Category Archives: Music

The Madonna Timeline: Song #136 – ‘Graffiti Heart’

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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.}

IF GRAFFITI ON THE WALL CHANGED ANYTHING AT ALL THEN IT WOULD BE ILLEGAL.

IF SCARS COULD GO AWAY, WHAT WOULD YOUR BODY SAY, DON’T EVER HIDE YOUR FEELINGS.

DON’T EVER TRY TO TAKE MY FREEDOM, YOUR IMPERFECTIONS, THIS WORLD NEEDS THEM.

A throwaway bonus track from the brilliant ‘Rebel Heart’ opus, ‘Graffiti Heart’ is a wild ride, beginning with a sweet sing-song melody before transforming into a gloriously racing whirligig that reaches breakneck speed and velocity. It’s got a retro-80’s vibe to it, and the friends and figures Madonna invoke – Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat for example – are perfectly suited to its raw reminiscence.

Madonna once told the story of when she first arrived in New York City in her early twenties. Intent on being heard, intent on being seen, intent on being someone, she said she would walk through the city staring everyone straight in the eye, willing herself to be remembered by them because she “was going to be somebody”. We should have known then…

WHAT DO YOU GOT, SHOW ME YOUR BASQUIAT

HE DIDN’T KEEP IT ALL TO HIMSELF

EVEN WITH KEITH OUT ON THE STREET,

HE DIED FIGHTING SO YOU CAN DO IT AS WELL 

It was a different world, a different time. As raw and gritty as it may have been, there was a freshness tinged with innocence at the start of the 80’s, but maybe that’s just my nostalgic childhood shading things into something sweeter than they ever were. But if Madonna could feel like a virgin as she embarked upon her world-rattling career, why shouldn’t the rest of us join in on the shiny and new?

LOVE IS PAIN AND PAIN IS ART!

SHOW ME YOUR GRAFFITI HEART

LOVE IS PAIN AND PAIN IS ART!

SHOW ME YOUR GRAFFITI HEART

Madonna has spent a lifetime surrounding herself with artists – gypsies, shape-shifters, chameleons, and tricksters – soaking up their inspiration and creativity, taking it in and transforming it into something new, or at least hybridized. Singers and actors and writers and models have remained constant in her world, and after three decades of success as an artist, she in turn has inspired others. It can’t be said that she hasn’t been selfish at times – a great degree of that is necessary to have remained such a potent force for such a long time – but as she eases into this stage of her career, the collaborations and investments in artists other than herself are becoming more apparent.

On her recent Rebel Heart Tour, during the emotional centerpiece of the show (an almost-acoustic straight-forward reading of ‘Rebel Heart’), she introduced a series of fan-made art of her various guises through the years. As much as Madonna has made her relationship with her fans the one real lasting romance in her life, her acknowledgment of that in her concerts and interviews has always come off as somewhat trite and obligatory. This brief moment of sharing the stage with those who have loved her the most was one of the more authentic and genuine shows of affection that she’s given to us over the years.

FRIDA SHOWED HER FEELINGS, PAINTING FROM THE CEILING BACK IN THE BEGINNING.

NOTHING’S WHAT IT SEEMS, SHE PAINTED ALL HER DREAMS, SHE MADE HER OWN REALITY.

DON’T EVER TRY TO TAKE MY FREEDOM, YOUR IMPERFECTIONS, THIS WORLD NEEDS THEM.

‘Graffiti Heart’ does a little bit of that too. Madonna is nothing if not the lucky vehicle for her muses. This song brings back the early eagerness and hunger for making an impact through artistic expression. It’s very much a sentiment of youth, but one that Madonna has managed to retain throughout her ever-extending run. Her best moments come when she is thirsty for that explosion of art and music, when she remembers walking down the streets of New York wanting nothing more than to make a memorable mark.

Whether you love or hate her, you cannot deny that Madonna has contributed a magnificent amount of pop art to our culture. Her amalgamation of music and image paved the way for every major artist today, and she made herself and her image into her own work of art. The world will never be like it was in the 80’s, when Madonna and Michael Jackson and Prince could hold the pop culture trinity in their hands and gain the collective focus of a moment. We have splintered into too many pieces, with too many options, and it’s unlikely that any single entity will hold the rapt attention of the world as a whole in such a manner again. That won’t stop Madonna from trying, and every now and then she’ll do something (like calling out the so-called president on his bullshit) that acts as a lightning rod moment.

