Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why I'm Happier for Katie Holmes Than I've Been in Seven Years (Sorry, Tom Cruise!)

War is hell, and so is divorce, which, I suppose, can be likened to the final stage of a war, which, if both sides are lucky, involves no bloodshed. There are no victors on this particular battlefield, but when the opposing sides hail from Hollywood, the rules of engagement, marriage and divorce are always subject to change.

The latest celebrity declaration of war -- er, divorce: TomKat, aka Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, who are ending their marriage of five and a half years, with Holmes reportedly seeking sole custody of their daughter Suri, 6. (I wonder what exactly is the story there -- and you just know there is one. You don't pursue sole custody unless the soon-to-be ex-significant other has done something to royally piss you off.)

My first reaction to hearing the news was the one I suspect most everyone had: Who didn't see that coming?

My second one, again, normal, but still somehow unsettling -- after all, Tom Cruise has never been Hollywood's most sympathetic superstar. But there I was secretly feeling sorry for him. First, his latest movie, Rock of Ages, underperformed at the box-office (though I still refuse to plop all the blame for its failure at Cruise's feet), and now this. Surely there are better circumstances under which to turn 50 (which Cruise will do on July 3) than being suddenly tossed back into the singles market with a flop movie as the most recent line on your resume.

My third reaction was the one that really surprised me: Go, Katie! I've always had a soft spot for her, so if she was ever truly in love with Cruise, my condolences to her. But seriously, if I had her private address, I'd send a bouquet of congratulatory flowers.

Those of us with long memories can actually remember a time when Holmes was best known not as Cruise's human appendage, but as one of the most promising young actresses in Hollywood. Make fun of Mad Money and/or her take on a woman named Jackie in The Kennedys all you want, but once upon a time, before it became impossible to watch her onscreen and not think of Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah Winfrey's couch, Holmes was a pretty decent performer. Back when she was with Chris Klein, she was the total catch.

Ang Lee discovered her and cast her in The Ice Storm, his 1997 film, years before he hired Michelle Williams to costar in Brokeback Mountain. (Lee has admitted that before casting Williams, he was unfamiliar with her work on Dawson's Creek, the Fox TV series on which she and Holmes costarred from 1998 to 2003, so presumably, he didn't bother to follow Holmes's career after The Ice Storm).

During her run on Creek and for a year or two after, Holmes was a favorite among highly esteemed directors including Curtis Hanson, Sam Raimi, Peter Hedges and Jason Reitman, who cast her in Wonder Boys, The Gift, Pieces of April and Thank You for Smoking, respectively. By the final few seasons of Creek, she'd even overtaken the title character as the show's primary focus. Not to take anything away from Williams, who was fabulous on Creek, but at one point, Holmes was supposed to be the big breakout star of the primary ensemble.

Then Williams met Oscar (who's flirted with her three times, though he still hasn't gone home with her), and Holmes met Cruise. Sure some good things came out of TomKat (an adorable daughter, increased celebrity clout), but the price Holmes paid was fairly steep: a loss of credibility along with several prime actress years during which she put marriage and motherhood well before movies (her own).

As she heads onto the divorce battlefield, she's not exactly in the same strategic position that Nicole Kidman was in when she and Cruise split in 2000. While Kidman established herself as a formidable thespian during her marriage to Cruise, Holmes has yet to really prove herself as an adult actress. Her greatest acting triumphs thus far have been dead-on representations of teen angst.

But now that she's about to be single again, without Cruise, or Scientology, to hold her back, she may finally have her chance to fulfill her early promise. First, she'll have to crawl out from under the shadow of the Tom Cruise Media Circus, but all it'll take is one spectacular performance to get her back into the light.

I'd suggest steering clear of comedy (it's never been her forte, which is why co-starring with Adam Sandler in Jack and Jill seemed like a dreadful idea from day one) and men in tights (if she learned anything from Batman Begins, it should have been that superhero films rarely do much good for the top-billed actresses in them). If anyone can make her A-list again by the closing credits, I'd put my bucks on an indie-minded director like Darren Aronofsky. He may not have made Winona Ryder a star again with Black Swan, but he did accomplish the once-seemingly impossible when he helped turn Mickey Rourke into an Oscar-nominated actor with The Wrestler.

And even if she's destined to spend the next few years playing second banana to people like Sandler and Will Ferrell, to this victor will go some extremely valuable spoils: reportedly at least $1 million for every year of marriage to Cruise (plus child support and a share of assets). That would not be the most lucrative peace treaty ever, but as emancipation proclamations go, one could do so much worse.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Anniversary That I Wish I Could Forget

St. Vincent's: gone (since April 2012), but not forgotten
One October 8, I gave my then-boyfriend a not-so-subtle reminder.

"Do you know what day today is?"

"Um, Saturday?"

"Um, no. It's the one-year anniversary of the day we met."

Long, awkward pause...

"How do you even remember that?!"

I didn't know how to break the news to him: He was dating the guy who put the last word into "super freak." In my defense, though, I've always had a thing for dates (specifically, months and days). I'm terrible with names, and hit and miss and hit with years, but give me a month and day on which something semi-significant occurs -- say, May 7, my birthday; August 13, my first day on the job at People magazine; or October 1, the day I moved into my first, second and third Manhattan apartments -- and they'll stay with me forever.

That's why I can't believe I'd never thought of it before, especially yesterday while I was writing about the significance of last July 5, until my friend Dave reminded me in a post on my Facebook Timeline. Five years and two days before that (last July 5), I had the first of three major panic attacks that would send me to the ER of St. Vincent's Hospital in the West Village in the two and a half months before I left New York City for Buenos Aires. (It was also the day I took Klonopin for the first time, but enough about that.)

