Monday, March 30, 2015

In defense of change

Change is good.

Or so the old saying goes. I must have heard that one a thousand times, but the instance that sticks out most in my head is when an old colleague used it on me. I had just announced my plans to leave Teen People to take a job at Us Weekly, and I was feeling nervous about my decision. This particular colleague dropped by my office to wish me well, and I ended up unloading my misgivings on him.

He wasn't a big fan of mine, and I knew he was glad to see me go. For him, any old cliché probably would have done if it ended our conversation as quickly and painlessly as possible. I'm pretty sure he pulled that one out of his ass. He probably had no idea what an impression he made.

He was right...sort of. Change can be good, and in this professional instance it was not only good -- it was essential. But change can also be not-so-good. There's a lot to be said for stability, predictability and the dreaded routine. Change for the sake of change only is often just a waste of time.

When I was younger, one of my relatives came to live with us for a while. One of my most vivid memories about him (among many vivid, unpleasant memories) was that he used to change undershirts several times a day. Every time I think of him, I also think of his white V-neck t-shirts flapping in the wind on the clothesline in the backyard like blank flags at half-mast.

As I can't recall him ever doing anything more strenuous than thumping his Holy Bible, I had no idea why he needed to change his t-shirts so often. Maybe it was because my mother did all of the laundry, so why not? Change for the sake of change may have been good for him, but it was a burden for my mom. Though I've fully embraced change in my recent adulthood, I've remained suspicious and maybe even a little afraid of it too.

But now I'm beginning to see change in an entirely different light. Even when it's not-so-good, or just for its own sake, it can end up having a net positive effect. Hannah Horvath on Girls would probably agree.

The fourth season of Girls won me over after a kind of hum-drum third season, and I think it was all because of change. There was so much of it. The biggest one: Hannah moved to Iowa (albeit briefly) to attend grad school, which set off a chain of unfortunate events for Hannah but fortunate ones for this viewer.

As a result of the stint in Iowa, she lost Adam, and upon her return, even more change was in store. She took a job as a substitute high-school teacher and her friends became a less prominent presence in her life. Hannah spent more time with Adam's new girlfriend Mimi-Rose in episode 7 than she did with Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa the entire season! If that wasn't enough life upheaval, her father also came out as gay. That's a lot of change for a 10-episode season.

(As an aside, I love the juxtaposition of her dad announcing he's gay to her mother getting tenure, which, in academia, is the antithesis of change, as Loreen "I never have to move again" Horvath clearly realizes.)

The move to Iowa was one of the best developments that the series writer and star Lena Dunham has come up with yet. It took Hannah out of the orbit of her annoying New York circle, none of whom, with the exception of Adam and Shoshanna, I could possibly care less about. The Iowa episodes were some of my favorite ones of the season, partly because her New York crowd were barely in them. But most of all, I loved them because the change of scenery and Hannah's ultimate failure in Iowa were the catalysts for the first signs of true emotional growth we've seen in her yet.

I don't think she would have been able to be so supportive of her father and not make his coming out all about her without the Iowa experience. And look at how she remained in the background during the water-childbirth scenes, not grabbing center stage as old Hannah surely would have done. Had she not let go of so many illusions about herself, about her life, about life in general after Iowa, she probably would have taken Adam back in the season finale rather than seeing that they simply didn't work anymore…if they ever actually did.

I'm thrilled that Hannah is starting to evolve, but I'm glad that she hasn't completely changed her irritating ways. Her interaction with her student Cleo offered much-needed assurance that old-school Hannah is alive and well. Some might find her insufferable, but I love her despite her flaws… because of her flaws.

I get Hannah. Maybe it's the writer in us. We're a strange, complicated, contradictory breed. I hope friends and strangers don't feel about me the way people do about Hannah, but I wouldn't be too surprised to find out that some of them do. It's not like I've never picked up and left everyone I cared about behind for far less clear-cut reasons than Hannah's motivation for moving to Iowa.

I'm sure more big changes (some just for the sake of it) are in store for both Hannah and me. Maybe they'll bring about continued evolution and make us more palatable to the people around us. Perhaps, as it did with Hannah, change will finally put me in the orbit of a guy who might actually be good for me and not just provide more fodder for my writing.

I like Mr. Parker. He's cute and he totally nailed Hannah in just a couple of episodes. I'm curious to see where they go in season five. I love that he called her on her thirst for drama, but I hope she doesn't bend like Carrie Bradshaw did with Aiden when she tried to give up smoking for him on Sex and the City. Hannah's dramatic tendencies are a large part of what makes her and Girls interesting.

The last thing she (or I, a once-again thoroughly entertained viewer) needs is change in the form of a sexy new guy swooping in and altering Hannah or her maddening ways. I love them just the way they are.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

5 great NSA anthems (or 5 reasons why Christina Aguilera deserves to be a major pop star again)

Although she never gets credit for it, Christina Aguilera deserves major props for perfecting the squeaky clean-to-untamed and sexy pop makeover. It seemed a lot more natural and effortless than Miley Cyrus's, and unlike the twerking queen, whose hits are as cheap as her image, Christina offered a quality soundtrack for her sexual coming of age.

