Screeching guitars over a rapid backbeat pierce 50 ears trying to hear 25 stilted conversations. A foot-long needle shoots directly through the beckoning orifices, winds around the ear canals and connects directly with the center of each half of the brain. A throbbing begins at the base of the skull as imaginary brain fluid leaks out of each ear. Each face contorts into wrinkled disgust and the faces move closer together.
bearded-with-glasses 20-something into the ear of a young girl with hair framing her face, brown tank top, cut-off jean shorts and several colored tattoos spattered across each arm. Clouds of cigarette smoke linger between them and slowly rise to the tar-stained ceiling. From the other end of the bar, the shapes and cartoons on her arms aren't distinguishable, but I'm convinced they're more than just blobs of ink. "Have you ever heard the first Bad Brains album?" he continues to yell, "It's so raw, I can't get enough of it!"
The band falls into a repetitive pattern of chunky chords, fast, pounding, tribal drums and hollering vocals. A few words sneak out of the mix, "MAKE...APPOINTMENT...TIME...MIND...EXCUSE!" Fuzzed mumbling fills the spaces between the recognizable words.
"I'm so glad you like them, too! Did you go see them at State a few months ago? They were great. I was there for Propaghandi, though!" the girl hollers back.
"What!? I can't hear a fucking thing with this shit music!"
A dear friend of mine is in the midst of the arduous, exhilerating, terrifying and liberating process of coming out. She recently wrote to me about the central role certain music has played in helping her to interpret and cope with her whirlwind emotions. I've combined her suggestions with a few of my own favorites to create a soundtrack that is guaranteed to make anyone's coming out possible, bearable and even totally awesome.
Prince, Cream: I've chosen this raunchy classic primarily for the obvious reason, but also for its subtext of affirmation and empowerment: "Do your dance / Why should you wait any longer? / Take your chance / It can only make you stronger." So true.
Bruce Springsteen, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight): I don't think Bruce knew he was writing the following lines for me and gay people everywhere, but we should still thank him for them: "Closets are for hangers. Winners use the door / So use it, Rosie, that's what its there for!" Although set in a fairly cliche heterosexual context, this song is all about sexual defiance, transgression and freedom. It resonates with queer audiences in a profound way.
Ani DiFranco, Shameless: This spunky jam about a clandestine same-sex love affair was critical in my own coming out journey. Ani communicates the experience of being closeted in characteristically clunky couplets like "We're in a room without a door and I am sure without a doubt / They're gonna wanna know how we got in here and they're gonna wanna know how we plan to get out." Check out a rousing performance (complete with a full-throttle audience sing-along) after the jump.
On the morning of November 5th, 2008, the day after the historic election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, I was performing in a highschool in Palatka, Florida. The students, approximately 1/3 of whom in this particular district were African American, were palpably stoked. Many of them wore bootleg Obama t-shirts featuring images not just of the President Elect, but of his whole beautiful family. I started out my program by asking, "Does anyone know who won yesterday's presidential election?" The students erupted into a chant of "O-bam-a! O-bam-a!" that made the aging media center feel more like a football stadium.
One would think that spending a day surrounded by so much pride and exuberance would be the ultimate spiritual jumpstart; that I packed up my gear that afternoon and floated back to St. Petersburg on a cloud of contentment knowing that the platitudes I've spent my life singing are true, that "the times they are a'changin.'" Unfortunately, that was not the case. That day, which was such an unblemished triumph of justice and hope over prejudice and fear to all those young people, to me was a painful reminder that a well funded and well organized segment of my state's and country's body politic does not think me or other gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people like me their equal. November 5, 2008 taught me that in America a black man can (finally) take the Presidential Oath of Office, but a gay man or woman can't even exchange a marriage vow.
As I drove back home that afternoon, I scribbled a line on a Dunkin' Doughnuts napkin: "I'm gonna love you, no matter what they say." Months later, I found the napkin and decided to finish the song.
It is currently 4:39 p.m. on Tuesday, April 14 and my freakin' federal income tax forms have yet to be finalized and postmarked. (Believe it or not, folksingers occasionally earn enough income to warrant filing their income taxes!) This, obviously, is a source of immense anxiety. In an attempt to soothe my nerves (and in the true spirit of tax procrastination), I've decided to take a break from my number crunching to post a playlist that is sure to chill me and all of you other tax slackers out. Trust me, this is better than Xanax. Enjoy!
Nice and Slow, Usher
Money Made You Mean, Indigo Girls
2 Cool 2 Be 4-Gotten, Lucinda Williams
Mercy Now, Mary Gauthier
Pulse, Ani DiFranco
What do the corn-fed, flag-wavin', salt-of-the-earth folks of Iowa have in common with the liberal, yankee blue bloods of Connecticut and Massachusetts? If you guessed State Supreme Courts that operate in accordance with the principles of justice and reason, you're absolutely right.
Earlier today, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously decided that a 1998 law limiting marriage to a man and a woman was unconstitutional. (Here's the New York Times story.) This decision makes Iowa the first state in the Midwest and the third state in the entire United States of America to approve same-sex marriage.
In honor of this landmark decision, here's a video of the Musical Theatre Academy of Orange County performing "Iowa Stubborn" from the Broadway classic, The Music Man. Cheers to Iowa for standing staunchly and stubbornly against the tide of bigotry, discrimination and hate! Our state and our country really "ought to give Iowa a try."
