Saturday, March 31, 2012

Songs of Faith and Devotion (No, Not the Depeche Mode Album!)

Part 1 (of 3). "Count on Me" Jefferson Starship

Have you ever really loved a woman (or man)? Enough to write -- or sing -- lines like this?

"Emerald eyes and china perfume
Caught in the wheel and lost in
The feel of a love so soon
Ruby lips
You make my song
Into the night and saved by the lite
Of a love so strong"

Cats have nine lives to live. Most rock & roll bands have but one. Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Starship had three, and enjoyed notable success in each one. Alas, some were better lived than others. Jefferson Airplane would have been indispensable if it had never recorded anything other than "White Rabbit," while Starship, which crash landed creatively while soaring commercially with three No. 1 singles ("We Built This City," "Sara" and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now"), was little more than a late-'80s cash cow.

But it's Jefferson Starship that will forever have a special place in my heart, mostly because of one incredible love song that I can still remember hearing on the radio every day when I was 8 years old. As hymns to everlasting love go, they don't get more beautiful than "Count on Me," which was deservedly a Top 10 hit (No. 8) in 1978.

I'm not sure why Wikipedia devotes an entire page to Whitney Houston and CeCe Winans' "Count on Me," also a No. 8 hit almost exactly 18 years later, and like-titled singles by the Statler Brothers and Bruno Mars, and not Jefferson Starship's, but what does Wikipedia know? (Don't answer that!)

Thankfully, "Count on Me" gets its full due on YouTube, where I found a live acoustic version from the 1970s that I never knew existed.

Part 2. "How Much I Feel" Ambrosia

Yes, this 1978 No. 3 hit is a little over the top, both lyrically and vocally, but then, so is love. (Note: After pressing play below, please wait 31 seconds for the song to begin.)

Part 3. "Hello Love" Hank Snow

The thing I love most about this 1974 single, which at the time made Snow, then 59, the oldest person ever to have a No. 1 country single, is that he could be singing to a lower-case-l "love" (as in, "hello, darling"), a capital-L "Love" (as in, who knew I'd ever fall like this again?), or both. In either case, he had me at "hello," love.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Why Don't the Psychedelic Furs Get More Love?

When people talk about great bands from the 1980s, everyone (myself included) seems to go on and on about the Smiths, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, the Cure, and R.E.M., before they were famous. But what about the post-punk band from London that may have had the best name assigned to any group to emerge from the Reagan/Thatcher years?

I have a few theories as to why the Psychedelic Furs didn't/don't get enough love: 1) The members weren't cute enough to be pin-up idols, which, let's face it, great as Duran Duran's music may have been, was a huge factor in that group's success. 2) The Furs wasn't particularly pop, not quite rock, and definitely not new wave, so nobody knew what to file its music under.

As a result, the band released critically acclaimed albums and amassed a respectable following, but never scored a Top 10 album or single in its native UK, and only managed one top 40 U.S. hit, with "Heartbreak Beat" (No. 26, 1987), a clunky song that no diehard fan would ever rank as being anywhere near the band's best. (I shudder to think that I actually spent good money on the Midnight to Midnight vinyl LP!)

A further show of disrespect: The classic 1986 John Hughes film Pretty in Pink was named after a Furs song from the 1981 Talk Talk Talk album, and the soundtrack included a re-recorded version, and the Furs still didn't have a hit with it in the U.S. (It went to No. 41.) That honor went to OMD, whose Pretty in Pink track "If You Leave" hit No. 4 in the States.

A few years before I left New York City, I saw a reunited Psychedelic Furs on a double bill with fellow Pretty in Pink soundtrack alumnus Echo & the Bunnymen at the Beacon Theater. Both bands sounded great, but as much as I love "The Cutter" and "Seven Seas," Echo & the Bunnymen's greatest hits of the '80s are unmistakeably from that decade.

Meanwhile, Furs songs like "Love My Way," "The Ghost in You" and "Sister Europe" could have been written and recorded that year, or in 2012. They sound as timely -- and much better -- than much of what passes for music today. That might also partly explain why the Furs was never a commercial A-list act: Its music may have been a product of the '80s, but it never completely sounded the part.

It's never too late to pay homage. If you're reading this, you've probably heard the "hits," so here's a tribute to latter-day Furs...

"Mother Son" Chaos = Beauty, from 1989's great underrated Book of Days.

"All That Money Wants" The new track on the Furs' '88 best-of compilation All of This and Nothing that sounded every bit as classic as the "hits" that surrounded it. Watch and listen here.

"Sometimes" This will always remind me of moving to New York City because I listened to this and the single "Until She Comes" (both from the 1991 album World Outside) practically non-stop during my first few weeks in the big city.

"Shineaway" OK, this isn't actually a Psychedelic Furs song. It's BT featuring Furs singer Richard Butler. Listen up, David Guetta! This track (from the 1997 Bruce Willis/Richard Gere film The Jackal) is what a DJ-singer collaboration should sound like, so leave Nicki Minaj alone, and get original!

"Am I Wrong?" Again, not Psychedelic Furs, but Love Spit Love, Butler's hideously named band during the Furs' '90s hiatus. I saw LSL at Irving Plaza in 1994 with my then-boyfriend, who had no use for anything that wasn't R&B, and even he was in tears by the end of this song, which went to No. 83, making it a bigger hit in the U.S. than most of the Furs' "hits."

Gay 101: Why "Coming Out" Is So Hard to Do

Chandler Massey (left) and Freddie Smith, stars of one of the greatest stories ever told on “Days of Our Lives.”
There are so many different ways to be gay -- no matter what that idiot Carson Daly says!

Though a moral majority would like nothing better than to shove all gay people into a box, label it "sinners" (or in Carson Daly's case, "wimps"), and ship it off to Siberia, there's really nothing cliche about being gay. Sure there are some common threads: A lot of us dress well, hate sports, love female singers and are obsessed with lists and countdowns, but I've known quite a few slovenly gay men who live for football, have never been into Madonna (or Streisand, or Garland), and can't even be bothered to open incoming email.

In other words, gay men are as predictable and unpredictable as straight men. There's more emotional and mental variety in gay bars and clubs and in your local Gay Pride Parade than many straight people might think.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the process of coming out of the closet. I've seen it done so many ways. Some fling open the door at a very young age, dressed head to toe in bright fluorescent colors. "I'm here, and I'm queer!" they announce, even if they don't say a word. Others, spend years peeping through a crack, opening and closing it, never daring to step all the way out until they can be sure it's completely safe. Others still, like the character in Beginners that finally won Christopher Plummer an Oscar, decorate their closets quite nicely -- with a wife, kids, a dog and a white-picket fence -- never choosing to relocate to a bigger space in the main house until their twilight years. Better late than never, right?

I can't pinpoint the exact moment when I figured out that I was gay. I can't say it was something I struggled with as a teenager. I was terrible at sports, I was more interested in playing with girls than playing with them, and I always knew that I was different. But I grew up a black kid with a funny Caribbean accent in the middle of Florida. "Different" meant so many things. I had so much on my "outsider" plate that it was easy to backburner my sexuality.

