Monday, March 31, 2008

Sordid Lives Lives On!

Towleroad alerted me to this new trailer for Sordid Lives, the series, coming soon to LOGO. The series is based on the 1996 play by Del Shores and on the 2000 film. A while ago I posted a brilliant Tammy Wynette-Leslie Jordon Remix. but, insanely, I'd never actually seen the whole film until this past weekend.

If you haven't seen Sordid Lives, you've definitely missed something. It is a camp classic, and, like most camp classics, some moments are more inspired than others (the film lapses into coming-out earnestness on occasion, when black comedy is clearly its forte), but the most inspired moments are uniquely hilarious, demanding repeated viewings to begin memorizing dialog snippets. Much of the cast, excluding Delta Burke, alas, will be back for the series. If you rent the DVD, don't miss the tuna noodle casserole extra. I was laughing so hard I'm almost passed out.

In addition to getting heaps of Tammy Wynette (the series will have Tammy's daughter playing Tammy!) channeled through Leslie Jordan, you also get Olivia Newton-John playing the barroom songstress, Bitsy Mae Harling. Olivia was one of my early divas. I latched onto her in the pre-movie-star countryish days, before Grease became one of the cultural benchmarks of my high school years. "Hopelessly Devoted" and "Xanadu" are still great pop confections, but, after "Physical" (camp, but not in a good way), I must say I lost interest in Olivia. Hearing her sing again in Sordid Lives, freed to be rough around the edges (in look and sound), my diva admiration was renewed. If someone paired her up with an edgy producer, she could make a fabulous country-folksy-blues album. Just a thought, Olivia. Meanwhile, here's a compilation of film moments to encourage a DVD rental.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Idiot of the Week #7 ~ Elizabeth Hasselbeck

Somehow Elizabeth Hasselbeck manages to compare Jeremiah Wright's occasionally fiery orations from the pulpit to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before moving on to people. Even before she went there (and nobody could figure out where there was, including Elizabeth herself) four minutes into the segment, she criticized Obama for not distancing himself more from Pastor Wright, while pretending that Republicans like John McCain don't cozy-up to preachers with less than mainstream views. Apparently she wasn't paying attention when McCain recently embraced the likes of John Hagee and Rod Parsley (Hey, Elizabeth, here's their words of wisdom), two wingnuts who make a lot less sense than Jeremiah Wright, yet McCain remains "proud" to have their support.

Later on in that episode of The View, perkily dim Elizabeth mimicked the Fox & Friends idiots, who can't wrap their simple minds around what Obama meant when he used the innocuous phrase "typical white person." Elizabeth thinks that she does not see race. (She also thinks she wouldn't be intimidated running into a gathering of black boys on a city sidewalk, yeah, right.) She doesn't comprehend that, whatever one thinks of Wright's more inflammatory statements, there is a big difference between black "racism" (i.e. anger) in the face of centuries of oppression and white racism in the face of centuries of oppressing. (Joy Behar tries, unsuccessfully, to illuminate the distinction.) Of course black people, like white people, can be guilty of misplaced racial anger and hatred. There are black wingnuts just as there are white wingnuts. But to focus on Wright's and, by association, Obama's alleged racism is to ignore true racism, the dark elephant in the room that Obama eloquently and honestly took on. Elizabeth and her ilk think they are "opening" up the discussion by throwing back accusations, when actually they're closing it down because they can't tolerate a "typical black person's" unfamiliar anger at them. So instead of thinking about where that anger might come from, they, like Barbara Bush, who didn't want to waste her beautiful mind thinking about the ugly consequences of war, prefer to keep their beautiful minds in a beautiful white placeThe issue of race becomes about us, the beautiful white people, not them, those loud, pissed-off black folks.

Meanwhile, keep a close watch on Obama's lunch. It may contain white bread, and who knows where that could lead?

Friday, March 28, 2008

My Gayest Look

On Thursday, March 20, 2008, Jay Leno welcomed as his guest on The Tonight Show the actor Ryan Phillippe, who, early in his career, played a gay character on the daily soap One Life to Live. During the interview, Leno hounded Phillippe, telling him to look into the camera, pretend it was his "gay lover…Billy Bob," who "has just ridden in shirtless from Wyoming" (still milking the Brokeback jokes), and give it his "gayest look."

The above was the inspiration for My Gayest Look, a website created by Jeff Whitty and Melissa McEwan and devoted to giving Jay Leno what he asked for. Ryan Phillippe may have been reluctant to offer his gayest look, but after watching the uncomfortable interview, more and more of us real gay folks were happy to practice our gayest looks in the mirror and then before the camera. (I'm not sure that I've perfected my gayest look ever, but the attempt is there, among the gay masses, along with Kevin's--his with an inspired touch of Crime & Punishment.) I sincerely hope Jay Leno's heart will be warmed by this big gay tribute.

Compare Jay's interview of Ryan with Ellen's; I can't imagine why Ryan seemed happier to be on her show:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Idol Aftermath

Not only did Kristy Lee not get voted off, she didn't even land in the Bottom 3. Which goes to show that cheese works, just make sure it's pseudo-patriotic cheese. Expect in-trouble contestants to start scouring the songbooks for titles that feature some combination of the words God Bless America. Maybe KL will try the national anthem next week while draped in the American flag? If she'd been eliminated my faith in the American people would have been restored. But she wasn't. If John McCain follows AI, he should take heart.

