Monday, May 30, 2011

Oh Danny boy

Because my brain works this way, I had a song from the movie version of the musical Hello, Dolly! stuck in my head the other night. It was the opening number and not "I Put My Hand In" which is the opening song in the show and only hinted at in the movie version. Rather, it was a song written for the movie (and, let's be honest, probably for Barbra Streisand) "Just Leave Everything To Me." I don't know how it got stuck in my head, although my suspicion is that someone at work said "leave everything to me" and well, there you go. Instant earworm if you live with my brain.

20 years ago, I had a brief love affair with the movie Hello, Dolly! One spring break, while the rest of my classmates were probably on South Padre Island or somewhere warm, I was back at home inverting my biological clock by staying up all night working on schoolwork and watching movies. I had made it a goal to watch as many of Streisand's movies as I could. I had read stories about how Hello, Dolly! effectively killed off the big budget Hollywood musical and was eager to see whether I agreed with this assessment. I wasn't really very familiar with much of the story despite having seen a community theater production of it when I was in high school. Naturally, I knew the title song (who the hell doesn't?) but beyond that nothing. Truth be told, it's not a horrible film, but it is a bit of a lumbering dinosaur. There are a lot of things wrong with it, not the least of which is that Streisand, who was 27 at the time, was WAY too young for the role of Dolly Levi. Sure, she sings the hell out of the songs, but she's supposed to be a widow - and an Irish widow at that! But even so, the songs are definitely old-school musical - very cheesy and complete with elaborate choreography and larger than life sets. Witness:

Anyway, having "Just Leave Everything To Me" stuck in my head prompted me to go read the Wikipedia article on the film, as I recall from other things I've read that Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau fought like cats and dogs during the shoot. Because it's the nature of the beast, I clicked on links for other members of the cast. Besides Streisand and Matthau, there's a pre-Phantom of the Opera Michael Crawford as Cornelius Hackl and Danny Lockin as Barnaby Tucker - two employees of Walter Matthau's Horace Vandergelder who get wrapped up into Dolly's scheming. As I mentioned, I knew that Michael Crawford went on to better things, but what about his counterpart, Danny Lockin? I clicked on his Wikipedia article and found it to be rather brief. And then, I read the final sentence. Lockin was tortured and murdered by Charles Hopkins on August 21, 1977 in Westminster, California. I'll be honest, my heart sank a little bit.

A little bit of investigation (ok, a lot of investigation) brought out the details, but at the same time, many of the details are left out. As it turns out, after appearing on The Gong Show in August of 1977, Lockin stopped at a bar on the way home and left with Charles Hopkins. According to this site, Hopkins called the police later that night to report a robbery. When the police arrived, they found Lockin's body, complete with 100 stab wounds. They also found what was likely the weapon used and a sex/torture magazine as well. Hopkins was charged with first degree murder. However, due to the fact that this evidence was found without a search warrant, none of it was admissible into the trial. Ultimately, Hopkins was found guilty of manslaughter and served four years, which if he did indeed do it with premeditation (and all signs point to yes), justice was NOT served in that case.

The unspoken subtext here is what is gets me. Clearly, the implication is that Lockin was gay, was leaving a gay bar and that this was a one night stand gone horribly wrong. Whether that's true or not, we may never truly know. Lockin was married and had a son, but as we all know, many married men eventually come out of the closet. This was especially common pre-Stonewall. For some reason, in my mind, the fact that this could be related to sexual orientation makes it even worse and more gut-wrenching. What gets me is that 34 years later, we still see this kind of thing happening, despite all our progress on gay rights and increasing acceptance of homosexuality in our society as a whole. A world with craigslist killers and hate-motivated crimes seems not all that different from the world in 1977. Watching Lockin's performances in Hello, Dolly!, he seemed like a very gentle person whose life was tragically cut short because of either idiot prejudice or self-loathing or something so fucked up we'll never know what the real motivation was.

