Thursday, July 30, 2015

Trending on social media: #CecilTheLion! RIP…but what about Sandra Bland and Ralkina Jones?

From The Cowardly Lion to Simba, before and beyond, the "King of Beasts" has roared in our public consciousness for centuries. Powerful, regal, beautiful, the lion might be the most iconic non-human presence in the animal kingdom. I'm surprised the U.S. founding fathers chose the bald eagle instead to signify American national pride and strength.

Had they gone with the lion, Walter Palmer wouldn't stand a chance. He probably still doesn't. The biggest mistake the American dentist ever made was arranging a $50,000 hunt to kill Cecil, a major lion attraction in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. If the outraged public (and possibly the legal system) has its way, his life will never be the same again.

I'm one of the outraged many. With visions of lions in the Serengeti still fairly fresh in my mind from my July of 2014 African safari, I'm especially sickened by Palmer's misdeeds. It's bad enough that we descend upon lions' natural habitat wielding cameras like paparazzi chasing celebrities, but must we hunt them too?

Imagine if Princess Diana's death had been intentional and privately paid for by an egomaniacal bloodthirsty pap. In a sense, that's exactly how Palmer nailed Cecil. Money talks...and kills.

Horrifying as the murder of Cecil might be, the business transaction heightens the shock value for me. I don't know which is worse: that Palmer paid big bucks for the dishonor of killing a lion or that said dishonor can be bought.

But my rage doesn't begin or end with Palmer and the death of Cecil. I'm angry for anything -- anyone -- that dies at the hands of another for no reason. I'm angrier because I noticed more moral outrage on social media yesterday over the senseless death of a lion than I did over the senseless deaths of two black women, in two separate incidents, while in police custody this month.

I'm not saying that the people I follow consider a lion's life more valuable than Sandra Bland's or Ralkina Jones'. But I missed the mass outrage when two black women died for nothing. Have we become so desensitized to police in the U.S. killing black people that we no longer feel the need to comment on it?

Jimmy Kimmel cried last night over Cecil. Where were his tears for Bland and Jones? Where was the celebrity outpouring of hashtagged Twitter grief for them? Where was white America's moral indignation on social media? Why does the death of a lion seem like a much bigger story than the passings of Bland and Jones and all the blacks who've lost their lives to increasingly racist agendas in the U.S.?

Maybe Nicki Minaj had a point about the lack of respect and appreciation afforded to black women, but then, she's still alive. She may have missed out on an MTV VMA nomination for Video of the Year, but thanks to the exchange of a few choice words with Taylor Swift on Twitter, Minaj was hardly a loser. Yes, she's still alive.

She was perhaps the most-talked about black woman on social media this month, and from what I read, #TeamNickiMinaj was the victor in Nicki vs. Taylor, after countless tweeters, including Katy Perry, weighed in. The rapper even managed to swing a public apology from the former most powerful woman in pop, a title that perhaps should now go to queen of the pop jungle Nicki Minaj.

Oh, and she's still alive. So she can spare me the martyr act.

Unlike "Nicki Minaj," the names of Sandra Bland and Ralkina Jones will continue to go unheard and unsung. When they have their posthumous days in court (if they have them), no one will likely be punished. Isn't that what typically happens when black people die in the custody of white police?

Walter Palmer probably won't get off for his high crime against the animal kingdom. He's already been crucified on social media, and I suspect this is just the beginning of the end of his life as he knew it. Stupid man. Doesn't he realize that in the killing game, the more value the public places on the target, the more likely you are to go down for nailing it?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

10 things I learned while doing karaoke with my colleagues at our Christmas in July party

Don't worry: During our Christmas in July, clothing was not optional...thank God!
What I didn't learn: I work with a pretty cool group of people. I already knew that. Friday night just offered confirmation.

Now on with my learning curve...because there was no way I was walking a straight line after 10pm!

1. Waking up in bed alone, fully clothed, and not knowing for sure how you got there beats rising and not shining in the nude next to a not-so-beautiful stranger and not knowing for sure how he got there. Also, on the plus side, I somehow made it into bed without my shoes still on.

