Thursday, August 2, 2018

Sneak (Chart) Peaks: 20 Greatest Hits and Not One Signature Song

For some superstars, the biggest singles weren’t the ones most likely to still be playing 20 years later.

Photo: flickr
I have a theory: The more hits a superstar act has scored, the more likely the biggest one of those swinging singles is to be a totally unexpected home run.

Take the greatest band — and one of the top hitmakers — of all time. “Hey Jude” spent more weeks (nine) at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 U.S. singles chart than any other single by The Beatles, but is it the first song fans think of when they think of the Fab Four? Is the 1968 classic synonymous with The Beatles over “She Loves You,” “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” or “All You Need Is Love”?

The quartet racked up a number of signature early, mid-, and late-period songs, and it’s hard enough to choose one from each era, so I won’t even attempt to pick one overall. But if I had to single out one track that defined The Beatles in their later days, it might be their penultimate number one, 1970’s “Let It Be,” or even “Revolution” (the B-side of the “Hey Jude” 45), or several songs that were lesser hits than the monster smash Paul McCartney wrote to comfort John Lennon’s son Julian after his parents’ divorce.


As for the four chart-topping solo acts The Beatles spawned (five, if you count honorary Beatle Billy Preston), Lennon had the strangest chart career. One might have expected it to produce more than four Top Tens on the Hot 100 in the decade before his death.

I remember how huge the six-weeks-at-number one “(Just Like) Starting Over” was in the aftermath of Lennon’s 1980 murder. But even now, I have a hard time accepting that his posthumous chart-topper as well as “Whatever Gets You thru the Night” (number one, 1974) and “Woman” (number two, 1981) were all bigger than “Imagine” (number three, 1971). Imagine that.


Now consider fellow ex-Beatle McCartney. His longest-running post-Beatles number-one wasn’t “Band on the Run” or “Silly Love Songs” (Billboard’s top Hot 100 single of 1976) or any of his other ’70s radio staples. It was “Ebony and Ivory,” his 1982 duet with Stevie Wonder that ruled Billboard’s Hot 100 for seven weeks, which is as long at the top as the number-one runs of Wonder’s “Superstition,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” “I Wish,” and “Sir Duke” combined.


Here are 16 other superstar acts with surprise biggest hits.

Bee Gees

Along with the aforementioned McCartney and Wonder, as well as Elton John (see below) and (for the first half of the decade) Carpenters, the brothers Gibb pretty much ruled Billboard's Hot 100 in the 1970s. Barry, Robin, and Maurice scored more chart-toppers (nine) and spent more cumulative weeks at the summit (27) than any other act.

Now, quick — name the biggest Bee Gees song of any decade!

Like most people who were alive for Saturday Night Fever mania or caught the disco bug during a subsequent outbreak, you probably thought "Staying Alive" — and you thought wrong. It certainly would qualify as the trio's signature song, but "Night Fever" spent twice as many weeks at number one. Eight weeks on top isn't such a big deal these days, but it was virtually unheard of in the '70s.

In fact, only two other singles matched it all decade: Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night" (see below), which also logged eight weeks at the top between 1976 and 1977, and Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life," which spent 10 weeks there in 1977, before being replaced by Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love," which spent three weeks at number one.


Crosby, Stills, Nash and (sometimes) Young

“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”? “Woodstock”? “Teach Your Children”? “Ohio”? None of them rank as the biggest single recorded by the harmonizing supergroup. That honor would go to 1977’s “Just a Song Before I Go,” the Crosby, Stills and Nash single that hit number seven and out-charted anything else that David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash would ever do together or solo, including Stills’ number-14-peaking 1970 single “Love the One You’re With.”


Depeche Mode

Depeche diehards may have an assortment of favorites, but for fans between diehard and casual, either 1981’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” (which didn’t even chart on the Hot 100) or 1984’s “People Are People” (number 13) would probably be the song that comes to mind first when anyone brings up the synth-pop band.

However, their biggest hit is neither of those new-wave classics but rather, “Enjoy the Silence,” the band’s lone U.S. Top 10, which climbed to number eight in 1990, the year after the decade most associated with Depeche Mode ended. (Interesting fact: Despite their reputation as an ’80s highlight, DM enjoyed more global commercial success — and their only U.S. number-one album, 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion — during the next decade.)


Duran Duran

The premiere pin-up band of the ’80s went to number one for two weeks in the U.S. twice (with 1984’s “The Reflex” and “A View to a Kill” the following year). But the words “Duran Duran” are probably more closely identified with their 1983 U.S. chart debut “Hungry Like the Wolf” (number three) and “Girls on Film,” which never even made it to the Hot 100.

Shocking fact: “A View to a Kill” is the only James Bond theme to top the pop singles chart in the U.S., accomplishing what Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” (number eight), Paul McCartney and Wings’s “Live and Let Die” (number two), Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” (number two), Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only” (number four), and Adele’s Oscar-winning Skyfall (number eight) couldn’t.



Dusty Springfield

Would Dusty Springfield be the blue-eyed Brit soul icon she is today if she had never recorded her 1969 album Dusty in Memphis, which included “Son of a Preacher Man,” her best-known song? We’ll never know for sure, but although it climbed to the bottom rung of the Top 10, three Dusty singles went higher: 1964’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’” (number six), 1966’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (number four — and her all-time greatest solo success), and “What Have I Done to Deserve This,” her 1987 collaboration with Pet Shop Boys (number two).


Elton John

Even if you don’t count “Candle in the Wind 1997,” which spent 14 weeks at the top and was a monster by association (with Princess Diana’s untimely death), the Elton single that spent the most weeks at number one in the U.S. wasn’t either of the two arguably most associated with him. Neither of those even went Top 5: “Your Song” peaked at number eight and “Rocket Man” at number six.

Elton’s biggest hit not tied to the death of British royalty was — surprise! — “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” his duet with Kiki Dee. It spent four weeks at the Hot 100 summit in 1976 and was the number two Billboard single of that year.