She deserves to be on top...again.

1. "Dirrty" So raunchy it gets two R's.

2. "Get Mine, Get Yours" "I want your body, not your heart." Along with "Dirrty," the line that earned Xtina her "skank" rep in the early '00s.

3. "Candyman" The narrative takes place over the course of an actual date, but this full-course meal is really all about dessert, and in a world with so many flavors, variety is the spice of sex life. Morning-after leftovers probably aren't on the menu.

4. "Woo Hoo" That Christina and Nicki Minaj make it sound even remotely appealing rather than simply appalling is a major pop miracle. Alas, my anaconda still don't want none.

5. "Your Body" If you can't beat 'em, just screw 'em.

In defense of NSA ("no strings attached")...sort of

They're probably my three least favorite letters in gay life: NSA, aka "no strings attached."

Even if I wasn't completely over acronyms, I'd probably never actually use this one in everyday conversation. In the gay lexicon, it's something considerably colder and less romantic than the straight version of NSA that inspired the Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman rom-com No Strings Attached, which was not about puppet love.

In the cinematic version of NSA (and, by extension, the straight one), there's more of a human element. It's a lot like the "friends with benefits" thing also documented in a movie (starring Justin Timberlake, whose former group NSYNC once released an album called No Strings Attached, and Kutcher's future wife and Portman's Black Swan costar, Mila Kunis).

Gay NSA is generally less personal or personable, at least as I understand it in Grindr-speak. Size (Hung?) and preferred position (Top or bottom?) are far more important than pesky details like names. Yes, it's as incredibly unsexy as it sounds, but when you wake up horny craving sex for breakfast, it's a pretty expedient way to satisfy morning hunger.

I presume the reason why the old, antiquated phrase "one-night stand" doesn't apply is because the peak NSA hours tend to be right before and after dawn when gay men seem to be at their horniest. "Anonymous sex" is apparently also passe, probably because it sounds too brutal and unfeeling, and "casual sex" sounds like you're watching a ball game at the same time. "NSA" may be direct and a little lazy (which doesn't necessarily bode well for the sex), but it's vague enough to almost pass for something people do in polite company.

I spent many years being wary of NSA under all of its names, and I still cringe a little every time I see those three letters on Grindr. Would it kill guys to pursue it without spelling it out? Shouldn't it be understood that if you have sex with a stranger there won't be strings attached?

What un-deluded gay man is dreaming of a white picket fence and mentally picking out matching wedding bands while riding home in a taxi with the boy he just met. Even in Buenos Aires, where porteño guys would often drop "Te quiero" (I love you) before the cab reached its destination, I knew better than to ever take them seriously.

All that said, I used to pride myself on never hooking up with anyone I wouldn't be open to seeing again, even ones I met on holiday -- or ones who were on holiday when I met them. Paolo, one of the two great loves of my life, was visiting New York City from Milan when he and I met. That our relationship (doomed as it was) ended up unfolding on three different continents over the course of nearly a decade is proof that anything can happen between two strangers in the night if both are open to it.

Then one depressing birthday (incidentally, the one after I saw Paolo for the final time), I decided to throw caution and moralizing to the wind and take the NSA plunge. I'm terrible at names anyway, and I rarely remember them, so would it kill me to not bother asking?

The experience itself was unmemorable, but I'll never forget the way it made me feel -- not cheap and dirty, as I was expecting, but strangely liberated and, well, clean. There were no messy emotions. I was able to turn off my brain in a way I couldn't before when I was half thinking about the future. If I was never going to see him again, who cared what he thought about me? I could go way out of character for once and just live in the moment.

But once the moment was over, there was nothing, no future prospect, not even afterglow, which has always been my second favorite movement in the extended sex suite (my favorite being the dance leading up to the first kiss). That's the downside of NSA, and as a cuddler/spooner, it's a pretty major one. I was proud of myself for giving it a go, and I could finally say I understood why people do it, but it wasn't really me.

It's still not, but I have an even better understanding of it today than I did right after that mind-opening birthday. I think that for some, NSA is almost a form of armor, especially in a city like Sydney where, to quote the guy at the 2:19 point in this clip, nothing means anything. If he's just a body, not a person, he can't hurt you.

And if you're after instant gratification -- and in the Grindr age, nearly everyone seems to be? -- NSA is the uncomplicated way to get it. You can turn off your mind and just enjoy now. Who cares if you don't remember it an hour later? There'll be another new NSA session soon enough, if you want it, because there's always another hot guy "looking." (And "hot" is key to NSA because if personality isn't going to be a factor, the NSA prospect has only the physical to work in his favor.)

It'll probably never be my thing because my brain is too pivotal to my turn-on process and living in the future is just part of my character. But now that I understand NSA, it's easier to live with it. And if I do decide to go there, I know I won't have to worry about making awkward conversation or how to delicately usher him out the door in the unlikely event that I want to skip afterglow.

By the time I think of an excuse why he can't stay, he'll probably be already gone.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why clothes no longer make the man for me (as long as both are clean)

If I could turn back time and change three things about my much-younger self, I know exactly what they would be: 1) I would have come out sooner (during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at the University of Florida); 2) I would have cared less what others thought about me; and 3) I would have rethought my entire approach to footwear. The latter could have cost me meeting Mr. Right much earlier in life.

