Tuesday, July 29, 2008

LEAVING NEW YORK

It's time to take a bow. Today, I'm going home. Several years ago, I couldn't imagine myself saying that about any city other then New York. But as everybody knows, things change. I loved reuniting with all of my friends, particularly Dave, with whom I spent most of my time in NYC, and Lori, with whom I stayed this past weekend in a friend's Central Park West apartment that has the most spectacular view of Manhattan ever (photos to come in a future post). I secretly wish they'd all just move down to Buenos Aires so that we could all live happily ever after.

That, of course, won't be happening. Although all of my friends who have visited BA have loved it (except for Dave, who has made it very clear to everyone but me that he despised the place), they all have commitments that keep them in the U.S. The irony is that one picks up and moves to another continent because of those commitments (to break free of them), but that's something that people have to figure out and do on their own timetable. Sort of like coming out. Also like coming out, some people never actually do it.

I'll be back in November for another wedding. Dave won't be here because he'll be in Vegas for Madonna's shows there. I'll only stay for a few days next time, long enough to go to the wedding and to clean out my storage space in Brooklyn. I'm already dreading the trip. Sure, it'll be great to see my friends again, but, you know, I'm so, like, over la gran manzana.

New York, we had a great run. Now, the show is over, say goodbye.

Here, a song about departures and my all-time favorite Smiths track, named for my second favorite city (after BA, of course).

The Smiths: "London"

BLAST FROM MY PAST

Since I've still got ABBA on the brain, and since today, in the process of clearing out my storage space in Brooklyn, I unloaded all of my CDs, LPs, cassettes and 45s, I thought I'd post a very special MP3, the B-side of "The Winner Takes It All," one of the first 45s I ever bought. I've always liked it better than the hit, which Meryl Streep so thoroughly massacred in Mamma Mia. At least during the scene she looked better than she ever has at the Oscars.

ABBA: "Elaine" (from Super Trouper)

Monday, July 28, 2008

GREECE IS THE WORD

What's on Oscar winner like Meryl Streep doing in a dump like this? And Colin Firth? And Bond, James...I mean, Pierce Brosnan? I'm talking about Mamma Mia, which I saw yesterday at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City (see post below). Must have been the Greek Islands location. (I'd go back there for free to film a really bad movie.) At times, I could have sworn they all looked slightly embarrassed.

Anyone who thought Meryl could do it all will have to rethink that stance. She learned Polish for Sophie's Choice and how to play the violin for Music of the Heart, but obviously, carrying a tune stumped her. She's mad pitchy, dawg. And Pierce Brosnan: as Simon Cowell would say, horrendous. Every time he opened his mouth to croak out a little tune, the audience started to howl. And they weren't laughing with him. Colin Firth, who, in a clever bit, introduced himself to another character James Bond-style, fared better, but luckily for him, he didn't have much to do. Stellan Skarsgard wisely skipped the solos. I was so happy to see Julie Walters that she could have been singing the, uh, phone book for all I cared. Christine Baranski and the perfectly cast Amanda Seyfried, who plays the daughter (of Meryl) who invites her three possible dads (Pierce, Colin and Stellan) to her wedding, were Broadway caliber, and Dominic Cooper merely had to look hot, a task he handled with aplomb (for proof, see him and Amanda in the photo above).

As bad as the singing gets, the music is the main attraction here. Those ABBA songs are so sturdy that I enjoyed them anyway. And normally, tons of backup singers did the heavy lifting. (Unfortunately, they weren't around to save the day--and the song--during Meryl's solo of "The Winner Takes It All.") The friend with whom I saw the movie thought the filmmakers should have used the actual ABBA tracks, and before I saw the movie, I thought so, too. But now I disagree. A large part of the draw is seeing famous actors whom we've never before seen sing tackle the numbers.

The storyline is featherweight, the acting inconsequential--though it'll probably dominate the hackfest Golden Globes' musical nods. But really, what's a great actress like Meryl Streep doing in a dump like this--the movie and the shabby hotel run by her character? Especially in a year in which she's once again on the Oscar shortlist (for Doubt). Normally, Meryl can elevate the worst material (see The Devil Wears Prada, Death Becomes Her and pretty much all of her comedies), but this time she fails spectacularly.

The movie is rubbish for sure. Hokey, corny, all that bad stuff. But damn, I loved every minute of it.

ABBA GOLD

"It was hokey, it was corny, and I loved it."
--random woman on the way out of a late Sunday afternoon showing of Mamma Mia at the Ziegfeld Theater in NYC

My sentiment exactly.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

RECIPE FOR SUCCESS?

I've never been a big fan of picnic food--particularly the various salads. Potato salad I can live with. Carrot salad? Take it or leave it. Cole slaw? Leave it. Pasta salad? Pasta salad! Does anyone actually like pasta salad? My friend Cara thinks so, and last night at dinner, she said she has a guaranteed crowd pleaser in the recipe she was using for a salad that she was preparing for her fiancé Dave's birthday today. Separately, the ingredients (aside from the pepperoni--I don't do meat) are palatable. Which makes me wonder if my overall distaste for pasta salad would be reversed if it were served warm(er). Anyway, I share:

  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Yellow hot pepper rings
  • Pepperoni
  • White Irish cheddar
  • Cucumber
  • Newman's Own Oil & Vinegar!

Friday, July 25, 2008

TICK TOCK TICK TOCK TICK TOCK TICK TOCK...

Robbing the cradle is a spectator sport. At least it was for me last night. And it's so much better that way. I had dinner with three friends, two of whom I hadn't seen since arriving in New York City one week ago. Naturally, the conversation turned to the state of our love lives. One of us is getting married (which means I'll be back in NYC in November). Another is still happily married...with children. And a third is at the two-year mark of her romance with a 22-year-old West Point student.

Did I mention that she's 39?

I'm so glad I'm not the only person who's pushing 40 and dallying with guys nearly half their age. But now I know what it feels like for a girl. Being on the vintage end of a May-December romance is a whole different game when you're a woman. Especially with the deafening tick tock of that biological clock. Time is of the essence, and taking giant leaps of faith is a dangerous game. The 22 year old graduates from West Point next year, and then, he'll be a military man stationed in a yet-to-be-revealed U.S. or international city for five years.

The possibilities are endless. Not only is there the prospect of his being shipped off to some war zone. There's also the chance that he'll be sent to the middle of nowhere--Kansas, Oklahoma or, worse, Nebraska. Then again, he could end up abroad in some totally cool city. By the time his tour of duty is over, my friend will be in her mid-40s, so she'll have to make a big decision about whether she wants to link their uncertain futures before he graduates. Does she stick it out another year, allowing that tick tock to get louder and louder (not that her tick has even started to tock--she never really said), until his five-year plan becomes more clear? If she does, who's to say that this 22-year-old won't do what other people his age often do and change his mind...about her? I suppose that is a risk you run in relationships with people of any age. But with people under 25, the ending is less likely to be a happy one.

