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Friday, May 18, 2012

Some Truths are Not Subjective: Being Gay is NOT a Choice!

I just cannot get over the number of straight people who believe that being gay is a choice.  Really?  And what is that belief based on?  Personal experience?  We need to start challenging these misguided souls.  Because unless they are a gay person who chose to be straight  - and if they are, I would love to hear their story – then their belief is baseless.  Unless they are a gay person who chose to be straight their belief is based on… what?  An innate knowledge of all universal truths as provided by faith?  Where I come from, we call that bigotry.  
Bigotry happens when you start making assumptions about people you know nothing about.  You know that old saying… walk a mile in my shoes?  Well, I wish every straight person could.  Because, you see, I, like many gay folk, did my level best to be straight.  It was made very clear to me from the get-go that it was in my best interest (if I planned to thrive and survive) to be straight.  So I tried.  For 28 years I did my level best.  I had girlfriends, contemplated getting married, planned on bringing children into the world… and I could have done just that, except for one thing… I was gay.  And I knew I was gay.  And ultimately I had to come to accept the fact that being gay was not something I could wish away or pray away.  It was something that was not going away.  It was who I was.
You see, the truth has a way of winning out – of coming out, if you will.  No matter how much you try to hide it, no matter how good you become at pretending otherwise, the truth will eventually make itself evident.  And the more you try to deny it, the more it festers and pokes at you.  It will not rest until you acknowledge its innate right to be (you know, kind of like those pushy gay folk). 
As a straight person?  I was miserable.  Have you ever tried tap dancing in a pair of tap shoes that are a size and a half too small?  I have.  It hurts like hell.  It messes up your timing and precision.  It messes with your head.  That’s what it feels like to be a gay person trying to pass as a straight man.   Have you ever worn clothing that still had that stuff that new clothing has in it called sizing?  Icky feeling, huh?  And maybe that clothing isn’t quite the right size, so you start to sweat, and you feel like crap wearing what you are wearing.  Yeah, that’s what choosing to be straight feels like for a gay person.  It’s awful, that feeling.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  It makes you despise the skin you’re in.  It makes you feel like you are dirty and that you stink and that other people can smell you.  It stinks to feel like you stink. 
It makes you wish you were dead.
I only tried to kill myself once. 
During my first year in college.  I was a theatre major at a small college – and the message I received loud and clear from everyone – other actors, directors, teachers, parents, even the guidance counselor at the college – was don’t be gay.  I kept thinking all throughout high school that once I went to college things would be different… that I would be different, that other people would be different, that the world would be different, but that wasn’t the case.  So I struggled.  And then I met an actor from New York.  I fell in love.  And then I spent six months living a double existence until I just couldn’t anymore.  I decided I would rather be dead.  So, I tried to kill myself, and, like so many things that I have attempted in my lifetime, it turned out I wasn’t very good at it, because (surprise) I lived.  You see, I forgot that I had an 8:00 am call for a 10:00 am children’s show I was in (I played a court jester with a full face of paint).  When I didn’t show up at the theatre, the stage manager came, broke in and found me.  I threw up all the pills, she dragged my ass to the theatre, and threw me on-stage.   Everyone was mad at me for being late.  They had to hold the curtain because of me.  I was a mess.  No one understood, because no one knew the whole truth, because I could not tell them.  I remember standing on the edge of the stage at curtain call yelling inappropriate things at the audience.  They were applauding so they couldn’t hear me… but my fellow actors sure could.  It was surreal.   And so it would remain for the next ten years.
So, having done that, having tried, however ineptly, to off myself, you would think I would have come out of it realizing that I could not escape from who I was.  But, no.  Instead, I went further into denial – further into the surreal.  I ended my affair with the actor in New York and cancelled my plans to move to New York to be with him – plans I had made secretively. .. only the actor and I knew.  I broke his heart.  I broke my heart, too.  It would take ten more years of self-hatred, bitterness, inner-conflict, denial, bad self-image, poor self-esteem, being marginalized, criticized, and ostracized, living in fear and isolation before I would finally come to realize that I was what I was… I was gay.
And I was not a great gay - still am not a great gay – for like most people, I am horribly flawed.  But I have come a long way… I never hide who I am these days.  Everybody knows.  And what they think?  Well, it’s not always my business.  I can’t change who they are – but I will also not allow them to treat me badly or differently because of what I am. 
I now like the skin I’m in.  My clothes fit better, too.  And I now know better than to try to tap dance in shoes a size and a half too small.  In fact, I don’t tap dance around anyone anymore.  I just tell people my truth.  That this is who I am.  I am a gay man.   And not by choice.  Like greatness for some, this – being gay - has been thrust upon me.  And I now wear it like a crown.
Because it looks good up there on my head. 
And the fit is to die for!