In my twenties, bad footwear was my public enemy No. 1, and I had the most ridiculous sartorial rule about it: I wouldn't date anyone who wore running shoes when he wasn't running. It didn't matter what he was wearing on the rest of his body -- his feet had to be perfectly attired.

That's not to say I'm a suit-up kind of guy. I've never been one, and thank God, it's never been required of me. But I had my clothing hang ups, which had more to do with level of stylishness than degree of formal. I kept them until my last year few years in New York City.

If only Kevin had stuck around that long. He's the ex who dumped me in the spring of 2003 because he wanted "a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy" (his words). I wonder what he would have thought of "Casual Weekend Jeremy," the alter ego who started emerging twice a week toward the end of my time in NYC. Whenever my best friend Lori saw me on the weekend, she'd marvel at what I had on (frequently a t-shirt and jeans or track pants) because it was so unlike the trendy and sometimes flashy business-casual designer attire that I favored the rest of the week.

"I love Casual Weekend Jeremy," she once said, coining the moniker that she still occasionally drops. I'd smile, knowing that he'd soon go away for another five days.

After I moved to Buenos Aires and no longer had an office full of people to dress to impress, I spent the next eight years looking like Casual Weekend Jeremy 24/ least when warmer weather permitted it. When I flew from Cape Town to Sydney last September to be interviewed for my current position at Ninemsn, several of my friends asked me what I was going to wear because they couldn't imagine me dressed up. Dov said he'd never even seen me in a shirt with a collar and couldn't imagine me wearing one.

On the day of the interview, I dressed like it was a Tuesday morning in 2005. I wore black slacks, a brown button-down Hugo Boss shirt and $800 black John Varvatos boots. When one of my future bosses commented that I looked too fresh to have just arrived after a billion-hour flight, I knew I'd passed the dress test.

Now that I have the gig, I don't dress up every day, but I've yet to wear track pants, shorts or flip flops to work unless it's my once-a-month Sunday shift when there is no one there to see (and judge) me. I do miss Casual Weekend Jeremy, though, especially since he once again only surfaces on weekends -- and sadly, not always to great reviews.

You'd think Casual Weekend Jeremy would be a smash in Australia, a land where board shorts and Havaianas rule, but I may have miscalculated Aussies...we all may have miscalculated Aussies. They have a worldwide reputation for being so laid back, and in some ways they are, but there's another side, one that's anything but easy.

I find that as a general rule, they're cool, calm and collected mostly in presentation. Truth is, I've never lived in a more micro-managed society. It's in the strict adherence to rental rules, the unyielding customer service, the lockout laws and the dress codes. Yes, dress codes. I never had an issue with them until I moved to Australia, and Casual Weekend Jeremy was just as under-dressed in Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Cape Town and everywhere else I've been since I left New York City.

To date, I've been denied entry into three nightspots down under for not dressing up to sartorial code -- one in Melbourne and two in Sydney -- and they weren't fancy blazers-required establishments. Wearing running shoes on a Saturday night in Melbourne and Havaianas on two separate Friday nights in Sydney led to my being turned away from places with dirty sticky floors where people who looked far worse for wear than I did were being admitted.

Several months ago, my friends and I couldn't have lunch at one of my favorite places on St. Kilda Beach in Melbourne because, according to the host, who could have used with a bit of grooming, my shorts could pass for gym wear. Never mind that it was a blistering summer day, and the restaurant was right on the beach. Was I expected to show up red-carpet ready?

Things might be about to get worse. I recently read that Qantas Airlines will be imposing a strict dress code in its airport lounges because, well, looking good is apparently more important than feeling good during a billion-hour flight. Considering those micro-managing Aussie tendencies, I wonder how long it will be before the new requirements extend to long- and short-haul Qantas flights.

The writer of the pro-Qantas dress code editorial was thrilled by this development because "Thongs, bad shorts, trackies and sloppy singlets fill up terminals and airport lounges to the point where we're seeing better-dressed bodies on bus and train trips." Not in the airports that I frequent, and even if they did, bad body odor and terrible breath are far more frightening to this frequent flier than what that writer perceives as lapses in good fashion sense.

Telling fliers that they can't be as comfortable as they want to be in-flight is as unfair as twentysomething me expecting my boyfriends to look sharp from head to toe 24/7. I love flying Qantas, and I hope the dress code backfires because I want to continue to love flying Qantas.

Clothes don't necessarily make the man nor do they define travelers, who can be annoying and revolting dressed to the nines. A friend of mine recent posted a Facebook status update where he slammed the woman sitting beside him on a flight for snoring, farting and picking "parts of her body that ended up in her mouth." Yuck. I thought he was a bit harsh, but to his credit, he never mentioned what she was wearing.

On a packed airplane with crying babies, too little legroom, lousy in-flight entertainment, farting, snoring and picking, board shorts and exposed toes really should be the least of everyone's problems.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A New Travel Standard: Great City Or Great Scenery?