Curiously, although Elton is most highly regarded for slower, more contemplative ’70s tracks like the aforementioned “Your Song” and “Rocket Man,” as well as “Daniel,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” “Tiny Dancer,” and “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” with the exception of his cover of The Beatles “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” his number ones in the ’70s (“Crocodile Rock,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Island Girl,” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”) were all uptempo.


Fleetwood Mac

“Dreams” may have been the band’s only U.S. chart-topper, but it’s probably not even Stevie Nicks’ signature FM song, an honor that would more likely go to “Rihannon” (number 11), “Sara” (number seven), or the non-single “Landslide.” I’d go so far as to argue that it’s the fourth most-essential song on Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 magnum opus Rumours, after “Don’t Stop,” “The Chain,” and “Go Your Own Way,” barely edging out Nicks’ own “Gold Dust Woman.”


Gordon Lightfoot

“Sundown,” the Canuck singer-songwriter’s only U.S. №1, is a fantastic song, but am I the only one who would have expected “If You Could Read My Mind,” which Barbra Streisand covered on her 1971 album Stoney End and which resurfaced as a ’90s dance hit by Stars on 54, to have been a much bigger one? It only got to number five in 1971, making it Lightfoot’s third-biggest hit (after 1974’s “Sundown” and 1976’s number-two “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”) in the land down under Canada.

The Hollies

The Manchester band that featured Graham Nash may have been considered a second-tier British invasion act, but they still nabbed a space in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

Although they never topped the Hot 100, they recorded at least two timeless pop classics, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” a 1969 number seven, and “The Air That I Breathe,” which hit number six in 1974. Two years earlier, they released what would be their biggest hit: “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” a song that lives up to the fabulousness of its title but is still more or less forgotten today.

Interestingly, the track sounded less like a Hollies hit than one by Creedence Clearwater Revival, even peaking in the same runner-up spot as five CCR singles.


Madonna

“Holiday” never made the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100; “Material Girl” stalled in the runner-up slot; and “Into the Groove” was never even a U.S. single. The Madonna song that spent one more week at the top than 1984’s “Like A Virgin,” which claimed the throne for six, was a now-all-but-forgotten ballad written by Babyface.

And when was the last time you heard “Take a Bow” (not Rihanna’s 2008 number one with the same title)? Well, today’s your lucky day. Press play below.


The Pretenders


The Chrissie Hynde-led band’s third single “Brass in Pocket,” first released in 1979, topped the UK singles chart and went on to become their signature, but it stopped at number 14 in the U.S. The Pretenders would have to wait until 1983 to score their biggest Stateside hit with “Back on the Chain Gang,” which, intriguingly, only rose to 17 in the UK, where most Pretenders singles charted considerably higher than in the U.S.


Queen

Time has been much kinder to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” We Will Rock You,” and “We Are the Champions” than it has been to Queen’s two U.S. number ones, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Another One Bites the Dust.” The former, an ode to Elvis Presley that was more rockabilly than the band’s typical glam and art rock, reigned for four weeks in 1980 (compared to three for the latter that same year), making it Queen’s highest-ranking chart hit in the States.


Rick James

“Super Freak” is not only the song for which the King of Funk Punk is best known, but it also launched MC Hammer’s short burst of superstardom in 1990 (via a sample in “U Can’t Touch This”). Now, here’s the really weird part: “Super Freak (Part 1)” only peaked at number 16 on the Hot 100 in 1981, eight notches lower than Hammer’s hit, and, unlike four other James singles and “U Can’t Touch This,” it didn’t even top the R&B singles chart (peak: number three).

“You and I,” the soul auteur’s breakout disco hit from 1978, was his first to make the pop Top 20, peaking at number 13, and it was also his first to claim a sweet spot atop the R&B hit list.


Rod Stewart

Most fans would probably consider 1971’s “Maggie May” or 1979’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” to be his signature hits, but they spent five and four weeks at number one, respectively. “Tonight’s the Night,” which Billboard declared the top pop single of 1977, was as lucky as Stewart ever got — on the Hot 100, that is.


U2

Strong signature-song arguments could be made for “One,” “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” or even “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” the Irish band’s second and final U.S. number one. Few, though, would probably go to bat for “With Or Without You,” which ruled the Hot 100 for three weeks in 1987 and will go down in history as U2’s biggest U.S. hit.


Van Morrison

Ireland’s greatest male vocalist (sorry, Bono) is better known for his intricate ’60s and ’70s albums like Astral Weeks, Moondance, His Band and the Street Choir, and Tupelo Honey, but he did manage to place five songs in the U.S. Top 40. The biggest, “Domino” (number nine, 1970), bested his 1967 signature “Brown Eyed Girl” by one notch. Who said Americans have poor taste in music? Well, I occasionally do, but the chart triumph of “Domino” (and the number 23 placing of its flawless follow-up “Blue Money”) proves that we occasionally get it right.


Other surprising greatest hits that aren’t quite signature songs

Bob Marley Biggest: “Roots, Rock, Reggae” (number 51, 1976, previously discussed here and here) Signature: “One Love” (failed to chart in the U.S.)

