Friday, December 26, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

12 Saddest Songs Ever? A Countdown . . .

The Yahoo! Music Blog recently featured a list of the 20 Most Heartbreaking Songs of All Time! It's a pretty good, sniffle-worthy list, featuring such sob song experts as The Everly Brothers, Billie Holiday, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Roy Orbison, and George Jones. Since I like nothing better than a throbbingly sad song (so much more spiritually uplifting than a sappy happy song), I tried to come up with my own list, limiting it to a dozen (in a nod to the 12 days of Christmas, with sad songs replacing true love gifts and candle lighting), to songs with decent videos on YouTube, and to artists who already have a place in my iPod shuffle.

Without further ado, Saddest Song #12:

If self-love is the greatest love of all, then self-pity must be the greatest pity of all, and no one does that better than Morrissey and The Smiths. "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" is one of my Smith favorites, the ultimate ode to anyone who's felt thoroughly unloved at some point, which must include just about everyone. The story is old, I know, but it goes on . . .

Saddest Song #11: 

Before they were cool again, the Carpenters were a joke, but, when I was a child and playing their records over and over, I wasn't in on the joke. When I was about 11, I wrote a play about juvenile delinquents which my friend, Carol, and I performed in my basement. "Bless the Beasts and Children" was my theatrical soundtrack choice. Everyone now knows that beneath the Carpenters' squeaky clean facade and soft pop arrangements deep sadness lurked, but, at age 11, I was unaware of Karen's personal struggles. I was an irony-free, first-time-around listener. Her voice spoke directly to by budding melancholic self. Without the tabloidy tragedy of Karen's death, would the Carpenters have been cool enough to warrant a 90s tribute album? Maybe not. But songs like "Superstar"--their most exquisitely sad and timeless single--are freestanding. So never mind that Karen's skirt looks like a shower curtain in this performance. Move past the kitsch to hear the voice. It won't be matched. (Although this cover of "Superstar" by Sonic Youth certainly has its gloomy merits.)

Saddest Song #10:

Jeff Buckley, the beautiful young man with the beautifully unique voice, silenced too soon. It's a Leonard Cohen song, covered by many, but Jeff will always own "Hallelujah." This version is rough around the edges, naked, unmistakably poignant.

Saddest Song # 9:

Though written to commemorate those killed on 9/11, "If This Is Goodbye" is subtle enough to be a universal meditation on loss and the simple power of love even when the meaning of life seems most fragile and unknown. Performed by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, two mature artists who know a few things about understatement, with Mark's haunting guitar playing, the song, which appeared on their duet album All the Roadrunning, sends a fresh shiver of recognition down my spine each time I hear it.

Saddest Song # 8:

Bruce Springsteen is a master at capturing the lost dreams of youth, the human mistakes and life realities that can kill hope even as his narrators look romantically back at their glory days, days that vanished before there was time to realize that those brief, careless joys of youth were as good as it was going to get. "The River" is probably my favorite Springsteen song, and this live reinterpretation is even more sadly haunting than the studio version from the 1980 album.

Saddest Song # 7:

In the spirit of holiday shopping during tough economic times, a 2-for-1 Special for Saddest Song # 7. Nina Simone and Tammy Wynette aren't obvious musical soul mates, but these two songs--"If You Knew" and "'Til I Can Make It On My Own"--ache with need and love in a similar way, and both artists strip them down to their essence. They both knew a thing or two about heartbreak, and it shows in their guileless performances.

Saddest Song # 6:

Lucinda Williams's "World Without Tears": never has the word "if" been used more powerfully or poignantly.

Saddest Song # 5:

Janis Ian's At Seventeen was a naked tribute to everyone who's ever felt like an ugly duckling outcast in high school, and apparently that was a lot of us, since the 1975 song was a huge hit and still resonates today. Ian became an unlikely star in the 60s, at age 15, with her song about interracial romance, "Society's Child." (Think of Britney Spears, then think of her opposite, that's Janis Ian as a teen performer.) I was a devoted fan of Ian's melancholy, often minor-key 70s albums. Though I knew nothing of romantic love at the time, I assumed it would be as gloriously gloomy as her songs. Then, I grew up, she fell off my radar screen, and her additional hits didn't materialize. I was reintroduced to Ian in the 90s when she became an essayist for the gay (aha!) magazine, "The Advocate"--her funny, outspoken columns about life with "Mr. Lesbian" were nothing like the somber Ian I imagined from her music, but that was appropriate since I'd also come out and was no longer the isolated teen seeking musical angst in which to wallow. But, after hearing her in a solo concert in a Burlington, Vermont chapel a few years ago, I reconnected to the music, too, and remembered what first drew me to it. "Jesse," her plea for a lover's return is simple, spare, and timelessly haunting. It was my favorite song of the night, and the video reminds me why.

Saddest Song # 4:

It took a while for George Michael to get respect as a pop artist. Wham! hits like Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go didn't inspire one to think much beyond, "Remind me not to wear short-shorts," and, "That's the gayest dancing I've ever seen." I loathed Wham! with a passion and therefore was reluctant to listen to any George Michael songs even after Wham! was kaput. I heard a few things I liked on his solo albums "Faith" and "Listen Without Prejudice," yet I still wasn't ready to fully listen without prejudice until "Jesus to a Child" from "Older." I remember first hearing it on the car radio and being floored by its tender beauty. "Older" was an appropriate title for the album--Michael hadn't been heard from in a few years (record company legal problems partly responsible for the silence), and the album showed a new, subdued maturity far removed from Wham! short-shorts go-go-ing. Though Michael had yet to publicly come out (that would take a bathroom bust a few years later), I read it as his coming out. Songs on the album clearly speak to a (male) lover's death, and I found them incredibly moving. The album wasn't a huge critical or popular success in the US, but it should have been. In recent years, Michael has gotten more attention for his personal traumas than for his music, but songs like "Jesus to a Child" and "You Have Been Loved" are a reminder of what a great, emotionally sensitive artist he can be.