2. Nicki Minaj deserves our respect. I knew "Anaconda" was a great song, but I had no idea it could, in the immortal words of Destiny's Child, make me lose my breath. Rapping a few of Nicki's rapid-fire sentences left me gasping for air just as much as my Saturday runs from Kings Cross to the Sydney Harbour Bridge to North Sydney and back to KX via the Opera House waterfront route. OH MY GOD... Naturally, I skipped Saturday's run. I was still trying to catch my breath from Friday night karaoke!
3. I'm not the only one who finds Mick Jagger's chocolate queeniness in "Brown Sugar" kind of shocking. By the time I finished my first karaoke number (The Rolling Stone's "Brown Sugar," as planned for weeks), one of my colleagues looked at me, astonished and revolted. "I had no idea those lyrics were so racist," he said, having just read them in large, bold print on the karaoke screen. When I explained that Mick wrote the song about his black girlfriend at the time, he echoed a comment I made in my recent "Brown Sugar" blog post: "Well, I wonder what she thought about it." Indeed.

4. Rose wine is not your friend. Splitting two bottles with a co-worker is enough to leave you and your boss/Sydney BFF dancing around a pub that doesn't actually have a dance floor. Don't you hate it when people who do that?

5. Friday night might not be the best night for a work party, after all. Now I know why they're usually on Thursday night: Having to work the next day stops you from going full-on and casting all your inhibitions to the wind.

6. Inner Sydney is not nearly as massive as I thought it was. Walking from the Japanese restaurant in the CBD to the karaoke pub in Surry Hills took about a half hour less than I would have expected. Wait. Does that mean those weekly runs that leave me as breathless as "Anaconda" are shorter than they feel?

7. Japanese steak might be smaller than the ones you get in those pub-grub specials, but the one I had for dinner pre-karaoke might be the best red meat I've had in Sydney. I'm going to give credit to the soyed-up teriyaki sauce. My trip to Japan next month can't come fast enough.

8. "Cars" by Gary Numan might be my favorite song of the 1980s. Waiting out the extended instrumental coda is as awkward as Gary said it was in my BFF Lori Majewski's '80s music tome Mad World: An Oral History of the New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s. (Karaoke is, after all, about singing, not posing through a never-ending wordless outro). Still, "Cars" now has a permanent spot on my future must-do-at-karaoke list.

9. The camera never lies, which makes the best Christmas in July party a Christmas in July party where not one single selfie is taken. In fact, I can't recall a single photograph being taken all night. That means I'll have to take my boss' word that I was "amazing" and in "top form." Who wants to see photographic proof? Not me.

10. Drunk texting doesn't always end in embarrassment. Just don't try it at home. It's best when there are friends around to work the edit button.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner: Kim Kardashian with substance (and a face that moves)

There's something about Caitlyn. Ms. Jenner's can't-look-away glamour dramatically caps a compelling story arc. But wouldn't the narrative be so much more powerful if, after the Vanity Fair cover, she'd emerged as a more down-to-earth woman?

Yes, she looks fantastic, but the costume changes, the perfect-angle shots, the reported diva demands, Angelina Jolie's glamour squad -- what does this say about transgenderism? About womanhood? The implication is that both are all about appearances? Isn't that just promoting another stereotype?

It started to dawn on me during the biography portion of Caitlyn's Arthur Ashe Courage Award presentation at the ESPYs. The segment was edited so that we kept catching brief sideways glances of Caitlyn talking about her transformation. I understood the ploy: Keep everyone watching until the full-on money shot. Wasn't that why we were all watching -- to see how great Caitlyn looked...again?

In her introductory comments, Caitlyn emphasized the difficulties of being a woman. But they all revolved around the physical aspect, not the less tangible negatives like the lack of opportunities, the lack of support, the lack of equal pay.

Of course, Caitlyn, like her ex Kris and daughters and stepdaughters, doesn't have to worry about such pesky issues as equal pay. For the foreseeable future, she'll be raking in millions just for getting out of bed. And there'll be a glamour squad on hand making sure she looks perfect for the reality cameras. Did she wake up like this? Never.

In concerns me that in the mainstreaming of transgenderism, it seems to be all about beauty and glamour. Caitlyn and our reaction to her seem to be reinforcing that with every public appearance. Does she -- does anyone -- need to change outfits half a dozen times in one New York City day? Blake Lively pulled that one first, so it's not like Caitlyn was even being original.

Laverne Cox, the Orange Is the New Black actress and the second most-famous transgender woman of the moment, is currently celebrated for being beautiful...and brave, but mostly beautiful. Would we care as much about her if she looked like an average soccer mom?