Chuck Berry Biggest: “My Ding-a-ling” (number one, two weeks, 1972) Signature: “Maybellene” (number five, 1955)

Def Leppard Biggest: “Love Bites” (number one, one week, 1988) Signature: “Pour Some Sugar on Me (number two, 1987)

Donna Fargo Biggest: “Funny Face” (number five, 1972) Signature: “The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA” (number 11, 1972)

Eric Clapton Biggest: “I Shot the Sheriff” (number one, one week, 1974) Signature: “Layla” (number 10, 1972)

Janet Jackson Biggest: “That’s the Way Love Goes” (number one, eight weeks, 1993) Signature: “Control” (number five, 1986–87)

Journey Biggest: “Open Arms” (number two, 1982) Signature: Don’t Stop Believin’ (number nine, 1981)

Kelly Clarkson Biggest: “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” (number one, three weeks, 2012) Signature: “Since U Been Gone” (number two, 2005)

Loverboy Biggest: “Lovin’ Every Minute of It” (number nine, 1985) Signature: “Working for the Weekend” (number 29, 1981)


Paul Simon Biggest (solo): “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (number one, three weeks, 1976)*

The Who Biggest: “I Can See for Miles” (number nine, 1967) Signature: “My Generation” (number 74, 1965–66)

*”Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the biggest Hot 100 hit with Simon’s name attached to it (number one, six weeks, 1970) is his signature song, even though Art Garfunkel sings lead on it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why I'm not quite rejoicing over the "diversity" of this year's Oscar nominees

I know I should be applauding.
After 2016's shameful Oscars blackout and the subsequent #OscarsSoWhite boycott over the lack of black nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has done a complete 180 this year by embracing color in an unprecedented way. A record six black actors have been nominated, with three of them competing in the Actress in a Supporting Role category alone.
Meanwhile, three of the nine Best Picture nominees (FencesHidden Figures, and Moonlight) feature predominantly black actors in the main cast. That's definitely a first. Just three years ago, Lee Daniels' well-received The Butler was completely shut out of the Oscar nominations, presumably (depending on whom you ask) because it had the misfortune of being released in the same year as the eventual Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave.
But have we actually overcome? And if so, with Fences v. Hidden Figures v. Moonlight also recently facing off at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, why do I still feel like shrugging?
Despite the obvious progress, closer inspection of the nominees reveals a troubling pattern. When it comes to black actors and the Oscars, a collectivist attitude continues to drive the Academy's choices.
In some ways, there's been no progess at all. Every black acting nominee has been cited for a movie with predominantly black actors in the central roles (so-called "black" movies) or one with racism at its center (Loving). Two performers, Actor in a Supporting Role frontrunner Mahershala Ali and non-nominee Janelle Monae, even appear in both Moonlight and Hidden Figures.
I suppose we should be thankful that none of the black Oscar contenders were nominated for playing slaves. (And if an old rape accusation hadn't come back to haunt The Birth of a Nation auteur Nate Parker, that would certainly not have been the case.) There's that.

But I wish that just one of them had been nominated for a role she or he could have won over, say, Michelle Williams or Casey Affleck, who, perhaps tellingly, remains a clear lead-actor frontrunner for the spartan intensity of his Manchester by the Sea performance, despite sexual harassment allegations against him by two women who worked on his 2010 directorial effort I'm Still Here.
The problem, however, isn't really with the Academy. Considering the options they were given, the voters did remarkably well this time. I commend them for pulling off one of the most diverse line-ups in the history of the Oscar nominations. The problem is with Hollywood. More than sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education integrated U.S. schools, Hollywood still has segregation issues.
Casting directors continue to overlook actors of color for non-race-specific movie roles. One might get the impression that the only reason three black actresses are headlining box-office hit and Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures is because the demands of historical accuracy forced the hands of the producers.
In some ways, 2017 is a step backwards from 2002, when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington took the lead acting Oscars for roles that, with some story tweaks, could have been played by Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks.
While a biopic like Jackie had to be led by a white actress (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was, after all, white), it's hard to excuse the whitewashing of the year's most honored film.
La La Land nabbed a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations (only All About Eve and Titanic have managed to score as many), and it's likely to take Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress, among many others. Impressive as it is, the film has been rightly criticized.
It's dominated by jazz music (a black music form, if ever there was one), yet the two leads, one of whom plays a jazz pianist, are white. The few black characters who do populate the movie are either incidental or peripheral. Despite his pop-star popularity and a decent performance, supporting co-star John Legend almost feels like a token big-name black inserted into the proceedings to give them a smidgen of color and credibility.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are wonderful actors, but couldn't, say, Legend and rising How to Get Away with Murder and The Birth of a Nation star Aja Naomi King have been just as believable in the main roles. As Hidden Figures has proven, you can put black actors up front and center and still score a massive box-office hit.
Speaking of Hidden Figures, the movie about three real-life black female mathematicians was at the center of the biggest Oscar-season gaffe so far. On the Golden Globes red carpet, former U.S. first daughter Jenna Bush accidentally called Hidden Figures "Hidden Fences" while chatting with Pharrell Williams, who produced Hidden Figures and wrote several of its songs. Interestingly, Michael Keaton made the same error while presenting Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture.
The online peanut gallery immediatly started screaming "Racist!" While I understand the outrage, I think it's misplaced. The slips made by Bush and Keaton are understandable when you think of the subliminal implications of the bigger Hollywood picture.
Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and Denzel Washington vehicles aside, Hollywood seldom uses actors of color in substantial roles outside of aforementioned "black" films. So in a year with four "black" films in the Oscar-season discussion, we pretty much had those Bush and Keaton flubs coming. If Hollywood were less segregated, if black performers weren't banished mostly to "black" films and were more integrated into the movie mainstream, perhaps people wouldn't subconsciously blend "black" films into one.
Despite the asterisk hovering over my enthusiasm, I do consider the diversity of this year's Oscar nominees to be a positive step. And on Oscar night, I'll be cheering as loudly as everyone else when Viola Davis picks up her supporting-actress prize for Fences. (Please God, let it happen.)
But I'll also be hoping that someone in Hollywood will finally have the good sense to cast her in a leading movie role as dynamic and un-race-specific as her Emmy-winning one on How to Get Away with Murder. Annalise Keating is one of the most complex characters ever to hit TV screens, and she easily could have been played by Nicole Kidman or Julianne Moore.
And they wouldn't even have been slumming. TV is no longer viewed as being on a lower Hollywood rung than movies. I like to think it's partly because, unlike films, TV is finally getting diversity right.
May movies, and by extention Oscar, eventually get it right, too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Spotify Playlist: David Bowie - 70th Birthday Mix



I ended 2016 listening to George Michael non-stop, and now I've begun 2017 binge-listening to David Bowie.

