think that most of us are in the same boat, struggling in our own way to begin the day.

Back in grade school, my concerns were whether or not my math homework was done, or if my plastic pencils were running out of lead capsules, or whether Joey would make me laugh so hard I’d get in trouble with the teacher again. That’s the kind of Manic Monday I long for now. If I could do it all over again, I totally would.

Incidentally, the album from which ‘Manic Monday’ originated – ‘Different Light’ by the Bangles – was the first full record I ever got. (Not counting Muppet Movie soundtracks or ‘The Magic Garden’ LP or other kids’ stuff.) I wore the record out, listening to these four ladies harmonize and rock out. They came to me at about the time Madonna did, and for that reason I’ll always hold them close to my heart. They offered the escapism of a pop song, the shared longing for the weekend, and aural inspiration to get through it all until Friday arrived again. Like spring, it will always come.

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Let the Words Fall Out

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I’ve long been a sucker for a cheesy pop tune, and sometimes the simplest ditties evoke things deeper and more powerful than anything ever produced by a Mahler symphony. (This in no way puts pop music above a composer like Mahler, but if I need a quick jolt of inspiration and energy to do what needs to be done, I’ll grab Madonna over Mozart any day.) In this instance, it’s an infectious song by Sara Bareilles ~ ‘Brave.’ I’ve been hearing it on the radio for a while, and only a few days ago discovered its quirky video, and the meaning behind it (she wrote it for a gay friend who was coming out).

You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up

Most people who know me through this website, or my FaceBook or Twitter rantings, probably think I’m a pretty blunt guy – a guy who has no trouble saying what’s on his mind, a guy in complete control and utter command of where he is and what he’s doing. And in part, that’s true – it has to be, because there’s no other choice. But the truth is, I’m a pretty dependent creature – on friends and family and husband – and I never had to do it any other way. Until now. It’s a little late in the game (38 is kind of nearing the end of the time-to-grow-up curve) but it’s not yet too late, and so I’m beginning to do this.

Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave.

There have been a lot of distractions – whimsical fluff thrown up into the air, like glitter on the wind, floating bits of ostrich feathers leaving a trail of enchantment, the lingering memory of something fabulous, and a lonely beauty, shimmering in the crimson night of broken blood vessels. It was all about crafting an image, leaving an impression, and being what I felt the world wanted me to be.

It wasn’t all bad, either – there was magic in what I was capable of conjuring, there was value and worth, hidden deeply within. There were moments of goodness too, and I know I wasn’t completely self-serving. But looking back I could have done things differently, and the only way to make it better is to start again from the beginning. On my own. It’s something that only I can do – not Andy, not Mom or Dad, not my best friends, and not the most well-meaning of acquaintances or online comrades.

It’s not easy to be brave like that. So much of me is disguised weakness, a vast expanse of all that is meek, coated in sparkles and pizzazz and a flamboyance that struts its stuff so brazenly no one would dare believe otherwise. Yet being brave now – and being brave alone – is the only way to carry on.

Everybody’s been there,
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

We’ve all had moments when we’ve had to be brave. Somewhere inside of us we can access that courage, we can muster the strength to move forward. We have to, because there’s no other way through. You can’t run around Darth Vader. You can’t bypass the greed of Gollum. You can’t pretend all the bad things that happened to you – and all the bad things you did to others – never existed. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to do that, trying to escape from the past, trying to create a new future, and largely I’ve failed. It’s time to take ownership of those mistakes, and at the end of the journey I’ll have quite the tale to tell – and I won’t be afraid to tell it.

And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave.

What are you going to do with the rest of your life? Where do you want to go, who do you want to be? What is standing in your way? These are difficult questions. They may never be completely answered, but in confronting them there may be some way of figuring things out. In the words of another cheesy pop song, we’ve only just begun…

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #105 – ‘Dress You Up’ – 1985

maddressuup

{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.}

The year was 1985. In the wood-paneled family room of my childhood home, the remains of a Saturday morning of cartoons had faded away, and the early afternoon chill of the second half of the weekend had begun. Our parents were off somewhere else, leaving my brother and I deliciously alone for a couple of hours. On the television, Madonna’s ‘Virgin Tour’ began, and the opening salvo of ‘Dress You Up’ sounded.

I didn’t know her then. I also didn’t know how concerts worked, or whether she would sing more songs that I recognized. All I knew was that one hit after another came over the TV, and I alternately sat and danced along with this woman who would change my life from that moment forward.