I was probably in college before I gave a name to my sexual orientation. I'm not sure why I kept it to myself for so long. I wasn't exactly terrified, but fear did play a supporting role. Part of me didn't want to give people another reason to think I was "different." Another part of me didn't think it was anyone's business whom I was sleeping with -- or whom I wanted to sleep with. And yet another part of me didn't think it really mattered. Straight people never announce that they're straight, so why should I have to announce that I'm gay? I had no intention of going the wife and kids route (though I've lately been seriously reconsidering the kids part). I was just going to go where my life led me.

Shortly after I graduated from the University of Florida, it led me to New York City. They say if you can make it there you can make it anywhere. Well, if you can't be gay there, you can't be gay anywhere. Within a year, I had nothing left to hide. I'd swung that closet door wide open, and stepped out into the light. As an adult, I've always been more or less sartorially sound, though -- no fluorescent for me, only tasteful, muted tones.

My friend Cara, who served as my wingwoman many a gay night out, once helped me make a list of everything I required in a man during downtime at work. (See, that obsession with lists again -- I'm even considering writing an entire book devoted to them!) One was "Must be into pop culture," next to which Cara drew a picture of Jennifer Lopez's butt, which was as big a star as she was at the time. Near the top of my love list: "Must be out of the closet"!!! It's the one rule I've broken more than any other.

Though all of the boyfriends I had up until the age of 35 were out of the closet (except for one, who was out to everyone but his parents, to whom he wasn't close, so to him it didn't matter), since I left the gay capital of the world (New York City, for those who haven't been paying attention), every single guy I've seriously dated (all three of them) has been cowering in the closet. I say "cowering" because there's a difference between living by the don't-ask-don't-tell code of conduct and quite another to live in crippling fear.

That's what I get for dating guys half my age, many of whom are -- or were -- still dependent on their parents. I believe that my last relationship fell apart mostly because the guy I was with, who was very slowly starting to crack open the closet door, was so uncomfortable with who he was: a good person who just happened to be gay.

I wouldn't dream of looking down on anyone who chooses to remain in the closet. Everyone, gay and straight, must live according to their own schedule. Although I think I'm through dating guys who are not 100 percent out, it's not because I'm passing judgement. It's because if I've learned anything about love in the last six years, it's that this particular kind of mixed relationship doesn't work.

For all of my acceptance of the closeted psyche, the one thing I never understood is the denial part of being gay. Lying to your parents and friends is one thing, but how do you lie to yourself? No matter how convincing you are at it, can't you see through your own lies? It's something I'm only starting to comprehend, and as much as I hate to admit it, it's because of Days of Our Lives.

Who says daytime soaps can't be informative? I'm learning more by watching Will Horton's coming-out storyline on Days, than I've ever discovered by watching any talk show -- including Oprah's, which never taught me anything other than how to win friends and influence people by expertly negotiating that fine line between humility and self-importance. It has a lot do do with the flawless performance of Chandler Massey -- who, mark my words, will be an Oscar-nominated movie star in the near future -- but it's also because of how slowly and carefully his story is being told. The writers haven't missed a single beat.

Will's coming-out process is a lot more angst-filled than mine was, but not for all of the cliched, stereotypical reasons. He's neither the macho jock whose public image is on the line (Teddy, last season on 90210, which featured Days co-star Freddie Smith in a similar supportive role), nor is he Kurt on Glee. Will occupies that gray space in the middle of the gay spectrum where so many of us live and love. I like that he has a strong support system (including two sexy grandmas who figured out he was gay before he did!), parents who could go either way when they find out, and no stereotypical Bible thumpers and neanderthals frightening him into staying put on that closet shelf.

Unlike so many televised coming-out stories, this one doesn't involve a love interest who is nudging him to come out already. Yes, Will kissed a guy, a total stranger, and he liked it, but Will is struggling with his self-image as much as he's struggling with his sexual preference. What does it mean that he's gay? Can he still have a family? Will his religious great-grandmother think his soul is damned? Will it always be the first thing people think of when they look at him?

These are all valid questions and ones that need to be asked and answered. It's a shame that daytime soaps have such a bad reputation for being campy and unrealistic (which, for me, can be a large part of their charm) because this is a story from which every young gay person struggling with his (or her) sexuality can learn something. So can us old, out and proud geezers. The next time I see my ex, I'm going to give him a big hug and tell him I understand completely.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Colton Dixon: America, Meet Your Next "Idol"!

I've got to admit it: American Idol hasn't really interested me in years. The last time I can remember watching it semi-religiously week after week, or, frankly, my dears, even giving a sliver of a damn, was probably the year Kris Allen shocked everyone by beating Adam Lambert. And that season, I didn't even give it my complete devotion.

This round, I haven't caught a single minute of the show, and I didn't have any plans to start tuning in. But now, suddenly, I'm getting interested again. Kind of, but probably still not enough to start watching every week.

It started with a photo of Colton Dixon that I happened to come across today while browsing through the latest entertainment news. The 20-year-old singer from Murfreesboro, Tennessee (what's with the Deep South and its Idol contenders?), looks like an American Idol frontrunner if I've ever seen one. Then I listened to his moving rendition of Billy Joel's "Piano Man" (which I actually like better than the original, which I've never liked). Dixon sounds like an American Idol frontrunner if I've ever heard one. Oh, and what a great name!

But the thing I believe will ultimately clinch the contest for him is exactly what the producers are supposedly telling him to tone down out of supposed concern for his own chances: his devout Christianity. To those who say his religious tweets and Facebook posts might undermine his Idol potential, I say, don't underestimate the power of G.O.D. in the U.S.A. And its not like the teens and grannies who can give a promising Idol contestant a competitive edge are going to penalize a good-looking kid for loving Jesus and praying every day.

Personally, I'm not interested in reading religious sermons of any kind (even at 140 characters or less), and I'm not really looking forward to hearing them on the Idol stage either. But with Him and His followers on his side, dialing in votes week after week, how could Dixon possibly lose? It also helps that he's one hell of a singer.

Oops, sorry -- one heck of a singer!

Why Madonna Keeps Losing Me with "MDNA"

Though she'd probably never admit it, Madonna is only human. And like the rest of us mere mortals, she's failed at a few things over the years (oh, those dreadful movies!). Holding my attention, however, has rarely been one of them.

It's not that she's boring me now, but I'm having a hard time getting through MDNA again. Every time I try to listen to Madonna's just-released 12th album, my mind starts to wander and my energy level flags, which means that this probably will not end up being my workout soundtrack for the next few months. I wonder what Elton John, Madonna's public enemy No. 1, has to say about this!

No, Madonna is probably incapable of being outright dull (despite its soporific properties, I'd still rather listen to MDNA than Beyoncé's 4 or Britney Spears' Femme Fatale), but for the first time since 2003's American Life, she's unable to hold my undivided attention. Even Hard Candy, as uneven as it was, had moments of such extreme brilliance that I found myself pressing repeat over and over. I once spent an entire hour running around Santiago, Chile, with nothing but "Heartbeat" blaring in my ears!

It wasn't supposed to be this way. A few weeks ago, ran a track-by-track rundown of MDNA's 12 songs and five bonus tracks, with several snippets thrown in. The minute (or so)-long previews sounded so great coming out my laptop speakers that March 26 couldn't arrive quickly enough. I was even ready to cut "Give Me All Your Luvin'" and "Girl Gone Wild" some slack. Though they didn't work as singles -- first Madonna singles should not sound like filler but like future classics that we won't be able to get out of our heads for months, if not forever -- perhaps they would sound more convincing in the context of the entire album.