After Caitlyn's Vanity Fair cover, I had a debate with a Facebook friend who was concerned about the gushing commentary revolving around how "amazing" she looked. Would we have been as accepting of her, he wondered, if she hadn't looked so good?

While I understood where he was coming from, I had to consider Caitlyn's debut medium. We were reacting to a celebrity magazine cover. Traditionally, they're all about shallow aesthetics. What else should we have been reacting to if not how she looks? Isn't that pretty par for course with two-dimensional photographs?

In the weeks since then, though, we've had time to focus on other things. Caitlyn has had time to give us more to focus on. Yet it continues to be mostly about how amazing she looks. This is such a loaded non-development.

All transgender women no more look like Laverne Cox or Janet Mock or Candis Cayne or Caitlyn than all non-trans women look like Kim Kardashian. The big difference is that Kim is pure celebrity. Unlike the others, she isn't regarded as any kind of heroine.

Where is the applause for, say, Chas Bono? He came out as transgender years before Caitlyn made it safer to do so. But where were all the plaudits and glowing testimonials about the bravery of Sonny and Cher's son? If he had come out looking like Josh Duhamel, would things have been different?

I'm not blaming this all on Caitlyn. She wouldn't be the center of attention if we didn't put her there, for whatever reason. So in a sense, we're financing the ego trip.

It's not like I was expecting that much more from her. After all, Bruce was not exactly a promoter of social progress, a tireless crusader. But I was hoping for a pleasant surprise. I wanted Caitlyn to be much more than the second coming of her stepdaughter.

Maybe once the post-initial furor dies down, after mama gets paid, she will grow into the role model she seems to want to be. But as long as her life continues to be a red carpet, complete with glamor squads and perfectly timed public appearances, she'll keep missing the mark in those impossible-to-walk-in heels.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

I can't believe Anne Murray is 70!

I may not be celebrating America's birthday today (check out my previous post to find out why), but I'm in the mood for a birthday celebration, even if it's a belated one. Two weeks ago, on June 20, Anne Murray turned 70, and I'm having trouble wrapping my head around it.

I'm not really sure why. It's not like I have images of ingenue Anne floating around in my head to beg the question: Where did the time go? Unlike her '70s country-pop contemporaries like Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John, Anne was never really the ingenue.

She always seemed a little older, a bit more settled. Perhaps it was her calm musical approach and her utter un-trendiness. She was like the Julie Andrews of pop, with a strikingly similar hairstyle.

If you compare photos of Anne today to photos of Anne circa 1980, when I first fell in love with her, not much has changed. The woman is as ageless as her music. "Time don't run out on me," she once sang. But it always seemed to stand still as far as Anne was concerned, which is probably what makes it so hard to grasp that she's now entered her eighth decade.

In belated celebration, five of my favorite Anne Murray moments:

"Danny's Song" Like "A Love Song," written by Kenny Loggins but totally owned by Anne. They make me wonder what Anne might have done with later Kenny-written classics like "Whenever I Call You Friend," "What a Fool Believes" and "Footloose."

"You Won't See Me" The one John Lennon called his all-time favorite Beatles remake. The fade-in is still all kinds of amazing.

"Daydream Believer" Makes the Monkees original completely irrelevant. Note how Anne manages to sing flawlessly, completely in tune, while walking around and handing out presents in the video below, like it's the most natural thing in the world to do. That's the very definition of effortless.

"Lucky Me" The first 45 I ever bought. When I met Anne in New York City in the '90s, I brought along the old vinyl Capitol Records single for her to sign. She took one look at it and said, "Oh, another one that didn't do too well." When I considered that it hit No. 9 country and No. 42 pop, Anne's personal musical identity and allegiance became as crystal clear as her voice. She was all about Billboard's Hot 100, not Billboard's Hot Country Singles.

"Another Sleepless Night" Totally naughty to my pre-teen ears...She sang "making love"! The slightly risqueness of it all was one of the reasons I loved it. But today, Rihanna's "Bitch Better Have My Money" video makes it sound about as wholesome as "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Why I won't be celebrating Independence Day this year (or ever again)

One of my most vivid childhood church memories happened on a once-a-decade-or-so Sunday that doubled as Independence Day. It was religious business as usual at Calvary Assembly of God in Kissimmee, Florida, until the stoic woman who played piano during song service approached the pulpit.

