Sunday, May 31, 2015

White women, black men: The other side of interracial dating

The other night I had the strangest conversation with a 38-year-old Australian woman. My friend introduced her to me, and I was immediately a little taken by her.

She was congenial and chatty, with a distinct no-bullshit edge. Most importantly on a Friday night, she was a straight woman in gay bar who wasn't playing the I'm-such-a-fabulous-fag-hag-card and taking up way more space than necessary. (There are way too many of those in Sydney!) She was definitely my kind of girl.

And as it turned out, I was her kind of guy. One of the first things she told me was how attractive she finds black men. She wasn't trying to pick me up. As I said, we were in a gay bar...she had absolutely no ulterior motive and no shot with me. In fact, though she complimented my biceps, she made no direct comment on my looks -- unless you consider a compliment about "black men" a direct compliment to each one of them.

She was just making conversation, and she was doing most of the heaving lifting, so I let her proceed.

"I really find black people attractive. Actually, I find them more attractive than white people. I'm not sure why. There's just something more there. Don't get me wrong. I also like white men. I find them beautiful, too. But I just find black people to be better looking. The men are just hotter."

I was really starting to like this girl. There was something almost apologetic about the way she was expressing herself, which meant she'd spent some time thinking not only about her racial proclivities when it comes to sexual attraction but also how it must come across to black people. And her high praise included black women -- that underdog demo that, Beyonce aside, is often overlooked by whites with an up-with-blacks agenda.

She must have read my mind when she made the disclaimer about finding white men attractive, too. I hate any kind of exclusive or discriminatory thinking when it comes to race and sex, even when it works in my favor. I have no problem with racial preferences. It's the racial blockades by which I cannot abide. She was a chocolate queen, but she was open to other flavors. I couldn't ask for anything more.

Her openness, however, wasn't surprising. I can't recall ever previously having had a conversation with a white woman who dates black men about dating black men. But from a distance, I've noticed that when a straight white woman dates a straight black guy, it's less likely to be part of a pattern, her thing. Most of her exes will not necessarily be black.

Uninitiated straight white women who have yet to "go black" are probably just as curious. However, after their curiosity is satisfied, their long-term behavior is probably less likely to be racially motivated. Once they "go black," they're probably more inclined to go back. I have no scientific evidence of this; it's just a working theory. And I realize there are always exceptions.

Meanwhile, I find that with gay white men who date black men, it tends to be more of a trend. (One can probably say the same thing about gay black men who date white men.) You're rarely the first, and you probably won't be the last. Again, this is not a blanket theory. And there's no judgement here, only observation.

I once presented this idea to a friend (a white guy who dates black men exclusively), and he had an intriguing response. He said it probably has to do with the male emphasis on the physical. Men are driven primarily by physical attraction when choosing a partner, while with women, other factors can play just as vital a role. That might be why women are less likely than men to stick to a physical "type."

What my friend said made a lot of sense, but even if I was willing to accept this theory, I knew that it didn't make women any more color blind than men. After all, I knew the woman I was talking to probably never would have been having this conversation with a white person. Clearly I was first and foremost a black man to her...a gay black man. She probably wouldn't have been having the conversation with a straight black guy either. I couldn't think of a less likely way to get lucky.

Contrary to what many white people who find black people more attractive than white people think, most black people don't really want to hear about it. We'd rather be judged on our own merit, not the merit of our race. We'd rather pretend that you like us for us, not for that specific physical attribute that we share with every other black person. But this was not a pick-up, so I let her continue.

She then started to tell me about the guy she lost her virginity to 20 years ago. He was black, and they remain great friends to this day. Now here is where our interaction started to get a little weird.

She pulled out her phone and began clicking through photos. She wanted to show me one of him. I wasn't sure why. It's not like I had asked what he looked like. I was kind of curious, but I was more interested in seeing a throwback photo from 1995 than in seeing what he looks like today.

Once she found the photo she was looking for, she was on a roll. She showed me a succession of pictures of her now-40ish first-timer posing outside shirtless because, well, why not?

She looked at me expectantly. Clearly she wanted to know what I thought...or more accurately, she wanted my approval...or my respect...or something. Maybe she wanted me to know that she had done well. She not only loves black men, but she can pull in the cream of the chocolate crop, one who barely ages.