Exactly one year ago today, I got off a flight from Bangkok to learn that he had passed away at age 69 from liver cancer. (In Australian time, it was Monday, January 11, but still January 10 in New York City, where he died.) On January 8, he would have been 70. I thought about it numerous times before he left us, and I could never imagine Bowie being 70.

Although I got to interview him twice, I always felt a little cheated when it came to David Bowie. He once told me that up until before the first Tin Machine album, all of the albums he made in the '80s, he made for money, not art. For those of you not doing the math, that would be 1980's Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) to 1987's Never Let Me Down.

Well, it just happens that I'm a child of the '80s, and the music that Bowie made in the '80s was the music that made me a lifelong fan. It wasn't until "Under Pressure" (the first Bowie song I can remember hearing and knowing who was singing it) hooked me in 1981 and I went back and checked out his earlier stuff that I discovered the brilliance that is "The Man Who Sold the World," "The Jean Genie" and "Sound and Vision" (my all-time favorite Bowie song).

But even after I discovered vintage Bowie, and even after his '90s creative renaissance, his '80s music still held up. It's all over my Spotify Bowie playlist, and I think it fits in quite nicely, thank you.

I like to think that as Bowie lay dying, as he made peace with God and made peace with his life, he also made piece with "Blue Jean." Ridiculous video attire aside, it really is a brilliant song.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Spotify Playlist: Boy Bands

A few things that ran through my mind while I was compiling my latest Spotify playlist:

1. "Hangin' Tough" by New Kids on the Block sounds a lot better now than it did in 1988, when, if my memory serves me correctly, I kind of hated it. How did that happen?

2. LeVert's "Casanova" has aged incredibly well. It's a shame that after it went Top 5 in 1987, white people pretty much lost interest in LeVert.

3. No shade to "Oh Girl" and "Have You Seen Her," but The Chi-Lites are best known for the wrong songs.

4. Since we're on the subject of artists who are best known for the wrongs songs, so are The Moments and The Delfonics.

5. I can listen to The Spinners' "Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me Girl" medley on repeat all day long and still not be tired of it.

6. It pains me to write this, since I'm so respectful of the late Curtis Mayfield's talent, but I prefer Brian Hyland's 1970 cover of "Gypsy Woman" to The Impressions' 1961 original. Both versions are killer, though.

7. Why can't I remember any country male vocal groups besides The Statler Brothers and The Oak Ridge Boys? Alabama doesn't count because they played instruments.

8. The '80s weren't so kind to R&B male vocal groups hoping to cross over to the pop (i.e., white) charts. New jack-era boy bands like Guy, Troop and Today struggled on Billboard's Hot 100 while racking up hits with relative ease on the R&B singles chart. If it had been released in the mid-'90s, Guy's "I Like" probably would have been a no-brainer Hot 100 topper.

9. The Temptations during their late-'60s/early '70s psychedelic soul era were so much more interesting than The Temptations during their "My Girl" traditional Motown soul phase.

10. It may sound dated as hell in 2017, but Another Bad Creation's Coolin' at the Playground Ya Know! (featuring "Playground") is crazy-good early '90s new jack swing.

Editor's note: I define a "boy band" as an act featuring no women and at least three male singing vocalists whose primary instruments are their voices. That makes acts like The Four Seasons, Bee Gees, The Osmonds and The Jackson 5, traditional "bands" whose members played instruments, ineligible.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The other side of sexual racism: gay white men, the N word and the slaveowner mentality



This has happened to me before.

A non-black man approaches me. I turn him down. He turns on me.

It happened to me twice in my book Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World.

I wonder how "Friendly guy" above would have reacted to a white man who replied the way I did to his disgusting opening line. There's a very good chance he would have let it go. After all, anyone who approaches others with any regularity on Grindr knows that rejection is part of the experience.

Of course, when someone sees you as nothing more than "BBC" (big black cock), as way too many non-black gay men do, they don't think of you as an equal. All you are, sadly, is "BBC."

Some might say - some have already said - "If you don't like it, get off the Grindr." Unfortunately, it's not that simple. The guys lurking on Grindr, simultaneously craving and despising "BBC," exist in real life, too.

The only difference is this: The anonymity of Grindr breaks down the inner censor that keeps most of us from walking around bars showing our cock pics to potential conquests, so it's easier to accidentally hook up with a closet racist when your first encounter with him is offline.

That said, the closet racist can strike anywhere. The worst experience I've had with a guy who went from lusting after me to loathing me in the space of minutes happened entirely in real life. One minute he was aggressively pursuing me (in a manner that would have been considered sexual assault if I were a woman), the next he was hurling the N-word at me.

It's the flipside of the "No blacks/Asians/whites/whatever" sexual policy, but the racism at the root of it is just as powerful and hurtful.

I'm sure the N-word was ringing in the ears of many black female slaves (and probably some male ones) as they were raped by their white masters. Does anyone who watched the perverse sexual relationship between Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) and Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) in 12 Years a Slave actually think he respected her? Too him, she was less than human, a piece of meat with a vagina.


To "Friendly guy" and to too many non-black guys who approach me both on Grindr and in real life, I'm "BBC," whether or not I'm even worthy of "Hello." At least you're more likely to get that message quickly on Grindr.

"Just because he fucks you doesn't mean he respects you," a wise writer once wrote. I already knew this before I read it, and I owe that awareness all to Gaydar and Manhunt (precursors to Grindr).