She began to sing a song I'd never heard before and was sure she'd made up on the spot called "I'm Proud to Be an American." I can't say for certain, but I think she even may have been wearing a blouse that was patterned like the American flag. It was the strangest display of patriotism I'd ever seen.

My first thought: I never knew she could sing. My second: What the hell is she singing?...

This is church, isn't she supposed to be singing about God? What does America have to do with anything here? And what about the members of the congregation who are not American?

I looked around at all of the white faces around me. Wrong question. She was preaching to the choir. The room couldn't have been more American. It was the right song, wrong occasion. Wouldn't Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A.," which was probably a hit around the time, have been more on-topic?

I still probably wouldn't have sung along, though. It had nothing to do with separation of Church and State, or the idea that religion serves as the No. 1 ammunition for homophobes, like my Aunt Juliet. I was 10 or 11, way too young to be concerned with that yet.

The truth is, I've just never been into patriotic songs. I don't care for "The Star-Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful" or "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Nothing she possibly could have sung would have impressed me as much as a kick-ass original take on "Amazing Grace"...which by the way, I'm still waiting for.

Furthermore, Independence Day just wasn't my thing. Aside from getting the day off from school/work, I've never been into it. I don't even like fireworks. 

Now that I'm on my 10th July 4th living outside of the U.S., Independence Days matters even less because there's no reprieve from anything for me. It's just like any other day here in Australia. 

But deep inside my heart, it's actually a little worse than any other day, not for what it represents but for what it doesn't. For my fellow black Americans and me, Independence Day means absolutely nothing. On July 4, 1776, our ancestors were shackled and enslaved, forced against their will to serve their white masters. I love my country as much as anyone, but is that cause for celebration?

I've recently been watching a number of historical documentaries, with a focus on our Founding Fathers (George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, etc.) One of the most alarming discoveries I've made is how many of them owned black slaves. Yes, even the Father of the Country himself, George Washington, "Master" to many.

Jefferson, our third U.S. President, even wrote an entire treatise on why blacks are inferior to whites. Was this his way of convincing himself that it was OK to hang them several rungs below pets, treat them as much less than humans (unless he was taking them to bed!)? 

Though not all of the Founding Fathers so publicly supported slavery or even owned black Americans, only one -- Benjamin Franklin -- ever publicly supported the abolitionist movement. And like 34th U.S. President Harry Truman a century and a half later, he had his ah-ha moment regarding black Americans rather late in life.

So despite the fact that at this moment, I'm prouder to be an American than I have been in years (or maybe ever, thanks to SCOTUS), I won't be celebrating Independence Day today. July 4 will be just like any other day, aside from offering another occasion for me to get atop my soapbox.

I'm glad I'll be spending it in the Blue Mountains of Australia, where I expect there will be no fireworks or TV coverage. Considering my current heightened state of awareness, I'm not sure I could stomach watching everyone celebrate our Founding Hypocrites who preached freedom and equality from England while denying that very thing to the people who would go on to contribute so much to American culture.

I have nothing against white Americans celebrating Independence Day, but it's their Independence Day, not mine. Wake me up when President's Day rolls around again. I'd like to raise a glass to Abraham Lincoln. Unlike most of our Founding Fathers, when he spoke about freedom and equality for all men, he actually meant it.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Why I had to un-friend my favorite aunt on Facebook today

"I don't understand it, but I accept it."

Those words would have to rank near the top of my list of the most annoying things straight people say about gay people. What they're really saying: "You're sinners, but you're here and you're queer, so what choice do we have but to put up with you?"

Despite serious misgivings, I decided to let it go when my Aunt Juliet did the whole song and dance at my brother Jeff's wedding 11 years ago. I had just introduced her to my then-boyfriend Khleber, and I was so determined not to ruin Jeff's big day that I let it pass when she started talking about how sad she was that I would miss out on a spouse and kids, all the things that heterosexuality would have supposedly granted me that she herself was living without.

Come to think of it, Jeff's wedding day wasn't the best moment to be gay. The stench of homophobia was in the air, and my Uncle Achille, who was performing the ceremony, made an even bigger stink than Juliet.

