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Monday, June 30, 2014

Wonderland Burlesque’s Turdscooters of the Week: SCOTUS Conservative Five: Justices Alito, Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Kennedy

Wonderland Burlesque’s Turdscooters of the Week - SCOTUS Conservative Five:
Justices Alito, Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Kennedy

Oh, boy.  The halls of The Supreme Court Building must be slick with skid marks today. The good old boys club of the Supreme Court took a swipe at both reproductive rights and Obamacare today.  

And I have to say… I am surprised, although, perhaps I shouldn’t be.

From the Huffington Post:  “In an opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell that the Obama administration has failed to show that the contraception mandate contained in the Affordable Care Act is the "least restrictive means of advancing its interest" in providing birth control at no cost to women.”

Now, one would have thought that the Justices would have been looking down the road to the future and keeping the big picture in mind, but no.

For, despite the fact that the decision was written narrowly so that it only applies to contraception, it will still open the floodgates to a tsunami of lawsuits.  Yes, most of of those lawsuits will be dismissed in lower courts, but I guarantee you that inevitability will not deter the stupidity from occurring, tying up our courts for a full decade.  

Basically, if you feel something in Obamacare infringes upon your religious rights, as an employer, you do not have to provide it – and that’s the gist most looking for an out will take away from today’s ruling.  And I'm not alone in thinking that way.

"The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield..." - Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting in Hobby Lobby

Oh, and here's a bit of logic that flies in the face of reality:

More from Huffington Post: “Some of the court's conservative-leaning justices asked why the Obama administration had granted religious accommodations to any organizations if the contraception mandate was so critical to public health. “It must have been because the health care coverage was not that important," said Justice Anthony Kennedy…

Apparently contraception is not considered a necessary part of a woman’s healthcare plan – but then five very out of touch old men (with dirty butts) made this decision, so I should not have expected any other outcome.

Let’s all offer our well-deserved congratulations to Wonderland Burlesque’s Turdscooters of the Week: SCOTUS Conservative Five: Justices Alito, Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Kennedy 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Croon a Tune in June: Pop Music Reviews, Part II

Croon a Tune in June: Pop Music Reviews, Part II

We're getting to the end of June, and I have so much music still to review!  Don't worry, I will get to it, but probably not until after the first.  In the meantime, here's my take on some of the current contenders for song of the summer.  Based on my recent past assessments, I would say things are looking up, as there are more offerings that I like than dislike.  

Demi Lovato deserves a big round of applause for her Pride-Positive new video, which is an absolute delight.  Also deserving of more than a nod, newcomers Clean Bandit, a rejuvenated and natural-sounding Enrique Iglesias, and the always praiseworthy Bimbo Jones' latest offering featuring lovely diva Beverly Knight.  Enjoy!

PSY Featuring Snoop Dogg
Did he really have to go there?  Did he really have to rap?  And would someone explain to me what exactly is the appeal of this cartoonish pot-bellied far-eastern wonder?  One would have thought that PSY’s fifteen minutes ended about two minutes into his career, but apparently this novelty artist is in it to stay.

Hangover’ represents his third U.S. top 40 hit, and boy, oh boy, is it annoying.  The squawking, vaguely-middle-eastern sax works as an alarm to wake the listener up after being lulled to sleep by the snooze-inducing, rap of PSY and Snoop Dogg, while the reggae bed upon which it all rests is as formulaic as it comes. Clocking in at nearly five minutes, this one wears out its welcome at the two minute mark – you know, much like PSY himself.  “Nothing left to say”, indeed.

I Found Out
Bimbo Jones & Beverley Knight
This is sort of a time machine in a blender. 

There is a whole lot of Michael Jackson/Jackson 5 magic with merely a whiff of dance floor diva bravado percolating in this number.  It is a unique combination, unlike anything else currently on the Club Play charts, save Justin Timberlake and Dead Michael’s ‘Love Never Felt So Good’

Beverly Knight’s vocals are quick and skittish, save for that marvelous, belted build into the chorus while the production is very reminiscent of Martha Wash’s 1993 solo outing, with that weird scattershot echo sealing the deal.  It doesn’t end up having quite the impact one would hope, but it is a welcome relief from all the paint by number stuff floating about out there on the dance floor.

