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. 


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.


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



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.

Monday, February 8, 2016

More burning questions: Random things I'm trying to figure out today

If predictive text can guess what I'm going to type next, then why does it keep mangling the words I've already typed? If I wanted to say "around," would I type "round"…or "wombat"?

Why would someone bring a nine-month-old baby on a wine-tasting excursion? I let the tot-toting couple in my Hunter Valley tour group off the hook this past weekend, though, because they were lesbians and the baby was so damn adorable. But still, why?

Who was Michael Fassbender really playing in Steve Jobs? I loved the performance and found him/it a lot more entertaining than Leonard DiCaprio in The Revenant, but I don't recall the real Steve Jobs being so urbane and sexy…at least not according to his public persona.

Speaking of Oscar-nominated performances, what did Rachel McAdams do in Spotlight to score that best supporting actress nod? It was a solid movie that I think suffered from not having a central point of view. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and especially Liev Schreiber were all great, but did any of them impact the film the way Sylvester Stallone did Creed, or Tom Hardy did The Revenant, or Mark Rylance did Bridge of Spies, or Jacob Tremblay did Room? Oh, right - Jacob wasn't even nominated for best supporting actor (though he's more lead in Room than Best Actress frontrunner Brie Larson). Hey, Academy, what's up with that? #OscarsSoAgeistAgainstKids?

Why are gay men so desperate for ego boosts yet so terrified/turned off when they get them?

Why do the coolest/hottest guys online always seem to live 50 kilometers or more away? Do they seem more perfect because they're less accessible? Are they only acting so dateable because they know there's safety in distance? Or are we simply always living in the wrong city?

Why do Australians get so excited when an Australian does something "newsworthy" in Australia? Doesn't that sort of thing happen every day? You'd think we were living in some foreign country where you could go months without hearing a single "Hey mate."

Why doesn't Newcastle, NSW, get more love from Aussies other than the ones who live there? And why did it remind me so much of Lima when I visited for the first time this past weekend? Did it have anything to do the city's underrated status and its coastal cliffs? Walking along Newcastle Beach, if I had tilted my head just so, I would have sworn I was in Miraflores. Am I alone here?

Newcastle

Lima

Why is it "hit and run" and not "hit and drive"?

What's with the continued Botox-shaming? Everybody does it these days, and are the results really any more inauthentic than those offered by fake tanning and coloring one's hair?

Why isn't everyone else listening to "Consideration," the opening track on Rihanna's Anti, on repeat?

What's the big deal about Beyonce's "Formation"? I mean, what's her point? Is she saying be black and be proud...if you're gorgeous and you've got "paper"? Hasn't she been singing that song for years? #Overrated

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In defense of the BET Awards: Is celebrating women in rock anti-male?

I've had it. I'm done. Let's move it along, please.

If I read one more comment by one more disingenuously slighted white person using the BET Awards as ammunition against the #OscarsSoWhite call for diversity and inclusion in Hollywood…

Let's just say, it's time to give that particular one a rest. Trying to turn the tables is futile. When it comes to the thorny race issue, the majority generally wields the power. That's why no one has ever been able to coin an anti-white slam as brutally effective as the N word (and no, neither "honkey" nor "cracker" comes close). And to those tit-for-tatters who carp, "Well, black people use the N word, too," the danger isn't in the word itself but in the hatred it represents and the painful history it recalls when uttered by anyone of the race that coined it,

Those shouting "Reverse racism!" over the Oscars boycott and the BET Awards can continue to do so if it helps them feel less guilty about being white and privileged, but the slights they allegedly suffer at the hands of black people don't begin to approach the level of disgrace and injustice blacks in America experience every day.

Personally, I consider the Oscars boycott to be ridiculously self-serving and misguided, but that's beside the point. The Oscars are beside the point. The point is a movie industry that's too narrow in its scope to spawn diversity during awards season. The un-diverse Oscar nominations and it lack of acting nominees of color are but a symptom of a much larger problem: a Hollywood movie industry that reflects the ongoing dismissal of minorities in the U.S. and the systemic white-is-better racism that's plagued the country since its inception.

Why do we need the BET Awards, and why aren't white performers invited to the party?

That's like asking why Adele's "Hello" isn't eligible for a Latin Grammy, even if Latinos love the song. Just as the Latin Grammys were created because a specific ethnic demographic wasn't being properly represented at the regular Grammys, the BET Awards were created to recognize talent that was also being overlooked at mainstream awards shows.

How is celebrating yourself because no one else will racist against the ruling privileged majority? (A similar case can be made for Black History Month, another target of some privileged whites who have likely never heard of the Harlem Renaissance or any other aspect of black history that, unlike slavery, doesn't revolve around whites and therefore isn't taught in school.)

Should we close down all of the gay bars and clubs because they may be construed as being heterophobic? Should we cancel everything that celebrates women because they might be interpreted as being man-hating? It's already a man's man's man's man's (Western) world - one in which straight white guys have a clear advantage. Forgive me if I don't cry for them because they occasionally feel left out.

White (male) power is a fact of life that cannot be refuted by the tired reverse-racism argument that too many white people, including an out-of-touch Charlotte Rampling, are grasping at to make those pesky black folks go away…or at least shut the hell up.

But getting back to the BET Awards, Black Entertainment Television put the BET in the BET Awards. The network came to prominence during a decade in which The Cosby Show was pretty much the only mainstream representation of black culture. All of the progress blacks had made in the '70s toward something resembling diversity had fallen by the wayside.