I was best man, and I was so nervous about getting it right that I totally missed the thing Achille said about two men in the Garden of Eden. Being the fire-and-brimstone Bible thumper I'd always known him to be, he couldn't just leave a tender moment alone. He had to drop in some judgment, which, in hindsight, I realize was totally for my benefit and for that of my brother Alexi, who is also gay.

He made some crack about how God created Adam and Eve, not "Hemp and Shemp" ...or something to that effect. The names are not as relevant as the intended message: God hates you, faggots. Fortunately, both the words and the message went over my head because my head was elsewhere.

Wait, where's the ring?…Oh, there it is.

When my mother repeated her former brother-in-law's comment later at the reception, her voice dripping with disgust, she was furious. It was actually my first time hearing it, and I wasn't sure if her reaction was about what Achille had said or the forum in which he'd chosen to say it. I decided she was angry for me and for Alexi, and I loved her for it.

As for my uncle, I had only one personal encounter with him at the wedding. It was when he walked into the men's room and caught Khleber and me in a warm embrace. He glared at us but didn't say a word, not even when I directly addressed him and asked how he was doing. I bit my tongue and let his silent treatment go. He'd always been my least favorite uncle, and I knew I'd probably never see or speak to him again after Jeff's wedding day.

Now I can say the same thing about Juliet, who today became the first family member ever to be un-friended by me on Facebook. The deal breaker arrived on the morning shortly after I learned that the U.S. Supreme Court had declared gay marriage legal. It was wrapped in big box of hate and re-posted on Facebook:

The post itself isn't even worth debating. It's passive-aggressive drivel, hate dressed up in Sunday church clothes. If you think I'm a sinner who is going to hell, if you don't support me or marriage between my kind, I have absolutely no use for your "love" or "friendship." As for the alleged name-calling and stereotyping, if you're going to walk the homophobic walk and talk the talk, be prepared to be taken down for it.

But on a more personal level, why would a woman who has at least three gay nephews spread this message in a place where she knows they'll likely read it? Was she trying to douse a celebratory occasion with some good old-fashioned negativity, just as my uncle did on my brother's wedding day?

Here's the thing about homophobia. Like racism, it doesn't always carry a pitchfork and twirl its moustache. My Aunt Juliet would probably never openly criticize me or my life. The last time I spoke to her, we had a perfectly pleasant conversation. But at the end of the day, she thinks I'm defective. She can hide behind "love" and the Bible all she wants, but she's homophobic. I have as much use for homophobes as I do for racists. As the kids say (or at least used to), deuces.

Alexi, who tends to take this sort of thing better than I do, may or may not agree with my reaction to the latest incident of homophobia within our family ranks. But I'm pretty sure he understands and accepts it. That's a lot more than I ever got from others who have called me family.

I can do better...and I already have.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"The Nod": I see other black people and I feel so…relieved?

I never thought about it until this very moment, but Black-ish is the modern reboot of The Cosby Show that My Wife and Kids never quite pulled off.

Here's where the classic '80s sitcom and the current one intersect: Black-ish, like Cosby, is a vehicle for a former stand-up comedian (Anthony Anderson) who stars as a tough-love dad married to a beautiful high-powered professional wife (Tracee Ellis Ross, exhibiting stunning comic timing at which Girlfriends barely hinted) with four cute kids.

And here's where Black-ish veers off to the left: First, there's the contemporary biracial angle, which I don't believe has been previously explored on a TV sitcom. That makes the Johnsons on Black-ish as much of a modern family as the one on Modern Family, a sitcom I find as unfunny and un-relatable as I find Black-ish spot-on.

Second (and perhaps most significantly), while Cosby celebrated "buppie" African-American culture (Who can forget adorable Rudy Huxtable lip-syncing to the blues?), Black-ish, in a lot of ways, challenges it. (Note: While I prefer to use the term "black" over "African-American" when referring to people, I do believe "African-American" is an accurate description for a specific cultural awareness.)

Considering what a confronting and divisive issue race can be, I'm surprised Black-ish is such a mainstream hit, though I probably shouldn't be. White people can watch it without feeling too guilty or getting defensive. Rather than aiming its race commentary strictly at them, Black-ish often hangs the bull's-eye on black people themselves.