Newsflash! They don't. Not even "Gang Bang," which in the snippet sounded like it might be the most exciting thing Madonna has done in years, loses my interest somewhere around the 1:30 mark. It's not that the songs themselves aren't well-produced and sturdily constructed. I love the twangy guitar riffs in "Love Spent" and that fuzzed-out funky bit 20 seconds into "I Don't Give A," though a musical diatribe apparently aimed at Guy Ritchie after all this time seems uber petty. But for the most part, the songs on MDNA just sort of lie there, going nowhere special. Maybe she should have released an album of 60-second teasers!

Part of the problem is lyrical. Too often, Madonna seems to be going purposely shallow, as if she wants to sound as young as she looks. (Indeed, in the "Girl Gone Wild" video, she looks like not a day has passed since the "Erotica" video in 1993!) But her decadence dance is unconvincing, especially since it's been nearly decades since Madonna the star has come across as anything even resembling a party girl. She doesn't sound menacing or threatening saying "Drive, bitch!" on "Gang Bang." She comes across more like a grandma who's trying too hard to prove that she can still run with the young guns and stay up past midnight.

At 53, she needs to be digging deeper than "Turn Up the Radio." (That anachronism right there -- Who even listens to the radio anymore? -- further betrays her vintage status.) On Hard Candy, "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" and "Closer" were standouts because she was really saying something. (Might I recommend an album-length collaboration with singer-songwriter Joe Henry, her brother-in-law, who co-wrote previous Madonna triumphs "Don't Tell Me," "Jump" and "Devil" as well as the MDNA closer "Falling Free"?) Yes, I can accept that even menopausal girls just wants to have fun (to steal the line of her one-time rival Cyndi Lauper, which Madonna does, too, on "Girl Gone Wild"), but let's leave singing about it to kids Katy Perry's age, shall we?

Maybe I was expecting too much from this Madonna reunion of sorts with William Orbit, who had a hand in producing a number of MDNA tracks. She delivered some of her best work (1998's Ray of Light) in collaboration with Orbit. But their time may have passed. Ray of Light now sounds like a relic of its era, and although their "Masterpiece," which first appeared in the closing credits of W.E., Madonna's second directorial effort, is a highlight on the album and one of the few tracks that I want to hear again (along with "I'm Addicted," a magnificent obsession that still lasts about one minute too long, and "I'm A Sinner," which is classic Madonna-Orbit in the musical vein of the great, durable "Beautiful Stranger"), it sounds like it belongs in the '90s.

I'm not sure what's going on between Madonna and Stuart Price, with whom she collaborated on her best album, 2005's Confessions on a Dance Floor. Why does she seem to have deleted his number from her speed dial? Here's a guy who can take a repetitive loop and create high drama with it. Nothing much happened over the course of a song on Confessions, but Price's production created the illusion of building tension, like that loop was constantly changing, evolving. (It's a technique that has kept Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" in heavy rotation on my personal playlist for most of my life.)

I'm not ready to give up on MDNA just yet. Madonna music has grown on me before. Maybe one day the songs on MDNA will finally start to sink in, I'll doze off and wake up dancing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Bucket List: 10 Places I Have to Visit Before I Die

It ain't easy being Greenland.
I can remember exactly where I was when I first caught the travel bug. It was 1993, and I was going to Bermuda for a three-day People magazine off-site. It was the first time I'd ever traveled outside of the United States, and as I applied to have a passport quickly issued to me a few weeks before my departure, I wondered what had taken me so long.

One night after dinner as I stood on the terrace staring at the Atlantic Ocean waves, I could so clearly see my destiny. Though it wasn't New Year's Eve, I made the one resolution of my life that I would actually keep: Every year, for as long as I was able to get on and off of airplanes on my own two feet, I would visit at least one country I've never been to.

It's a promise that over the years has taken me through much of Europe (Netherlands, Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Turkey), the UK (England, Scotland and Ireland), a chunk of South America (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Peru), Australia, and Southeast Asia, to Mexico, Canada (I'm so ready to add Vancouver to Montreal and Toronto), New Zealand and the Caribbean, but strangely enough, never back to Bermuda, despite the fact that I absolutely loved it there. I've seen more of at least three continents than I've seen of the United States!

When I think of things I want to do before I die, they generally don't include jumping out of airplanes or meeting any celebrities. (God, knows I've met enough of them to last this lifetime!) My bucket list strictly comprises places I've never been. Three months into 2012, I'm still trying to decide what new frontier is in store for this year. I've whittled my options down to 10, though I have a feeling that Laos, which I've been hearing excellent things about lately, or Jakarta, where two very cool people I've recently met call home, will be my next previously unseen destination.

But getting back to my bucket list...

1. Lebanon My friend Rob is going soon with his Lebanese boyfriend, and I'm officially green with envy (at least it's my color!). I've heard mixed reports about Beirut (a former colleague of mine told me about bombs going off in the middle of the night during his recent tour of professional duty there!), and growing up in the '80s, I always thought of it as a place of extreme political unrest that must be avoided at all cost. I wouldn't necessarily want to die for lust, but if the guys there are as too die for as I think they are, I might eventually take my chances.

2. Tel Aviv When bombs were going off there regularly I stayed away because I didn't feel like being blown up in the disco. Cat Power even recently deleted it from her tour itinerary because of political unrest there between the Israeli and Palestinian governments. But lately, I've been tempted to flirt with danger because of the, well, flirting options in Tel Aviv. As the hottest men on the planet go, Israelis are right up there with Australians and Argentines. I don't believe I've ever met one with whom I wouldn't consider running away (I even spent the millennial New Year's Eve in Brooklyn, of all places, for the benefit of ringing in 2000 with Amir), or for whom I wouldn't think about going permanently kosher.

3. Cape Town A former roommate who once spent time in South Africa told me that it was a life-altering experience that even changed the way she slept! That I might finally get to sleep through the night isn't the only reason I've been dying to go there for as long as I can remember. I've never heard anyone who's visited say a bad word about the place, and I've never had a bad word to say about anyone I've met who comes from there. In the back of my mind, I suspect that when I've gotten wanderlust and the urban bustle out of my system, I'll end up on a cape somewhere near the southernmost tip of Africa, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

4. Egypt I haven't been much of a sightseer since I took a train from Florence to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower and was thoroughly underwhelmed, but I can't imagine dying without setting eyes on the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx in Giza.

5. The Grand Canyon See America first. That's advice I never followed, but of all the places in the U.S. that I have yet to see, the best reason I can think of to ever visit the state of Arizona (except perhaps to hang out with Stevie Nicks) is at the top of my to-do-in-the-U.S.A. list.

6. Alaska No. 2 on that to-do list. Men in Trees, the Alaskan-set Anne Heche series from a few years back that nobody watched piqued my interest. My mom and I once talked about taking an Alaskan cruise some day. I have to remember to revisit that idea with her soon.

7. Iceland Not just because it's the country that gave us Bjork! A friend of mine whose gorgeous husband also hails from Iceland, recently gave me a glowing review of Reykjavik. As must-see as the glaciers and volcanoes must be, before I close my eyes for good, I'd like to spend the summer months closing them at night when the sun is still shining. (I'd definitely pass on those months of darkness, though!)