Saddest Song # 3:

With Billie Holiday it's not so much the individual song but what she brings to it. She doesn't have to sell a song. She seems to live inside it. Her performances of "Fine and Mellow" and "Strange Fruit" are both so extraordinary--and extraordinarily different--I couldn't pick between them. She delivers the ultimately sad lyrics of "Fine and Mellow" with an almost casual acceptance--love could work out and he might treat me right, but it probably won't and he probably won't--making them all the more poignant. Her obvious joy in playing with other jazz greats almost turns this into a happy blues. "Strange Fruit," on the other hand, is simply devastating. As Billie says, "I don't know, the blues is sort of a mixed up thing, you just have to feel it. Everything I do sing it's part of my life."

Saddest Song # 2:

I'm a fan of Antony and the Johnsons gorgeously fragile album, "I Am a Bird Now," but I thought it was a little far-fetched when a friend told me he'd seen Antony in concert and wasn't the only one weeping in the audience. Antony's unique voice is an acquired taste, but it's quavering vulnerability perfectly suits the songs. Seeing Antony perform combines that vulnerability with the strength that comes from laying out emotions with complete focus and intensity. Antony's riveting performance of Leonard Cohen's If It Be Your Will is one of the highlights of the "I'm Your Man" documentary. And watching Antony at the piano singing "Hope There's Someone" makes me understand the tears. Physically, he doesn't much resemble Billie Holiday, but I sense a spiritual connection in the way they're both able to find the raw beauty inside a song and radiate it outward.

Saddest Song # 1:

If I had to pick one song I know I'll never tire of listening to, it would be this one, "Goodbye," written by Steve Earle. I first heard it on Emmylou's brilliant "Wrecking Ball" album. This version has both Steve and Emmylou. Add regret, broken romance, lost years, a soft breeze and Novembers. Stir. For me it doesn't get sadder better than this.

Goodbye to the 12 Days of Sad Songs.

My Flickr friend, Tim Connor, has come up with some very worthy suggestions for my Saddest Song list. Check them out on his blog. (He was also kind enough to reference my photography work in the same post; Thanks, Tim!) Tim's an excellent photographer and writer on photography, so I encourage anyone to regularly visit his Flickr photostream and his Looking at Photography blog, where you'll find his photography-related insights along with some terrific links.

I'm sure I left some worthy triple-hanky musical tearjerkers off my list, so feel free to post suggestions in the comments section.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I Am the Winner!

I am thrilled to learn that I drew the Lucky Winning Numbers in the UK NATIONAL LOTTERY. It's particularly exciting because I am not British, and I've never played the lottery in the US, much less in the UK. My prize is: Five hundred thousand, Great Britain Pound Starlings (£500,000.00). WOW! And here's the proof:

60 Merriman Road Blackheath
London SE3 8RZ
United Kingdom.

REFERENCE NUMBER: UKL/65345543-98666
BATCH NUMBER: 065/088/XY24
TICKET NUMBER: 023-1111-790-458

We happily announce to you the Draw (06/1099) of the Uk NATIONAL LOTTERY,Online National Lottery program held on 14th of Decemer, 2008. Your company or personal e-mail address, is attached to a Ticket number 860-377-596-6738, with a serial number 5368/02 drew the Lucky Winning Numbers have won a prize money of Five hundred thousand, Great Britain Pound Starlings (£500,000.00) credited to File Ref No: 65345543-98666.

You are to contact the claims dept with your personal information to enhance quick confirmation of your winning funds.
Name: Mr. Melvin John
Programs & Events Department
Phone: +447 02407 5717


How you need your winning funds.

Choose one as soon as possible
1.Bank To Bank Swift Transfer
2.Courier cheque delivery
3.Comming to our office annex

Congratulations once again.© UK National Lottery 2008.

Now I just need some accent coaching so that no one will suspect I'm not British. Is Madonna available?

Oops, not so fast, apparently. UNBELIEVABLY, this may be a scam. I am shocked beyond words.

All Garnishes Are Not Created Equal!

From today's New York Times, an important garnish correction:

The Check In/Check Out column on Nov. 30, about the Hilton London Tower Bridge hotel, misstated the name of a garnish that was part of a room service meal. A ham and cheese sandwich arrived with Branston Pickle, not a Brandon pickle chutney.

Wow, thank God they straightened that out. The disgruntled pickles of London will once again be able to sleep at night.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Bible Doesn't Say It's So

There's an excellent article by Lisa Miller published in Newsweek about what the Bible does and, more importantly, doesn't have to say about gay marriage.

What the Bible says shouldn't matter when it comes to civil marriage equality, and churches have no business interfering in the civil marriage rights of gay people, but, since the religious zealots use the Bible to make their bogus arguments against gay marriage, it is illuminating to read how selective and often plain ignorant they are in their Biblical interpretations. Miller successfully argues that "Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married—and a number of excellent reasons why they should."

To the Editor

Mike Hale's discussion of "A Double Shot At Love" in The Week Ahead in today's Sunday New York Times is both inaccurate and offensive.

California’s voters may have said no to Proposition 8, but nonmainstream lifestyles still have a home in prime time. After two seasons of the bisexual dating competition “A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila,” MTV is upping the ante with “A DOUBLE SHOT AT LOVE” (10 p.m. Tuesday). A dozen straight men and a dozen lesbians will compete for the affections of a pair of identical twins and former Hooters waitresses who profess to be bisexual and who call themselves Vikki and Rikki Ikki. Presumably that’s pronounced "icky."

First of all, California's voters said YES to Proposition 8, which overturns the California Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. Mr. Hale is clearly misinformed about the proposition. Secondly, the statement "nonmainstream lifestyles still have a home in prime time" is offensive. It implies that homosexuality is a wacky lifestyle choice. It isn't, any more than heterosexuality is a lifestyle choice. Gay people have a wide variety of lifestyles, thank you very much. His intention seems to be to point out, humorously, that the prime time television audience is more tolerant of the homosexual “lifestyle” than California voters. But "A Double Shot At Love"—from the description he offers—has no relationship to the "lifestyles" of most gay people I know, and to make the comparison (finishing with the word "icky"!) in the aftermath of a vote that has caused so much real hurt to real gay people across this country is both callous and demeaning.