The other notable feature of last night's elimination show was David A's continuing insistence that he really really really picked that ghastly, I mean amazing, song. (See video below.) In fact, it's really really really one of his all-time favorite songs. (i.e. Dad had nothing nothing nothing to do with it! Simon smiled opaquely while altar boy Ryan attempted to clean up the controversy.) Who knows what the real truth is, but contrary to David's assertions, he did not look like he was having fun performing it. (Whenever a contestant says they were having fun, it means the opposite.) And if he really did choose it, then his taste barometer is highly suspect, and he'd better start getting some outside advice on song-choices, preferably not from close relatives. He's coasting on cuteness now, but, as Jason discovered when he landed in the Bottom 3 last night, cuteness has a way of turning on you.

Farewell, Chikezie. His elimination was not a surprise, but it was wrong. He was one of the class acts.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

American Idol's on Acid!

The night started out normally enough, then just got wackier and wackier until I literally slapped myself to make sure I wasn't tripping. Craziest AI ever.

The show started with relative normality: Ramiele had been encouraged to kick it up a notch and show off that "big old voice" coming from that wee little package. So she did, taking on one of the biggest, Ann Wilson. And she did ok (even if the voice went "bye bye" during rehearsals), certainly better than other weeks. But cranky Randy was all over the pitchiness; he was the pitch-bitch the whole night. (My pitch-queen boyfriend had more problems with Syesha's pitch, but Randy let her off the hook, hmmm. Maybe he doesn't like tiny girls?) Then came Jason, who brought his usual laid-back stoner touch to Sting's "Fragile." (The stoner charm is wearing thin on everyone despite those special frosty eyes.) Even relatively tone-deaf me recognized some pitchiness with Syesha, but, like Mary J. Blige, who's not immune to the dreaded pitchiness problem, what she lacks in precision she can--when she's on--make up for in passion. Syesha was semi-on last night. Chikezie went old-school, skipping any hoedown and harmonica eccentricities after getting nailed for them last week. Then he got criticized for playing it safe and cheesy (according to Simon). Cheesy Chikezie; alas, he may be in trouble tonight. Brooke, thank god, ditched the sunshine outfit and dressed like she was going to a funeral. Funereal becomes her; somehow she still looks sunny even all in black and with flattened hair. Her beginning blunder was charming, and she held her own with "Every Breath You Take," though she didn't quite pull off the magic she's capable of.

Then the evening started to get good and weird. Michael amped up the energy and sex appeal (see below), and Carly took on Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart." I have always adored this song beyond all reason and am convinced that anyone who says they don't like it is lying. One lonely 80s evening, I remember smoking a little something and watching the original door-bursting, wind-blowing, gown-flowing awesomely over-the-top video and being certain it was the best thing I'd ever witnessed in my whole life. (And when the smoke cleared, it still seemed pretty fabulous. You don't need to be high to appreciate spooky bright-eyed flying children.) But I digress: Carly. She tried, really hard, and she looked terrified. (What I would have given to hear Amanda do Bonnie Tyler!) Then pitch-bitch Randy rags on her and Simon rags on her and tells her to lighten up, and you can see the color draining from Carly's face. (Inside she's probably screaming: I was in the Bottom 3 last week, you arse! I am not going to lighten up! I want this more than life itself, and you're ruining it.) I honestly feared she might vomit on stage, and if she's in the Bottom 3 tonight (which she may well be), I think I'll have to cover my eyes.

Carly set the stage for the true weirdness ahead: David A. and Kristy Lee. David picked perhaps the worst song EVER in the history of the show. Watching him perform was one big WTF???? And somehow he looked even younger than ever, about 6. Truly excruciating. Then came the judging. "Strange song choice," said Randy, before adding that David could sing "whatever" and it would be fine. Ahhh, so with precious David, song choice is irrelevant. WTF???? Paula was equally mystified but said David could sing the phone book. You're judges, not babysitters; what's with the kid gloves? Only Simon hit the nail on the head: theme park, ghastly, etc. Then he made the most interesting comment of the night: "I don't think that is you at all, and I'd be amazed if you chose the song yourself." Ouch! David's Daddy must have felt that stab wound. Of course with the rumors of David's Dad being the stage-parent from hell flowing, Simon's dig was less than subtle. Watching the John Farnham original, it's hard to imagine a 17 year-old in his right mind picking this song. And seeing David performing it was like watching a cult member perform for his brainwasher. He looked like a scared puppy having an out-of-body experience. Simon's remark makes me wonder what's going down off-stage re: David and Daddy, but, unless David is a lot crazier (re: song choice) than he looks, Daddy needs to be booted asap or David will be. Intervention anyone?

Finally, the icing on the weirdness cake: Kristy Lee. After we got distracted by hunky, shirtless Daddy holding a baby Kristy Lee, the performance got underway. "God Bless the USA." No, no, no, she's not really going to sing this, is she? Yes, she is. Demented, and completely brilliant. After suffering week after week in the Bottom 3, Kristy took matters into her own hands and played the patriotism card! She gave it her pitchy, twangy all, and it was as cringingly horrible as one might expect. And--clever, clever Kristy Lee--the judges couldn't touch it: Great song choice, very nice. Very poignant and respectful song. Your best performance by a mile. (A little pitchy, but patriotism trumps pitch every time.) "The most clever song choice I have heard in years," Simon said, and on that score he was right. But instead of stopping there, Simon went on to say that Lee Greenwood was brilliant, the song was brilliant. That's when I was sure either they were on acid or I was. Simon, who called Chikezie cheesy earlier, finds a song that oozes cheesiness brilliant? (And he's not even American, for chrissake!) So, vote for Kristy Lee and love that song, because if you don't, you are not patriotic and the terrorists will win!