So for all of its flaws and faults (which are too numerous to go into here), Grindr can be illuminating in ways bar talk and pillow talk might not be. In this Grindr day and age of gay men freely letting it all hang out from the moment of first contact, I don't have to fuck anyone to find that out how little he respects me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Spotify Playlist: George Michael, 1983 to 2004

Several years ago when George Michael nearly succumbed to pneumonia, I so thoroughly prepared myself for his passing that I'm handling 2016's latest death of an icon with a lot more composure than I might have otherwise. 

That said, it's hard not to lose it a little when listening to all of the rich art that George left behind when he died on Christmas Day at the age of 53. 

Over the years, I've sometimes wished he had been a more conventional recording artist and released new music less sporadically. But then, if he had embraced convention in any way, the music that he did release might not have been quite as special. R.I.P.

For those wondering why the dates in the title of this blog post aren't the actual dates of George's life, it's because the Spotify playlist below covers music dating from Wham!'s 1983 debut album Fantastic to George Michael's 2004 solo album Patience.

And it begins with the song that I consider to be his crowning artistic achievement, from his 1990 magnum opus Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. I never stopped waiting for volume two, and now, the hope for it is gone. You can't always get what  you want... to paraphrase George quoting The Rolling Stones on one of many Prejudice standouts.

But getting back to "Praying for Time," lyrically, It's as relevant today as it was when it was released in 1990. Musically, it's timeless, like so much of George's art. 

"You have been loved," he sang on his 1996 album OlderHe has been, he will be, he is loved. And he will be missed. 


Saturday, August 27, 2016

This is what happened when I clapped at Cher's Donald Trump takedown

I've never been much of a clapper. I have very vivid memories of Sunday morning song services at church when, try as I might, I could never quite get the rhythm of the Holy Spirit down.

Occasionally, I've clapped along at concerts (more-than-once again, generally just missing the beat) and before and after speeches and rah-rah announcements. But I've always felt a bit awkward putting my hands together.

So I don't know what possessed me to clap this past week during my showbiz segment on Nine News Now's mid-afternoon broadcast. I was talking about Cher's spectacular moment at a Massachusetts fundraiser when she compared U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin.

"Preach it, Cher," I said while clapping awkwardly at the end of the Cher portion of the segment.

"Preach it, Cher"? 

Who told me to say that? Amber, the newsreaders seemed amused, which is always a good thing (LOVE her), but really, "Preach it, Cher"?

It wasn't long before I got a second reaction to my "Preach it, Cher"? This one wasn't as positive as Amber's. It was from someone who shared my first name and who thought I deserved to be out of a job for my gross misconduct.

But it wasn't the clapping or the "Preach it, Cher" that he objected to. It was the fact that I had clearly shown my disdain for Donald Trump.


"You are a terrible reporter and a bias one! I hope Channel 9 wakes up and fires you!" he wrote underneath some pro-Trump propaganda.

Now I have received my share of hate letters, hate emails and hate comments over the long course of my journalism career. That comes from the territory when you write about such divisive tops as race, sexuality and celebrities. But in a country (Australia) where I've yet to meet a single person who gets Donald Trump, I certainly wasn't expecting a simple "Preach it, Cher" to get such a vitriolic response.

I wonder what he thought of the clapping.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Australian TV debut

On Monday, May 30, 2016, I made a comeback of sorts while breaking new ground. For the first time since leaving New York City nearly 10 years ago, I filmed a TV spot. It was also my first appearance on Australian TV (discounting the Janet Jackson E! True Hollywood Story from ages ago that apparently still occasionally runs down under).

I was invited to discuss the breaking celebrity news of the day on Nine Network's afternoon news show, Nine News Now. It wasn't just a random appearance. The entertainment website I edit, TheFIX, and Nine Network, are both owned by the same company, Nine, so it all came together in a perfect storm of synergy.

Although my performance received excellent reviews (I've been invited to return two times next week), I know there is plenty of room for improvement. It was only the second time, I've ever taped a TV spot alone in a room (the other time was when I did a point-counterpoint segment for Fox in New York City after the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake Super Bowl XXXVIII Nipplegate scandal in 2004).

So if you notice I keep looking off to the side, it's because I was focusing on the camera where the anchor was visible rather than the one straight ahead (a common rookie mistake, I'm told), and of course, there's the issue of my voice. Does anyone ever love the sound of their own voice once they've heard how other people hear it?

Oh, well. We live and learn and improve...hopefully by next week.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Croatia, land of a thousand Ivans

Names are funny things... and I'm thoroughly obsessed with them. These tags that are assigned to us shortly after birth often end up becoming pivotal to our personalities and in some cases, a kind of aphrodisiac. There's nothing sexier than a sexy moniker.

Have you ever noticed how some people actually possess certain characteristics associated with their names? Is a Victor or a Victoria ever a loser? Is an Elizabeth ever less than regal...or a Katherine/Katharine/Catherine/Kate/Cate? Have you ever met a Ryan, a Brendan, a Matias, a Federico, or a Nathan who wasn't hot? Is Alex (male or female) ever a dummy?

I once dated another Jeremy in New York City when I was in my early twenties, and I was convinced we wouldn't work because we were too much alike. We didn't.

I've been sizing up names for much of my adult life, but I'd never given much thought to Ivan...until last week. Although Ivan was my favorite character in The Brothers Karamazov, I can only remember meeting one in real life, shortly after I moved to Buenos Aires. It was a good date, and he was certainly cute, but he was no Matias or Federico.

The name was most significant to me as an Eastern European equivalent of John, Juan, Ian, Sean, Shaun, Shawn, Shane, Giovanni, Gianni, Jan, Johann, Hans, and Jean. Then I went to Croatia and everything changed. After my first encounter with an Ivan (who quickly pointed out the "John" connection), it seemed like I couldn't get out of bed without meeting another one. Soon it became a thing. I'd walk up to random guys and ask if they were named Ivan.

Often the were. The only other name I stumbled upon as frequently was Ivica (pronounced like Evita Peron's first name with an extra S: Evitsa). One Ivan worked at Sky Bar in Dubrovnik, our final destination on my birthday night. After describing Ivan as "the most common male name in Croatia," he introduced me to two of his colleagues with the same name (and an Ivica or two).