Last night at dinner, someone offered the best description of Sydney that I've heard yet…and he did it in less than three words:

"There are great cities, and there's great scenery. Sydney is great scenery."

Bingo! He nailed it.

Sydney is undeniably beautiful -- a great beauty, in fact. I'll give it that. But as it is with many great beauties of the human variety, for me, the appeal is largely superficial. Continuing with the human analogy, Sydney's crown jewel, the stately Opera House is like Cindy Crawford's mole, a defining and distinguishing feature and quite possibly the reason the entire world cares about Sydney at all.

But unlike the rest of Cindy's face, the rest of Sydney is dominated by indistinguishable beauty marks that could have been plucked from numerous other sources. It's a point I made when I first visited in 2010 and one that my brother Alexi, a first-time Sydney visitor as of yesterday, echoed. There's the water-land combo (with a narrow body of water splitting the city and flowing out into a larger one) that reminds me of Istanbul. A touch of San Telmo here and a dash of Recoleta and Palermo there occasionally puts me in a Buenos Aires state of mind.

Then there are shades of Florence (after dark, on Glenmore Road, right outside the Royal Hotel Paddington), hints of New York City (various spots around King's Cross), and even a reminder of Kissimmee, Florida, in the 1970s (on Oxford Street, as you walk toward Paddington). That's only the beginning of the deja vu feelings that Sydney gives me.

One city that Sydney doesn't remind me of at all is Cape Town, despite the fact that both are coastal and curvy. (Getting to the top of Sydney's relatively modest inclines doesn't offer nearly the same payoff that Cape Town climbs do.) Frankly, Cape Town has spoiled and ruined me forever, so it's not Sydney's fault that I'm not exactly blown away by it looks. Cape Town is by far the most visually arresting place I've ever seen, with a dramatic coastline that makes me chuckle at all of the hoopla surrounding Sydney's "amazing" beaches, a buzz that I think might be more about the surfers than the surf and sand. (Yes, when it comes to the visual human element, Sydney excels.)

If I were the type of person who was strictly looking for looks (and one who'd never seen Cape Town, the Miss Universe of gorgeous cities), Sydney, despite its dearth of originality, would be it for me. But I need more...more depth. That's where great cities come in. What makes a city great? It's a perfect storm of culture, customs, climate (as in both meteorology and temperament), architecture, nature, geology, people, history, food, nightlife, accessibility (either via excellent public transport, taxis that are both bountiful and inexpensive, or scenic and/or easy walks), gay friendly, running routes, and, yes, looks.

It doesn't have to be a conventional beauty. In fact, many great cities aren't traditionally gorgeous. But there's got to be something about it that makes it tough to pull my eyes away.

The distinction between great cities and great beauties got me thinking about the places I've spent time in since I became an expat and started looking at cities in deeper terms than "Do I like it or not?" That, in turn, got me to organizing the ones I've liked into categories: Great scenery and great cities, as well as a third, cool places, an honorable-mention tag for the ones that aren't all about looks or greatness but have a certain amount of one or the other or both.

Here's how they all stack up.


Bali, Indonesia: The beaches are interchangeable with countless others elsewhere, but Ubud up above them is everything.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (left): For architecture that looks like the 1980s vision of the future and the nearby Arabian Desert.

Cusco, Peru: At the time of my visit (2008), it was the most foreign-looking place I'd ever seen.

Florence, Italy: Despite its cultural and visual significance, it's too much about tourism.

Krabi, Thailand: My favorite place in the southern part of the country.

Koh Chang, Thailand: Hiking through the rainforest was one of the scariest, most amazing things I've ever done.

Simon's Town, South Africa: For the penguins and the colonial New England-town vibe.

Stellenbosch, South Africa: I swear, wine tastes better with such a stunning backdrop.

Swakopmund, Namibia: Nondescript Windhoek aside, Namibia is pretty much all about great scenery.

Sydney, Australia: See above.

Tel Aviv, Israel (as well as Akko, Haifa and pretty much everything in the country): Take away the beach and the white-on-white architecture of TLV, and you're left with great nightlife, which just isn't enough for a middle-aged guy like me.

Venice, Italy: See Florence above.


Bangkok, Thailand (right): If only we could just get God to turn down the thermostat there.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Despite my love/hate for BA, it's the very definition of "great city."

Cape Town, South Africa: Particularly if you're white and you have nothing against black people…or subtle and not-so-subtle racism.

Istanbul, Turkey: The aforementioned water-land combo, its curves and its geographical, architectural and cultural blend of Europe and Asia cannot be topped.

Jerusalem, Israel: If it had a gay scene and was less devoted to the Sabbath, it would be one of the greatest places on earth.

London, England: Look, 24/7 sunshine is not everyone's idea of paradise.

Melbourne, Australia: It hasn't been named the world's most livable city by the Economist Intelligence Unit for four years running because it's merely an also-ran to Sydney.

New York City: Duh.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: I don't have to love it to recognize its greatness.

Rome, Italy: The greatest city in my favorite country.