We talked about the movie Prime, which focuses on a 37-year-old woman (played by Uma Thurman) and her relationship with a 23-year-old artist (Bryan Greenberg). The crux of the story is the fact that his mom (Meryl Streep) is also her shrink (something that Meryl figures out early on but doesn't reveal to Uma until much later), but the real turning point comes when Uma begins to pay closer attention to the tick tock of that biological clock.
SPOILER ALERT! In the end, Uma's character ends the romance because she doesn't see the artist as daddy material. But who's to say that she would find daddy material in the next few years before the batteries in her biological clock run out? Who's to say that this guy wouldn't become daddy material before then? Who's to say that he isn't already daddy material? Who's to say when anyone is daddy material? Is being a parent a challenge for which you can truly be prepared or one that you simply rise to?

In a flash forward at the end of the film, Uma is presumably single and still childless. So maybe she would have been better off just sticking with the guy and letting life run its course. Last year when I watched the movie for the first time, I, too, was involved with a 22-year-old. Talking about it last night, for the umpteenth time in recent months, I became painfully aware of my age. (As I type, I'm reminded of a recent conversation I had with a 25-year-old guy I met last year in Uruguay who told me that he liked me for three reasons: I'm hot, I'm nice, and I'm older and more experienced. Um, thanks--I think.) If my friend were in her 20s, this would hardly be a dilemma. In fact, it would be the kind of adventure that would make her the envy of many women--and probably of me. But damn the tick tock of that biological clock!

For more on my friend's May-December romance, click here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

STAR SMACKDOWNS: WHY CAN'T THEY ALL JUST GET ALONG?


Kids--I mean actors--say the darndest things. Several years ago when then-Young and the Restless star Victoria Rowell (center) complained that the pre-nomination process for the Daytime Emmy Awards was "contaminated" and "racist," her then-costar Peter Bergman (left) said that he didn't think she was "playing with a full deck." Not that he didn't concur. Today I read an interview he did several weeks ago at the Daytime Emmys with Soap Opera Weekly's Carolyn Hinsey, and here's what he had to say: "If you don't get a pre-nomination for your show...it means your show doesn't like you. We had a number of people walking around here--I'm naming no names--who had a great year but are left to think, What did I do? Did I offend someone?...It's a flawed process that is destroying the morale of the company [of actors]."

Okay. He agrees with Victoria. Sort of. So why ship her off to the loony bin, Pete? Maybe there was some behind-the-scenes intrigue involved. Whatever it was, I think actors and musicians and other entertainers need to stop publicly dissing each other. Think about it: They won't talk about their love lives or whether or not they're pregnant with twins, but they have no problem publicly beating each other down. Elton John, one of my all-time favorite singers, does it all the time. He once dismissed Madonna's "Die Another Day" as "the worst Bond tune of all time," adding that contrary to his unpopular opinion, he is a Madonna fan...and that the Bond folks should have gotten Shirley Bassey or Lulu or him to deliver a better song. He also instigated a recently ended years-long fued with former BFF George Michael by saying unkind things about not only George's lifestyle but his Patience CD as well. Sour grapes against more bankable hitmakers? Someone get Elton a hearing aid--or better taste in music!

Then there's Tom Cruise. When he was kicking off his meltdown phase a few years ago, he blamed the state of Brooke Shield's career on her use of anti-depressants to combat post-partum depression. I'll never understand what one has to do with the other, but perhaps Peter Bergman would care to weigh in on whether Tom is playing with a full deck. And Jennifer Lopez. She seems to have mellowed, but she used to be one of the biggest offenders. Cameron Diaz and Salma Hayek both have been on the wrong side of her verbal smackdowns. Also, back when people still cared about all three of the actresses involved, I remember reading interviews in which she questioned the thespian prowess of Winona Ryder and Gwyneth Paltrow.

(Insert "Say what?" face here.) And she's Meryl Streep? What is it that they say about people who live in (multi-million-dollar) glass houses? J. Lo's older now. Let's hope she's wiser, too.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ON THE DARK SIDE?

Hmm... Maybe there's more to The Dark Knight star Christian Bale than meets the eye--but not in a good way. Hot on the heels of my assertion that he has zero star quality and that his film was way too violent, reports are coming out of London that Bale has been arrested on allegations of assault by, of all people, his mother and sister. Yikes! Just yesterday, after seeing the movie, I saw an item on Inside Edition or one of those tabloid TV shows in which he was shown at a gas station playing perfect dad to his three-year-old daughter. In the film, the actions of his flawed Batman were nearly as brutal as those of Heath Ledger's the Joker. The Dark Knight, indeed. Hopefully, the character didn't stick.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

THE JOKER'S WILD (BUT IS HE TOO DARK?)

Yesterday Dave and I went to an afternoon matinee of The Dark Knight. It's not the kind of movie I normally would go to see, as I tend to prefer serious Oscar-season fare over summer blockbusters. But with Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker generating major Oscar talk, Knight unexpectedly qualifies as both.

I preferred director Tim Burton's first two Batman movies. As impressed as I was with Ledger, I recall being more so by Jack Nicholson's iconic take on the Joker in the first film, and I feel that Ledger's performance was greatly inspired by Nicholson's--to a far greater degree than people are acknowledging. Also, Batman and Batman Returns were actually entertaining. Nicholson's Joker and Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman were both sufficiently menacing, and I never had to close my eyes.

I have a problem with spending nearly three hours squirming in my seat, looking at the action through my fingers because of a villain who casually brandishes knives in front of his victims' throats. Once, I can live with. Twice, you're testing my patience. But over and over and over? Although the movie sagged whenever Ledger wasn't onscreen (let's face it: Christian Bale is easy on the eyes, but he lacks real star quality--not that any actor cast as Batman needs it), I found myself dreading his every reappearance.

I get it, I get it. The superhero-movie experience is supposed to be like watching a live-action video game. There was one moment during one of the most confusing car chases I've ever seen in which two young boys reacted to the onscreen action as if it were coming from their PlayStation. I found the implications here to be incredibly disturbing and irresponsible, and the fact that the movie is rated PG-13 underscores everything that is wrong with this scene. Is it okay for teenagers to be exposed--and desensitized--to such casual violence? Is it okay for them to see a young boy being held at gunpoint and thrown from a roof? And we're surprised when a teen in California stands up in the middle of a classroom, points a gun at a gay classmate (because he's gay) and pulls the trigger?

Two-plus hours of non-stop violence warrants a mere PG-13, but a penis gets you an R, if not an NC-17? Go figure. Maybe I'm too squeamish when it comes to violence, but too much of it prevented me from fully enjoying Heath Ledger's performance. He'll get an Oscar nomination, no doubt about it. Do I think he'd be such a shoo-in if he were still alive? Probably not. And I'm certain the film would have done half the box-office business and received three-quarters of the positive reviews. We'll never know for sure. I only wish this great dead actor's swan song wasn't so mired in...death.

