Sunday, December 29, 2013

America, Here Are Your Resolutions for 2014.

Refrain from talking about, writing about, worrying about, or thinking about that Duck Dynasty fella.

Do what you can to encourage the government to create an honest, common sense, comprehensive, gun control law .

Refrain from talking about, writing about, worrying about, or thinking about Sarah Palin.

Stop using your mythological (religious) beliefs to bolster your prejudices .

Educate yourself on politics, politicians, and the political procedure in general.

Drink more wine.

Question any politician, media personality, or spin doctor who claims that taxes are the way they are because school teachers (or the police, fire departments, civil servants, etc) are being paid too much.

Stop being a zombie consumer. You already have enough stuff.

Stop celebrating mediocrity.

Read a book (but never one written by a “reality” show star, or a Fox News personality).

Enjoy a cocktail after work (our parents and grandparents were really onto something concerning this little vice).

Refuse to make snap judgments – explore all sides before you make a decision , no matter how difficult that might seem.

Stop and think (really hard) before you post anything on Facebook.

Never, ever, support anyone or anything that reeks of homophobia.

Never, ever, support anyone or anything that reeks of misogyny.

Never, ever, support anyone or anything that reeks of racism.

Stop voting against your own interests.

At least one day a month, put your cynicism on the back burner.

Stop acting like a victim, we've all been sucker-punched, you are not alone.

And finally, and most importantly, take care when embracing advice found on the internet.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

He's Hot, He's Sexy, and He's an Alleged Terrorist!

Knee jerk reactions are nothing new.  Humanity constantly jumps to conclusions without seeking out facts, or weighing opinions.  These days, with the internet and Facebook subbing for the public soap box, anyone can react in record time to anything and let the whole world know their opinion.

Rolling Stone Magazine's next issue will feature a cover story on Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Jahar Tsarnaev.  The issue is already causing a firestorm of controversy with folks posting on Twitter and Facebook their outrage.  Some claim that the photo and story glamorizes Tsarnaev and terrorism ( a story I am sure they have not even read ).  Furthermore, if one took the time to peruse the article's title and subtitle, "The Bomber.  How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster", one might understand that that no one is glamorizing Tsarnaev or terrorism ; more than likely, the author will be giving the public the facts on what made an average young man morph into someone who would be drawn to such things as public bombings.

Facts. Both sides of the story.  It's called journalism.

Of course, we can't give R.S. a total free pass on this - the suspect is a good looking kid, and America has always been fascinated by handsome people who turn to a life of crime. Ultimately, the editors probably decided to run this picture because they knew it would provoke and send sales through the roof.

If it bleeds, it leads.  And it also helps if it's photogenic.

Then again, there is also the fact that many people today fail to recall when Rolling Stone was something more than just a glossy PR rag that featured any one hit wonder on the cover.   There was a time, long ago, when RS was part of what was known as "the alternative or underground press".  And, while music was its bread and butter; politics, crime and various other subjects were covered within the pages (to be fair, RS still manages an occasional journalistic masterpiece - for instance, there was the piece on General Stanley McChrystal who lost his job after he was profiled for RS where he mocked Vice President Joe Biden, amongst others).

But let's get back to that cover.

Many don't seem to understand what this picture is doing on the cover of a magazine they consider nothing more than a music periodical.

Obviously, they've never seen this issue of Rolling Stone:
Why didn't the editors put Sharon Tate's picture on the cover, or any of the other victims of Manson and his followers? 

And then there was the time that Patty Hearst was portrayed as a bastardized Andrew Wyeth model.

Or how about the Roman Polanski cover - about the famous director's escape from the U.S. on child molestation charges?

So you see, it's nothing new.  In fact many magazines feature criminals and despots on their covers - and those issues, usually become bestsellers.  Does it mean that the writer and the editors are sympathizing with the bad guys?   Usually not, but it does move units.

So, before you get on your high horse over the latest issue of Rolling Stone (the one you have not even read yet). Take a deep breath and ask yourself exactly what you are getting so wound up over.  Then ask yourself , what would you have done if you landed an interview with one of the most hated men in America?  Whose picture would you have used to play up that article? 

Oh and don't worry America, I am sure that the follow up issue of Rolling Stone will feature a cover story about Justin Bieber; and you can get back to ignoring the  publication you did before.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Legend of the Stonewall Riots

This is a little something I first posted on my original blog back in 2004, and I think it's time to dust it off and bring it back out again - a history lesson that features the death of a show business legend, a mafia-run bar in New York City, and a flash point in history.