8. Venice I've been to Rome (loved it), Florence (hated it), Genoa (loved it) and Milan (love, love, loved it), but I've yet to venture to the city on water, which I fell for the first time I watched the Katharine Hepburn movie Summertime. Why am I holding out? I'm brave enough to travel anywhere on my own (and for the most part, I have), but Venice is one place I want to experience for the first time with someone I love, truly, madly deeply.

9. Rwanda There's a scene early in Hotel Rwanda before the violence and bloodshed kicks in when Don Cheadle is driving on a cliff-side road passing by some of the most breathtaking scenery I've ever seen onscreen. Since I couldn't climb inside (and considering what was to come, that would have been a deadly move anyway), I'll have to spring for a ticket and five-star accommodations like the lovely one in which hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina sheltered his endangered countrymen.

10. Greenland I know, nobody wants to go to Greenland. And does anybody even live there? It's one of those places you never think about because no one ever talks about it. That's precisely why I want to see for myself what everyone very well might be missing out on. And like I said, green is my color.

10 more places I'd like to check out if I live to be 100...

  1. San Diego, California
  2. Seattle, Washington
  3. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  4. Tanzania
  5. Seoul, South Korea
  6. Moscow, Russia
  7. Warsaw, Poland
  8. Croatia
  9. Asuncion, Paraguay
  10. Mumbai, India

Monday, March 26, 2012

Happy 70th to the Queen of Soul

I've been so focused on Fiona Apple and her return to New York City that I won't be there for, I almost forgot what has got to be the milestone of the week: Aretha Franklin turned 70 on Sunday, March 25. It makes me feel incredibly old that so many icons whom I can remember being younger than I am now, are now turning 70. Coming soon (April 24, to be exact): Barbra Streisand.

I met Franklin exactly once, in the early '90s at one of Clive Davis' pre-Grammy parties in New York City. She didn't say much, but she was gracious and kind, slowly and deliberately moving forward as if her final destination was a throne in the center of the room. She was every bit as regal as the Queen of Soul should be.

I've written about her numerous times over the years, so I'll skip my Top 5 Aretha songs, leave it at "Happy birthday," and this, one of my favorite Aretha Franklin performances on YouTube, a '70s appearance on Soul Train (R.I.P., Don Cornelius). She's so likable here, and I love her reaction when Cornelius calls her "probably the most gifted singer that ever lived." Were it not for her typically awesome vocal, it would still be a classic for that bright, revealing orange outfit that I couldn't imagine anyone else even trying to pull off while singing a song called "Jump."

Burning Question: Am I a Fool for Leaving New York?

The blizzard of '96: the view from my 7th-floor window on 34th Street
In my nearly six years spent living abroad, I've been asked pretty much every question under the sun, some of which are more mundane and predictable than others. By now, though, I've perfected a response for pretty much every single one of them.

Q: "Te gusta Argentina?"
A: "Well, if I didn't like it, why would I still be here after four and a half years."

Q: "Where are you from?"
A: I pick a place, depending on my mood and what follow-up questions I can tolerate: "St. Thomas, Virgin Islands" (where I was born, but nobody ever seems to know where it is, and I'm rarely ever interested in giving geography lessons), or "Florida" (where I grew up, but yawn), or "New York City" (where I spent my formative professional years and still consider to be home, even if I haven't been there in two years), or "Buenos Aires" (where I actually own a home), or "Australia" (where I now live when I'm not living in Bangkok). Sometimes, to throw them way off, I say Sweden, or Finland. To date, nobody has ever believed either, which means they're probably more clever than the question!

Q: "Top or bottom?"
A: "When I go to bed with a guy, I prefer to sleep side by side." (Okay, I've never actually used that. I just thought of it. Next time... Come to think of it, though, if you're doing that in bed, why limit yourself to being on top or bottom, regardless of your preferred "role"? I can't believe I'm about to say this, but the Argentines, with their "Activo o pasivo?", might be sharper than I've been giving them credit for being.)

Q: "What are you looking for?" (The question most commonly asked on Manhunt and Grindr, after the previous one.)
A: "I'm not sure, but when I find him I'll let you know."

Q: "Do you want to have 'high fun'?"
A: "What does that even mean?"

Q: "Is it true what they say about black men?"
A: "If you're rude enough to ask, you'll never find out."

Q: "Why did you leave New York City?"
A: "I lived there for 15 years. Newsflash: Sometimes people relocate."

On Saturday night, Donovan, a stunningly handsome guy from South Africa whom I'd met the previous evening (I'm a total sucker for tall men with big jet-black hair and first names that are actually last names), asked me a question that stumped even me. I didn't know how to answer him. Not the first one, which I've been asked before, and has become a bit complicated since it's no longer just one thing.

Q: "Will you tell me again what you do for a living?"
A: "I'm a journalist. In New York, I was a writer and editor for People magazine, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly. Now I freelance, I blog, and I'm writing a book about my last six years living on three different continents." I expected my book to be the part that piqued his interest, but apparently, South Africans are as career-minded as Americans.
Q: "Why would you leave People magazine to move to Buenos Aires?"

I was kind of surprised that he'd remembered that I lived in Buenos Aires, but not that I'm a writer, which is pretty much what I consider myself these days as opposed to being a journalist. For the most part, though, I still use "journalist" because "writer" conjures up a mental image of a starving artist, which I'm sort of not.

Mostly, though, I was stumped. What kind of question was that? And why did he assume that I'd left People to move to Buenos Aires when it was the first magazine I listed? People was actually my first magazine job in New York City, and not the one I had when I left. I'd spent eight years working there, which seems like a long enough time to work anywhere.

I didn't realize that People was such a well-known entity worldwide, so highly regarded that one would expect an employee to never want to leave (though many of them never do), especially to go to someplace as exotic as exciting as BA. It's not like I'd left New York City to move Anchorage, Alaska (which, actually, doesn't sound that bad either, but I wouldn't expect a South African to know that). Buenos Aires is one of the most popular tourist/expatriate destinations in the world.

I'm not sure if I ever answered the question. I was too busy looking into Donovan's specs-free eyes, thinking that he looked even better than he had the night before, when he'd been wearing glasses. But why did he have to ask me that? I told him it was better than asking me about the size of my, er, manhood, which he found amusing. But did my life over the last six years seem so drab that he couldn't understand why I would give up a job at People magazine for it (even though I hadn't)?

Did he not realize that people sometimes change jobs, change cities, change continents? If I were still working at People magazine today, 21 years after I started, wouldn't that be stranger than the fact that I'm now living in Bangkok? I had no idea how to answer the question, so I didn't. I told him that I'm quite happy with the life I've been leading, one that's contained enough adventure to inspire me to write an entire book about it.

One can only write so many cover stories on Shania Twain and Celine Dion before it's time to move on. New York City isn't going anywhere, and neither is People magazine. If I someday decide it's time to go back, all I have to do is get on an airplane and knock on the office door of my former editor, with whom I've kept in touch and who would probably be thrilled to have me back in the fold. At least I'd hope so!