Maroon 5
So, by my count, Bruno Mars, Nico & Vinz, and now, Maroon 5, all owe Sting either a co-writing credit or some under the table royalty checks.  ‘Maps’ rips off one of Sting’s signature sounds, though the boys try to mask their thievery by speeding it up a bit.

The production work here is claustrophobic and junky, leaving no room or time to breathe. There are no hooks, really, save for the cascading ‘falling, falling, falling’ part (well, that and the Sting stuff). 

There’s something about this that feels a tad workman-like, even for Maroon 5, who seem hell-bent on getting that Guinness World Record for the most top 40 hits.  That said, this strikes me as rather stale and tossed off, lacking heart, warmth, and interest on the part of the group.  Could it be the beginning of ‘good-bye’ for Maroon 5?

Boom Clap
Charli XCX
You might know British singer / songwriter Charli from her work providing the vocals for brat rappers Iggy Azalea and Icona Pop.  Here, she is looking for a U.S. hit of her own, aiming squarely at the tween market with this mindless piece of pop.  And it’s working; it debuted in the top 40 and enjoys a second week there this week. 

The backing track is a bit of clever pilfering, sounding like something Roxette would have come up during their heyday.  The lyrics for the verses are actually quite broodingly dark, if a tad grammatically-challenged, while the Disney-friendly chorus is just as dumb as the song’s title. It does little for me, but I bet it sends all those tween girls who shelled out good money to see ‘Fault of Our Stars’ running to iTunes, Mom’s credit card in hand.

Derezzed 2014
Daft Punk Featuring Negin
This 2010 number from Daft Punk’s Original Soundtrack Recording for the remake of ‘Tron’, gets a remake of its own at the hands of the ever-present Avicii, with vocals added by Negin.  It’s slight to begin with, but Avicii (and Disney’s) tampering seems to have divided the EDM world into two fractions: those Avicii loyalists who think he can do no wrong and those Daft Punk fans who feel the vocals destroy the original melody. 

The vocals, pitched high and whiney, are not good– nor are the lyrics, for that matter, deconstructing (or ‘Dconstructing’, as the kids say) ‘Derezzed’ into a would-be power ballad with twinkly synth fills.   It fails on all fronts.  So put me in a third group – the ones who could care less and simply want it to go away.

We Dem Boyz
Wiz Khalifa
This is a lazy slab of fairly well-articulated, culturally supported and celebrated sexism with plenty of drug and swag references to keep the cliché that is rap and “life in the hood” alive.  Where men like Childish Gambino and Frank Ocean bring something fresh and new to the game, stunted adolescents like Wiz Khalifa continue to do a great disservice to their community.

Yeah, I know I am not the target audience for this one, I get that, but I live in a neighborhood full of dudes who are, and this - this makes me sad for them.  Until people stop celebrating people like Wiz and stop buying into messages as hopeless and valueless as this: real change is never going to come. 

Enrique Iglesias Featuring Descemer Bueno & Gente de Zona
Just when I was about to give up on Enrique (remember ‘I’m A Freak’?), he comes out with this marvelously joyous bit of fun.  It’s a breath of fresh air.

There’s a version out there with Sean Paul on it, but this is the one that I ‘heart’.  It has great energy, some incredibly sexy tongue tripping, and an earthiness (thanks to Descemer Bueno and Gente de Zona)  that strips away all the smarminess that has threatened to obscure Mr. Iglesias’ true talents.   

Rather Be
Clean Bandit Featuring Jess Glynne
This is also rather refreshing.  I heard this on the radio and it grabbed my ear immediately.  Something about it took me back to the days of M People, although Clean Bandit’s brand of soul is scrubbed squeaky clean and they refrain from packing their arrangements with excess sound.     

Sweet, plaintive vocals, bright bubbling flourishes of electronica, percussive piano, and well-placed strings make for a joy ride based on simplicity.  Remixed, ‘Rather Be’ takes off, too; although the density of the arrangements tends to belie the song’s original while pushing the vocals to the background.

Add caption
Ed Sheeran
Ed continues to get funky with his bad self.  With ‘Don’t’ he abandons all pretense of mixing styles.  Justin Timberlake is the territory he has his eye on, which Mr. Sheeran manages to claim as his own, more or less.  Over a fairly generic hip hop backdrop, Ed drops some sweetly syncopated verses before riding that lopping, almost-new jack chorus home. 