THEY CAN BREAK DOWN AND TAKE DOWN

BUT THEY CAN’T DESTROY OUR HISTORY

THIS WALL, IT MUST FALL

TO MAKE ROOM FOR OUR MASTERPIECE

She’s never been afraid to express herself. There is a boldness and a rebellion to that, especially at a time when some of us are being told to be quiet. It is the job of the artist to push against that, no matter what the consequences. Our graffiti hearts bleed a little every time we put our art out there. It’s something the more wisely-guarded and private people never have to experience, and for every rare success there are a multitude of painful failures and misunderstood endeavors that have left their scars. We cry, we wail, we scream, we fight, and in the end we are battle-worn and sometimes defeated. A true artist doesn’t stop there, though. We rally through. We create until the death – of our impulses, our visions, or the imperfect vessels of our human form.

IF GRAFFITI ON THE WALL CHANGED ANYTHING AT ALL THEN IT WOULD BE ILLEGAL.

SONG #135 – ‘Graffiti Heart’

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Music for the Broken-Hearted

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Truth be told, I’ve never particularly minded nor celebrated Valentine’s Day. I’ve enjoyed the artifice of it all – the red and pink and flowery doily aspects – but the day itself, coming as it does in the heart of winter, didn’t change my life in any way. For some, though, this day can be harsh and unpleasant – a reminder of love when maybe all they really want to do is forget about such madness. This collection of links is for those sensible folks (and for anyone who loves Madonna).

Love is a bird, she needs to fly. Let all the hurt inside of you die.

Yet you never do anything to make me want to stay.

You need so much but not from me, turn your back in my hour of need.

I won’t recall the names and places of each sad occasion, but that’s no consolation here and now.

Deep in my heart I’m concealing things that I’m longing to say…

Your heart is not open so I must go. The spell has been broken, I loved you so.

In my heart, I know we’ve come apart, and I don’t know where to start.

Don’t explain yourself cause talk is cheap.

Don’t play with something you should cherish for life.

Somehow I destroyed the perfect dream.

I’ve been on that ledge before, you can’t hide yourself from me.

When I let loose the need to know, then we’re both free, free to go.

Hold me in your arms until there’s nothing left.

It can’t be fun to always be the chosen one.

You took my love for granted, why, oh why – the show is over say good-bye.

If this is the end then let it come.

I’ll cast a spell that you can’t undo ‘til you wake up and you find that you love me too.

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A Simple Valentine Song

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I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS THAT MAKES ME LOVE YOU SO

I ONLY KNOW I NEVER WANT TO LET YOU GO

‘CAUSE YOU STARTED SOMETHING, CAN’T YOU SEE

THAT EVER SINCE WE MET YOU’VE HAD A HOLD ON ME

I HAPPENS TO BE TRUE, I ONLY WANT TO BE WITH YOU

This year we’re going for something simple and less cynical than previous Valentine’s Days. In the past, I’ve featured a poem or two (usually Dorothy Parker), and a couple of years ago I did a pair of posts that were both slightly ironic and tongue-in-cheek. Last year I tried to get more serious, with this one and that one. This time around, I’m offering a more straightforward V-Day dedication, of a cheesy love song sung in earnest, a bird that seems to grow rarer as the years pass. I believe that we need a little more love right now – and this is a song that always makes me smile and want to dance.

IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE YOU GO OR WHAT YOU DO

I WANT TO SPEND EACH MOMENT OF THE DAY WITH YOU

LOOK WHAT HAS HAPPENED WITH JUST ONE KISS

I NEVER KNEW THAT I COULD BE IN LOVE LIKE THIS

IT’S CRAZY BUT IT’S TRUE, I ONLY WANT TO BE WITH YOU

 

YOU STOPPED AND SMILED AT ME

ASKED ME IF I’D CARE TO DANCE

I FELL INTO YOUR OPEN ARMS

I DIDN’T STAND A CHANCE

 

NOW, LISTEN, HONEY, I JUST WANT TO BE BESIDE YOU EVERYWHERE

AS LONG AS WE’RE TOGETHER, HONEY, I DON’T CARE

‘CAUSE YOU STARTED SOMETHING, CAN’T YOU SEE

THAT EVER SINCE WE MET YOU’VE HAD A HOLD ON ME

NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, I ONLY WANT TO BE WITH YOU

(And for that extras helping of cheese-Louise, check out the Bay City Rollers doing their hair-tastic version below. It’s a hoot.)