You’ve got style,
That’s what all the girls say
Satin sheets, and luxuries so fine
All your suits are custom-made in London,
Well I’ve got something that you’ll really like

If ‘Material Girl’ made me a Madonna fan, ‘Dress You Up’ solidified that status. It was catchy, had a driving beat, and on the surface it was all about fashion. It spoke to me in ways overt and subliminal, and it may just be my favorite cut off the ‘Like A Virgin’ opus – no small feat considering the lead-track (MG) and the title-track (LAV). ‘Dress You Up’ touched something deeper in my gay psyche: a love of glamour, a perfectly-crafted pop song, and a dream of something better. (It also marked my most egregious lyrical misunderstanding of all time – instead of ‘All your suits are custom made in London’ I thought it was ‘All your suits are custom made and laundered.’ Such was the thought process of a ten-year-old gay boy. Either way worked.)

Gonna dress you up in my love
All over, all over
Gonna dress you up in my love,
All over your body.

In my brother’s boyhood bedroom, I played this song over and over on his stereo, rewinding it and jumping on the bed to the Nile Rodgers beat. In the same space where we re-created ‘You Can’t Do That on Television’ (recording our own ‘You Can’t Do That on Tape’ audio cassettes and staging earthquakes with falling debris in the place of green slime – hey, I may have loved Madonna but I was still just a boy), I listened to her sing about the stuff of fantasy and fascination. The underlying metaphors might have been lost on my virgin ears, but there were more powerful forces at work.

Feel the silky touch of my caresses
They will keep you looking so brand new
Let me cover you with velvet kisses
I’ll create a look that’s made for you
Gonna dress you up in my love
All over, all over
Gonna dress you up in my love,
All over your body.

Far more than come-hither sexiness, Madonna showed me the art of seduction – not so much as a means of gaining access to the bedroom, but as a pathway to acceptance and love. With her strut, her cockiness, and her devil-may-care sense of fashion, she taught me confidence – and even if that confidence wasn’t real, even if it was just a front – there was power in that. When Madonna looked out at the world as her own, she made it all right for me to look too, and if I could get there by dressing myself up, so much the better. Because that was something I could do.

From your head down to your toes…
Song #105 – ‘Dress You Up’ – 1985
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The Madonna Timeline: Song #105 – ‘B-day Song’ – Summer 2013

madonna mia

{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.}

This rather uninspiring bonus track from the otherwise-brilliant ‘MDNA‘ album is barely worthy of a Timeline Entry, but not every Madonna song can be great, so let’s get this over with. 

It mostly reminds me, fittingly, of my last birthday, when Andy and I drove out to The Mount – Edith Wharton’s upstate NY home. It was what I wanted to do – a quiet birthday celebration, low-key and under-the-radar, as most of my birthdays have been. In the car, I played this song a few times – a little Madonna gift to myself. 

Na na na na, na na na na na
Na na na na, na na na na na, gonna sing my song tonight
Na na na na, na na na na na
Na na na na, na na na na na, gonna sing my song tonight
Na na na na, na na na na na
Na na na na, na na na na na, gonna sing my song tonight
Song #105 – ‘B-day Song’ – Summer 2013
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The Madonna Timeline: Song #104 – ‘Impressive Instant’ – Fall 2000

Madonna Drowned World Tour

{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.}

Universe is full of stars
Nothing out there looks the same
You’re the one that I’ve been waiting for
I don’t even know your name…
I’m in a trance,
I’m in a trance.

It is The Moment. You see him across the room, your eyes instantly lock, and you feel like you’ve known him all your life – or maybe it’s that you want to know him for the rest of your life. Whatever the case, and whatever tricks the universe is playing, you feel the spark and the catch and the racing of your heart. It isn’t just his beauty you admire, or the way his body moves – it’s in the way he looks at you. His eyes seem to see into your soul, examining all the things you’ve tried to hide, but somehow you feel he won’t judge them, somehow you know even then that he would never use them against you. At least, it feels that way, in the first instant.

Cosmic systems intertwine
Astral bodies drip like wine
All of nature ebbs and flows
Comets shoot across the sky
Can’t explain the reason why
This is how creation goes.

The throbbing bass of this song reminds me of my time in New Orleans many years ago, on the fateful evening when I lost my gay virginity. On the second tier of Oz, I leaned over and looked down upon the bar and dance floor. It was still early, and I was so young. In my lace-up International Male shirt (which a go-go dancer would later tell me he loved, as he squatted down with his crotch in my face), part of me thought I was such hot shit, and the other part of me thought I was just plain shit. Untouchable, because I never let them touch me, not in any real way, not in any way beyond the physical.

I don’t want nobody else.
All the others look the same.
Galaxies are sliding into view,
I don’t even know your name.
I’m in a trance,
And my world is spinning,
Spinning, baby, out of control
I’m in a trance
I let the music take me
Take me where my heart wants to go.
 I’m in a trance…

I turn around and find my way to the bathroom. A few doors are in a row, like some fairy-tale choose-your-own-adventure scene. I don’t want to choose the wrong one. Selecting the one in the middle, I open it without knocking and see two guys fucking.