Mr. Hale should offer an apology for the inaccuracy and for the insensitive comparison.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Monster Trucks Made Mini!

Metal Heart from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

I've always believed in the theory that guys who operate vehicles with massively oversized wheels are compensating for a certain undersized component of their male anatomy. This amazing video, while not offering further proof of the theory, certainly does squeeze out the inherent silliness of demolition derbies and monster truck tricks.

A technical discussion of how the video was made is on Gizmodo.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Two Great Documentaries

Two of my favorite films in the past year have been documentaries, one chronicling the unusual and poignant long-term relationship between the writer, Christopher Isherwood, and the portrait artist, Don Bachardy, the other an intimate and visually gorgeous portrait of the rock icon, Patti Smith

In some ways, Chris & Don: A Love Story and Patti Smith: Dream of Life are very different films, the former a skillfully made though conventional documentary, the latter a meandering artistic life collage with few nods towards standard documentary formats. But they both deal with loss and the wonder of life, even in the aftermath of loss. They grapple honestly with grief yet seem celebratory, defiant even. 

The relationship between Isherwood and Bachardy seemed, on the surface, all wrong. The famous writer well into middle-age beds the pretty young boy, who becomes his boy toy and protégé. And yet, in spite of the age difference, and in some ways because of it, the relationship ultimately worked. Bachardy, while hugely influenced by Isherwood (he even took on Isherwood's vocal mannerisms), developed into his own person with his own artistic interests. Now in his seventies, Bachardy is fit, wise, and completely charming. Seeing his and Isherwood's love through his eyes (literally, since his portraits of Isherwood are a major part of the film) is both historically illuminating and touchingly romantic.

Steven Sebring's portrait of Patti Smith was a dozen years in the making and says as much about his sensibility as it does about Smith's. Every frame has his artistic fingerprints on it and, as such, it's an evocative poetic collaboration between artists, short on biographical details and long on sensibility. The style fits the subject, and I imagine that Smith wouldn't have participated for so long in a project that didn't hold her artistic interest. She's eternally cool and charismatic, aged and ageless, homely and beautiful. Not naturally gifted (as her rudimentary guitar picking and raw, inelegant singing demonstrate) but naturally visioned. She's treated as an icon, but there are wonderfully funny, human moments, like when she returned home to visit her elderly parents in their cow figurine-filled home, and, in my perhaps my favorite scene, when Smith and Flea hang out on a beach and trade peeing in a bottle stories. 

Both films, as different as they are, offer deep meditations on the passage of time, mourning it on the one hand, while featuring people who are living fully in the present. Smith and Bachardy clearly embrace their pasts (and, in their shoes, having lived fascinating lives surrounded by fascinating people, who wouldn't?), but they don't seem nostalgic for any past glories. These aren't "Behind the Music" falls from grace with contrived happy endings. Smith and Bachardy soldier on because they are both still invested in life, in the future. What the films brought most clearly home to me was the worthiness of an artistic life. If, as an artist, you are able to stay engaged and inspired, the passing of youth and the passing of loved ones becomes bearable. There remains something to live for. Love remains. I can't imagine that anyone in middle age (and beyond) who seeks an artful life would not be moved by these exquisitely sad and hopeful films.

Scary Quote of the Week

Apparently, William Shatner has a new talk show called "Shatner's Raw Nerve." The title is kind of scary, but even scarier is this description from this past Sunday's New York Times:

Mr. Shatner seems especially committed to intimacy in his interviews, sitting so close to his guests that you imagine he is going to begin spoon-feeding them.

Picture it.

On a side note, who among us isn't rooting for Liza Minnelli's latest comeback, news of which was featured in the Charles Isherwood article, Comeback With a ‘Z’. My favorite quote from that article:

In retrospect, how does she explain the strangest interlude yet in a life not without notorious episodes?

“Encephalitis,” she deadpanned, with a little extra pop of the doe eyes.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Adoring Paul Rudd

I know I'm not the only gay guy who adores Paul Rudd. He's funny, he's sexy without trying too hard, he seems like a genuinely nice guy, he likes to make fun of himself, and, last but not least, he likes to take his clothes off. What's not to love? Another reason we like him is that he comes across as comfortable enough in his sexuality to allow himself frequent homo moments. Take last night's SNL, which Rudd hosted. Pretty much every skit had a gay vibe, or was, like, totally gay (the Beyoncé dancers, featuring Justin Timberlake, for instance). SNL doesn't always go gay inoffensively, but I can't think of another straight actor who can go gay more pleasurably than Paul Rudd. He lets the joke be on him instead of on us. (Not that many of us would mind having Paul on us, or vice versa.) He oozes good-humored tolerance and nonchalant masculinity. And did I mention he likes to take his clothes off? Keep doing what you're doing, Paul. Unless you let success go to your head, you're the perpetual frontrunner for Coolest Straight Guy on Earth. And the SNL digital short, "Everyone's a Critic", with naked (aside from some careful pixilation) Paul and Andy Samberg was really funny.

Here's to Wanda!

I've been a huge fan of Wanda Sykes for a long time. Wanda calls it as she sees it, and is one of those people--like Maggie Smith (not that Wanda's and Maggie's typical dialogues have much in common)--who tickles me by pretty much saying anything. In writing about the aftermath of Prop 8 and race, I listed Wanda as one of our allies. Turns out Wanda is not only for our side, she's on our side. Yes! (How much more satisfying it is to claim someone like Wanda than someone like, say, Larry Craig or Ted Haggard.) During the Join the Impact anti-Prop 8 rally in Las Vegas yesterday, Wanda spoke not only about gay marriage but about her own recent marriage to a woman. Wanda being a lesbian didn't come as too much of a shock to most of us gay folks. There are a number of celebrities who aren't quite publicly out but whom we more or less assume are on the team, or at least very gay friendly. Some may ask: what took her so long to come out? But, as Wanda says at the rally, she didn't go around blabbing about her sexuality yet she didn't exactly hide it, either, and was out to the people around her. More importantly, Wanda has stood up for gay people all along--as evidenced by the YouTube clip on gay marriage--and she's certainly never worked against us, unlike certain closeted, mostly Republican politicians. As Wanda also says, if gay people had equality, we wouldn't need to be standing around holding signs, proclaiming our gayness. We would simply be. Our sexuality would be no more or less visible than straight people's sexuality. The closet would disappear. So would gay activism. But that day's not here yet. Now is the time to be visible instead of invisible. Now is the time to be, like Wanda, pissed off and unwilling to back off until we have the equality we deserve. As Wanda says re: "gay" marriage: it shouldn't even be a debate. It's divorce that's threatening "straight" marriage, not gay people. So I'm not going to knock Wanda for not wrapping herself in the rainbow flag earlier, but I am going to officially welcome her to the team. We're one richer today. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Join the Impact ~ Vermont

