Monday, August 31, 2009

BOY, DON'T YOU KNOW SHE'S THE ONE?

Much of my early magazine journalism career was a blur, a balancing act of fear and courage, cockiness and insecurity, hit and miss. As a 22-year-old final-stage nerd working in the big city (New York), I wasn't exactly Ugly Betty (I lived in Jersey City and was a People magazine reporter and music critic, not a Mode executive assistant living in Queens), but I often felt more than a little bit out of my league.

Unless the subject was music.

One of my most vivid memories from those long ago days was a showdown that happened during a music department meeting at the end of 1992. We were gathered together that December day to compile our list of the 10 best albums of 1992 for People's year-end issue. Aside from R.E.M.'s Automatic For The People, I can't recall much of what made the final cut, but for the R&B diva slot (yes, these were casually racist times), it came down to two contenders: Mary J. Blige, for her multi-platinum debut album, What's The 411?, and Miki Howard, for her fourth album, Femme Fatale, which had done little business but produced exactly one great hit, "Ain't Nobody Like You."

Amy Linden, who was a freelance writer, and I were the two voices of authority on the subject of R&B, and we both had very different ideas about who should make the shortlist. I was a fan of both albums, but I gave Mary the edge, simply for helping to invent a new hip hop-soul hybrid (with her producer, P. Diddy, then known as Sean "Puffy" Combs) that I suspected would influence at least the next decade or two of upstart R&B divas. Amy was adamant: In 10 years time, she insisted, everyone will have forgotten about Mary. Miki Howard will have longevity.

Our editor, who had quite possibly never listened to an entire R&B album in his life, checked out both and broke the stalemate. He choose Mary, calling her opus "more exciting" than Miki's. I won the battle and the war. The rest, as anyone who has cast an eye on BET, VH1, MTV or the Grammys; turned the radio dial to an R&B -- or occasionally, pop -- station; or cracked an issue of Billboard magazine in the last 17 years knows, is history.

So why hasn't anyone told Mary? She has been one of the most consistently hit-making female artists of the past two decades. Unlike Madonna, unlike Janet, and unlike Whitney, she's never released a studio album that didn't hit the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 album chart and at least go platinum. (Mariah is the only modern diva from the pre-Britney era who regularly releases albums and can make the same claim). But Mary still doesn't quite get it. I've interviewed her several times, and I've always been impressed by her passion, her absolute lack of pretension, and how she doesn't seem to quite understand how huge she is. So it's no surprise that she never pulls out all the visual stops for her promotional videos. In a word, the video for Mary's great new (but so far underperforming) single is a little ghetto. But ghetto fabulous Mary is so early '90s. It's time to lose the ghetto and accentuate the fabulous.

Someone in her camp -- her creative director or whoever is responsible for her video concepts -- needs to get it together. Aside from some intermittent shots of a bronzed, lacquered and beyond gorgeous Mary in a sleek little black dress and the goofy-cute rapper Drake, who appears on the single, there isn't much to look at -- at least nothing new or interesting. Where is a little Lady Gaga drama when you need it (see the Jonas Akerlund-directed "Paparazzi")? You get the jerky editing (pass the Dramamine, please) and the colorful flashing lights that we've all seen in countless R&B videos. The dance moves look like rejects from a Britney rehearsal; the strobe effects are kind of chintzy; and the director has committed a cardinal sin: If you're gonna set a video in a nightclub, fill it with beautiful people, and make it look like a place where serious party people would actually want to get their groove on.

It's not that the video is terrible, but it could -- and should -- be so much better. "My girl is number one right now," Mary declares near the end. "Finally standing up for herself and saying she's the one." Better late than never, yes, but come on, Mary, you've been the one for nearly 20 years now. Put your money where your mouth is next time, and splurge on a kick-ass video that will send viewers scrambling to buy the single.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I'M IN LOVE WITH A ROBOT

CLOSE ENCOUNTER

Last night as I was crossing the street after dinner, I literally ran into a guy who took one look at me and said, "Hey! Seal! I'm Russell Crowe!" I'm not so sure about the Seal thing (though I've heard the comparison before), but he did bear a passing resemblance to a younger, slimmer, better-looking Russell.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

DON´T SPEAK

It's venting time again, folks! I've asked it before, and I'll ask it again: What's with porteños and their utter lack of IM conversational skills? Some of them are just fine in person, but they all seem to become brain dead as soon as they log on to MSN Messenger. They expend more energy begging me to turn on my webcam than they do engaging me. Ogling me on the computer screen might be a cheap thrill for them, but it's a dull invasion of privacy for me. One guy in whom I have a sort of passing interest at least begins our conversations with a smiley face icon, which I think is kind of cute. If only the others were so creative. Generally, the song remains the same.

Chico #1: Hola.
Chico #2: Hola.

Sometimes the conversation mysteriously ends there, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Or this is where they invite me to turn on my webcam. (Yesterday, I told Pablo that he should try something revolutionary and have an actual conversation with me before asking the dreaded cam question.) Sometimes the small talk drags on.

Chico #1: Como estas?
Chico #2: Bien. Y vos?

Chico #1: Todo bien. Que contas?

This is a true story. En serio. I've had this conversation with Esteban every day for the last few weeks.

By now, Chico #2 (that would be me) has completely lost interest in the shit chat, while Chico #1 (that would be Esteban) may or may not take it to its illogical conclusion: a date request. I don't think so. If the IM conversations are like pulling teeth, small talk over dinner or drinks might be absolutely unbearable. I'm so over doing all the conversational heavy lifting. I've yet to meet a porteño with whom I don't always have to pull IM conversations out of the dead zone. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all, they used to tell me. I'd like to amend that: If you can't say something interesting, delete me from your MSN pronto, papi!