They are joined at the hips and lips, in a frantic sort of desperate dance to some kind of death. Annoyed, one of them turns around and slams the door shut. In one hedonistic glimpse I saw the moment we’d all be chasing for the rest of our lives, whether we know it or not, whether we admit it or not. The moment of passion. The moment of ignition. The moment of connection.

The impressive instant.

Kiss me…
Kiss me…
Kiss me…
Kiss me…

In the way that gay clubs have of filling up in the span of a few minutes, Oz is suddenly brimming with people. Sitting at the bar in the midst of it all, I watch as the go-go dancer spins and squats before me, his combat boots deftly avoiding glasses and drinks, his smile an invitation and a warning all at once, his body the unattainable visage of distracting perfection that always leaves me befuddled.

“You’re not leaving already?” he asks with a grin, then a pout, when I stand up and back away from the bar. I thank him and wave good-bye. A few blocks down, I will meet a Greek sailor, and in an abandoned warehouse on the Mississippi River I will denounce the last remnants of what little innocence I ever possessed.

Universe is full of stars
Nothing out there looks the same
You’re the one that I’ve been waiting for
I don’t even know your name.
Song #104 – ‘Impressive Instant’ – Fall 2000
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What Time Is It, and What Day Is It?

Cécile McLorin Salvant

This isn’t a typical Tuesday morning song. In fact, it’s not quite a morning song at all. Too moody, too unpredictable, too jazz-inflected to do for a mid-week start. Yet here it is, because for many of us today feels like a Monday, and most Mondays I spend in a bit of a daze, recalling the fun that was had over the weekend – and holding out a few more hours of living in the recent past. Let’s ease on into it this time.

Better yet, let’s go back a couple of days, to your Saturday night. A little bending of time before the snow and freezing temps return to New England. Just a few more hours of leisure. A few more moments of luxury. We’re already over Monday anyway. It’s Tuesday, and it’s going to be… grand.

PS - Cécile McLorin Salvant is pretty amazing. This is from her album ‘WomanChild.’

I didn’t know what time it was
Till I met you.
Oh, what a lovely time it was,
How sublime it was too!
I didn’t know what day it was
You hold my hand.
Warm like the month of May it was,
and I’ll say it was grand.
Grand to be alive, to be young,
to be mad, to be yours alone!
Grand to see your face, feel your touch,
hear your voice say I’m yours alone.

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A Decade of Standing at the Edge

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It would be one of those pivotal albums that informed everything thereafter. Like Shirley Horn’s ‘Here’s to Life’, Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’, ‘James’ ‘Laid’, REM’s ‘Automatic for the People’, and Marianne Faithfull’s ‘A Secret Life’, the first album I ever heard by Casey Stratton – ‘Standing at the Edge’ – instantly became a collection of songs that spoke to me deeper than any Top Forty pop song ever could. Produced by longtime Madonna cohort Patrick Leonard, ‘Standing at the Edge‘ was that rarest of animals – a cohesive cycle of music that took the listener on an emotional journey with the richest of melodies, and one of the most moving voices I’d ever heard in my long-short life.

I remember listening to the album and marveling at both the sonics and the lyrics, the majestic cascading piano, the moving bits of strings, and at the core that glorious voice – transcendent and vulnerable and powerful all at once. There are certain albums that come into your world when you expect it the least, but need it the most. This was one of those albums for me. They don’t preach, they don’t beg, they don’t wink or dance, but they seep inside your soul, because they share something only you thought you’d experienced. Maybe it was heartache, maybe it was a lost love, maybe it was betrayal, maybe it was pain. Maybe, if you’re lucky, it was happiness.

‘Standing at the Edge’ delivered all of that, and in Stratton’s voice I heard a kinship of spirit that the greatest artists are able to conjure for all of us willing to listen. It was the transformation of feeling into song, of emotion into music. From the most plaintive of coos to the most wailing of laments, his instrument may have carried the weight of the world sometimes, but it always soared.

 

The voice can be a vessel, especially when it’s as pure as Stratton’s. The voice can also be a healing element. In his pain we may recognize our pain, and in his sorrow we may share our sadness. The sharing of such sorrow is a sacred thing. Nothing else binds humans more tightly ~ not laughter, not fun, I hesitate to say even love, but I’m always hoping to be proven wrong about that.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of ‘Standing at the Edge’ – and it’s just as powerful and moving now as it was then. The best music withstands the sands of time, and the best artists are never forgotten. Stratton remains as viably potent in his songwriting and performances as he was a decade ago – if anything, he’s only managed to hone and sharpen his skills.

Thank you, Casey, for giving me a voice when I had none. We all thank you for that.

 

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