That's exactly what I told Donovan. It wasn't really an answer to his question, but it was the best that I could do. The beauty of life is that, if you're lucky, there are always many options. Just because you choose one, doesn't mean you're stuck with it. And just because you move on to another, doesn't mean you can't return to the first one. People do it all the time on Days of Our Lives!

I'm not sure if any of this was sinking in. Donovan was just standing there staring at me with those dreamy brown eyes, which, frankly, was good enough for me. Oh, and to answer that earlier question -- What am I looking for? -- he was standing in front of me asking unanswerable questions. Over the last several months, I've convinced myself that Mr. Perfect is somewhere in South Africa, one of the few places I've never been but I'm dying to go. He might not be Donovan, but maybe I'm finally getting warmer.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fiona Apple in New York City: Why I'm Sort of Dying to Be Back Home Again

My good friends and my Union Square apartment aside, I can't say there's much that I miss about living in New York City, particularly in the post-9/11 years. Occasionally, usually while I'm watching a rerun of Sex and the City on TV, I get a little nostalgic for the good old days, circa 1994-95 -- Monday nights at Sugar Babies, Tuesdays at Jackie 60, Wednesdays at Flamingo East, Thursdays at Bowery Bar, Fridays at Sound Factory Bar, Saturdays at the Roxy and Twilo, Sundays hungover in bed with a cheese omelet and fries. But I dry my misty eyes and move on.

Now I'm once again in a New York state of mind. In fact, I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be on Monday, March 26. What will make this manic Monday in Manhattan more special than any other one? Fiona Apple. Her The Idler Wheel mini-tour (in support of her June album The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do) will bring her to New York City's Bowery Ballroom, a venue that was always one of my Manhattan favorites -- and not just because People magazine had its 1998 Christmas party there.

The last time I stepped foot in Bowery Ballroom, in 2006, my friend Deirdre and I were there to see Keane, who had just released its second album, Under the Iron Sea, an obsession that kept me occupied for most of my final summer in New York. I was also with Deirdre the last time I saw Fiona Apple in concert, sometime in the late '90s, when Apple was the opening act for Chris Isaak at the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side.

I've always felt that Apple's wild-eyed slightly crazed and confused persona (not to mention wordy, pretentious album titles like the one above) overshadowed her music. When I interviewed Apple, now 34, for People, she was only 19 years old and nothing like the mad genius I'd subsequently see onstage or the sullen girl (to use one of her song titles) grudgingly giving acceptance speeches at award shows, turning people off before they'd even gotten to her music. Though I was impressed by her maturity and eloquence, I never dreamt that she'd evolve into possibly the most gifted singer-songwriter in her age group. Too bad she makes us wait so long between albums.

Of course, good things do come to those who wait. When the Pawn..., her 1999 second album, whose official title is a 90 (or so)-word poem, was released in November of 1999, three years after Tidal and just in time for it to be one of my favorite albums of the last century. I was hooked on it from the minute I put my advance copy into the CD player in my bathroom at the Delano Hotel, where I was staying while I was in Miami for a Teen People photo shoot with Enrique Iglesias.

For the next year or so, it managed to creep into pretty much every conversation I had, including one I had one drunken Sunday night (pre-President's Day) with Adam Cohen, the singer-songwriter son of Leonard, at a Chelsea restaurant where my friend Elvis (yes, Elvis) was a waiter. If my memory serves me correctly, he loved it as much as I did.

Despite the relatively short waiting period after Tidal, Pawn was right up there with Radiohead's The Bends and R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People among '90s musical highlights. As don't-fall-for-me declarations go, "Fast As You Can," an inventive blend of rock and jazz featuring one of the best vocals I've ever heard, is even better than Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good," which is saying a lot.

It would be six years before Apple's label, Epic Records, would finally release Extraordinary Machine, her third album. I have always been firmly in the camp that prefers the original Jon Brion-produced bootleg version that Epic rejected in favor of the slicker Mike Elizondo/Brian Kehew production. But I could spend all day listening to either version of "Better Version of Me," "Used to Love Him" and "Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)," which is "Used to Love Him" with a new title and a gentler beat that sounds like its creeping up on you.

Apple recently previewed some of her new songs at SXSW, and judging from what I've seen and heard on YouTube, my hopes are high. May she once again enjoy commercial success commensurate with her talent. If any female deserves to be the Adele of the second half of 2012 and beyond, it's Fiona Apple.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Q: Why Is It Better to Have Loved and Lost? A: Because Then Sad/Love Songs Say So Much More

"I'm still not sure where I stand on the idea that it's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, but damn, dusting the cobwebs off your memory, digging into the depths of your soul, and writing about lost love can be quite the emotional landmine. No wonder so many great writers were drunks -- or suicidal!"

That's what I wrote as my Facebook status update five days ago. I stand by those words as representing exactly how I was feeling at the time, immersed in my current project, a memoir/travelogue about the last six years of my life, recollecting painful memories of one of my greatest loves of all. Today, though, I'm reconsidering -- and I have A Flock of Seagulls to thank for it.

Randomly and unexpectedly, two of my friends posted the same video by the '80s band on Facebook over the course of two days. Just as randomly and unexpectedly, it wasn't the clip for "I Ran," the song most associated with A Flock of Seagulls that went to No. 9 in 1982. Both of my friends flashed back to "Space Age Love Song," the band's follow-up hit, which only climbed to No. 30, but should have risen at least 29 notches higher.

It was always my favorite song by A Flock of Seagulls, closely followed by "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)," the last of its three Top 40 U.S. hits (No. 26, 1983), and the only one to be a major hit in the band's native UK, where it reached No. 10. Boy, were these guys experts at capturing the tortured, quiet desperation of love, or what?

As much as I adored "Space Age Love Song" at the time, it sounds even better today, which has little to do with the music or the production. Though it was as ahead of its time at the time (as its title might suggest), today it sounds like the artifact of early '80s synth-pop that it is. The key to what, for me, is its enduring appeal is in the lyrics.

"I saw your eyes
And you made me smile
For a little while
I was falling in love"

At 13, I totally missed the point. I didn't know the first thing about love. I thought the symphony of synthesizers sounded amazing, and I was digging the way the vocals were buried in the mix. Oh, and I loved the lead singer's hair. I never paid much attention to the song's lyrical sentiment. It was called "Space Age Love Song," so I knew it was about love, and "what's love got to do with it?" pretty much summed my attitude at the time.

But all of these years later, I'm on the other side of 40 and listening to the song for the first time in what must be nearly 30 years. It's almost like I'm hearing a brand new song. Now, I get it. That's what love is. And it's because I've been fortunate enough to have loved and lost that I know. To all the boys I've loved (and lost) before, thank you.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Blind Dating: Would You Fall for Someone You Couldn't See?

I guess blind people do it all the time, which, in my book, makes them the real heroes of the singles scene. But here's the thing about blind dates: I just can't do it.

Not anymore. In the past, I've done it. Twice. The second time was with the Argentine hairdresser of my best friend Lori. He showed up one hour late to our appointed meeting place, a trendy Asian-fusion restaurant on Lafayette Street in downtown New York City whose name, like whatever we ended up talking about during dinner, I've totally forgotten. I was so ticked off by his tardiness, and at myself for allowing my curiosity to make stick around and wait (which he also begged me to do when he called, all apologetic), that by the time he finally arrived, he'd have to look better than Enrique Iglesias to impress me. He didn't even come close!