I was neither impressed nor unimpressed. He wasn't a bad-looking guy, but I didn't think he was any reason to show off to a complete stranger either. I wondered if she would think I was racist if I told her I didn't think he was all that. But wait, I'm black, too. I am under no obligation to find every black person attractive. Neither are white people, but I was probably in less danger of being labeled racist by an overcompensating white person.

So I said nothing. I just nodded. She could take that as a sign of approval if she wanted to. I'm not sure she even noticed. By then she'd moved on to new business: the nights she's made out with girls. I leaned in to hear more.

4 great songs about interracial romance/sex

"Society's Child" Janis Ian



"Brother Louie" Hot Chocolate



"Island Girl" Elton John



"Jubilee" 10,000 Maniacs

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Stuck in the ’70s: Picking apart the 50 biggest hits of the decade

Excuse me. I'm about to geek out again. What am I obsessing over now? A meeting of two of my favorite things: 1970s music and a marathon Casey Kasem countdown. This one is a very special American Top 40 flashback from 1980 in which Casey counted down the Top 50 hits of the '70s.

What a decade...musically, my all-time favorite. Sorry, '80s fanatics. That decade had its moments (particularly the new wave and post-disco soul of 1980-82 and alternative rock), but the slick, polished mid-to-late '80s pop sound, which generally emphasized production over substance, just hasn't aged as well. The proof is in a 1986 American Top 40 countdown that I recently cringed through.

I'm still trying to process the '70s Top 50 after four listens, and there's no better way to organize a countdown in my head than to write about it. So here goes…

George, Art and Paul X 2… I've always tended to think of The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel as strictly '60s acts, but not so fast. Like Paul McCartney and George Harrison, Paul Simon is represented on the countdown in two incarnations -- solo, with "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," No. 48, and with Art Garfunkel, on "Bridge over Troubled Water," No. 2. It's always struck me as interesting that Simon's biggest post-Simon & Garfunkel success and his only solo No. 1 sounds less like a Paul Simon song than any of his other hits. When I was a kid, I could have sworn it was by some black guy! And despite the African influences that colored his later work, Paul Simon is nothing if not white as snow.



Today "50 Ways" sounds more dated to me than vintage Simon generally does, which might have more to do with its ubiquity when I was about six years old than with the production of the record. As for "Bridge," I've always been more about Aretha's 1971 cover, but until Casey Kasem educated me, I had no idea that it's basically a Garfunkel solo track written by Simon.

Hail Canada...again... The Guess Who was like a Canadian Hollies -- a second-tier band whose hits spanned both the '60s and '70s but with completely different sounds in each decade. Can the same group possibly be responsible for both "These Eyes" and "American Woman" (No. 38)? How come I never noticed until now how similar "American Woman" is to Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love"? That they were released mere months apart ("Love" in November of 1969 and "Woman" in January of 1970) must mean the similarities were purely coincidental. Right?

What happened to '70s classic rock? "American Woman" aside, classic rock is sorely underrepresented in the decade's Top 50. No appearances by Grand Funk Railroad, The Steve Miller Band, or The Doobie Brothers, all of whom had a pair of '70s No. 1s. Even Paul McCartney, the hardest-rocking ex-Beatle, is represented by his considerably softer side, via "My Love" (No. 28) and "Silly Love Songs" (No. 17).



Elton rocks… So "Crocodile Rock" (No. 36) was Elton John's biggest hit of the '70s? Odd. Is that the first song anyone thinks of when they think of Elton? Interestingly, though, the bulk of Elton's '70s No. 1s were uptempo pop-rockers ("Bennie and the Jets," "Philadelphia Freedom," "Island Girl," "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," No. 44), though Elton is probably better known for mournful piano songs like "Daniel," "Rocket Man" and "Your Song."

Those uptempo ones have aged quite well, though. They sound better now than I remember them sounding when I was a kid. I used to hate "Crocodile Rock." Now I can listen to the entire thing without being tempted to turn it off. I'd still rather hear "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," though.

Beatlemania continues… Wow. George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" (No. 15) was the biggest hit by an ex-Beatle in the '70s. Does that make him the ex-Beatle with the biggest solo single overall? I think it's pretty safe to assume that John Lennon's six-weeks-at-No. 1 "(Just Like) Starting Over" and Paul McCartney's seven-weeks-at-No. 1 "Ebony and Ivory" and six-weeks-at-No. 1 "Says Say Say" surpassed the '70s success of "My Sweet Lord" in the '80s.



Family feud… Hmm... The Osmonds' biggest '70s hit ("One Bad Apple," No. 11) was bigger than The Jackson 5's ("I'll Be There," No. 19). Who knew? I have to admit, I prefer "One Bad Apple" to that particular Jacksons track.