One of the most memorable episodes during the first season was based around "The Nod." That's the head bob of acknowledgement that blacks often give to other blacks when passing each other on the street. Frankly, before "The Nod" was given a name in Black-ish's third episode, I'd never devoted much thought to it. But when I saw that adorable black baby giving "The Nod" on Black-ish, I instantly recognized it.

Today I recognized it in real life, and my reaction alarmed me. It's a tough week to be black (by birth, not whim), with the Rachel Dolezal hot mess (please, make her go away) and the massacre in an historic black church in South Carolina. I've been incredibly affected by events of the past week, but I didn't realize how much so until I reached the top of the hill at the end of my run this afternoon.

There was an SUV full of black people at the intersection, and as soon as they saw me, the began waving energetically, giving me multiple thumbs up and fist-bumps from the other side of the rolled-up windows. I responded in kind, overcome by unexpected exhilaration, like Moses having reached the mountaintop to find, not God, but my sort-of saviours waiting for me. I was a mangled mass of emotions, the most surprising of which was relief.

I actually felt RELIEVED to be in the vicinity of other black people. That's something I can't say I'd ever felt before. I lingered a moment, waving and fist bumping, secretly hoping they'd jump out and we'd rush toward each other in slow motion, uniting in one of those touchdown sports embraces. I was sweating and panting just enough to make it feel like an authentic thrill-of-victory moment.

What was I thinking?

The occasional isolated incident aside (one, unfortunately cop-related), I can't say I've ever felt like I was under attack as a black man in Sydney. Yet here I was standing at an intersection, feeling relief at the sight of an SUV filled with black people. What was up with that? Perhaps it was the isolation I generally feel in cliquey Sydney exacerbated by current world events, which somehow made me feel even more isolated and vulnerable than usual.

Maybe I was mistaking relief over being finished with my grueling run for something else.

As I pondered this while crossing the street, I saw a very attractive black man walking toward me. I looked at him expectantly...hopefully. Would he give me "The Nod"?

I held my breath as he passed without seeming to even notice me. It wasn't until I felt a surge of disappointment rising inside of me that I completely understood the relief I'd felt a few moments earlier. It had been completely unrelated to my crossing the finish line of my afternoon jog. It was all about seeing other black people in a city where I so seldom do. It was all about commiseration and camaraderie in these difficult isolated times. For a brief moment, I wasn't alone with everybody.

Now I totally get "The Nod." I'm probably too shy and insecure to adopt it as my personal thing (What if they don't nod back?), but I'm pretty sure I'll never take it for granted again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Should black women be offended by the interracial relations in The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar"?

Scarred old slaver knows he's doin' all right
Hear him whip the women just around midnight
- "Brown Sugar," The Rolling Stones

At the end of my recent blog post, "White women, black men: The other side of interracial dating," I compiled a mini-list of songs about interracial romance/sex and left off one milestone: "Brown Sugar," a 1971 No. 1 single by The Rolling Stones.

It's incredible that I overlooked it, for this is a song that has contributed to a number of debates and (for me) sleepless nights. Sometimes I feel slightly guilt-ridden over the fact that it's my favorite of all the Stones' American Top 40 hits.

It's hard to listen to a lyric like the one above and not think of Michael Fassbender's Edwin Epps and Lupita Nyong'o's Patsey in 12 Years a Slave. Some insist that Mick sang "with" and not "whip," but with or without a whip, the image is still a heinous one.

First off, let me emphasize that I wouldn't dream of calling Mick Jagger, who wrote the lyrics, a racist. The Rolling Stones did more for the mainstreaming of American blues music (and by extension, blues musicians, who were mostly black) than any other British Invasion band. And when it came to girlfriends, Mick certainly didn't seem to have any color limitations. He even fathered a daughter by Marsha Hunt, a black actress who appeared in the original London production of Hair.

But if you look past the Stones' incredible musicianship (no doubt admired by members of Foreigner, whose "Hot Blooded" would open with pretty much the same guitar riff later in the '70s) and Mick's intoxicating vocals on "Brown Sugar," you'll realize how brutal the lyrics are. It's amazing that this song was a huge No. 1 hit in 1971, at the height of "Black Power" and just a few years after the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing.

If it were released today, I can't imagine that the PC brigade would even allow "Brown Sugar" to be played on the radio. Iggy Azalea might be engaged to a black NBA star, but if she ever got it into her head to record a rap cover from a white girl's point of view, her career would be as good as over.