Sometimes, if I'm feeling particularly generous, I play along and try to keep the conversation going by cheerfully answering all those stale scripted questions that I hate -- like "¿A qué dedicas?" -- and then politely asking them, too. But beware the guy who can't even make his work sound interesting. If your job description is putting me to sleep, we've got a problem. I look for the nearest exit. For me, it's usually that I have to get ready for my pilates class. It works every time. Thank you, Joseph Pilates, the discipline you invented is good for more than six-pack abs.

THE APPLE OF MY EYE

I stumbled across this Fiona Apple/Elvis Costello performance of Fiona's "Tymps (The Sick In The Head Song)" on YouTube the other day while searching for Elvis's Painted From Memory performances with Burt Bacharach. How do I love thee, Fiona? Let me count the ways. 1) I love you when you're moody. 2) I love you when you're broody. 3) I love you when you're gloomy. 4) I love you when you're doomy. 5) And I really love you when you call the world "bullshit" while accepting an MTV VMA. Need I go on? I interviewed her way back when she was 19 and had just released her debut album, Tidal, and it was love at first sight. I just wish she wouldn't wait so many aeons between albums. I recently realized that Amy Winehouse reminds me a lot of her, and not just because of her difficult and messy public persona post-breakthrough. "Fast As You Can," possibly Fiona's best song, and "You Know I'm No Good," definitely Amy's best, easily could have come from the same warped, dangerous mind.

IN PRAISE OF BRANDY

Last night I was talking to the friend of a friend about two of my favorite things: movies and music. Cinematically speaking, we had very little in common, though I give him props for knowing my four favorite movies (Trois Couleurs: Bleu, Dangerous Liaisons, Interiors and Pillow Talk). He worships at the altar of fantasy and sci-fi (Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, etc), and as anyone who's met me well knows, I rarely ever go there. But musically, our tastes overlapped significantly. Of course, there were the usual suspects whom so many with-it gay men adore: Bjork, Annie Lennox, PJ Harvey. But one name popped up and caught me completely by surprise: Brandy.

Before Katy vs. Gaga, Amy vs. Duffy, Chris vs. Adam, David vs. David, Ruben vs. Clay, Britney vs. Christina (but well after Madonna vs. Cyndi and the Beatles vs. the Stones), there was Brandy vs. Monica. At the time, I gravitated toward Monica's side of the fence because I generally root for the underdog. But while Monica's tunes now sit in my iPod library collecting dust, it's the songs from Brandy's trilogy of spectacular albums -- Never Say Never, Full Moon and Afrodisiac -- that I keep coming back to. The latter is, in my honest and humble opinion, the best R&B album of the '00s, and this is the one that my conversation partner and I took pause to drool over.

I spent a morning with Brandy in 1994 when she was 15 years old. I was working for People magazine at the time, and it was her first interview with a major national publication. At one point, we passed by a record store where advertisements for all of the hot new releases were displayed in the window. When Brandy noticed that her album wasn't among those represented, she complained to her mother, Sonja, who was also her manager, and later cried when recalling her tough decision to leave her career to manage her daughter's music career. Sonja's stern reply: "We will certainly get to the bottom of this." A diva, I thought, was born. And one with the platinum sales to back up the attitude -- at least for three albums.

Afrodisiac, which was released in 2004, is notable for a number of reasons. It was Brandy's first album that didn't produce at least one Top 10 hit, signalling a rapid decline in her commercial clout, but more importantly, before Nelly Furtado rode his coattails to an unexpected comeback, it was produced predominantly by Timbaland. I remember reading a review at the time that predicted the Kanye West-produced and co-written first single, "Talk About Our Love," which featured Kanye on the rap bridge, would be the "Crazy In Love" of summer 2004. Sadly, that was not to be. The single stalled at No. 36 on Billboard's Hot 100, and the album quickly fell off the charts. Last night the suggestion was made that the album be re-released, and I think that wouldn't be a bad idea. It's alternately stuttering, zig-zagging and hypnotic beats may have been a bit too edgy for 2004, but I suspect that 2009 would welcome it with a far more open mind.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE BOYS

Girls rule! Like Nathaniel at Film Experience Blog, I'm generally actress obsessed. Today, he posted his 25 favorite actors, so I thought I'd challenge myself by doing the same. This list is flexible and very likely to change tomorrow, or with the next film I see, either on TV, on video, or in the theatre, but my Top 5 is pretty much a done deal for the foreseeable future: (in no particular order -- well, alphabetical) Michael Caine, George Clooney, Hugh Grant, Burt Lancaster and Jack Nicholson.



(FYI: I deeply dig Nicholas Case in serious thespian mode -- not so much when he's doing that action-star thing -- so he makes the cut.)