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #135 – ‘Queen’

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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 will never rain, never rain

If the great sky falls down, no rain, no more rain

Blood’s pouring down, high alert, we watch it burn

It’s a world undeceived, sirens, sirens

Everyone’s whispering, the CIA, MI6

Hire the unknown

We’re at the end of days

For heaven’s sake

 

The queen’s been slain

She’ll never rule again

The queen’s been slain

She’ll never rule again

Your queen’s been slain

Queen’s been slain

This lackluster Madonna Timeline entry was one of the ‘Rebel Heart’ bonus tracks, and it probably should have been left off that hodge-podge too as it is a dirge-like bummer of a song. I suppose it holds a certain power and grace, offering a hint of royalty and a time of manners and honor and respect long gone. It was also reportedly written in honor of Princess Diana, which is neither here nor there.

I don’t much care for it, and that’s ok. The bridge is trying at best, echoing another sub-par work ‘Hey You’ (which is about as exciting as its title suggests). The rest is all gloom and doom, and we’ve had enough of that for the moment. Let’s fast-forward this – it’s one big meh…

Who will take her place?

It’s written on everyone’s face

The truth is slowly dawning

I hear tomorrow calling

Some things can’t be replaced

The realization of a new generation

On the eve of imitation

All gone, overthrown

 

The queen’s been slain

She’ll never rule again

The queen’s been slain

She’ll never rule again

Your queen’s been slain

Queen’s been slain

 

May God bless you all.

SONG #135 – ‘Queen’ 

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The Heart-Bursting Brilliance of Betty Buckley

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Betty Buckley has always held a special place in my heart, and as her career has progressed she’s maintained that place with every role she’s taken. When I was a little kid, one of my favorite television shows was ‘Eight is Enough’. I wasn’t even old enough to talk that much, and all I could do was fuss and point at the TV, screaming “Nicholas” until my parents finally figured out I was talking about ‘Eight is Enough.’ (Which I knew solely by the name of their youngest character.) Ms. Buckley was Abby Bradford, the mother figure of the show, and after every episode I went to bed comforted by her displays of patience and love. She tucked me in at night just as I was starting to become aware of the world (or enough aware to know that the kid’s name was Nicholas). That role as America’s Mother stuck with her, despite a theatrical prowess that went largely unnoticed by my small upstate New York upbringing. It wasn’t until she clawed her way through the role of Grizabella in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Cats’ that the world became aware of her incredible voice and command of stage.

Originating the role that culminated with an electrifying rendition of Lloyd Webber’s most famous song (‘Memory’) cemented her status as Broadway royalty, and despite turns on television and film it has been on the stage where she has most moved me. Even shrouded in feline fur and heavy make-up, Buckley managed to emit the shredded-soul of a cat, both wounded and fierce, stealing the show every night. A decade later, she wore a different kind of glamour in one of the modern-day marathons of musical theater roles: Norma Desmond.

Following in the footsteps of Glenn Close is no mean feat, but Buckley’s soaring voice and drastically different take on that tragic yet noble figure of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ imbued the production with new life – glorious life too, as her vocal instrument performed death-defying acts nightly in the Minskoff Theatre. I remember watching her studied take on the role, transfixed by the manners in which she managed to be beguiling, brittle, and brilliant in a single scene. She brought audiences to their feet with her stunning interpretation of ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ – the way she held onto ‘home’ in the climactic declaration of ‘I’ve come home at last!’ sent shivers down my spine. Her voice was spellbinding, reaching the furthest rafters of that immense theatre, and when she brought it delicately down to a wounded coo, it was even more transfixing. I’d always admired and marveled at Norma Desmond on stage, but Ms. Buckley made me love her a little more as well.

