Friday, October 17, 2014

Did 2015 Oscar Host Neil Patrick Harris Just Become the Most Powerful Gay Man in Hollywood?

Honestly, I'm not a huge Neil Patrick Harris fan. But it's hard not to really admire the guy.

I'll never forget the night I saw Neil Patrick Harris blush. It was 2000, and I was an editor at Teen People magazine. Sebastian Bach's publicist had invited a couple of my colleagues and me to see the Skid Row frontman in the Broadway musical Jekyll and Hyde, and we'd jumped at the offer. Who knew we'd get two retro-celeb sightings in one night?! (Click here to read the rest of the story.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off!

No matter how many crunches you do, a six-pack will never be a substitute for a great smile and an even better personality.

After several years of overexposure (mostly courtesy of topless Grindr profile photos), my body's going undercover: From now on, unless I'm in the shower or just getting out of it, I'm keeping my shirt on. I'm officially hiding my upper torso away. This should be a lot easier to do since I've deleted Grindr from my phone. Now I can go back to presenting myself to the world (and being appreciated) the way God intended, fully clothed. (Click here to read the rest of the story.)

Friday, October 10, 2014

I Write the Songs… Sometimes: 10 Singer-Songwriters Whose Biggest Hits Were Covers

Oleta Adams and yours truly on the night I heard her sing "New York State of Mind" in New York City
I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight -- the cover record, that is. I recently spent an entire blog post railing against the creative evil that is the covers album. Well, that might be overstating my objection to them. I didn't say they're evil, just lazy. And in making my case, I may have given the impression that I have a problem with remakes in general.

I won't remake my initial case, but let me restate this one: In general, I don't have a problem with remakes. On the contrary, I have great deal of respect for interpretative singing, an art that doesn't get the respect it deserves. Where would the history of music be without it? Some of the greatest performers in various genres over the years have been primarily interpretative singers. Most of the '50s -- including the king of rock & roll himself, Elvis Presley -- wouldn't have happened without them. Nor would have The Great American Songbook, Motown, Brill Building pop, Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, Leiber and Stoller, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Philly soul, disco and country music, a genre whose very foundation was laid by singers of other people's songs.

And were it not for interpretative singing, a number of excellent singer-songwriters wouldn't have scored their greatest hits, like these 10…

Joan Osborne Those who are familiar with this '90s one-hit wonder only through her lone smash (1995's No. 4 Billboard Hot 100 hit "One of Us," written by Eric Bazilian of The Hooters) and her covers of vintage R&B (most notably in the 2002 Funk Brothers documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown), might not even be aware that she's so much more than a killer voice. Over the years, I've enjoyed Osborne best rocking out on her own material, particularly "Right Hand Man," a follow-up single to "One of Us," and her 2000 album Righteous Love.

Nilsson As is the case with Osborne, those who know Harry Nilsson through his best-known work, know him all wrong. His two biggest hits as a performer -- 1969's "Everybody's Talkin'" and 1971's "Without You" -- sound like they were sung by a completely different guy than the performer of "Coconut" and "Jump Into the Fire," his own compositions from Nilsson Schmilsson, the 1971 album that contained "Without You," and the writer of "One," Three Dog Night's 1969 No. 5 hit.

Bobby Goldsboro I wonder how it makes as gifted a songwriter as Goldsboro feel that his biggest million-sellers -- 1971's "Watching Scotty Grow," and "Honey," the No. 1 Hot 100 single of 1968 -- weren't written by him. Oh, well. He saved the best, 1974's Top 20 "Summer (The First Time)," for himself, and he'll forever be the guy responsible for putting Brenda Lee on my map, via "The Cowgirl and the Dandy," a song he wrote and recorded in 1977 (as "The Cowboy and the Lady") that was the first thing I ever heard Lee sing way back in 1980 when it was climbing the country singles chart en route to becoming a Top 10 hit there.