  • Javier Bardem
  • Yul Brenner
  • Jeff Bridges
  • Nicolas Cage
  • Montgomery Clift
  • Billy Crudup
  • Johnny Depp
  • Robert Downey Jr.
  • Ralph Fiennes
  • Cary Grant
  • Laurence Harvey
  • William Holden
  • Rock Hudson
  • Jack Lemmon
  • Walter Matthau
  • Ewan MacGregor
  • Steve Martin
  • Paul Newman
  • David Strathairn
  • Spencer Tracy

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO, "HUH?": TUESDAY EDITION

Just a few days ago, a burning question popped into my head: Whatever happened to VH1 Divas? Either I'm totally out of the loop, or the last one, featuring Patti LaBelle, Jessica Simpson, Deborah Harry, and some other "divas" I can't quite recall at the moment, was about five years ago. Then this afternoon, I read a report that Paula Abdul's first post-American Idol gig will be hosting this year's VH1 Divas, airing September 17. (What, no performance?) Talk about tumbling a few rungs on the Hollywood food chain -- and not just Paula! In past years, Divas has lured such music A-listers as Aretha Franklin, Cher, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner and Elton John. This year's line up: Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks, Leona Lewis and Miley Cyrus. Talented hitmakers, yes. But hardly legendary -- or anywhere near true diva material. Pardon me while I yawn.

Coincidence No. 2: This morning I had an idea for a great post called "And We Said It Would Never Last," about celeb marriages that have gone way past their once-presumed expiration dates. Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas were going to top my list. (The glamour shot above is intended to be a gentle reminder that Melanie used to be A-list -- for a few short years in the late '80s/early '90s -- and she cleaned up really well.) Now comes word via People magazine that Melanie has checked into rehab in order to save her marriage to Antonio. This is not a good sign, folks. Shouldn't she be checking into rehab first and foremost to save her own hide, not for anyone else, and certainly not to save her marriage? I think I'll hold off on that solid-celeb-unions post for now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

THE FAME

Andy Warhol once famously said that in the future everyone would have their 15 minutes of fame. And this was well before reality TV. Or YouTube. In his day, short of becoming an actor, a singer, a politician, or a serial killer, your best bet was to be a big money winner on a TV game show. It seems that my 15 minutes already may have come and gone, thanks to my former side career as a talking head for MTV/VH1/CNN/CMT/E! Entertainment Television/Etc. But then again, it's not over till it's over, and a friend recently told me that he saw me on TV -- via a You Tube-posted MTV clip. Check it out below. That first talking head is mine.

GIRLS CLUB

I've written about this before, but last night while watching The First Wives Club on TV, it popped back into my mind. Why has there never been a movie version of The Golden Girls? In a previous post, I cast my dream film remake, but here's an even better idea: Why not make it as a sequel of sorts to The First Wives Club (Burning mystery no. 2: Why wasn't there ever a sequel?), casting Goldie Hawn as Blanche, Bette Midler as Dorothy and Diane Keaton as Rose. Throw in Betty White (the original Rose) as Sofia, and you've got a massive box office hit.

Why stop there? I can see it now: The Golden Girls: The Musical on Broadway. There's already a Broadway-bound First Wives Club musical. Every gay man in the United States would make the pilgrimage to The Great White Way to see Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sofia singing and dancing their way through "Sick And Tired, Parts I & II." The Show would run for years, and Angela Lansbury (as -- who else? -- Sofia) would get her record-breaking sixth Tony! Broadway producers, what you waiting for?

¡PARA! YA NO TE QUIERO

Me inició un chico porteño en este video de Sharleen Spiteri, cantante para Texas (un grupo favorito del mio). ¿Se engaña ella?

A porteño guy introduced me to this video by Sharleen Spiteri, the singer for Texas (one of my favorite groups). Is she fooling herself?

Monday, August 24, 2009

HEAVENLY CREATURES

First, let's get something straight: I don't believe in angels. Years ago, I had a boyfriend who used to tell me that I was an angel sent to him from heaven. Aside from the previously mentioned fact that I don't believe in angels (or in heaven, or in hell, for that matter), he was putting me way too high up on a pedestal -- and I'm terribly afraid of heights. Every card he ever sent me had some variation on the two baby angels in Raphael's The Sistine Madonna.

I never quite understood whether I was supposed to take his angel theory as the florid romantic mumblings of a lovesick fool or simply as a matter of fact in his mind. Why should I want to be compared to an angel? Is an angel better than anyone else? In the movie City Of Angels, Nicolas Cage played an angel of death. Is that really something to aspire to?

Mr. Duncan, my seventh-grade math teacher, once asked me to stay after class because he was curious about something I had doodled on the back of one of my tests: "I believe in angels...I have a dream. I have a dream." He asked me questions about my family life, my relationship with my school mates, my relationship with my black school mates. He obviously thought he had a particularly sensitive, ambitious, oppressed, or plum-crazy student on his hands. He did, but that had nothing to do with what I had written. In reality, those words were simply lyrics from the ABBA song "I Have A Dream." (He clearly wasn't a fan). Even today, my MSN contacts read way too much into my profile "nicks" ("'I think I'm in trouble'? What's wrong?"), when, in fact, they are usually song titles or lyrics.

But getting back to angels...

Send me an angel, right now, Real Life demanded in their 1983/89 hit, and music has more than delivered. In pop, country and soul, angels are everywhere. Sarah McLachlan has one. Stevie Nicks has four. Hell, even Madonna has her own "Angel." Only "love" has made it into more song titles. If heaven must be missing an angel, it's probably in a pop song on a radio near you. Earth Angel. Fallen Angel. Evil Angel. Desert Angel. Street Angel. Sleeping Angel. Misguided Angel. Angel of Harlem. Angels in Disguise. Angels with Dirty Faces. Seven Spanish Angels. Criss Angel. (Oh, wait, he's a magician -- pictured above.) So many angels, so little time.

Despite my misgivings when it comes to angels, I'm not immune to the charms of songs about them. Here are 10 of my favorites.