I can remember that day before Independence Day like it was yesterday (which is strange, because I couldn't tell you what I did that Independence Day, or what I was doing on any day before the Fourth of July in any other given year, though I'm pretty certain I was probably packing for my trip to Bangkok last July 3). It was the day after Dave, his parents and I saw Madonna's "Confessions on the Dance Floor" concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

I swear I wasn't even thinking about Madonna the moment it hit me late that Monday afternoon. I was sitting on my couch watching TV, when I felt a surge of anxiety and dread pass through my body. It was the first time it had ever happened while it was light outside, and when I wasn't trying to fall asleep. I remember walking to the ER, the panic rising, hoping, praying, it would magically disappear.

I remember my entire body vibrating by the time I arrived at the ER, feeling like it might be crushed by the weight of the imaginary giant anvil pressing down hard on my head. I couldn't even stand still long enough to tell the nurse what was happening because I felt like if I stopped for one second I would explode. "Goodbye, cruel world," I recall thinking to myself, as I prepared for my body to drop. Several hours and a my first-ever Klonopin later, I had an official diagnosis: I'd had a full-blown panic attack.

Fortunately, like most of the other anniversaries occupying my mind these days, this one had a happy ending: Although I was ready to die at the beginning of the story, four days short of six years later, I'm still around to tell it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Six Pack That Changed the Course of My Life

One year, five nights, and countless adventures ago, my friend Jeremy (yes, another one) showed up at my place in Melbourne with a six-pack and a smile. I had no idea how life-altering his visit would turn out to be. By the time we'd made it through the second round, I'd booked a round-trip flight to Bangkok, with a departure date of July 5, 10 days later. By the time Jeremy went home, I had a hotel reservation, too.

To be honest, it wasn't a completely out-of-the-blue development. I'd been toying with the idea of visiting Bangkok earlier in the year, but after seeing The Hangover Part II in May while on a long-weekend trip to Auckland, I began to reconsider. I changed course entirely when Jeremy messaged me from Singapore a few days after I returned to Melbourne from New Zealand. "Having a great time," he wrote. "But boy, is it hot as hell -- and humid, too!"

Or something to that effect. 

Three of the worst H words you could use ("hot," "hell" and "humid") to describe one place! Why, I thought to myself, would I want to leave lovely Melbourne, cold as it was getting, to go anywhere near there? Case closed: I was staying put.

I'm not sure what Jeremy said the Saturday evening he came over that made me change my mind. Sure the fact that he was traveling to Bangkok in mid-August made an impression, but if all of my friends were walking into a burning building, would I follow? Not a chance!

Maybe the Pure Blonde was racing to my head, but at some point after opening the second longneck bottle, I took the plunge. I decided to venture into the unknown: one month in Southeast Asia, with an emphasis on Thailand and Bangkok. Five days short of a year that's taken me all over Southeast Asia, back to Melbourne, and back to Bangkok, here I am... again... still.

But I can feel a change moving in, the distinct pull of wanderlust getting ready to drag me away. To where? I'm not sure. Perhaps it has something to do with a freelance story I'm working on for which I had to do some research on cities in several countries I still haven't visited, like China, India and Indonesia. Suddenly, I'm realizing how much of this part of the world I've yet to see. All I know is that earlier today when an opportunity arrived that would keep me in Bangkok indefinitely, perhaps semi-permanently, I didn't jump at it.

Maybe it's that old devil called wanderlust, or it could be that Bangkok, as much as I adore it, has never felt enough like home for me to even attempt to learn the language. I just extended my lease here until July 31, and my flight back to Melbourne, which I've already pushed back once, is on August 29. So for now, here I am, again, still, not necessarily waiting for or looking for anything in particular, but totally open to whatever will be, much like I was that fateful June Saturday in Melbourne, one year, five nights, and countless adventures ago.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nora Ephron: The Other Woman Who Helped Make Me Who I Am

This is not the news I wanted to wake up to first thing this morning: Nora Ephron, the writer and filmmaker, died on Tuesday, June 26, at age 71 of pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia.

After my mother, Ephron was perhaps the most influential woman during the first two decades of my life. More than anyone else, she's the one who made me want to become a writer and a journalist -- in that order. I first fell for her literary charms in college when I read her books Scribble Scribble and Heartburn, which had been made into a 1986 Meryl Streep/Jack Nicholson movie that I enjoyed more than most of the comedies Streep has made in the years since, including 2009's Julie & Julia, Ephron's final directorial effort.

"I want to be able to write like this," I remember thinking over and over as I flipped through the pages of both books, utterly impressed, and envious, too, because she had such a sly, subtle way of wringing humor from the most depressing, heartbreaking situations (humiliation with dignity, I call it -- for a modern example, check out Jane Elliot and Finola Hughes' jaw-droppingly awesome scenes on yesterday's episode of General Hospital), like extricating yourself from a cheating spouse.

Every time I think about the bit in Heartburn (the book) where Ephron complains about the mate who sheds bread crumbs (I know him!), it still brings a smile to my face before I erupt into full-on laughter. In college, Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson were considered the coolest cats of the '60s "New Journalism" movement, but Ephron was the one I gravitated to most. I wanted to emulate her writing years before I ever heard of David Sedaris.

As one of my first editors once told me, "You can't hit a home run every time," and that seemed to apply double to Ephron as a film director. Although some of her movies were incredibly successful (Sleepless in Seattle, Michael, You've Got Mail), she received more thumbs downs than thumbs ups. (Surely even Ephron must have wanted to delete the dreadful Bewitched from her resume!)

Regardless of how the critics felt, she had her moments. The orgasm scene in 1989's When Harry Met Sally..., which Ephron wrote and Rob Reiner directed, comes immediately to mind, but for me, the most indelible one arrived at the end of 1998's You've Got Mail, which my boyfriend at the time slept through when we saw it together in a theater on Long Island.

After spending the bulk of the movie sparring like meant-to-be's always do in successful romantic comedies, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan finally meet the people they've been courting online (he already knows it's her, but she doesn't know it's him). Once they're face to face, Ryan's character looks at Hanks' and says, "I was hoping it would be you."