In music, MTV was created mainly as a vehicle for white artists, as there was an unofficial decree that videos by black artists were not to be played because even if audiences wanted to hear their music, they didn't want to actually see them. At least that was the ruling assumption. Things only changed when Michael Jackson's Thriller came along. The future self-proclaimed King of Pop, the world's biggest artist at the time, was able to reverse MTV's racist decree only because his record label threatened to pull all of its white artists from the network if it didn't play the videos by its top star.

Even after Michael Jackson became a video icon, all but the biggest crossover black artists were still largely ignored by MTV and Top 40 radio. If it hadn't been for BET's Video Soul and its host Donnie Simpson in the '80s, I might have entirely missed the incredible music being recorded by non-crossover artists like Stephanie Mills, Angela Winbush, and Miki Howard. I owe the balanced musical diet of my formative years as much to BET as to MTV's 120 Minutes and Bob Kingsley's Great American Country Countdown.


Meanwhile, as I've already mentioned, things had gone from decent to worse on TV in the '80s. Good Times, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Diff'rent Strokes, and What's Happening!! had all left the air. And even during the peak era of Norman Lear's lower-case black entertainment television sitcoms, Isabel Sanford, who played Louise "Weezy" Jefferson on The Jeffersons, was the only black performer ever to win an Emmy for best leading actress in a comedy series. To date, she remains the only black women to ever take this prize.


By the time The Cosby Show ended its run in 1992, the white status quo had a solid grip on the three major networks. If you wanted to see shows featuring blacks in prominent roles, you had to go to Fox…or BET. Black performers were largely absent from the must-see TV of the '90s and the early '00s. Friends, Seinfeld, Will and Grace, Mad About You, and Sex and the City, like Girls today, were all set in a New York City that was nearly 100 percent white.

Melrose Place, another '90s cultural phenomenon, had a token black regular for several seasons who was relegated to minor "black"-themed storylines until she was bounced completely. For black performers and people who wanted to see them in substantial roles, Fox and BET (and later UPN) were pretty much the only options.

The TV industry has come a long way since then, but in some ways, the movie industry still feels like TV in the '90s. I don't blame the Oscars for the dearth of black nominees, or nominees of color. I blame a movie industry that erroneously believes that the white majority isn't interested in black stories, or in diversity. It's actually less about racism than it is about ignorance.

Just one look at the music charts or the success of series like Empire, Black-ish, How to Get Away with Murder, and Scandal shows that audiences are a lot more sophisticated than movie executives believe them to be. To paraphrase a Field of Dreams line spoken by a highly esteemed black actor, James Earl Jones, if you create diverse entertainment, they will come.

And they have, in TV and in music. The Grammys are fairly solid as far as black-and-white diversity goes, and the Emmys are still catching up. Last year Viola Davis became the first black actress to score an Emmy for a leading role in a dramatic TV series. It was a win-win, but it took us decades to get there. Halle Berry became the first black woman to win an Oscar for a leading role 15 years ago, and we're still waiting for the second.

So despite the inroads made on TV and the progress made by the Oscars before the recent reversal, the BET Awards remain as valid and important as ever. They were created to recognize talent that would go largely unrewarded elsewhere, talent that continues to go largely unrewarded elsewhere. We need them as much now as we did 10, 20, 30 years ago.

No, whites are generally ineligible because it's Black Entertainment Television. But so what? They already get plenty of recognition everywhere else from voting bodies that present "white" awards in everything but name. Should blacks stop launching their own shows and their own movies and remain at the mercy of an industry run by white men? Should we stop creating our own opportunities as well as our own forums for recognition?

I can understand the frustration of white people who cringe whenever race comes up. It's not a pleasant topic, but ignoring it or trying to turn the tables on minorities isn't going to lead to progress.

To those who insist on closing their ears and their minds, I offer a suggestion: Rather than griping about the incessant "whining" of black people and making our experience all about yourselves, why not try to listen to us? You just might learn something. And knowledge is power…for everyone.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Happy 70th, Dolly Parton: 7 of my favorite songs by the birthday girl

If David Bowie was my best interview ever, Dolly Parton may have been my most embarrassing. It happened years ago, and it was over the phone. To break the ice, I pulled an old trick that always seemed to fly: I let her know that I was more than just another journalist. My appreciation of her work went beyond the obvious hits.

I told her three of my favorite Dolly Parton songs, ones that would be relatively obscure to all but true country-music fans, expecting a gold star. Her response: "Oh, you just happened to pick three that I didn't write!"

Oops!

She was just joking, of course, but as a singer-songwriter, she had to be a little slighted by my oversight. Well, I figured that she'd made enough money for writing "I Will Always Love You" (thank you, Whitney). Did it matter that neither that nor "9 to 5" nor "Jolene" (the latter two also self-penned) didn't get an honorable mention during our interview?

Here are the three that did and four more: my seven favorite Dolly Parton singles in honor of her 70th birthday today (January 19), one for each decade.

"Heartbreaker" (written by Carole Bayer Sager and David Wolfert) The beginning of my Dolly Parton appreciation era (1978 to 1982), this marked the first time I heard a Parton song on the radio and knew exactly who was singing it.


"Starting Over Again" (written by Donna Summer and Bruce Sudano) I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that this 1980 country No. 1 was recorded in December of 1979, at the end of the year of Summer's disco peak. It's the first of the three songs that made Parton mock mad at me.


"Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You" (written by Patricia Rose Sebert and Hugh Moffatt) Sebert is also known as the mother of pop singer Ke$ha. Does Sebert's little girl still use the $? This is the second of the songs I name-dropped during my Parton interview.


"But You Know I Love You" (written by Mike Settle) Fun fact: This was originally a Top 20 pop single by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. Rogers, of course, would later duet with Parton on one of her biggest hits, "Islands in the Stream." This was the final song I mentioned to her during our interview.


"The House of the Rising Sun" (traditional) I know this is probably sacrilege, but I much prefer Parton's overhaul of the roots classic to the version that The Animals took to No. 1 in 1964. I'm clearly in the minority: It was one of Parton's few heyday singles that didn't make the country Top 10, conking out at No. 14.


"Single Women" (written by Michael O'Donoghue) I remember being scandalized by the line "Oh, what's the matter, are you gay?" as it was climbing to No. 8 on Billboard's country singles chart. Years later, a Katy Perry lookalike in Bangkok would ask me pretty much the same thing.


"Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" (written by Dolly Parton) Probably my all-time favorite Parton song, written by the woman herself. It's a precursor to The Grass Is Blue, her 1999 bluegrass album and her creative zenith. I don't know why I didn't mention it during our interview. Sorry, Dolly...and happy birthday!


Friday, January 15, 2016

10 random musings on the Oscar nominations

1. Did the Academy figure there are so many black actors and actresses kicking ass on TV right now that they could afford to ignore them all again this year? Or is it that there was no major "black" film that ticked the make-guilty-white-liberals-feel-better-about-themselves-for-watching box? Or is it the fact that Hollywood still thinks storylines like the ones in Room, The Big Short, or The Martian are only believable if they involve characters played by white actors? Newsflash, Academy: There is more to being black than suffering.

2. Two of the Best Actress nominees - Brie Larson and Jennifer Lawrence - are nominated for Joy. Not the film (that honor has been bestowed solely upon J-Law) but the character. Like the role that earned 25-year-old Lawrence her fourth nomination, 26-year-old Larson's Room character is named Joy. Oh, um, joy.

3. Kate Winslet scored her seventh nomination (Best Supporting Actress for Jobs) on the same day that Alan Rickman, her romantic interest in the film for which she earned her first one (1995's Sense and Sensibility), died. Also nominated: the guy who played her romantic interest in the film for which she won nod No. 2 (her Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio - of course - who is a fifth-time nominee for The Revenant).

4. Speaking of The Revenant, the movie's Best Supporting Actor nominee, Tom Hardy, appeared in one other Best Picture nominee, Mad Max: Fury Road.

5. With his Best Supporting Actor nomination for Creed, Sylvester Stallone has now been cited twice for playing the character of Rocky Balboa. He was previously a Best Actor contender for playing Balboa in 1976's Best Picture winner Rocky.

6. Three of the Best Actress nominees - Lawrence, Larson, and Brooklyn's Saoirse Ronan, 21 - are in their twenties. That's three times as many twentysomething nominees as there are in all the other acting categories combined.

7. Is third-time Best Supporting Actor nominee Mark Ruffalo (for Spotlight) en route to becoming Oscar's male Thelma Ritter, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress six times without ever winning? With Stallone and Bridge of Spies' Mark Rylance in the running, he sort of doesn't stand a chance.

8. Every Best Actress contender is nominated for a film with only one word in the title. Meanwhile, both Lawrence and Carol's Cate Blanchett are nominated for playing the titular character, as are two of the Best Actor candidates (Trumbo's Bryan Cranston and Jobs' Michael Fassbender), whose films are both titled after their real-life characters' surnames.

9. At this point, I'd say Best Actor is the only slam dunk. It's DiCaprio's to lose. Best Actress will likely go to Larson, though Ronan and Blanchett remain strong contenders. My gut tells me Stallone will get his lifetime achievement award, but if I were Sly, I wouldn't count out Rylance or Hardy. Best Supporting Actress will probably end up being Mara's, but The Danish Girl's Alicia Vikander is some powerful competition. And Picture and Director are two-horse races, featuring The Revenant vs. Mad Max and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu vs. George Miller. I suspect the Academy will choose a The Revenant/Miller combo.

10. If Carol's Rooney Mara wins Best Supporting Actress (and I'd say the odds are in her favor, unless Winslet edges her out or Vikander pulls an upset), will she finally smile?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Random thoughts on Room

What a strange little movie Room turned out to be. While I was watching it last night, I kept thinking: This is pretty good, but it's not quite the masterpiece that the breathlessly gushing critics had led me to believe it would be. Frankly, as much as I admired the artistry of Room, I had a much more enjoyable experience watching Brooklyn the night before.

Then something unexpected happened. I went to bed and spent most of my sleeping hours dreaming about Room. Clearly the movie affected me more deeply than I had realized. If it managed to penetrate my subconscious to such a degree that it dominated my unconsciousness (if only for one night), did that make it a masterpiece?

I'm not sure, but it certainly gave me a lot to think about. Among my still-evolving thoughts on Room:

1) I've seen similar storylines play out in documentaries on the Crime & Investigation Network: Crazy guy keeps young woman locked up in a dungeon for years. But C&I always seems to tell those stories from the cat-and-mouse point of view of law enforcement vs. the criminal, leaving it up to your imagination to re-create the experience of the kidnapping victim.