Rod's triple… When Rod Stewart hit No. 1, he really hit No. 1. Each of his three chart-toppers made the Top 50 ("Da Ya Think I'm Sexy," No. 35, "Maggie May," No. 13, and "Tonight's the Night," No. 6). In fact, only the Bee Gees had more songs in the '70s Top 50 (more on them later). But here's the odd thing about Stewart's '70s run. Aside from his three chart-toppers (all good songs, none essential to my listening pleasure), he had only one other Top 10 '70s single, "You're in My Heart (The Final Acclaim)," which hit No. 4 and is my favorite of the quartet.

Motown's '70s… Then there's Diana Ross, whose four '70s No. 1s were her only Top 10s of the decade. Of her chart-topping quartet, only "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (No. 30) made the decade's Top 50.

With the exception of Ross and The Jackson 5, no Motown acts placed in the decade's Top 50, not Marvin Gaye, The Temptations or The Miracles (each of whom scored two No. 1s in the '70s) and not…

...Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder! Where's Stevie Wonder? He had five No. 1 singles in the 1970s and not one of them ranks among the decade's 50 biggest hits? I demand a recount!

Where is the soul?... There's a noticeable dearth of soul men in the Top 50. Unless you're going to count Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" (No. 26) as soul just because he's black, Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" (No. 45) is the only song sung blue by a male soul soloist (i.e., a single black male) on the countdown. There's no Al Wilson, no Al Green, no Barry White, no Isaac Hayes, no Edwin Starr -- and they all went to No. 1 in the '70s.



Also shut out… The Eagles, who also had five '70s No. 1s; John Denver, who had four; and The Rolling Stones, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Cher, and Helen Reddy, all of whom had three.

Speaking of no Denver hits... Country music's lone representative in the '70s Top 50 is Olivia Newton-John's "I Honestly Love You" (No. 41), which means country-crossover No. 1s by BJ Thomas, Charlie Rich, Freddie Fender, Billy Swan, Mac Davis, Anne Murray, and Glen Campbell are nowhere to be heard.

Speaking of no Glen Campbell, a number of other artists who had two No. 1 singles in the '70s didn't make the list… The Staple Singers, Jim Croce, Ringo Starr, Neil Sedaka, Michael Jackson solo, and Frankie Valli -- though The Four Seasons slipped in with "December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)" at No. 42.

Comeback kings... The '70s were great to returning pop and rock vets from previous eras. Like Neil Sedaka and Frankie Valli, Sammy Davis Jr., Chuck Berry, Paul Anka, and Johnny Mathis all reached the Hot 100 summit, but of all the resurgent stars, only The Four Seasons made the final 50.
In fact, perhaps not so surprisingly, the '70s Top 50 is dominated by quintessentially '70s acts, which might help explain Motown's near shut-out. (By contrast, two of the '80s biggest hits -- Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" and Diana Ross and Lionel Richie's "Endless Love" -- were by acts who were prominent in the '70s.)

Other '60s acts that missed the Top 50 despite topping Billboard's Hot 100 in the '70s: Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian, The 5th Dimension's Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo, Dionne Warwick, Janis Joplin, and Herb Alpert.

Nonsense song… According to Dewey Bunnell, the member of America who wrote the then-trio's first and biggest hit, "A Horse with No Name" (No. 22), the song is about absolutely nothing. That would make it the '70s musical forerunner of Seinfeld.



Disco dud… Though it was the decade of disco, there are actually fewer disco songs than I expected in the '70s Top 50. Aside from Andy Gibb's two entries ("I Just Want to Be Your Everything," No. 40, and "Shadow Dancing," No. 12), two of Bee Gees four ("Night Fever," No. 16, and "Staying Alive," No. 9), Donna Summer's two ("Hot Stuff," No. 33, and"Bad Girls," No. 24), and Rod Stewart's "Sexy" disco turn, the genre is represented only by Gloria Gaynor (with "I Will Survive," No. 37), The Emotions ("Best of My Love," No. 20), and Chic (with "Le Freak," No. 18). That means none of K.C. and the Sunshine Band's five No. 1s made the cut.



M.I.A.… It also means Johnnie Taylor's "Disco Lady" missed. That's actually fairly suspicious, considering that it was a HUGE hit that spent four weeks at the top and was Billboard's No. 3 Hot 100 single of 1976. The Four Seasons' aforementioned "December 1963" was the No. 4 hit of 1976, so how did it make the list and not "Disco Lady"?