Monday, July 21, 2008

THE INCREDIBLE HUNK

It's Sunday afternoon, and I'm parked in front of Dave's billion-inch high-definition flat-screen TV, watching the past week's episodes of General Hospital on SoapNet. The quality of the image is spectacular, that's for sure. I can see every wrinkle, every pore of the actors. They look a lot better and at least five years younger on a cheaper TV set. Also unfortunately, bad acting is twice as bad in high definition. But wait! Hold that thought! There's Brandon Barash (above), the actor who plays Johnny Zacchara. He joined the GH cast after I moved to Buenos Aires, so this is the first time I've seen him on TV. His acting is nothing to write home about, but something tells me that he wasn't hired for his Shakespearean skills. According to his Wikipedia profile, he's Jewish, he speaks Spanish fluently, and he plays piano. He also used to be on Gilmore Girls. How did I miss him?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

IDA Y VUELTA A LA GRAN MANZANA: HOME AIN'T WHERE MY HEART IS (ANYMORE) ...

... To paraphrase the opening track on Shania Twain's The Woman in Me CD. Yesterday I returned to New York City for the first time in 22 months. How's this for an interesting coincidence? My arrival yesterday came exactly two years after I left NYC for my fourth and final trip to Buenos Aires as a tourist. Well, actually, I ended up missing my flight that night (damn clueless taxi drivers and obnoxious JFK American Airlines personnel!) and had to take another one to BA the following day. But still...

I spent the last week in BA both anticipating and dreading returning to my old stomping ground. I was excited about seeing all of my friends again, but I also remembered how difficult my last few weeks in NYC had been. Not only did I have a nasty case of mono that made organizing the move a major challenge, but I also was plagued by severe panic attacks that sent me to the ER twice in one night five days before my departure.

Now that I've been back for nearly 24 hours, all of my fear and apprehension is gone. I'm thrilled to be reunited with my best friend, Dave, whom I haven't seen since he visited me in BA last October, and I'm looking forward to seeing some of my other friends at a little get-together that I'm having tonight as well as at my friend Amy's wedding next Friday (which is actually the reason I'm in town). I'm shocked at how so little about NYC has changed. Unlike in BA, where the price of everything goes up a few pesos every month or two, the cost of everything in NYC so far--aside from the taxis--is more or less as much as I remember. And it's nice to be living in my native language again, although it's kind of strange to walk down the street and hear English, and once or twice I've begun speaking to someone in Spanish before realizing that I didn't have to.

But I do believe that my love affair with New York City is over for good. When I stepped off of the shuttle at Penn Station and felt the sweltering heat beating down on my skin and saw the throngs of people scurrying on the sidewalk, my first thought was, How could I have spent 15 years living here? After nearly two years away, it almost seems like another lifetime or someone else's. Now I can't believe that anyone would live here by choice.

For all its power (or rather, abuses of), corruption and lies (there I go paraphrasing albums again--this time, one of New Order's) and despite those crazy, maddening porteños, Buenos Aires really is home. I already miss it madly, and I'm counting the days to my return. In truth, I began counting them down before I left. I always said that the true test of the depth of my feelings for BA would be how I felt about it when I returned to NYC for the first time. Perhaps that's part of the reason why I put off my return for so long. Now that I'm back, I realize that NYC is no longer home. And it's not just because my apartment here is being rented, so I'm staying with friends. It's because that old feeling--the special indescribable wow--is gone.

For good? Who knows? Maybe I'll feel differently once I've had a chance to readjust to being here. But I don't think so.

One down, 10 to go.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

THE (REAL) NEW TOM HANKS?

How lucky is Steve Carell? Not only does he topline a successful TV show (The Office, soon to enter its fifth season), but he's also one of Hollywood's most dependable box-office draws, with Oscar-caliber leading ladies like Juliette Binoche (Dan in Real Life), Catherine Keener (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine) and Anne Hathaway (Get Smart). Plus, he gets to present TV Land Awards to The Golden Girls (see photo above and video below). Going where Jennifer Aniston and Helen Hunt (despite her Oscar) couldn't really go before, Steve proves that you can simultaneously be a huge TV and movie star. Meanwhile, Jim Carrey is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and Adam Sandler has settled back into his dumbed-down comfort zone after taking on a few "serious" roles. Something tells me Steve will beat them both to an Oscar nomination.

video

THE DEVIL INSIDE

"Your eyes are full of surprises, they cannot predict my fate."--Madonna

That's from "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You"--the best thing on Hard Candy. It's unmistakably a Timbaland joint (quite similar in production values to Justin Timberlake's "What Goes Around...Comes Around") and lyrically, the most sophisticated song on the album. My best friend, Dave, a hardcore Madonna fan, recently told me that she'll be performing this one on her upcoming "Sticky and Sweet" tour, which, for me, is more exciting news than Britney's much-ballyhooed video cameo. On a CD that emphasizes sound over vision, "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" stands out and, along with the closing "Voices," provides a much-needed dose of gravity.

I relate to the above lyric to an almost scary degree. Despite what she sings here, in the song's second line, Madonna soon makes it abundantly clear that she sees right through this master of deceit. Boy, have I been there! I'm wrong about a lot of things, but very rarely about people. I've always been an astute judge of character. Interestingly and disconcertingly, my intuition generally alerts me to the bad rather than to the good in people. All it takes is a subtle look or gesture--or sometimes just my own gut feeling--to warn me that someone will soon do me wrong or that I'm seeing the person for the last time. On the plus side, my heart never has been seriously broken. Because I can sense potential heartbreak from miles away, when it finally arrives, my heart is safely tucked away in its protective armor.

This quality comes in handy in a city like Buenos Aires, where people are fickle and run as hot and cold as the water in the shower. You never know whom you'll get on any given day, with Federico's ever-changing moods and Martín's pretty words masking ulterior motives. But in New York, leopards rarely change their spots, and once a jerk, always a jerk. Even the least intuitive folks know where they stand with pretty much everyone. For better or worse, people are direct, and blunt honesty is considered to be truly a virtue. Here in BA, actions actually do speak louder than words--and in a completely different language. Ah, the games people play. I still haven't figured out whether this two-faced routine is actually (and unintentionally?) compassionate--we all talk up honesty, but can we really handle the truth?--or just incredibly (and intentionally?) cruel.

I'm waiting for the day--and the person--that will surprise me and prove me wrong. Bring it!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

CAREER IN CRISIS?

Remember when Renée Zellweger was the hottest thing since sliced bread (and practically as thin)? Way back in the early '00s, she scored three Oscar nominations in a row, finally winning for her supporting role in 2003's Cold Mountain. I was sure Shohreh Aghdashloo would pull off an upset for her turn as the doomed mom in The House of Sand and Fog, but that's a different story. As was the case with so many supporting actress Oscar winners before her (Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Connelly, the recently rebounded Marisa Tomei), there was no place for Renée to go from there but down.

Sure she still gets above-the-title billing, but in April's Leatherheads, starring ex-beau George Clooney (with her, above), her image didn't even grace the movie poster. Is she turning into box-office poison? Both of her post-Oscar star vehicles, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Beatrice Potter, earned her increasingly irrelevant Golden Globe nominations but were in and out of U.S. theaters (though Jones did do well internationally). I wonder why Renée's career flounders while Nicole Kidman, who, in 2003, edged out Renée for Best Actress in what I suspect was one of the closest races in Oscar history (in a reversal of fortunes, Renée's Chicago trumped Nicole's The Hours for Best Picture), can add flop after flop to her filmography without forfeiting her status as a top draw among Hollywood directors.