Like many LGBT people and our allies across the US today, Kevin (to the right) and I joined in a national day of protest against Prop 8 as part of Join the Impact. Photos and other coverage of the day's events (many much larger than ours!) can be found on Towleroad. Our rally was in Burlington, Vermont, on a miserably wet afternoon, but that didn't stop a crowd of us from standing up against the vote on Prop 8 (and the other anti-gay votes this past election day in Arkansas, Arizona, and Florida) and standing up for full marriage equality. Since VT became the first state in 2000 to allow civil unions for gay couples, we've been gradually working on a grassroots level towards full marriage (which will still have no meaning, yet, at the federal level). We're hoping that in 2009 the VT legislature will pass a marriage bill because separate is never equal. After recognizing that CUs have had no negative impact on anyone, the people of our state now support marriage equality by a wide margin. We are ready for it. And we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the country fighting for the basic civil rights we all deserve. Marriage equality has already happened in Canada and in some European countries. It will happen in the US. Let's make it be sooner rather than later. There is nothing to be afraid of.

Vermonters, get involved at Vermont Freedom to Marry. We need your help.

Patterns of Falling

Friday, November 14, 2008

The (Artificial) War Between Blacks and Gays

No one has more astutely captured the absurdity of the post-election-post-Prop 8-passage "war" between blacks and gays than Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report. Ever since the right wing got wind of a rift between blacks and gays following the big black Yes vote on California's Prop 8, they have been frothing at the mouth to fan the racial flames and start a new culture war that will pit minority against minority and make gay people as scary as they find black people. (Black gay people must be truly terrifying to the white right.) Evangelical wingnut Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, did it the other day with Anderson Cooper on AC360, and Bill O'Reilly can't get enough of the black/gay divide. Nothing makes him more orgasmic than setting up a scapegoating mud wrestling match between the scary blacks and the scary gays.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are moving on. Gay people, white and black, and our allies, white and black, are protesting Prop 8 (and other anti-gay measures passed on election day) across the country, including a nationwide protest November 15. We are speaking out against the Mormon Church (who knew the Mormons are black?!), the big power and money behind Prop 8. We are boycotting businesses that devalued their gay clientele by supporting a discriminatory proposition that shouldn't have been put up for popular vote in the first place. As blowhards like O'Reilly seek to manufacture a distracting culture war, sane straight people like Whoopi Goldberg (who, shockingly, is black!) are speaking out against the real culprit, injustice.

You know something's funny in the world when you compare O'Reilly's clip and Colbert's clip, and Colbert comes off as the rational one. So let the losing right, who's looking for shit to stir up since that's all they've got at the moment, keep fanning the flames. It makes for excellent comedy. The rest of us would be wise not to take the racial bait.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Proposition 8: One Week Later

It's been a week now since Barack Obama was elected and Prop 8 was approved in California. Of course there was more to the election than these two things (including anti-gay legislation in Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas), but, for many gay Americans, this is how the 2008 election will be remembered: elation that Obama became our first African-American president; anger, hurt, and disappointment that the voters of CA decided to strip away our right to marry and write discrimination into their constitution. (Inevitably, this will go back to the courts. Civil rights should not be subject to the whims of the majority.) At first it seems impossible that the Obama victory and gay rights defeats could happen simultaneously, but what this jarring juxtaposition demonstrates is that the path to equality is rarely smooth or linear.

In the aftermath of the Yes victory on Prop 8, there has been a lot of finger pointing over why we lost: Mormon money, effective (if blatantly false) fear-mongering and prejudice-inflaming Yes on 8 ads, an ineffective and poorly run No campaign, No on 8 ads in which gay people didn't appear, the misguided theory being that straight people would be more apt to support us if they didn't think of Prop 8 as a gay thing. Then there was half-hearted, late in the game No support from prominent CA politicians. There was Barack Obama saying he does not support gay marriage, those words used by the Yes on 8 people even though Obama was on record (tepidly) in favor of No on 8. Ultimately, however, it was in the hands of the voters, and the voters (52% of them anyway) decided that gay people don't deserve the same right to marry as they do.

Then the exit poll statistics on which voters voted which way started to come in, and that's when the Prop 8 victory became a racial thing. 70% of black voters voted Yes on Prop 8, a disproportionately high Yes vote when compared to white, latino, and asian voters. (The accuracy of this much tossed around 70% statistic has been called into question.) Many gay people were taken aback by the lopsided black Yes vote. How could the same people who voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, a liberal who supports gay rights (if not marriage), vote against us? Gay voters overwhelmingly supported Obama, an African American, shouldn't black voters have returned the favor? This reasoning neglects the fact that most white gay people didn't support Obama because he was African American but because he was the best candidate. But even if Obama hadn't been in the picture, shouldn't black voters have known better? Gay people see obvious parallels (along with differences) between our struggle to overturn sexuality-based restrictions on marriage and the struggle to overturn race-based restrictions on marriage. (The language around Loving v. Virginia was undeniably similar to the language used to oppose same-sex marriage.) Shouldn't black people automatically recognize the parallels and support civil rights for another minority? Many white gay people, in the immediate aftermath of Prop 8, felt that this was the thanks we got for our support of civil rights for all minorities. Whether white gay people were truly as supportive of black civil rights (say, in the 50s and 60s, when many gay people were closeted and subject to the same prejudices as straight white people) as some like to pretend now, the sting of being slapped in the face by black voters was genuine.

