Friday, May 29, 2009

LET THERE BE LOVE

Since we're on the subject of silly love songs (see the Lisa Stansfield post below), I've decided to compile a list of my 21 favorites. Sad songs say so much, and they're the kind of love songs towards which I tend to gravitate, but I already devoted a list to 10 of those in a previous post (how could I have left off "Spending My Time" by Roxette or "Only Human" by Dina Carroll?). This time, the focus will be on songs about found love or enduring love. Think of it as the ultimate mix tape for the love or your life.

I'm surprised by the lack of country songs on the list, considering that it's the first genre of music that I fell in love with growing up. But then, country is better known for (and better at) declarations of heartbreak than love, and the best ones make you want to drown your sorrows in a river of booze. Generally, I prefer intimate love songs with a clear narrative, a specific point of view and just a touch of sadness or desperation (lyrical, vocal or both) to grand romantic statements a la Whitney Houston's chest-thumping version of "I Will Always Love You." But sometimes nothing says, "I love you," like a heaping dose of red-hot bombast (see Nos. 9 and 17). After all, at its most powerful, love is unpredictable, unrestrained and just a little bit over the top.

  1. "All Because Of You" Karen Carpenter For those who consider Carpenters too sterile and anodyne, this one (listen), from Karen's delayed-until-well-after-her-death solo album, Lovelines (1996) is devastating in its stripped-down, country-tinged soulfulness.
  2. "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" Roberta Flack Often imitated, never duplicated or improved upon (see video below). My apologies to George Michael, who tried his best.
  3. "Heroes" David Bowie See "Lo Mejor de David Bowie". (listen)
  4. "I Had A Talk With My Man Last Night" Dusty Springfield The best of Dusty, the best of love. (listen)
  5. "If Only You Knew" Patti LaBelle I love how she starts slowly and surely, tenderly caressing the lyrics, building in emotion until she reaches the appropriately wailing climax. "I say you. don't. know. how. much I need you..." Actually, Patti, I think he does. (listen)
  6. "I'm Still In Love With You" Al Green I'm not sure where I was or what I was doing when I fell in love with Al Green, but I'm 100% certain I was listening to this. (listen)
  7. "(I've Been) Searching So Long" Chicago "Good things in life take a long time." Truer words have never been sung. (listen)
  8. "Knocks Me Off My Feet" Stevie Wonder Who rocked it more? Songwriter Stevie (who gets the credit here) or Luther Vandross? Does it matter? Take our pick (or choose both), sit back and feel the love.
  9. "Love Of A Lifetime" Firehouse Hair-metal love at its most grandiose, its most histrionic and its most dead accurate. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what it sounds like to be hair over heels. (listen)
  10. "Lovers Rock" Sade The last peep we heard from Sade, nearly nine years ago. A new CD will finally arrive on Nov. 24. Until then, stop, look, listen (below) and weep.
  11. "Lucky Man" The Verve I read somewhere that Richard Ashcroft wrote this one (see video below) about his wife, Kate. That lucky, lucky thing.
  12. "Mad About You" Belinda Carlisle Kudos to Belinda. Straight-up pop rarely gets love just right. But on her debut solo single, she nailed it. (listen)
  13. "The Makings Of You" Gladys Knight & The Pips Gladys's finest hour -- or rather, her finest two minutes and twenty-six seconds. (listen)
  14. "So Natural" Lisa Stansfield See the video at the end of the "A 'Natural' Beauty" post below and draw your own conclusions.
  15. "Somewhere Only We Know" Keane Epic and cinematic. (listen)
  16. "The Man With The Child In His Eyes" Kate Bush Love at its most fragile and vulnerable. (see video below)
  17. "The Reason" Celine Dion "In the middle of the night/ I'm going down 'cause I adore you." A song that (probably) launched a thousand blow jobs. (listen)
  18. "True Colors" Cyndia Lauper "Time After Time" might be more high-profile, but Cyndi's other No. 1 hit, features her best-ever vocal, delicate and haunting. On the flipside, there's "I Drove All Night," all sturdy and bold, which is just bubbling under my Top 21. (listen)
  19. "Untitled" R.E.M. "I stayed up late to hear your voice. This light is skewed to keep you warm. This song is skewed to keep you strong." Chills. (listen)
  20. "Would I Lie To You?" Charles & Eddie Love is a beautiful thing: a sentiment which, by the way, happens to be the title of the short-lived duo's second single, a non-hit, that somehow, miraculously, manages to be nearly as good as the first. (listen)
  21. "You And I" Rick James Sex and candy. Joy and pain. Love and happiness. You and I. They fit together like a glove on hand, that's right. (see video below)

"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face": Roberta Flack
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"Lucky Man": The Verve
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"The Man With The Child In His Eyes": Kate Bush
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"Lovers Rock": Sade
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"You And I": Rick James
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Thursday, May 28, 2009

A "NATURAL" BEAUTY

This morning I woke up with Lisa Stansfield on my mind. Back in the very early '90s she was one of my No. 1 musical obsessions, and I had to pleasure of meeting and interviewing her several times (see the above photo taken at an after-party following her New York performance in support of her failed 1997 comeback album, Lisa Stansfield -- try to ignore my look; it was the '90s). When it comes to perfect blue-eyed-soul singing, no one aside from Dusty Springfield has ever done it better or with more finesse.