So on a day when we memorialize people that have gone before us, I'd like to take this time to memorialize Lockin - although many people have done it much better than I ever could. It ripped at my gut to find out the fate he suffered. May this never happen again.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The rush is neverending

It's been a long time in coming, but our date with Kylie Minogue finally arrived last Wednesday night at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie, TX. It's not the farthest I've traveled to see a concert - that honor goes to the Madonna's Confessions Tour in Las Vegas - but it's definitely the farthest I've ever driven to see a concert. The fact that Kylie pretty much skipped the Midwest was what caused us to resort to such measures. It was a long way to drive for a concert and the real question is - was it worth it?

In a word, YES.

For the American leg of the tour, Kylie had to tone the tour down a bit. Gone are the fountains and the flying dancers from the European dates . But even without them, the stage was amazing and the costumes as over the top as you would expect. Cher's tour may have been the Cherest show on Earth, but Heidi summed it up well when she tweeted half way through the concert, "this is seriously the gayest, most fabulous show on earth." My friend Steve who had seen the show a couple weeks prior warned me it would be the gayest night of my life and he was right.

This is the first concert I've gone to where the men so vastly outnumbered the women it wasn't even funny. There were probably 9 men there for every one woman. For probably the first time in recorded history, there was a line for the men's restroom but not the women's. And I think there were about 300 gay men there for every one straight man. But really, it stands to reason. Kylie's following among gay men is no secret and I can think of no better people with whom to see a Kylie show. The energy in the theater (which was surprisingly small - 6000-some seats) was amazing and really, the best of any live show I've ever seen. Even Madonna, but more on that later.

Kylie was fashionably late at 8:45 PM but once she started, she didn't stop once. Emerging from a clam shell at center stage like the Venus de Milo, she rolled through a solid two hours of classic hits, album cuts and pretty much all of the Aphrodite album. Only "Closer" and "Too Much" were not performed. What was most pleasant is that, despite the very obvious presence of a backing track, it was also two hours of live singing that I didn't have to apologize for the quality or cringe through the off key parts. Like Madonna, but more on that later.

But like any good artist who's been around for 20+ years, she sang a lot of crowd pleasers as well. The usual suspects like "Can't Get You Out of My Head", "Spinning Around", and "Confide In Me" got their time in the spotlight, but lesser known album cuts also showed up. One of my favorites was "In My Arms" from X, which featured a many tentacled Kylie on the projection screens behind her. Some familiar songs were reinterpreted. "Slow" became a flashy cabaret number until finally becoming the thumping club anthem it always should have been. "Love At First Sight" was mashed up with "Can't Beat The Feeling" and really, it didn't work for me. Both songs were worthy of being performed individually, the mash-up felt forced and in the end, it seemed to me like both songs got the shaft. They deserved better, especially "Love At First Sight" which is a huge crowd pleaser. Clearly, Kylie was not afraid to dig into her back catalog. Unlike Madonna, but more on that later.

Our seats were about 33 rows back, but really, there wasn't a bad seat in the house. Because of the size of the theater and the quality of our seats, I managed to get some excellent photos. The best of the best are below. Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook can see the rest there.

This concert had the distinction of being Anna's first real concert - sorry, the Wiggles don't count. We brought cotton for her ears as I knew it would be loud. Truth be told, I used cotton too. I have walked out of too many concerts in my life with my ears ringing so bad that I could literally feel the hair cells dying. I'm not interested in losing any more hearing than I already have and it doesn't diminish one's enjoyment of the show one bit. Call me old, but hey, at least I'll be able to hear in 25 years. Even with cotton, the show was too loud for Anna. One of the ushers found real silicone ear plugs for her and then she was set. She danced in the aisle. She sang along. She's a lot more familiar with the Aphrodite stuff than she is with Kylie's immense back catalog, but she had a good time. I hope she remembers it and it doesn't become a blur to her. Concerts always seem like a dream to me when I'm in them. The fact that I got good pictures of the concert will help it seem more real when it inevitably feels dreamlike.