Suddenly, the other Yes voters on 8 were pushed to the side so that we could fully blame the black people for putting Prop 8 "over the top." (Gay black people were rendered invisible, as were the 30% No voters, as were important black allies like the late Coretta Scott King, Deval Patrick, David Paterson, and celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, Wanda Sykes, and Chris Rock.) The reasoning went that if all those black people hadn't come out to support Obama, one of their own, Prop 8 wouldn't have passed. (A useful discussion of the rhetoric around the black vote can be found on Pam’s House Blend.) But who's to say that it was specifically the black vote that put Prop 8 over the top and not another vote? White Republicans (who made up a significantly larger proportion of the CA electorate than ALL black voters) voted 82% in favor of Prop 8. Couldn't they have been the ones to put it over the top? Or what about eligible gay voters who didn't bother to go to the polls? Or the way the campaigns for and against were run? Or the huge influence of (tax-exempt!) religious money and power? But, no, it was definitely the black vote that did it. (The latest person to make this claim, with his usual simple-minded, divisive bluster is Bill O’Reilly.) As soon as this became the accepted perception (echoed all over the media), the demonizing flourished. In reader comments on blogs like Towleroad, the side issue of race trumped the main issue of marriage equality. On the one side were the "PC people in denial" who were letting blacks off the hook; on the other side were the "racists" who had been waiting for an opportunity to scapegoat black people. The reasonable middle ground collapsed, leaving bitter polarization, which the right wing will continue to encourage since minority vs. minority is a Fox dream come true.

I spent days arguing, with minimal success, that blaming black people for Prop 8's passage was both wrong-headed and useless. Don't get me wrong. My initial response to every straight person, black or white, whose vote said to gay people--WE ARE BETTER THAN YOU ARE--was Fuck you, asshole.

It's not letting black people "off the hook" to say that religion is more to blame than race. It's not letting black people off the hook to say that the power structure and funding behind Prop 8 was largely Mormon and largely white. (Black people weren't the ones who put Prop 8 on the ballot to begin with.) It's not letting black people off the hook to speculate, in hindsight, that there could have been more educational outreach to people of color, some of whom see gayness as a rich white thing. (Using TV as one's guide, it pretty much is.) It's not letting black people off the hook to understand that variables such as education, class, faith, and the relationship between family and the closet could have played a role in those black Yes votes. Seeking to get beyond racial profiling to analyze why the black vote went down as it did and learn from that is not the same as excusing black anti-gay prejudice. But narrowly heaping the blame on blacks (who only made up an estimated 10% of the CA vote) distracts us from the primary reason ballot initiatives like this can pass: color-blind faith-based bigotry.

Religious fundamentalists (not all, it should be noted--many people of faith support full marriage equality) believe that "gay marriage" is wrong. The Bible says it's so. Marriage is a 5000 year old tradition that should not be tampered with. (In fact, marriage has continually evolved throughout history, yet fundamentalist leaders insist it is a static tradition.) Children need a mother and a father. (This overlooks straight divorce and single-parenthood, but never mind.) The problem is not the religious beliefs themselves, however much I, or anyone, might disagree with them. The problem is that anti-gay religious beliefs are being used by powerful religious institutions to meddle in gay lives. Religions should be free to hold whatever beliefs they choose, but they should not be free, in a secular society, to employ those beliefs to infringe upon the civil rights of others. And let's be clear: it is civil marriage gay people are fighting for. Barack Obama said, "God's in the mix" when it comes to marriage equality, but he--like many--is wrong. God is in his personal mix. God (or, rather, individual interpretations of God's word) should not be in the marriage equality or civil rights mix. I am not taking away a straight religious person's right to freely practice his faith. But he wants to use his faith to take away my right to be equal under the law. That is wrong. (Michelangelo Signorile effectively explored this distinction when he dissected the faith-based argument of Nancy, a Mormon caller, on his radio show.)

While the passage of Prop 8 was clearly a (temporary) defeat for gay people, it may ultimately be a tipping point towards victory. We are pissed off and we are letting the world know about it. Gay people and our allies are energized and protesting across the country. Our opponents are discovering that we will not quietly go away. Some of the gay people who either didn't care or didn't think our rights could be taken away are waking up. Some of the straight people who voted Yes but not for religious reasons are seeing that real people's lives are at stake. Homophobes may never be swayed to our side but arrogant or misinformed straight people may be forced to imagine what it would be like to have someone break into their house and shred the marriage license they take for granted. Businesses that donated to Prop 8 will be boycotted by gay people. (They were free to donate; we're free to deprive them of our dollars.) One of the most eloquent voices of support for marriage equality comes from a straight man whose life is, by his own admission, entirely unaffected by Prop 8. Keith Olbermann asks same-sex marriage opponents the obvious but often overlooked question: "What is this to you?"

What, indeed. For when marriage equality becomes a reality across America (and it will), straight people will learn that gay people getting married will have no discernible impact on their lives whatsoever. (That's not quite true: the service industry is likely to benefit economically from some fabulous gay weddings.) In Canada and parts of Europe, where marriage equality has been a reality for several years now, straight people seem to be going about their lives just fine. Future generations will look back and wonder at the absurdity of all that energy poured into fighting against something that harms no one. Future generations will find it difficult to fathom that some straight people spent years of their lives obsessing over homosexuality and fighting against the thoroughly non-threatening prospect of two loving and committed gay people sharing the same rights and responsibilities as two loving and committed straight people. Looking back, the unreasonable straight resistance will seem quaint, a bit silly. (Not that there isn't some queer resistance, too, but that's another story.)

But, right now, the struggle towards equality will continue. And, if the damaging race baiting can be put aside, the passage of Prop 8 will be remembered as one of the major catalysts in giving us the determination to move forward past setbacks until we achieve full recognition of our basic humanity. As I write this, gay couples are lining up to marry in Connecticut. These couples are the future, and another step forward in the positive evolution of marriage.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes, We Could, and Now . . .