Growing up in and around the Tampa Bay music scene I would hear occasional murmurings about a time in the not-so-distant past when a handfull of local rags championed Tampa Bay's local music community. As I listened to such tales, my teenage imagination would conjure up images of chain smoking, black denim clad musicians hanging out on street corners reading these magazines as stegosauruses grazed behind them and terradactlys circled above their shaggy heads. In other words, music magazines devoted solely to covering the Tampa Bay music scene seemed outmoded and preposterous. Fortunately not everyone in Tampa Bay is as myopic and shortsighted as I tend to be...
Tampa Bay music scene stalwarts Jeannette Goldman (owner of Pro Star Recording Studio), Ken Thomas (webmaster of Tampabaymusicscene.com) and Thomas Garcia (local producer, songwriter and promoter) have banded together to publish Bay Area Beat: a magazine for the local scene and the local scene only.
Here's how their press release describes the mag's mission: "Bay Area Beat is all about promoting LOCAL artists and musicians. Period. No priority coverage for national acts." Here's how Goldman rather emphatically put it to me during a recent phone interview, "We don't care who is playing at the St. Pete Times Forum! We're trying to support the musicians in the area that are working and making a living with their music."
Bob Greene is a traumatologist. This somewhat morbid designation means precisely what you think it means: Bob is a certified expert in psychic pain. The Florida State University Traumatology Institute conferred this title upon him, but his years of practice as a licensed clinical social worker are the true source of his expertise. In this capacity he has counseled thousands of people, including survivors of some of the greatest collective traumas of our time.
The day after the September 11 terrorist attacks he drove to New York City to counsel people in the financial district who had watched helplessly as planes crashed into buildings, emergency rescue vehicles unknowingly drove over top of human remains and fire, smoke and ash consumed everything comforting and familiar. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Bob provided counseling for the Tampa Bay 2-1-1 volunteers who spent two weeks in Monroe, LA fielding 2,000 calls a day from storm survivors in desperate need of rescue, shelter, psychiatric medication or even food after going without for three days.
Here's how Bob, a man as unassuming and unpretentious as his name, describes his work: "I talk to folks just like me: bozos on the bus just trying to make it through this crazy world. I listen. There's something about saying it out loud." Here's how I, a lifelong songwriter and singer, describe Bob's work: He's a pad of paper, a journal or a napkin and a bartender's pen. He's the multitrack Tascam I used to record my fist song when I was a sophomore in high school. He's an open mic night or a house concert with a particularly gracious and responsive audience. He's an opportunity to let the inside out, to let thought hit air.
I met Bob in my capacity as the director of Impact-Florida, a GLBT rights organization formed in response to the passage of Amendment 2. One of my members caught wind that Bob was starting a support group for people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality or with that of a friend or loved one and urged me to meet with him to find out what Impact-Florida could do to help. He was obviously impressed with Bob's credentials and experience, but what resonated with him (and eventually with me) the most was Bob's story.
According to California student Virgil Griffith, listening to Lil' Wayne makes you stupid.
Alright, you caught me. That's a complete misrepresentation of Mr. Griffith's conclusions. I was just trying to get your attention. Now that I have it, here's a more accurate summary of Griffith's "research":
Griffith compared aggregated Facebook data about favorite bands among students at 1,352 colleges with the average SAT scores at those schools creating an utterly unscientific but very entertaining statistical analysis of taste and intelligence. Here's what he found:
Students who listed "Beethoven" as their "favorite music" on their Facebook page have an average SAT score of 1371. Students who listed "Lil Wayne" have an average SAT score of 889. Other notable artists/bands in the top 10 are Counting Crows with an average SAT score of 1247, Radiohead with an average SAT score of 1220 and Bob Dylan with an average SAT score of 1197. The bottom 10 included Beyonce (avg. SAT score: 932) and T.I. (avg. SAT score: 926).
Outkast is the highest ranking "hip-hop" artist on the list at number 36 with fans sporting an average SAT score of 1104. (Griffith lifted his genres directly from Last.fm.) The lowest ranking "rock" band is Aerosmith at number 117. Their fans had an average SAT score of 987.
Special thanks to Amy! for inspiring this blog. In a comment on my recent Songs to save your party blog she wrote, "As a follow up to this article, I propose you consider the question, what songs are guaranteed to END the party?"
Amy!, your wish is my command. I call this my "Maxi Pad Playlist" because these songs are guaranteed to suck the moisture (and the fun) right out of any party. If it's two in the morning and you want your asshole friends out of your living room, throw any one of these tunes on and watch the polite excuses begin:
Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond - This song sucks!
Wind Beneath My Wings, Bette Midler - Beaches: The ultimate buzz kill.
Summer Lovin', John Travolta and Olivian Newton John - Last night, Creative Loafing threw a party celebrating the launch of their spiffy new website. I was there drinking a Dixie Cup of wine, discussing the sad condition of the newspaper business (hence the Dixie Cups) with a very interesting guy and having a generally pleasant time. And then, this bullshit filled the air. I couldn't say my goodnights quickly enough.
Taxi, Harry Chapin - This song has all the ingredients to ruin your night. It's brooding, slow-moving, tragically sad and features a musical interlude with only cello and a male singing soprano.
Come Sail Away, Styx - Speaking of male soprano, I think it's more effective at breaking up a party than a police raid.
This is all I've got off the top of my head. Surely, there are more abjectly awful songs out there than these five. Add at will!