Friday, May 11, 2012

MDNA: A Few Strands Need to be Untangled

As a long-time fan of the Material Girl, I have to say, these are hard times to be a Madonna defender.  She hasn’t exactly demonstrated to the world that she gives a flying fuck.  There have been a number of incidents that have resonated in the media and on the internet that have made her a less than endearing person.  In particular the whole hydrangea debacle and the Molly incident at Miami's Ultra Music Festival, come to mind.  Both played like the acts of a woman with poor reasoning skills.  Her Superbowl  appearance was almost right on the money, spoiled only by M.I.A.’s unnecessary middle finger and a misstep on the bleachers.  She played that opportunity smart – appearing in an age appropriate dress and giving the fans what they wanted: the hits.  She definitely knew what an important opportunity it was and did her best not to piss anyone off.  Not that it’s helped her sell her latest disc, MDNA.  

Yes, it debuted at number one, but then experienced the biggest drop-off of sales that any number one had previously.   They also claim that she cheated by giving away a CD with each concert ticket she sold – but I think (considering the tickets were $200) that’s kind of nitpicking and a much less questionable practice then selling it for 99 cents on-line (Lady Gaga – looking at you). 
So, who the hell knows what is in Madonna’s head these days.  MDNA is certainly not the CD expected of a mature artist.  At this point, I would be very interested in hearing music made by a 53-year old Madonna, rather than one that seems to come from a place of insecurity about getting older and generally appears to feel entitled and angry.  Vulnerability really speaks volumes to the general public.  However, the Platinum Lady does not seem to want to expose any flaws in her armor.   Given that perfection is consuming and unattainable, a quest for such leaves one exhausted and irritable – which may explain why MDNA comes across so incredibly negative.  That negativity is a total turn-off, Madge.  Hey… you have a lot of money.  You can sleep with whomever you want.  So why so crabby?
To be blunt, Madonna’s MDNA release isn’t one of her best.  The lyrics are frequently hopelessly lazy, some of the songs go on for far too long (a little judicious editing would have gone a long way), and the pop glean that once seemed to shine so easily for her is hopelessly absent.  But the worst issue with the CD is the sequencing.  It undermines the story arc – a story which is very much evident if one muddles their way through the disc.  Why exactly the songs are in the order they appear makes no sense: it’s not like they front-loaded all the potential hits (there are none).  In short, plenty of fodder for the critics to gripe about. And trust me, the haters did just that.
Maybe she didn’t care enough?  Maybe she only views new music as necessary product at this point.  We’re a long way away from the meticulous sheen and polish of “True Blue”, “Like A Prayer” and “Ray of Light” – three of her best efforts.    Let’s face it – things have not gone well in Madonna-town since “American Life”.  Still, I must admit I found a lot to like on “Confessions on a Dance Floor”, though, once again, the sequencing of that CD did a lot to undermine what could have been a very good release).  “Hard Candy”, her last effort, was not very good.  It came across as hard, brittle, angry, and crass.  As with MDNA, Madonna herself seemed to be absent in the mix for that one.  And since the reason people care (or used to ) about Madonna’s music is because it is all about Madonna – to have her show up M.I.A.(no pun intended) gives everyone an opportunity to totally opt out: she didn’t care enough – why should we?  
Which is why I think the sequencing of the CD is so important.  If you create a story… begin somewhere – then we will follow you to the end, because once involved, we begin to care. 
Here is the CD I think MDNA should have been, with explanations and suggestions along the way.   Stand out tracks have been indicated with a * before the title.
Track One: Turn On the Radio
It all began there – on the radio, with Madonna.  So, since this is the first release on a new label, it should begin there again.  It is, in fact, lack of radio support that keeps killing her singles.  This is also an upbeat way to begin.  The lyrics support that this should be the kick-off song: “There's a glow of a distant light, calling you to come outside.  To feel the wind on your face and your skin, and it's here I begin my story…”
Track Two: Give Me All Your Luvin’