  1. "Angel" Fleetwood Mac An overlooked treasure from Tusk. I wish a young country star -- Carrie Underwood, are you listening? -- would send this "Angel" flying again.
  2. "Angel" Belly "I had bad dreams, so bad I threw my pillow away." It isn't just a song lyric. It's poetry for the dazed and confused.
  3. "Angel" Anita Baker "Sweet Love" introduced her to the masses, but black folks heard this 1983 Top 10 R&B hit first.
  4. "Angels" Robbie Williams I'm kind of clueless about the meaning of Robbie's song, but it moves me nonetheless. The closest thing the UK superstar has ever had to a US hit.
  5. "Angeles" Enya Haunting and soothing. Yes, music can be both, and that's the genius of Enya.
  6. "Angel Flying To Close To The Ground" Willie Nelson My favorite Willie Nelson song, and considering that the man wrote "Crazy" and "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain," that's saying a lot.
  7. "There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)" Eurythmics The duo's only UK No. 1 and a US Top 30 hit, too. Eighties music came at just the right time. It's hard to imagine anything so lovely and off kilter even making a dent in the charts today. Eurythmics revisited the theme on their We Two Are One album with -- you guessed it -- "Angel."
  8. "You'd Make An Angel Want To Cheat" The Kendalls And the award for most clever use of "angel" in a song title goes to...
  9. "Cowboys And Angels" George Michael I never quite got the connection between cowboys and angels, but then again, a really hot cowboy would probably also make an angel want to cheat.
  10. "(Angel On My Mind) That's Why I'm Walkin'" Ricky Skaggs Better on your mind than in your line of vision. Walkin'? Hell, I'd be runnin'!

POOR POOR PITIFUL ME?

I'm kind of hot and cold when it comes to Jennifer Aniston. On the one hand, she makes 40 actually look like the new 30 (thanks, Jen), but on the other hand, in most of her films, she seems to be playing slight variations on Rachel Green. Even in the much ballyhooed The Good Girl, which I liked, wasn't her sad-sack character basically Rachel depressed, dowdy and toiling in a discount department store? Yes, Rachel was my third favorite Friend (after Phoebe and Joey), but why pay money to see her on the big screen when you can catch Friends reruns in syndication several times a day -- even here in South America?

All that said, when you're wrong, you're wrong, and I must take issue with one of my favorite online destinations, Film Experience Blog. In a recent post (here), my beloved Nathaniel declared himself "not a fan of Jennifer Aniston and her trademark 'abandoned woman' victimhood." My question is this: Is that trademark abandoned woman victimhood thing Jennifer's or the tabloids' doing? Yes, she once suggested to Vanity Fair that her ex, Brad Pitt, might be missing the "sensitivity gene." And she did take issue with Angelina Jolie's referring to Mr. And Mrs. Smith as the movie where Angelina and Brad, who was still married to Jennifer at the time the film was made, fell in love. But who can blame Jennifer for either of the above?

Now the tabs are all talking about how Renée Zellweger stole Jen's man, Bradley Cooper, and Jen is fuming. The one thing missing from all their stories is Jen herself. As far as I know, Jen has yet to utter a word about Bradley, just like she never said a thing about John Mayer. In tabloid land, "sources" or "a friend" or "a pal" might be as good as gold, but until I hear "poor poor pitiful me" coming straight from the horse's mouth (that would be Jen's), I'm going to give her the benefit of a doubt.

P.S. Am I the only one who thinks the poster for her new romantic drama, Love Happens (above), is kind of a snooze? And why does Aaron Eckhart get top billing? When was the last time he carried a major hit. Oh, yeah, he never has. Sure, he was in The Dark Knight, but that was not exactly The Aaron Eckhart Show now, was it?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

SMOKE SIGNALS

I'm not much on Justin Timberlake videos -- and I know "Love And Sex And Magic" is practically ancient by now. But the video has got to be one of the sexiest I've ever seen. Justin and Ciara have smoking hot chemistry. What must Jessica Biel think?

RESTLESS IN MONTEVIDEO

I'm in Montevideo, Uruguay, looking out of my hotel window at the peaceful Río de la Plata below. I don't want to go out. I don't want to stay in. So I'm watching a TV movie starring Delta Burke as a compulsive gambler. (Don't worry, I've been in Montevideo before, so I'm not missing out on any sights that I haven't already seen.) Ellen Page, pre-Juno, plays Delta's daughter. Interestingly, the movie, Going For Broke, is from 2003, when Ellen was 16, but she doesn't look much different than she does now. I wonder if, in her wildest dreams, she ever imagined back then that in just a few years, she'd be an Oscar-nominated big-screen movie star. Probably not. Funny how life takes you to strange, unexpected places. That's both the beauty and the cruelty of it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

LOOKING FOR A HIT

Yesterday, I turned my iPod dial to Fleetwood Mac and let the music play. As I listened, I couldn't believe my ears. I'd never realized how many great, well-known songs they've produced. "Say You Love Me." "You Make Loving Fun." "Tusk" (my personal favorite FM single). "Hold Me." "Big Love." And the list goes on and on and on. I went to my old trusted friend Wikipedia to check out their chart fortunes, and I was shocked into shame to discover that only nine of those incredible timeless songs made the Top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100.