Once upon a time, there was a famous movie star and singer who went by the name of Judy Garland. She was renowned throughout the world for her phenomenal voice and acting abilities;  subsequently, she was also known as a troubled soul with a penchant for marrying the wrong men and indulging in prescription drugs and one too many cocktails.

The famous woman was said to have many gay fans.

One day the famous woman, while in London, took a few too many sleeping pills and never woke up.

Her body was flown back to the States and her funeral was held in New York City at Campbell's Funeral Home located on Madison Avenue. It is said that close to 22,000 people lined the streets to wait on line and pay their last respects to her.

The funeral was held on June 27th, 1969.

It was a Friday night.

During this same Friday night, across town at a seedy little Mafia-run bar known as The Stonewall Inn, a lot of men gathered to drink. Many of them were saddened by the death of the famous singer, or so we are told. Some insist that the famous singer’s death made these men feel angry as well.

At some time during the night, New York’s finest decided to raid the bar, as they were prone to doing back in those times.

You see, back then, if you were in a bar like The Stonewall Inn, you were considered a pariah, and you could be rounded up and arrested and have your name printed in the paper and pretty much have your life ruined.

But something odd happened that night.

People fought back, and they fought hard.

Police were pummeled with spare change and right hooks by queens and pansy boys, and eventually, a mob gathered and in the spirit of the times (this was the 60’s after all) a full-scale riot broke out.

Some say that another riot broke out the following night, while others insist that it was a three-night affair, with police pretty much outnumbered by gay men and women as well as some very cool straight folk. (It should be noted that one of the men attacked by the police that night was the late Folk Singer, Dave Van Ronk -- who, while not gay, took a beating for his gay brothers.)

A few days later, The New York Daily News ran this headline: Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.    As you can see,  even the press back then mocked gays.

Of course, as with every good legend, there are many variations as to what actually did occur. Several good books have been written on the subject ( Martin Duberman’s being one of the best), and it is said that every gay man of a certain age in New York claims to have been at the Stonewall the night all hell broke loose.

The truth about the riots; Who knows? What is known is that The Stonewall Riots were a turning point in gay history, and while younger gay people today probably have little or no idea why the Gay Pride Parades are always held in late June, it would be a shame to forget this colorful little piece of history that occurred a few months before the Woodstock Festival.

So this year on June 27th, raise a toast to those tough customers that fought back, another to the late Dave Van Ronk for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and one more to the memory of a famous lady who died too soon and whose death was quite possibly the convoluted catalyst for change. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tony Soprano and I

The first episode of The Sopranos that I ever saw was the first episode of the series.

An Italian/American, balding, husky fellow sits in the waiting room of a therapist.  He fidgets, he fusses, he examines a statue of a nude in the waiting room and,  eventually, is called in to the doctor's office where, for the next five years, he'd lay his psyche bare and talk about his dysfunctional childhood, his relationship with his mother, his job, and his love life.

He's an odd guy this balding husky fellow.  Prone to fits of  rage, but also  sentimental enough that a flock of ducks wading in his backyard's swimming pool fills him with joy.

He suffers from debilitating panic attacks, but has been know to also strangle a man to death with his bare hands.

He is devoted to his wife and children, but he does not think twice about having sex with any woman who gives him the eye.

He chokes up over seemingly inconsequential things, but seems unmoved by the amount of cold blooded acts he and his compatriots  have engaged in.

While I personally, have never killed anyone, nor have I ever belonged to the Cosa Nostra, I always related to Tony Soprano.

I have a strained and somewhat dysfunctional relationship with my mother.

I have, in the past, had moments of red, hot, blind rage.

I suffer from panic attacks.

I am an Italian/American balding, husky fellow.

I am known to be sentimental to a fault - and can tear up over the most ridiculous things.

I love my family, and I love my significant other - but I often wonder how things might have turned out, had I traveled another route.

Like most of America, I was hypnotized by this character and his story - sure, it was the story of a Mafia family, but more than that, it was the stuff of Greek Tragedy.

The man who breathed life into this character, this Tony Soprano, one, James Gandolfini, managed to create a three dimensional man: a monster, a father, and a complex human being. It would have been so much easier had he just turned him into a stereotype - but he chose something more realistic.

Nobody is black and white, none of us. We are all shades of gray. 

I met James Gandolfini twice.  The first time was in the summer of 2001.  His show was just starting to catch fire, and he had agreed to appear at the office of a college roommate of his, a chiropractor in Moorestown, New Jersey.  He drove him self to this appearance, and a handful of fans were there.  I had my picture taken with him, and babbled on about how much I loved his performance on The Sopranos.  He looked me square in the eye and said, "Hey, you're a nice guy, thanks for the kind words".  And then he signed an autograph, and posed for a picture with me.   I remember that his hands were much bigger than mine, and that his voice was much less intimidating that Tony Soprano's.