Room tells the story from the other side, and it's a harrowing tale, less because of the squalor of the physical prison and the lunatic warden than the mental torture they impose. What thoughts must crawl through the mind of someone stuck staring at the same four walls (and tiny skylight) for years on end. Room nails the psychological drama of such an unimaginable predicament, but no, it's not an enjoyable watch.

2) Brie Larson is solid as Joy. (Yes, her character shares a name with the titular character of Jennifer Lawrence's latest Oscar hopeful, the significance of which will become apparent in the next paragraph.) I can't argue with her Golden Globe win this week. Is it an Oscar-caliber performance? I'm not so sure. It's not as if she defines the role in such a way that I can't picture anyone else pulling it off.

In fact, throughout I kept thinking about Jennifer Lawrence. She and Brie are around the same age, and they resemble each other slightly. But my thoughts of Jennifer went beyond the similarities between the two mid-twentysomething ingenues. Room is the kind of dark, edgy fare that Winter's Bone made me believe would become Jennifer's specialty. Then she got sidetracked by The Hunger Games and those self-conscious David O. Russell dramedies. Too bad. Had she been cast in Brie's Room role, her name would be as good as engraved on that Best Actress Oscar for playing a completely different Joy than the one she played in Joy.

3) Solid as Bree is, it's all about the boy who plays Joy's five-year-old son Jack. Jacob Tremblay is a true find. Although he's nine now, he makes a perfect precocious five-year-old, the kind you want to bundle up and cradle. But he's more than just an adorable new face. He pretty much carries the movie on his tiny shoulders. Room is really Jack's story, played mostly from his point of view. I started the film in Joy's head, but I spent most of it in Jack's.

4) In some ways, Room is turning out to be this year's Boyhood: Young actor carries the weight of the movie, and the actress playing his mother gets most of the credit. Sure, Brie's leading role is much larger than the supporting one that won Patricia Arquette an Oscar for Boyhood, but while I wonder what J-Law would have done with this Joy, I'm not sure if Room would have resonated with me had anyone but Jacob been cast as Jack.

It's not just his expressive eyes but the way he handles the dialogue and physical sequences that has me seriously wondering what else he can do. It's the best child performance I've seen since Quvenzhan√© Wallis' Best Actress-nominated one in Beasts of the Southern Wild. She deserved better than an Annie remake as a high-profile follow-up. Let's hope little Jacob gets it.

5) It's so nice to see Joan Allen back onscreen. I wish the movie paid a bit more attention to the mother-daughter relationship between Joan's and Brie's characters. There's a pivotal scene that hints at a rich backstory. None of that past plays out on screen, but what Joan does with the little she's given - her uncomfortable restraint, the way she tiptoes around her daughter, around everyone - made me want to know so much more about her.

6) From a narrative standpoint, my favorite thing about the movie is that the characters don't turn out to be what you expect at all. The build-up to the second half left me expecting one thing, but what plays out onscreen is entirely different. Is it their individual relationships with their mothers or innate characteristics that lead Joy and Jack down divergent paths in this movie about maternal love? Maybe I'll figure that one out tonight in my dreams.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

11 insanely popular things in entertainment right now that I'm just not loving

I stand corrected on costume parties, drinking white wine at home alone, and "The Boys Are Back in Town," the joys of which I've discovered in the past 12 months after years of indifference. But when it comes to populist entertainment, there's still plenty that I'm not feeling.

Star Wars I watched the original of the series on HBO several years after its 1977 debut, and it bored me. I saw The Return of the Jedi in the cinema in 1983, and while I didn't hate it, I wasn't exactly dying for more. But "The Force" keeps coming back against my will. Aside from the coverage in which I was forced to immerse myself at work last week, I haven't given the series another minute of my time in 32 years. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher look pretty good, though.

Sequels to sequels I enjoyed Rambo, Rocky, Indiana Jones and Star Trek as much as the next kid in the '80s, but somewhere around adulthood, I outgrew "To be continued…and continued…" on the big screen. To date, I haven't seen a single entry in any of the big blockbuster series of this millennium -- Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger GamesTwilight -- and I don't feel like I've missed a thing.

Superhero movies that don't star Michael Keaton ...which is weird because I love a man in tights who can save the day. Maybe it's the sequel thing that turns me off.

Animated movies I was never really into Saturday-morning cartoons, and I just don't "get" The Simpsons. But I do love Disney's classics and the Peanuts gang, and I could spend all day watching marathons of The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Family Guy. Back in the '90s when we got one new Disney animated feature a year and the occasional Toy Story, I had a passing interest in them. But now that they're commonplace enough to be interchangeable, I'll always rather watch something else.

Taylor Swift I object to her phoniness, her string of celebrity boyfriends, her collecting celebrity BFFs, and her fake-shock posing, but mostly I object to her songs. I remember music in 1989, and it was a lot better than Tay-Tay would have us believe.

The Kardashians I may be forced to keep up with them for work, but you'll never get me to watch an episode of any of their shows, including I Am Cait.

The Grammys I've become the middle-aged guy I said I'd never be, the one who stopped listening to most new music years ago.

'80s nostalgia I'd say it's because I'm stuck in the '70s, but I'm totally down with '90s nostalgia. So maybe it's this: I didn't much enjoy living in the '80s in the '80s, so why would I want to keep going back there?

Kanye West I love to see him smile and listen to him ramble, but the minute he starts to rap, I tune out.