Her 1989 breakthrough hit, "All Arond The World" (not "Been Around The World" as is commonly assumed) announced the arrival of a singular talent with the potential for longevity. But it all fell apart almost as quickly as it began. I blame short attention spans, the overall bad taste of the record-buying public and the decision of Clive Davis -- then the head of her label, Arista Records -- not to release her third CD, So Natural, in the United States. It killed her career momentum, and although she continues to perform and release music (most recently, The Moment in 2004), each new CD has experienced an increasingly dismal chart fate.

The good news is that we'll always have career highlights like her 1989 debut, Affection, and the breathtaking video for her 1993 single "So Natural," one of my 10 all-time favorite love songs, posted below.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

GAGA FOR GAGA

I stand corrected.

As my friends well know, I've never been much of a Lady GaGa fan. In fact, I may have used the words "despise" and "hate" more than once when the subject of GaGa came up. I'm someone who loves to root for the underdog, and her seemingly out-of-nowhere popularity didn't help: Every post-adolescent gay boy in Buenos Aires suddenly was worshiping at her altar. Although I have a passing interest in "Poker Face," her recent U.S. and UK chart topper, I didn't really get her. It was a combination of things: the bleached-blonde wigs, the fussy space-age get ups, the tacky-trashy persona and, most of all, the insanely annoying "Just Dance," her debut No. 1 hit with the anachronistic Euro-techno beat.

But I'm starting to come around -- and it has nothing at all to do with her music, which I plan on revisiting. Yes, I already had that passing interest in "Poker Face," and I've got to give her props for managing to work the titular phrase into a hit song, but my newfound appreciation for GaGa has everything to do with her personality. I just watched her perform "Poker Face" on an episode of Ellen, and while I was unimpressed by the performance itself (memo to singer-songwriters: the stripped-down and soulful piano intro is a nice way to display your chops, but it just doesn't work with some throwaway pop songs), she was so gracious during the after-interview (see video below) that I found myself kind of falling in love.

She told Ellen that of all the things she's done since finding The Fame (including working with Britney?), being on Ellen's show meant the most to her because Ellen is such an inspiration for women and gay people. She went on to talk about her years of rejection (Who knew? I didn't) and praised her mom for standing by her through it all. It's such a cliché compliment, but she seemed so down to earth and normal sitting there with her exposed body parts and a replica of the solar system around her head.

It'll be nice to not have to live in fear of my next GaGa sighting anymore. No, I won't be joining the freakshow on the dancefloor the next time the DJ spins "Just Dance," but it you can't read mum mum mum mah p-p-p poker face, don't worry. I'll be thinking good things.

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DAN, MY MAN?

Last night I took the Facebook quiz "Which guy from Gossip Girl would be your boyfriend?" I so wanted Nate, but I got Dan instead. Whoa! Dan is actually the one I hate most (way too self-righteous and goody two shoes), but I'm really happy I didn't get Chuck Bass. In love with bad boy. How cliché!

Anyway, for those who care, here's Facebook's take on me: "You attract the 'funny one.' You would be good with Dan Humphrey. You are quirky and fun and don't take yourself too seriously. You know how to have a good time and love to laugh. You would rather spend the night reading or watching a movie than go out and party, but that's what he loves about you. Dan is easy to talk to and will be there for you no matter what."

I love to party with the best of them, and I often do, but I'd say the rest of it is pretty spot on -- and consistent with Facebook's previous pick for my celebrity boyfriend: funny guy Will Smith. Truth be told, the Facebook quizzes are pretty transparent. If you want to end up with the bad boy (and who doesn't?), it's obvious which answers you should choose. But be true to yourself, and sometimes the results are shockingly accurate. For example, when I took the "Which Greek god(dess) are you?," I prayed that I'd be Hera, Zues's wife and the goddess of fidelity and fertility." She was the Eric Kane of Mouth Olympus. Totally me, right?

Well, I ended up being Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Repeat after me: Whoa! My Facebook description: "You are Artemis and enjoy being alone. You like the search, to hunt for those things you desire, and you are like wild animals such as deer. You are especially active at night, restless and roaming through your territory. The moon lights your way."

Frighteningly dead on, as several of my friends noted when I tried to dissent. My brother, Alexi, in particular, wasn't buying the whole Hera thing. "Hera is the goddess of marriage and fidelity," he posted in response to my results and subsequent resistance to them. "Somehow does not strike me as you, Jeremy. Never mind her Eric Kane/Ms. Chandler theatrics."

He had a point. But as Alexi once correctly pointed out, I have a dual personality, I'm a "recovering introvert." Yes, I may be addicted to wanderlust, and the marriage and fidelity thing is probably not apparent at a glance (especially around 4.30am on a Saturday morning), but stay awhile and dig a little deeper, and you'll see they are definitely in the cards. Count on it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A CREATION THEORY

Finally, a summer movie I can get excited about. Due June 26, My Sister's Keeper is a drama from The Notebook director Nick Cassavetes about two parents (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) with a young daughter (Sofia Vassilieva) who suffers from leukemia. Through in-vitro fertilization, they "produce" a daughter (Abigail Breslin) strictly for the purpose of providing the sick girl with a genetic match to save her life. Years later, when daughter number one suffers kidney failure and they turn to daughter number two to be a donor, the latter refuses and hires herself a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) to protect her rights. Conflict ensues.