I like to think Mick's heart was in the right place, even if his head wasn't. The Stones' "Brown Sugar," like the different song with the identical name that would provide the title of D'Angelo's debut album 24 years later, is first and foremost a celebration of black female sexuality.

But what should we make of its first two verses, which are set on a plantation during slavery times? And what about the rockin' tempo: It's not the mournful dirge that a slavery-referencing song probably should be but a rollicking party song!

I don't know what Mick's true intentions were, and if I ever get to interview him, that will be the first thing I ask. Second question: Does he really think the rape of black female slaves by their white masters was the good time that "Brown Sugar" makes those midnight sessions out to be?

By juxtaposing the rape of black female slaves by their white masters with the third verse's modern boy lusting after a black girl (while fantasizing about her mother!), "Brown Sugar" makes a direct link between old-school racism and jungle fever (an offensive phrase that suggests black people are animals, which is even worse than likening us to food).

This is a crucial connection, and kudos to Mick if his intention was to get listeners thinking as well as talking. Whether or not people are brave enough to admit it, being attracted to black people sexually doesn't automatically absolve a white person of racist impulses. There can certainly be a racist element to white-on-black attraction, particularly when it ventures into the realm of fetishism and objectification, when blacks cease being multi-dimensional individuals (in the eyes of horny whites) and exist only as a collective sexual entity.

Was "Brown Sugar" celebrating this misguidedness or commenting on it? Its raucous spirit suggests the latter, but my knowledge of the Stones' history with black music/musicians makes me hope for more. This big neon glittering question mark hanging over "Brown Sugar" is why I kind of despise myself for loving it as much as I do.

I've told the story of Alvaro, the guy in Buenos Aires who reacted so horribly when I rejected him. He didn't stop at hurling the N-word at me. He also threw in some vivid slave imagery as well, saying I should be picking cotton on a plantation in Alabama! I wonder if he was listening to "Brown Sugar" the entire time he was courting me and totally identifying with that "scarred old slaver."

Mick is said to have written the song for either Marsha Hunt or Claudia Lennear, who was a member of Ike and Tina Turner's Ikettes. Even if he didn't, I imagine both black women must have heard it. As much as I'd love to know what Mick was thinking when he wrote "Brown Sugar," I'm dying even more to know what they were thinking when they listened to it for the first time.

Brown Sugar, how come you taste so good
Brown Sugar, just like a black girl should

It sounds like high praise indeed, but nothing compared to what's showered on the object of the Stones' affection (either a girl, presumably white, or heroin) four U.S. singles later in "Angie." "Brown Sugar" gets the rough sex. "Angie" gets the tough (as in durable) love. Her song may be the tearjerker and, in my opinion, the lesser of the two, but I'd rather have what she's having.

10 more things everybody loves that I just don't get

"Everything popular is wrong." - Oscar Wilde…or whoever

I'm now old enough to have outgrown my youthful concurrence with one of the greatest aphorisms Oscar Wilde may or may not have ever uttered. Yet, I must make a concession: In the immortal words of The Cult, I am the king contrary man.

I knew this for sure after I wrote my last blog post, published it, and then realized how many things I left off the list. The Dutch woman on the Serengeti safari I took last year was right: I must be from another planet. She said this after I made yet another pronouncement that sounded like Martian-speak to her ears. (I think it was something about my distaste for chocolate - see below.)

Anyway, here's my second list of things you probably love that I can really live without:

"Billie Jean": The cold, harsh truth: For the biggest album of all time, Michael Jackson's Thriller sounds incredibly dated today. I'd much rather listen to Bad, Dangerous, or the new tracks on HIStory. "Billie Jean" may still get the most posthumous play, but if it were up to me, I'd never ever have to hear it again. As '80s Michael Jackson thrillers go, "Smooth Criminal" is the baddest, most dangerous one of all. Proof:

cats: I'm allergic to them, but sneezing aside, I don't understand why anyone would choose to live with a cat, which is like a lover who keeps turning his back to you in bed. I'd prefer a dog, which is like the ultimate cuddler/spooner.

chocolate: It's tolerable in white. The rest of it is too bitter for a sweets guy like me. I'd rather skip the medium-brown stuff unless there's a fruit filling attached. Even then, dark chocolate still makes me wince.

garlic: I'm allergic to it, which makes everyday life extremely difficult because they seem to sneak it into everything. Including some people's mouthwash! Yuck!

ice cream: I don't dislike it, but I've never really understood its temptation status. I probably haven't had a scoop since I left Buenos Aires in 2011, and I definitely don't miss it.