I suspect it has something to do with Renée's quickie marriage in 2005 to country star Kenny Chesney, and its nearly simultaneous annulment (she cryptically cited "fraud" in official documents). Neither Hollywood nor Oscar approves of personal scandal. Nicole, meanwhile, married another country hunk, fellow Aussie Keith Urban. Perhaps if Nicole hadn't stood by her man when the honeymoon period ended almost as soon as it began with Keith's stint in rehab, things wouldn't be working out so well for her either. Now Keith and Nicole have a new daughter named Sunday Reed, and she's generating her annual Oscar buzz for Australia, her reunion with Moulin Rouge! director Baz Luhrmann, costarring Hugh Jackman.

As for Renée, she continues to work steadily in lower-profile roles and will costar with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen in the upcoming western Appaloosa (left). Something tells me she'll be upstaged by the boys. Then again, the last time Ed Harris directed a film, 2000's Pollock, his leading lady, Marcia Gay Harden, took home an Oscar. Time will reveal. In the meantime, here is a short and sweet clip from the film containing my favorite Zellweger performance, 1999's One True Thing.

video

Monday, July 14, 2008

FLASHBACK: BLACK MAGIC


With Billboard's Hot 100 so dominated by R&B and hip-hop in recent years, it's hard to believe that 20 years ago, things were considerably different at the tops of the pops. Back in the '80s and early '90s, if you were black and your name wasn't Prince, Lionel, Whitney or Jackson (as in Michael and Janet), or unless you were lucky enough to have a late-80s album produced, in part, by Babyface (like Bobby Brown, Pebbles and Karyn White), your hits were mostly ghettoized on the R&B chart, which, between 1982 and 1990, was ignominously renamed the Hot Black Singles chart. While British soul singers like George Michael and Lisa Stansfield made history by reaching No. 1 on the R&B singles chart (Lisa peaked there three times between 1989 and 1991), a long list of No. 1 R&B hits from the period didn't even dent the pop Top 40. Here are five of the best and 10 of the rest (with links to where you can hear for yourself):
  • "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love": Stephanie Mills (1986) Gospel dressed up as R&B written by crossover-free singer-songwriter-producer Angela Winbush (above, top). Right up there with her peers Natalie Cole and Chaka Khan as far as impeccable phrasing goes, Stephanie (above, bottom) is one of the most underrated soul performers ever. When she sings, "And I'm not ashamed to say, many nights I've tossed and I've turned," it brings me to my knees. Can I get an Amen? Like three of Stephanie's future R&B No. 1's--"I Feel Good All Over," "Something in the Way (You Make Me Feel)" and "Home--it didn't even touch the pop chart.
  • "Joy": Teddy Pendergrass (1988, No. 71 pop) A perfectly titled song from a soul man whose pop hit list doesn't do his legend justice. He scored two Top 10s in the early '70s as the lead singer of Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, but the highest he ever went solo was to No. 25 with "Close the Door" in 1978. Even duetting with superstar-to-be Whitney Houston on 1984's "Hold Me," he couldn't manage to climb higher than No. 46.
  • "Angel": Angela Winbush (1987) "Save Your Love (for #1)", her 1985 chart-topper as one-half of Rene & Angela, was one of her few trips to the pop chart (if only to the bottom half), probably thanks to Kurtis Blow, who provided a then-rare guest rap vocal. But like Rene & Angela's other R&B No. 1, the non-pop-charting "Your Smile," "Angel" was probably just a little too soul for white folks to digest. Their loss.
  • "Ain't Nobody Like You": Miki Howard (1992) The No. 2 "Love Under New Management" is the classic for which she's best remembered, and her other R&B No. 1, "Ain't Nuthin' in the World," is a trifle, but this 1992 single had all the ingredients of crossover gold: youthful attitude, sexy, mid-tempo groove and a hook that wouldn't quit. Her second and final Hot 100 entry, it got all the way to No. 66. A miracle, considering.
  • "Ooo La La La": Teena Marie (1988) Though the she scored a No. 4 pop hit in 1984 with the rock-tinged "Lovergirl," which only went to No. 9 R&B, a pop audience weaned on anemic Janet Jackson ballads like "Let's Wait Awhile" and "Come Back to Me" probably didn't know what to make of this white girl who looked like a rock chick (nose ring, bell bottoms and all) but sang like a soul mama. Her happy ending: the Fugees sampled "Ooo La La La" on "Fu-Gee-La," a 1995 hit from their groundbreaking The Score CD.
HONORABLE MENTIONS

"All Woman": Lisa Stansfield (1991, No. 56 pop)
"Baby Come To Me": Regina Belle (1989, No. 60 pop)
"Do Me, Baby": Meli'sa Morgan (1986, No. 46 pop)
"Don't Take It Personal: Jermaine Jackson (1989, No. 64 pop)
"Don't Waste Your Time": Yarbrough & Peoples (1984, No. 48 pop)
"If Only You Knew": Patti LaBelle (1984, No. 46 pop)
"Juicy Fruit": Mtume (1983, No. 45 pop)
"Loosey's Rap": Rick James Ft. Roxanne Shante (1988)
"Love Saw It": Karyn White & Babyface (1989)
"Save the Overtime For Me": Gladys Knight and the Pips (1983, No. 66 pop)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

WOMAN (SENSUOUS WOMAN)


To paraphrase George Clooney in Intolerable Cruelty, Catherine-Zeta Jones fascinates me. Unlike some of her 20-movies-a-year peers (I'm talking to you, Nicole Kidman, whose recent break was pregnancy-induced), she acts relatively infrequently. I just found out that she has a new movie out this weeked, Death Defying Acts (see poster above). So does Eddie Murphy (Meet Dave) and Brendan Fraser (Journey to the Center of the Earth). Who knew? I'm so out of the movie loop. I didn't even hear about Oscar's latest Best Picture contender, Wall-E, until the day before it came out. Here in Buenos Aires, sometimes I feel as if I'm living under a rock.

Death Defying Acts is the second consecutive Zeta-Jones movie in which she's the parental figure of a young girl played by a recent Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee (the category in which Zeta-Jones so deservedly won for Chicago in 2003). In last year's No Reservations, she was the aunt and guardian of Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin, and in Death Defying Acts, her daughter is played by Atonement's Saoirse Ronan, who, incidentally, co-starred as Michelle Pfeiffer's daughter in 2007's I Could Never Be Your Woman, a romantic comedy directed by Amy Heckerling (Clueless) that never made it to theaters in the U.S. but was released in BA as El Novio de Mi Madre (My Mom's Boyfriend). Woman was no Somethings Gotta Give, but with talent like Pfeiffer and Heckerling involved, it's a complete mystery to me why The Weistein Company didn't deem it fit for a theatrical release in the U.S.