I don't know about you, but I'll be rooting for daughter number two. I mean, this poor girl already has enough emotional baggage to carry around for life, having been brought into the world strictly to save her big sister. And she has to lose a kidney for her, too? In the book, her reasons for refusing are actually far more complicated, and there are some interesting twists along the way. If the movie is faithful to the book, expect plenty of waterworks.

Last night, I watched an episode of Private Practice with a parallel storyline. Thank God, Dr. Addison Montgomery saw things the way I do and refused to have any part of it. I recently had a conversation with a friend about baby-making technology and how it's gotten out of control. Gays and lesbians are using sperm and eggs from John Does and Jane Does and, in the case of gay men, hiring surrogate mothers just so they can have bragging rights to a biological kid. Ricky Martin did it. So did a very good friend of mine who is now the father of two beautiful daughters. I'm absolutely thrilled for him, but I have my reservations about the process in general.

Years ago, when I expressed a non-desire (since reversed) not to have children, my aunt said that I was selfish. But where is the selflessness in being obsessed with having biological children, turning to questionable means and shelling out tons of money toward that end when there are so many kids out there waiting to be adopted? Why do bleeding-heart liberals cock their eyebrows at people who buy expensive purebred dogs rather than making a trip to the local dog shelter, while applauding would-be parents who bypass adoption agencies in favor of expensive scientific procedures for taking control of their lives?

I believe parenthood is a great thing, and I hope to get there someday (via adoption -- none of this surrogacy stuff or impregnating one of my female friends for me). I also understand the appeal of having biological children and seeing yourself in another person. But those who think they are instantaneously better people for being a parents (you are out there, and you know who you are -- self-improvement is a process and it comes with more effort than simply giving birth), or that parenthood automatically makes their lives richer or validates their existence is fooling themselves (it's all about what you do with the experience, not the experience itself). Yes, being a mom or dad can be a great thing for those who carry that parenting gene, and raising children does require a certain amount of selflessness. But the motives -- sense of family, companionship, immortality through offspring -- are just as selfish. Think about it.

My Sister's Keeper will be interesting for reasons other than whether Cameron Diaz will or won't be snubbed by Oscar yet again (Vanilly Sky comes to mind, as does Being John Malkovich and The Gangs Of New York). I'm curious to see what kind of debate it kicks off regarding in-vitro fertilization and what basically amounts to doctors and parents playing God. Don't misunderstand me: I'm no right-wing nut; I'm all for stem-cell research, the right to choose (although I think abortion is a horrifying thing) and euthanasia. (Capital punishment remains a very gray area for me.) So this is not just about playing God. I believe baby-making technology fails to take into account the babies and what possible monsters will be created when the details of conception are eventually revealed.

DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR KIDS ARE?

Here's a post with no purpose other than to express my love of the song. When I was a kid, I always thought it was a woman singing. It wasn't until years after it hit No. 1 that I found out the singer was indeed a guy.

"Hot Child In The City": Nick Gilder

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MY FAVORITE "MEMORY"

She's back! Last night Susan Boyle returned to the Britain's Got Talent stage to perform "Memory" from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. How'd she do? If you ignore those first few wobbly notes, the overall stiffness of her performance and the fact that she showed no real emotional connection to the song, it was passable (though way better than Jason "I didn't know a cat was singing it" Castro's breathy, anemic take on last season's American Idol). But let's face it: If, say, Bernadette Peters or Patti LuPone were to offer the same exact vocal at this year's Tony awards, everyone would shrug. We expect more from our legends.

Susan, though, despite her current fame, is no legend, and the BGT judges raved. Of course. After more than one million hits on YouTube (as everyone is so fond of saying, but what does that even mean?) for Susan and considering the still-in-progress press sensation she has created, it would have appeared positively villainous for any of them to rob the viewing public of its media pet by dissing anything but an utter train wreck. So the judges drooled. Piers Morgan spouted some feel-good jive talking about how Susan's debut performance of "I Dreamed A Dream" weeks ago gave "hope and inspiration" to a world in crisis. Oh, brother! And Simon Cowell apologized for initially dismissing Susan, sight seen but voice unheard. Please! If I remember correctly, the only ones who mistreated her were the BGT editors who, pre-performance, presented her like a punchline waiting to happen.

How does Susan's rendition stand up to Barbra Streisand, who recorded the tune for her 1980 Memories compilation, and Elaine Paige, who sang it in the original West End production of Cats in 1981? I say it doesn't (Barbra is such a tough act to follow), but you be the judge.

"Memory": Susan Boyle

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"Memory": Barbra Streisand

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"Memory": Elaine Paige

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Monday, May 25, 2009

EVERYONE SAYS "I LOVE YOU"

Yesterday I received a crash course in just how limiting the English language can be. Although I have my share of commitment and intimacy issues, I've never been the guy who has a problem showing love. My friends and I often end our conversations with the casual "love you," just as a way to express our feelings of deep affection and admiration. There's nothing romantic or all-consuming about our love. We just, you know, totally dig each other, in the most platonic way.

And note the absence of the word "I." For me (I can't speak for them, but I suspect for them, too), it's not there for a reason. I think that in my entire adult life, there are only two people with whom I haven't been sleeping to whom I've said, "I love you": my mom and my best friend Lori. And I've even slept with Lori twice (platonically, of course) -- once, during her recent visit to BA, and the other time during the blackout of the summer of 2002 that left much of the northeast U.S. without electricity for nearly 24 hours.