As an American, I could not be prouder of our presidential choice yesterday. We will have, in the Oval Office, the first African-American president, a man of great intelligence, who proved himself steady and strong during the campaign, a friend of the middle-class and of diversity, someone who will change for the better the place of the United States on the world stage. The negativity and fear-mongering of the Republican party did not work this time around, at least not at the presidential level. It is a new day.

As a gay person, yesterday's election also proved how far we have to go. As a gay person, I remain, today, a second-class citizen. Anti-gay marriage amendments passed in Arizona and Florida. A gay adoption ban passed in Arkansas. Gay families are not valued, and they should be. Proposition 8 in California is still too close to call, but it appears that it too will pass, stripping away the right of gay people to marry in California, writing discrimination into the state constitution, a new and terrible precedent. (An "L.A. Times" article on the results of Prop 8 and where it might go from here.) These amendments and propositions demonstrate the danger of handing civil rights over to the whims of the majority, a majority who thinks in terms of us and them, instead of us. They demonstrate a fear of gay people and gay families that has everything to do with arrogance and homophobia and little to do with reality. And now some gay people are channeling this fear back, scapegoating black people for voting against us in California (something that needs to be acknowledged and viewed in historical context) because they're an easy target. The power behind hateful anti-gay amendments is overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly religious, but there is plenty of blame to go around. Heterosexuals who take their privilege for granted deserve blame. Gay complacency is at fault, as is the closet. But blame won't create change. Taking stock and moving forward, strategically fighting for the human rights we deserve will, in time.

Time will be on our side. History will be on our side. Equal marriage rights will be the reality one day across this country because people will gradually understand that equal rights for gay people, for all people, does not threaten anyone else. Equal rights will not make the sky fall. (If that were the case, the sky would have already landed on Canada and European countries with full marriage equality.) While Barack Obama cannot wave a magic wand to bring about equality (as a supporter of gay rights but an opponent of equal marriage, he, like many others, has room to evolve), but he can set a different tone, a tone of unity instead of division. By acknowledging gay people in his acceptance speech last night, he began this process. There are reasons for all of us to be hopeful.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fired Up, Ready to Go!

I love this clip from Obama's last big rally in Virginia before the election. It's great to see him so relaxed and confident, so down-to-earth and comfortable in his own skin, sharing a human story, showing how something large can grow from the smallest of moments. Fired up, ready to go!

History in the Making

Like millions of other Americans, I went to my polling place this morning. A beautiful, uncharacteristically warm late autumn day. No lines at the town gymnasium, a perk of living in small-town Vermont. Our ballots are of the fill-in-the-circle (completely!) variety, and I checked mine several times to make sure I'd filled in the correct circle for President. As we were leaving, we picked up an "I Voted" sticker, which also said, "Early Ballot." When we told one of the elderly poll volunteers that our sticker wasn't quite accurate, since we weren't voting early, she said, "It's still early in the day!" It is that.

Since I was first eligible to vote in 1980, I have voted for exactly one winning president: Bill Clinton. After the close-but-no-cigar (or win-but-still-no-cigar as the case may be) elections of 2000 and 2004, I, like many people, despite what all the polls are saying, will not be popping the champagne cork until the win has been confirmed. But, at the end of this long election process, it really does seem that historic change is in the air. I hope that everyone who tries to vote today will not be disenfranchised by long lines or artificial hassles. I hope that everyone's vote will count. I hope that tomorrow will be a new day for my country, because we need one.

As endless as the campaign season has seemed, it will be sad in some ways to have it over. The level of engagement, as ugly as some of it has been, was inspiring. If that level of engagement carries over to the work ahead of us, maybe change really can happen. But the election's not over until every ballot has been counted. It will be an exciting day and evening ahead.

Monday, November 3, 2008

RIP, Yma Sumac

I think it can be safely said that Yma Sumac had a unique voice that will not be easily duplicated.

NO on 8 ~ Here's Why

Perhaps the most effective NO on 8 ad I've seen thus far. What the supporters of Proposition 8 want to do is barge into the lives of gay and lesbian families and arrogantly snatch away their rights. Proposition 8 will write discrimination into the California constitution and will set a terrible and mean-spirited precedent.

Earlier this year, gay and lesbian couples were celebrating the fair-minded California decision.

Tomorrow, Proposition 8 could take that away. YES on 8 has been funded by bigotry and fueled by lies. Churches (not all, it should be noted), particularly the Mormon Church, have poured millions of dollars into depriving gay people of the rights straight people take for granted.

Excellent comprehensive coverage of Proposition 8 can be found on Towleroad .

Say YES to equality, say NO to Proposition 8.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

'Roid Week 2008

One of my favorite things on Flickr is the annual 'Roid Week during which Flickr members with access to Polaroid cameras and film share their shots. Since Polaroid has announced it will stop making film, 'Roid Week has become more precious and nostalgic. The pictures themselves have become more precious, as well, at least to the photographer, because the film--what's left of it--doesn't come cheap, and it's unlikely to get cheaper as supplies dwindle. Each shot I took recently cost $1.50, which makes failed shots sad indeed. But, for the moment, 'Roid Week lives on, and as long as the Flickr 'Roid groups and the Polaroids themselves last, so will the uniquely Roidian images from photographers all over the world. Check out this Flickr group with self-portraits captioned with pleas to keep the film alive and testaments to the importance of Polaroid in many photographers' lives. This group is connected to the Save Polaroid website. To see some great Polaroids, check out the 2008 'Roid Week pool. My humble contributions to the pool are below. Unlike the true masters, I'm not sure I've ever taken the perfect Polaroid, but as long as I still have access to the film, I'll keep trying.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Idiots of the Week: Morning Joe Co-hosts

There are too many idiots to choose from these days, but I was struck by a video featured on Huffington Post in which "Morning Joe" co-host Willie Geist hangs around the Upper West Side wearing a McCain/Palin T-shirt. Not too surprisingly, he doesn't find many other McCain supporters in his neighborhood, but, while many passersby make their election preference clear, I didn't hear anything that could be construed as hate speech. When Geist and his cohorts discussed the video afterwards, however, they found it "troubling," the people in it "so close-minded," an example of the "really hostile people on the left." I guess viewers were meant to be shocked by these offensive elitists who believe they're "intellectually superior" to real Americans.