Of all the major actresses in Hollywood today, Zeta-Jones and Cate Blanchett remind me most of the classic era. I've always thought of Zeta-Jones as a modern-day Ava Gardner, and I'm on the edge of my seat in anticipation of seeing her as Lana Turner in the upcoming murder mystery Stompanato. Here are my six favorite Zeta-Jones movie moments:

  • Her movie star character's humiliating comeuppance at the screening of her new film in America's Sweethearts.
  • When she hisses "Keep your paws off my underwear" to Renée Zellweger in Chicago.
  • The scene in Intolerable Cruelty in which George Clooney mutters, "You fascinate me," as Zeta-Jones walks away.
  • When her pregnant good-girl-turned-bad issues the command "Shoot him in the head!" to an assassin in Traffic.
  • Her performance of "All That Jazz" at the beginning of Chicago (see video below). Musical nirvana! I knew then and there that Oscar was hers!
  • The closing credits of The Terminal because it meant that the terminally boring film was finally over.

video

READING IS FUN-DAMENTAL

I picked up the June 2008 issue of Vanity Fair in the Santiago airport on the way back from Chile several weeks ago. At first, I was disappointed that they didn't have the issues with Madonna (May 2008) or Angelina Jolie (July 2008) on the cover, but now I'm glad they didn't. I just finished "Ms. Walters Reflects," the excerpt from Barbara Walters' memoir, and it made me want to buy the book when I go to New York City in a few days. I'm a fool for behind-the-scenes drama. I only wish she had bared her fangs more on the subject of the late Harry Reasoner (left, with Walters), who was famously unwelcoming when she joined the ABC Evening News as his co-anchor in 1976. I suppose she preferred to let him rest in peace. Still, Barbara Walters is a good storyteller. If I'm ever lucky enough to be invited to a dinner party where she's also an invitee, I hope I'm seated next to her.

Now I'm in the middle of "The Last Good Campaign," a piece on Robert Kennedy that excerpts two books. (Doesn't VF hire writers anymore?) Good stuff, too. Bring on the history, Vanity Fair. I'd much rather read these stories than the latest canned soundbites from Madonna and Angelina as they feign enlightenment. The RFK story makes me question the U.S. political system more than ever. The nominating process is corrupt and the victor to whom goes the spoils is as representative of under-the-table deals as it is the will of the people. The delegate aspect is convoluted and ridiculously oligarchical. The fact that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton courted superdelegates (I'm still not 100% sure what those even are or why they are necessary) nearly as ardently as they pursuedp registered Democrats is shameful. And don't get me started on the electoral college. Voting as a state rather than as an individual is so 19th century. Both the parties' nominees and the Presidential election should be determined by the popular vote. Case closed. Then, and only then, will the person who governs the country have a true mandate from the people.

Now excuse me as I step off my soapbox.

GUILTY PLEASURES

Okay, okay, I'll admit it. I love Celine Dion. I recently met a fellow New Yorker who was visiting Buenos Aires, and we hung out three nights in a row, marveling on each occasion at our scarily similar taste in pop and R&B: Amy Winehouse. Mary J. Blige. Lil' Kim. Nicole. (He's the only person I know who remembers her 1998 Top 5 single, "Make It Hot.") Gwen Stefani's "Luxurious." (Neither one of us could remember the title, so after an hour of agonizing over it, I texted a friend from the disco and asked him to look it up online.) But incredibly enough, he had no opinion of Celine Dion. He'd been unimpressed by her singles, but not enough to actually loathe her. "Forget about the hits," I told him. "Listen to the album tracks." He looked at me as if I were a little bit crazy.

Maybe I am. But hear me out.

First, I must cop to having a weakness for female Canadian singers. Shania Twain? Adore her! (She wrote "If Walls Could Talk" for Celine's 1999 greatest hits compilation, All The Way...A Decade of Song.) Sarah McLachlan. Love! Joni Mitchell. Legend! k.d. lang. Rocks! (I interviewed her once in her NYC hotel room and in 1991 saw her walking hand-in-hand with her girlfriend in Paris' Le Marais district.) Anne Murray. My original Canuck love! (I met her years ago, and she signed my copy of her 1980 "Lucky Me" 45, the first single I ever bought.) But the first time I heard Celine, way back in 1990 when she went Top 5 with her debut hit, "Where Does My Heart Beat Now?," I wanted to hate her. Maybe it was the sheer number of sappy ballads proliferating on the charts at the time. (Wilson Phillips--yikes!--ruled the Top 40.) Or maybe it was my general distaste for mainstream pop at the time. (I was going through my "progressive" phase. The Cure was my life.) I wanted to hate her. Boy, did I fail.

Don't get me wrong. I'm no fan of the hatchet-faced abandon with which she sings her greatest hits. And I don't care much for her smug expression when she takes a bow after a particularly over-emoted performance. As the crowd applauds, she seems to be thinking, Yes, I liked that very much, too! The beauty of Celine Dion lies not in the No. 1 likes of "My Heart Will Go On" or "The Power Of Love," but in album cuts that you've probably never heard. Even Prince, who wrote "With This Tear" from her 1992 self-titled second English-language CD especially for Celine, was nearly moved to, um, tears by Celine's masterful vocals.

Now, I'll let the music do the talking. Here are my Top 5 Celine Dion songs (in alphabetical order) with links to where you can check them out.

"Live for the One I Love"
It's over-the-top for sure, but sometimes you need to go there.

"My Love" Linda Perry wrote it. Makes me wonder what Celine would have done with "Beautiful."

"Why Oh Why"
Celine's Toni Braxton moment.

"With This Tear" As top-notch Prince collaborations go, right up there with Kate Bush's "Why Should I Love You?" and Sheena Easton's "101."

"Ziggy (Un Garcon Pas Comme Les Autres)" Like Gloria Estefan, Celine is at her best singing in her native tongue.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

RAMBLIN' MAN: CONFESSIONS OF A WANDERING MIND


I love Rihanna as much as the next guy. Maybe more. She seems to get more stunning with each single, which is pretty stunning, considering that she always seems to have a new one on the charts. And if you ask me (I know, I know, nobody has), "Umbrella" ranks as one of the 20 best pop singles of the '00s. But am I the only one who was misled by the tribal beats and dubby vocals of her 2005 debut hit, "Pon de Replay," into thinking that she'd be a totally different kind of artist? Like, perhaps, a sort of distaff Sean Paul (only sexier--and better)?

Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon have only been married for one hot minute, and already the gossip columns are spreading rumors of trouble in paradise (link). You'd think they would have learned from the examples of Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, and Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro. Rampant PDA and public declarations that you're "soul mates" (could they be any cornier) are harbingers of romantic doom. Who doubted that Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica, Britney & Kevin: Chaotic and Carmen and Dave: An MTV Love Story would end in tears? The moral of the story: Some things are better left unsaid.

Where in the world is partyholic Tara Reid? Maybe I'm just a sucker for an underdog, but I've always felt that Tara was a pretty good actress (she was, after all, in Robert Altman's Dr. T and the Women, left, and the late director did not cast no-talent bimbos in his films) who was unfairly maligned by the sexist media. Several years ago when the tabs were reporting a one-night fling between Britney and Colin Farrell, Britney came out looking slutty while Colin came out smelling like...a stud. Matthew McConaughey can play the bongos nude and wander around a party in Mexico, drunk off his ass, searching for a missing flip flop, and his box-office continues to soar. If Tara were a guy, she'd probably have an Oscar nod and a Golden Globe by now.