Amman, Jordan (left)

Auckland, New Zealand

Berlin, Germany

Bethlehem, State of Palestine

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hamburg, Germany

Johannesburg, South Africa (It's one public-transportation overhaul/taxi-fare decrease away from greatness.)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Lima, Peru

Manila, Philippines

Milan, Italy

Nairobi, Kenya

Nazareth, Israel

Penang, Malaysia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phuket, Thailand

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Washington D.C.

THANKS, BUT NO THANKS: Abu Dhabi, UAEBogota, ColombiaCairns, AustraliaColonia, Uruguay; Dar es Salaam, TanzaniaEilat, Israel; Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamMendoza, ArgentinaSingapore; Vientiane, Laos; Warsaw, PolandWindhoek, Namibia; Zanzibar

Saturday, March 7, 2015

20 Randon Tweet-Sized Thoughts I Had While Listening to Madonna's "Rebel Heart"

1. Rebel Heart's all over the map stylistically and not nearly as much of a dance album as 1st single Living for Love would lead one to expect.

2. It's strange (and maybe unwise) that the pre-release promotion revolves around a '90s-style single that's so unrepresentative of the album.

3. I never imagined that my favorite thing about a Madonna single would ever be an Alicia Keys contribution: yep, the piano on Living for Love.

4. Introspective, navel-gazing, middle-aged Madonna is a bit of a snooze. She's best when she's being an "Unapologetic Bitch" and/or "Iconic."

5. Quieter songs like Devil Pray, HeartBreakCity and Messiah aren't repeat-worthy, but they have something largely absent from MDNA: melody.

6. Joan of Arc is the best of the slower songs, though OMD did far better by the title. It doesn't make me want to press skip...or repeat.

7. Madonna's rebel heart's in the right place, but there isn't much rebellion here. In fact, this may be her most mainstream music since Music.

8. No Madonna album would be complete without a little religion. Who else could make "genuflect" work in a pop song? Bitch, get off my pole!

9. Meta Madonna! This thing's loaded with references to her past work. I get the feeling she was also rooting for Birdman to win Best Picture.

10. If Veni Vidi Vici had appeared on Beyonce's next album, everyone would be calling it the best thing since sliced bread...or "XO." #NasIsGod

11. Speaking of Bey, did producer Kanye West make Madonna reference her in "Illuminati"? It's better than Beat Goes On, which isn't saying much.

12. Nas's blistering rap (and the irony of his closing rhyme "Madonna on track, Nas in the back") might be the best thing here. #BurnKelisBurn

13. Speaking of triple V, Madonna wasted two of her best new songs (that and Addicted) on the "deluxe" editions. She needs a stronger editor.

14. Nicki Minaj's cameo is the worst. Thanks to her, the final of Bitch I'm Madonna, like most of the others, isn't as good as the leaked one.

15. With contributions from Nicki, Nas, Mike Tyson, Alicia Keys and Kanye West, Rebel Heart is a lot blacker than the 2015 Oscars were. #Respect

16. Oh my God, I love the booming system on S.E.X., but what's with those callow lyrics? They sound like the heated rantings of, like, a virgin.

17. Addiction works for Madonna like religion. I'm Addicted was my MDNA favorite, and Addicted is a standout here. Sadly, it's a buried extra.

18. Madonna has never sounded better, which means her 56-year-old voice, like her body, is entering its prime. She's the Benjamin Button of pop.

19. Unconvinced? Listen to Ghosttown. It's hard to imagine Madonna singing the hell out of that song in her 20s the way she does now. #perfect

20. The frustrating thing is that the great album is somewhere in the mix between the official 14-track album and nine "deluxe" version songs.

If I were to create a four-star 12-track Rebel Heart, it would include these songs:

  1. Living for Love
  2. Unapologetic Bitch
  3. Bitch I'm Madonna
  4. Hold Tight
  5. Iconic
  6. Body Shop
  7. Holy Water
  8. Inside Out
  9. Veni Vidi Vici
  10. S.E.X.
  11. Beautiful Scars
  12. Addicted

Grindr During Sydney Mardi Gras Week Might Be the Funniest/Saddest Thing Ever!

Here's a question nobody in Sydney has bothered to ask me (and considering the rah-rah-up-with-Sydney attitude that prevails around here, nobody probably ever will): What's your least favorite thing about Sydney? least favorite thing about Sydney...Oh, that one's easy. I've been thinking for weeks now that it would have to be gay men on Grindr. No 2 on my most-hated-in-Sydney list: Gay men off Grindr. It's a jungle out here!

It would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than it is to have a normal conversation on Grindr in Sydney. I know. I've been trying for four months now with minimal success. (I recently had an enlightening chat with several straight female colleagues who revealed that the situation is similarly dire on hetero meet-market apps.)

Yeah yeah, I get it. Grindr is about hooking up. It sucks everywhere. True, but it's so much worse here than it is in any city I've been in since I first used it three years ago. There's something about Sydney that seems to bring out the horny unexpurgated beast in nearly everyone who logs on.

Though I've never used Grindr in New York City (or anywhere else in the U.S.), I've logged on in plenty of other major urban spreads -- Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Dubai, Berlin, Warsaw, Milan, Rome, Florence, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Aman, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Nairobi, and, of course, Melbourne -- so I can't blame it on the big city. Size matters...but then again, it doesn't.