While her portrayal of Ms. Desmond ignited my fan status, it was the musical wizardry of her albums, where her divine voice was barely contained by the recordings, that completely captivated me. Hers was a talent that could never be fettered or bound by traditional artistic means – she demanded more, and she delivered. Her criminally-short EP of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ selections (available at the Minskoff) only left us wanting more, and her stripped-down and spare ‘With One Look’ CD was an essay in how to deliver a story through a few piano chords and a richly nuanced voice. That album got me through a couple of trying semesters at Brandeis, when I’d go to bed practically in tears, but I listened to the hymn-like ‘My Love and I’ and things were made achingly but bearably beautiful. When pain becomes art, and longing finds form in music, there is healing. On her jazz-inflected ‘Much More’ she embraced her playful side, while giving such standards as ‘The Man That Got Away’ and ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ magically transformative touches. The exquisite collection that is ‘Heart to Heart’ with Kenny Werner offers delicate renderings of ‘Just the Way You Look Tonight’, ‘I Am A Town’, and ‘Danny Boy’. Taken together, they are a glorious map of an artist’s journey.

I had third-row tickets to see her joyous appearance in ‘Triumph of Love’ but it closed a few weeks prior; thankfully she’s on the cast recording of the woefully under-appreciated show. It just goes to prove that Ms. Buckley doesn’t play it safe – she challenges herself and her audience with material that’s not guaranteed. It’s the mark of a true artist who finds supreme joy in her craft.

Her live recordings, particularly ‘The London Concert’ and ‘An Evening at Carnegie Hall’, almost manage to capture the enchantment that she holds over an audience, and much of her powerhouse voice, but to truly get the full experience of her magic, you need to see her as well. She manages to make each song a story, where every note paints a different shade to a fully-fleshed out work of art. See any of her renditions of ‘Meadowlark’ as evidence of such brilliance.

 

Those wonderfully expressive hands that so framed her face in Norma Desmond’s ‘With One Look’, tell another story in her most recent role, the sympathetic doctor in M. Night Shyamalan’s film ‘Split’. Buckley is the emotional heart and psychological brain of the movie, giving weight and pathos when needed, as well as lighter touches in an otherwise sinister landscape. The way she brings her fingers to her forehead says more in a single touching gesture than any amount of words could convey. As tears fill her eyes, she once again reminds me how she’s managed to connect in the most human way to all of her roles, and, as a result, to her audience. That memory will never fade.

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Hunk of the Day: Brian Justin Crum

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Sometimes it’s the simplest things, and the most sublime of moments, that propel a gentleman into Hunk of the Day status. Such was the case when I saw Brian Justin Crum and the gorgeous rendition of ‘Creep’ that he performs below. Mr. Crum is way more than one performance, however, and his storied career includes stage turns in ‘Grease’, ‘Next to Normal’, ‘Altar Boyz’ and ‘Wicked‘. His vocal prowess turned his time on ‘America’s Got Talent’ into an upcoming EP. For now, let’s Creep

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Man in Motion

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The opening synth salvo of the theme from ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ blares over the stereo. The remnants of salty, wet dirt are trampled by tires and kicked back up behind the car. Already soiled from winter, the roads are messy but not yet destroyed. The video from Alanis Morisette’s ‘Ironic’ comes to mind, but that’s a different song. This goes further back than that, all the way to the 80’s.

GROWING UP, YOU DON’T SEE THE WRITING ON THE WALL

PASSING BY, MOVING STRAIGHT AHEAD YOU KNEW IT ALL

BUT MAYBE SOMETIME IF YOU FEEL THE PAIN

YOU’LL FIND YOU’RE ALL ALONE, EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED…

PLAY THE GAME, YOU KNOW YOU CAN’T QUIT UNTIL IT’S WON

SOLDIER ON, ONLY YOU CAN DO WHAT MUST BE DONE

YOU KNOW IN SOME WAY YOU’RE A LOT LIKE ME

YOU’RE JUST A PRISONER AND YOU’RE TRYING TO BREAK FREE.

It’s a theme of empowerment, an anthem of self-belief.

It embodies a destiny defined by determination and drive.

It’s one of those songs that comes on and changes the air, that lifts you up and allows you to feel like a hero, even if it’s just for a moment.