Are Alicia Keys' As I Am (she really needs to work on her album titles) and Mariah Carey's E=MC squared (ditto!) already over after just one No. 1 single and a Top 20 "flop" apiece? As I Am's "No One" was simply a too-tough act to follow. But poor Mariah (sorry to keep picking on her). It's time for her to freshen up her sound. She's been more or less singing the same old song since "Honey." The breathy vocals and mid-tempo hip-hop-lite grooves that seemed semi-fresh in 1997 have gone stale. "We Belong Together" notwithstanding, I miss the good old "Vision of Love" and "Fantasy" days when Mariah used to actually sing.

Angelina Jolie was lauded at Cannes for her performance in the Clint Eastwood-directed Changeling. And Brad Pitt's still-unscreened David Fincher-directed The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is generating Best Picture Oscar talk based on its trailer alone (link). Will the Academy finally embrace the couple after snubbing them last year for their respective deserving performances in A Mighty Heart and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, or will their personal lives get in the way again? Will somebody please remind me, what it is about their personal lives that everyone finds so objectionable? Presumably wronged woman Jennifer Aniston clearly has moved on (so should we), and since when did adopting orphan babies become anything less than noble? Do we hate them because they're beautiful?

Speaking of the Oscars, when will Meryl Streep get her second Best Actress Oscar to bookend the one she got for learning Polish and emoting her butt off in 1982's Sophie's Choice? Sure she also won Best Supporting Actress back in the Pleiostene Era for Kramer vs. Kramer, but for God's sake, Hilary Swank won Best Actress twice in five years! And you heard it here first: Next year's Amelia Earhart biopic, Amelia, will put Hilary in the frontrunning for a third. Meryl's Proof (left) seems promising (Mamma Mia!, not so much), but then, so did Rendition and Lions for Lambs last year. And since we are on the subject, when will they finally make the movie version of the Sunset Boulevard musical so that Glenn Close at last can snag the Oscar that everyone seems to think she already has. (I've already given up on Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Pfeiffer, and Julianne Moore's chances are waning fast.) A further Oscar note: Here in Buenos Aires, I recently saw a poster for the just-out Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (aka Antes Que el Diablo Sepa Que Has Muerto) that touted Albert Finney as an Oscar winner (aka Ganador de Oscar). Glaring error, hint or both?

I'm no Guy Ritche fan, but I do hope that the state of his union to Madonna is as solid as they keep insisting it is. Despite her protestations to the contrary, I am not convinced that some of Hard Candy's romantic angst wasn't inspired by him. Still, I can't help but feel a twinge of excitement over her stirring up a little controversy for something other than botched adoptions and dissing George Bush after years of playing the devoted missus and, if her brother Christopher Ciccone's new tell-all (link) is to believed, dropping her gay pals to appease her supposedly homophobic hubby. Madonna, NY Yankee Alex Rodiguez, his wife and Lenny Kravitz? A rumored quadrangle that makes me feel like it's 1994 all over again.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

REMAKING HISTORY?

Last night I watched an old History Channel documentary on the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy (right). Conspiracy theories abounded. There's no doubt that 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan (below, in custody) was a key player since he was caught with a--if not the--smoking gun, but experts agree that others were involved. Of particular interest (to me) was a woman wearing a polka dot dress who is said to have been in the crowd and to have declared one of two things, depending on whom you believe, to her male companion after RFK was shot: "They got him!" Or was it "We got him!"? The latter would make her, some insist, one of several co-conspirators. More compelling (in general) is the evidence of multiple shots fired at angles that indicate they didn't come from one gun. But the woman wearing the polka dot dress really pulled me into the story because, well, how Barbara Stanwyck! She added a touch of soapy, film-noir drama to what was otherwise dry academics.

History--and history channels--are full of conspiracy theories. I recently watched two other docs, both on Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U.S. president. One reasoned that his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was a pawn of the Confederate government, including Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president. The other contended that Lincoln was a secret racist. Then there are the theories surrounding John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination, which have been well-documented, both on the History Channel and in Oliver Stone's 1991 film, JFK. Even Hillary Clinton, at one point, suggested that the whole Monica Lewinsky mess was a Republican conspiracy against her husband, President Bill Clinton.

I generally don't have much of an opinion one way or the other when it comes to these theories (although I find the idea of a racist Lincoln somewhat unfathomable). It's the history element--along with the occasional soap-operatic flourish--that attracts me, and I have been mad about history my entire life. At age seven, I became obsessed with the U.S. Presidents and learned everything I could about them: the years they were born, the years they died, their political parties, their years in office, their first ladies, and the list goes on. Impressed by my vast Presidential knowledge, my teacher took me around to the other second-grade classes so that I could recite all their names (we were only up to No. 39, Jimmy Carter, at the time), not seeming to mind that I completely butchered a few of them, most memorably (by me) James Buchanan and Dwight David Eisenhower. I was, after all, only 7. I was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and although my family moved to Florida when I was 4, I still had a crazy-thick Caribbean accent (traces of it remain to this day). I must have been some spectacle: More than 30 years later, my classmates from back then still talk about these recitations.

Getting back to the conspiracy theories, sometimes I wonder if they've actually been hotly debated since the time of the incidents in question or if they are merely the recent creations of a generation raised on convoluted cloak-and-dagger crime dramas. Sometimes people die, plain and simple. Maybe there was no grand royal scheme behind the car crash the killed Princess Diana. Maybe she was just the victim of reckless driving and overzealous paparazzi. Maybe Marilyn Monroe's drug-overdose death was just as plain, simple and senseless as Heath Ledger's. And maybe, just maybe, Elvis really has left the building.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

VIRTUAL INSANITY

Facebook is driving me crazy. Don't get me wrong. I think it's a great social tool--much better than MySpace, whose overdesigned pages intimidate me. (Facebook, with its simple, unfussy layout and abundance of white space, is like the Internet equivalent of a perfectly decorated bachelor pad, spartan with lots of clean surfaces.) And those horror stories about teen abductions via MySpace don't help its case. For a long time, I had received invitations to join Facebook from friends and family, but with visions of MySpace mishaps dancing in my head, I resisted. Finally, in a moment of weakness--or was it boredom?--I took the plunge and signed up (profile link).

In the beginning, it was fantastic. I was surprised to see so many people I knew already on Facebook. Friends and acquaintances to whom I hadn't spoken since I moved to Buenos Aires popped back into my life. Old high school and college pals made comebacks. I even tracked down an Italian fling from eight years ago, who, as fate would have it, was about to come to Buenos Aires on holiday. (Yet another long story for a future post. In short, the moral: Don't look back. Look what it did for Orpheus and Eurydice!) I asked myself, What took you so long? I hate to admit it, but I even began to look down a little on those clueless saps who still weren't on Facebook. Silly me.