Jim Kerr "You write the beautiful songs," his then-wife Chrissie Hynde wrote and sang in deference to him on The Pretenders' 1987 single "My Baby." Those beautiful songs didn't include Simple Minds' signature hit, "Don't You Forget About Me," but there was so much more greatness where that didn't come from. (Like, for instance, "Mandela Day, the song that was playing on a continuous loop the Friday afternoon last year when I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and was one-third of Simple Minds' only UK No. 1 single, via the Ballad of the Streets EP, which also featured "Belfast Child," a musical remake of an Irish folk song for which Simple Minds composed new lyrics, and a cover of Peter Gabriel's "Biko.")

Oleta Adams Like Osborne, a '90s one-hit wonder (if you don't count her appearance on Tears for Fears' 1989 Top 40 single "Woman in Chains") best known for singing someone else's song (in her case, Brenda Russell's "Get Here"), and possibly one of the finest interpretative singers by whom I've ever had the pleasure of being floored. She's also the only performer who has ever made Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" tolerable to me. Hell, she made me love it on par with how much I used to love my former adopted hometown. If you haven't heard her version of "Evolution" (an Ivan Lins co-write) or Little Feat's "Long Distance Love," you're missing out. But if you aren't familiar with her originals (which make up roughly half of her three pop-charting albums from the '90s), you're missing out more.

Kim Carnes Like Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan (I know, random comparison), Carnes is a singing-songwriting non-one-hit wonder that most people probably don't recognize as a gifted songwriter (though, also like Franklin and Khan, she wrote a number of her own hits) because their greatest commercial successes as solo artists came with other people's songs. In Carnes' case, they were Smokey Robinson's "More Love" and Jackie DeShannon's "Bette Davis Eyes," her only solo Top 10 pop hits and, for me, the definitive versions of both songs.

Luther Vandross A gifted singer-songwriter and arranger who was known for always assuming ownership of at least pop or soul classic on every album, Vandross still enjoyed a string of self-penned R&B and pop hits during the '80s and '90s. However, despite his creative prowess, the man who was responsible for arranging the backing vocals on David Bowie's "Young Americans" and co-writing and co-producing "Jump To It," Aretha Franklin's first '80s classic, has other songwriters to thank for his biggest Hot 100 chart mark (via "Endless Love," his 1994 No. 2 duet with Mariah Carey) and one half-of his second-biggest one (the "Love Power" portion of 1991's Top 5 "Power of Love/Love Power").

Robert Plant Little-known (or remembered) fact: The former Led Zeppelin vocalist who had a hand in writing some of the most enduring hard-rock classics of the 1970s and one of the few frontmen-turned-solo acts whose work on his own actually holds up, had his biggest Hot 100 success with The Honeydrippers, whose cover of Phil Phillips's "Sea of Love" went to No. 3 in 1985. In fact, The Honeydrippers, whose other Top 40 hit, a remake of Roy Brown's "Rockin' at Midnight," was basically a pop-revivalist supergroup featuring Plant, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Nile Rodgers.

Bryan Ferry Yes, the man whose band, Roxy Music, is often credited, alongside David Bowie, as being the greatest inspiration for '80s new-wave music (frequently by the new-wave artists themselves), the guy who wrote (or co-wrote) "Virginia Plain," "Love Is the Drug," "More Than This" and "Avalon," has this in common with Plant: His biggest chart hit arrived via someone else's song. In Ferry's case, it was a Roxy Music cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," a 1981 UK and Australian No. 1. (Fun fact: Ferry's 1973 solo debut These Foolish Things may have launched the modern covers album and was released two weeks before Bowie's own covers album, Pin Ups.)