This happened a couple of years before I moved to Buenos Aires. Little did I know at the time that he'd be first in an upcoming long line of chronically and predictably late and flaky Argentine duds who would pause in my romantic orbit.

My first blind date, many years earlier, was with less of a dud, but hardly the man of my dreams. He worked with a former colleague of mine at People magazine, and for some reason, she got it into her head that we would be perfect for each other. I think she was suffering from that straight-girl malady that says any two attractive gay men would make the perfect couple.

In this case, he was as attractive as she'd said he was, but there was no spark. We never went out again, but years later, we ended up working together at the same magazine! Neither one of us ever acknowledged how we'd first met, and part of me secretly hoped he didn't even recognize me, though I realize how unlikely that would have been.

So now do you see why blind dates aren't really my thing? For some, they might lead to long and lasting love, but not for me. And who needs to spend two years avoiding eye contact with a co-worker because he knows something that you don't want anyone else to know: That once, desperation got the best of me, and I went out with a guy, sight unseen?

I guess you could say that going out with someone you've met online would qualify as a sort of blind date, but at least when you go out with a guy you've met online, you know what he looks like, if you're like me, and no pic = no response. I don't have many requirements when it comes to people with whom I'd go on a first date, but if I couldn't pick you out of a police line-up before we meet face-to-face, we're not going to.

Of course, there are far more challenging ways to search for The One than traditional blind dates. What about a series of dates, where you are actually "blind"? That was the premise of Dating in the Dark, a U.S. reality show that aired in 2009 and 2010 that I've recently caught a few times on Bangkok TV.

Three guys and three girls have their first meetings in pitch blackness. Eventually, they pair off into couples (sometimes two girls to one guy -- which happened twice in the three episodes I've seen -- leaving one unlucky guy twiddling his thumbs on the sidelines), and they have a series of dates in the "dark room." Afterwards, they get invitations (or not) to return to the "dark room," where a spotlight is shined first on the guy (or girl), then on the girl (or guy). If you like what you see, you show up on the balcony and pray that the other one does, too. No rose required.

This is so wrong and so entertaining on so many levels. In this scenario, it's not even the "blind" factor that gets me. When you meet someone in a dark bar or club after too many drinks and end up taking them home, you never know whom you'll wake up next to. In that sense, I've been on more blind dates than I care to count.

So the "blind" part is actually the aspect of Dating in the Dark that would make me least uncomfortable. In fact, the idea of establishing a mental and physical connection with someone before you ever get to stare into his eyes intrigues me. Had I not been able to see most of the guys I've dated until the third or fourth date, I'd probably be going on six or seven years single right now. In Buenos Aires, considering the cultural and language barrier (especially in those first months, before I started to learn Spanish), it was always about how they looked.

For me, the toughest part of dating in the dark would come after the series of "blind" dates. It would be nerve-wracking enough devoting several dates to someone whom you couldn't recognize in a crowd. When I think back on my nerves when I was about to be face-to-face with my two blind dates for the first time, I imagine that I would probably be a quivering mess right before the spotlight portion of the proceedings, after I've had several dates to build the other person up in my mind. If he was super-hot, I'd be terrified of rejection (yes, I'm as insecure as the next one), and if he wasn't, I'd be terrified of appearing to be shallow on national TV.

Which brings me to what must be the most frightening aspect of Dating in the Dark. It's bad enough in real life when a guy you like doesn't return your phone call, or your text, or your email. But can you imagine going out on that balcony and not having him show up? Rejection in front of millions of people! Ouch!

On the episode I watched today, one guy, a Mr. Personality who probably never gets a second glance in the light of day, was pursued by two women. He was leaning towards one of them, but the other one was "so hot," throwing him off. She was the knockout kind of girl, he said, that guys like him never get in real life. This made his decision that much tougher. In the end, things played out as they were meant to. He checked his ego, and allowed the right head to make the decision -- good thing, since the really hot girl split -- and he and his chosen one rode off into the sunset, happily ever after, until the credits rolled.

I wondered what she would think when she saw the show and witnessed his inner struggle playing out onscreen: her or the incredibly hot one! If they could survive blindness, intense competition, and painful suspense, I'm pretty sure they'd weather the blow to her ego, too. That's the thing about dating in the dark -- you get to see what a person is all about first. Looks become secondary, which is more conducive to strong bonding -- and safer, too. As Morrissey once sang, pretty girls make graves. So do pretty boys.

The couple that stays together is the one that gets together based on something other than a hot body and an incredible face. For now, though, I think I'll remain in light. When I fall for someone's mind, I still want to be looking him in the eye.

Notes from an Anglophile: British Pop Stars Who Should Have Been American Idols, Too

A lifelong musical Anglophile, I've tossed and turned, spent many deep sleepless nights wondering why some of my favorite British artists never made it big on the left side of the pond.

Well, not really. I've got more pressing matters keeping me up at night. But seriously, why? Why only one Top 40 hit for a singer as awesome as Alison Moyet ("Invisible," No. 31, 1985). Why does Tori Amos have six platinum albums in the U.S., and the woman who probably inspired her most, Kate Bush, have none. What did Sweet -- whom I adore and who sneaked a string of singles into the U.S. Top 10 in the '70s, including the immortal "Ballroom Blitz" (No. 5, 1973) -- have that Roxy Music didn't? The legendary Bryan Ferry-led band managed only a single trip into the U.S. Top 40, with "Love Is the Drug" (No. 30, 1975).

At least all of the above-mentioned acts had their one moment, a platinum album here or there and/or one single that managed to claw its way into the lower reaches of the U.S. Top 40. But the annals of pop history are filled with superstar British acts who barely made a ripple crossing the Atlantic. I was reminded of just how much the U.S. has missed out on the other day when I was watching Must Be the Music, a U.K. American Idol-style show that originally aired in 2010 and is only now being shown on Bangkok TV. Dizzee Rascal, Sharleen Spiteri from the band Texas and Jamie Cullum were the three judges.

The competition was fierce, and surprisingly good, but it was the performances of Rascal and Spiteri, two artists I've loved for years who have never had a hit in the U.S., that got me thinking about how much great British music mainstream U.S.A. has missed out on over the years.

Here are six other greats that America slept on.

Massive Attack
Sure they do have a rather sizable underground following in the States and could probably sell out Roseland Ballroom in New York City, but they've never had a chart single, nor a hit album, in the U.S. (Blue Lines, MA's landmark 1991 debut, didn't even chart in the U.S.!) As producer/musician-led acts featuring rotating singers on their singles go, I'll never understand why David Guetta gets to go gold and platinum, and Massive Attack doesn't. That goes for Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx, also under-sung in the U.S., too.

Saint Etienne
Perhaps the trio's sound was simply too confusing: a pastiche of the '60s and indie pop and underground dance music, with little bit of kitsch on the side. It was accessible and catchy, yet unlike anything of its time (the early '90s) -- or any other time. And any act who can take a Neil Young classic ("Only Love Can Break Your Heart") and turn it into one of the greatest dance singles of the '90s deserves all the multi-platinum love they can get, which, sadly, in St. Etienne's case, was none.