I couldn't have written a happier, more beautiful ending to my own story.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Best F*** Up Ever: Who's That Lady in Charge of "Hollywood Heights"?

Jill Farren Phelps
Jill Foster Abbott
Leave it to Daytime Confidential, one of my favorite websites devoted to daytime soaps (or anything else, for that matter) to point out an almost-genius gaffe that recently was made by Entertainment Weekly, the magazine where I spent one year working as a senior editor in the mid-'00s.

"I think he really enjoys how fast we go," says executive producer Jill Foster Abbott, referring to the genre's speedy production schedule. "He filmed 65 pages of material in the first day that he was here. That's crazy."

So read an item in the current issue of EW about one-time Oscar nominee/host and former General Hospital guest star James Franco's soon-to-launch (on June 29) guest arc on Hollywood Heights, the new Nick at Nite prime-time telenovela which premiered on June 18.

In my 21 years working as a professional journalist, Victor Lord Jr. knows I've made my share of blunders and cringed at the oversights of countless others, but this must be the first time I've ever seen someone confuse a real-life person (former General Hospital executive producer and James Franco BFF Jill Farren Phelps, now executive producer of Hollywood Heights) with a fictional one, especially one with three names that don't exactly roll off the tongue. And considering that Jill Foster Abbott has been known as Jill Abbott Fenmore for a couple of years now, I'd say the culprit must be something of a lapsed Young and the Restless viewer.

Whether he, or she, has fallen off the Y&R bandwagon, this is one error that's almost too good to be truly just an oversight. I'm almost tempted to presume that it wasn't an honest mistake at all, but someone's idea of a very funny joke.

If so, mission accomplished!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cheryl Cole: This Summer's Guiltiest Pleasure

I can distinctly remember the last fight I had over a woman. It was two and a half years ago, and a shopkeeper in London and I practically came to blows -- jokingly, of course -- over Cheryl Cole. Her debut solo single, "Fight for This Love," which, at the time, was the biggest thing since God saved the queen, came on the radio, and I made the mistake of telling my friend Andrew that I thought it was a piece of junk.

"Get out of my store right this second!" the guy behind the counter, who'd overheard, demanded. He was smiling, but I knew I'd stepped over the line to a place where the wrong opinion can be dangerous. Back in the U.S.A., nobody had a clue who Cole was, but I was on UK turf now. It was the Yankees vs. the Redcoats all over again! For the next five minutes, we debated why Cole was the best/worst thing ever before declaring it a draw and brokering a peace treaty.

Looking back on the exchange, I realize that maybe I was feeling just a tad bitter. I loved Girls Aloud, the all-female vocal group with which Cole, who turns 29 on Friday, got her start, but I couldn't understand why her. Why was Cole and not one of the other four members the breakout star? It's not like she was the best singer, or the fairest of them all. So how did she manage to score the biggest UK single in forever with such a mediocre song?

And if we had to lose Girls Aloud, who are officially "on hiatus," couldn't it have been for something better? I prayed that like the various solo Spice Girls a decade or so earlier, Cole's run at the top would be mercifully brief. Or that my beloved Rachel Stevens, formerly the breakout solo pop star from S Club 7 before disappearing from the charts completely, would return with a slamming single and make everyone forget all about Cole.

Although she would redeem herself musically two singles later with "Parachute," Cole never quite won me over. When she was hired and fired by Simon Cowell as a judge on the U.S. version of The X Factor before the show's TV debut, I secretly cheered inside. The last thing I needed was U.S. shopkeepers making a big fuss over her, too.

So imagine my surprise to suddenly find myself singing her praises louder than anyone else whenever the DJ plays her latest hit, the Calvin Harris-produced "Call My Name," the first single from her third album, A Million Lights, which was released on June 18. It's certainly no "We Found Love," the Rihanna/Calvin Harris collaboration that's become the biggest hit of both of their careers, but it doesn't need to be.

The thing about "We Found Love" is that for a song about something so joyous -- finding love in a hopeless place -- the music sounds anything but. Throw in a video about drug addiction and you've got the feel bad anthem of the year with a kick-ass beat. "Call My Name," in comparison, is 100 percent pure love and happiness -- if you consider being enamored to the point of near-obsessive desperation a cause for celebration. Musically, Cole's third No. 1 UK single (and the fastest-selling chart-topper of 2012 so far) is a bit color by numbers, but her euphoria as she extols the romantic prowess of a lover over a frenetic, melodramatic techno beat, is so contagious that it makes me forget I'm not in love.

Every time I listen, I feel like grabbing my iPod and going for a run. Uh oh, here I go again!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Being Gay Today: It's More Fashionable Than Ever, But Is It Ready to Wear?

The things you hear when you're not really listening, or talking about something else entirely. This morning as I was half paying attention to the TV in the background while cleaning, I heard someone make an interesting assertion: He, or she (I can't remember who was speaking, or on what show, or if I totally imagined it all), said that being gay today is more fashionable than ever.

True or false?

I thought about Edina's reaction to finding out that her son is gay on an Absolutely Fabulous special from 10 years ago, of the ladies' search for GBFFs (gay best friends forever) on a 2011 episode of Hot in Cleveland, of Days of Our Lives' Chandler Massey, whose Daytime Emmy Award win last night made him the second performer to get one for playing a gay character, of sex and the city (the show and the actual thing, in the years since the show).

Is being gay today indeed more fashionable? I hadn't yet made up my mind a few hours later when someone happened to land on the subject while we were having a conversation about something completely unrelated.

"To be gay is now almost fashionable in Western culture," he said.

True or false?