Dolly Parton Last but definitely not least. The most interesting case of a singer-songwriter scoring with a cover -- covers -- Parton has been on both sides of the creative exchange, a beneficiary as solely the singer and solely the writer of a classic record. Though she's written the bulk of her own material over the years, both her first and her biggest crossover pop successes -- "Here You Come Again" and "Islands in the Stream," respectively -- were composed by others, and one song she wrote for herself and actually took to No. 1 on Billboard's country singles chart twice, "I Will Always Love You," is best known as the song that Whitney Houston turned into one of the biggest singles of the '90s. Once when I interviewed Parton, I happened to mention a few of my favorite '80s singles by her: "Starting Over Again," "But You Know I Love You," "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You"... "Oh," she said with a laugh. "All songs I didn't write!" (Fun facts: "Starting Over Again" was co-written by none other than the queen of disco herself, Donna Summer, while the co-author of "Old Flames" was one Patricia Rose Sebert, aka Kesha's mom!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My 10 Most Memorable Moments in "Is It True What They Say About Black Men?"

They've been the best and worst of times, and they're almost over. We're less than one month away from the official November 4 release of my travelogue/memoir Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World (currently on pre-sale at Amazon) and the end of an eight-year journey. Now that my work is done and the book is being sent out into the world, I can finally reflect, from a comfortable distance, on how I got here.

The most difficult part of the three years I spent writing the book was reliving some of the experiences in it over and over and over until I got the wording just right. Sometimes it felt like picking at a scab until it multiplied into a series of fresh wounds that would heal overnight only to be reopened the next day. Other times it was nice to recall details I'd completely forgotten, some of which were funnier than they were when the stories happened. It wasn't all pain, no gain -- not by a long shot. I'm a gallows humor kind of guy. I live to laugh through tears.

Here are 10 high/low lights from the near-decade covered in Is It True What They Say About Black Men? To partially quote Morrissey (in "Break Up the Family," from Viva Hate), they will forever stay emblazoned on my mind.

1. The morning I came home and found a threesome in my Buenos Aires apartment. Alas, they were burglars, fully clothed and brandishing a deadly screwdriver!

2. The night my boyfriend sprung a life-changing and life-threatening secret on me.

3. The five hours I spent in a Buenos Aires jail.

4. The day after I lost 24 hours following a drugging in Rio.

5. The morning a one-night stand was removed from my apartment in handcuffs by the BAPD after threatening to kill me.

6. A word in Spanish. Actually, several of them, and one in English (the N-word) after a suitor went from wanting me to wanting me on a cotton plantation in the space of one rejection.

7. The night I met the future love of my life when he was out with his girlfriend.

8. The night I was touched inappropriately by a masseuse in Bangkok.

9. The 10-hour Bangkok-to-Melbourne Jetstar flight I spent seated next to a man who I didn't know was blind until after we landed in Australia.

10. The afternoon at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg when by the House of Bondage exhibit I sat down and wept. It was almost like a Tracey Thorn song...

Monday, October 6, 2014

It's All About Me: 15 Songs By Artists Who Namecheck Themselves

You're nobody until your name has made it into a song -- even if it's one of your own! After all, if you're going to name-drop anyone, it might as well be you. Rappers (and super-producer Rodney Jerkins) refer to themselves all the time, but apparently, people who sing are a more modest bunch, less likely to call their own name. That didn't stop me from finding 15 who did it anyway.

"My Home's in Alabama" Alabama (1980)
Self-referential lyric: "My home's in Alabama, southern born and southern bred"

"In a Big Country" Big Country (1983)
Self-referential lyric: "In a big country, dreams stay with you, like a lover's voice fires the mountainside"

"We Are the Jonzun Crew" The Jonzun Crew (1983)
Self-referential lyric: "Who are we? The Jonzun Crew!"

"Freak-A-zoid" Midnight Star (1983)
Self-referential lyric: "We are Midnight Star. We're gonna show you how to do it, yes, we are"

"Bruce" Rick Springfield (1984)
Self-referential lyric: "My name is Rick, I'm gonna stick it to you, babe"

"Everybody Have Fun Tonight" Wang Chung (1986)
Self-referential lyric: Everybody wang chung tonight"

"Nasty" Janet Jackson (1986)
Self-referential lyric: "No, my first name ain't baby. It's Janet. Miss Jackson, if you're nasty"

"Love Overboard" Gladys Knight and the Pips (1987)
Self-referential lyric: They tell me, Gladys, you know you love too hard"

"Living in a Box" Living in a Box (1987)
Self-referential lyric: "Am I living in a box? Am I living in a cardboard box?"