I recently began dating a guy whom I totally dig in the most non-platonic way. We've had exactly two dates, but for the past couple of weeks, we've spent hours every day talking to each other online, where his personality is as perfect as his English. Sometimes it feels like we've been acquainted with each other far longer than a couple of months. I'm not sure whether it's the fact that we can communicate in English and therefore, I can more comfortably express the real me. Maybe it's just pure chemistry. Or perhaps it's in his kiss. I have a theory that it's a little and a lot of all of the above.

But yesterday I did the wackiest thing. I could blame it on the a-a-a-a-alcohol, because when I did it, I was still slightly under the influence of a giddy buzz from the evening before (my first night out since my birthday party two weeks earlier). There we were, talking online, the conversation flowing freely. I was completely happy and at ease chatting with my new friend. Then it happened. We were wrapping up our conversation, and it just came out: "Love you," I wrote, without even thinking (a sign?).

"Love you, too!" he wrote back.

Immediately, I wanted the earth to swallow me up. Was I losing my religion? Had I said too much? Too soon? Had I given him the wrong impression -- that I just toss around the L word, like a dirty pair of socks? And had he responded in kind just out of the warmness of his heart? Best-case scenario: Maybe he was just like my friends and me, and he'd never bring it up because to him it wasn't such a big deal. Dream on, Jeremy. I knew that was one fantasy that was not going to come true. This is one of the most sensitive, soulful guys I've met in Buenos Aires, and there was no way he was going to let it go.

Hours into our date that evening, it finally came up, that thing I'd said. I tried to explain myself without coming off as if I was merely back pedalling. At the same time, I wanted him to know how deeply I dig him. He seemed to understand and actually appeared to be a little relieved. "In Spanish," he said, "there are many ways of saying, 'I love you.' There is 'te quiero,' 'te amo'.... In English, there is only one way."

Bingo! I was the victim of a language malfunction. I couldn't believe he totally got it. Suddenly, I was struck by the feeling that somewhere down the road, I could actually imagine myself adding on that rarely seen or heard "I."

Later on, after he went home, I sent him a text message to let him know how much I had enjoyed the evening. He wrote back that he'd also had a great time. His final words: "Love you!"

Ah, yes, this one totally gets it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

THE PAYBACK, PART 1

"Things are looking up for me now. It seems like karma's making its rounds. It's my turn now, won't be held down, no. Karma's gonna visit you, too. You're gonna pay for the things you put me through. I hope you do, I hope you do, I hope you do, yeah." -- Kina, "Girl From The Gutter"

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50 IS THE NEW 40?

In celebration of Morrissey's 50th birthday on 22 May, my 10 favorite Morrissey solo songs, in alphabetical order. (I'm leaving the Smiths out of this. That would just be too hard.)

  1. "Break Up The Family" "I'm so glad to grow older/To move away from those darker years/I'm in love for the first time/And I don't feel bad." In love for the first time as a 23-year-old gay man in New York City, I was thinking the very same thing.
  2. "Human Being" Morrissey does the New York Dolls. His best moment of the '00s.
  3. "I Know It's Going To Happen Someday" Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me. No hope, no harm, just another false alarm.
  4. "Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning" An allegory representing the right wing's reaction to AIDS? When he sings, "She deserves all she gets," it cuts like a knife.
  5. "The National Front Disco" From blasting the right wing to apparently glorifying it. What Morrissey was really trying to say is anybody's guess, but he sounded great not saying it.
  6. "The Ordinary Boys" His coming out song? Oh, wait, he never did.
  7. "Speedway" One of my favorite tracks on my favorite Morrissey album, Vauxhall & I, and a song whose greatness I didn't fully appreciate until a guy I used to date pointed it out to me.
  8. "Used To Be A Sweet Boy" "You were the cutest baby a mother ever had." That was one of the first things my mom said to me after I came out. I think of that comment whenever I listen to this song.
  9. "Yes, I'm Blind" "God, come down. If you really care. 'Cause you're the one who claims to care." Morrissey's great Nietzschean moment.
  10. "You're Gonna Need Someone On Your Side" Morrissey rocking out for the first time since the Smiths disbanded. The opening track on 1992's Your Arsenal and the big muscular throwdown that kicked off his two-album solo peak.

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!

"Jeremy. I'm so angry!!! I want to cry. Answer me. Please."

So read the IM I received in the middle of last night from Fernando, my Argentine friend in Mendoza. No, it wasn't something that I said or did. Fernando, who is as obsessed with U.S. pop culture as any of my friends back home, was nearly driven to tears by the American Idol finale.

"Adam Lambert lost," he continued, although I was asleep and unable to respond to his MSN mini-meltdown. "How could it happen?"

Good question. The morning after, pundits and AI viewers were all speculating on what went wrong. How did underdog Kris Allen manage to triumph over clear frontrunner Adam -- the one I, two posts ago, predicted would strut away with the Idol crown -- in what turned out to be the biggest Idol upset (the only Idol upset?) ever. Some blamed Danny Gokey's fans. They figured that Kris attracted the Danny followers who were looking for someone similarly wholesome and non-threatening to get behind. Others predictably reasoned it was because many of Adam's disciples figured he was safe and didn't bother to call in their vote. And a delusional few thought Kris was simply the better singer (as if).