And it’s as catchy as it is cheesy. The ultimate in 80’s excess.

BURNING UP, DON’T KNOW JUST HOW FAR THAT I CAN GO

SOON BE HOME, ONLY JUST A FEW MILES DOWN THE ROAD

I CAN MAKE IT, I KNOW I CAN

YOU BROKE THE BOY IN ME, BUT YOU WON’T BREAK THE MAN.

I don’t have any specific memories attached to this song, at least not when it first came out. I was a bit too young to recall the initial splash it made, but I remember how it made for a great road song. My tour resumes today and I’m itching to head out again. This is the sort of music that’s best for such an endeavor. A little dramatic, a little over-the-top, and a little boost for getting my sea legs again. This weekend, we ride…

JUST ONCE IN HIS LIFE

A MAN HAS HIS TIME

AND MY TIME IS NOW,

I’M COMING ALIVE…

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A Winter Song for the Mobsters

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LOOK ON DOWN FROM THE BRIDGE

THERE’S STILL FOUNTAINS DOWN THERE

LOOK ON DOWN FROM THE BRIDGE

IT’S STILL RAINING UP HERE…

Mazzy Star wrote one of my favorite winter songs, and while I’m in the process of being sucked into ‘The Sopranos’, one of their other songs played over the end credits of an early episode. It’s taken a number of years for Andy to convince me to watch, but since he was a good sport in watching (and enjoying) the entire DVD set of ‘Downton Abbey’, I can at least indulge him in this. The good thing is I may be starting to enjoy it.

EVERYBODY SEEMS SO FAR AWAY FROM ME

EVERYBODY JUST WANTS TO BE FREE

LOOK AWAY FROM THE SKY

IT’S NO DIFFERENT WHEN YOU’RE LEAVING HOME

I CAN’T BE THE SAME THING TO YOU NOW

I’M JUST GONE, JUST GONE

HOW COULD I SAY GOODBYE?

HOW COULD I SAY GOODBYE?

GOODBYE…

I had been looking for that zen-moment, the sense of peace and calm and introspection that comes with the greatest television series and movies – ‘Mad Men’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Downton Abbey’ – and that keeps me hooked. No matter what else may be happening – wars in the space of future, battles over Middle Earth, or brutal mob slayings – if there’s that zen-moment that surfaces and carries you hypnotically through, then I can enjoy any number of entertaining hours. ‘The Sopranos’ seems to be hitting a little deeper, with its multi-layered look at family, in every sense of the word. And as this song played over the end of an episode, and a son looked at his father as more than an invincible hero, I discovered that moment.

MAYBE I’LL JUST PLACE MY HANDS OVER YOU

AND CLOSE MY EYES REAL TIGHT

THERE’S A LIGHT IN YOUR EYES

AND YOU KNOW, YEAH, YOU KNOW

LOOK ON DOWN FROM THE BRIDE

I’M STILL WAITING FOR YOU. 

“All happy families are alike;

each unhappy family

is unhappy in its own way.”

― Leo Tolstoy

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #134 – ‘Inside Out’

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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.}

HOLD ME CLOSER, FULL DISCLOSURE

LET IT OUT, LET ME IN

ON YOUR KNEES, CONFESS TO ME

EVERY DOUBT, EVERY SIN

THAT’S HOW LOVE’S SUPPOSED TO BE

Every work day begins with the same ritual: the walk from the car to the office building. Whether I’m being dropped off or parking on site, there is always The Walk. Throughout a decade and a half of state office work, I’ve had a number of variations on this theme, but The Walk has remained constant. From a parking lot where my Subaru would bake in the hot sun, to a comparatively luxurious covered-garage where the path to my desk was entirely shielded from the outside weather, The Walk was different for every location, but its essence was the same. These days I’m lucky enough to be driven to the side of my office building, where I make a brief but important fifty foot trek to the door. It’s short, but a lot happens in that small distance.