The rap section overstays its welcome a bit, but no harm.  It’s absolutely likable, but so what?  ‘Sing’ seemed to signal that this artist was on a unique, singular path, capable of blending styles like no one else, so I feel a tad cheated.  ‘Don’t’ feels like an easy way out, as if Ed simply didn’t want to dig any deeper that day.

Tiesto Featuring Matthew Koma
This is a bit different for Tiesto, as was his last near-hit, ‘Red Lights’ (which received quite a bit of airplay here in the Midwest).  Jangly, and bright, with a steel drum feel, ‘Wasted’ is straight-up pop with a sing-along chorus for all those alcohol-soaked college kids to enjoy.

Matthew Koma, whom I last heard on RAC’s ‘Cheap Sunglasses’, has a pointed sound very similar to fun.’s Nate Ruess.  Here he comes across a bit bratty, which given the subject matter seems rather fitting.  The two work well together, coming up with something that I would never peg as Tiesto in a million years.   Which saddens me, but then, artists must evolve, even if it means leaving their former selves behind.

Holding Onto Heaven
Zedd’s 2013 hit, ‘Clarity’ served as our introduction to the artist known as Foxes.  Her own ‘Youth’ was a song that got a lot of buzz and bubbled under, but never broke huge.  ‘Holding’ may change that, but I doubt it.  

It’s pleasant enough, but even with the ache, break, and rasp of her somewhat thin voice, I don’t hear anything all that special.  Remixed, it is currently climbing the Club Play charts, so it has found an audience, just not as big of a one as I think she’d like.   
Really Don't Care
Demi Lovato Featuring Cher Lloyd
Just in time for Pride!  Be sure to check out the video for this one; it’s a valentine to the LGBT community. 

To tell the truth, I have not known what to make of Ms. Lovato, even after several substantial hits and all this time. And, other than creating ear-piercing pop that sounds great coming out of the speakers in my car – I still don’t. 

Really’ is a great declaration of indifference, calculated as hell, but irresistible all the same.  I dare you to not succumb to its charms.  Cher Lloyd shows up near the end to liven things up with a rap that actually helps anchor Demi’s put-on defiance.  It all works and  something tells me we’re going to be hearing this one all summer.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

I’m Not Coming Down

I’m Not Coming Down

“I found out that there’s so much more to this life…”

That is the opening volley of Martha Wash’s latest, ‘I’m Not Coming Down’, (currently stuck on repeat in my car), a rip-roaring empowerment anthem sure to shore up even the most timid of spirits.

It’s Pride weekend here, in Minneapolis.  A few weeks ago, in a TMI post, I shared what Pride means to me – it’s something I live every day, wherever I am.  But this year, it feels particularly poignant due to my recent emancipation from my own self-imposed ‘cage’.

Recently, I found a few moments to reflect on where I was in my life one year ago.  Events in June, July, and August of last year sort of helped catapult my ass off the end of a certain couch where it had been parked, more or less, over the previous seventeen years. 

Seventeen years! It absolutely boggles my mind.

Sure, I was hardly sedentary during that time period: 
  • I mounted two productions of an original musical (last gasps of theatrical ambition)
  • Graduated Summa Cum Laude from college with a GPA of 3.96
  • Wrote a ton of music
  • Adopted and raised six special needs dogs
  • Went through three major job changes
  • Created a property rental business
  • Rehabbed eight houses
  • Travelled
  • Finished my first novel
  • Created this blog: ‘Wonderland Burlesque’
  • Helped care for my father who is in the grips of Alzheimer’s
  • Survived a mountain biking accident where I broke my neck in two places
  • Volunteered on and off at various non-profits   

…among other things.

I also did a lot of things I am now not so proud of, or, at least on this side of things, am not as pleased with as I once was.  But, I regret nothing.  It – all that acting out – got me to where I needed to be - which is where I currently am.