WTH?… If, as Casey says, "Le Freak" was the biggest disco song of all time, why is it lower on the list than "Night Fever," "Staying Alive" and "Shadow Dancing"?

Bee Gees revelation… Before listening to this countdown, I would have called "Staying Alive" Bee Gees signature song and "Night Fever" their biggest hit. After all, it spent a whopping eight weeks at the top. But the trio's biggest hit was actually "How Deep Is Your Love" (No. 8), which spent 17 weeks in the Top 10 and FOREVER on the chart.

Hello, '80s… The Knack's "My Sharona" (No. 9) is the most '80s-sounding hit in the '70s Top 50.



No thanks… I've never cared for Don McClean's "American Pie" (No. 7). It might be my least favorite song in the Top 50. As much as I love Three Dog Night, I've never been a fan of "Joy to the World" (No. 3) either. (Fun fact: "Jeremiah was a bullfrog," the opening line of "Joy," gave me one of my childhood nicknames, "Bullfrog.")

All by myself… Before listening to Casey count down the biggest hits of the '70s, I never would have guessed that the biggest one by a foreign act would be Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)" (No. 5). It might very well be my favorite song in the Top 10, closely followed by "My Sharona" and then "How Deep Is Your Love."



Built to last… Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (No. 4) might be the most durable song in the Top 10, a true pop standard. It's still being sung by singers who were born decades -- DECADES! -- after it hit.

M.I.A. II… Where is James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend"? Fun fact: The Taylor-sung cover of the Carole King Tapestry track entered Billboard's Top 40 the same week in 1971 that the King-sung Tapestry track "It's Too Late" (No. 14) slipped into the No. 1 position for the first of five weeks. Taylor's wife-to-be Carly Simon was also in the Top 40 that week with her debut, "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be." I would have expected her signature "You're So Vain" -- one of the first pop songs I can remember ever hearing -- to be higher than No. 29.



Love of "Life"... For a decade that was so heavy on one-hit-wonder No. 1s, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that the biggest hit of the decade, "You Light up My Life," was sung by one-hitter Debby Boone.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

My problem with ELLE Australia's breastfeeding cover

Nicole Trunfio was one of the first Aussie celebs whose name I was introduced to when I started working in Sydney seven months ago. Somebody told me she was the model who once pissed off Naomi Campbell enough to get quite the humiliating tongue-lashing from the notoriously hot-tempered diva.

One of the first stories I wrote was about her: She was expecting a baby with her husband, a black American blues musician named Gary Clark Jr. Once her face and name were familiar to me, I noticed that she was one of social media's most gorgeous exhibitionists. A colleague of mine said she knows Nicole's body better than she knows her own.

Now with one magazine cover Nicole has all but ensured that she'll no longer be the relative international celebrity nobody that Naomi Campbell dismissed her as. She appears on the cover of ELLE Australia's June issue breastfeeding her four-month-old son Zion.

ELLE editor-in-chief Justine Cullen explained how the photo came about:

"This wasn't a contrived situation. Zion needed a feed. Nicole gave it to him, and when we saw how beautiful they looked we simply moved her onto the set. It was a completely natural moment that resulted in a powerful picture."

Fair enough. Then Nicole had to go and add her two cents when posting the shot on Instagram. #Groan

"There is nothing more powerful and beautiful than motherhood. The last thing I want to do is be controversial, so please take this for what it is, let us #normalizebreastfeeding there is nothing worse than a mother that is judged for feeding her hungry child in public. #weareonlyhuman I'm so proud of this cover and for what it stands for. I obviously don't look like this while I am breastfeeding but this stands for all women out there, whether you breastfeed or not, we gave birth, we are women, we are mothers. Thank you ELLE for being so bold and making such an encouraging, positive and healthy statement. #womenunite

So let me get this straight: There is nothing worse than a mother that is judged for feeding her hungry child in public? Nothing worse?

I realize that women are put-upon and undervalued. Patricia Arquette made that very clear at the Oscars. Women should be paid the same as men, and they shouldn't be punished for having the nerve to turn 30. (In unrelated news, Maggie Gyllenhaal, 37, was recently turned down for a film role because she was deemed too old for the 55-year-old male lead.)

But did I blink and miss the moment when motherhood fell under attack? We now have to "normalize" breastfeeding because the masses think it's abnormal and want hungry babies to starve?