This time, I agreed without hesitation. The man had a point. But as fashions go, being gay remains a somewhat underground one. It plays so much better in the big city than out in the country, in the art house more successfully than in the multiplex, on cable TV more comfortably than on network television, and, unfortunately, in the closet -- on a plastic hanger, of course -- more safely than outside of it. It's fashionable, yes, but with so many strings attached that it still can be quite an unsightly burden to wear.

There's no doubt that gays today have it better than we did five, 10 or 20 years ago. But that doesn't mean things are any more perfect for gay people than the first black President means that racism is now U.S. history. Homophobia is simply a more recessive trait than it used to be, which in some ways makes it more insidious. At least if you call me a "faggot" to my face, I know what I'm up against.

This is one of the reasons why I believe gay marriage is such an important issue. There's an emerging school of gay thought that frowns upon this particular fight because it encourages young gay men and women to overvalue the wrong things, to mimic a "straight" institution created by straight people. Gay pride's overemphasis on this political hot topic, some argue, will lead young, impressionable gays and lesbians to think that marriage should be the endgame of one's existence, and gay people should have loftier goals than heterosexual-style domesticity.

While I shudder at the thought of a generation of potential gay bridezillas, young urban gay professionals who are secretly biding their time until someone puts a ring on it, that's not a strong enough argument in favor of suspending the ardent pursuit of legal marriage for gays and lesbians. With or without it, there always will be some people, gay and straight, whose primary goal in life is to find a mate and live happily ever after, just as the women's liberation movement hasn't cooled the burning desire of a too-large number of women to be married with children. If we're not going to outlaw marriage among straights to discourage that kind of mindset (which I'm not saying I would oppose), why support denying it to gays -- or acting as if it's okay to do so -- to the same end?

I've never been a fan of marriage, so my support of gay marriage has nothing to do with any personal desire to fall into holy matrimony. It's more about making what has become fashionable, more acceptable, too. In the United States, it's the last thing standing in the way of gays and straights being equal in the eyes of the law. What else are gay activists supposed to focus on?

Regardless of how fashionable the state of being gay has become, and no matter what you see on Hot in Cleveland, there are still plenty of pockets in the United States, particularly in the middle of the country and south of there, where gay people continue to be actively ostracized and discriminated against. Were this not so, there wouldn't be so many of them cowering in the closet. For many who oppose it, gay marriage has become a platform to promote intolerance (for some compelling evidence, click here), which is why it's so important to fight tirelessly on the other side.

My point here is not to argue in favor of gay marriage -- which I've done numerous times before, and frankly, I'm kind of over it -- but to argue in favor of continuing to fight for it. Regardless of where you stand on the subject of marriage, denying it to gay people suggests that they are not equal to straight people, or that gay people pose some kind of threat to an antiquated institution that straight people have already spent centuries stomping on.

I have a bigger problem with the sort of homophobic thinking behind the argument against gay marriage than I do with the idea that my next boyfriend and I might not be able to get married and live happily ever after in the state of Florida. You can't say that you're okay with people being gay, that you're accepting of your gay brother or sister or son or daughter while insisting that marriage is a sacred union reserved for men and women only.

That's like saying black is beautiful -- now get to the back of the closet!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I'm STILL Not Dead! (After Four Years of Blogging!)

Do you know where you were exactly four years ago?

I do. I was sitting on my couch in Buenos Aires, writing my very first "THEME FOR GREAT CITIES" blog post.

Title: "I'm Not Dead!"

Subject: The Young and the Restless star Jeanne Cooper, who had just won her very first Daytime Emmy Award -- Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series -- for her role as Katherine Chancellor. (How fitting is it that tonight, June 23, the 39th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards will be presented in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton Hotel?) Upon accepting the grand prize, Cooper, then 79, got onstage and announced, "I bet you thought I had died."

I'm happy to report, she hasn't yet. And neither have I.

Launching a blog was something I never thought about doing until a few days earlier when I was talking to a French artist whom I met through an Argentine ex. It was almost two years since I'd left behind my former professional life in New York City, and I hadn't written anything besides the odd email and the occasional status update on Facebook, which I had joined only a few months earlier (on February 11, 2008, to be exact). Impressed by my strong opinions and convictions about everything from music to movies to TV to books to art to sex and the city of Buenos Aires, he convinced me to leap into the world of blogging and see where it would carry me.

I figured it would be a good way to get back into the game and perhaps even learn how to write the kind of autobiographical time and place-based narrative and anecdotal non-fiction at which David Sedaris excels and perhaps I could to. I'm glad I took that leap of faith. Doing so helped me rediscover the joy of writing while giving me a forum for sharing my ideas and experiences and documenting my life. To be completely honest, though, I never expected to be still doing it four years later.

But isn't that the greatest beauty in life: the unexpected? Four years ago, if anyone had told me I'd land in Australia for more than a holiday, I would have guessed in Sydney, not in Melbourne. And Asia was not even bubbling under my bucket list of places I had to visit. Now here I am -- in Bangkok, of all places.

Who knows what the next four years will bring? Who know what today, tomorrow, next week will hold? But if I'm still not dead, one thing is certain: You'll be able to read all about it here.

Simple Minds "Theme for Great Cities"

Friday, June 22, 2012

Song Lyrics That Make Me Wish I'd Said It First

As Fiona Apple recently reminded me with The Idler Wheel..., what you sing sometimes matters as much as how you sing it. A good beat will forever have its place (much like a memorable melody), but there's nothing quite so powerful as words -- words that make you laugh, words that make you cry, words that run through your mind -- sometimes a cappella, sometimes not -- as you run through the city. (I'm a journalist/writer/editor, so I'm particularly susceptible to word envy.)

When Kylie Minogue opens "Illusion" (from 2010's Aphrodite) by singing, "This situation's taking over me/ Can't you see?/ I'm in trouble," how can you not keep listening to hear what's coming next?

Sometimes the words that hook me are buried deeper in the text: "What makes you grow old is replacing hope with regret," Patty Loveless reveals 2:30 into "Too Many Memories" (from 1997's Long Stretch of Lonesome, which should be retitled Long Stretch of Awesome).