It's impossible to go to a show like this and not think of the queen of this kind of show - Madonna. No one puts on as elaborate of a show as she does. For American audiences, Kylie doesn't have near the back catalog or immediate name recognition as Madonna. And Madonna never never NEVER does a tour half-assed. I've enjoyed every Madonna show I've seen, but I couldn't help but notice the big differences between the two. The most obvious one was pointed out by my friend Robbie (aka ChartRigger) at the end of the show. There are just absolutely no diva airs about Kylie at all. She's always so "oh, I'm so glad you like it!" She interacted with the audience, taking a request which ended up being "Your Disco Needs You" which she NAILED. This is a far cry from Madonna whose shows are so intricately choreographed that there is no room for spontaneity at all. Madonna shows are in a league all their own, but sometimes the lack or spontaneity really shows, especially compared to a show like Kylie's which was just as tightly choreographed. For some reason, it was different.

The other thing that made it better than a Madonna show was Kylie's willingness to dig into her back catalog. Madonna always seems to do so a bit begrudgingly, as if someone is holding her at gunpoint. Stevie Nicks points out that when people come see you live, they don't want to hear new songs. Rather, they want to hear the stuff they know. While I don't think I'd go as far as to say that, you do have to have a liberal sprinkling of well known songs to please the non diehards that attend concerts. This applies less to Kylie as I don't know that there is such a thing as a non-diehard Kylie fan in the U.S. But with Madonna, there are many casual fans that may not know her most recent work. I will always feel bad for the casual fans that went to The Drowned World Tour in 2001 expecting a hit parade and instead, got a bunch of album tracks and two 80s hits.

And finally, it cannot be overstated that Kylie can actually sing the songs that she records. I always make a big deal about how being able to appreciate Madonna's live vocals is what separates the men from the boys as far as Madonna fans go. But let's be honest, she's had some moments that are positively cringeworthy. I usually chalk that up to nerves and the fact that her voice is mostly just passable. I also sometimes think that Madonna tries to sing things that are out of her league vocally and the studio magic can wipe away most of the blemishes. Not so in a live show. Why else would the DVDs of her concerts feature so obviously sweetened vocals?

But there's room enough for all the divas in my life. Seriously, how could I go on without them? I'm so glad that I got to see Kylie live. If the Rapture really had come the following Saturday, I would have gone into the tribulation a happy man. I've been to many concerts in my day, but hers will always stand out. It was worth the trip to Texas. When I was debating buying tickets and spending the money on the trip, my friend Matt said something along the lines of "I highly doubt you'll look back and say 'damn, I wish I hadn't gone to Kylie.'" As it turns out, he was right. And I would go again in a second.

(thanks to xolondon for the inspiration behind the title of this post)

Not dead yet

I have great intentions to blog, but the brain power is lacking. We are back from our trip. Kylie was amazing. I will do a whole post on the concert - hopefully today.

More soon.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Undead reading

Well, so far this year, I've managed to read 20 books out of a goal of 30. Of course, my co-worker who started keeping track of the books she's read this year (actually since January 11) is at almost 60. At the rate I'm going, I'll have to increase my goal and get comfortable with the fact that I won't catch up with my co-worker. In the last few months, I read a couple of books dealing with the undead - the first being my beloved zombies and the other being one of the original vampire novels.

The Walking Dead: Compendium One was a gift I bought for my friend Matt last Christmas this year based upon the fact that I joined him and his wife almost every Sunday night last fall to watch AMC's adaptation of Robert Kirkman's graphic novel. After he finished it, he offered it to me to read. At 1,088 pages, the compendium collates the first 48 issues and provided a good companion to the TV series. I found it entertaining to compare and contrast the two. Not only is the graphic novel much darker than the series, it takes no prisoners and makes no promises as far as the survival or lack thereof of major characters. There are many MANY scenes that I hope end up in the series. Their side trip through the suburban development and the Governor storyline all seem like they would translate well. What it boils down to is whether or not AMC has the cojones to go that dark. Matt and I are not convinced that they are, but they surprised me a couple times last year in the 6 episodes that comprised the first season of The Walking Dead.