"Joyride" Roxette (1991)
Self-referential lyric: "Roxette!"

"My Name Is Prince" Prince (1992)
Self-referential lyric: "My name is Prince, and I am funky"

"Come When You Call" Oleta Adams (1993)
Self-referential lyric: "Say 'Oleta, baby. Well, I need you, baby'"

"Robyn Is Here" Robyn (1997)
Self-referential lyric: "Robyn is here. Gotta let you know"

"Fergalicious" Fergie (2006)
Self-referential lyric: "I'm the F to the E, R, G, the I, the E"

"S.A.M.S.P.A.R.R.O." Sam Sparro (2008)
Self-referential lyric: "My name is S.A.M.S.P.A. double R.O. jazam"

Is It Healthy to Keep Dipping Into the Same Dating Pool: In Defense of Rayna + Luke on "Nashville"

Some girls have all the luck, even if they're unlikely to count their blessings as blessings. Rayna James, for one, probably didn't consider her love life to be particularly charmed at the end of Nashville's second season. Who needs the drama of getting a pair of unexpected marriage proposals -- both in one night? Oh, the turmoil of being torn between two handsome, talented suitors!

She wasn't torn for long. During Nashville's September 24 season-three premiere, the country superstar made a move that was a lot smarter than launching her own record label in this era of diminishing album sales. She let go of the stone that had been weighing her down: her past -- namely, an ex named Deacon Claybourne, would-be fiancé No. 2. That's something people on daytime soaps rarely do for good (see "Villy" on The Young and the Restless, "EJami" on Days of Our Lives, "CarSon" on General Hospital, etc.). But while I'm not convinced that Deacon is completely out of Rayna's picture, I applaud her for at least trying to put away their broken frame.

I have to admit, I wasn't previously a big fan of Luke Wheeler -- Rayna's choice…for now -- and I'm still not. He's uncomplicated, and he's got sexy swagger, but he's a little too smooth, a textbook cowboy. I'm also wary of hot tempers (one of the reasons why I'm not loving Abigail with Ben on Days, although he's her sanctimonious equal), even when the exploding guy is otherwise charming and easygoing.

Luke scored with me, however, when, unlike Deacon, he gave Rayna time and space and didn't pressure her into choosing his marriage proposal over Deacon's. Good move, one that clearly wasn't lost on Rayna. When she let Deacon down gently by citing the "clean slate" she has with Luke, she made a lot of sense. For those crying "They're soul mates!" and "He's changed!" in defense of Rayna + Deacon, let us not forget that his alcoholic relapse as recently as the end of the first season nearly caused Rayna her career and her life.

The threat of relapse will forever be a dark cloud hovering over them, and I'd much rather live under mostly sunny skies. There's nothing like shared romantic history and a teenage daughter to keep you in an ex's orbit, but sometimes love is better -- and safer -- the first time around, when it's still baggage free. (I wouldn't have minded seeing first-time sparks fly between Deacon and Rayna's exiting sister Tandy because it would have made for some juicy sibling rivalry and given the shamefully underused Judith Hoag something better to do.)

Deacon's niece Scarlett O'Connor seems to have inherited his knack for romantic repetition. Loving Avery Barkley was easier the second time around last season, but it didn't last long, due to lack of spark. We all know that's as good as the kiss of death in serial dramas. Turbulence makes the world turn. Stability is as boring as a good guy. Take Daniel Grayson over on Nashville's fellow ABC nighttime soap Revenge. Neither he nor his scenes with Emily Thorne (nee Amanda Clarke) were ever more interesting than they were after he shot her in the stomach on their wedding night. Of course, that was after their dreaded second courtship.

I'd like to say it's over for good between them -- How do you come back from firing the bullet that renders your now-ex-wife unable to bear children? -- but we know how soaps work. Sami once shot EJ in the head on Days, and they still have a shot at happily ever after.