James Bond: I care about 007 only because he's inspired so many great songs.

Modern Family : Not funny. I'm pretty much guaranteed to hate any laugh-track-free show that tries to sell the sort of ironic hipster humor over which Entertainment Weekly salivates. That's why I never got into 30 Rock, The Office, Community, Parks and Recreation, or, well, being EW's TV editor. Sorry…not sorry.

movie franchises: I pride myself on having never seen a single Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Twilight, or Hunger Games movie. Though I loved superhero comics and the Superman and the Batman TV series as a kid (the former mostly because it was my bonding tool with my big brother Jeff), the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman movies and The Dark Knight aside, I haven't seen any comics-based movies as an adult. I once dumped a guy in part because his obsession with Transformers worried me, so I clearly take my aversion to this stuff very seriously.

Paris: If you want to go to the South of France, I'm in. But beauty aside (all man-made, which makes it even more underwhelming than Rio), the City of Lights might be one of the most boring places on earth. Once I've done the Louvre, Musee Picasso, and the garden at Musee Rodin, I'm over it. Runners-up: Rio, Venice, and Montreal, though it's been a while since I last visited the latter, and it could possibly pull a Berlin-in-2013 and make me love it if I went now.

Stand-up comedy: If I found someone standing on a stage trying to make me laugh either amusing or entertaining, I would have paid more attention during my brushes with several pre-superstardom comics during my time at University of Florida. Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Jeff Foxworthy all performed at UF's Gator Growl, and every year, I struggled to keep my eyes open. Zzzzz.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

10 things everybody loves that I just don't get

the beach: What kind of Sydney-sider am I? I think I might find baking on the sand more bearable if people (especially Sydney-siders!) didn't make me feel like such a weirdo for preferring to chill out elsewhere. How about at the pool (in a prime UV-protected covered spot)...or indoors...or anyplace where I won't be risking wrinkles and where I won't end up shedding grains of sand for weeks?

Bruno Mars: He's perfectly harmless, and there lies his problem. He's scrubbed so bright, clean and neat that my skin kind of hurts just thinking about him. The oxymoronically titled "Uptown Funk" sounds like a styled-within-an-inch-of-his-calculated-scruff guy who's spent too much time staring at himself in the mirror perfecting the "messy" look. Bruno is a talented guy, but if I never again heard any of his songs, I probably wouldn't even notice.

coffee: I've gone so long without ever even tasting it that at this point, it's become a thing. Drinking coffee now -- even trying it for the first time -- would be, in the immortal words of Sophia Petrillo, like getting tackled on the 1 yard line.

couch pillows: Too much work. I hate having to fluff them and adjust them every time I get off the couch. It would make more sense to just buy a comfortable sofa with no movable parts.

Foo Fighters: It would take a strong, strong man to break his leg onstage in concert, be carted offstage on a stretcher, get fixed up backstage, and return to finish the show. Dave Grohl makes a blood-splattered Enrique Iglesias look like a coaster. The show must go on has never been more true. I'd probably be even more impressed if I cared about Foo Fighters, but I can't name a single one of their songs.

The Olympics: I pretty much lost interest after Bruce Jenner became a star at the 1976 event. I was seven years old, and he was the first celebrity I ever crushed on. The only thing that could pique my interest in the Olympics now would be if Caitlyn Jenner decided to make a comeback at the next one.

reality TV: I've said it before, and I'll probably continue to say it until reality TV is dated history. If I wanted to see "real" people, I'd turn off the TV and go outside. There are real people everywhere. But I'm a lot more interested in living my own life than I am in watching theirs.

sunglasses: I always feel like I'm not seeing everything whenever I wear them.

taking baths: For the first minute after my body adjusts to the nearly unbearable hot water, I can kind of understand why people get into them. But by the second minute, I'm just going through the motions of relaxation, thinking about the shower I'm going to have to take afterwards to actually get, you know, clean.

zombies: My friend Marcus once tried to explain to me what they are. I'm still not sure I understand, but if I do, why would anyone love something like that? Aren't they basically ghosts with bad fashion and terrible grooming that everyone can see?