Because I can't resist, some of the original inspirations behind the acid-edition of AI (as if the Beatles could begin to compare):

Favorite Idol Performance #11 ~ Michael Johns

Okay, David Cook sort of stole Michael's thunder later on, when he did the Chris Cornell version of "Billy Jean" and got heaped with praise about his boldness. But it's not like he came up with the dramatic overhaul of the song, even if the rapturous response made it seem so (and even though Ryan clarified whom he was covering in the intro). Cook is smart and he's got the voice, but Michael deserves to have a night, and this was it.

When in doubt, do Queen, Michael. You can almost feel Freddie coaxing him on from the grave, perhaps noting Michael's shagability. Michael's vocals stumbled slightly in the middle, but otherwise he was hot, hot, hot. Try that, you little boys, Jason and David A. (David C. can't really pull off the hot thing till he loses the pre-Trump sweep-over do.) In fact, Michael seems too old to be faced with the indignity of competing with teen dreams. I always feel a bit sorry for him, like he's the 6 foot tall, razor-stubbled 5th grader who's been held back and really belongs in high school. Obviously, it was his choice to compete, but I'd like to see him charismatically sweating out the songs somewhere more appropriate, say, a strip club! I mean, a rock arena. You were the champion, Michael (did I mention, hot?), even if that song gives me nightmarish flashbacks to high school sporting events. Keep pulling off your clothes, I mean, out the stops. It's all about the vocals. It's all about the vocals.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Last Night's Dinner ~ Pesto Pizza with Shrimp

I used to make pizzas from scratch regularly, then I got out of the habit and couldn't remember which dough recipe I used, then I tried a dough recipe with yeast that didn't quite fizz (I know the feeling, but, come on, yeast, that's your only purpose in life!), then I attempted the fist-stretching method of shaping dough, like the pizzeria guys do effortlessly, only to wind up with a 36" pizza with an 18" hole in the middle and the crust somewhere down around my knees . . . that's the trouble with dough, when you treat it badly, it gets all vengeful and unforgiving.

Then I asked for a pizza stone two Christmases ago, and my boyfriend gave me a pizza peel to go with it, and I was feeling guilty for warmly welcoming them into my home, only to hide them away in dark drawers. Time to be brave and try, try again.

For the dough recipe, I turned to Evan Kleiman's dependable Cucina Del Mare: Fish and Seafood Italian Style. (We have a lot of cookbooks, but we've probably used this one more than most any other. If you like seafood, simplicity, and Italian food, it's a must.) Her pizza dough recipe makes enough for four 8-inch pizzas, but we used it for two 12-inch-ish pizzas, freezing one ball with good results. Evan's recipe can also be found on the Fine Cooking website. We used some whole wheat flour instead of all white, but otherwise followed the instructions. Patty-cake hands and a rolling pin proved a more foolproof shaping method than my spastic fist twirling.

A pizza stone and pizza peel really do work wonders, just don't overshoot the hot stone when you're ready to peel. I did, but fortunately we managed to coax it back on the stone without burning the skin off our palms or losing the dough down in the stove burners. As for toppings, the less is more rule generally applies. For the first pizza we used a bit of tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, and some sautéed halved baby artichokes. For the second one, we went with one of Evan's suggested combinations (pictured above): basil pesto, sliced garlic, a few onion slices, a bunch of halved shrimp, pine nuts and a touch of parmesan. Cook at 500 for 8-10 minutes. Damned good. One fear overcome, many to go . . .

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Bunny Dementia

Now that Easter is over, where do all the demented Easter bunnies go until their services are again required?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Idiot(s) of the Week # 6 ~ FOX & Friends

It's no secret that FOX news is chock full of idiots, but this week's prize goes to the reptilian Steve Doocy and the stunningly bimboesque Gretchen Carlson. (Looking at Carlson's bio, I learned she was "the first classical violinist to be crowned Miss America." If only she'd stuck to the violin instead of attempting lucid debate.) So, after Barack Obama gave his eloquent and honest speech on race in the aftermath of the Pastor Wright controversy, what did FOX & Friends choose to focus on? Obama's reference to his grandmother as "a typical white person." "It's a huge problem!" Gretchen screams, before later saying, hilariously, that she's trying to talk about race "deep down."

Somehow "typical white person" was construed as "making a gross generalization about a whole group of society." Never mind that Obama's intention was merely to point out that, like most people, his grandmother was a product of her times, and her viewpoints reflected that. It was in no way white-bashing (he is white, after all, as well as black) or an attempt to evade Pastor Wright's words. (His message being that, like his grandmother, Pastor Wright was a product of his times.) But, instead of discussing the substance of his speech, they talked about how offensive these three words were to the poor white people. (The general drift being that all those angry black people in their weird, angry black churches are the true racists.) Only Brian Kilmeade brought some measure of intelligence to the proceedings; at least he was able to actually interpret Obama's unambiguous words, though his attempts to explain them to his numb-skulled colleagues were unsuccessful.