When does that ever happen? Three Ivans were working in one nightclub, all cute, all sweet, and all, sadly, straight - the latter of which applied to every Ivan (and Ivica) I met in Croatia. #Tears

Croatian Ivans and me: A photo album

Ivan No. 1 and me


Uni Ivan and me


"Skipper" Ivan and me


Toto's Ivan and me


Sky Bar Ivan No. 1 and me


Sky Bar Ivan No. 2 and me


Sky Bar Ivan No. 3 and me


Saturday, April 23, 2016

My second Spotify playlist: Prince and the divas

The untimely passing of Prince this past week has inspired countless countdowns and ruminations on the iconic artist's most unforgettable hits. My personal Prince playlist has been on repeat in my head since I learned of his death on April 21 at his home in Minneapolis at age 57. It includes some of the usual suspects ("1999," "Raspberry Beret," "Kiss," Sign o' the Times," and "Cream"), as well as some less obvious purple fare. Among them: "4 The Tears in Your Eyes," "Mountains," "I Wish U Heaven."

But if I'm being completely honest, the Prince songs that have been popping into my head most are the ones by other artists that he wrote, produced, performed on and/or financed...particularly the ones sung by fierce ruling divas. Those are the oldies but goodies that make up my second Spotify playlist.

Sadly, some of them are as elusive as the man was himself. You won't find them on Spotify, so I've left them off my second Spotify playlist and included them at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

https://open.spotify.com/user/22lx2wfkekdhp2mtixdvc36oq/playlist/2fa6gLdvkePOg2tu7oMW1T


"101" Sheena Easton



"Time Waits for No One" Mavis Staples



"Nothing Compares 2 U" Sinead O'Connor



"On the Way Up" Elisa Fiorello




"Elephant Box" Ingrid Chavez



"I Hear Your Voice" Patti LaBelle



Sunday, April 17, 2016

My first Spotify playlist: Great underrated songs from the 1970s




https://open.spotify.com/user/22lx2wfkekdhp2mtixdvc36oq/playlist/5B5grKx4EanFuUi2UiyoQr

Things people say when they really don't care if they never see you again

If decades of living have taught me anything, it's this: People find a way to do what they really want to do, come hell, high water, or jam-packed schedules. I've known this for sure since my friend Nancy flew thousands of miles from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires in 2009 just to see me for a few days.

I'm not saying I require that level of devotion from all my friends - or any of them. What I am saying is if you can't see me, or don't want to, fine. You don't have to. Just hold the lame excuses. I'd almost always rather be alone than be in the company of someone who's not truly psyched to be there.

But if we both want to be in the same room (preferably one that's empty to underpopulated), and distance isn't keeping us apart, more than a few days certainly won't.

Maybe I'm alone in this, but I doubt it. It's OK if you don't really care whether you ever see me again, so there's no need to drop hackneyed excuses. My bullshit detector has become infallible over years of lame excuses, partly because I've been guilty of going there myself.

But I've learned to say "Hello/ Goodbye" and move on without phony, platitudinous commentary, and I'm working on how to graciously and firmly decline invitations without falling back on any of the old excuses of which I've grown so weary.

Yes, I know non-committal when I hear or read it. Here are 8 of the more egregious, obvious, and annoying examples...


1. "When am I going to see you?" I feel the same about this as I do about "Can I kiss you?" - a question, by the way, that someone actually placed to me several weeks ago, as if we were in a 1960s black and white movie, or he was "Sash" propositioning Sam Frost on The Bachelorette Australia.

If, you have to ask, well, you've already got your answer...and it's not "Yes," or anytime in the immediate future. A real man (or woman) just makes these things happen.

My friend Zena recently sent me a surprise email proposing some dates when she can fly from Chicago to Australia to hang out with me (the weekend after I return form holiday in Croatia - i.e., more good times ahead!). And that, folks, is how you show someone you really care.

2. "Where have you been hiding?" In these days of social media, everyone knows exactly where everyone has been hiding and what they've been doing there. If you're truly interested, you wouldn't have to ask.

3. "I hope I see you soon." Because that's the sort of thing over which we have absolutely no control. "Soon" - as in "Talk soon!" - is the kiss of death for hopes of any future engagement.

4. "Things are crazy right now."/ "I'm really busy over the next few days/weeks/months/years." This hasn't been a valid excuse since the time Phil Collins played two Live Aid concerts on two different continents in one day. People make time to do the things they're dying to do.

5. "Let's keep in touch." So quaint, so pre-Facebook. Nowadays, you don't even have to try... hard. So if you still have to suggest it, you probably know neither one of you will likely make the effort.

6. "Text/ Message me." The millennial version of "Give me a call." And in 2016, the implication remains the same as it was in 1996: When someone leaves the ball in your court, it's there for a reason. Game over.

7. "I have a birthday dinner." Right up there with "The dog ate my homework" in the pantheon of lame excuses. It's so Buenos Aires, and, sadly, so Sydney. Yes, these things happen. But if they happen all the time, then how deep and meaningful are these friendships? Will your absence really be missed by one of a million mates? I have a theory: The more birthday dinners you "have to" go to, the fewer you're likely required, or even expected, to attend.

8. "Take care" - or as they say in Buenos Aires, "Cuidate!" "Have a good life"... without the animosity.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Twinkle, twinkle lucky star: Merle Haggard, 1937-2016

Today I found out Merle Haggard died, and 12 hours later, I'm probably more devastated than I was at the moment of impact. I haven’t been so affected by a country music passing since Tammy Wynette’s death nearly 20 years ago (and incidentally, Merle’s tribute to Tammy remains, for me, one of the most memorable parts of her televised funeral).