But getting back to Scarlett's fever (a love hangover that I wish was caused by record producer Liam McGuinnis, who brought to Nashville what it needs most: a sexy bad boy with a heart of slightly tarnished gold), I don't think things have cooled completely between her and Avery, judging from how he still looks at her. It's the same way her other ex, Gunnar Scott, gazes at her, all awe and admiration, despite his now-semi-long-distance relationship with Zoe Dalton. He even got hard-headed Scarlett to stick around Nashville.

Despite all the chemistry in that quad, the "Will they or won't they -- again?" angle has gotten mouldy. Rayna and Juliette Barnes make a far more interesting pair than any configuration of Avery/Scarlett/Gunnar/Zoe, and Nashville did begin as a rivalry between the country queen and the rising princess. That, sadly, has been backburnered. Now they're more occasional frenemies, a sometime Sami and Kate on Days, with less scheming.

Their relationship has as many fascinating layers as any of their romantic entanglements, and it's a shame that they have yet to share a single scene this season. In the absence of Rayna, I'd rather watch Juliette's inner life unfold than her love life. I've convinced myself that her slow unspooling as she cried all over "Crazy" while auditioning to play Patsy Cline was about more than Avery. Redemptive you-make-me-want-to-be-a-better-person romance -- like the one she shared with Avery, her ex and possible baby daddy -- is a snoozefest. True love means accepting someone as is, a dynamic that's sometimes easier to find with someone new.

I don't want Juliette back with Avery any more than I wish him on Scarlett, who is probably the Nashville character I care about most. That's as much for her moral compass as for that steely magnolia thing Bowen brings to the character. I once read an interview with Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee in which he described one of his stars, Michelle Williams, as having a sympathetic quality that makes you want to see her be OK. That's how I feel about Scarlett. For me, she is to Nashville what Sharon Newman is to Y&R, what Elizabeth Webber is to GH, what the writers want Abigail Deveraux to be to Days. Thus far, Abigail is the only one who is trying out the Rayna road to happiness, while the days of the others' lives continue to revolve around their exes.

Unlike prime-time and daytime heroines, I've never been able to share much of a storyline with any of mine, though I've tried at least twice. (Luke Spencer was right: People don't change; they just get older.) I'm not saying that reunions can't click, but try and try again becomes less likely to succeed with each failed attempt, as GH's Lucky Spencer eventually learned. How do you think he ended up as Avery on Nashville?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

10 Reasons Why 1983 May Have Been the Best Year in '80s Music

1. Musically speaking, 1984 hasn't aged so well. I used to think the '80s were all about 1984. Hell, both Eurythmics and Tina Turner recorded songs about it -- "Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)" and the David Bowie-penned "1984," respectively -- and Van Halen named its multi-platinum No. 2 album for the year that also provided the title of George Orwell's classic 1949 novel. But after listening to two old Casey Kasem American Top 40 countdowns from 1984 (for the weeks ending April 28 and October 6) and one from 1983 (for the week ending May 7, aka my 14th birthday), I'm singing totally different tunes. So many of the top ones from 1984 (from Lionel Richie's "Hello" to Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters" to Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" to Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"), despite at least two of them (the first and third) being songs I used to love to sing and listen to over and over, now sound almost like parodies of bad '80s music. And don't even get me started on Rick Springfield's "Bop 'Til You Drop"!

2. Most of the Footloose soundtrack hasn't held up either. As music from movies about dancing that spawned a pair of No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 singles go, I'd so much rather listen to Shandi's "He's a Dream," Donna Summer's "Romeo" and Joe Esposito's "Lady, Lady, Lady" while not skipping over Irene Cara's "Flashdance…What a Feeling" and Michael Sembello's "Maniac" on 1983's Flashdance soundtrack. Meanwhile, does anyone really ever again want to hear Kenny Loggins' "Footloose" or Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It for the Boy"?