The majority of guys I've encountered on Grindr outside of Sydney may have been after the very same thing as the ones here. Still, some of them were smart enough to avoid those Grindr cliches -- "Hung?", "Looking (for)?", "Horny?", "Into?", "Top?", "NSA", "Pics?" and "Fun?", the latter of which, curiously, doesn't seem to be so in here -- at least before asking my name, and they'd occasionally pretend to see me as a human being first and an appendage second...even after 3 am.

I don't think it has anything to do with the Aussie temperament. On Grindr in Sydney (and frequently off), visitors and expats are fairly interchangeable with guys who've lived here all their lives. There's something about this city that seems to turn perfectly lovely guys into douches, regardless of where they're from.

In Berlin I met an expat from Sydney on Grindr, and he took six hours to make a move. It was my favorite day of my entire month there, and I wonder if it ever would have happened had he found me on Grindr in his hometown. Another Grindr guy in Rome (a Roman) made his move after making me dinner. I couldn't imagine that ever happening in Sydney, a city where gay guys on and off Grindr seem to regard traditional dates as Hannah on Girls does:

"Who even goes on dates? It's like I'm fucking 45."

Well, I am, and I'd probably be more likely to make a human connection, or score a weekend date, in a sex club, or in a public park after midnight anywhere in the world, than I would on Grindr in Sydney. It's almost like there's an unspoken rule among gay Sydney-siders and Sydney visitors: Don't take names, and leave your decorum at the closet door.

I didn't think it could get any worse on Grindr until Mardi Gras week when horny tourists from all over the world descended upon Sydney and just let themselves go. A few of them offered me $$$ for the pleasure of my company (no response = no) and at least one requested a drug score, but I've built up enough of a tolerance for tackiness over the course of four months to LOL about it.

Even without those moneybag trolls, just scrolling a quarter of the way down my Grindr screen and reading the words beside some of the photos would have provided me with enough amusement to last all weekend. There were several times more profiles than usual with display text that included "bottom," "top," "hung," "XLG," "NSA," "wired", "fun," "sub," and some other words that I can't imagine anyone typing with a straight face.

I began to wonder if Grindr had morphed into Comedy Central. Surely these guys had to be kidding. It was like a parody of a tacky pick-up scene. Then something different caught my eye: One romantic fool looking "for LTR."

Poor guy. Guess who won't be getting lucky this weekend in Sydney.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Roxette Live!: 5 Pleasant Surprises at the Sydney Opera House

First, the bad news: One of those pleasant surprises wasn't the enduring power and glory of Marie Fredriksson's voice. Frankly, it's seen better decades. The brain tumor she suffered in 2002 has left the 56-year-old performer physically, vocally, permanently, altered.

My friend Dov, who scored our complimentary Roxette concert tickets, said she looks like Robyn's mom, and she's so Robyn's mom. That's actually a compliment to them both, and probably has more to do with the 21-year age gap between them and their shared hair color and Swedish heritage than Marie's medical history. The ripped jeans and trademark short, platinum coif are hardly mom-like, but in counterpointing the effects of time's passage, they also magnified them.

Marie, looking like she was itching to rock, spent the entire hour-plus show seated, and she sometimes struggled (and sadly, failed) to hit those stratospheric highs that she once effortlessly scaled. Usually, though, and to her credit, she didn't even try. Clearly she's mindful of her current limitations and has made her peace with it. It's not that she can no longer sing -- the vocal-and-piano-only segment was a concert highlight -- but her anthems for beautiful losers (always my favorite side of Roxette) would have to be completely stripped down in order to play to her current strengths and weaknesses.

Like, say, Marianne Faithfull, Marie's now a character singer, not the fierce wailing diva of decades past. That doesn't quite jibe with classic Roxette, which was always about pop bombast and show(wo)manship. No one would have blamed Marie had she chosen to retreat permanently offstage after the tumor, so her mere presence onstage beside her still-fit-at-56 musical partner Per Gessle is a testament to her undiminished resilience, and the crowd loved her for it.

Even seated, she remains the star of Roxette. Before the show, I was talking to someone who wasn't aware of her medical situation, and he said he couldn't wait to see her because she doesn't age. I'm glad I filled him in before he had to see her being helped onstage to the spot where she would remain perched for the entire show. I wonder how many casuals fans who hadn't kept up with Roxette since the '90s weren't expecting that.

Aging is tricky for any performer, but it can be even harder for a pop or rock star than it is for an actor/actress because those music genres, for the most part, revolve around youth. You can make it work in your 50s if, like, say, Madonna, the point is "Look how much I haven't aged," or if, like, say, Sade, your emphasis has always been on elegance, but Roxette can't make time seem irrelevant (a life-threatening illness can do that to a once age-defying star), and I can think of few '90s anthems as shamelessly and jubilantly youthful as "Joyride."

Shockingly, when the band arrived at "Joyride" near the end of the main set, it felt like 1991 all over again. I was enjoying myself too much to think, "I'm way too old for this…and so are they," which brings me to my first and perhaps biggest surprise of the night.