Truer words have never been sung -- which might be why I continue to drop those pearls of country wisdom, courtesy of songwriter Stephen Bruton, into regular conversation 15 years after hearing them for the first time. On the antagonistic tip, although I preferred Lauryn Hill's Wyclef Jean slam "Lost Ones" when I thought she said, "Hypocrites always want to play in quicksand" and not "Hypocrites always want to play innocent," either way, it's a shrewd observation with which I can't really argue.

But man cannot live on shrewd observations and lyrical depth alone. One of the reasons why I loved Mariah Carey's last album, E=MC2, as much as I did was because over the course of its 15 songs, I found myself cracking up over and over, over her sly sense of humor. (I've interviewed her, so I can assure you, the woman is a semi-riot.) "'Cause they be all up in my business like a Whitney interview" (from "Touch My Body")? I mean, really, Mariah? Of course, that was before Houston's tragic passing, so no demerits for insensitivity.

Apparently also well aware of the power of humor, Apple wisely saved the lightest for last on the mostly dead-serious The Idler Wheel...: "If I'm butter/ then he's a hot knife... I'm a hot knife/ he's a pat of butter."

And speaking of sexy...

"The smell of your skin and I begin
To kneel and to pray to you
Your sensual caress makes me confess my love for you
As we're making love we can't get enough
The clock is never kind when we unwind
'Cause we don't have that much time together" -- Terence Trent D'Arby, "We Don't Have That Much Time Together"

What lover hasn't been there -- or here?...

"Baby, you're orally fixated. You've got to give your mouth a rest. So greedy, I wish you could have waited. But you just had to stuff your face." -- Róisín Murphy, "Orally Fixated"

And who hasn't lost in romance? After all, love is a losing game, according to the late Amy Winehouse, who might still be one of the greatest musical poets to emerge in the 21st century had she'd written only that one killer couplet -- "The only time I hold your hand/ is to get the angle right" -- in "In My Bed." So if you're going to come out on bottom, you might as well get a great extended metaphor that draws a parallel between learning your lessons in love and overhauling your walk-in closet out of it.

"So I'm a take him off my hanger
I'm thinking maybe I should donate him
And then someone else can deal with it
'Cause I'd done had my fill of it
And I think it's time for me to change it up" -- Toni Braxton, "Wardrobe" (songwriters Harvey Mason Jr., Dernst Emile and Taurian Shropshire)

Now excuse me, I think I have some shopping of my own to do.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My '80s Wish List: 8 Groups I Want to Reunite

Why do bands break up and get back together again?

When I interviewed Sting in the living room of his Central Park West apartment for People magazine in 1996, he gave me two good reasons: 1) For the nostalgia. 2) Because they need the money. He said that since neither one applied to him at the time, the world shouldn't expect a Police reunion anytime soon.

I'm not sure which reason came into play when Sting finally reformed the Police in 2007 for a world tour. Maybe pigs flew (returning to the opening and closing theme of my last post). And it looks like they might be preparing to take flight again: According to NME, "Wham! set to reform 30 years after their first hit?" That question mark at the end underscores the rumor status of what NME reports would be a one-off gig, but if George Michael and his former Wham! mate Andrew Ridgeley are indeed about to choose life again and reunite, it would be a win for everyone involved, not just reclusive Ridgeley.

Considering the recent state of Michael's personal life (a near-death experience with pneumonia, the subject of his new single, "White Light," out June 29) and his more-than-less inactive professional one, I can't think of a better career move. And why stop at one gig when they could throw in an album, too? A full-blown Wham! reunion would have more built-in interest than a new George Michael solo album, which a new Wham! album basically would be anyway -- only under a name with increased sales potential, at least in the U.S., where Michael has been a commercial non-entity for years.

So who's next to reunite among dearly departed '80s groups? A lot of my favorites have already returned: the Cars, Yaz, Psychedelic Furs, OMD, etc. Others never went away: Duran Duran, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, etc. Here are eight reunions for which I'm still holding out hope.

The Smiths In the words of the recently deceased Rodney King (RIP), can't we all just get along? Terrible things have been said and done -- in and out of court -- by various members of my favorite foursome ever since 1987, the year of the Smiths' non-masterpiece swan song, Strangeways, Here We Come, but with Morrissey resorting to posing nude to get attention a few years back, I'd say it's time for him to consider a more appealing, less revealing gambit.

Tones on Tail We've had new music since the '80s from both Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, so why do Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins insist on acting like this 1982-to-1984 offshoot never happened?

Bananarama with Siobhan Fahey I know Dave Stewart's ex is a little nuts (which I discovered on my own when I interviewed her as one-half of Shakespears Sister in 1992 for People), but I've never been able to bring myself to care much about the best UK girl group ever since she left in 1988.

The Jets DeBarge always got more attention among '80s family acts, but the eight Wolfgramm siblings from Minneapolis (of Tongan descent) had more hits -- and they were just as good.

Siouxsie and the Banshees This iconic post-punk act deserves to finally get its commercial due, and the members should be together to enjoy it.

Shalamar I never realized just how great this R&B-funk trio was until several months ago, when I watched Shalamar's Unsung documentary on YouTube. Jody Watley still looks fantastic, and she deserves to be heard from again. This time, though, I'd move her closer to the front, not just in the center.

Klymaxx Another recent Unsung rediscovery whose oldies still sound good, if dated as hell. I'd love to hear the all-female band and its music updated for the 2010s.

Talking Heads I love Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz as Tom Tom Club, but I will never give a damn about anything David Byrne does on his own.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hot in Herre: The One Downside to Living in Bangkok

It's official: I'm a pig.

I may not go "Oink! Oink!" Or roll around in the mud. And if you eat me, I probably won't taste anything like bacon. But boy, do I sweat like the proverbial porker. (And yes, I do know that pigs don't actually "sweat.")