But wait. There's more. Compared to some of the titans of rock, that's a truckload of hits, especially if you factor in the six Top 10 "solo" singles that FM members Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie have racked up between them (two more if you count John Stewart's "Gold" and Kenny Loggins's "Whenever I Call You Friend," which both featured Stevie on harmony). Take U2, for instance. Arguably the biggest rock band of the last 25 years, Bono and the boys have only managed to score a paltry six Top 10 singles, their last being "Discothèque" a whopping 12 years ago. If this doesn't give you the slightest bit of pause, consider this: The Police, in their short five-year recording career, managed as many Top 10s as U2 has in nearly 30 years. For a more contemporary comparison, in her short four-year recording career, Rihanna already has nine Top 10s to her name, five of them from the original and "Reloaded" versions of her Good Girl Gone Bad album.

At the end of the day, when you've sold as many albums and sold out as many stadiums as U2 and Fleetwood Mac have, it sort of doesn't matter. But I'm just saying.

Here are some other legends with surprisingly skimpy hit lists.
  • David Bowie: 6 Top 10s (5 solo, 1 with Mick Jagger)
  • Queen: 4 Top 10s (although "Bohemian Rhapsody" went Top 10 twice)
  • ABBA: 4 Top 10s
  • Tom Petty: 3 Top 10s (1 solo, 1 with The Heartbreakers1 with Stevie Nicks)
  • Joni Mitchell: 1 Top 10
  • Led Zeppelin: 1 Top 10
  • Elvis Costello: 0 Top 10s

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

SHALL WE DANCE?

So the B- to D-list cast of next season's Dancing With The Stars has been revealed, and although I could live without so many professional athletes in the mix (four), it's nice to see that the producers are aiming a little bit higher -- just a little bit -- for the show's ninth season, which begins on September 21.

I mean, you could do slightly worse than former US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Namely, Ashley Hamilton, who is being billed as a comedian, though the funniest thing he did in his less than 15 minutes of psuedo-fame was marry Shannen Doherty, who, come to think of it, may have ended up on Dancing's floor had the new Beverly Hills 90210 not saved her from that certain fate. Alas, that show came too late to come to the rescue of Jennie Garth, who competed in the fifth season.

Now that Dancing has snagged Aaron Carter, can Backstreet Boy Nick Carter be far behind? And would that mean there'd be no chance of seeing Howie Dorough on a future season? By accepting a judges spot on Randy Jackson's America's Best Dance Crew, N*SYNC's JC Chasez also seems to have accepted the fact that he's no Justin (although he's arguably a better singer). Is Dancing With The Stars in his future? Two of his former group mates -- Lance Bass and Joey Fatone -- already did the show (no doubt Chris Kirkpatrick would now be aiming to low). It could give him the career boost he's been angling for. Look what it did for America's Best Dance Crew host Mario Lopez, Dancing's season three's runner-up? All that and a Saved By The Bell reunion, too (albeit only for a People magazine photo shoot)!

With Mya, they've scored an early '00s pop star who even appeared in a Best Picture Oscar winner (Chicago), and with Macy Gray, a Grammy winner with music cred. Chances are that Eve, Ashanti, TLC's T'Boz and Chilli and Courtney Love are just one unreleased record away from signing on Dancing's dotted line? Christina Milian could be Ashanti's mid-season replacement after Ashanti drops out due to a toe splinter. Brandy and Monica are probably a flop away; Janet Jackson, two. Personally, I'd much rather see LaToya's ballroom moves.

I predict Jessica Simpson will soon be putting on her Dancing shoes. Nick Lachey probably wouldn't go anywhere near that dance floor, since his kid brother Drew already took the grand prize during the second season. (Donny Osmond, another ninth season contender, obviously doesn't mind following in sister Marie's dance steps.) And Ashlee Simpson, who could use the boost as much as any of the above, probably deems it well beneath her. A delusion of grandeur indeed.

Paging Lindsay Lohan?

Kathy Ireland, Melissa Joan Hart and Kelly Osbourne are right up Dancing's alley, but who wouldn't trade Kelly for Ozzy? Just picture the "Prince of Darkness" attempting the foxtrot. And poor Debi Mazar. I can still remember a few weeks in the early '90s when this friend of Madonna actually seemed to have celebrity potential. But Hollywood never quite figured out what to do with her star quality. I predict an ultimate showdown between her and Mya, with Mya, who hoofed up a storm in "Cell Block Tango," one of Chicago's most memorable sequences (watch), taking the prize.

Don't fret, Debi, it's an honor just to be nominated.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BURNING QUESTION OF THE DAY

How does a romantic melodrama with mediocre reviews starring two actors who have spent years floating on the fringe of the B+ list open with a domestic weekend gross of $18.6 million? It happened for The Time Traveler's Wife, starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana, who apparently is not even considered a big enough star to get a full-on face shot. Last year's Revolutionary Road, starring Titanic-size A-listers Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, made only some $3 million more in North America during it's entire theatrical run. Strange days indeed.

P.S. Am I the only one who noticed that the movie poster for The Time Traveler's Wife (above) is basically a vertical variation on the one for P.S. I Love You (below), which, incidentally, did double the domestic box-office business of Revolutionary Road?

YOU CAN CALL ME AL

I was talking to a friend today about names. For the most part, we agree on the worst Spanish ones: Juan, Javier and Osvaldo made the cut. Agustin, Nico and Rodrigo (a few of our current favorites) did not. I like Ezequiel -- What can I say? It's grown on me -- and he does not.

But what about those scary English monikers? Because there are only about 20 names being shared by 95 per cent of the population in Argentina, there are far more cringe-worthy ones running loose in the US. I mean, what proud new parents of sound mind would settle on Edgar, or Edith, or Madge, or Bernie, or Edna for their newborn tyke? Poor taste or intolerable cruelty? Thankfully, those names, inexplicably popular at one point during the last century, went out of style and were eventually replaced by the blander but far less offensive likes of Megan, Brittany, Jason and Scott. Yawn.