But soon, Facebook started to go a little weirdo on me. In addition to the normal messages I was receiving with increasing infrequency, "friends" were sending me "mojo," "good karma," virtual kisses, animated gifts and other peculiar cyber bric-á-brac. I'd get updates on the most inane minutiae of everyones' lives: So and so... "is working." So and so... "is having a beer." How fascinating! I still haven't figured out why someone would be at a concert and on Facebook at the same time, but whatever. I'd also get quizzes: What's your rock star personality? Which '80s movie defines you? Do you bunch up the toilet paper or fold it before you wipe? Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get the point. Then there were invitations to events in foreign countries, to knighthood (?!), and even one creepy application where you can buy your friends. I cringed and soldiered on.

I signed up for some of the social applications, like "Hot Or Not?" and "Are YOU Interested?" I figured that if I was going to meet someone online, I couldn't go wrong with a website that nearly everyone I knew--even my mom!--was on. But boy, did I go wrong! When someone clicked "Yes" on me, if I thought he was cute, I'd click "Yes" back. Voila! A "Match"! Without fail, these "Matches" resulted in one of two scenarios: We'd make idle online chit chat for weeks without ever actually meeting and then stop talking altogether. Or I'd never hear back from them in the first place.

I got it. I get it. Some people are just looking for an ego boost or collecting "Matches" so that visitors to their profile will be impressed by their high number of "Matches," which is displayed under your application photo. How Argentine! It's that same old tired porteño story: arrogance, insecurity, an over-reliance on IM and SMS. (Memo to my Argentine suitors: Sometimes it's okay to pick up the phone and call. Sometimes it's okay to meet new people in person.) After a billion IMs and SMS messages, I lose interest. I have yet to actually meet anyone face-to-face for the first time through Facebook.

And the madness continues. Lately, I've been getting numerous friendship requests from complete strangers. It's understandable if you see my profile photo, dig it and decide to give me a try. What I don't understand are the ones who send me friendship requests, and when I accept, never follow up. I've started to decline these mystery invitations, which fills me with guilt because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. But you have to draw the line somewhere.

Despite its challenges to my good nature, I'm not giving up on Facebook. It's got plenty of good points: You can communicate with all of your friends through a single message. You can share photos, music, videos. You can promote your blog. And despite all of the evidence to the contrary so far, I'm convinced that if you're really lucky and willing to go through a lot of losers, you can even find Mr. (or Miss) Right. Just like in real life. So wish me luck. I'll be needing it.

DOWNLOAD Kate Bush: "Deeper Understanding" (a prescient song from 1989's The Sensual World about valuing cyber connections over the human touch)

CLASHES OF THE TITANS

Nothing perks up a slow day like a good old-fashioned battle of the divas. Bette Davis vs. Anne Baxter in All About Eve. Bette Davis vs. Anne Baxter and Sunset Boulevard's Gloria Swanson for Best Actress at the 1951 Academy Awards. (Non-diva Judy Holliday won--deservedly, in my opinion--for Born Yesterday.) Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Moving right along from Bette and her fighting fits... Shirley MacLaine vs. Anne Bancroft in The Turning Point. Krystle vs. Alexis on Dynasty. (Krystle, after kicking Alexis' butt for the umpteenth time: "If you want a rematch, just whistle.... If you can.") Michael Jackson vs. Paul McCartney on "The Girl Is Mine." Brandy vs. Monica on "The Boy Is Mine." Elton John vs. Tina Turner behind the scenes at VH1's 1999 Divas Live after she dared to give him musical direction while rehearsing their duet of, appropriately, "The Bitch Is Back."

Back to Bette for a second: Her war with Joan actually crossed over into real life. I read somewhere that once, after arriving in her New York City hotel suite, Bette looked outside the window, saw gloomy, gray skies, and declared, "Another shitty day. Joan has seen to that!" Priceless!

But my favorite diva-on-diva diss would have to be the one Omar Sharif bestowed upon his Oscar-winning Funny Girl costar--and ex-flame!--Barbra Streisand (with him, above, in the 1968 film): "I think her biggest problem is that she wants to be a woman and she wants to be beautiful, but she is neither." Ouch!

So, Mr. Sharif, tell us what you really think.

VIDEO Krystle vs. Alexis on Dynasty: Round 47

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

THE MAN OF MY DREAM

Last night I had the strangest dream--and I'm not talking about the one with the head-scratching Matthew McConaughey cameo (maybe I'm psychic because unbeknownst to me when I went to bed last night, his girlfriend had just given birth to their son). In the other oddball dream, Richard Gere was my dad or some kind of father figure, and he was driving us in a huge truck (quite recklessly, I might add) to Mill Creek Mall in my hometown of Kissimmee, Florida. Mill Creek was the strip mall where I got my first job as a bag boy at Publix supermarket at age 15. I have no idea what this dream means, but it's always a pleasure to see Gere. I think he's one of our most underrated actors, and it's a great Hollywood mystery that he's never been nominated for an Oscar. (Ditto for Donald Sutherland, by the way--I mean, have you seen Day of the Locust?)

My favorite Gere performance was in 2002's Unfaithful. Diane Lane was rightly praised, particularly for the scene on the train after her first romp with Olivier Martinez's character. (Interesting fact: Martinez was described by Gere as a "kid" in the film, but in reality, he is 10 days short of one year younger than Lane.) Charlize Theron ended up taking the Oscar for her frightening performance--and for physically living up to the title--in Monster. She deserved it. But I would have been just as happy if it had gone to Lane for Unfaithful or Naomi Watts for 21 Grams. Just watching Watts beat the crap out of Benicio del Toro with a baseball bat was worth the price of admission (or, in my case, the DVD rental).

But boy, do I digress. My favorite Gere scene in Unfaithful (SPOILER ALERT!) is the one in which he struggles with Martinez' corpse in the elevator after wrapping it in a rug (see video below). His fear and desperation is so palpable that I found myself rooting for him, wanting him to get away with the hideous murder that he'd just committed. I also loved Gere in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, An Officer and a Gentleman, Chicago and even opposite a very wooden Jennifer Lopez in Dance with Me, but in my opinion, his work in Unfaithful is his very best.

I don't think he's too popular in Hollywood, but perhaps he'll have his day at the Oscars yet. He's got a few baity upcoming projects. He'll reunite with Diane Lane--this time he's the other man--later this year in Nights in Rodanthe, and he'll play the husband of Oscar queen Hilary Swank's Amelia Earhart in the 2009 biopic Amelia. Who knows? Maybe he'll pull a Reese Witherspoon, who won her Oscar for portraying down-home June Carter Cash as uptown society matron in Walk the Line, and upstage the star of the show. As hopeful as I am--Hilary Swank needs another Oscar like I need another ridiculous dream--I'm not holding my breath.

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MORE MUSIC FOR THE MASSES

There are few simple pleasures in my life greater than an unexpected musical treat. I received one a few weeks ago in a drugstore on Avenida Santa Fe when "Regret," New Order's more or less forgotten U.S. Top 40 single from 1993 (link) started to play on the radio. Another one came my way this past weekend when I was sitting in a taxi trying not to inhale the driver's second-hand cigarette smoke: Rod Stewart's 1983 Body Wishes single "What Am I Gonna Do (I'm So In Love With You)." Okay, I admit that it's not the best of Rod, but oh, the memories.