"White trash"/"Bogan"/"Fame whore" reality TV Let's face it: Putting aside the talent-based shows and the ones with celebrities (which I generally hate), how many accomplished, sophisticated people are clamoring to be the biggest loser... or get married at first sight? If I want to spend my downtime watching common people in action, I'd spend more time outside

Five billion channels and Netflix and Stan and… I love options, but who has time for all of the choices that TV currently offers? Sometimes I miss the days of three networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- when they could actually put together a once-a-TV-season event like Battle of the Network Stars (a precursor to celebrity reality competitions, by the way). Something's got to give, and it won't be the hours I spend doing things other than watching TV.

And five crazy popular things that I love too

Jennifer Lawrence Whether she's faking it or not, I love her when she falls down, too.

"Hello" by Adele It had me at, well, "Hello."

The new wave of hit shows led by black actors: Empire, black-ish, and How to Get Away with Murder As must-see TV for me now as those gleaming-white classics Sex and the City and Melrose Place were back then.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep Totally deserving of all the Emmy love -- though I wouldn't mind her sharing a little of it with black-ish's painfully underrated Tracee Ellis Ross.

Cate Blanchett in anything But especially in The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Gift, Notes on a Scandal, Blue Jasmine and Carol.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Welcome back, romance: Thoughts on Carol


First, the obvious…at least to anyone who's seen The Social Network, Side Effects, Her, or anything in which Cate Blanchett has ever appeared: She and Rooney Mara are as brilliant as expected in Carol.

The two actresses are deserving of every accolade that's already been bestowed upon them and those that are yet to come. Blanchett is a near-lock for a Best Actress Oscar nomination, and the gold for Best Supporting Actress is as good as Mara's, though she's technically a lead as the movie unfolds predominantly from her character's point of view. (Clearly we're meant to identify mostly with her throughout).

The real standout in Carol, though, is romance. Remember her? In a galaxy long ago and far away, before the age of swiping left/right and rampant NSA, she ruled the hearts of men and women. Romance makes a comeback in Carol, and it's a breathtaking one.

Fairly faithfully based on the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, Carol is a love story set mostly in 1950s New York. That means it takes place in a time when you generally first laid eyes on a potential love match not via a phone app but from across a crowded room. Connecting meant closing the space between the two of you, both figuratively and literally. Given that Carol and Therese, the romantic heroines of the film, are both women living in a decade that wasn't particularly hospitable to LGBT, that space is just hurdle number one.

One of the most remarkable things about Carol is how it nails the dynamic of May-September romance without ever lapsing into cliche. Yes, Carol, who is fortyish and unhappily married with a young daughter, and Therese, a twentysomething-ish aspiring photographer paying the bills with a gig working behind the counter at a department store, assume familiar roles.

Sure, the early stages have a familiar ring -- the older and wiser one leads the way. But these aren't tired, predictable archetypes. Carol and Therese may not be peers, but they're equals in the romance. When the hunter gets captured by the game, the reverse happens, too. They're both the trophy and the victor, with so much to gain and to lose. That heightens the romantic stakes and thickens what there is of a plot.

But Carol is not about action. It's more of a character study. As the woman who gives the movie its title, Blanchett balances so many traits it's a wonder that she manages to maintain her poise and composure. She's brittle and haughty, yet fragile and insecure, chilly and remote but warm and tender. There are even hints of girlishness. Blanchett puts her sensuality on full display here (the love scene is as graphic as anything you'll find in a heterosexual romantic drama), and it's clear why Therese falls for her.

It's hard not to think of Katharine Hepburn while watching Blanchett in action. Carol is the kind of role Hepburn would have relished in the 1950s if directors had been making lesbian love stories back then. Director Todd Haynes has so painstakingly re-created the '50s that at times one almost forgets it's a period piece and not an actual film from 60 or so years ago.

Mara has the more difficult role because it's less physical and more internal. She spends a lot of the movie reacting and not appearing to react. So much of her character is revealed through loaded silences. Mara gives a rich, detailed performance that merges the uncertainty of youth with the weariness of being an old soul.

If the movie has one flaw, it's that it's less apparent what Carol sees in Therese other than her beauty. One might presume that part of it is despite her general ride-or-die reaction to Carol, Therese still presents a challenge. In one of the most telling moments in the entire film, Carol makes a throwaway comment about how she's always asking Therese what she's thinking. In that one scene (watch it above), she reveals so much about her character and why she's fallen for Therese.

Carol and Therese don't exist in a vacuum, though that likely still would have made for riveting viewing. While it revolves around the two main characters and their romance, the supporting players aren't merely window dressing.

Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson, who play Carol's estranged husband and best friend, respectively, are best known from their TV roles, but both deserve to be more prominent presences in film. Paulson continues to astound with her versatility, and Friday Night Lights Emmy winner Chandler give brutish Harge Aird more layers than the screenplay does. Their characters' interactions with Carol as well as with each other in one tense scene offer hints to a juicy backstory that's probably worthy of a movie of its own.

That said, Carol doesn't really need a sequel or a prequel. It's perfect as is, at 118 minutes. By the time the credits roll, it's done what every great movie is supposed to do. It's left you wanting so much more.

Friday, November 27, 2015

9 great "Hello" songs that have nothing to do with Adele or Lionel Richie

"Hello Goodbye" The Beatles Along with "Something," this was my favorite Fab Four song for many years…and then I discovered "Within Without You."


"Hello It's Me" Todd Rundgren I'm not saying that Adele nicked her opening line from Runt, but he did go there first (in 1972).