And since we're on the subject of bad names, why is it that so many US Presidents -- particularly those who served in the late 1800s and early 1900s -- were saddled with some of the worst names ever in circulation? But perhaps being horribly named isn't such a bad thing -- it seems to increase your chances of being one day elected President of the United States. Somewhere (presumably in the White House), Barack Obama is smiling.

The 10 worst Presidential names
  • Millard Fillmore (above, 13th President, 1850-53)
  • Ulysses S. Grant (18th President, 1869-77)
  • Rutherford B. Hayes (19th President, 1877-81)
  • Chester Alan Arthur (21st President, 1881-85)
  • Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th President, 1885-89, 1993-97)
  • Woodrow Wilson (28th President, 1913-21)
  • Warren G. Harding (29th President, 1921-23)
  • Calvin Coolidge (30th President, 1923-29)
  • Herbert Hoover (31st President, 1929-33)
  • Dwight Eisenhower (34th President, 1953-61)

HEY, MR. DJ, PUT A RECORD ON

Oops! She did it again! Oh, wrong pop diva. But, well, you get my drift.

For the umpteenth time in 25 years and counting, a new Madonna song has gone from my hate list to my hit list. That opening keyboard riff still sounds as 1995 as ever, but so what? That was an excellent year, musically and otherwise. Last night, I found myself on a Buenos Aires dance floor, and naturally, "Celebration" came on. "Come on join the party," Madonna insisted over that thumping techno beat.

I did exactly as I was told, and I didn't hate myself in the morning.

Now let's just hope those scary rumors aren't true, and she didn't put Lourdes in the video. Tween girls don't exactly inspire me to get into the groove. Her 20-year-old Brazilian model boy toy, Jesus Luz (above), however, does. Let's dance.

Monday, August 17, 2009

LOVE STINKS

Speaking of "Don't Wanna Fall In Love," boy, can I relate! Right now, love and I are not exactly on speaking terms. It might be a long time before I utter its name again. A very good friend of mine is currently going through a painful divorce, and considering that I was there the night the soon-to-be-exes met and was even in the wedding party, it's been particularly painful to watch. (Note to friends and family: Think twice before you invite me to be in your wedding. Of the three weddings in which I was part of the wedding party, only one is ongoing.)

My checkered romantic record doesn't help matters. Right now, the name of my game is fun fun fun. Fun and games. If love does comes knocking on my door, sure, I'll answer, but I'm not planning on leaving the porch light on. In celebration of my new romantic outlook, here are nine of my favorite down-on-love songs.

  • "After You": Shara Nelson "After you after you after you, I close the door. Ain't no one getting in." Amen to that.
  • "Fast Love": George Michael An excellent musical argument in favor of the one-night stand.
  • "Fast As You Can": Fiona Apple I told you I was trouble...
  • "I Don't Want A Lover": Texas ...I just need a friend.
  • "If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)": Maria McKee Devastatingly beautiful as the song is, don't try this at home, folks. After all, looking good is the best revenge.
  • "I'll Never Fall In Love Again": Dionne Warwick Dionne doesn't sound particularly convincing, but as resolutions go, this one's as good as any.
  • "I'm Not In Love": 10CC If anyone falls, press play and repeat.
  • "No More I Love You's" Annie Lennox What becomes of the brokenhearted?
  • "What's Love Got To Do With It?": Tina Turner Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

IN PRAISE OF JANE CHILD

Timing is everything. And for Jane Child, her 1990 No. 2 hit, "Don't Wanna Fall In Love," a thrilling slice of blue-eyed new jack swing, had perfect timing. New jack swing, the hip hop-R&B-electropop blend of which Teddy Riley was the prime architect, was all the rage in pop and R&B, thanks to Bobby Brown, Babyface, Keith Sweat and their hit-making contemporaries, and Jane's this-is-not-a love song fit in perfectly.

Unfortunately, everything else about her, from the long cornrows swinging past her butt and the nose ring connected to an earring by a long chain to her edgy dance-pop sound, didn't. In a nutshell, she was ahead of her time. She failed to score a follow-up hit, and her brilliant 1993 follow-up, Here Not There, hastened her slide back into obscurity.

Too bad. I'm one of the 78,000 people worldwide who actually shelled out money for Here Not There, and I've always felt that the world slept on a near-perfect album and a major talent. In that sense, Jane reminds me of Linda Perry, another multi-hyphenate who scored exactly one big hit ("What's Up," as a member of Four Non Blondes), released a perfect and perfectly overlooked solo record (1996's In Flight) and dropped off the face of the earth before being reincarnated in the early 00's as one of the most sought-after songwriters and producers in the biz.

Like Linda, Jane writes, produces, sings, plays instruments, and does them all quite well. Now that the likes of Lady GaGa and Katy Perry have made pop music once again safe for girls with a little bit of an edge, if Jane were just coming out today, she'd probably be a huge star with more than one hit to her name. Despite a few dated keyboard flourishes here and there, much of her music, particularly Here Not There, sounds like it could have been recorded in the late '00s. In fact, I think Britney should record a cover of "I've Got News For You" from Jane's self-titled debut pronto.

