Archive for the ‘pop culture’ Category

Fruit Cake

November 19th, 2010 No comments

Fred Schneider of the B-52’s now has three albums to his “credit,” while the rest of the band have produced a total of…none. What a world! Here’s a (half) celebration of a holiday favorite:

I was reminded to do this after reading Joe.My.God’s post on the new XMas album by Schneider and his latest side project, the Superions. He’s got a couple of videos there, but somehow missed this gem. And welcome to the onrushing Holiday Season!

Cry “Babies!” — Gaga, Goo Goo To Team Up

July 7th, 2010 No comments

Live Nation has just announced a late summer, early fall tour that promises to be a blockbuster. The bill will be jointly headlined by the unstoppable Lady Gaga and reliable hit-makers The Goo Goo Dolls, and is tentatively titled Google’s GaGaGooGooFest 2010.

“We’re just surprised no one had thought of the pairing of Goo Goo and Gaga,” said promoter John Waite, formerly the lead singer of the British band The Babys. “Isn’t it time to make fans drool with excitement?” And we’re of course delighted to have landed internet search giant Google as our title sponsor.

Tickets go on sale on July 10, with discount coupons available on specially marked boxes of Pampers, America’s most beloved disposable diaper.

In a further development sure to excite fans of Neonate Rock, Gaga and GooGoo have announced that the warm-up band for the extravanganza will be the reunited Kajagoogoo, well-known for such monster 80’s hits as “Too Shy” and — well, isn’t that enough?

[Warning: Do not stare directly at photo.]

Kajagoogoo reunite for UK tour

Don’t Mess With Idina!

June 27th, 2010 2 comments

Yikes! A silly post that I wrote about Idina Menzel last night while wasting time in front of the TV elicited some of the nastiness comments I’ve gotten.

Interesting. I’ve written about very sensitive stuff, including abortion, and generally gotten respectful disagreement. Granted, my tone here was snarky — but it was mostly a joke, people. I don’t really think Menzel believes her son can dream about unicorns, and really, does it matter? There’s hardly a lot at stake here.

Don’t insult celebrities, or their fans will come after you. One even criticized my parenting, questioning my decision to leave my kids home with a sitter when, he claims, there were tornado warnings in the area. I’ve done my share of bad parenting, but if there really were tornado warnings I’m guessing the concert would have been called off. Oh, well. It’s not like I let them sail around the world, or anything.

And for the record: Read the previous post, and you’ll see that I did like her music (even “Poker Face”), and the way she dealt with some of her more obnoxious fans (who knows? maybe they’re the same ones who wrote me). She was even kind of sweet about it, obligingly singing a quick “Happy Birthday, Anniversary, and Anything Else” and telling the story about her visit to the hospital to deal with broken ribs.

But I defy anyone to listen to her random musings and tell me how she gets from A to…some non-contiguous letter.

Hmm….is there a future in gratuitous celebrity attacks? Does Liza Minnelli marry gay men?

Idina Menzel Knows Nothing About Cognitive Development

June 26th, 2010 10 comments

On Thursday evening, David and I left our two kids with a babysitter and a few flashlights (we’d had a major storm that took out our power, knocked down a branch and shattered our lamppost), and headed off to see Broadway and Glee diva Idina Menzel at the Mann Music Center, an outdoor venue that hosts all kinds of stuff every summer.

OK, she can sing — well enough to make the members of the Philadelphia Orchestra wonder why they spent countless thousands of hours studying incredibly difficult instruments only to be back-up to a (pretty clever) cover version of “Poker Face.” (To her credit, Menzel, who studied at NYU, really did seem to understand and appreciate the talent behind her; she thanked them profusely and endlessly.)

She should have done more of that, and less of her incomprehensible, meandering, and self-absorbed stage patter. At her best when she sparred with idiot hecklers in the audience — just the right mix of pissed and playful — she otherwise rambled about various and sundry aspects of her — as she knows you surely know — amazing career. Most of the time I had no idea why she was putting one thought next to each other. I felt as though I was being subjected to live broadcasts of random neural firings.

You wouldn’t expect such a person to be a good songwriter, and Menzel isn’t. Or at least she should never be permitted to write another lyric. She sang one of her self-penned dance hits, Gorgeous, which has a shamelessly catchy pop hook, but features these wince-worthy words:

When all of the beauty turns to pain,when all of the madness falls like rain, as long as we crash and we collide, we will be gorgeous you and I.

Well, it could have been worse. As a proud and often surprisingly irony-challenged parent, I’m reluctant to criticize others for cooing about their kids. But her paean to her infant son, Walker, was enough to make me want to call the Department of Human Services. I could imagine her belting out the song she’s constructed to her helpless child, drawing screams that she probably mistakes for the adulation of her fans. And she was singing about his dreams, which are supposed to have included such storybook stock characters as — wait for it — unicorns.