I say it's time to stop ignoring the elephant in the room. While reasons one and two (and for the tone deaf, reason three) certainly came into play during Tuesday night's voting process, the top culprit can be summed up in one word: homophobia. It's the reason Clay Aiken lost to Ruben Studdard all those seasons ago, and it's the reason Adam lost last night (Exhibit A).

It doesn't matter that Adam has yet to come out and say, "Yep, I'm gay." The implications are out there, even if you don't pay attention to the tabloids and gossip websites. The eyeliner. The nail polish. The pomp. The circumstance. Those ever-changing 'dos, and that preening swagger, too. Add it up together, and what have you got? The resurrection of the ultimate rock & roll Queen, Freddie Mercury. If the pop star thing doesn't work out, Adam could always take over vocal duties for Mercury's band, who, fittingly, performed on last night's show with Adam and Kris (see photo, above).

Even if your gaydar is completely out of order, and you have yet to zero in on Adam's sexuality, the implications are loud and clear. Most straight guys, even the most ardently metrosexual ones, just don't play dress up like that anymore. (Even David Bowie cut it out around 1980!) And I don't believe it's the tween girls who objected to Adam. Carrie "Miss California" Prejean aside, young ladies of a certain age tend to be the most open-minded demographic when it comes to sexuality, and I suspect they turned out in droves to support Adam. It's their middle-American moms and dads. The United States may be ready for a black American president, but it's still not ready for a gay American Idol.

P.S. Is it just me or are the majority of Idol finale performers great but over-the-hill pop stars who haven't had a hit in a decade or two? Where's Lady Gaga when you kind of need her. At least the producers pulled Black Eyed Peas for the born-after-1990 crowd.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"NINE" LIVES




For someone who could truly live without the Broadway musical, I just can't get enough of the recent Hollywood musical adaptations. At least the three that count: Chicago, Dreamgirls and Hairspray. Will Nine turn that hallowed triumvirate into a foursome? (The second word in this post title, by the way, rhymes with "gives.") Judging from the evidence of the new trailer (below), I'm guessing hell, yeah! Some thoughts...

  • Nicole Kidman many no longer be looking quite human on the red carpet, but I'll be damned if she's not still breathtaking on the big screen. I'd be excited even if she were the only A-list diva involved.
  • I love Judi Dench in crazy-campy bitch mode (see Shakespeare In Love and Notes On A Scandal -- but not Chocolat). I'm thinking she's the one most likely to score a best supporting actress nod.
  • Is Penelope Cruz starting to win me over? Not really, but she sure does look purdy.
  • I don't understand what Fergie is doing in this movie (costarring with so many Oscar winners), but I secretly dig her moist, rabid look.
  • Everybody loves Marion Cotillard. But me. I'll never forgive her for stealing Oscar No. 2 from Julie Christie.
  • Kate Hudson? Was she really the best they could do in the American-starlet category. What about Reese Witherspoon? I know she doesn't really do sexy onscreen, but I'm kind of shocked that she hasn't been snatched up for a musical or a recording contract after basically winning an Oscar for impressively singing those June Carter Cash tunes in Walk The Line. Or Anne Hathaway? Her suspiciously not-quite-impromptu opening number duet with Hugh Jackman at this year's Academy Awards suggest that she could actually win one of her own for a musical. I know that Kate, with the right costar (Matthew McConaughey), is sort of box office (unlike, to be entirely honest, any of the above above-the-title stars), but so are Reese and Anne -- and more so.
  • Why do I get the feeling that Sophia Loren won't be more than vintage window dressing? I hope I'm wrong. You don't get a legend like Sophia to do your movie and then not use her.
  • Will Daniel Day-Lewis snag Oscar No. 3? I doubt it. As expected (by me), his touch seems a tad intense for a frothy musical, but I'm going to step out on a limb and predict a third nomination (and fifth overall) for the fourth of his last four films.
  • The trailer doesn't really say anything about the plot of the movie, but as a game of spot-the-superstar, it just don't get no better than this: A+. November 25 can't come soon enough. Bring it!

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A NATURAL WOMAN

Tonight is the American Idol finale -- and I couldn't care less. We won't get to see it on TV here in Argentina until Saturday at 8pm, when it airs on the Sony channel, and again, I couldn't care less. That Adam Lambert is going to win is a long foregone conclusion. His challenger, Kris Allen, waited until last week to finally deliver a memorable performance, with his cover of the Fray's acoustic-pop retooling of Kanye West's "Heartless," but it was probably too little too late. Adam has consistency and -- let's face it -- stage presence on his side, and he's so going to win.

But I couldn't care less.

As I've said before, I want to love Adam. I'm supposed to love Adam. But for some reason, I'm just not feeling the love. Sure he's given a few performances to remember (his spastic early in-the-competition take on Michael Jackson's "Black And White" comes to mind), but he's never truly moved me. Not once. I think he's just too Hollywood, and he has been since day one. Nothing about him is spontaneous or real or raw, from his socially correct onstage Idol banter to his styled-within-a-centimeter-of-his-life appearance to his cagey non-response to those pesky gay rumors. He even admitted to planning his Idol performances so that they (boringly) alternate between slow-rocking-slow-rocking-slow-zzzzz. How calculating.