Listen



Which makes me wonder, how will the latest hits of GaGa and Perry and Beyonce sound in 2029? Still relevant, or like fossils from days long gone by. Time will tell. For now, check out the video for Here Not There's shoulda-been-a-huge-hit-single "Do Whatcha Do." The song is pure genius.

video

Friday, August 14, 2009

BURNING QUESTION(S) OF THE MONTH


Who the hell are Jon and Kate Gosselin, and why do I keep running into stories about them? Why should I care that their marriage is over (according to Kate, according to MSN.com's TV News)? Why does anyone care? It's one thing to sit on the edge of your couch drooling over the latest scenes from a celebrity marriage as featured in Us Weekly, People and In Touch -- frankly, I'm infinitely more interested in "Winona Ryder: Her Life Now" -- but when we become addicted to the continuing soap operas of reality stars (and I'm presuming that's what Jon and Kate, who always seems to get top billing on magazine covers, are), society as we know it is surely on its last broken leg.

Or maybe, like Kate, I'm just mean.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

BOYS TO MEN

Last night I wasn't just talkin' 'bout a revolution. I did something revolutionary. I picked on a guy my own size (as in my own age, a contemporary who turns 39 on August 22). After spending much of the past three years cavorting with boys nearly half my age, it was jarring to go out with someone who actually gets it. Perhaps it's partly due to the fact that he's Uruguayan and was raised outside of the porteño cult of unchecked arrogance and pride, but he seemed to pull my thoughts out of my head before I could get them out. Unprompted, he made so many of the points I've made in this very blog, from porteño preening to the apparent aversion to more-than-superficial conversations prevalent among so many gay Argentines (99.9 percent of first-time chats seem to begin with the same two or three questions and rarely fail to include queries about penis size and preferred sexual position).

Then there were his more age-related qualities: He had his own place, his own job, his own life, and not once did he mention an upcoming exam, Britney Spears or Lady Gaga. The subject of Madonna did come up once but only to deride youngsters who worship at her altar.

It was an interesting experience for sure. Although not one word of English was spoken, we understood each other perfectly, and for me, it was a relief to know that my litany of complaints weren't due to my being a cranky old bird who's too hard on people. He told me that in his country, people tend to be even more provincial than in Argentina, hanging on to the same jobs, the same homes and clinging to mom even longer than their Argentine neighbors. In Uruguay, he said, it's not unusual for people to spend their entire lives in the same several-block radius, toiling for the same company. This makes the fact that he left his family, his country and a stable bank job behind 10 years ago to seek out a different kind of life in BA all the more impressive.

I once wondered aloud why I never meet more guys my own age in BA, to which a porteña replied that once they finish school, many of them leave the country to make their fortunes, not returning -- if they return at all -- until they are well into middle age. Just my luck. Although I totally dig this age-appropriate thing, I'm sure there's another early twentysomething just around the corner, ready to drive me insane.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

SOUL ALONE

"When I was young, I never needed anyone. And making love was just for fun. Those days are gone."

Singer-songwriter Eric Carmen was pushing 30 (28, to be exact) when he went to No. 2 with "All By Myself" in 1976. Today he turns 60, and I wonder how his point of view has changed -- or hasn't. At 40, I can relate to his premature midlife crisis more than ever.

Is it too late?

video

9 Other Great Midlife Crisis Songs (Sorry, mostly country)
  1. "Backside Of Thirty": John Conlee
  2. "Forty And Fading": Ray Price
  3. "Middle Age Crazy": Jerry Lee Lewis
  4. "Midlife Crisis": Faith No More
  5. "Rolling With The Flow": Charlie Rich
  6. "Still A Woman": Margo Smith
  7. "Thirty Nine And Holding": Jerry Lee Lewis
  8. "Too Many Memories": Patty Loveless
  9. "Wasted On The Way": Crosby Stills & Nash

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

THE "MILLION DOLLAR" WOMAN?

As comebacks go, Whitney Houston's has been kind of saggy so far. Her droopy ballad "I Look To You" is No. 20 on Billboard's R&B chart in its second week but has yet to dent the Hot 100. Perhaps sensing a potentially terminal lack of interest, Arista Records is already drumming up publicity for "Million Dollar Bill" (listen here), the apparent second single, written by Alicia Keys and produced by Swizz Beats. If you ask me, this is the song that should have announced Whitney's return.

If you're looking for the fresh beats that Swizz has constructed for the likes of Beyoncé, Busta Rhymes and Eve, you've come to the wrong place. And as Alicia Keys compositions go, one suspects that she saves the best for herself (and why shouldn't she?).

As for Whitney's "Million Dollar" hope, she's hardly treading on the cutting edge here. The song has a classic R&B feel, which is not to say that it sounds old-fashioned -- though it easily could have been on one of Whitney's early albums, except, well, her voice just isn't what it used to be. No matter. The chorus is crazy catchy -- after a few listens, it's stuck in your head, for better or worse -- and it sort of makes me want to run out and fall in love. The unfussy, dressed-down production and vocals remind me a little of Mariah Carey's failed 2008 single "I'll Be Loving You Long Time," which I loved. Let's hope Whitney has better luck.



Side note: As she gets older, isn't she looking more and more like a cross between Tina Turner and her cousin Dionne Warwick? One could certainly do a lot worse. Love the cleavage, by the way. Work it, girl!

COURAGE UNDER FIRE

"Everyone has an interesting story to tell," someone (whose identity appears to have permanently slipped my mind) once told me. I dissented on the inside, thinking that some folks are just dull to the core. I've since come around.