As plays go, this would be Act Five, something, as a former sort-of playwright, I can tell you, is rarely a good idea.  Audiences rarely have patience for such things.  But since mine is now a one-man show and I’ve dispensed with any and all ambitions, my concern these days is not with my audience.  These days my one ambition seems to be to remain true to myself – someone who got trampled, censored, and nullified during Act Four.  Someone who nearly died in Act Three (We never talk about Act Three).  Someone who was ambitious, deluded, disillusioned, betrayed, and embittered in Act Two.  Someone who hadn’t a clue how the world worked in Act One.

Like I said… it’s been one long-ass play. 

With no intermissions.

And I take full responsibility for all of it. Especially the ‘now’.

Now?  I’m happy.  And I forgot how liberating a feeling that can be.

So, I totally relate to Martha Wash’s latest anthem.  It speaks to me like no other.  A year ago?  My legs did shake with each step.  I was fighting for each breath (anxiety will do that, you know).  Spiritually and emotionally, I am soaring “above the ground”, and, in light of all that…

…I have no intention of ever coming down.

Have a Happy and Safe Pride!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

His Sins Were Many, But So Were His Pleasures: Rufus Wainwright, Live at the MN Zoo

His Sins Were Many, But So Were His Pleasures: 
Rufus Wainwright, Live at the MN Zoo

Ah, Rufus Wainwright under a twilight sky on a beautifully mild evening at the Minnesota Zoo’s Weesner Family Amphitheatre… does it get any better?

Well, actually, yes, it could have been better, but then we are talking about the ever-precocious, disarmingly charming Mr. Wainwright, so I knew pretty much what to expect; an evening of cabaret-style self-indulgence – which is exactly what he delivered.

The evening got off on the right note, with opening act Lucy Wainwright Roche (what a musical pedigree!), the headliner’s sister, looking coquettish in a pair of ruby red slippers and matching sunglasses.   Accompanying herself on guitar, Ms. Wainwright Roche’s voice and music fell on the slight side, save for a rather sweet cover of Robyn’s ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ (which could have used a bit of trimming).  However, it was her quirky personality and repartee with the audience that made her such a beguiling presence.  Sharing stories about a six week European tour as her brother’s opening act, Lucy managed to charm the pants off the diverse Minnesota crowd before ending her set with a sing-along of the Springsteen standard ‘Hungry Heart’

The evening attracted a disparate crowd, which included soccer moms and their husbands, dandy hipsters, aging hippies, Deadheads, late-90’s college graduates, and, of course, tons of gay men.  Whatever the case, Rufus had them mesmerized from note one, kicking off his set with three tunes while seated at the richest sounding grand I have heard in ages.  Striding on stage sockless, in a black/silver lame’ outfit that he appeared to have outgrown (in more ways than one) and a pair of killer black shoes, Mr. Wainwright launched into the brooding ‘Grey Gardens’ with great aplomb. He was in fine voice all evening, even on the undulating, crescendoing  ‘Vibrate’, during which he shared with the audience his displeasure with a certain sustained note.

Vocally strong, Rufus’ slurred, careening vocal style and overall sound frequently reminded me of the late Peter Allen’s, with touches of Billy Joel thrown in.  Accompanying himself on the piano and an electric acoustic guitar, he remarked how much fun it was being on a tour sans backing band, an element that might have served him better.  He certainly would have benefited from the presence of some type of percussion, as his internal sense of rhythm was woefully ‘playful’ throughout the evening. 

The very best and the worst of Rufus Wainwright were on display this night.  When his compositions are concise and focused, he tends to be very, very good (like on most of his excellent 2012 album, ‘Out of the Game’).  When they are unwieldy, rambling, and obtuse, he threatens to try the patience of his audience with songs that tend to overstay their welcome.  Bottom line:  the man could use a nice red editing pen, or at least develop a sense of proportion (how many codas and repeats does a song really need?).

Last night, highlights included the succinct, soaring pop of ‘Out of the Game’, ‘Jericho’, 'Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk', 'Going to a Town', 'Tired of America', and a somber song, written with his father in mind, ‘Dinner at Eight’. 

Trials included a new song written as an answer to Conor Oberst’s scathing ‘Kick’ (about Kathleen ‘Kick’ Kennedy) called ‘Treat a Lady’ – an unfocused, meandering, obtuse, and lingering piece – and the aria(?) ‘Les feux d'artifice t'appellent’ from his impending, threatened “opera” ‘Prima Donna’ – a trifling, maudlin pseudo modern classical affair that had my eyes rolling.  Both songs had me searching the sky above for birds, or planes, or clouds, or anything to focus on other than what was going on onstage.