I've always been prone to perspire. In New York City, although I lived less than a block from the Union Square subway that I took to work, which was a few air-conditioned underground walkways from the Midtown subway station where I got off, I somehow always managed to arrive at my office feeling drenched.

Maybe it was all in my mind. After all, nobody ever gave me any strange looks like, "Look at that sweaty pig over there." But it's not so much how you look -- or how they look at you -- as how you feel. And I felt... wet.

In Buenos Aires, though, those beads of sweat rolling down my face, my arms, my back were unmistakable. And unlike in NYC, neither the subte (the BA subway) nor the colectivos (the city buses) were air-conditioned, and most of the taxi drivers didn't want to turn on the AC, even in the height of summer. I started carrying around a backpack with nothing inside but a towel, in case of a sweat emergency. Ironically, BA is where I made my shift from liking summer more than winter, due to the humidity there, which can make cold BA weather even more unbearable than the summer sun.

I'm not sure how I always end up in the hottest, most humid cities imaginable (except Melbourne, which always seems to be unseasonably cool, which is one of the things I love and hate about it), but here we go again in Bangkok. And unlike in New York and Buenos Aires, it's like this year-round.

My friend Dave in New York and I were having a Skype video chat this past weekend, and he was talking about coming to visit me in Bangkok. When he asked when it cools down around here, I had to level with him: "Never." For the most part, I'm okay with that, since I write at home and don't have to go to an office every day, I have two AC units in my apartment, and I always take taxis when I go out at night.

But there have been a few close calls. The first time I went to meet my editor at the Bangkok Post, the taxi got lost and dropped me off too far from the newspaper's offices in the Bangkok Post Building. As I wandered about in the heat, getting stickier by the minute, I was more concerned with getting there dry than on time. In the end, I wasn't late, but thank God, my editor was, because it gave my body a few minutes to cool down and dry off.

Another time, I was meeting a guy for a dinner date a few blocks away from my apartment, too close to just hop into a taxi. By the time we met up, I was soaked -- even my face was covered in sweat. Luckily, I had the time of day on my side. Since it was nighttime, he probably didn't notice. And since I'm no longer in Buenos Aires, where every meeting means a kiss on both cheeks, he wouldn't have to taste the salt in my sweat. That's the kind of thing you want to save for the end of the date.

I recently met an Australian guy on holiday in Bangkok, and he had it even worse than I do. After walking one block outside of an air-conditioned restaurant, he would look like he'd just stepped out of the shower. He was envious at how dry I was. "I guess that's what happens once you become accustomed to the humidity," he once said.

"Yeah, right," I replied, hoping he wouldn't notice the sweat beads starting to form around my temples. But I was sure they were the first thing everybody else noticed about me, especially the Thai locals, whose skin always seems to be so free of blemishes and sweat. My favorite food vendor near my apartment, who knows that I regularly go running around Lumphini Park, sometimes asks me if I've been running when I've only walked a few hundred meters from home. I'm still not sure how they all maintain such dry, glowing skin in this humidity, but I'm hoping it rubs off on me eventually.

The other day, when I walked the roughly two kilometers from home to my favorite spa in Bangkok, I thought that maybe I finally had. It was the first time I'd felt anything resembling a cool breeze in the air after nearly a year in Bangkok, and I was sure that my face was completely dry when I arrived at Burberri to have my massage. But when I took off my t-shirt, and it felt like it had just gone through a spin cycle, I knew I'd been fooling myself.

"Is it hot outside?" my regular massage therapist there asked, with a friendly laugh. The last time she'd commented on how damp I always was upon my arrival, and I explained that I always walked from my apartment in Sathorn. She nodded and seemed to be surprised by my stamina. After all, it was a long way from there to where we were on Silom Road.

I'm not sure how I replied the other day, but whatever I said, I'm pretty sure it sounded like "Oink!"

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why the 70s Are Hotter -- AND Cooler -- Than Ever!

If we're not going to have another full-blown '70s revival, a celebration of the 70s just might be the next best thing.

As fondly as I remember the '70s -- my favorite decade, particularly '77 to '79, three of the best years ever in pop music, from Rumours to Saturday Night Fever to the best of ABBA (Arrival to Voulez-Vouz) to the disco heyday of Donna Summer to one-hit wonders like Samantha Sang ("Emotion"), Walter Egan ("Magnet and Steel"), Jay Ferguson ("Thunder Island"), Alicia Bridges ("I Love the Nightlife"), Nick Gilder ("Hot Child in the City") and Amii Stewart ("Knock on Wood") -- the 70s were always kind of a scary time to think about. Not the decade, the decade, that not-so-innocent age after 69, when you were expected to start preparing to go gently into that good night.

Now, though, if 70 isn't quite the new 50, it's something thereabouts. Julie Christie, one of my all-time favorite actresses and still a contender for the sexiest woman alive, went there last year. Aretha Franklin arrived in March. Barbra Streisand crossed the threshold in April. And I dare anyone to call her old.

Yesterday (June 18), it was Paul McCartney's turn. This year alone, he's released a new album, performed at the Grammys and closed the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert in London (he'll also close the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games in July), launched his umpteenth tour and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. Who's old? (Certainly not Angela Lansbury, 86, or Betty White, 90, both of whom look great and have thriving careers well past 70.)

In the coming months, Harrison Ford (July 13), Joy Behar (October 7) and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (November 20) all will reach that magic number. And next year (on July 26, to be precise), it will be Mick Jagger's turn.

Jagger 70? I never would have thought it possible. But if he can inspire a No. 1 hit with his moves well into his 60s, then in his 70s he just might accomplish the meteorological miracle of being at once cooler than ever and even hotter than he was way back in the summer of '78 when the Rolling Stones were on top with "Miss You." It's not like the soon-to-be septuagenarian, who hosted Saturday Night Live's season finale in May, or the ex-Beatle who just became one yesterday, are looking at any sort of retirement plan.