This song plays out like something Madonna would have gotten on the radio, pre-American Life or maybe even pre-Erotica.  It’s a trifle of a song, but is fairly light and uplifting.  It would seem to say (and did) that Madonna is on top of the world; the apex from which all others are to be compared.
*Track Three: Some Girls
Thematically, it only makes sense to assess the competition and to differentiate in the market she was born to rule.  Which is something one does at the top of their game.  What separates Madonna from the rest of the pack?  This has become one of my favorite tracks.  It has enough tiny hooks to satisfy my pop demon, the vocals are interesting, and it makes me want to dance.
Track Four: I’m A Sinner
This track works – if edited right before all the stupid Jesus/Mary/St. Sebastian rhymes.  Cut it early and is a bit charming.  Let it go on too long, and those stagnant, meaningless, school-girl couplets will have you throwing up just the tiniest bit in your mouth.   Sometimes less leads to success.
Track Five: Girl Gone Wild
“I’m a Sinner” sets up the spoken intro to “Girl Gone Wild” perfectly. As a lead off track it made no sense and only reminded one of how magnificent “Like A Prayer” was years before.  So at this point in the story we have a diva at the top of her game, one that is perhaps heading off the tracks.  Oh, what in the world could possibly save her?  Why, love, of course.
Track Six: Superstar
I hate this song.  It is stupid; a name-dropping song without the usual knowing wink.  I include it because on even Madonna’s best CD’s there is always one really stupid track, without which, the rest of the release loses something.  “Superstar” is that point when our heroine – so full of herself and high on life – comes in contact with that one person who can bring her back to earth. And yes, it is no surprise that the object of her affection is a combination of all the greatest male icons ever to live, but, hey… it’s Madonna!
*Track Seven: I’m Addicted
Ah, obsession becomes addiction.  Not so healthy.  Not so happy.  This is one of the best songs on the CD.  Love it.  Captures unhealthy emotional addiction perfectly.   That and, “I need to dance…”
*Track Eight: Masterpiece
This is the best track on the CD.  As it is, it gets buried on the actual release, kind of put there as an afterthought.  Fact is, it demonstrates just what a good songwriter Madge can be when she isn’t obsessing over those veins that stick out on the back of her hands.  This is a beautiful song and her best performance on MDNA.  
Track Nine: Beautiful Killer
This is where our diva starts waking up.  She realizes that she is dancing with danger and starts to look for an escape route.  Ends with the sound of a bullet casing hitting the floor… hello?  This is where I wish we could insert “Revolver” from the” Celebration” release, but that belongs to Warner Brothers, so no dice.  However, this track still dovetails nicely into:
Track Ten: Gang Bang
Diva is pissed.  And that’s why it does not work as the second track of the CD.  It is too angry.  Too negative.  Too harsh.  Better it appear here, where it thematically makes sense.  By this point in the story our lady love needs to get angry… in order to evolve.  This is another track that could benefit from some editing.  I hit the fast forward right after she tells us she has a lot of friends in hell.  After that point, well, I just don’t think Madge screaming ‘drive bitch, die bitch’ is very… effective or meaningful.
Track Eleven: I Don’t Give A ****
Diva is indifferent.  Having rid herself of Prince Alarming, Madge has to look at starting her life over without him.  She needs to reclaim herself.  And in order to do that she must be honest with herself…
Track Twelve: I Fucked Up
She has to admit that she was part of the problem.  OH – VULNERABILITY!  She shares her flaws and the world can once again relate to her… empathy garners CD sales.  So, Madge isn’t a heartless bitch.  In reclaiming herself, she is also realistic enough to realize that she is not perfect or infallible.
Track Thirteen: Best Friend
Sums up our story – Madge’s story and the reason this CD exists pretty well, don’t you think?
*Track Fourteen: Falling Free
Also one of the best tracks on the CD.  Lovely.  Well written and demonstrating a deepness absent on most of the CD.  And it leaves us wanting to know what happens next to our beautiful, fragile, very human princess. Seriously, though.  This track indicates what a whole CD done by a woman of 53 years could have sounded like.  Which is a nice place to start, should Madonna ever decide to record another CD.
86’d Tracks or ones regulated to the bonus/deluxe disc:
 Love Spent - (A nice bit of melody – but the lyrics sink it big time, it is just an embarrassment). 
Birthday Song – a throwaway, but kind of refreshing 
So, try this out.  Burn yourself a re-ordered CD and see if it doesn’t feel more like a piece of work rather than a bunch of songs thrown on a CD.  The story I’ve outlined pretty much is the story MDNA was supposed to tell.  But for some reason the strands of that DNA got all tangled up and out of order.  Which is a shame.  People are going to start turning their back on her unless she has a reality check.  The same sense of entitlement caused the world to turn their back on Marlene Dietrich.
I hope the same thing doesn’t happen to Madonna.
She’s too smart a cookie to lose.