OK — the kid is still an infant, about nine months old. He’s not dreaming about unicorns. Menzel, apparently, can defy both gravity and neuroscience.

The Hollies, Overlooked No More

March 15th, 2010 No comments

So tonight one of the great but inexplicably overlooked British invasion bands, the Hollies, made their way into the Hall of Fame. Listen to this, and tell me why it didn’t happen sooner. Be amazed as your cynicism is washed away in a flood of tears — spewing from your eyes at right angles, perhaps — at the soaring harmonies very few other rock bands have ever matched:

The Hollies started with Graham Nash as a member, but he left to join…Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds? No, wait, wrong eponymous trio. Crosby, Stills, and…wait…

Anyway, the Hollies did just fine without him, thanks. That’s the great Allan Clarke doing lead vocals on “He Ain’t Heavy,” a song that only this kind of over-the-top performance can redeem. And they’ve inspired countless others, among whom the Posies — another crazily overlooked but still active band — bear the most striking resemblance. Listen to this:

And the Posies know it, too. Here they are performing an in-store acoustic version of a lesser-known Hollies hit, King Midas in Reverse. Of course, surviving as a band these days isn’t easy if you’re not world-famous. This in-depth NPR piece on the Posies that ran a few months ago showcases some of the problems. Bands like the Posies live from gig to gig, but the bright side is that, for fans, there’s always the gigs, and the music.

Congratulations, Hollies! I’m going to go listen to Bus Stop.

Lady WordinEdgewise Visits the (Not so) Sunshine(y) State

March 3rd, 2010 No comments

In my previous post, I wrote cheerily about developments in DC and Maryland. Meanwhile, here in Florida matters are considerably less cheery. I’m down here with the kids for a short vacation. Right now, they’re at the zoo with my parents, while I’m wrapped in ice after apparently rupturing a muscle this morning on the tennis court– which caused much full-throated gloating among the seniors: “See? It can happen at any age!” Last night, I became the last one on my block to finally see Avatar (3D, of course)1 Afterwards, I ventured to a nearby gay bar here in Melbourne, there to see, first-hand, the effects of second-class citizenship.

Florida’s laws are among the most gay-hating in the US: No adoption (although this law is under review in the state courts), no employment protection, and an especially broad constitutional amendment against any type of relationship-recognition for gay couples. But what do you expect in a state so backward that it’s among only three that don’t require booster seats for pre-schoolers? Shoulder straps around the neck will do nicely, thanks!

And the kids might be smoking in those unboostered backseats, too. The choking plumes of smoke that almost bowled me over as I entered “The Cold Keg” reminded me of the state’s legislative foot-dragging in yet another area. I  had walked in on some kind of poker night, with two oblong tables peopled by the dysfunctional gay and lesbian version of my parents’ sex-segregated poker nights. I could say a great deal about this sad lot, but one example will do: a forty-something lesbian in a Metallica tee shirt, with a hairstyle that made the mullet seem a high-fashion statement. Other than that, the bar seemed not to have sensed the passage of time, with depressing wood walls, a few sorry, hanging lights, and no real sense of decor.

At least the jukebox was state of the art. When the second-form Lady Gaga hit “Bad Romance” issued forth, the patrons joined in song. (Wouldn’t “Poker Face” have  been the more obvious choice, btw?) OK: Some things, it seems, are Gay Universals. When the Lady Parade then continued with the inexplicable country sensation Lady Antebellum, I realized that it’s now “all lady, all the time.” I was half-expecting “Lady Marmalade” to follow.2 So maybe this blog needs a new name (see title of post).

As I neared the bottom of my first and only drink, the bartender approached me and asked the usual, friendly questions that the job demands. When I told him that I was in Florida with my kids, the issue turned to adoption. He reminded me that gay adoptions were illegal in the (No) Sunshine (for Gays) State, and then related a conversation he’d had with family members, where he’d defended himself by saying: “I’m gay but I’m not a pedophile.”

Yikes! I don’t know any gay person who’d feel the need to add the qualifying part of that sentence, which somehow suggests that the listener (and the speaker) might have reason to think that gays are pedophiles. But I don’t know many gays in out-of-the-way places in such homophobic states, either. There isn’t one linear gay rights movement, and last night’s visit was a depressing reminder that in some places full dignity and equality are far off.

But even here, there are glimmers of hope. On the otherwise dismal bulletin board, there was a neatly typed request for donations made by the local high school’s Gay Straight Alliance. (Yes, I did wonder whether the lack of a hyphen between gay and straight was simply poor grammar or a more disturbing distancing between the gays and their not-quite-comfortable straight allies.) Perhaps even in the remotest areas of the cruelest states, better things are only a generation away.