He's so the opposite of Kelly Clarkson, an American Idol from an earlier age (the earliest one), before intense media training and pre-Top 12 makeovers took away the fun of watching Idol wannabes evolve. Kelly Clarkson was the real deal, and today she's even more so. Her current era of heightened reality kicked off a couple of years ago, when she showed up on Idol Gives Back to sing Patti Griffin's "Up To The Mountain" with Jeff Beck on guitar. There she was, hair bouncy and shiny but unstyled, wearing what looked like a dark, multi-hued tent with spaghetti. straps. Although I found the dress a bit distracting (more on that in a second), I didn't fail to notice that it was one of the best performances I'd ever seen on the Idol stage.

But while watching, I couldn't help but wonder what was up with the dress. Was she trying to hide a little weight gain that she hadn't yet disposed of because she was between albums? That must be it, I figured, and continued to enjoy her blistering, soulful vocal. So imagine my surprise when the release of her third CD, My December, rolled around, and there she was promoting the album, looking like a natural -- and defiantly normal -- woman. Nearly two years later, sleek video appearances aside, she's still the same. A friend of mine caught a recent Kelly performance in New York City and commented on her "no-frills" set and "rather plain" appearance (see the red-carpet photo above). In an industry where female stars are supposed to become more polished, more perfect-looking, more artificial as their careers develop (even Britain's Got Talent's spinster songbird Susan Boyle has had a "wee mini makeover," according to her hairstylist -- and yes, she has one), Kelly is moving in the opposite direction.

And good for her. But I do wonder if she is trying to make some kind of statement (that it's about the music, not about her looks), or if she just couldn't be bothered to gussy up. If the former, her social commentary would be so much stronger if the music were truly organic and original, less aurally airbrushed and not so derivative of everything she's already done. Kelly, I'm loving the look -- keep it up. But lose the formula and bring out the test tubes. It's time to "breakaway" from the shouting stage once and for all.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

FARRAH'S SWAN SONG?

I just read an article about Farrah Fawcett's recently aired TV documentary, Farrah's Story, which chronicled her apparently terminal battle with cancer. I had no idea how sick she was. It's particularly upsetting because she had been declared free of anal cancer a little more than two years ago, on February 2, 2007, her 60th birthday. It's the worst possible realization of that old cliché, it's not over till it's over.

I'll always remember Farrah as the hallmark of A-list '70s beauty and glamour. And of course, there was no escaping that poster (above), which seemed to be everywhere (except on my bedroom wall) in the late '70s. Farrah was already 30ish when it was released, which goes to show that stars were born a little later in life back then than they are today. Teen idols, particularly female ones, were rarer back in the day. Today, the star-making machinery seems to churn out another Miley Cyrus wannabe every 15 minutes.

I was never much of a Farrah fan during her late-'70s peak (Jaclyn Smith was always my favorite of Charlie's Angels, and perhaps I was a bit too young to appreciate the beautiful, blonde, sun-kissed California girl stereotype that Farrah represented -- I still don't), but she won me over during her serious-actress phase in the '80, with movies like The Burning Bed and Extremities. By time her kooky 1990s rolled around, I'd lost interest again, but in the back of my mind, I somehow thought she'd live forever.

Look at me, talking like she's already dead and buried. Miracles happen. I suppose the most sobering part of reading the article was that it reminded me that so many of the strong, powerful iconic actresses that I grew up watching on TV -- Bea Arthur, Suzanne Pleshette, Isabel Sanford -- are gone. Others, like Suzanne Somers, Donna Mills, Linda Gray, and the list goes on and on, are sixtysomething, some going on 70. It's the same old story for many of my movie goddesses (Julie Christie, Glenn Close and Susan Sarandon, among them), but I discovered the power of the big screen a little bit later, so many of them were already pushing fortysomething by time I discovered them.

Farrah, though, was the epitome of youth and glamour, and her swimsuit poster was like the portrait of Dorian Gray. She was never supposed to grow old. Or so I thought. But time marches on (oops, I did it again -- another cliché). Make the most of it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

DEVIL WOULDN'T RECOGNIZE YOU

I've been meaning to write about something strange and unexpected that happened on the night of my birthday, but the first week of my 40s has been so busy that I simply haven't had the time (and still kind of don't).

For the past year and a half, I've sometimes talked to my friends about the one who got away, the one guy I've met since moving to Buenos Aires who kind of got under my skin and stayed there. Yes, he really exists. We only dated for a few weeks, but I fell fast and hard. I'm still not sure what it was about him. The blue eyes? The charm? The killer kisses? Or that text message he sent me the day after we met: "Me matás!" ("You kill me!")? But it quickly became clear to me that he was just not that into me, so, reluctantly, I let him go.

Although the dull heartache eventually subsided, and my sleeping patterns returned to normal (thank you, Mariem, for spending hours on end talking me off the ledge), he remained in the corner my mind. In fact, at dinner on the night of my birthday, I was talking about him to Nicholle, my best friend from high school and college who turned 40 two days before me and who came to BA with her husband, Garrett, to celebrate our birthdays together. (That's me, above, caught in the act. I know, I know, how O magazine of me!) For the umpteenth time during their visit, I was regaling Nicholle and Garrett with tales of my romantic escapades in BA, but this time the focus was on the one who got away. I took another sip of wine to wash down the lump in my throat.