I WANNA KNOW WHAT YOU’RE ALL ABOUT

YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL WHEN YOU’RE BROKEN DOWN

LET YOUR WALLS CRUMBLE TO THE GROUND

LET ME LOVE YOU FROM THE INSIDE OUT

EVERY SCAR THAT YOU TRY TO HIDE

ALL THE DARK CORNERS OF YOUR MIND

SHOW ME YOURS AND I’LL SHOW YOU MINE

LET ME LOVE YOU FROM THE INSIDE OUT

It is here where I truly “dress” for the day. No matter what extravagance I’ve draped over my body, no matter which coat and bag I’ve chosen as armor, I’m not completely dressed until The Walk. You see, or you don’t see in this case, the most important thing a person can wear is not on the outside. It’s how you carry yourself. Do you believe enough in who you are to wear whatever you want? Or do you falter and waver, relying on a power suit or black dress to instill the confidence you lack? To me it depends on the day. Sometimes I am that strong, sometimes I’m not. No matter which it might be, I take a moment on The Walk to prepare myself for whatever may come. In the darkness of a winter morning or the bright emboldening sun of the summer, in the balmy humidity of August or the dry chill of February, I make The Walk, and try to decipher a little bit more of who we dare to be, and why.

LET’S DISCOVER ONE ANOTHER

KISS ME HERE, TOUCH ME THERE,

PUREST FORM OF ECSTASY

TRUTH OR DARE, DON’T BE SCARED

LET ME SOLVE YOUR MYSTERY

I summon the spirits of Miranda Priestley, Norma Desmond, and Margo Channing. I conjure the regal bearing of the kings and queens that history has worshipped and deified. I become imperious, haughty, untouchable and divine. With each step I inhale the brisk, blunt, bold persona I so desperately want to embody, and I build myself up to mythic stature through sheer force of will. If I believe it, they might believe it too. By the time I enter the building, I am, in my own mind and countenance, a formidable force. If only a fraction of that comes through, I might be all right. I might make it through the day.

I WANNA KNOW WHAT YOU’RE ALL ABOUT

YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL WHEN YOU’RE BROKEN DOWN

LET YOUR WALLS CRUMBLE TO THE GROUND

LET ME LOVE YOU FROM THE INSIDE OUT

EVERY SCAR THAT YOU TRY TO HIDE

ALL THE DARK CORNERS OF YOUR MIND

SHOW ME YOURS AND I’LL SHOW YOU MINE

LET ME LOVE YOU FROM THE INSIDE OUT

On most work days I take my lunch alone. I prefer it that way. In my line of work I have to deal with people all day – phone calls, meetings, discussions (even going to the bathroom can be a social booby trap) – so when I get a break I revel in whatever moments of solitude I can find. Yet even on my own, I’m keenly aware of how people react to me. I notice every furtive stare, every stolen glance, and I’m extremely, though inwardly, self-conscious about it. It’s a vicious little cycle – in paying attention to others, I’m deflected into paying attention to myself, which, contrary to all apparent evidence and popular belief, is not how I prefer to spend my time.

LET’S CROSS THE LINE

SO FAR WE WON’T COME BACK

CAN’T READ YOUR MIND

I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO ASK

CYNICAL SMILE

TIME TO TAKE OFF YOUR MASK

I’M ON YOUR SIDE

SO LET ME LOVE YOU

LET ME LOVE YOU

LET ME LOVE YOU FROM THE INSIDE OUT

Last week, for some unknown reason, I didn’t notice the people noticing me. A few surely were, I did catch one or two, mostly because I had a ridiculously over-the-top coat on. But then I looked down at the sidewalk, and then up at the buildings and storefronts, and when I stopped noticing them noticing me, I was overcome with a wild sense of relief, and a wonderful feeling of freedom. ‘When one’s mind is on one’s own business…’

Maybe it’s a sign of growing up. Maybe it’s a sign of authentic confidence. Maybe it’s a sign of genuinely not giving a shit what others think. When you play at something long enough, it tends to come true. 

I WANNA KNOW WHAT YOU’RE ALL ABOUT

YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL WHEN YOU’RE BROKEN DOWN

LET YOUR WALLS CRUMBLE TO THE GROUND

LET ME LOVE YOU FROM THE INSIDE OUT

What does this have to do with a Madonna song? I’m not entirely sure. Madonna has always been about self-reflection/self-obsession, and a song like ‘Inside Out’ can be read as a simple ode of love to another, or as a way of getting to know your own self better. It’s one of the more majestic cuts from the ‘Rebel Heart’ opus, a beautiful power ballad with a meandering bass line and magnificent bridge. Pop perfection in a world that has lost touch with melody and song structure. At a more risky and romantic time, I would have given myself to this song, and to whomever held my interest at the time. I’m older now, and yearnings have quieted into something resembling sense.