I didn't have the joy of watching the entire morning of deep discussion at FOX & Friends, but Chris Wallace saw enough of it to take the idiots publicly to task for their "two hours of Obama bashing." You know that a high level of idiocy must be achieved before a FOX anchor slaps his own for deliberate distortions. Expect more and more distortions and typical (to repeat that offensive word) bias from FOX as the November election approaches. At the end of his scolding, Wallace correctly points out that it is the media who likes to deflect from the real issues at hand, not Obama. While FOX & Friends were debating Obama's grandma ad nauseam, Obama had gone on to make major policy speeches on Iraq and the economy which, not surprisingly, were barely covered at all. And FOX isn't the only network to blame. Whenever a candidate tries to say something of substance, the media finds something insubstantial to dwell on so the election becomes an empty horse race, or in the case of FOX news, an unsubtle propaganda campaign aimed towards scaring the electorate into voting for the candidate of FOX's choice.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rock On, Amanda

Amanda got the ax. It was inevitable, but she should have lasted a couple of more weeks. The legitimate criticism of Amanda is that she was a one-trick pony. But as a performer, she was easily better than both Kristy Lee and Ramiele. So what did they have that Amanda didn't have? Kristy Lee and Ramiele are smiley, perky, and cute. Amanda was none of the above. She wasn't viewer-friendly. But she went out with a bang. No tears or pleas of, "I can't sing now!" from Amanda. She was my sentimental favorite because she seemed completely lacking in sentimentality. Rock on, Amanda. I hope you sell out that bar in Lafayette.

The biggest surprise of the night: Carly in the Bottom 3. I didn't see that one coming, and I'm guessing she didn't either. Technically, she's the best female singer of the competition. If she gets voted off before Kristy Lee or Ramiele, it won't be because of the singing (see smiley, perky, and cute above).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A More Perfect Union ~ The Full Speech

As important as Season 7 of American Idol is to the history of mankind, there was another notable performance yesterday, this one rather longer than one and a half minutes and by Barack Obama. There are two camps this primary season among Democrats: those who strongly prefer one candidate over the other and those who don't. I fall into the second category. I would be quite content to have either or both candidates in the White House. Given the alternative--another 4 years of Republican rule--I don't understand the Hillary-hating or the Obama-hating among people who don't support John McCain. Granted, neither Hillary nor Obama are perfect candidates, but who is, particularly in an era when the major sport is seeking out candidates' gaffes (and usually trivial ones) that will, supposedly, doom their campaigns. I listened to Obama's entire speech before I read any comments about it.

As a speech, I found it inspired and inspiring. Rather than shying away from the Pastor Wright controversy, he not only took it on but took it as an opportunity to discuss race in America, something that rarely happens, at least with any substance. It was a slick speech but also a meaningful one. He spoke about a complex issue with intelligence, subtlety, and grace. For those willing to listen with an open-mind for more than thirty seconds, it was important. Then I read some comments, and the two camps remain. Among zealous Obama supporters, the speech proved his worth. Among zealous Hillary supporters, the speech proved he's full of eloquent, empty words. The rest of us either gained or lost a little respect for the man, depending on one's response to what he said.

Politics aside (as if!), I was happy to hear a candidate talk for thirty-some minutes about something that matters and show that words, in fact, do matter. I'm sure it will be back to the horse-race mentality soon enough--if it isn't already--but it doesn't always have to be that way.

Favorite Idol Performance #10 ~ Syesha Mercado

It was a night for reversal of fortunes on American Idol. Those who shined last week tended not to repeat their success, and a couple of people who faltered last week redeemed themselves for the moment. Frankly, I hope it's the last Beatles night for a good, long while. The bad performances definitely outnumbered the good last night.

Amanda was first, and I still love Amanda. She seems to be the one person who's genuinely having a fine old time on stage. If she's the realist I'm guessing she is, she's not deluding herself into believing she's going to win, so she's using the opportunity to sing what she damn well pleases (within the narrow constraints of the show, of course). When Simon rightly criticized her for being the same week after week, she said she used her minute and a half to show people what to expect if they came to the Amanda show. She wanted them to think, "Hey, that chick looks like fun, I wanna go see that chick." When Simon pointed out that her tickets weren't on sale quite yet, she responded, "Even if I need to sell out a local bar in Lafayette, that's all I'm sayin'." I'd love to see Amanda pull off a surprise, but I'd rather she stick to her guns and be predictable than make some misguided effort to show a range she may not have. There are worse things than being a kick-ass bar singer.

David A. pulled himself back together and back into the boy-to-beat spot. David C. remained solid even if the performance lacked the brilliance of his Lionel Richie remake. (Sometimes worse songs bring out better performances.) Michael, aside from his perfect "Bohemian Rhapsody" moment during Hollywood week, always seems a little off to me, more so last night. (Picking songs that are sentimentally important to you is usually a big mistake.) He's still the #1 hunk, however, even if the teen-aged girls squeal over Jason, whose performance of "Michelle" was nailed by Paula when she said it crossed over into awkward polka territory. Only Jason is endearingly cute and goofy enough to almost pull off polka. Chikezie aimed to pull off another out-there interpretation after his success last week, but, like most self-conscious attempts to replicate uniqueness, it went horribly awry. If only he'd left the harmonica in a drawer and used his ace falsetto the whole song through.

Brooke proved that, though she looks the part, sunshine does not become her. Sunny people are meant to sing sad songs. And then when she kept repeating, "It's okay, it's okay," when the judges slammed her, she started to appear both sunny and unhinged. I don't know why Simon was so on Carly's case about song choice. I thought it was good. I thought she was good. But, unlike Amanda, Carly believes she can win this (she does have a better shot), and her desperation to please comes off as the annoying smart girl in the front row of class with her too-eager hand perpetually up and ready. The teacher's pet who pretends she never gets a chance to speak in class. Ramiele always seems like she should be better than she is. It's a good thing she's tiny and cute, because otherwise she'd be toast. Kristy Lee knows she's running on fumes, and this knowledge seems to have relaxed her. She may not be giving good performances, but, compared to Carly, for instance, she comes across as delightfully aware of her own shortcomings and genuinely grateful to be on stage at all.