"Hello Love" Hank Snow Here's the genius of Snow's 1974 classic, with which the then--one-month-shy-of-60-year-old became the oldest singer to top Billboard's country singles chart: Is he greeting love love, his beloved, or both?


"Hello Stranger" Emmylou Harris Not the often-covered Barbara Lewis classic but rather a Carter Family one. Emmylou's interpretation provided one of many standout moments on Luxury Liner, my favorite country music album of the 1970s not recorded by Freddy Fender.


"Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" Soft Cell That's right. Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret wasn't all about "Tainted Love." In fact, the 1982 album's closing track went all the way to No. 3 in the UK.


"Hello Again" The Cars The kings of streamlined American new wave totally give in to over-the-top '80s production. Not only has it aged a lot better than I thought it would, but I still prefer it to Neil Diamond's Jazz Singer hit with the same title.


"Hello Darkness" Ric Ocasek "Hello" again, from the Cars frontman on This Side of Paradise, his 1986 second solo album.


"Hello Beloved" Angela Winbush and Ronald Isley Quiet-storm '80s R&B at its most sizzling. To quote '70s Dolly Parton, baby, I'm burning.


"Memory Song (Hello Hello)" Robert Plant I've never been sure what it's about, but I have a feeling if I did, I'd probably cry.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

20 things I have to be thankful for in 2015

Years ago, I celebrated Thanksgiving with my boyfriend Tommy and his family in Queens. Before we ate, we went around the table and listed all the things for which we were thankful. I remember struggling to pull together a list in my head as I waited my turn. It was not one of my finest internal moments.

Either my life has improved considerably in the 17 years since then, or gratitude just comes easier to me now. I haven't actually celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States since 2005, but it's so easy for me to think of things to be thankful for.

Here are the first 20 that popped into my head.

1. A job I enjoy doing.

2. A apartment I enjoy coming home to even more.

3. Old episodes of Casey Kasem's American Top 40 being available to download.

4. That I'm old enough to remember the 1970s (my favourite decade) and where I was and what I was doing when Elvis Presley died. It's the first decade I remember, and sometimes I feel like I dreamed all my memories of it. Reliving the '70s through throwback music, TV, movies and newsreels is almost like turning those maybe-dreams back into reality.

5. My health, give or take chronic headaches, occasional allergies, panic disorder and near-comical hypochondria.

6. Being occasionally mistaken for twentysomething by suitors who were born after I graduated from college. Is the next generation blind or what?

7. My friends all over the planet.

8. Expedia.com and Booking.com, both of which have been playing such vital roles in helping me to travel around the world for years now.

9. Words -- even when they fail me.

10. At least one family member who has always actively shown me he cares, whether or not I make the first move.

11. Body parts that, for the most part, still work.

12. My five relatively intact senses, The optometrist may have diagnosed me as being shortsighted and having an astigmatism yesterday, but I can still see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles.

13. My iPad. How did I ever live without it?

14. Art.

15. My youthful idealism and enthusiasm. Somehow I managed to avoid hopping on the jaded train that turns so many people my age into bitter middle-aged queens. I'm still excited to take the road less traveled (or any road, for that matter) and hopeful that it will lead to an amazing place.

16. My age. I don't necessarily want to get older, but I have no desire to be in my twenties and thirties ever again.

17. Facebook. I have my issues with social media and the havoc it's wreaked on our egos and communication skills. Twitter and Instagram are all about self-promotion, but Facebook can be so much more. When I think of all the people it's brought back into my life and the ones it's kept there, I can't imagine a world without it. I don't want to imagine a world without it.

18. EZTV. It's why I get to live abroad and still keep up with all the US primetime-TV shows that I watch religiously: Empire, How to Get Away with Murder, Black-ish, Nashville, Veep, Girls, Devious Maids and Episodes.

19. Hillary Clinton. There, I said it. I've been solidly Team Hillary since 2008, and that's not about to change

20. My life. It's far from perfect, but I can't think of anyone else's I'd rather be living.

Friday, November 13, 2015

8 more things I just don't understand

Donald Trump as a viable U.S. Presidential candidate

Come on, America. Are you for real? The average voter probably doesn't give a damn about those Hillary Clinton emails that are following her candidacy around like a bad penny. Meanwhile, Trump gets to be both a punchline and a viable Republican Presidential candidate (which might actually say more about the Republican Party than it does about Americans).

If a Democrat had Trump's checkered celebrity past (he's a former reality TV star, for God's sake) and his gift for almost always saying the wrong thing, he or (especially) she would be laughed off the flight to Washington D.C. before their candidacy could even get off the ground.

"Do you want coffee?"

Sydney's coffee culture/obsession perplexes me. Must everyone always announce when they're about to get a cup? Does anyone offer to get me water when they're going to the tap?

You'd think that if the folks at my favorite breakfast place know that I want a feta wrap before I even order, they'd have figured out by now that I never want coffee to go with it. If I did, why wouldn't I ask for it? Do Australians not want coffee unless it's offered to them?

Enough with the coffee, everybody.

"I'm sorry if I offended you"

The first rule of apologizing: Be sorry for your misdeed and not just its effect. And definitely don't do it through your publicist…in a carefully worded statement…delivered on 20/20. Damn, Katie Holmes.

After the former The King of Queens star Leah Remini publicly accused the ex-Mrs. Tom Cruise of being a mean girl to her during their Scientology days, Katie's response was swift, concise and dismissive: "I regret having upset Leah in the past and wish her only the best in the future."