In 2010, I met him again.  This time I was at the World Premiere of HBO's Boardwalk Empire.  It was the after party, and we were all in the court yard of the 30 Rock center.  A lot of celebrities were there, and the entire cast of The Soprano's was there as well.  James was walking up to complete strangers and taking pictures of them and shaking hands.  I saw him, and figured, what did I have to lose? So I went up to him and before I could do or say anything, he put his arm around me, and slapped me on the back,and said, "Hey, pal, how are ya'?" and then he moved on.   Once again, he did not sound at all like Tony Soprano.  If anything, he just reminded me of  a cousin or uncle one might bump into a party or a wedding.   I noticed that night, that he was taller than me, and how much of a "bear" he really was.

Last night, I discovered  that James Gandolfini had died.    For some strange reason, I have not felt this saddened by a celebrity's death since John Lennon's passing.  

My interactions with him in real-life were fleeting moments, I did not know him, I never spent any real time with him...and yet...I am heartbroken, saddened, deflated.

For some reason, the voice of Nancy Marchand as Livia Soprano (who played his mother in the series) rings true..."in the end you die in your own arms."

RIP, Mr. Gandolfini - and thanks for everything. 

Some guy and James G.

Monday, June 3, 2013

It Was the Third of June...

sexy, sultry UCLA philosophy major
It was during the so called, Summer of Love, 1967;  August of that year to be precise, when a singer/songwriter from Chickasaw County, Mississippi knocked the Beatles, “All You Need Is Love” out of the number one spot with a moody little tune about a poor southern family dealing with the apparent suicide of a troubled young man.

The moody little tune entitled, “Ode to Billie Joe” was recorded by a former UCLA philosophy major named Roberta Streeter who would perform under the name of. Bobbie Gentry.

Gentry’s silky, smoky voice coupled with the song’s somewhat vague and disturbing lyrics served to create a Delta Goth Ballad, the likes of which have never been heard again.

Rumors abound about the actual meaning of the song (so what did Billie Joe and the unnamed narrator of the song throw off that bridge the first time – an aborted fetus? A body?). An even more intriguing rumor states that the original version of “Ode…” is more than seven minutes long and that it spells out much more of the mystery. Apparently, Gentry has denied that rumor.

In the 70’s, “Ode to Billie Joe” was turned in to a dreadful film that, among other things, attributed Billie Joe’s suicide to his having had sex with a man … to make matters worse, it turned out, he never actually had sex with a man, he was drunk and assumed he did … go figure.

Bad movie notwithstanding, “Ode to Billie Joe” stands on its own as one of the best tunes ever written. And every June 3rd, I think of it, and am haunted by it.


It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door "y'all remember to wipe your feet"
And then she said "I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge"
"Today Billie Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

And Papa said to Mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas
"Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense, pass the biscuits, please"
"There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow"
And Mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow
Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billie Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And Brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn't I talkin' to him after church last Sunday night?
"I'll have another piece of apple pie, you know it don't seem right"
"I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge"
"And now you tell me Billie Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

And Mama said to me "Child, what's happened to your appetite?"
"I've been cookin' all morning and you haven't touched a single bite"
"That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today"
"Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way"
"He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge"
"And she and Billie Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news 'bout Billie Joe
And Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus going 'round, Papa caught it and he died last Spring
And now Mama doesn't seem to wanna do much of anything
And me, I spend a lot of time pickin' flowers up on Choctaw Ridge

And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

Monday, May 27, 2013

Behind the Candelabra - a few thoughts on f***king Liberace.

Steven Soderbergh's biopic of the late Liberace, Behind the Candelabra, premiered last night on HBO, and for the one hundred and some odd minutes it played, I could not turn my eyes away.

Based on the book of the same name by Liberace's ex partner, Scott Thorson,  the film tackles the tale of a show-business legend who becomes infatuated with a young man, takes him in, gives him clothing, jewels, a house, and a fleet of cars to show his affections.  And for awhile it's a wonderful life for both of them - each man supplying what the other needs.  But then, when Liberace insists that his partner undergo facial plastic surgery so that he will look like a  younger version of understands that this was probably one hell of a dysfunctional relationship (to say the least).