1. Roxette's back catalogue really holds up. Crash Boom Bang was one of my favorite pop albums of the '90s, a fact I'd nearly forgotten until the band offered the title track early in the show. In the '90s I would have paid to see them perform it front to back in concert. I probably still would.

2. Despite Marie's vocal limitations, Roxette still sounds as sharp as they once demanded we look. My last Australian concert was Soundgarden two years ago in Melbourne, and I spent much of it marveling at how well Chris Cornell had aged physically and vocally. While watching Roxette live, I marveled at how great the band still sounded. Well, I don't know how many of the the players were around for Roxette's '80s/'90s heyday, but they made me wish I'd bothered to check out Roxette live back then. It must have been one blazing show.

3. Roxette fans span multiple demographics. I was expecting to see a crowd of aging Gen Xers, but instead I got a perfect mix of gay and straight, male and female, twentysomething, thirtysomething, fortysomething and above, and at least one baby.

4. Roxette fans are ride or die. I hear there was a lot of crying up front over Marie, but from where I was sitting, the audience didn't even seem to notice that she'd changed at all...or that it wasn't 1990. They were too busy singing every lyric, something that wasn't lost on Per and Marie, who let the crowd do the heavy lifting on vocals for large chunks of fan favorites "It Must Have Been Love" and "Every Time You Leave (Fading Like a Flower)."

5. I'd be up for another spin on Roxette's joyride. Maybe it was the setting -- every pop concert in Sydney should be on the steps of the Opera House forecourt -- but if Roxette was coming back next week, I'd do it all over again.

My 3 Favorite Roxette Songs on the Sydney Set List

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

10 Great '80s Minneapolis-Sound Songs That Weren't by Prince

Nearly one year after his death, Casey Kasem continues to change my life. His January 18, 1986 American Top 40 countdown recently reminded me that Minneapolis pop-soul in the '80s wasn't just about Prince, though much of it was somehow connected to him. They didn't call him His Purple Majesty (or His Royal Badness) for nothing, you know. Here is some of the best of the rest.

"Ice Cream Castles" The Time...My love for this Prince off-shoot band actually predates the first blush of my 1999-inspired Prince appreciation. Though it bloomed with The Time's 1982 R&B hit "Cool," the title song from the group's 1984 album, an opening track that would be overshadowed by the crossover hits "Jungle Love" and "The Bird," might be, for me, the first definitive non-Prince Minneapolis-sound song.

"Pretty Mess" Vanity...From the former "Nasty Girl" Vanity 6 frontwoman and quite possibly the nastiest thing I remember hearing in the '80s -- and I loved every filthy second of it!

"Can You Help Me" Jesse Johnson...He was the member of The Time who went on to the biggest and best things as a performer, but unfortunately, that didn't stop Jesse and his compact string of R&B hits from being more or less forgotten today.

"The Screams of Passion" The Family...After that Meg Ryan scene in When Harry Met Sally..., the biggest orgasm of the decade!

"Everybody Dance" Ta Mara and the Seen...Once completely forgotten, now permanently etched in my memory (and in heavy rotation on my iPod), thanks to its No. 24 peak position on Casey Kasem's aforementioned January 18, 1986 countdown.

"A Love Bizarre" Sheila E....Prince appeared on this track (which was perched at No. 31 for the American Top 40 week ending January 18, 1986), but it's credited solely to Sheila. Sadly, she's perhaps best known as the "one-hit wonder" singer of "A Glamorous Life," although this far superior single made it all the way to No. 11.

"Still a Thrill" Jody Watley ...As far as I know, Jody never had anything to do with Prince, but her second solo single was co-produced by Andre Cymone, who was once Prince's bassist, and David Z, whose brother Bobby was a drummer in The Revolution. It remains Jody's finest moment.

"Fake" Alexander O'Neal..."Can I get some 'Nasty'" bass?" I love the opening line's homage to Janet Jackson's "Nasty," also produced by ex-The Time members Jimmy "Jam" Harris and Terry Lewis. They produced all of the Janet's '80s hits that mattered as well as The Human League's "Human," but for me, this was their first pop-soul masterpiece.

"101" Sheena Easton..."Sugar Walls" (produced by Alexander Nevermind, aka Prince), "U Got the Look" (Sheena's Top 2 duet with Prince), and "The Arms of Orion" (their Batman soundtrack duet) were all bigger hits, but Sheena's haunting/defiant/tear-jerking vocals on this shamefully overlooked 1989 single, written by Joey Coco (aka Prince) and produced by Prince under his own name, make this their best joint effort.

"Love Song" Madonna and Prince...OK, so it wasn't not by Prince, but since it appeared on Madonna's 1989 Like a Prayer album, it's technically a Madonna song. The dual meaning of the closing line, "This is not a love song that I want to sing," still makes me green with literary envy.

3 Honourable '90s Mentions

"Martika's Kitchen" Martika..."Love...Thy Will Be Done" was their Top 10 collaboration from Martika's album No. 2, but the title track was really the ripest fruit of their joint labour.