If you're going to offer the lamest apology ever - Was that an apology to Leah, to 20/20, or to the world? - you might as well not even give the person a chance to reject it.

"I'm sorry for your loss"

I've never actually heard anyone say this in real life, only on TV and in the movies, and no matter who says it, it always sounds awkward, impersonal and kind of insincere. "I'm sorry" - period - has such a nice ring, yet they seem to be the hardest words. Charley Pride, Chicago and Sir Elton John certainly weren't alone.


Forgiveness

Yes, I know, to forgive is divine, but if you haven't forgotten, have you really forgiven? Even if you resume your relationship with the person who has wronged you, doesn't the dirty deed continue to hang over your heads, waiting to be dragged down whenever the person who has wronged you dares to do so again?

"Down to earth"

It's a pretty condescending concept if you think about it. Despite the fact that Taylor Swift only seems to have A-list friends and date A-list guys and she travels in a private airplane, is she down to earth because she likes cool music and, unlike Justin Bieber, she gives the time of day to the people beneath her (the adoring fans)?

And what does it mean when non-celebrities - say, like guys on Grindr - describe themselves as "DTE"? It implies a hyper-awareness of their elevated status, which, if you think about it, isn't so down to earth at all.

And what are they really saying anyway: that they're rich but act poor, that they're rich but happily slum with the poor, that they're rich but fly economy, or that they're simply not assholes? Well, why not just be "nice" instead?

The continuing hullabaloo over "cultural appropriation"

Doesn't everyday life pretty much revolve around so-called cultural appropriation? And what's wrong with that? It's in the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, and the food we eat. It's the reason why when we travel, our food options include more than just the local cuisine.

Mocking other cultures is never acceptable, but borrowing from other cultures only seems to be unacceptable when white people do it. If a white person is wrong for wearing dreadlocks or cornrows, does that make black women wrong for straightening their hair, or wearing blonde wigs?

Speaking of blonde, for a while in the '90s, I went there and it didn't go over well with one family member who accused me of wanting to be white. Huh? I didn't understand what that had to do with anything. I did it because at the time it was trendy, and I liked the way it looked. It infuriated me that she made a simple style choice into a racial thing. Let's stop making everything about race.

Why the ones you don't not want but aren't particularly crazy about keep coming back

Even the ones we once obsessed over only seem to return after we're over them. Don't you get the feeling that the guy Adele is phoning in "Hello" is screening the call? He's so over her, and of course, that's when she chooses to document her return in the biggest song of the year.

At least the success of "Hello" is something I do understand. The song is a masterpiece. We've all been there…on the other side…done that…from the outside.

Monday, November 9, 2015

How to get away with a TV heroine who will break every commandment but one

"How do you sleep at night?" - a sex worker just acquitted of poisoning her lover, due to some questionable courtroom tactics by defense attorney Annalise Keating, to Annalise Keating on How to Get Away with Murder

"Alone, on very comfortable sheets. I like expensive bottles of vodka." - Annalise Keating

As portrayed by Emmy winner Viola Davis on How to Get Away with Murder, Annalise Keating is the new Emily Thorne… only not quite so noble… and with a fiercer wardrobe.

For those who have forgotten about the anti-heroine of the dearly departed Revenge, let me remind you of one of her key characteristic: For all the asses she kicked (and names she took while she was at it), not once did Emily ever actually kill anyone.

She pointed this out to her half-sister Charlotte in one episode when Charlotte pegged Emily as an old hand at murder after she herself had killed someone. And her non-killing ways was a major plot point of the series' denouement: Emily was about to off Victoria Grayson, but her father David showed up and did the dirty deed instead because he didn't want his little girl to be haunted forever by having human blood on her hands.

Unlike Annalise, however, Emily's general motive was a lofty one: She wanted to avenge her father by seeking revenge on the people who had framed him for a crime he didn't commit. Though the body count was high by the end of Revenge, Nolan Ross aside, Emily was ironically the only main character who never killed a single person... or shot someone several times in the abdomen with intent to kill (take a bow from the grave, Daniel Grayson).

As for Annalise's overall goal, she just doesn't like to lose. To the brilliant defense attorney, winning is everything, and to get to that end, she'll frame innocent people, tamper with evidence, lie, cheat and steal. But up to now, she's drawn the line at the one crime for which she defends her clients.

In one interesting storyline twist, the terminal wife of Annalise's ex-extramarital lover Nate asked Annalise to help her kill herself. I spotted the dying wife's ploy a plot twist away. Of course, she wanted Annalise to help her kill herself so that in death she could bring down her husband's former lover.

Maybe Annalise saw it, too, but that's not why she didn't do it. "I'm not the woman you think I am," Annalise said when the dying wife, as Charlotte had with Emily, assumed she was an old pro at killing people.

The greatest irony of How to Get Away with Murder is that as the series progresses, Annalise is close to becoming the only major character who actually hasn't gotten away with murder. (For the record, the woman who asked her how she sleeps at night was also guilty as sin.) Nate's wife eventually got him to do what Annalise wouldn't, making him the latest in the main cast to kill.

Yet, somehow, all of these characters with blood on their hands peg Annalise as the monster. I suppose their hypocrisy allows them to sleep at night. Maybe they don't sleep at night. No one has asked. And if someone did, I doubt they'd have as amazing a comeback as Annalise.