EVERY SCAR THAT YOU TRY TO HIDE

ALL THE DARK CORNERS OF YOUR MIND

SHOW ME YOURS AND I’LL SHOW YOU MINE

LET ME LOVE YOU FROM THE INSIDE OUT

I still make The Walk every morning I go to work, but some days I forget myself, not bothering to build up the image that I expect others have of me. I forget to channel Madonna and Miranda and Margo, and I walk in without artifice or attitude, content to study the air, seeking a hint of spring, searching for something bigger than myself.

SONG #134 – ‘Inside Out’ 

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The Madonna Timeline: Song #133 – ‘Easy Ride’

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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 wasn’t starvation, it was simple hunger. The difference between a burnt bagel and a family torn apart and killed in the Holocaust. I do not lay claim to any sort of real suffering, not yet. But each of us has our own trials and tribulations, our own demons to be slain or worshipped. The longer we last, the more the world can wound us. The question is not who has suffered the most, but what we do with our pain if we are lucky enough to simply survive.

 

I WANT THE GOOD LIFE, BUT I DON’T WANT AN EASY RIDE

WHAT I WANT IS TO WORK FOR IT

FEEL THE BLOOD AND SWEAT ON MY FINGERTIPS

THAT’S WHAT I WANT FOR ME.

The rickety huts stood on stilts in the ocean off the coast of Manila. A glimpse of them seered itself into my memory bank as I visited the Philippines in 1997. We drove past the long rows of jumbled tin shacks, not much more than scrap pieces of metal propped up against each other, and groups of kids running and waving and smiling in the sun. Those smiles are what haunted me.

I WANT TO KNOW EVERYTHING, MAYBE SOME DAY I WILL

WHAT I WANT IS TO FIND MY PLACE

BREATHE THE AIR AND FEEL THE SUN ON MY CHILDREN’S FACE,

THAT’S WHAT I WANT.

The Westin Hotel in Manila is rich with dark wood. A pool extends behind it, and guards with conspicuous ear-pieces and sunglasses stand sentinel, lending a bit of tension to the most relaxing of moments. We take the elevator to our floor, and enter a spacious room. After a few days in the province with only a bucket for a shower, this is bliss. Then I think of those children again.

I GO ROUND AND ROUND JUST LIKE A CIRCLE

I CAN SEE A CLEARER PICTURE

WHEN I TOUCH THE GROUND I COME FULL CIRCLE TO MY PLACE AND I AM HOME,

I AM HOME.

Walking to the little balcony, I am dismayed to see the door has been left open a crack. Warily I suspect there will be mosquito bites in the morning. I walk onto the ledge and peer out onto the courtyard in front of the hotel. Half a world away from any home I’ve ever known, with an Uncle who left me to my own devices and a family I’d never met before, I’ve already done away with any shiver of loneliness. We’ve come to the end of our trip – my first to my Dad’s homeland – and in such a short time I’ve already grown up a little. For all the cock-fighting, beer-drinking, karaoke-singing craziness of the Philippines, it is the image of those kids that stays with me. They looked so happy, but they lived in such squalor. I’d never seen poverty like that. I couldn’t get my head around it, and knowing it was my own background and privilege that prevented me from understanding better didn’t make it any easier.

I WANT TO LET GO OF ALL DISAPPOINTMENT THAT’S WAITING FOR ME

WHAT I WANT IS TO LIVE FOREVER, NOT DEFINED BY TIME AND SPACE

IT’S A LONELY PLACE,

THAT’S WHAT I WANT

They lived in the extremes of dust and mud. It was caked on their faces and feet. Their clothes were torn and ragged, and their hair was matted and weighted down with dirt and oil. Most played in their dangerous terrain without shoes, and the ones I did see were worn flip-flops on the verge of disintegration. Yet they smiled, and laughed, and waved – and it was the most genuine and heartbreaking sort of joy I’ve seen in my forty-plus years: the utter bliss of being a child and having nothing to do but play the day away. I wondered what sort of terror they witnessed when a typhoon swept everything into the ocean, or disease and death stole parts of their family away.