There will always be some assholes who object to everything, including young children on airplanes and in restaurants. Is that not their prerogative, though? Will seeing a beautiful model breastfeeding her baby on the cover of ELLE change their minds about public breastfeeding? Will "normalizing" it make those detractors OK with it?

Frankly, I'm sick of everything being turned into a front-page issue. I'm over celebrities telling me how to feel about everything. Most of all, I'm tired of seeing Nicole's body parts. Here is a model who is constantly posting sexy shots on Instagram trying to turn an appearance on the cover of a glossy fashion magazine into a moment of utmost sociopolitical importance.

Why is it up to her and to ELLE to "normalize" breastfeeding? I don't think anyone thinks it's abnormal. But in a society where we are constantly touting freedom of speech and thought, whether it's Dolce & Gabbana's or caterers who refuse to serve at gay weddings, do people not have the right to not want to see women breastfeeding in public, too?

Almost exactly three years ago, Time magazine ran a cover of a woman breastfeeding a toddler. A similar pro-breastfeeding argument was made then, but as far as I can recall, without the "normalizing" twist. Though there was nothing "natural" about the Time cover, I wonder if Nicole and ELLE realized that the general concept had already been done...and by a magazine that's far more likely to influence social and political thought.


Personally, watching female celebrities parade around the red carpet in various states of undress for years has numbed me to the visual effects of the female anatomy, with or without a kid's mouth attached. I think if a woman wants to breastfeed in public, it's OK. But what's wrong with a bit of discretion? The baby can still get fed and everyone can enjoy their meal in peace. I don't need Nicole Trunfio and ELLE magazine trying to enlighten me.

Just to be on the safe side, ELLE shot two versions of the cover. There's a safe glamour shot of Nicole and Zion on the one that will be sold on newsstands. Subscribers will get the breastfeeding one. If ELLE was all about making a statement rather than money (and in the magazine's defense, the editor didn't say that they are), they would have gone for the gusto and just sold the breastfeeding cover, potential lost newsstand sales be damned. But we all know what it's really all about in the end.


I wonder if Nicole has thought about how Zion will feel when he grows up about seeing himself sucking his mother's breast while his baby bum is exposed. Maybe she's hoping that breastfeeding will be "normalized" enough by then that he won't care.

As far as cover vs. cover, I prefer the non-breastfeeding one because Nicole looks lovely and you can see the baby's adorable face. I have a feeling that in 10 to 20 years, Zion will prefer it too.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Being gay isn't just about sex...so get our minds out of the gutter!

Better than sex!
Newsflash! There's more to life than sex. 

Shocker, right? What kind of gay man am I to say such a thing? I generally prefer to speak for myself only, but I'm pretty sure multi-dimensionality is something I have in common with a number of other gay men. 

The naked truth is this: There are several things I'd rather be doing right now than getting naked and having sex, like writing this blog post. A friend of mine once asked me when I'm happiest. Without hesitating, I said after a long-distance run, and when an article I'm writing starts to really come together, like right now.

Maybe I've just been having bad-to-mediocre sex all of my life, but that feeling of progress and accomplishment beats almost every orgasm I can remember...and that I can recall the specifics of so few of them speaks volumes.

It never occurred to me to consider when I'm between the sheets (not sleeping and not alone) or rolling around awkwardly on a couch as my happiest times. That didn't even enter my mind. I know I'm probably in the minority here -- not just among gay men, among men in general -- but my life isn't all about sex...not even a quarter about sex. I think about so many other things.

So do a lot of gay men, despite what Grindr might lead one to believe. (And I suspect that for many, Grindr is less about sex and more about validation and ego-massaging then most are willing to admit.) Yet perhaps because we are assigned the "gay" label largely due to our sexual activity, that becomes, for many of us and to others, the crux of our identities.

Yes, sexual preference is the major factor in determining whether someone is gay or straight, but I'm not gay solely because I have sex with men. I also connect with men emotionally in a way that I don't with women. A guy I once dated said he can tell I'm not gay just for the sex. It was one of the most astute observations anyone has ever made about me.

If heterosexuals aren't defined by sex, why are homosexuals in the eyes of so many? If I decide to stop having sex, which I did for the bulk of 2014, am I not still gay?

I know our predilection towards horniness, our portrayal in the media, and Grindr don't do the perception of gay men any favors, but the sex slant is more about being male than about being gay. Straight men are no less hung up on sex and would be doing it just as often as gay men if women would indulge them.