I can't think of a TV character since Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls who's as skilled at comebacks as Annalise. Here are two from the November 5 episode:

"Me not paying attention to you is the best compliment you could ever get. 'Cause that means I don't have to worry about you. Now go back to the office and stop being needy."

"Sharon hates you, Dale. You're a stalker, you're pathetic, and you're fired."

Although Murder can be maddening (for one of several things, the manic non-linear approach feels gratuitous - Revenge also tampered with time but only sparingly), Annalise never is. Her sartorial eloquence, her occasional flashes of vulnerability, and her quick wit are the main reasons why I can't not root for her.

But most of all, I'm solidly #TeamAnnalise because she's a flawed, tortured, complicated, bisexual (yes!) anti-heroine who knows that one should always deliver the punchline right before walking away.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Writer's block, trailblazing, and not keeping up with the Kardashians

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that I've gone a bit AWOL lately. No, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, as my work colleagues, who are probably enjoying their Jeremy-free weekend, well know. I've just been hit by the worst writer's block I've had since I started writing for fun and not just for work in the middle of 2008.

At first, I was reluctant to call it writer's block. After all, I've been operating at full writing capacity at work, churning out copy on a daily basis. But that's just it: "Copy" says it all. It's functional, impersonal, and non-personal - all about people and things that have nothing to do with me. It's the more introspective and confessional stuff that's been stumping me.

But why? Did I actually have writer's block, or was I just too worn out after work to string words together in any meaningful way? Or was it simply a lack of inspiration? Were the words always there, just waiting for a trigger, a new tale to tell.

Right now, it hardly matters because for the moment, the writer's block - or whatever - has passed. The floodgates have temporarily opened, and all it took was the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote above. Who said Men's Health isn't good for anything...well, besides those hot Liam Hemsworth photos in the UK December edition?

Getting back to Ralph, his words made me consider  my own life...and life in general. Was he onto the true meaning of life - or rather, the purpose of it?

One of the things I love most about the quote is the distinction between a path and a trail. I'd never thought of it before, but paths are typically shallow, almost lightweight. They're easily blown away. Trails, on the other hand, are deep, closer to permanent. They have a certain indelible gravitas, from the Cherokee Trail of Tears to k.d. lang's "Trail of Broken Hearts."


In my own life, I've certainly ventured where there is no path, particularly during the past decade, minus this last year in Sydney. But am I trailblazing? Do I inspire others to follow me - not in the Instagram/Twitter sense, in a way that actually matters,

One can inspire in a number of ways. Of course, there's the artistic sense and the motivational one, but you can also inspire others to face demons or difficulties by being open about yours. You can inspire people to fight racism, homophobia, sexism and other forms of discrimination through words and deeds. You can inspire someone to want to be a better person, which some call the true meaning of love.

Inspiring doesn't have to be done on a large scale. The best compliments I've received in my life have been the ones from people who tell me that my words have touched them in some way. That makes the labor of love that is writing for minimal financial compensation so worth it and, in many ways, more valuable to me than the writing that pays the bills.

Maybe that's why I've felt so off these past few weeks. Writing for me is like therapy, as much as running is. I took a detour from my trail and got a little bit lost. It's good to be back.

***

One of the places I wandered into during my detour was Rebel Wilson's head. I can't stop thinking about a comment she made this week during an interview with Australian radio hosts Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O. She said that MTV asked her to present an award at the VMAs this year with Kendall and.Kylie Jenner, but she turned them down because, "Their careers aren't based on talent."

She said a lot of other really uncomplimentary stuff, but you've heard it all before. Hell, you've likely thought it all before. Although Rebel didn't break any ground or blaze any new trails with her comments, I was kind of surprised that she went there.

I have my issues with the Kardashians, and before I took my current job, I never felt the need to keep up with them. To date, I've watched only one episode of their show. That particular one, which I saw on Bali TV three years ago, revolved around Kim vs. Rob, a familial dynamic that overlaps my own brother-sister experience. As semi-compelling as Kim vs. Rob was, I never felt the need to tune in again.

My issues with the Kardashians aren't just about the Kardashians, though. I actually have issues with all reality-TV stars. Their wanton pursuit of fame feeds into the idea that you're worthless if you aren't famous, They're a symbol of our selfie society where your value is determined by Facebook "likes" and  Twitter and Instagram "followers."

But the Kardashians have become such an easy target that we often forget that the youngest ones, Kendall and Kylie, are 20 and 18, respectively. We judge these young girls the way we judge grown ass people. Do you know anyone their age who has grasped the meaning of life, or its purpose?

How many 20 year olds do we know who even have careers? Or discernible talent? What were we all doing at 18 or 20? Not everyone can be a legitimate child performer, or start out as Stevie Wonder...or Lorde.

Furthermore, MTV has actually been celebrating the talent-free for decades now, via the VMAs, via the network's own reality shows, and via music videos (back when MTV played them). Some might even dump Rebel into the talent-free box. Where are her Oscar-caliber performances? At least there's social commentary in Amy Schumer's schtick...and she has an Emmy.

But talent is in the eye of the beholder. And the Kardashians are famous because of talent. It takes a certain level of talent to become famous for doing nothing. No, the Kardashians and the Jenners (including, at this point, Caitlyn) will never give Julianne Moore or Cate Blanchett a run for their credibility, but neither will Rebel.

And let's not kid ourselves: The VMAs aren't about talent anyway. They're about self-congratulation, self-promotion and looking good. So if the Kardashians don't belong there, they don't belong anywhere.