"I Hear Your Voice" Patti LaBelle...A vast improvement over 1989's "Yo Mister," which was notable mostly because nobody ever expected to find Patti and Prince in the same room, much less on the same single. But this 1991 Burnin' track made me wish they'd record an entire album together.

"Why Can't I Love You?" Kate Bush...Released on Kate's 1993 The Red Shoes album, this cut was criticized by one reviewer for not being "Kate Bush." I saw where he was coming from, but that's precisely what made it such a great, daring musical move.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

You Must Love Sydney!

By now I've been a Sydney-sider long enough to know that whenever anyone who has lived here longer than six months asks what I think of the city, it's just a formality, a trick question. I answer at my own risk.

It's like "How are you?" -- or "How are you going?" in Aussie-speak. It's a rhetorical question. The answer is assumed before it's even asked. Of course, you must love Sydney!

With that in mind, I proceeded with caution when the American expat from Chicago asked me the expected question. It wasn't just that I knew exactly how he would react to my response. His forced confidence (he was like the hammiest actor chomping up the scenery) and smug demeanor made it feel more like a challenge than a conversation starter. He seemed almost to be daring me not to say the right thing about hallowed Sydney.

He wore his seven years here like a badge of honor, and just in case I didn't notice it dangling from the chest I half expected him to start pounding, he announced "I'm even an Australian citizen now" in a perfect Aussie accent. He looked at me as if he was expecting a standing ovation. He was, after all, a black American who had made it in Oz -- if obtaining citizenship and the ability to mimic the local dialect is your idea of "made it."

I can't say I was thoroughly unimpressed. I take note whenever any fish out water survives in new rarefied air. As an American expat for going on nine years, I respect the art of assimilation…and it is high art indeed. Kudos, I thought, as I started to answer his question…cautiously.

"You know, I understand Sydney's appeal. It's a beautiful place, but I just don't love it as much as everyone else seems to."

I winced, waiting for the whip to lash me across the face. The smack didn't come, but his response was just what I'd expected it to be, for I've been hearing it regularly since my first trip to Sydney five years ago.

"Give it time. Sydney takes a while to really appreciate, but once you do, you'll be totally in love with it."

And thus began the latest testimonial about the wonders of Sydney, how the city's appeal takes you by surprise and once it grabs you refuses to let you go.

I listened to his monologue and when he was finished, I just stared at him. I really didn't have anything to say. Obviously, there had been only one right answer to his question. There's always only one right answer to that question.

Then he asked another one.

"So what don't you like about Sydney then?"

I didn't want to go there yet again. I was over spinning my own broken record with the repetitive beat, the one where I go on about how Melbourne is warmer (the people, not the climate), more welcoming, more rock& roll, how the gay men in Sydney are flaky and cliquey, how Sydney promises endless sunshine and then fails to deliver it, how life is not a beach. I just couldn't bear to hear myself singing that same old song one more time.

Furthermore, his Sydney sermon had been such a turn off. He was pontificating in a loud, forceful manner that made me feel like he wanted me to justify my position, not explain it. I had tuned him out halfway through, hoping he would eventually lose interest in me and let me enjoy my quiet time in the park in peace. I did catch his explanation that whenever he really loves a city, like his hometown of Chicago, he wants everyone to feel the same way about it, so he might go overboard in his zeal to sell the place.

His explanation made sense, but I wondered why it seems to apply to everyone in Sydney who isn't from Melbourne. Sydney-siders are constantly telling me how I should feel about Sydney or how I will feel about Sydney after a few more months here. It's not like I hate the place. There are things that I really like about Sydney. But we just don't click the way Melbourne and I do. What's the big deal?

There are always going to be different opinions of any city, and every city will have its non-fans, regardless of how much time they spend there or how many friends they make there. Why should Sydney be exempt from that? It might partly be the constant pressure to love it that keeps me from falling in love with it.

My relocation here was strictly business. I came here for work, and one can be hired in far worse places. Once or twice I've felt like I was on the brink of getting it, but those were fleeting moments. Full appreciation has remained just out of reach. Shouldn't loving a great city be easier? I know that if I stick around, I'll eventually cultivate a little community here and become part of Sydney's social fabric, but there's more to city love than assimilation.

I may have said some of this, but mostly I sat there in silence, hearing him, but after a while, not really listening anymore. Eventually he got the message and left me in peace.

As he walked away, I wondered why Sydney-siders are so precious about their turf. In all the places I've lived, I've never seen anything like it. It's more than local pride. It's almost like some kind of manifest destiny to be able to call Sydney the world's most livable city (an honor that's already gone to Melbourne, which might actually partly explain the Sydney oversell).

Why else would it always be necessary to defend its honor? A lot of people adore Sydney -- most every non-Melburnian I know who has been here does. At least three of my former bosses -- two American, one British -- have lived here, and all of them rave about it to this day. Sydney is not wanting for admirers. So what difference does it make if little old me is not part of the breathless fan club?

There's a lot that I miss about New York City, but right now, I'm really homesick for the take-it-or-leave-it New Yorker attitude. No New Yorker would ever waste their time trying to explain why anyone should love New York. Either you do or you don't, and if you don't, well the exit door is always open.

Oh, there's no place like home.