Matt Damon plays Thorson, and he's nothing short of brilliant.  Physically, Damon appears at first like some sort of late 70's disco angel - all feathered blond hair, delicate features and designer jeans...but as the story continues one watches his physical (as well as mental) metamorphosis into a drug addicted (thanks in part to Liberace's insistence that he loose weight by seeing a quack doctor who prescribes a boatload of pills --- said quack doctor played to the hilt by a barely recognizable Rob Lowe), reconstructed object that his mentor, eventually looses interest in.

Michael Douglas' take on the legendary and outrageous performer is actually quite good - in lesser hands, this might have teetered off into high camp, but somehow, Douglas manages to keep the parody at bay, and creates a rather grounded version of someone who often came off like a cartoon character.   That said, Douglas also shows us the darker side to "Lee" (as his friends called him).  A man who saw what he wanted and took it any way he could.  Behind that prancing, fey, dandy awash in capes and glitter, lay a brilliant entertainer, businessman, and predator.

Though she only appears briefly, Debbie Reynolds is marvelous as Lee's mother, Frances.  I think this might be the only time I've seen Reynolds in anything, and not known it was her right off the bat. 

But more than anything this is Damon's film, and Thorson's story.  The actor fleshes out a character that could easily have been seen as an opportunist and a hustler (and who knows, in reality, he may well have been), and infuses him with a heart and soul.  Are his actions pure?  Hardly, but it's tough to fault the Scott Thorson we see in this film for anything other than  allowing himself to be seduced by a man who offered him more than he could imagine in his wildest dreams. 


Lee and Scott - the real deal

No one but Scott Thorson really knows what went on in that gilded cage - that said, hitching your wagon to a closet case in the public eye is not the sort of job that makes for a happy ending, and being a star fucker of any sort, probably leaves a lot to be desired.  So if your job was fucking Liberace, one can only imagine the real hell that might have caused. 

For the record, in the real world:

* Liberace died of AIDS in 1987
* In 1989 Scott Thorson testified against Eddie Nash concerning the infamous "Wonderland Murders".
* After his testimony, Thorson entered the witness protection program.
* Some time in 1990 he was shot five times in a drug deal that went bad, but managed to survive.
* In 2012 it was reported that Thorson was diagnosed with stage II colon cancer.  He had allegedly made public pleas via the internet to help fund his medical treatments.
* As of the date of this posting, Scott Thorson is in prison charged with burglary and identity theft.

So much for happy endings.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

We Are All Born Lucky - the only cd you'll need this summer!

Singer songwriter, Jay Spears has long been a favorite of mine.  Unfortunately, to the general populace, he is not exactly a household name, and that's a shame, because Spears is a witty fellow whose music is infectious, outrageous, and (quite often) heartfelt.

Having recently survived a major health situation,  Spears has bounced back full of optimism and sass, and delivered his latest creation for our listening pleasure, We Are All Born Lucky ; a sunny, LA-centric collection of songs that tackle topics ranging from earthquakes to politics.   But don't let that put you off, Spears is such a genius, that he can take even the darkest, or most controversial subject and make it musically palatable.

Backed by a terrific group of musicians and background vocalists, We Are All Born Lucky is sometimes like a musical poke at the funny bone that mocks religion ( Guy In the Sky) vegans (Meat) and even driving the infamous highways and freeways  of LA (Drive Time) .  But just when you think you might have Spears musical modus operandi nailed down, he presents a loving  homage to his home town (City of Angels) . 

By the time we make it to the title song of the CD, (We Are All Born Lucky)...well, if you're not smiling, singing along, tapping your feet and agreeing with the lyrics, you might be dead. This is  the point where Spears acknowledges his recent cancer battle and turns that horror upside down and inside out, and then reminds the listener that, no matter what his or her current circumstances, he or she is damn lucky just to be alive. 

One of my favorite songs on this CD is Sleep With Me a Beatlesque charmer about crawling into the sack with a lover and sailing off for the land of nod...just gorgeous, this one, with it's allusions to nautical mythology - a perfect lullaby for a troubled world.

And then,  when you think that things are over, stay tuned as a  wonderful surprise is waiting - a mystery track awaits; A rerecording of Spears' gorgeous
Bougainvillea Waltz (originally found on the  Playing On My Team album) , but  this time, vocalist Jeff McCarthy gives the song a rather Robert Goulet feel with his somewhat  Hoher Bass voice.

In a nutshell, We Are All Born Lucky is probably the only album you'll need this summer, no matter if you are cruising the 101 in Hollywood California, or Route 295 in Mount Holly, New Jersey - this one will get you where you are going during the summer of 2013.

Jay Spears

To get your copy of We Are All Born Lucky, or Jay's previous works (and you MUST see his videos) just CLICK HERE.