This never happens in New York City. Not unless you're at an event hosted by someone with great taste in music, like the engagement party of my friends Thom and Shirley several years ago. The DJ gave a spin to "Twisterella," a track from Ride's Going Blank Again (link), a high point of the British shoegazer/dream-pop movement of the early '90s that someone--quite possibly a virgin--once described to me as "better than sex." In NYC stores, you usually get Muzak or middle-of-the-road oldies by the likes Rita Coolidge, Melissa Manchester and Frankie Valli (with and without the Four Seasons), while cab drivers love to crank up those cheesy dance tracks on WKTU-FM. That's probably why I stopped listening to the radio ages ago. Why put myself at the mercy of clueless, tasteless programmers when I can create my own daily soundtrack?

Buenos Aires isn't the only land of unexpected musical treats. Several years ago, I was in a McDonald's in Athens, Greece, when two guilty-pleasure blasts from the past came on the radio: "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime (link)," a 1980 No. 18 single from one-hit wonder (in the U.S.) Korgis and "Waiting for a Star to Fall" by Boy Meets Girl. Apparently, porteños aren't the only ones with an '80s obsession. In fact, the Boy Meets Girl oldie was remade twice in 2005, as club hits by Australian duo Cabin Crew (video link) and UK electronica group Sunset Strippers.

McDonald's was the site of another musical treat in 1996 when I was on vacation in Prague. There I was giving my order to one of the supermodels behind the counter (McD employees there all look like they should be walking down a runway) when "Fill Me Up" by former 4 Non Blonde Linda Perry from her 1996 mega-flop In Flight CD (link) started to play on the radio. Suddenly, I was filled with hope. Maybe during my month away from the U.S., In Flight finally had begun to break through, I thought, and when I returned home everyone would be as crazy about Linda Perry as I was. Alas, she'd have to wait another five years before she'd finally be appreciated--though as a songwriter and producer, not as a solo singer--after crafting the smash "Get the Party Started" for P!nk.

My ultimate radio moment outside the U.S. was in 1995 when I was on vacation in London. There I was, sitting in a cab after a long night out, when the most angelic voice singing one of the most beautiful songs I'd ever heard came on the radio (right after "The Love Inside," a fantastic album cut from Barbra Streisand's Guilty that no U.S. deejay would be caught dead playing). "Who is this?" I asked the driver. "Randy Crawford," he replied, but he couldn't remember the song title. I'd heard of her before, thanks to her 1989 Top 5 R&B hit, a cover of Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door" that blows away every other version of the song.

The morning after, I went to Tower Records in Picadilly Circus and bought the most comprehensive Randy Crawford compilation I could find, The Very Best of Randy Crawford. I inserted the CD into my Discman, pressed play and searched for the song I'd heard the night before. Two tracks in, and there is was: "One Day I'll Fly Away" (see video below). Thus began my extreme Randy Crawford fandom that continues to this day. In fact, the very first CD that I bought after moving to Buenos Aires was Feeling Good, Crawford's 2006 collaboration with jazz great Joe Sample, who cowrote "Fly Away" with Will Jennings. A huge R&B star in the U.K. during the '80s, she enjoyed her biggest hit there with the No. 2 "Fly Away" in 1980. Years later, I saw her in concert in New York City. At one point, she actually kicked off her shoes and lied down on the floor, singing the entire time. I couldn't figure out if she was stoned, crazy or just brilliant and eccentric. I decided all of the above, and for that, I loved her even more.

Randy Crawford: "One Day I'll Fly Away"

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Monday, July 7, 2008

SWEET "MERCY" ME

I tried to resist her. Lord knows I tried. But I guess I was fighting a losing battle. I'm talking about Duffy, 24, the hottest female singer to come out of the UK (Wales, to be exact) since Amy Winehouse, to whom she's often compared. Perhaps that is why I tried so hard not to love her. But I just saw the video for "Mercy" (see below), her No. 1 UK and Top 40 U.S. hit, for the second time, and halfway through, I decided that this was one bandwagon onto which I might be ready to jump. I know I'm a little late to the party because the video has been out for, like, ever, but I don't do MTV, so the only time I get to see videos is when I watch them online or when the Sony Channel plays them between programs, which was the case here. Duffy's girl-next-door good looks; her simple but stylish, monochromatic dress; her understated moves on the platform (love that platform); the sexy dancers (particularly the blazing bit toward the end)--without those images the song might never have managed grab a hold of me. Video didn't kill the radio star, as the Buggles sang all those years ago. It just won this one a new fan. Now I'm dying to check out the rest of Rockferry, Duffy's debut CD. Stay tuned.

Duffy: "Mercy"

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THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM..., SEGUNDA PARTE

Yesterday I experienced three nights out in one. First, I had drinks with friends at a new bar in Palermo Soho that I've been dying to go to. There were gorgeous people, a terrific roof terrace that reminds me of being out in Los Angeles and a bartender pal on whom I've had the hugest crush for the better part of the last year. Next stop: More drinks with a second group of friends at a club in Belgrano where the average age of the crowd seemed to be about 20. I split after less than an hour because there were way too many people, and I quickly grew tired of having hyperactive kids spill their drinks on me. I ended up at GLAM, where I met up with yet more friends, made a few new acquaintances (Leonardo and Andres: ¡Mucho gusto!) and danced myself into a state of total exhaustion.

Have I mentioned that I absolutely adore the nightlife in Buenos Aires? (See above: Saturday revelers at Crobar one of BA's top after-midnight attractions.) I think it's better than in New York, which, for me, peaked in the early '90s, better than in London, which peaked in the mid-to-late '90s, and better than in Paris, which has always been as slow as those snails that Parisians love to eat.

But that's not the point of this post. This morning, I received an IM from a guy I know who said he'd seen me at GLAM the night before. I ran into so many people there whom I hadn't seen in weeks, but he wasn't one of them. I asked him why he didn't say hello to me. His response: "Tuve miedo." Translation: He was afraid. Something about my being big (as in tall?) and scary (Who, me?) and surrounded by people (oh, right). I'm still not sure what that means or what I'm supposed to do with it, but it's the second time someone has made that excuse for not approaching me when they've seen me out.

What's up with that? My friends always tell me that one of the reasons why I'm chronically single (besides my being extremely picky) is that people are intimidated by me. I'll probably never understand why, but I'm beginning to see my friends' point. Especially considering that the guy in question from last night is someone who knows me and has seen me out before and had no problem greeting me then. Who knows who else is secretly watching me from afar when I go out? Another guy at a GLAM, a beautiful stranger, approached me to tell me that he'd seen me at the first bar but walked away dejected when I told him that I couldn't say the same. (¡Porteños!) I shudder and cringe to think of the things these people see (Leo, Andres and me?), as I like to check my angelic behavior at the door. What can I say? Rihanna's "Please Don't Stop the Music" brings out the devil in me.