The book took me a long time to read. I'll admit, I started with great fervor and then put it down for several months. My Goodreads progress on the book tells me that I started it on January 29th and finally finished it on April 28th. It was not a book that I found I could read in little bits. I either consumed it or didn't touch it. Once I got to about the half-way point, there was really no other option than to consume it. I'm not a big reader of graphic novels, but based on this one, I'm eager for the second compendium to come out.

The Heretics & Spirituality group, fresh from having read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein decided to dive into another classic of Gothic horror - Bram Stoker's Dracula. It was a free, preloaded book on my Nook Color, so I was more than happy to go along with it. I had started to read Dracula in college, but I never finished it. I remember getting to right about the point where Lucy is transformed into a vampire by the Count and then, for whatever reason, I abandoned it. The story is told in the form of letters and journal entries, starting with Jonathan Harker's trip to Transylvania and Castle Dracula to help the vampiric Count acquire property in England. These opening pages are riveting and well told. Stoker sets up a sense of place rather adeptly as well as a definite sense of foreboding. When the action shifts to England, the plot slows down substantially and I felt contributed to the middle of the book dragging a lot. It's no wonder I gave up on it in 1990.

I was also bogged down by the language used in the writing of the book, which is certainly not the fault of Stoker as he was just writing in the way that people wrote in the 1800s. Many of the characters all kind of blended together in my brain and the protracted climax of the book left me a bit unsatisfied, as if all the action built to an event that was followed by 1 page of wrap up.

And although I already knew it, the Francis Ford Coppola directed Bram Stoker's Dracula really should have had the tag line "loosely inspired by Bram Stoker's novel." a la Demi Moore's film version of The Scarlet Letter.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Not so Dreamy

To paraphrase a bit from Evita, it is my sad duty to inform you that, while I like Stevie Nicks' new album, In Your Dreams, I don't love it. As a long time Stevie fan, this is hard to admit but it really is true. And because I don't love it, it is ultimately disappointing because it has been 10 years since her last solo album, Trouble In Shangri-La. It doesn't seem like In Your Dreams was worth the wait.

That said, it's about 65% a good album, 25% so-so and 10% pure awful. I really love "Secret Love" and it's gotten a lot of plays on my iPod. The fact that it's from the vault helps its cause. This was back when Stevie could write down practically anything and turn it into a song. I'm not so sure that happens like it used to. I can see the wheels turning on some of the newer songs. The bloom seems to be off the songwriting rose. Still, newer songs like "For What It's Worth" (not written by Stevie), "New Orleans" and the title track really do appeal to the Stevie fan in me. "Annabel Lee" may not be "Planets of the Universe", but it's still a very strong song. Even the song inspired by the Twilight series is pretty strong - you just have to forget the fact that it's inspired by the Twilight series. In fact, the first 7 songs are so strong, I think if Stevie had stopped there and called it an EP, she would have had something at least as good as The Wild Heart. (Sorry, nothing touches Bella Donna.)

But then there's track 8 - "Soldier's Angel" - which is so amazingly bad I am still trying to figure out what went wrong. Lindsey Buckingham is on guitar and background vocals, but the lyrics are so bad and the production so sparse that it grates from the first note to the last. How could the combination that cranked out some of the most memorable pop hits of the 70s produce something so dreary and unlistenable? The world may never know. What makes its substandardness even harder to swallow is that Stevie is apparently in love with it.
"It’s very Buckingham Nicks and I think that it’s going to be a very serious and important song to the world and I think it’s a very serious and important song for Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks because it sounds like Buckingham Nicks. Because it is."
Even the worst track on BuckinghamNicks is better than this song.