Eventually, we moved on, to a new topic and to a new venue, a bar, popular with expatriates, called Sugar. When we got there, I went to the bar to order a whiscola, and when I turned around, my friend Cara was talking to two guys, boyfriends, whom she had met during another Sugar visit the previous weekend. She introduced us, and I put on my polite introduction face, not really paying close attention to whom I was meeting.

But one of them was paying attention to me. He looked at me and said (in Spanish) that we already know each other. I had no idea who he was, and tipsy on wine and the first sip of my whiscola, I made that clear. (How rude of me!) He persisted in a most indelicate fashion, and suddenly, something jogged my memory. The voice! I knew the voice from somewhere! I asked him his name, and oh my goddess, the lord works in mysterious ways: It was the one who got away!

I'm not sure why I didn't recognize him. Maybe it was the extra weight (his, not mine), the facial hair, or perhaps, just perhaps, he hadn't affected me as much as I'd thought he did. Maybe it was just the vision of love or something like it that I'd spent the past year and a half mourning. Whatever. It didn't matter anymore. He didn't matter anymore. The best part: I was 40, fabulous, trim, and thankfully, I had at least taken the time to shave before leaving home that night.

Monday, May 11, 2009

AS NASTY AS THEY WANNA BE

In the beginning, it was all about Simon. When American Idol debuted in the summer of 2002, millions of viewers tuned in weekly to hear what outrageous things judge Simon Cowell would say as much as to check out the talent on display. No, he did not just say that, we collectively thought, gasping in horror every time he opened his mouth to offer some scathing review. We lived vicariously through his nasty commentary because he said all the things we were thinking but were unable to say on national TV. Then something happened on the way to Idol becoming a phenomenon. Simon started to become kind of irrelevant. As he and Randy Jackson are so fond of saying, Idol is a singing contest. And guess what: That became the No. 1 reason people tuned in.

Now reports are rolling in that Simon will leave Idol when his contract expires in 2010 in order to launch the U.S. version of The X Factor. We've heard the departure rumor before, and one day it's bound to be true. But what a foolish move that would be, to leave the show that made you a household name in the U.S. for a venture that's not guaranteed to fly. People in the UK may eat up these talent contests and send their winners straight to the top of the charts, but Americans have different entertainment values. There's a reason why none of the other Idol-like star searches have made it big in the states. Americans may embrace multiple procedurals, hospital dramas and cop shows, but when it comes to national talent shows, I suspect that there is only space in their hearts for one.

To be honest, I wouldn't mind seeing Simon go. Although the contestants still seem to hang onto his every word, not feeling as if they've really done an outstanding job unless Simon gives them two thumbs up, this season, Simon has actually inspired as much eye rolling on my part as Randy, Kara DioGuardi and Paula Abdul.

Remember when he described Kris Allen's performance of "The Way You Look Tonight" as "wet"? Kris looked utterly confused, and frankly, so was I. What does that even mean? It wasn't the first time this season that a Simon critique was off-key (such as when he was the lone judge tone deaf enough to rave over Matt Giraud's awkward rendition of "My Funny Valentine"). Even the bloggers have moved on. They seem to have a better time lampooning Randy's non-commentary (that was mad pitchy, dawg), Kara's crazy slips of the tongue (that's Saturday Night Fever, not Saturday Night Live!) and Paula's general wackiness. The most notable thing about Simon this season is that he looks bored.

All that said, Simon's departure could be a devastating blow if his replacement isn't carefully chosen. When he left Pop Idol (the UK show on which American Idol is based) to launch The X Factor in the UK, Pop Idol was soon history. The same thing could happen here in the U.S. if the Idol producers don't do better than bringing on another Kara DioGuardi. Quentin Tarantino has been my favorite mentor of the season, and his assessments were more or less spot on. But I think they should go with a credible musician, preferably a singer (this is, after all, a singing contest), not an industry exec like, say, Clive Davis, who'd bore the contestants and viewers to tears. Also, no more lightweight pop stars. One Paula Abdul is enough. Brandy never particularly impressed me on America's Got Talent, and I don't think that the other performers in her age group -- Pink, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears -- have the musical training or the vocal prowess to give the kind of truly informed critiques that the show has been lacking since day one.

John Mayer is a possibility, but he doesn't have the cranky quality or ruthless disposition (outside of his love life) to fill Simon's seat. Madonna comes to mind as well, but she probably wouldn't be caught dead going anywhere near Paula Abdul. I say go the Brit route again and bring on Elton John. He's as A-list as they come. He knows music and has had a hand in creating more hits than Randy, Kara and Paula combined. Best of all, he's practically made a second career out of dissing fellow musicians. Remember when he called Madonna's "Die Another Day" the worst Bond theme ever? Or when he dismissed George Michael's Patience CD as rubbish? He did the same to Kylie Minogue's Fever, chalking it up as one great song, "Can't Get You Out Of My Head," surrounded by filler.