Who knows? If they can fit it into their busy 70s, we might even finally get the McCartney/Jagger collaboration (a Beatle meets a Stone!) that I've dreamed about since the '70s.

5 Reasons Why Paul McCartney Would Be a Legend Even If He Weren't an Ex-Beatle

"My Love"

"Let 'Em In"

"With a Little Luck"

"Pipes of Peace"

"My Brave Face"

Monday, June 18, 2012

Why Doesn't Everybody Know Róisín Murphy's Name?

If I live to be as old as Betty White, I'll probably never understand the secret of success -- especially in music. Why are some singers hot, some mid-burner, and some forever trapped in the freezer? Occasionally, it's pretty obvious why someone becomes a star. Adele comes immediately to mind. If she doesn't deserve it, I'm not sure who does.

Then there's someone like Madonna, the eternal superstar. As much as I've enjoyed her work over the years, I've never really understood why she's as big as she is. She's certainly not the most talented female singer on the planet, nor is she the most beautiful and sexy, nor is she the only one with an excellent marketing plan and good collaborators. So why her and not, say, Ireland's Róisín Murphy, formerly of Moloko and currently MIA solo?

Is it that X factor that I've heard so much about, the indescribable thing that either you have or you don't? Does Madonna have it? The first time I saw her, I didn't exactly see a star (indeed, I wasn't really on Team Madonna until 1989's Like a Prayer, by which point, it was impossible to look at her and not see a star), just some really terrible clothes and too much eyebrow.

I can't say the same thing about Murphy. I've loved her since 1995, when an advance copy of Moloko's debut album, Do You Like My Tight Sweater?, arrived in the mail at my office at People magazine. To these eyes and ears, she practically screamed "Star!" from the beginning.

And the music was good, too. Moloko -- which featured Murphy on vocals and Mark Brydon as Dave Stewart to her Annie Lennox, or Vince Clarke to her Alison Moyet/Andy Bell -- had a unique way of merging mainstream and cutting edge while seeming equally dedicated to both, and fashionista-with-an-edge Murphy sold sexy without ever making it seem shallow. The Anglo-Irish duo was electro-pop when it wasn't cool, or at least not as cool as it is today, locating its heart before Madonna made it beat for the masses with Ray of Light.

Sophie: Bigger, not better, than Róisín
(If wishing Murphy were as big as Madonna is aiming a little too high, how about this: Shouldn't she at least be as big in the UK as Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who has had nine Top 20 singles compared to Murphy's four, all of which were with Moloko?)

Since going solo with 2005's Ruby Blue, Murphy, who is as stylish and beautiful as any woman in pop, has kept the qualities that made Moloko so special in tact, while forging a separate musical identity for herself. Unfortunately, new music from her has been all too sporadic, which might partly account for her lack of widespread success. (But then, if her songs were more successful -- her biggest UK solo hit, "Let Me Know," only reached No. 28 -- she might feel compelled to release more of them.) Although there have been a few singles and one-off guest appearances on other people's albums, most recently as the guest vocalist on David Morales's "Golden Era," Murphy hasn't released a new one of her own since 2007's Overpowered.

Thankfully, though, she hasn't been forgotten -- at least not as of 2010. Yesterday on an episode of So You Think You Can Dance from that year, one of the contestants did a routine to one of her songs ("Royal T," her 2010 collaboration with Crookers). Alas, as I watched, I was too busy enjoying the music and thinking about what should have been to even notice the dancer.

7 Great Songs Featuring Róisín Murphy on Vocals

"The Time Is Now" Moloko (from Things to Make and Do)

"Pure Pleasure Seeker" Moloko (from Things to Make and Do)

"Overpowered" Murphy (from Overpowered)

"Primitive" Murphy (from Overpowered)

"Orally Fixated" Roisin Murphy (non-album single)

"Momma's Place" Murphy (non-album single)

 "Royal T" Crookers Featuring Roisin Murphy (from Tons of Friends)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why I Love Straight Men in Gay Bars

Last night I did something I never dreamed I would do in, off all places, DJ Station, three of the gayest stories in all of Bangkok. I spent 30 minutes of quality time hanging out with a straight guy.

He was a tourist from Texas whom I met through his girlfriend, who for some reason took a liking to me. This is actually the same scenario that led me to my last boyfriend in Melbourne two years ago. It was clear to me last night, though, that this story wouldn't have that kind of twist ending.

This guy was clearly interested in me in a purely non-sexual way, human being to human being, which would have disappointed, considering how attractive he was, had it not been so refreshing. It was the easiest, stress-free interaction I've ever had with a beautiful stranger while Jennifer Lopez's "Dance Again" was playing in the background.

Though I don't recall every single detail of our conversation, thanks to the B-52 shots he kept insisting on buying for us, I do know that it was free of all of those pesky questions that mar so many interactions with handsome guys in gay bars. No "Top or bottom?" No questions about the size of my manhood. No "Do you like Asian guys?" In fact, there was absolutely no acknowledgement of the color of my skin or anyone else's.

While we were talking, there was no looking past me to check out who else was passing by, no having to listen to him go on and on about this hot guy and that hot guy, no having to walk back and forth from floor to floor to see and be seen, no attempts to fondle in off-limits places, no wondering whether he wanted me. I had his undivided attention, and he had mine, even though we both knew the conversation probably wouldn't go any further than the exit. It was the kind of one-on-one that straight women flock to gay bars to experience, totally clean, above the waistline and in the moment, without any consideration of our sleeping arrangements later.

The best part: When he kissed me goodbye (on the cheek, of course), I didn't spend a single minute agonizing over whether he'd email me the next day because I didn't expect him to. But if he does, I'd so do it again.