Some women do. That's what makes the oldest profession still such a potentially lucrative one. Straight men really keep prostitutes in business. Yet nobody thinks all straight men sleep with hookers. Nor do they think they're all potential child molesters or rapists, though we can probably safely assume that the majority of sex offenders are straight.

I recently read a headline in which someone claimed gay men all should be kept away from children? Huh? So we're all potential pedophiles because of the actions of a few Catholic priests? Do all of the straight male pedophiles in prison mean that we must be extra vigilant when straight men are with kids? 

Of course not. As with white people, straight people only have to answer for their individual actions. The increasing number of exhibitionist female celebs on Instagram and on magazine covers doesn't say anything about women in general, nor do the occasionally "leaked" sex tapes starring straight D-listers angling for a spot on the A-list. Meanwhile, gays, like blacks and other minorities, always seem to be judged cumulatively. The actions of a few determine the perception of all. It's collectivism at its most maddening.

Last week when I told the story about my encounters with the 12-year-old boy named Jeffrey, I was surprised by how strongly some people reacted to it. I actually thought it was more funny and odd than disturbing. Sure, it was somewhat disconcerting because, well, 12-year-old boys generally aren't interested in grown men who aren't their fathers or celebrities. Still, I couldn't help but think that most people assigned a sexual element to it that had more to do with me than with the kid, though he drove the entire story.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I've been attracting intrigued male and female kids for decades, ever since a six year old named Frederick approached me at Astor Hair in New York City, struck up a conversation and asked if he could sit on my lap. I told him his dad, who was getting a haircut nearby, might not appreciate that.)

If I were straight, or a woman, or if the child had been a girl, I wonder if it would have seemed as creepy and disturbing to those who know I'm gay. I'm almost certain that a young girl approaching a woman, gay or straight, in the same way, wouldn't have given anyone pause. It would be unusual but likely still deemed perfectly harmless and innocent.

The one person I told the story to who wasn't at all shocked by it had an interesting take. "He probably just wanted to be friends," she said. "He wanted to be friends because you looked different and cool." She also suggested that he might have been acting on a dare (which is actually the explanation I find most plausible, having considered it myself), or because he wants to visit the U.S. and was excited to meet an American.

She said that after reading my blog post about Jeffrey, she Googled "Jeremy cool black guy in Sydney," and I was No. 6 on the list, and No. 2 the next day. I was surprised I hadn't been No. 1 both times (Is there another black Jeremy in Sydney?) but impressed that although she'd included "black," she'd left out "gay." 

Knowing her -- and this is one of the things I love most about her -- it probably never even entered her mind.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The thrill is gone: A year of musical loss

The last year has been tough on music lovers. I can't remember a previous span of time during which we've had to say goodbye to so many greats, particularly during the last few weeks.

The latest musical icon lost: B.B. King. It shouldn't have come as such a huge surprise that he passed away on Thursday. The man was 89 years old, and he was blessed with a long and rich life. Yet when I read the news on Facebook, it knocked the wind out of me.

I always thought B.B. King would live forever. I took his existence for granted, like the sun, the moon and the oceans. He was just a natural part of the world. I can't remember a time when B.B. King wasn't a part of my world.

The funny thing is this: "The Thrill Is Gone" aside, I couldn't even name the title of a single B.B. King song. Oh, yes, there's also "When Love Comes to Town," his Rattle and Hum duet with U2, but that was really U2's thing. "The Thrill Is Gone" was 100 percent B.B. King with Lucille (his beloved guitar) on the side. Ironically, the first time I heard his signature song and biggest hit was via a cover version by Barbara Mandrell on her 1982 album ...In Black and White.

Though I'm no expert on his discography, I definitely know B.B. King's voice, for how can you forget such a singular sound. It was yearning, pleading, foreboding, the epitome of the blues. B.B. King was the blues. The thrill is most definitely gone.

Goodbye to B.B. King and to Joe Cocker, Lesley Gore, Percy Sledge, Ben E. King, Errol Brown, and all the others who contributed so much to the soundtrack of our lives.

B.B. King 1925-2015



Joe Cocker 1944-2014



Lesley Gore 1946-2015



Percy Sledge 1941-2015



Ben E. King 1938-2015



Errol Brown 1943-2015

Friday, May 15, 2015

The generation gap: Why is this 12-year-old boy talking to me?