Several weeks ago, I had a conversation-by-numbers with a 21-year-old Argentine into which he dropped exactly one zinger. It was his coming-out story. At 12 years old, he told his parents that he was gay, and when his dad, predictably, flipped out, his son issued a stern warning: Accept it, or not, but if not, you won't be a part of my life.

Bravo!

I had a similar conversation with my mother after coming out at the age of 23, but I'm pretty certain that despite the fact that I was living on my own at the time and 11 years older, I minced words considerably more than this guy did.

Nine years later, his folks have obviously come around. His father is now comfortable bonding and spending quality time with him and his boyfriends, one of whom actually lived with him and his family for a period of time. While I firmly believe that we must all come out in our own way and in our own time, this much I know is true: Life doesn't begin at 30. Or at 40. Life begins when you gather up the courage to stop living the way other people expect you to and begin living the way you want to live.

My sister used to say, "Most people live lives of quiet desperation." And I can't imagine anything more desperate than living someone else's life, which, in essence, is precisely what you are doing when, for fear, for lack of guts, for whatever, you live a lie -- or in silence. My ex boyfriend recently told me that over the last few years, he's managed to form a remarkable bond with his once-homophobic father. During the year that we were together, he avoided introducing me to his dad because he didn't want to expose me to the kind of hate that he feared his father might direct towards me. I'm not much of a meet-the-parents kind of guy, so I was relieved. I also admired him for his sensitivity and for not backing down against his dad. Now, I applaud him for mending what at one time may have seemed like an inextricably broken relationship.

But sometimes you have to extricate yourself from people -- yes, even mom and dad -- to make things right with them. And even then, there's no guarantee that things will turn out for the best. Life is messy, and spending it upholding the status quo, walking on eggshells in order to ensure your physical comfort and keep the peace, might make life nice, clean and neat, but I've never known anyone who was happy living that way.

As the soap opera says, you've got one life to live. Why not live it?

Monday, August 10, 2009

INDIGO BLUE

"You want to make Van Goghs, raise them up like sheep." -- Joni Mitchell, "Turbulent Indigo"

La la la la la la la la la la. I just can't get Joni Mitchell out of my head. Turbulent Indigo has been on repeat all day. Her vocal on the title song, so hushed and spooky, haunts me. By 1994, when the record was released, she could no longer hit those high notes of her youth, and the music was actually better for it. I think I will spend the next week walking around in a Joni daze, quoting her lyrics. Next on my to-listen-to list: Blue. "I could drink a case of you, darling, still I'd be on my feet, I would still be on my feet."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

LET THE MUSIC PLAY!

Songs in the key of life have been key to my life since I was 10 years old, and I won my first transistor radio in school at a class auction. Since then, I've been totally addicted to music. The intensity of the role it plays in my life goes up and down, and right now, I'm in a period of high intensity. Last night at a party, I even made the bold assertion that of all art forms, music is perhaps the most personal -- for both the artist and the audience -- and I can't understand how anyone can live a life in which it doesn't play a major role.

Think about it: Unlike movies, paintings or sculptures, we can take music anywhere: On the road, on the subway, to the gym, even into the shower. And while books are just as portable -- even though I wouldn't recommended taking your paperback copy of The Great Gatsby into the shower, it serves it's purpose just fine while you're soaking in the tub or sitting on the toilet -- reading requires a commitment of time and concentration that music doesn't. In other words, don't read and drive.

Now consider this: Music marks various milestones in our lives. We remember where we were when we first heard a particular song. Or a certain tune reminds us of an old friend or lost love. There are graduations songs, wedding songs and funeral songs. Riding in the car, we mindlessly sing along to the tops of the pops on the radio. Music takes us back -- way back. Some of my most vivid memories from early childhood are of happily listening to Carly Simon, the Eagles and Abba in the backseat of my parents' car while up front, mom and dad discussed the harsh realities of adult life. My earliest memory is walking up a hill with mom and dad for my first day of pre-school. My second memory? Hearing "You're So Vain" on the radio over and over and over. It must have been about 1973.

We'll pay hundreds of dollars to see our favorite singer in concert, but who would spend that kind of money on a movie or a book? Filthy-rich art lovers might spring several grand for a painting or a sculpture but not more than once, twice, or thrice in a lifetime. Only the cinema-obsessed re-enact scenes from their favorite movies or drop film dialogue into casual conversation. And although I can recall once reading passages from The Corrections in my apartment to a guy I had met hours earlier in a bar (and ended up dating for several months), it's not an episode that's likely to be repeated. But we sing in the shower, whistle while we work, or sometimes burst into song musical-style for no apparent reason, and what's a one-night stand without eine kleine nachtmusik in the background?

The person I was talking to about music at the party wasn't really buying my whole you-are-what-you-listen-to-and-if-you-don't-listen-t0-something-you're-nothing theory because she herself is fairly lukewarm on music. Sure, she said, certain melodies or beats occasionally catch her attention, but she never knows who is singing, nor does she seek out new tunes, nor does she sit around applying tortured Morrissey lyrics to her own life. Hell, she even had to ask who Penelope Cruz was when that particular subject came up earlier in the night -- although, to her credit, she had seen Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

I gasped in horror on the inside but kept smiling on the outside (at her cluelessness regarding both Penelope and music), as I realized that she is not alone. The world is full of people who are the same way, and so, chances are, was the party (which, incidentally, was co-hosted by a colleague of mine who had a No. 1 single in the Dominican Republic several years ago). For so many, music is merely background noise drowned out by the mundane drama of everyday life.

To each his (or her) own, but for me, life just wouldn't be the same without the magic of melody.