3. It was one of the best years for best new artists since 1964! And I'm not talking about the Best New Artist Grammy nominees, which, truth be told, Eurythmics and the winning Culture Club aside, were hardly staples of the decade. But despite Grammy's lack of foresight in also nominating Big Country, Men Without Hats and Musical Youth for the honor, many other definitive and not-so-definitive acts of '80s music -- Cyndi Lauper! Def Leppard! Duran Duran! The Fixx! INXS! Madonna! Naked Eyes! Night Ranger! R.E.M.! Tears for Fears! Thompson Twins! -- scored their first key Hot 100 hits in 1983, arguably the pivotal year of the second British invasion. So did Bryan Adams and Spandau Ballet, though both were three albums into their runs. And let's not forget that a still-newish Yazoo also released the best of its two albums -- You and Me Both -- in 1983!

4. It was a Thriller year. Although "The Girl Is Mine," the first single from the biggest album of all-time, arrived near the end of 1982, "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," "Human Nature" and "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" all made their chart marks in 1983.

5. Prince became a pop star. And he did it with his first Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hit, "Little Red Corvette," from an album whose title was set 16 years in the future. Although Purple Rain would send Prince into the stratosphere the next year, making him, for a while, second only to Michael Jackson in terms of chart success, songs for song, 1999, which was actually released at the end of 1982 but didn't make it big until 1983, might be the more ambitious, and -- Dare I say it? -- better album.

6. David Bowie put on his red shoes and danced the blues. If he hadn't shown us his pop-soul moves in 1983, Bowie might still be best known in the U.S. as that weirdo who had a couple of cool hits in the '70s. Let's Dance and its singles finally made the UK superstar an American idol, too.

7. Tina Turner's comeback of the century commenced. Although it was one of 1984's main events, it actually started in November of the previous year with "Let's Stay Together," a remake of an Al Green classic that I never cared about until Tina had her way with it. I adore Al Green and his entire string of early '70s hits, except for the only one to top the pop singles chart. But Tina's "Let's Stay Together" producers, Heaven 17's Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, bathed her remake in such a soft, warm, gauzy glow that it made me a true believer in the power of her love. While it may have stalled at No. 26 on the Hot 100, "Let's Stay Together" restored commercial faith in Ike Turner's previously forgotten former better half. Private Dancer (the first full-length album I ever bought) might not have happened the following year without it.

8. Even the one-hit wonders' hits kicked ass. I'd take Dexys Midnight Runners' "Come On Eileen," Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science," Taco's "Puttin' on the Ritz," After The Fire's "Der Kommissar," Kajagoogoo's "Too Shy" and Frank Stallone's "Far from Over" over Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me" and Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" any day of any decade.

9. It gave us one final ABBA chart fix. Two years after the group's final studio album, it came courtesy of the only solo Top 40 hits from the ladies who put the As in ABBA: Agnetha Faltskog's "Can't Shake Loose" and Anni-Frid's "I Know There's Something Going On" (credited to Frida). And how's this for a neat coincidence? Both were written by Russ Ballard, former Argent vocalist (that's him singing the band's 1972 Top 5 single "Hold Your Head Up") and author of such '70s hits as Three Dog Night's "Liar" (first recorded by Argent) and Hot Chocolate's "So You Win Again." Honorable mention for another great 1983 solo single that sounded nothing like a performer's work with his former band: then-ex-Doobie Brother Patrick "Black Water" Simmons' "So Wrong," a No. 30 Hot 100 hit in May on which he almost could have passed for Michael McDonald.

10. Pop would soon lose its twang, but first, '80s crossover country made its final Top 40 stand. Before The Judds and Randy Travis, among others, ushered in Nashville's mid-to-late-'80s neo-traditional movement, crossover country scored one last time with Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton's "We've Got Tonight," Ronnie Milsap's "Stranger in My House," Alabama's "The Closer You Get" and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's pop-and-country-chart-topping "Islands in the Stream." Ah-ha indeed.