Which leaves us with Syesha, the contestant who's most disappointed me the past few weeks. Apparently, she thrives under adversity. When she lost her voice during Hollywood week, she somehow rose above it and gave a dynamite performance. Likewise, last night--after landing in the shameful Bottom 3 last week, she took that negative and turned it into an exquisitely tender and vulnerable performance, wowing by pulling in rather than pulling out all the stops. She's perhaps the most inconsistent performer left, but when she's on, she's on.

When the night was over, the ones who thrived did so by not pandering to the judges and by paying attention to their performances instead of to the screaming sign-holders in the audience. Sadly, showing how grateful you are to be loved is a good way to make people stop loving you.

My pick for this week's Bottom 3: Kristy Lee, Chikezie, and Ramiele, who will end up safe.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Truly, Madly, Deeply ~ Anthony Minghella

In honor of Anthony Minghella, director of some fine films, including an early gem from 1990, "Truly, Madly, Deeply." RIP.

Last Night's Dinner ~ Fantastic Fish Pie

Since a disproportionate amount of my life is spent poring over recipes online and in cookbooks, I figure I should share my finds to help allay my guilt over wasting oodles of time figuring out what's for dinner. But, when it comes down to it, what's for dinner is often (pathetically, perhaps) the highlight of my day. Last night's dinner was Fantastic Fish Pie, A Jamie Oliver recipe courtesy of the Food Network. He describes it as "a cracking recipe, a homely hearty thing, tacky but tasty" and recommends serving it with peas or greens, baked beans and ketchup. We skipped the baked beans, but went for the peas and ketchup. If it wasn't pure Irish--for St. Patrick's Day--it was at least a wee bit Irish for those of us inclined to pass on the green beer and corned-beef and cabbage. When he's on TV, Jamie's ebullience wears me out a bit, but I find his recipes dependably simple and satisfying; this is pure winter comfort food.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Power of Fake Memoirs

Another week, another fake memoir.

It's a trend that just won't die, much to the chagrin, no doubt, of publications like The New York Times, who repeatedly fall prey to these overripe and under-fact-checked tales of woe. In yesterday's Sunday Times, the Public Editor alerted readers not already in the know to the Margaret B. Jones scandal. Ms. Jones, who is really Ms. Seltzer, penned a memoir called "Love and Consequences," which, as it turns out, should have been titled, "Lies and Consequences." The "memoir" was about a mixed-race girl growing up in foster care with an African-American family, getting involved in gangs and running drugs, losing her foster brothers to gang violence, and so on.

Aside from the possibility that the author may have met a gang member or two, apparently none of it is true. After a glowing review of the memoir in the Times by Michiko Kakutani and a long profile of the author's current life (giant sales-boosters both), the fictions of the tale were brought to light by Ms. Seltzer's actual sister, causing major embarrassment for the book's publisher, Riverhead Books, the book's editor, Sarah McGrath (who, complicating things further, is the daughter of Charles McGrath, a Times writer-at-large), Michiko Kakutani and The New York Times, not to mention Ms. Seltzer herself, who's been tearfully confessing since the exposé. A planned book tour has been canceled and all copies of the book have been recalled. Oops. At least she got caught before having to get bitch-slapped by Oprah.

Reading Kakutani's review in hindsight, along with the sappy author profile and an excerpt of the book itself, is an exercise in the absurd.

Take this eye-rolling praise from Kakutani's gullible review: What sets Ms. Jones’s humane and deeply affecting memoir apart is not just that it’s told from the point of view of a young girl coming of age in this world, but also that it focuses on the bonds of love and loyalty that can bind relatives and gang members together, and the craving after safety and escape that haunts so many lives in the ’hood. She goes on to say, Although some of the scenes she has recreated from her youth (which are told in colorful, streetwise argot) can feel self-consciously novelistic at times, Ms. Jones has done an amazing job of conjuring up her old neighborhood. Amazing, indeed!

The profile--with its details of homemade jam, weeping pit bull tattoos, buying a burial plot with drug money, and "Big Mom" (the fictional foster mother) soul food recipes bubbling away on the stove--is, once you know the score, equally amazing. The "brutal realities" of the book come across as slightly less than real when you read Chapter One (while the link lasts) with a knowing eye. You'd think publishers and newspapers would have learned their lessons and have thought to ask tougher questions after all the memoir mishaps, but such is not the case.

One question is, why wasn't this published as a novel to begin with? If it had been labeled a novel, there would have been no problem. There also might have been no attention. Because novels, in this "reality" age, simply don't have the allure of real-life otherness melodramas. Readers and reviewers, most of whom are far removed from these tales of abuse of one kind or another, want their walks on the wild side authentic, even if they're incapable of discerning the authentic from the manufactured. Would Kakutani have reviewed this as a novel? Likely not. Would it even have been published at a time when fiction risks obsolescence? Likely not. And what message does this send to people who are struggling to write a real memoir, truthfully, one perhaps lacking the requisite shock value we so eagerly lap up? Interestingly, several people responding to Ms. Seltzer's downfall on an online forum felt that, if the book was "entertaining" and a "good read," its truthfulness was irrelevant. A couple of people even called the whistle-blowing sister a "traitor," as if she were the bad apple in this saga.