The album has a few more high points - "Ghosts Are Gone" gets points for recycling "ghost through a fog" which is one of my favorite recurring Stevie-isms and "Italian Summer" is worthy as well, even though it took a while to grow on me. The rest is not bad, it's just not very memorable which I think, is really bad if you're a Stevie Nicks song.

I think the biggest culprit for this album's lack of spark and life lies solely with the production. As my friend and fellow Stevie-phile Steve Sears says, Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard produced a version of Stevie that will appeal to a wide and older audience, and in so doing, they lost the craziness that makes Nicks so appealing to long term fans. I miss the quirks that have made even bad Stevie albums endearing. For as much as I can barely stomach Street Angel, it still contains the eccentricities that make Stevie Stevie. It's almost as if Stewart and Ballard took sandpaper to Stevie's rough edges and smoothed them over for mass consumption that I don't think is likely to happen anyway.

I think that ultimately, it's hard when your producing any piece of art. It's hard to predict what people want - will they want something new or will they want the same old thing all wrapped up in a new package? Waiting 10 years between releasing new material ups the ante significantly. I also think that part of it is me - the music is good but it's not really where my mood is right now. Perhaps I will warm to it when the leaves change color and the temperatures turn cooler, versus now when summer is just getting underway and we're 10 days away from seeing Kylie Minogue.

It is still new music from Stevie Nicks who was one of my original music loves and for that, I will be grateful, even if it's not quite what I wanted.

Thanks to Steve for providing a lot of the most intelligent things said in this post.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Shower inequality

In part as a response to this post and because Heidi is really feeling the need to get moving as well, we coughed up the cash for Ames Racquet & Fitness - probably the most popular of several gym/fitness center type places here in Ames. There are three locations in town - one of which being a 24 hour place - and I get a pretty decent discount through work, plus they reimburse me 9 bucks a month if I go 8 times in a month. So it's win-win, right? Although all I can think of is the time when Chandler wanted to quit the gym on Friends, I feel like it'll be a net positive, right?

I've gone a couple times now and it's all still shiny and new but what I'm really trying to do is establish the habit and pattern. I've established the habit and pattern before, only to smash it to pieces, but life is a series of successes and failures. As the old standard goes, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.

Heidi is all about showering at the gym, but in the couple times I've been there, I've come home and showered. Why, you ask? Because there's no damn privacy at the gym, that's why! Heidi was dumbstruck tonight when I explained to her that in the men's locker room, there is a small room with nozzles sticking out of the wall vs. the stalls with privacy curtains for the showers in the women's locker room. Why is there this inequity? I don't understand it? The shower heads are not even separated enough to keep you from standing in a total stranger's personal space!

I have never understood this, even though it has been a common occurrence throughout my life. It was that way in elementary, junior high and high school gym class. It was that way (most scarringly) my first couple years of college in my dorm. I remember showering at the weirdest times of the day so I didn't have to be in there with other people. It was such a shock that one time Jeff and his girlfriend at the time came over and Jeff, upon seeing the shocking lack of privacy in the showers, forced his girlfriend to come into the men's room to see. When I transferred to Iowa, I was lucky enough to live in a dorm where the showers had stalls - walls and curtains and the whole nine yards. Yeah, sometimes you had to wait for them, but you didn't have to stand there, naked as a jaybird in the middle of the restroom, waiting for a shower to open up, only to have to go stand next to someone that you might see at lunch later in the day. It was just all kinds of awkward.

What blows my mind is that the privacy is reserved for women who have so much more of a communal bathroom experience than men do. Guys know what I'm talking about - we all know the guy that doesn't know the rules of men's room etiquette. From what Heidi's told me, women talk to each other from inside stalls. What a completely foreign experience that must be.

I can't decide if the problem is with society or with me. I'll be the first to admit that even now, I have a terrible body image. I look in the mirror sometimes and wonder when I'll stop going through my awkward phase. The thing I guess I need to tell myself is that no one is looking and no one - no one that matters anyway - is judging.

It still is not fair though, but as Joan Crawford says, nobody ever said that life was fair, Tina.