Let's contrast this video with a video of McCain supporters in Pennsylvania. Which is more troubling? Which shows more close-mindedness? Where is the hostility really coming from? Those are questions for you, Willie, and the gang at "Morning Joe."

Their Last Desperate Trick?

So this is what it comes down to: Obama's aunt is an illegal alien on welfare who donated taxpayer money (a whopping $260, apparently) to fund her callous nephew's presidential dreams. This is what we're supposed to care about now. (The fact that it has no relevance to anyone but Obama's aunt, who has harmed no one, doesn't matter.)

Obama is a Muslim didn't quite stick.
Obama pals around with terrorists didn't quite stick.
Obama is not like us didn't quite stick.
Obama is un-American didn't quite stick.
Obama is a socialist didn't quite stick.
Obama is a communist didn't quite stick.
Obama's preacher is a radical black racist didn't quite stick.
Obama isn't a United States citizen didn't quite stick.
Obama wants to redistribute the wealth didn't quite stick.
Obama has shady friends in Chicago didn't quite stick.
Obama's wife, Michelle, isn't proud to be an American didn't quite stick.
Obama wants to meet recklessly with evil world leaders didn't quite stick.
Obama hates Israel and Jews didn't quite stick.

But, now, a few days before the election, "suddenly" there is a "surprise" revelation, one that will become, if the right wing is successful, the culminating focus of the campaign, the final smear to show why we should all be afraid of Barack Obama. (Or do they have another smear in waiting in case this one doesn't play as well as they'd hoped? Or will straightforward vote manipulation be the chestnut tactic of choice?) Their dream (not a new one) is that enough voters will be thrown off guard by this last-minute desperate distraction and will vote for the "safer" choice, John McCain. Never mind that McCain has proven himself increasingly erratic on the campaign trail and that his VP choice has been deemed wholly unqualified by even die-hard Republicans. I'd like to think that my fellow Americans are better and smarter than all this, but, after the last two presidential elections, is difficult to have faith in American voters. Which is why Obama supporters aren't yet popping champagne corks no matter what the polls say, aren't even buying champagne because perhaps the mere contemplation of victory could jinx everything. We've become rightfully suspicious, fearful of being cast, once again, as hopelessly naive Charlie Brown set to kick the football, only to have it pulled away, once again. 

If Obama wins on Tuesday, it will show that we are bigger than smear tactics. If McCain wins, he--and Sarah Palin, a heartbeat away--will show what a cynical, gullible, and fearful nation we've become.

So, go for it, Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin (who's taking pains, of course, to link this to 9/11--when in doubt, use code words) and the other rabid Obama haters. Give it your best try. We wouldn't expect anything less from you.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

Exorcizing Sarah Palin

I could be doing something worthwhile like revising a novel or baking a cake or surfing Internet pornography, but, no, I am dwelling on Sarah Palin. This must stop. Some people, particularly straight Republican men, can't get enough of Palin. (Rich Lowry on National Review Online said that she, in reference to Palin's debate performance, "sent little starbursts through the screen." Afterwards, Lowry probably needed to wipe down his couch cushions.) I've had quite enough of our own personal hockey mom, and yet there she is, as ubiquitous as Britney's nether regions a few months ago, but at least they couldn't--as far as I know--speak or, potentially, rule the country.

Palin talking continues to provide fabulous material for Tina Fey, but what is Palin herself actually saying? In a Sunday New York Times article about Palin being on the offensive (more about that in a moment), a Palin speech in Colorado is quoted: "'We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. If we can be that beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy and can live in a country that would allow intolerance in the equal rights that again our military men and women fight for and die for all of us.'" In what is turning out to be typical Palin-speak, the statement begins coherently enough and then scrambles into a jumbled talking point with rehearsed key words strung nonsensically together. Palin can make our current grammatically challenged president seem articulate by comparison. Imagine her in office for four or eight or more years and shudder.

In the debate, what she said was far less important than how she said it, wink wink. Her pseudo-folksy, pseudo-direct style is, depending on your point of view, either charming or flabbergasting, but Palin lovers and haters can agree that she is charismatic. And now, a few weeks away from the election, the McCain campaign is going to milk every ounce of that charisma in an effort to improve his free-falling odds to be the next president. (Even Karl Rove, trying out a curious reverse-polling political tactic, admitted over the weekend that if the election were held today McCain would lose.) Since McCain's Bush-like policies aren't flying with the American public, what's left is smear politics, and who better to deliver them than the lipsticked pit bull herself. And because the media--and we who love or hate her--can't seem to get enough Palin, you can betcha that every ugly, irresponsible thing she says will be headline news here and abroad.

The weekend headline was Palin accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists" and not seeing "America as you see it, and how I see America." What she's referring to is Obama's association with Bill Ayers, the former radical and current Distinguished Professor in Chicago. Obama hadn't yet hit puberty when Ayers and the Weathermen got in trouble, and his adult association with Professor Ayers (a free citizen, not a terrorist) doesn't go much beyond serving on education reform boards together. But in Sarah Palin's mind--or, rather, from Sarah Palin's mouth because she's undoubtedly being spoon fed her attack lines--this constitutes "palling around with terrorists." Next up, a return to the exhausted Rev. Wright association. (McCain's association with hateful extremist pastors is never mentioned by Palin and rarely by the media.) Ayers in not new news, or even news (A recent Times article about the connection dismissed any close ties), but guess what was topping the Yahoo! most-popular stories for much of the weekend. And the FEAR the Republican smear machine, led now by perky Ms. Starburst, wants to plant is really this: Obama is not one of us, he is other, he is a dark Muslim terrorist who wants to blow up your White (People's) House. Palin's statements are reprehensible and tinged with racism, and she should be apologizing for them, but Obama is unlikely to call for an apology because it will only give the attack dog more unwarranted publicity while the real issues escape out the window. But why aren't more people outraged by her hateful speech?