If you're only as young as you feel, I'm about ready to close up shop. If you're only as young as you look to people who are terrible at guessing ages, well, I might still be in business. According to a lot of the men who have approached me in recent years, I'm not a day over twentysomething, early thirties tops.

It's good to be young…or at least to appear that way to suitors, even if you see Methuselah every time you look in the mirror. The optical illusion that is my twenties-to-35 face must be the reason why the men I attract seem to get younger every year.

The other day while I was watching myself do arm curls in the mirror at the gym, I could have sworn I saw my dad's face staring back at me. I have no idea what Methuselah looked like, but I'd know dad's face anywhere. When those guys who are half my age see me, though, they see one of their peers. Sure, they're blind as bats, but who am I to argue?

Then along came Jeffrey. He couldn't have been older than a tween, 12 tops. The first time I saw him, he was running toward me as I was walking by a group of boys playing sports on The Domain, a wide open green space bordering downtown Sydney. Jeffrey was dressed in a dark blue school uniform, complete with a blazer and necktie. Had he been 20 years older and a couple of feet taller, I might have mistaken him for an insurance salesman. All he was missing was the briefcase.

"Hi, sir."

I was less disarmed by the formality of his greeting (Who are you calling sir?) than I was by his voice and appearance. He sounded American but looked Italian. I searched the faces of his friends and classmates to make sure I was still in Sydney. Oh, good. I was.

"I'm Jeffrey," he continued, holding out his hand for me to shake. I clasped it reluctantly, disappointed that such a bold approach was accompanied by a limp handshake.

"I'm Jeremy. It's nice to meet you, Jeffrey." Normally I wouldn't have paid attention to his name, and I certainly wouldn't have repeated it, but my brother's name is Jeffrey, so I made a mental note of it. In fact, I considered mentioning my brother but reconsidered. His friends weren't paying us any mind, but what if an adult was looking and getting the wrong idea?

"Where are you going?"

"Oh, I'm just walking home."

There was an uncomfortable silence. Had we been on Grindr, this would have been the part where he asked "What are you looking for?"

"Well, Jeffrey, you have a nice day, OK."

"OK, you, too. Bye."

I walked away without looking back, wondering what that had been all about. It was the strangest encounter I'd had with someone who wasn't old enough to drive since two years ago when that nine-year-old Arab boy took me on an afternoon tour of his neighborhood in Jerusalem. He had been angling for a tip. What had been Jeffrey's end game?

By the time I told my colleague Yasmin about it the next day, I had already filed it away as one of those the-strangest-things-happen-to-me-that-won't-happen-again-until-the-next-time memories. After all, it's not like Jeffrey and I frequent the same watering holes. What was the likelihood of my seeing him again?

Yasmin reasoned that the reason he approached me in the first place was because I have one of those smiles that invites strangers to approach me…even ones who should be mindful of "stranger danger." So the next day when I was walking past The Domain en route home, I put on my bitchiest resting face lest any other tweens get the not-so-bright idea to chat me up.

Just when I started to think it was working, I saw Jeffrey running up to me.

"Hi, Jeremy," he said, smiling widely. He looked like a kid who'd just gotten straight As on his report card and scored the winning home run in a game of baseball all in the same day. How could I not politely stop and greet him back?

"Hi, Jeffrey. How's it going?"

"I'm good. Where are you going?"

"I'm going home."

"Cool...Hey, can I have your phone number?"

"Um, huh? My phone number? Why do you want my phone number?"

"Because you're a really cool guy."

"I am? But you don't even know me."

"No, but you seem really cool."

He was probably the most persistent guy I've met in Sydney yet. And he seemed like the type to call, not text. What in the hell would we talk about? I'm not a phone person as it is, and what could be more awkward than trying to make conversation with a 12 year old who picked you out of the crowd just because you seemed really cool? Before I could think of an excuse to make a hasty exit, Jeffrey was handing me his iPhone.

Now being a conspiracy theorist and lifelong hypochondriac, my mind went to all of the worst-case-possible scenarios. Were we being watched? Was Jeffrey part of a sting operation to catch potential pedophiles?

I started to think of my defense. Well, he had approached me…both times. But I had engaged him. And now my fingerprints were all over Jeffrey's cell phone. What was I going to do?

I thought about denying his request and going about my way, but my paternal instincts got the best of me. He seemed like a good kid, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings. Also, one of his friends had dropped to his knees and was bowing at us in awe. Was that considered the ultimate badge of tween honor, to get the old guy walking by to talk to you? Why else would a little kid be the least bit interested in some random grown-up?