They had beauty, big hits and internal drama that at times threatened to overshadow the music (yet somehow never did). I'm not talking about Destiny's Child in the U.S. I'm talking about Sugababes in the UK. The trio, in its original incarnation, visited the Teen People offices once when I was an editor there, and I was absolutely certain they'd make it at least as big in the States as Bananarama did in the '80s. Despite scoring six No. 1 singles in their native UK and a string of platinum albums, not once did they ever chart in the U.S. Their loss -- and America's.

Rachel Stevens
Okay, I'll admit it. I never really expected the former S Club 7 member to make it big in the U.S. I mean, look where she came from: a kiddie-pop band who made A-Teens look kind of cool. (Though S Club 7 did score one U.S. hit, "Never Had a Dream Come True," which reached No. 10 in 2000.) Her solo success in the UK would be short-lived (two solid albums, 2003's Funky Dory and 2005's Come and Get It, mid-'00s Britpop at its best), but Stevens, who hasn't released any new music in seven years, deserves all of the commercial rewards that Cheryl Cole has reaped in the UK for not even being the standout in Girls Aloud.

Shara Nelson
A sweet soul sister and the sort of UK flipside to former Brand New Heavies frontwoman N'Dea Davenport, equally underrated, whose urgent, yearning vocals made "Unfinished Sympathy" the aforementioned Massive Attack's crowning musical achievement. Interest in her solo work was middling in her native UK, and aside from sporadic guest stints on other people's dance singles, she hasn't released new music since 1995's stunning Friendly Fire. Hers is the pop comeback I'm praying for most.

Robbie Williams
America has never really embraced camp in music, which might be why the U.S. mainstream resisted acts like Mika and Scissor Sisters. Williams was even more confusing because his camp came in such a masculine package. For a moment, in the early '00s, it looked like he was finally about to get his U.S. close-up, but the camera shifted to Ricky Martin, and never again pointed in Williams' direction. At least he's got all the millions he's pulled in from international superstardom, both solo and with Take That, to keep him warm at night.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Clichés I Hate, Part 1: "Black Don't Crack"!

If black don't crack, does that mean Blair Underwood would look so good at 47 no matter what?
Since we were talking about people who don't look their age, let's continue along those lines and zero in on one line that I absolutely detest:

"Black don't crack"!

Aside from the fact that it's annoyingly ungrammatical, it isn't even true. Black does crack, as any black person who has suffered from ashy skin with no soothing lotion on hand would tell you. Oh, and we age, too. Some of us even show it. I will resist the urge to name names because this is not about hurling insults. And yes, for the most part, black people do age extremely well.

But why must people compliment us individually by saying we look younger than we are, then qualify it with a generalization delivered as if it's the most original thought in the world? The main reason I hate it when people say "black don't crack," though, isn't that I loathe stereotypes, even when they are positive ones. It's this: When someone compliments me on looking great for my age, and then assigns it to everyone who shares my skin color, are they really saying anything about me? It's like telling me you think I'm good-looking and then adding how much you love black men. Is it about me, or about the color of my skin?

I suppose white beauties have their own crosses to bear. When people acknowledge that Jennifer Aniston looks stunning for 43 (and would for 23, too -- indeed, she is my role model for aging gracefully), there's always a qualifier (usually provided by women, often so much harsher than men when judging their own sex): "I wonder how much work she's had done," or something along those lines.

In 1995, I fell in love with Julie Christie after seeing her in a West End production of the Harold Pinter play Old Times. How could she be so stunning at 54? (50 wasn't yet the new 40 -- or the new 30, which it will be when I get there!) After watching her in Afterglow (the 1997 film for which she received her third of four Best Actress Oscar nominations), I actually started to question my sexuality, the same way Jonny Lee Miller started to question his marriage to Lara Flynn Boyle. Wouldn't anyone?

Last year when I saw Red Riding Hood on a plane, and Christie played Amanda Seyfried's grandmother, my ardor had scarcely subsided. If I were to sleep with someone who is old enough to be my mother, and Dame Helen Mirren, 66, was busy, I'd go looking for Christie, who turns 71 on April 14.

Of course, when I first fell for her in the '90s, nearly everyone tried to convince me that she only looked so good because she'd had work done. Why, I wondered, can't white actresses look good for their age just because they do? Why must it be because they've had work done? And if someone is lucky enough to find a plastic surgeon who does excellent work, shouldn't she get some credit for it? But I refuse to believe that every gorgeous woman over 40 in Hollywood stays that way by going under the knife.

As for black not cracking, it's just another example of how people, no matter how enlightened and color blind they claim to be, rarely see past color. When I was a kid, my sister told me a story about a classmate who was looking at a photo of a woman in a magazine and declared, "She's pretty for a black girl." My sister was furious. Why couldn't she be pretty -- period? Why can't a black person look great for his/her age -- period? Why must there always be such a predictable over-awareness of skin color?

I know it's how we are conditioned to think, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to evolve to a place where it's not always the first thing we see. I was once talking to a guy in Argentina, and I asked him what he sees when he looks at me, and he said, "Veo un chico negro." Groan. Why couldn't he simply have said, "I see a man"? That's what I see when I look in the mirror.

I'm sure the guy from Indonesia I was having drinks with last week gets that sort of thing a lot. I hear it all the time, that Asians don't age either, which is preposterous. I've spent seven months living in Southeast Asia over the past year, and when I walk down the street I never feel as if I've fallen through the looking glass into the Portrait of Dorian Gray. I see young people, I see old people. I see young-looking people, I see old-looking people. Basically, I see people.

As for my new Indonesian acquaintance, I figured he had to be 25 tops, not just because of the braces he wears on his teeth, or because all Asians allegedly look 10 years younger than they are, and despite the fact that his pop-cultural references could have placed him at least a decade older. To me, he simply looked like a young guy. When he revealed that he was 34 years old, I would have fallen off my bar stool had I been sitting on one.

"Wow! You look so much younger than 34," I said. It was a compliment reserved specifically for him. The thought that Asians his age all look 25 never entered my mind because it's simply not true.

"And you don't look 42 at all," he responded. Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it... I was waiting to hear him say, "Black don't crack," or some other qualifier to explain my own youthful glow, but it didn't come.

I'll drink to that, I thought, and I did. That's how you give a compliment!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Can One of These "Days of Our Lives" Divas Pass for the Other's Daughter?

Photo (and joke) courtesy of Salem on Salem, my new favorite Days website.
When did Lisa Rinna (above, left, reprising Billie Reed on Days of Our Lives) stop being an occasionally entertaining actress/frequently annoying television personality and burst into an out-of-control raging hot mess?

I missed her first stint on Days of Our Lives from 1992 to 1995 (I didn't start watching until late 2004), but I adored her as Taylor McBride on Melrose Place. I'll never forget ROTFL (before that acronym even existed) every time she hid behind a potted plant eavesdropping on any private conversation between two people who were dumb enough to have one when she was in the vicinity. Although her bitchfests with Heather Locklear's Amanda Woodward didn't quite rival Alexis vs. Krystle on Dynasty, Rinna had me glued to my couch from 8 to 9pm every Monday evening from 1996 to 1998.

The bloom started to fade from Rinna's rose in 2005 when I met her at the official Daytime Emmys after-party. I was disappointed that the chatty "Let's dish, girl" persona she had cultivated as the co-host of SoapNet's Soap Talk couldn't have been further from the woman posing in front of me.