Why am I especially blue when we've already lost so many greats in the first three months of 2016? I’m not entirely sure. I can’t say Merle’s songs saved me (as everyone crawls out of the woodwork claiming whenever any iconic figure dies), nor would I even count him among my Top 10 all-time favorite country music singers.

I’m well aware of the man’s musical genius. I recently listened to countdown of the 40 biggest country music artists of the 20th century, and Merle was right up there at No. 3, behind Conway Twitty (No. 2) and Eddy Arnold (No. 1). I wouldn’t have expected anything less from the man who, along with Buck Owens (No. 10), defined country music’s Bakersfield sound in the 1960s.

But that was before my time. I arrived at the altar of Merle Haggard a decade later. He may not have saved my life, but what an impact he had on it. His music was a vital part of some of my most musically formative years, from 1979 to 1982, when country music dominated my personal playlist. I can’t imagine my pre-teens without him.

So I suppose in a sense, the passing of Merle Haggard represents yet another brick removed from my musical foundation, from my life’s foundation. It’s a reminder of my mortality, as I inch closer to my own finale, which feels like an element of a running Merle Haggard theme: the end of innocence.

This morning as I walked to work, when I was listening to “Mama Tried,” I had no idea that I was a half hour away from finding out that Merle had passed away on his 79th birthday. The tribute from his son on People.com that broke the news of his death for me probably shouldn't have come as such a shock. I knew he wasn’t in the best of health, but I always thought that he, like so many icons who have recently left us, would live forever.

Maybe I’m mourning not only the loss of Merle but also the fact that others will follow. It’s like a dark cloud following us through life. But there’s also an ever-present rainbow, a silver lining in the art they leave behind.

And Merle left a lot, but for me, his work in the late '70s and early '80s will be what I keep going back to for the rest of my life. To commemorate his life and my love of his music, here are 7 of my favorite Merle musical moments:

“Mama Tried”

“If We’re Not Back in Love by Monday”


“The Way I Am”


“Big City”


“Yesterday’s Wine”


“Going Where the Lonely Go”


“Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star”

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Notes from a bored gay black man

From my Scruff profile:

What I'm looking for…

The one.

Until I stumble upon him, sentences over monosyllabic responses, answers over questions, words over acronyms, face-to-face dates over instant hook-ups and pointless, endless chit chat. I'm not lonely or bored, so I'm not desperately seeking online pen pals. Why are guys so afraid of dates nowadays?

Let's just meet with no agenda and let the sparks fly…or not.

If you wouldn't ask it when meeting me for the first time, say, in a bar - *cough cough* "Top or bottom?" "Hung?" - then please don't ask me here. I reserve the right to be immediately turned off. If you've read this far, you don't have to ask "What are you looking for?", which, by the way, ranks among the Top 5 lamest gay-app questions. ("What's doing?" and "Horny?" round out the list, alongside the aforementioned.) Good conversation/banter is not a Q&A. I'm a journalist, so I get enough of that at work. In real life, they bore me easily, and I tune out.

Racial references are kind of icky. If you're talking to me, I assume you like black guys…or just me. .It's OK if it's just about me…better even. Can we move past "I love black guys/cocks" please? It's boring, and I never know how to respond. Have you complimented ME? If I said, "I love white guys," have I complimented every white guy?

Gay men who go to Asia and write "no Asians" in their profiles are the worst. Would you go to America and say "no Americans" or Sydney and say "no Australians"? Come on, guys. Preference is not a blockade. Racism doesn't always twirl its moustache. At least be man enough to own it. Thank you.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The one thing I never knew about straight men and women..until last night

What a difference two years and a few beers can make. In May of 2014, I wrote an essay for The Huffington Post called "5 Simple Rules for Straight Women in Gay Bars." I continue to stand by every word I wrote in that piece, but I'm finally ready to ease up a little on girls' nights out in gay bars.

Who said you can't learn crucial life lessons over beers on a Friday night?

Yesterday I was out with my friend Jose and three of his female colleagues, when what had started out as an ordinary evening at Darlo Bar unexpectedly morphed into Sexual Harassment 101.

Our party of five gained a new member when a good-looking guy who'd later introduce himself as Liam singled out one of the women in our group, clearly unaware she wasn't single. He made perfunctory small talk with the rest of us, but it was obvious where his interest lay. All hands were above the large table between them, though, so no harm done.

But the newcomer got one of the other ladies in our group thinking and then talking about boys in bars. She started complaining about men who approach uninterested women and can't get the hint…or take no for an answer.

I came in mid-monologue, so I assumed she was talking about Liam, who hardly seemed like a pushy predator. And from where I was sitting, it looked like he might have had a shot with the object of his attention, who appeared receptive to his considerable charms.

As it turned out, the monologue wasn't about Liam. He'd only inspired it. Watching him work our table, his eye on a specific prize, had gotten her thinking and talking about men and women and how difficult it can be for them to coexist in nightlife.

She described to me how hard women sometimes have it when they go out - or when they're simply in public. As she explained it, when men approach them and they're not interested, women generally react in one of two ways. They either engage him against their will (which is what she implied her co-worker was doing), or they politely inform the unwanted suitor that he's interrupted a girlfriends-only conversation (her preferred approach).

The former, I learned, is what women sometimes do to keep the peace because if they jump to the second response, guys might not take it well and resort to name-calling, slut-shaming or worse. Her words immediately made me think of my own experiences as a gay black man in gay scenes dominated by white men. Guys sometimes hit on me in the most aggressive and racially charged ways, and if I don't respond positively, they've been known to angrily hurl the N-word at me.

"I get it. I know exactly what you're talking about," I said, relieved to be on the right side of the men-can-be-such-dicks conversation.

I told her about the time I spent hours detained by the Buenos Aires police after my rejection of a man who had been harassing me in a nightclub ended in a physical altercation. (Read all about it in "The Kick Inside," a chapter from my first book, Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World .)

Not so fast.