Gay + Straight = 3 Great Songs

Rod Stewart "The Killing of Georgie" (Part I and II)

Terence Trent D'Arby "Billy Don't Fall"

Rihanna "Te Amo"

In Defense of Tom Cruise and His "Worst Opening Weekend Ever"

I can't believe I'm about to dedicate an entire blog post to defending Tom Cruise, but boy must Showbiz 411 really have it in for him. The website has already run two articles sounding the death knell for Cruise's run as a true box-office draw. The first gong, Roger Friedman's Tom Cruise "Rock of Ages" Box Office May Be Lower than "Valkyrie," "Knight & Day," which ran on Saturday morning, was fair enough.

But practically every line of Tom Cruise Has Worst Opening Weekend Ever with Rock of Ages, which ran some 12 hours later and was also written by Friedman, offers the kind of biased hyperbole that gives not love but journalism a bad name. Maybe Friedman was just feeling bitchier around midnight, but I suspect he'll soon be joined by a chorus of fat ladies ready to declare it all over for Cruise.

Let's go through Friedman's 411 together, shall we?

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say this has been Tom Cruise’s worst opening weekend for a movie in like, forever. Even the terrible “Valkyrie” and the mundane “Knight & Day” had better starts than “Rock of Ages” on Friday night. It took in $5.3 million, giving it a shot at a $16 million weekend.

Perhaps Friedman should leave the prognostications based on first-day receipts to Box Office Mojo, or at least consult Box Office Mojo before deeming anything "Cruise's worst opening weekend for a movie in like, forever." Had he done his homework thoroughly, he would have discovered that 2007's Lions for Lambs, in which Meryl Streep and Robert Redford joined Cruise above the title, made a mere $6.7 million during its first weekend, en route to a cumulative take of $15 million. Now that's a flop of ages!

Cruise got tagged as the “star” of “Rock of Ages” playing Stacee Jaxx, a moronic big haired rock singer of the Eighties.
Regardless of how New Line marketed the film, Cruise is no more the star of Rock of Ages than Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock were the stars of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which made only $31.8 million over its box-office lifetime, despite a 2011 Best Picture Oscar nomination.

And when you think about it, musicals are an even harder sell than films about 9/11. The ones that have succeeded -- Hairspray, Chicago, Dreamgirls, Mamma Mia! -- were iconic and had built-in appeal that transcended Broadway. Like 2009's Nine, which grossed $19.6 during its entire run, Rock of Ages, is known mostly to musical-theater buffs and/or people who live in New York City.

Factor in that the films two leads -- Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough, whose previous biggest claim to fame was Dancing with the Stars -- are hardly stars, and $16 million begins to look kind of respectable, especially since it's $2 million more than Friedman's projected opening weekend for Adam Sandler's "crappy" That's My Boy.

Cruise can’t sing, the movie is derivative, and the reviews have not been great. Altogether, “Rock of Ages” is a bust. From the opening scene of people singing along to “Sister Christian”–ripping off “Almost Famous”–you know we’re in trouble. For a rock singer with groupies, Cruise has not heat either. “Rock of Ages” doesn’t bode well for Cruise creating new characters.
Since Rock of Ages is the film adaptation of a Broadway play, one can't exactly call Stacee Jaxx a new character. Also, considering that Cruise's career has been more a study in mixed reviews than not, it seems a bit unfair to start holding them against him now.

And if all else fails -- and I'm not saying that Rock of Ages has -- there's always Top Gun 2, coming eventually to a screen near you.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

It Must Be the Music: More Songs to Run To

Yesterday when I was heading home from my morning run around Bangkok's Lumphini Park, I ran into the French expat who lives and works at the hotel where I live and was returning from her own early morning run.

Well, actually, she sneaked up on me and grabbed me from behind, causing me to practically jump out of my running shoes. But it was what she said once she had my attention that surprised me most.

"I saw you when you were running around the park," she told me. "I tried to get your attention, but you were off in another world. You had this smile on your face, and you actually looked really happy and peaceful."

What?! Considering the pain I'm usually in when going twice around that particular bend, I found it hard to fathom that I looked happy, let alone peaceful. But why would she lie about something like that?

Then it dawned on me: It must be the music. I was so caught up in the rapture of the songs on my iPod that I was in a sort of mental heaven though I felt like hell. There's nothing like good tunes to make both me and my world go 'round when I'm on the run. Here's a sample from my current Bangkok running playlist.

Sheryl Crow "If It Makes You Happy" Listening -- or running -- to this always makes me feel as good as Crow looked in the video.

Lily Allen "Everyone's At It" But not me, not now that I'm Klonopin-free for two and a half months and counting.

Toni Braxton "Lookin' at Me" Very "Single Ladies," but give a now-under-appreciated diva credit for at least getting the groove right.

I Break Horses "Pulse" As heard on Sarah Michelle Gellar's now-defunct CW series Ringer, which deserved a second season, if only because the soundtrack to every episode introduced me to at least one piece of now-essential music.

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys "Empire State of Mind" Between this and those Sex and the City reruns on the Sony Channel, it's only a matter of time before I drag my homesick butt back to New Yooooork, concrete jungle, where dreams are made of...!

Christina Aguilera featuring Nicki Minaj "Woo Hoo" Don't laugh, just listen. Bionic (whose title song has gotten me through many a workout and whose "Elastic Love" is used in the Sony Channel's Nip/Tuck ads) is a lot better than it was ever given credit for being.

La Roux "Reflections Are Protection" The best thing the British duo has done so far and the main reason I'm on the edge of my seat impatiently awaiting its still-unscheduled (as far as I know) return.

Gloria Gaynor "Reach Out I'll Be There" I once did an entire hour-long run with nothing on but this song on repeat.

Lil Wayne "A Milli" Like Busta Rhymes's "Touch It," impossible to listen to just once -- or twice.

Boston "More Than a Feeling" The best outro in the history of rock and as good a reason as I've heard to make it to the finish line.