The who-cares-if-it's-real-or-not question does bring up another question, what about the writing? After all, these glowing reviews of memoirs that turn out to be fictions often praise the prose itself. I can't remember how many reviews of James Frey's "memoir" described the writing as raw or harrowing or electrifying or some equally hyperbolic adjective. (Annoying was my first response.) Even when a memoir is revealed to be a partial or total fraud, the prose style is still the prose style. Fake or not, good writing should be good writing, right? Which may be the most embarrassing thing for the duped reviewers. Not only can they not recognize an authentic story, they can't recognize an authentic writer. Unless these authors are innocent scribes who've lost their way in the cutthroat publishing industry, true talents who were duped into playing the faux-memoir card because it sells? Perhaps they are the victims, after all? But scandal sells and debates about literary merit do not, so the focus is on the falling from grace rather than on any deeper literary implications.

Soon enough we can surely look forward to a raft of memoirs chronicling the harrowing real-life suffering of the post-memoirist. As a fiction writer, I'm considering marketing my in-progress novel as a memoir (a, shhhh, fake one) so that I can eventually bask in the attention that only comes from getting busted.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Idiot of the Week #5 ~ Sally Kern

Sally speaks for herself. Ten years ago her remarks probably would have been kept within her close circle of bigots. But those days are gone. Today, people are indeed listening, and when what they hear is full of ignorance, it will be broadcast and held up for ridicule. That's the beauty of YouTube, the beauty of having openly gay people like Ellen in powerful media positions. So now Sally doesn't have to apologize--and she shouldn't for, after all, she meant what she said--but her true colors are exposed for all the world to see.

If Sally hadn't been a shoo-in for Idiot of the Week, Elliot Spitzer would have been a strong candidate. Moving large sums of money around to pay for your hookers when you're a current governor and a former relentless prosecutor who's racked up any number of enemies over the years: Not Smart. The same personality traits that make men succeed in politics also seem to make them fail at keeping their dicks in their pants.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Favorite Idol Performance #9 ~ Chikezie

I thought Chikezie was going home last week, as did Chikezie, but the surprise of being kept on for another week seemed to give him super-human energy. The most entertaining and inspired performance of the night. But Randy: "Who knew you had the falsetto?" Dude, Dawg, where have you been? He's always had the falsetto. Sometimes I think Randy is the real Paula among the judges.

As for the rest, split down the middle:
Performances that should help the contestants, or at least keep them in the running: Amanda, Brooke, Carly, David C., Jason, Michael.
Performances that should hurt or doom the contestants: David A., David H., Kristy Lee, Ramiele, Syesha.

Amanda's still my favorite slurry, sloppy girl. She was born to sing the line, "You can't do that." Every week I fear she'll have another "Wayward Son" disaster, but so far she's pulled it off. Syesha's the biggest disappointment. Ramiele seemed enveloped in ennui, missing her gay sister, Danny. And Kristy Lee, dear Kristy Lee. Since Simon kind of went for the country thing, she figured country times ten--complete with shimmering cowgirl outfit--would really wow him! She even made the mistake of pleading for his approval in her interview. Bad, bad idea. She seems to have found her voice in the twang, but creativity paired with a desperate need for approval often ends in train wrecks. I'm still not loving Carly, maybe because she's so damned competent. And still liking sweet Brooke, even though I think I should hate her for her sincerity alone. She and Jason compensate for power limitations with subtleties that Paula gets best, go figure. (I think Simon's milking a Brooke crush.)

As for the boys, David C. continues to be the best David. David H. went into look-at-me-I'm-a-straight-sex-bomb mode with frightening results, forgetting the inner diva that was the one distinguishing thing about him besides his career at Dick's, which, shockingly enough, was left out of his bad-past-jobs interview. (Maybe it was a good job?) David A., what's happening? Out of his element with Lennon-McCartney, but in his element with "Imagine"? He's looking crushed by the pressure to be America's sweetheart. The boy to beat is suddenly the boy who looks beaten, the wunderkind wonderkid transformed back into a typical insecure teenager as if his fairy godmother decided to fly off on a bender, leaving poor David all alone. He'll either blossom next week, or buckle.

Most likely to be sent home: Kristy Lee or David H.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Life in the Snow Globe

Neighborhood scenes from the March 8th blizzard in Montréal, instilling great confidence that spring is just around the corner. We shook off the snow behind the purple doors in the bottom photo, our hibernation den.

Can I Get a Napkin Please?

The latest bit of brilliance from Improv Everywhere, "Food Court Musical." I have a complete and utter horror of food courts, but this almost makes me want to visit one and burst out into song.

"Be Yourself" (Just don't name it)

Just a couple of days ago, I was congratulating Danny for being openly gay on American Idol, before voters gave him the boot. I guess I was speaking too soon. In an interview posted on Yahoo! titled "'Idol' loser Danny Noriega stayed true to self," Danny talked about being himself and being really, really different, but when it came to the gay thing, he declined to directly address the subject of his sexuality in a conference call with reporters on Friday, saying it was a private matter. Oy vey!

Now, I'm not going to criticize an 18-year-old for being reluctant to say the 'G' word. (Lord knows I wasn't out at that age, much less in front of millions of people.) Maybe he's being pressured not to say it. Maybe he just didn't feel like going there with reporters after getting rejected by viewers. (There was no shortage of homophobic hate-speech on AI-related forums regarding Danny.) Maybe, like some kids his age, he's bored by labels. People assumed Danny was gay because, well, they have eyes and ears, and because of the little "I'm gay" rap at the end of the "Chain of Fools (Don't hate on my do-rag bitch)" YouTube video. (Copies of which seem to be evaporating.)