9 Previously Unmentioned Acts That Achieved Their Hot 100 Chart Highs with 1983 Hits That Still Sound Great Today
Bonnie Tyler "Total Eclipse of the Heart"
Champaign "Try Again"
Eddie Grant "Electric Avenue"
Golden Earring "Twilight Zone"
The Greg Kihn Band "Jeopardy"
The Kinks "Come Dancing"
Madness "Our House"
Pat Benatar "Love Is a Battlefield"
The Tubes "She's a Beauty"

6 Things Westerners Get Wrong About Africa

Teach your children well. It's so much more than "the place with all the animals."

Misconception No. 1: The ties that bind the countries in Africa are more than geographic.

This is not "America." Africa is as much a collection of very separate and distinct individual countries that happen to share a continuous expanse of land as Europe is  --  more so, since you need a passport, a visa, and a currency exchange to travel from one country to the next. There's no cultural or even ethnic norm. When we use the demonym "African," we're being as vague as when we describe someone or something as "Asian." (Read the rest of the story on Medium.)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Deal Breaker No. 1: Why I'll Never Again Date a Guy Who's in the Closet

I wouldn't have missed it for the world, but I'll certainly never do that again.

I'll never forget the year when "discreet" became a dirty word. It started when I fell in love with a boy who had to sneak out of his house to see me. I say "boy" not because we were teenagers breaking curfew. Shane* and I were grown men, consenting adults who had been seeing each other for several months. We had everything: chemistry, passion, heat. But only when we got behind closed doors. (Click here to read the rest of the story.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Happy Birthday, Marc Bolan!: T. Rex's 5 Greatest Hits

Live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse -- and a legacy of immortal music. Marc Bolan, who put both the "T." and the "Rex" in T. Rex, did all of the above. His short and winding road ended in a car accident at age 29 on September 16, 1977, ironically, exactly one month after the premature passing of one of his idols, Elvis Presley, and two weeks before his own 30th birthday.

Had Bolan lived, he would be 67 today. It's hard to imagine him being the same age as David Bowie and Elton John, though they were all contemporaries, because his early passing has rendered him forever young. Thankfully, his music, for the most part, has aged better than he might have. Here are five of his greatest moments.

(Note: Sorry, I didn't forget "Get It On," T. Rex's best-known song and the band's only U.S. hit. It's never been a favorite of mine, not even when Power Station remade it in 1985 and took it to No. 9 in the U.S., one notch higher than T. Rex did in 1971. Personally, I've always preferred its Electric Warrior soundalike, "The Motivator.")

"Ride a White Swan" (1970) If an electric Kool-Aid acid trip had rhythm, it probably would be dancing to T. Rex's breakthrough single, which went to No. 2 in the UK.

"Hot Love" (1970) When in doubt, throw in a "la la la la la la la" chorus. As shallow as pop gets, which frankly, was sort of the entire point of T. Rex.

"Mambo Sun" (1971) From the first moments of Electric Warrior's opening cut, I knew the album was going to change my life. Some two decades after I heard it for the first time, it remains one of my favorite albums of the '70s, second perhaps only to (or quite possibly tied with) Joni Mitchell's Blue, which was released almost exactly three months earlier.

"Planet Queen" (1971) Like the previous three songs, a bridge between the atmospheric acoustic folk-pop of Tyrannosaurus Rex (as the band was known in the late '60s) and the brash electric glam rock of T. Rex's imperial early '70s phase, and that's exactly where I prefer my T. Rex. When his voice goes up an octave at 1:46, it still slays me every single time.

"20th Century Boy" (1973) Where would Love and Rocket's "Kundalini Express" have gone without this, Bolan's final Top 3 UK single? That it still sounds like the height of modernity in the next century says a lot about Bolan's songwriting prowess, T. Rex's performing chops and Tony Visconti's unparalleled-in-the-'70s production. What would T. Rex and Bowie, for whom Visconti produced such seminal '70s records (including the aforementioned Electric Warrior), as well as '70s rock & roll have been without him. If you've heard latter-day T. Rex, you already know. In other words, hail Visconti, too!