I GO ROUND AND ROUND JUST LIKE A CIRCLE

I CAN SEE A CLEARER PICTURE

WHEN I TOUCH THE GROUND I COME FULL CIRCLE TO MY PLACE AND I AM HOME,

I AM HOME.

I’m sorry. I don’t know why I wrote all of this for a Madonna song. Maybe because one man’s supposed torture would be an easy ride for any one of those children. My life has certainly been easy in comparison, and I gratefully own up to living an enchanted and charmed existence. That doesn’t mean I haven’t seen things. It doesn’t mean I’m unaware. It simply signifies that everyone’s ride is different. Sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes it’s easy. Rarely is it one set thing. For the lucky, life can be long. The chance to be loved, the chance to run about and play on a sunny day – these pockets of salvation in the midst of hell are what get us through the journey.

In the darkest and most shameful part of my soul, I wondered if my discomfort at seeing such happiness in such seeming poverty made my misery mean so much less. There are ugly sides to almost all of us.

I GO ROUND AND ROUND JUST LIKE A CIRCLE

I CAN SEE A CLEARER PICTURE

WHEN I TOUCH THE GROUND I COME FULL CIRCLE TO MY PLACE AND I AM HOME,

I AM HOME.

As for this particular song on the timeline, it begins and ends with a flourish of strings, fitting bookends of elegance to Madonna’s ‘American Life’ electronic pastoral. This one is a down-tempo orchestral beauty that magically completes one of her most controversial, and therefore under-rated, albums. It’s also turning out to be one of the most ahead-of-its-time albums given the current state of political affairs.

I GO ROUND AND ROUND JUST

ROUND AND ROUND JUST

Being invincible doesn’t mean you haven’t been battered. In my experience, the most invincible among us are usually the most battered. But somehow, they get up again, they go on, they become invincible because of the battering the world gives them.

SONG #133 – ‘Easy Ride’ 

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A Not-Quite-Traditional Christmas Song

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Some holiday songs have not yet been done to death, and this is one of those refreshing ones that has not, but it fits finely enough with winter happenings. Written by the great Joni Mitchell and re-interpreted by the great Sarah McLachlan, this is one of those melancholy pauses in the parade of holiday insanity.

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river 
I could skate away on
But it don’t snow here
It stays pretty green
I’m going to make a lot of money
Then I’m going to quit this crazy scene
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on…

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Human Kindness

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It’s strange the way we hear things differently over the years. The first time I heard this song I hated it. Probably because it was in ‘Beaches’, which has been tainted by how much Suzie despises it. But as I sat waiting for Andy to pick me up one day it came over the sound system and I was struck with an incredible wave of melancholy. It wasn’t about to rain, but it was crazy windy, and there is sadness in such blustery conditions. I listened as if for the first time and the plaintive melody almost brought me to tears. Human kindness does that. So unexpectedly. Sad that it should be so surprising, perhaps.

It’s a good song for the season, when rain and wind will take away all remaining vestiges of the sun, when the world turns into winter, when we hunker down and hibernate because everything is too much to bear.

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A Pair of Hunks Sounds Beautiful

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When two gay gentlemen previously chosen as Hunks of the Day unite for a musical duet, it’s something to be seen (and heard). In this instance, it’s Eli Lieb and Steve Grand. “Look Away” is basically how I feel about the current state of American politics, but also a melancholy treatise on a relationship that’s come to an end. In my younger years this would have floored me. Now, I’m happy to still feel a little something as the poignant piano ballad elicits memories old and new.

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Catwalk

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Fashion! Yes, that kind of fashion.

Looking good and feeling fine…

 

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Hunk of the Day: Sean Smith

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Sean Smith aims to ‘Turn You On‘ with his debut song and video, and that alone would merit a Hunk of the Day honor. Luckily for Mr. Smith, he’s got much more than that to earn today’s post. He came into prominence with his X Factor effort as one part of pop-duo Same Difference. Now he’s charging into the dance-pop world on his own, and if ‘Turn You On’ is any indication, he’s poised on the precipice of something special.

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