Although surprised by my story (which included a few choice words from the angry suitor, including the N one) and appreciative of my empathy, she told me there's one big difference between my gay expat encounters and women's experiences with pushy men who can't take "not interested" for an answer.

I can respond with a swift kick in the shins, confident that if the violence escalates, I'll probably come out on the winning side. Most women, however, don't have the luxury of letting out their inner fist-fighter.

And for many women, she pointed out, the episodes aren't nearly as isolated as the ones I described. To say it happens all the time for some women wouldn't necessarily be an exercise in hyperbole.

I felt like I'd just woken up from a lengthy coma. How did I not know this? How could I miss it? I knew encounters with tacky men came with the territory of being a woman, but I wasn't aware of how regularly they had to be fended off, sometimes in the most strategic ways. I had no idea how confronting and exhausting alcohol-fueled social situations can be for women.

In my book, I wrote about being routinely touched against my will in Cambodia. I concluded that my experiences there gave me a greater understanding of what women go through, but I had a lot more to learn. There's so much that goes through a woman's mind during an encounter with a strange man that I'll never truly understand.

Considering how many close female friends I've had over the years, I couldn't believe I'd never been privy to this information. As I listened and learned last night, I realized this sort of thing must happen to them more often than I realize.

How could I not have known? Is it because when I'm out with my female friends I provide a buffer between them and would-be predators? Maybe it's the sort of thing women typically discuss amongst themselves but not with men, not even a gay one?

Don't get me wrong. I know what jerks men can be. I've heard the cat calls and witnessed the unwanted advances. I've also seen stranger-danger scenarios with sexual-assault potential, though to be completely truthful, my experience with them has been mostly from TV, movies and Amber Rose anecdotes, not from everyday civilian life.

I'd always assumed casual social encounters between women and men they didn't know were more a nuisance for women than anything else. I'd never really considered the psychological element, the fear factor.

I looked at Liam again. He was still cute and charming as ever, but I couldn't get the P word (predator) out of my mind. I'm not sure I'll ever look at men and women interacting in a straight bar the same way again.

I'm not saying I'll love it when women crowd gay bars looking for a safe space where they can dance without fear of harassment, but from now on, I'll certainly be more understanding. Lesson learned.

Friday, March 25, 2016

What would you ask for if you knew the answer was yes?

I came across this blog post's titular question on Instagram recently, and it stopped me dead in my scrolling. It was a welcome respite from all those narcissistic selfies and show-off holiday snaps that make Instagram my least-favorite social media forum. Plus, it got me thinking.

I'm such a difficult guy to shop for, and not because I have everything. I'm a minimalist, so I'm not into collecting. That only leads to clutter, to which I'm violently allergic. As material possessions go, I have pretty much all I want/need. I'd never turn down a nice hoodie, but I'm more into the intangible.

So while I'm borderline-impossible to shop for, if someone were handing out wishes, it wouldn't be so difficult to please me. What would I ask for if I knew the answer was yes? Well, that one's easy.

1. The one Have we met? Did I already love and lose him? I've been waiting decades (yes, literally). Come on now. Get here... if you dare.

2. Home Last week I gave a presentation at work about my professional story, which I separated into three distinct chapters: 1) The magazine era in New York City. 2) The book era in Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Bangkok, and Cape Town. 3) The online era in Sydney.

"So where do you consider to be home then?" someone asked when I was finished.

I have no idea, but I'm more than ready to find out. As the golden soul oldie so eloquently put it, a house is not a home. Nor is a home necessarily home. And as much as I love my home in Sydney, this isn't home.

How will I know I'm finally home? When I feel secure and happy enough somewhere to take a major leap of faith and sign up for a long-term Internet plan.

3. An idea for a groundbreaking app Yeah, like Marnie's boyfriend on the first season or two of Girls. Whatever happened to him? I lost interest in all of the show's male characters after he disappeared.

4. My own private bathroom at work Maybe it has something to do with Sydney's obsession with coffee, but the washroom at work sometimes feels like a loo at Grand Central Station -- only stinkier. And what a wonderful work week it would be if I no longer had to hold in my own number-twos until I can get to some remote location where nobody recognizes me.

5. My own private gym Yes, sometimes the presence of so many attractive hardbodies (and I haven't seen so many on the gym floor since the month I spent in Berlin in 2013) can provide motivation, but I'd give it up if it meant I'd never again have to wait on someone who's hogging the bench-press area.

6. A digital copy of House of Bondage (photos by Ernest Cole, words by Thomas Flaherty) It's a rare book, published and banned in South Africa during the apartheid era, making it virtually impossible to buy there even today. I first learned about it via an exhibit at The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, the one that made me break down in tears in 2013 and inspired my in-the-works second book, Storms in Africa: Notes from the Motherland.

I haven't cried since, and I haven't been able to find a new copy in any bookstore, or online for less than $100, much less in eBook form. When I finally decide to throw my $100-plus to the wind and order a hard copy for $50 international delivery, I'll probably read it and weep...again.

7. A job where I don't have to go to an office or deal with anyone face-to-face Sadly, unless Tyler Perry or Lee Daniels buy the rights to one of my books, I'll likely never be able to earn a living writing them.

8. A stash of benzos without a prescription Doctors in Australia are pretty much banned from prescribing them, which is hardly surprising, given the nanny state I'm in. I kicked my Klonopin addiction years ago, but my panic disorder persists, and if I'm being totally honest, I occasionally crave half a Valium to curb my latest anxiety attack... or at least having the option to do so.

9. Donald Trump's immediate exit from public life Like many of my fellow Americans (and human beings), I'm tired of seeing his puffy, hideous orange face.

10. World peace Of course. Because we don't need another Brussels or Istanbul or Paris or 9/11, Because I don't want to read about yet another black, another gay, another refugee, another Muslim, or another woman being harassed, bashed or murdered. Because both guns and people kill.