As Frank Rich pointed out in his Sunday Times opinion piece, though Palin has done nothing to give anyone confidence that she is prepared to be vice president let alone president, her post-debate manner demonstrates that she believes she is ready for and deserves the highest office. Rich says, "But there’s a steady unnerving undertone to Palin’s utterances, a consistent message of hubristic self-confidence and hyper-ambition. She wants to be president, she thinks she can be president, she thinks she will be president. And perhaps soon. She often sounds like someone who sees herself as half-a-heartbeat away from the presidency. Or who is seen that way by her own camp, the hard-right G.O.P. base that never liked McCain anyway and views him as, at best, a White House place holder." As McCain becomes the pathetic sideshow in his own campaign, Palin doesn't budge from center stage. She is the distraction that won't go away.

Ultimately, Palin's rambling incoherence and vicious personality (the real one under all the winks and darn right Joe Six-Pack rhetoric) might yet get the best of her. People in glass houses should think twice before throwing stones. Given the dubious political and religious company she and the first dude have kept, not to mention that pesky abuse-of-power investigation (funny how she thinks the VP needs more power) back in Alaska, her glass house could shatter quicker than the economy, the only thing voters supposedly care about. Meanwhile, the media will continue to broadcast her smears, because smears attract readers and ratings. They'll falsely equate Palin's fear-mongering with the Obama campaign's legitimate reminder today of John McCain's real and relevant connection to the Keating Five scandal. Obama needs to fight back cleanly and swiftly lest he get Swiftboated. As Palin herself said, the gloves are off.

If the McCain campaign goes down in flames, as it should, then McCain can go in search of the shreds of his maverick integrity and Palin can--one hopes--eventually become a quaint memory, the small-minded governor of that big state, a political footnote like that yapping chihuahua (with no offense to the breed) of a politician who once captivated the media, Ross Perot. Or that really hilarious character Tina Fey played, briefly and perfectly, way back when. We'll say, "Remember her? Can you believe she was almost a heartbeat away?" And we'll think what a surreal time that was, the real thing so dangerously close to the parody. The alternative is equally surreal, but a lot less hilarious.

Exorcism complete, or so I hope.

Revisiting Toni Childs

I've been putting some old, nearly forgotten CDs on my iPod lately, among them Toni Childs's "House of Hope" from the early 90s. When one of those songs played in shuffle while I was housecleaning (the only way I can force myself to houseclean is by cranking the tunes), it stopped me in my sweeping and took me back to the emotional place that album used to occupy. Generally, I don't listen to music with the same intensity as I did once upon a time. Perhaps that intensity gets lost along with youth, or perhaps it's more difficult to find music that speaks to the longings of middle age. "House of Hope" spoke deeply to me in the early 90s. The combination of Toni's unmistakable, powerfully yearning voice (she has one of those big love-it or hate-it voices you can identify in one note) and unabashedly emotional lyrics hit me in the spine. It was a lights out, listen alone album. As much as I've changed in the past seventeen years, the songs on "House of Hope" (the title track you may remember from "Thelma & Louise") sound as rawly beautiful to me now as they did then. And I recalled the album dedication to "people who are growing, to people who are just getting by, and to people who are hanging on for dear life." Oh, how uncool and melodramatic, yet, listening to her, I believed she meant it and saw her as a kindred spirit with a fragile ability to cope with life's hurts. 

Since I hadn't heard about her in years, I did a bit of googling and discovered Toni is alive and well, after a long period of unwellness. Her MySpace page features new music (her first album in many years) and videos from recent appearances on Australian TV. On her website, she discusses each of her albums. She said neither her record company nor American reviewers particularly liked "House of Hope," but many people wrote to her about it, telling how the songs helped heal and even save their lives. Eve Ensler, writer of "The Vagina Monologues," was one of the people moved by the album, and Toni contributed "Because You're Beautiful" to Ensler's documentary "Until the Violence Stops." About the new album, Toni says, "I am so pleased and excited about getting another opportunity to make a record I love after all these years." Welcome back, Keep the Faith.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

Suddenly, Last Summer

It's officially the first day of autumn, which puts an official end to my summer hiatus. American Idol is but a distant dream, until the new season starts up. There's apparently some kind of election coming up? Meanwhile, YouTube videos come but mostly they go, replaced by "We're sorry, this video is no longer available." Some blog housecleaning is in order.

The end of summer made me think of the phrase Suddenly, Last Summer, which brought to mind Montgomery Clift, who starred in the strange movie based on the Tennessee Williams play, which brought to mind another Clift movie, the one that inspired my nickname here and on Flickr. Which led to YouTube and finding my favorite scene from the movie: Tell mama, tell mama all. It seemed an appropriate way to start another blog season, a bit of timeless beauty (it doesn't get more beautiful than Liz and Monty circa 1950) amid the political ugliness of these current days.

Suddenly, Last Summer also made me think of The Motels, my favorite pop noir band of the 80s. Their ode to lost summer romance holds up pretty well as a song, though the video for it fares less well. A recent interview with Martha Davis, the band's sultry-voiced singer, confirms that she's still making music. My favorite Motels song is Total Control, so I found an old live version of it and a version from just last year. The old version has Martha holding a lit cigarette (how times have changed!) that made me fear for her fingers. The performance is rather affected, unnecessary melodrama accessorizing the naturally haunting voice. The recent version is pared down by comparison, smoke-free, and lovely. It's always interesting to see how musicians handle the youthful material that made their names. Some try to turn back time, as if the world and their fame has stood still. Others, like Marianne Faithfull, use the passage of time to bring new meaning to a song. (I think of her singing As Tears Go By as a pretty young waif and, years later, as a world-weary, rough-voiced reincarnation of her former self.) Few artists are as smartly self-conscious as Marianne Faithfull, but Martha holds her own, then and now.

Suddenly, last summer. Time passes, out of our control. Welcome to autumn.