  1. What a visually stunning film! The plot was OK, if derivative of Pocahontas, until the final chapter which culminated in a tiresome Marine general, encased in a giant robot suit, facing off against the gone-native protagonist, in a battle that for some reason reminded me of Cameron Hodge’s last-stand from an old X-Men comics plot.
  2. “Hey lady!” “What?” “What lady?” That lady?” No!” — Funplex, the B-52’s.

Remembering LSD

September 29th, 2009 1 comment

Well, John Lennon always said that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds wasn’t about LSD. I don’t know — count the trippy references in this video mash-up of the Beatles and William Shatner. (You can’t miss any of Shatner’s archly sonorous lyrics).

Now Lucy Vodden — the four-year-old said to have inspired the song — has died at age 46. The psychedelic era wasn’t long-lived, either.

Enabling “Mad Men” — Part III: Salvatore Romano’s Complex Closet

August 24th, 2009 1 comment

In my first “Mad Men” post, I said that the women were generally the most interesting characters on the show. Given the repressive social and legal structures in place during the early 1960’s, their efforts at success, happiness, and simple self-esteem were a complex dance around the men who called the shots But the life of a gay man was, if anything, more difficult than the women’s: Gays weren’t allowed to exist, at least not in corporate society, so — they didn’t. As we can see from the increasingly interesting character of Salvatore Romano — played by Bryan Batt,  who is also gay — this negation was effective at driving some so far into the closet that they didn’t fully come to grips with their own sexual identity.

Sal is a particularly sad case. He rebuffs the advances of a client, even though the risk is negligible. He marries, and then spends an evening making goo-goo eyes at a colleague that the Romanos have invited to dinner. His wife, of course, is almost as much a victim of this sad trap as he is. For some, times haven’t changed. Here’s what one blogger had to say, to my semi-surprise:

The tension–and the torment–of homosexuals, especially married people, was the norm in 1962.  It is still very much the case today–a person who is sexually attracted or in love with a co-worker, a friend, a fellow student, a neighbor, a member of their religious community–but must refrain from saying or acting on their feelings, and can only communicate their interest and desire in very veiled ways.

In most cases, though, such feelings can’t be repressed forever. In one of my favorite plays, Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love, the closeted A.E. Housman confesses to the outrageous, liberated, proto-queer Oscar Wilde: “My life was not short enough for me to not do the things I wanted to not do.” Even in Victorian times, self-abnegation was hard and often unsuccessful.

And Sal can’t do it. In this season’s first episode, Sal has a sexual encounter with the hotel bellhop. (It goes wrong, though, in two ways: A fire alarm in the hotel stops the music, and then Mad Man Don Draper sees the two men in a state of undress as he climbs past their room on the fire escape.) What’s he going to do next? How much will he risk?

In terms of gay rights and awareness, 1962 was the Stone Age. Sal could have been fired for his sexual orientation. Even today, substantially more than 1/2 the states don’t protect gay workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation — but New York State does, so he’d be better off in that way. But these laws don’t fully reflect a much deeper change that’s taken place; a change that led to my surprise at the quote above. Because while some gay men and lesbians are still fired (or not hired in the first place) because of who they happen to be, for the most part the country’s moved on. (Now if we could just pass the damned Employment Non-Discrimination Act at the federal level to reflect that reality….)

By 2003, even the U.S. Supreme Court was bound to acknowledge this reality, with a clear majority of the justices holding, in Lawrence v. Texas, that criminalizing sexual conduct between gays was a violation of fundamental rights of liberty and equality. A dissenting, fulminating Justice Scalia, longing for the good-old-days of the early 1960’s when gays and lesbians remained neatly tucked away, foresaw the end of all “morals legislation” in the Court’s decision. But what the Court saw was its fellow gay and lesbian citizens, whose presence by 2003 was widespread, mostly accepted, and even — a touch banal, perhaps. In every area except marriage equality, clear majorities of Americans are supportive of the rights of gays to live and work as they choose.

What are the chances that today’s Sal would be married to a woman? Not great. And isn’t that progress, for Sal, for any woman who might once have become his wife, and for society? Watch any episode featuring Sal and tell me his is the kind of life is one you’d wish on anyone you know.

Enabling “Mad Men” — Part II: Joan or Peggy?

August 16th, 2009 No comments

There’s a great scene in the final episode of Season 2 of Mad Men. Joan Holloway, the office manager who’s hit the glass ceiling within the secretarial ranks, sees Peggy Olson, who has, remarkably, become a copywriter, as Peggy is about to enter her new office. Joan, crushed when her foray into script reading was snatched away, nonetheless exchanges a warm moment with Peggy, noting her name on the door and congratulating her. Sisterhood trumps envy.

As I said in my previous post about this show, the women on the show are more interesting than the men: They bob and weave for advantage in a male-dominated domestic and business world. Peggy and Joan advance in quite different ways, though. Joan is almost a caricature of the voluptuous sex object, while Peggy tacks back and forth, uncertainly, between being “one of the boys” and creating a female identity for herself. Joan advises her to take the latter course.