Frankly, I beg to differ with all of those slams, but I never get tired of reading a good Elton rant. I can only imagine the glee he would have had this season putting Lil Rounds firmly in her place (not that Simon didn't do an admirable job of that). And no doubt he would have been the judge to knock that preening, histrionic Adam Lambert off his high horse. Danny Gokey probably would be a distant memory by now. And best of all, Allison Iraheta might be on her way the finals. (Elton knows a female powerhouse when he hears one; just check out his list of female duet partners, live and on CD: Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Mary J Blige, Jennifer Rush, Millie Jackson, Kiki Dee, George Michael...) Adam, Allison and Elton. Now that's an Idol finale, I'd actually be excited about watching.

Friday, May 8, 2009

THE ONLY WAY IS UP

I turned 40 today. My friends tell me I haven't changed a bit (though the photo above suggests otherwise), but the world in which I've now spent four decades certainly has. Since last night, I've received tons of birthday greetings -- via Facebook, email, text message, instant message, e-card and face-to-face -- and not one single phone call. But who even uses the telephone to talk anymore, you know, to sing an endearingly off-key rendition of "Happy birthday to you"? That would be so four birthdays ago!

Word on the street is that this is the beginning of the best years of my life. Cher once said, "I've been 40, and I've been 50. Forty is better." People who would know are telling me that the 40s is the best decade. I hope they are right. I woke up feeling slightly melancholy, wondering where all the time has gone, not at all as excited and exuberant as I was when I turned 30. In the end, my 30s went downhill from opening day, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up... Let's hope that from today on, the only way is up!

Update: 6pm. My first birthday call! My friend Luciano. His phone won't let him send text messages, so he had to wish me happy birthday the old-fashioned way.

Monday, May 4, 2009

JOHN ADAMS: BIEN DOTADO?

"He agreed with his old friend Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who thought a large standing army was like a swollen penis, proving 'an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure.'" -- from Chapter Five, "Rivalries Irritated To Madness," of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders And How They Changed America 1789-1989

I died laughing.

The "He" in question is second U.S. President John Adams, who was faced with the dilemma of how to respond to the aggressive actions of France at the end of the 18th century. I'd expect brilliance from a book about the U.S. Presidents, but brilliant and racy? I'll have to seek out the other works of Presidential historian Michael Beschloss the next time I'm in the states.

In the next chapter, Beschloss mentions an article in the Aurora newspaper that described Adams as "bald, blind, crippled." "Told of the insult," he writes, "Abigail Adams chuckled that she should be consulted by anyone who doubted her husband's manhood."

Ooh.

I can't address his manhood, but John Adams certainly was one of the most underrated U.S. Presidents. For all his qualifications, his temperament was perhaps not particularly well suited to politics (think a more academic George Costanza in a powdered wig and patrician colonial garb), and he had the misfortune of being sandwiched between the Father of His Country and the larger-than-life Thomas Jefferson. But they don't make Emmy/Golden Globe-winning HBO miniseries about second-rate historical figures.

I missed Paul Giamati and Laura Linney's performances as John Adams and his wife Abigail, but I'll have to put the John Adams DVD on my to-get list the next time I'm back in the USA. I hope it has as a many no-they-did-NOT-go-there moments as the book.

THE GRAND ILLUSION

Michael Jackson might be pulling a big one over on us.

A friend of mine recently had a business meeting with the King of Pop, who was not at all what my pal was expecting. Sure Michael does indeed look like someone from another planet (something the alien cat dragged in?), and for that reason alone, being in his presence is something of a surreal experience. But he's not exactly the man-child one might expect him to be.

His normal speaking voice, though by no means basso profundo, is several octaves lower than his public one. He's medium-masculine and incredibly sharp as well as a strict, attentive, quite normal dad. And by the way, for those who still care, according to my friend, Michael's new music is unbelievable.

That probably won't matter much in the U.S., where the singer's stock has fallen so low that he's no longer guaranteed platinum record sales. He's still beloved in Europe, but then Europeans always have been less puritanical and more forgiving than the Yanks. Last night, I went to my girlfriend Mica's birthday dinner. After I was introduced to her boyfriend's brother, one of the first things he said to me, for no apparent reason, was how much he loves Michael Jackson. He also thinks he (the brother) looks like Richard Gere, but that's between him and his mirror.

My reaction to his revelation about Michael was mild shock followed by laughter. I mean, how unhip could he be? Then I realized that it wasn't such an anachronism, that it wasn't really so strange that an Argentine would be enough of an MJ fan to mention it, apropos of nothing, in casual conversation. The musical sensibilities of Argentines tend to run closer to Europeans' than people from the U.S., so I'm sure he's not alone among porteños in his Michael mania.

When I visited Prague in 1996, Michael Jackson was there at the same time on his History tour, and it seems like everywhere I went, hordes of people were standing outside waiting for a Michael sighting. If the gloved one was looking for privacy, he probably shouldn't have arrived at a bookstore via limo in a pedestrian zone. The people in Prague, who had seen very few black people in real life, kept approaching my friend Andrew, who is also black, and me, asking us if we were Michael's dancers and requesting to pose with us for photos (something, incidentally, that happened three times while I was out on Friday night -- the photo part, not the MJ dancer part).

I suspect the reaction will be the same if Michael shows up in Buenos Aires on tour. If people here would make a big deal over Duran Duran walking through the arrivals lounge at Ezeiza, surely Michael would create pure bedlam. Remind me to be some place else.

In loosely related '80s news, Christopher Cross is coming to BA in concert. First Michael Bolton, now this? Sign of the apocalypse or just another example of porteños' incredibly twisted taste in tunes?