It's not that she was rude, just aloof and super serious. Maybe she was missing hubby Harry Hamlin, who was nowhere in sight. Not once did she crack a smile, and I would have noticed if she had because those lips didn't once leave my line of vision. After I was so charmed by multiple-Emmy winner Erika Slezak (Victoria Lord on One Life to Live) -- who'd triumphed for the sixth time as Best Actress that very evening and was so thrilled when I called her "fierce" that she bragged about it to her costar Robin Strasser (Dorian Lord) -- and Daytime Emmy-winning General Hospital stars Steve Burton (Jason), Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis Davis) and Anthony Geary (Luke Spencer), who'd take Best Actor for the fifth time the following year, who was Lisa Rinna to play too-A-list-for-that-Manhattan-ballroom?

After that, I lost interest in her. I missed her stint on Dancing with the Stars during the show's second season because, as I've noted before, I don't like to watch... people dance. I also missed her last year on Celebrity Apprentice, but I didn't miss her very public war of words with Star Jones. I'm still not sure what was up between the two D-list divas, but you've got to be doing something very wrong to make me root for Star Jones.

Too bad I couldn't have been spared Rinna's recent return to Days, too. I was already over her before she even came back, due to some unfortunate comments she made on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live earlier this month. While playing host Andy Cohen's game "Plead the Fifth," Rinna suggested that Taylor Armstrong from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills should have lip reduction surgery and that Joe Mascolo, who plays evil genius Stefano DiMera, was the worst actor ever to appear on Days. Now I couldn't care less what you say about any TV Housewife who isn't Desperate, but you don't mess with Stefano DiMera!

Of course, he can stand up for himself. Ever the gentleman, Mascolo, whose winter scarves could act circles around Rinna's lips, publicly responded thusly to Soap Opera Digest: "Lisa saying that Taylor should have her lips reduced and calling me the worst actor on DAYS is sort of like the pot calling the kettles black!" (She tweeted an apology the next day, but why did she have to "go there" in the first place?)

If only her return to Days this month had been so entertaining. In just a few short episodes, she's already woken up in her brother's marital bed, fake-cried over a comatose Bo Brady in a hospital room that looked like somebody's linen closet, and challenged the levels of implausibility acceptable even for a campy soap opera that has seen countless characters come back from the dead and its lead diva possessed by the devil.

Mother and son, or cougar and prey?
How'd she pull that one off? Simply by sharing scenes with Lauren Koslow, who plays Billie's mother, Kate DiMera. Although Rinna is 48 and Koslow is 59, which makes the mother-daughter relationship acceptable in soap years (over on The Young and the Restless, Genie Francis is playing mom to an actor nine years her junior), the two are as believable as mother and child as Annette Bening and Naomi Watts were in Mother and Child. It's not all Rinna's fault -- though her, ahem, enhancements have aged her in the wrong direction. Koslow must be the hottest near-sixtysomething in Hollywood.

But then, Koslow is an actress whose character has bedded the same guy as her granddaughter, and who's been cast as the romantic rival of Nadia Bjorlin's Chloe Lane, possibly the most beautiful character (and actress) ever to grace a soap. Sadly, and somewhat predictably, Kate lost -- but that's another story full of intrigue, attempted murder (by poisoning), a suicide attempt (by drowning), prostitution, and, of course, a child-custody battle.

I think it's time to invite Emmy winner Julie Pinson, who was the last actress to play Billie, back to reprise the role, and make Rinna Kate's long-lost (more) evil sister. God knows Kate could use some competition her own age -- oops, who looks her own age -- and then Rinna can play the bitch she was born to be and let the cat fur fly!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Songs I Forgot I Used to Love, Starring Corey Hart

I can remember falling for him like it was yesterday. After an early childhood spent swooning over the likes of Olivia Newton-John and Jaclyn Smith, he was my first celebrity guy crush.

I guess you could say I was something a gay late-ish bloomer. It was 1984, and I had just turned 15. The new issue of Billboard magazine arrived in the mail (my mother had bought me a year subscription for Christmas of 1983, and it still ranks as the best gift I've ever received), and there he was in a front-page ad promoting his debut single. Coming soon: Corey Hart's "Sunglasses at Night."

To be honest, I never cared much for the song, and I still don't. At the time, it was all about the face staring back at me from the front page of Billboard magazine -- the dark, brooding good looks, the pouty lips, the spiky hair. I guess you could say Corey Hart kicked off my thing for 22 year olds!

Like most first loves (and lusts), Corey Hart and I didn't last. By the end of the '80s, I had entered my alternative-rock phase, and bad boys and tortured artists were my life. Hart was a relic from a simpler, clean-cut era. My heart belonged to Morrissey.

I probably hadn't thought about Hart in years until a few days ago, when my iPod landed on "Hold On," his contribution to 1987's Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack, my favorite one from the '80s -- yes, even better than Footloose and Flashdance, thanks to the musical magic of Bob Seger (via "Shakedown," his only No. 1 hit), George Michael (via "I Want Your Sex," his first solo hit), the Pointer Sisters, the Jets, Ready for the World and Jermaine Jackson, whose album-closing "All Revved Up" was as bad (in a good way) as anything his brother Michael was doing at the time. Shockingly, "Hold On" is the only Hart song on my iPod.

"Whatever happened to him?" I asked myself. I considered doing a Google search, but I was afraid of coming across a photo of a pudgy middle-aged man. (He turns 50 on May 31.) I wanted to remember Hart the way he was. At least for the next few hours!

I'd forgotten all about him all over again, when that evening, out of the blue, a friend posted a Glass Tiger video on my Facebook timeline and mentioned the band's fellow Canadian by name. "What was your favorite Corey Hart album?" he wanted to know.

Corey Hart album? Was there even such a thing? Wasn't Corey Hart all about the singles -- and of course, the videos? Like most people, my friend erroneously categorized Hart as more or less being a one-hit wonder, for "Sunglasses At Night," which hit No. 7 in 1984. I consulted Wikipedia for the lowdown (and came across some recent photos, in which he looked better than I expected him to). Hart's biggest hit came the following year, when "Never Surrender" went all the way to No. 3. He had two further Top 20 hits, including "I Am By Your Side," which I adored when it came out in 1986 but probably hadn't thought about since then, and in total, nine of his singles made it into the U.S. Top 40, which might make him Canada's biggest male '80s musical export this side of Bryan Adams.

According to Wikipedia, he wasn't just a singles act. Two of his albums went gold, and 1985's Boy in the Box went platinum. Apparently, someone was listening to his albums back then. I just wasn't one of them. I chose Boy in the Box as my favorite anyway, because it included "Eurasian Eyes" (also heard in 9 1/2 Weeks) and "Boy in the Box," which I selected as my favorite Hart song. Wikipedia also taught me that Hart wrote and produced "Miles to Go (Before I Sleep)" and "Where Is the Love," two major highlights on Celine Dion's 1997 album Let's Talk About Love. Beauty, brains, talent and staying power, too?

In honor of Corey Hart's underrated contribution to '80s pop and to Dion's best album (and for being the first Canadian guy to turn my head, a tradition recently continued by Ryan Gosling and, occasionally, Ryan Reynolds), here's a brief video overview of my favorite Hart songs before returning to our regularly scheduled Sunday soundtrack.