Joan’s the more self-assured and confident of the two, but the writers provide constant reminders of the compromises, large and small, that she must make. In one poignant glimpse, we see her taking down the bra strap that holds so much weight, and wincing at the painful mark left on her skin. In another, much more troubling scene, she is raped —  there’s no other word to describe it — by her fiance in one of offices. She protests, but has neither physical nor, as a practical matter, legal, recourse. Worse, she stays with the guy — a successful MD who’s lauded by another cast member for his charity work with “Negro children.”

In the early 1960’s, marital rape was not a crime. It took the feminist movement to change that archaic rule, and even today, rape is treated less harshly by the criminal law when it occurs within a marriage. This law was a holdover from the much earlier rule, abolished in nineteenth century, that permitted men to “chastise” — beat — their wives for insubordination. That marital rape was protected for an additional century speaks to the lingering idea that rape within marriage was an oxymoron — marriage bestowed consent to sex, all the time.

Of course, Joan was not yet married, so she could have reported a crime. But at that time, even more than today, Joan’s very sexuality, coupled with lingering ideas of male prerogative would have made prosecution unlikely, conviction less so. And Joan, as a wily  maneuverer within the constraints of her era, would perhaps not have seen reporting the crime as in her best interest. (At least not immediately — I have  some hope that the show will return to this issue, and show the psychological damage that must have been inflicted.)

Even today, many women put up with all sorts of crap in defense of the male prerogative that is so slow to die. That’s why I was heartened at the recent comments, and reaction, to Gov. Mark Sanford’s infidelity by his wife, Jenny. This former Wall Street big shot was not going to stand for it, nor stand by his side before the media when he “confessed.”  She told him to stop, and forbade him to see his Argentine lover again. (I can’t believe he even had the [fill-in-the-blank] to ask). And now she’s moved out of the Governor’s Mansion with the couple’s four sons.

Of course, not every woman is Jenny Sanford. Many are still in the powerless position of Joan, or the impossible one of Peggy, who hides her pregnancy and gives her child up for adoption (in a world where abortion was illegal) so that she can continue her career, which is the most important thing to her. Only in the last few episodes does she begin to realize the toll that her decisions have taken.

Season 3 starts tonight. I can’t wait.

Twentieth Anniversary of “Cosmic Thing”

June 27th, 2009 No comments

On this date in 1989, the B-52’s burst out of their bunker, releasing Cosmic Thing.

There’s a great story that others have constructed of the mainstream success that the album brought the band, some twelve years after they’d flattened everyone in Athens, Georgia with songs like “Rock Lobster,” “Planet Claire,” and “Killer B’s” (never released). After a string of increasingly less-successful albums since their eponymous debut, the band looked finished after guitarist and musical leader Ricky Wilson died of AIDS in 1985. The group (especially sister Cindy Wilson) went into a deep, rudderless funk.

Then, led by drummer-turned-guitarist Keith Strickland, the B-52’s decided to manage their grief by returning to the studio, and somehow managed to meld their eccentric, kitschy sound and look with their previously underused pop sensibility. The result was a totally unexpected monster hit: Cosmic Thing sold four million copies, and spun off the back-to-back home runs “Love Shack” and “Roam.”  “Love Shack” has somehow made the ranks of wedding reception staples; more than a few unlucky folks have seen me grab the microphone from a startled (but so far, not litigious) DJ and belt out the Fred Schneider vocal.

The album, which I first owned on something called a “cassette,” was the only thing playing in my car for what seemed like forever. At first swept along by my obvious enthusiasm and by the album’s sheer greatness, people soon began going to great lengths to avoid traveling with me. I would quote parts of the album at random, scarcely needing relevant provocation to do so.

The reasons for my obsession are somewhat obscure, even to me. As I sit here typing this, I’m looking at a photo of Schneider, my friend Ray, and me, taken at an after-party sometime in the mid-90s. Ray and I and anyone foolish enough to come within our gravitational field were, as someone once told me, “one step from celebrity stalkers.” Their shows were a big reason for my behavior. I’ve seen them too many times to count, and every time I go with someone new, they’re likely to rate the show as among the best they’ve ever seen.

But there was more to it than that. The album came along at a time when I needed something…liberating. It helped me deal with some personal issues (including coming out) by providing a constant, warm reminder that different was OK. Even today, I can listen to it from end to end (although I don’t do so too often) with a big smile on my face, singing along and calling back many great memories. It still sounds great to me, all these years and life events later. It’s not for everyone; if it doesn’t work for you, get your own crack.

Tracks: Cosmic Thing; Dry County; Deadbeat Club; Love Shack; Junebug; Roam; Bushfire; Channel Z; Topaz; Follow Your Bliss