Officially, I guess Danny was never out. He was animated, to use one of AI's euphemisms. He was true to himself, Danny being Danny. Meanwhile, on various non-official blogs Danny's gayness was openly discussed and debated. Some people, not surprisingly, thought Danny was definitely gay, while others begged to differ. A sample argument from Yahoo! answers: Is Danny Noriega Gay? Be honest. I don't think he is. I think he's just in touch with his fenimen side and is being funny! Plus I have a bet with someone that he's not gay! All because his voice is high pitched doesn't mean he's gay...does it? Others claimed not to care one way or the other: omg i am so sick of this question WHO CARES!!!!!!! for god sake! does it really matter.

Does it really matter? No, it doesn't really matter if Danny is gay. He is what he is. The reason it came up--beyond the faggot rap--is because Danny was either unwilling or unable to pass as straight. This gets called "the stereotype" of a gay man, i.e. the effeminate queen. It may be a stereotype, but, like most stereotypes, kernels of truth lie within. Some gay people really don't have the option not to be out, and from all appearances Danny is one of them. (Rufus Wainwright is another. He may have chosen to be out from the start of his career, admirably so, but it's not like it was a true choice. He is out, he just is.) What's interesting is what the powers-that-be choose to do with what is right in front of them.

And, in 2008, they still dance hesitantly around it. I understand AI's (along with the entertainment shows that keep tabs on it) predicament. Outing a contestant who doesn't want to be outed would be uncool. Likewise, they're not gabbing about David Hernandez's gay stripper past on the air, even if Simon was apparently caught off-camera urging the other judges to say they "liked the way you stripped it down." But I suspect there's more to it than considerate discretion. In 2008, it's permissible to talk about someone being true to himself, animated, flamboyant, or different, but it's not permissible, officially, to say that someone is gay. To do so is still seen as a strike against them, personally and professionally. It's still an accusation. Is America ready for the first openly gay Idol? Probably not. And probably the American Idol producers aren't either.

So, I'm not hating on Danny's do-rag or his decisions about how out to be, I'm hating on a culture that keeps gayness hush-hush in the corporate sector even while gay-talk (and the accompanying homophobia) flows freely through the wild Internet frontier. I hope Danny doesn't retreat to some poorly constructed closet, because clearly that's not where he's meant to be. You can't shine in that dark space, sweetheart. But I also hope that one day the euphemisms will seem as silly and dated as Danny's do-rag.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

50 Gayest Songs of All Time?

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, compiled a list of the 50 Gayest Songs of All Time, as decided by those who voted on their website. Since it's Australia-based, the list goes heavy on Minogue, but it's hard to dispute the gayness of most of the entries. By my rough calculation, we own (in some form) just under half of the selections. Clearly, our music library is not quite fabulous enough. The song I most regret not owning: Olivia Netwon-John's “Xanadu”. Time to sign into iTunes.

50. Elton John and George Michael “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”

49. Dead or Alive “You Spin Me (Like A Record)”
48. Pet Shop Boys “New York City Boy”
47. Diana Ross “Chain Reaction”
46. Deborah Harry “I Want That Man”
45. Cher “Strong Enough”
44. RuPaul “Supermodel (You Better Work)”
43. KD Lang “Constant Craving”
42. Culture Club “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me”
41. Chaka Khan “I’m Every Woman”
40. Wham “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”
39. Paul Lekakis “Boom Boom (Let’s Go Back To My Room)
38. Kym Mazelle “Young Hearts Run Free”
37. George Michael “Outside”
36. Donna Summer “I Feel Love”
35. Dannii Minogue “This Is It”
34. Belinda Carlisle “Summer Rain”
33. Peter Allen “I Go To Rio”
32. Sylvester “You Make Me Feel Mighty Real”
31. Heather Small “Proud”
30. CeCe Peniston “Finally”
29. Madonna “Express Yourself”
28. Cyndi Lauper “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”
27. Charlene “I’ve Never Been To Me”
26. Tim Curry “Sweet Transvestite”
25. Barry Manilow “Copacabana”
24. Barbara Streisand and Donna Summer “No More Tears”
23. Whitney Houston “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”
22. Sister Sledge “We Are Family”
21. Queen “I Want To Break Free”
20. Dolly Parton “9 to 5”
19. Coming Out Crew “Free, Gay and Happy”
18. Village People “In the Navy”
17. Frankie Goes To Hollywood “Relax”
16. Village People “Macho Man”
15. Judy Garland “Over The Rainbow”
14. Bronski Beat “Smalltown Boy”
13. Diana Ross “I’m Coming Out”
12. Cher “Believe”
11. Gloria Gaynor “I Am What I Am”
10. Alicia Bridges “I Love The Nightlife”
9. Madonna “Vogue”
8. Olivia Netwon-John “Xanadu”
7. Kylie Minogue “Better The Devil You Know”
6. Pet Shop Boys “Go West”
4. The Weathergirls “It’s Raining Men”
3. Gloria Gaynor “I Will Survive”
2. Village People “YMCA”

and, drum roll, please . . .

1. ABBA “Dancing Queen”

Idiot of the Week #4 ~ John McCain

I wasn't planning on voting for John McCain. What self-respecting gay person could actually vote for a Republican for President? What human being could vote for someone who's stood by George Bush on the Iraq war? But I used to have some respect for John McCain. Back when he could actually call himself a "straight-talking maverick" with a straight face, he used to stand up to the religious wingnut branch of the Republican party. He distinguished himself from the Republicans who pandered to the bigot base.

In 2000, McCain had some choice words for the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell when he was interviewed on CNN:

I am a pro-life, pro-family fiscal conservative, an advocate of a strong defense, and yet Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate. They distort my pro- life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters.