I decided it probably wasn't a sting operation, since his buddy was clearly in on it. So I plugged in my phone number…well, most of it. I mangled the last few digits, just to be on the safe side. Sure, he'd probably still be hurt, but I wouldn't have to be around to watch it. And best of all, I wouldn't be receiving any unwanted calls from the authorities.

As I walked away, I knew I wouldn't be taking that route home again. It was nothing personal against Jeffrey. He seemed like excellent BFF material…for someone closer to his own age. But it's probably time for me to start actively courting an older fan base.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

10 reasons why modern technology is more likely to get us killed

1. Texting while walking or driving can lead to disaster. The other day I almost fell forward, head first onto the concrete while walking and texting at the same time. I managed to stay upright, but the next time I might not be so lucky…and we all know there'll be a next time.

2. We now have so many vital electronic gadgets that we're unlikely to leave them behind on a downed plane. They always tell us to leave our personal belongings behind when exiting an airplane during an emergency. Like, who would actually do that? I, for one, probably wouldn't be able to resist the urge to grab my laptop from the overhead bin on the way out, screaming and scrambling fellow passengers be damned. After all, so much of my life is on that thing, surviving the crash would be pretty rough without it.

3. Nobody memorizes phone numbers anymore. Right now there's the most ridiculous storyline on The Young and the Restless that has cosmetics billionaire Jack Abbott being held captive in some far-flung mystery country by his crazy ex Kelly Andrews. Meanwhile, a doppelganger has taken over his life with his new wife Phyllis back in Genoa City, Wisconsin. Despite being handcuffed to a bed, Jack somehow managed to get ahold of a small knife the other day, stab Kelly in the neck and steal her phone, which he then used to call his son Kyle.

Huh? Clearly he had to know Kyle's number by heart in order to call him from Kelly's phone, and really, who knows anyone's number by heart these days? We all program them into our phones without giving the individual digits a second thought. When people call us or we call them, we generally don't even see numbers, just the caller's name or pic. So if someone were being held captive by a madwoman far from home and somehow accessed a random phone, he'd probably get no further than an area code when trying to call his son to the rescue.

In Jack's case, someone other than Kyle answered. (Yes, the doppelganger!) Following a few unfathomable plot twists, Jack called the police. Wait, is it 911 everywhere in the world?

4. It's easier for our every movement to be tracked by the enemy. How can we lose ourselves in the crowd while on the run from international terrorists when we're constantly checking in on Facebook. Ah ha! Gotcha!

5. Predictive text can cause fatal mistakes. What if you're a private eye trying to catch a suspected cheating husband and you text your honey trap "kill him" instead of "kiss him." Oops! Ooh, and if Margeaux had accidentally sent a "kiss him" text to Courtney Love on the penultimate episode of Revenge instead of ordering that hit by phone, Jennifer Love Hewitt's husband would have lived to see Sunday's series finale.

6. Do cell phones still cause brain tumors? If so, we're all pretty much screwed.

7. We're more likely to self-diagnose rather than going to see a doctor. If you're even a fraction of the hypochondriac that I am, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

8. We're more likely to spend convalescing time updating our health status rather than resting. Frankly, I've never really understood why people post Facebook status updates about their health and the health of their loved ones, but I suppose it's probably to create a sense of community in difficult times. Still, they'd probably be better off offline and in bed.

9. You're more likely to be physically isolated due to social media. Since you can create an alternate reality that's full of friends, you might not even notice that you spend most of your time alone. Those likely aren't the best of conditions for anyone who's depressed and possibly suicidal. At some point, the reality of a hopeless loner's or lonesome loser's true isolation is bound to sink in.

10. We're now all amateur videographers. Remember when Jo on Melrose Place took those pictures of a cop brutalizing a criminal? She almost lost her life as a result when the dirty cop came after her. She was a photographer, so her having a camera at the scene of the crime wasn't so far-fetched. In 2015, she probably would capture it on smart phone video, and in 2015, it could possibly happen to anyone. Imagine how much different the coverage of September 11 would have been if phone cameras had been in such prevalent use back then.

As we've all become amateur photojournalists, the possibility of shooting the wrong thing (like someone shooting someone else dead) has increased exponentially. Alas, modern life is nothing like Melrose Place…If it were, all of those sexcapades probably would have ended up on video! Had we been in Jo's Doc Martens, smart phone in hand, we probably wouldn't have lived to see another storyline.