Questionable might be the best way to describe his odd, ineffectual three-number ode to Liza Minnelli.  His sister Lucy returned to the stage to portray Liza as a sort of unmasked ‘Phantom of the Opera’. As parodies, go, this one was slight, awkward and a tad amateurish.

So, it sounds like I had a bad time, huh?  No, nothing could be further from the truth.  I find Rufus fascinating, even as he revels in his pretentious brand of naval-gazing.  There isn’t another performer like him at the moment.  It is his ego and abundant self-regard as well as his childhood, background, personal demons, apparent insecurities and lack of discipline that help create a type of music that is uniquely his. 

How can you not enjoy a musical unicorn?

So, yes, the evening was far from perfect, for, as stated, I enjoy Rufus best when he is concise and focused.  Last night at the Weesner Family Amphitheatre there were a plethora of Mr. Wainwright-s onstage to absorb and, by and large, the appreciative crowd was absolutely tickled to bear witness.  

Yes, Rufus’ sins were many, but, so too, were the pleasures.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Wonderland Burlesque’s Turdscooter of the Week: Former American Apparel CEO Dov Charney and the Board of Directors Who Failed to Fire Him in a Timely Manner

Wonderland Burlesque’s Turdscooter of the Week:  Former American Apparel CEO Dov Charney and the Board of Directors Who Failed to Fire Him in a Timely Manner

Apparently it is okay to be a serial misogynistic, sexual predator if you are also the CEO of a large company.  That can be the only explanation for why former-CEO, Dov Charney remained employed at American Apparel as long as he did.

Charney, who planned  to ”be remembered as one of the great CEOs of our time and of (his) generation," was fired last week due to his “conduct with women”.

Allegations began flying and eye brows raised as early as 2004, when Charney masturbated “eight or so times” in front of a reporter for ‘Jane’ magazine and a female co-worker.  

It seems to me that the boom really should have been lowered at that time, but, no, it took the Board of Directors a full ten years, which exacerbated the situation by allowing this creep to work his special magic.

Among the allegations:

  • Crude language and gestures,
  • Conducting job interviews in his underwear
  • Ordering the hiring of women in whom he had a sexual interest
  • Gifting a female co-worker with a vibrator
  • Conducting a meeting with a female co-worker wearing a ‘cock sock’, inviting her to masturbate with him, and then firing her when she revealed plans to meet with a lawyer
  • Ordering an employee to pretend to masturbate in front of him
  • Demanding that ‘ugly people’ be fired from American Apparel stores
  • Keeping an employee at his apartment as a sex slave
  • Retaliating against the women who sued for sexual harassment by posting naked pictures of them online
  • Rubbing dirt in the face of a store manager while calling him a “fag” and a “wanna-be Jew” 

During a deposition for one of the plethora of lawsuits brought against him and the company during his decade-long reign of terror, Charney admitted to using the words “slut” and “cunt” while in the workplace. “There are some of us that love sluts ... It could be also be an endearing term,” he testified.

Regarding these lawsuits he told CNBC that they were “testimony to (his) success”.

Hey, I am all for sexual freedom, but it is always a bad idea to try dipping your pen in the company ink.  Well, that and featuring yourself in pink underwear in your company’s ads – especially when you don’t have anything to show off. (I mean, where is it?  Did he tuck it like a drag queen?)

The only thing worse than Charney’s conduct?  That of American Apparel’s Board of Directors - who should have put an end to this man’s misogynistic sexual tyranny way back in 2004.  It only seems fair that they should all get the axe as well for failure to do their duty.
Hopefully this is one turdscooter who will not be floating back to the surface any time soon.  America needs time to erase the skidmarks he’s left on our collective consciousness (not to mention that photo of him in pink underwear).

 So, grab a used dildo from Mr. Charney’s bedside table, and give this week’s Wonderland Burlesque Turdscooter of the Week the kind of bon voyage he so richly deserves (and will no doubt enjoy).  Also: be sure to save some of that KY Jelly for American Apparel’s Board of Directors, because they deserve a little of the action, as well.