I recognize and celebrate that our country is founded upon Judeo- Christian values, and I have pledged my life to defend America and all her values, the values that have made us the noblest experiment in history. But public -- but political intolerance by any political party is neither a Judeo-Christian nor an American value. The political... (APPLAUSE)

The political tactics of division and slander are not our values, they are...


They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country.


Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.

We are the party of Ronald Reagan, not Pat Robertson. We are the party...


We are the party of Theodore Roosevelt, not the party of special interests. We are...


We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, not...


We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, not Bob Jones.


That was John McCain then. To see who John McCain is climbing into bed with now, one need only listen to the words of the people McCain is "proud" to have the support of, his "spiritual" guides. Pat and Jerry (may he not RIP) seem almost quaintly sane next to Hagee and Parsley. (Is Rod Parsley his real name?) McCain may know better in his heart, but it's what you're wearing on your sleeve that counts in politics, and McCain is wearing rhetoric of the most repulsive kind. He's going to need a long, hot shower when all of this is over, but he'll still be dirty.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Adios, Danny

American Idol will definitely be more boring and a whole lot less fabulous sans Danny. He got in some good quips, mmmmhmmmm, but his vocal potential got lost in the shuffle. The boy needs a stage, though, and I suspect he'll get one. Keep the big campy attitude and the humor. Just don't get prima donna-ish cause there's a fine line, baby. I like this little homemade video better than any of his AI appearances. It takes bravery to be a wide-open fag on TV at 18. For that alone, he's my idol.

Favorite Idol Performace #8 ~ Brooke White

Up until this week, I wasn't a fan of Brooke Squeaky-Clean-Never-Seen-an-R-Rated-Movie White. I didn't really get the enthusiasm for her smiley "You're so Vain" last week. And when she launched into her sit-down, stripped-down performance of "Love is a Battlefield," I was fully prepared to hate it. It is, after all, probably Pat Benatar's best song, and Brooke is clearly no Pat Benatar. The song rocks, the video rocks, Brooke doesn't rock. But, she pulled it off; I had to agree with Simon. The vulnerable staging and arrangement suited the strengths and limitations of Brooke's voice, and if there's one thing contestants on this show often forget it's understand your limitations and how to use them to your benefit. (On the boy's side, Jason Castro does this well.) So, now I'm interested to see what Brooke will do next.

As for the other girls, the two I thought should be voted off were voted off on Thursday. Amanda was kicking ass again, regaining her confidence and, thank God, losing the skunk do. Amanda always looks ready for rejection, even when she's praised, which makes me like her more. Syesha disappointed. Don't pick Whitney, just don't! Yep, Carly's dependable, and I must say I love Cyndi's version of "I Drove All Night" (and even Céline's-shhhh!) far more than I should, but Carly always manages to be be skilled and dull simultaneously. Kristy Lee was, along with Brooke, the biggest surprise. Adding a country twang to Journey was very clever, even if she didn't quite pull off the vocals. Given Asia'h's paint-by-number Whitney (again, say no no no!), Kristy Lee deserves another chance.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Favorite Idol Performace #7 ~ David Cook

My least favorite David going into last night's show, but he took a flaccid Lionel Richie song and injected some life into it. Seeing this surprisingly riveting performance, I realized I've been biased against David C. because of the distracting pre-combover. Now he's more than a faux-rocker with a bad hairdo. Watch out you other Davids!

So, it's going to be tough to lose 2 of the guys on Thursday. All the boys have something to recommend them. I have new fondness for David H. now that his gay stripper past has been, um, revealed. Stripper with the heart of gold, and he's got some diva in his voice. And dear gay gay gay Danny, though his vocals never quite shine as much as they should, is working his attitude better each week. My favorite part of his "performance" was when Ryan said he hadn't noticed the purple highlights in Danny's hair and Danny did his, Mmmmhmmm, girlfriend response. Perfect. Michael still has the I'm-a-man-not-one-of-you-little-boys sex appeal that even AI karaoke can't entirely ruin. (He'll be better off if he loses towards the end.) Which leaves likable Luke and teddy bear Chikezie. Simon gave Luke the "girly" kiss of death and Chikezie the don't-try-Whitney-even-if-I'm-not-really-sure-if-it-was-Whitney brush-off, so I'm guessing they might get the ax. Chikezie has a damn sweet falsetto, though. Oops, I almost forgot David A. A bit precious last night, but he's still the teen-heartthrob to beat.

Unless the girls are a lot better than they were last week, I'd vote off a couple of extra blonds and give all the boys a pass. Unlikely to happen.

Favorite Idol Performance #6 ~ Jason Castro

After a lackluster performance last week, Jason is back in the saddle, picking a great song for him, "Hallelujah," and giving it Jeff Buckleyesque tenderness. He can get away with flubbed notes (like the squeakers at the end) because he eschews pyrotechnics in favor of delicate phrasing and connection with the lyrics. And he's still goofy-cute as a button. Just don't let those dreads get away from you, Jason.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hugs Not Drugs

Idiots of the Week #3

The conservative Americans' guide to true patriotism:

1. Wear a tacky American flag lapel pin. (If you are a Democrat; if you're a Republican, it's assumed you are truly patriotic and, thus, doesn't matter.)
2. Make sure your middle name is not Hussein.
3. Do not travel to foreign lands, ever, especially ones that contain Muslims.
4. If you are foolish enough to travel to foreign lands, for God's sake do not don native dress.
5. Design smear campaigns that have nothing to do with real issues but instead focus on fear-mongering, ignorance, and empty symbolism.

You are now patriotic.

P.S. And, thank you Rep. Kingston for providing the job description for President of the USA: "#1 Cheerleader in the country." Get out your pom-poms, candidates, rah-rah.