Thursday, August 27, 2015

Queerlicue #4

Queerlicue* noun, kwir~li~kyoo

1. like a curlicue, but with a queer flourish
2. something amusingly odd, strikingly unconventional or accidentally fabulous

* Yeah, I made up that word.

Examples for this special beards and barbers edition...

Stubble & 'Stache. I have a beard. Lots of men have beards these days -- it's a facial hair renaissance out there! Beard grooming is big business and there are hundreds of small companies devoted to helping us keep our beards looking and feeling good. I've tried a bunch of  beard oils, balms and conditioners over the past few years and I'm particularly fond of products from Stubble & 'Stache. The founder is veteran special operations Marine Nicholas Karnaze.

Stubble & 'Stache founder Nicholas Karnaze, what some might call a lumbersexual
Karnaze wanted an offbeat pitch video to introduce his original product. When I saw this, I laughed -- and it motivated me to give his face moisturizer and beard conditioner a try.

Stubble & 'Stache donates a portion of profits to charities supporting wounded veterans and their families, with particular interest in organizations combating post-traumatic stress and depression. For an interview and some backstory about Karnaze, go here.

The Gay Beards. Here's the description from their YouTube channel: Two best friends from this cozy nest called Portland, Oregon. We tend to think the world needs more love & laughter. Okay. And my description: Two startlingly handsome hairballs who like to decorate their beards.

Like this, for example:

The Gay Beards , Jonathan (right) & Brian

So, if you've ever thought, "I wish there was some kind of tutorial video that would show me how to give myself a flower beard," here you go...  

Wanna see lots more beard bedazzling? Head on over to their Instagram page here.

The Naked Barber. "Add some kink to your cut." That's the maxim of Richard Savvy, AKA The Naked Barber.

Richard Savvy, The Naked Barber (photo via his tumblr blog)
Savvy kicked his men's grooming and barbering career up a notch by stripping naked for haircuts, head shaving, body clipping and waxing -- and his clients can get naked, too. His website promises that "Richard can satisfy all your fetish grooming needs in his fully-equipped private studio located in Surrey Hills, Sydney." That's Australia, in case you're making notes for a bucket list. Straight, gay, bisexual and couples are all welcome. In the video below, Mr. Savvy spells out his philosophy and provides one of his special services, the sling shave, More specifically, a scrotum shave in a sling. It's arousing, not pornographic, but so not safe for work.

Want more? You can follow The Naked Barber's exploits on tumblr. Heads up: lots of explicit stuff.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Queerlicue #3

Queerlicue* noun, kwir~li~kyoo

1. like a curlicue, but with a queer flourish
2. something amusingly odd, strikingly unconventional or accidentally fabulous

* Yeah, I made up that word.


Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox. 

Scott Bradlee (Photo: Braverijah Gregg)
He's a pianist/composer/arranger who came up with an idea to give contemporary pop tunes a vintage treatment. He collaborates with different musicians, records the results and uploads regularly to his popular YouTube channel. The Postmodern Jukebox Facebook page declares: "We take pop music back in time." And Bradlee has a knack for selecting unexpected songs. For instance, Celine Dion's Titanic movie theme "My Heart Will Go On." You've heard it a million times, but not the way Bradlee arranges it and Broadway's fabulous Mykal Kilgore sings it.

All Postmodern Jukebox's music -- including their latest release Swipe Right for Vintage -- is available at Amazon and on iTunes. For more info and tour dates, you can visit their website here.

Shut Up and Dance. One of 2015's biggest hits is Walk the Moon's "Shut Up and Dance."

Walk the Moon
Left to right: Eli Maiman, Kevin Ray, Nicholas Petricca & Sean Waugaman
The band's video is retro-cute and lively, but it's been officially upstaged by a fan from the Netherlands who put together a stunning compilation video for the song. The results are a marriage of irresistible power pop and memorable movie dance moments. It's joyful stuff. Curmudgeons beware.

Everyone's Upstairs Neighbor. Have you ever lived in an apartment with a noisy upstairs neighbor that made you ask: "What the exact living fuck are they doing up there?" The folks at Above Average -- an Internet-based comedy network -- have come up with one possible explanation. Meet Julia and David, whose philosophy is: "Their ceiling is our stage."

David (the awfully woofy Dan Chamberlain), Julia (Molly Lloyd)
and their hapless neighbor (Laura Wilcox).

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Sound of Queer Music, Vol. 8

Celebrating artists and bands that fuck with the heteronormative cultural bias...

Big Dipper. This Chicago-born, Brooklyn-transplant has become America's preeminent queer bear rapper. Since his first release in late 2011 -- "Drip Drop (April Showers)" -- Big Dipper has consistently released outrageous, cheerfully vulgar songs with killer hooks. Whenever he pulls together enough money for a video, the result is sexy, funny and demented. And for those of us into plus-size guys, the man gives good body. His YouTube channel is here. His latest EP release, Extra Good, is available on iTunes. You can listen to all his music on SoundCloud.

Big Dipper (via his Facebook page)
Song & Video: "Vibin'." It's a funky pop summer anthem with an almost-impossible-to-hate hook (and featuring fine vocal support from Patrick Andrews of Baathhaus). The video is a campy beach adventure featuring dancing sailors and Big Dipper as some kind of a bear-mermaid hybrid.

The Bobbleheads. Founded in 2002, they're a self-described "sunshine pop" trio based in San Francisco. The music, according to their Facebook page: "... innocently optimistic guitar-infused rock with melodies and choruses that will stay with you for days." It's a tight, bright sound -- jangly guitar, spirited drumming and ultra-satisfying lead vocals by primary songwriter John Ashfield. Their music, including the current album, Make Yourself Happy, is available on iTunes and CD Baby. Guaranteed to shift your mood from bad to good.

The Bobbleheads, left to right: Patrick Ennis, John Ashfield & Phil Bulan
Song & Video: "Prove Yourself." Three minutes of perfect power pop without a cynical stroke or lyric. Simple and sweet, the video features the band mingling with citizens on a San Francisco street.

Bruiser Queen. Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, this garage pop-punk duo consists of singer/guitarist Morgan Nusbaum and drummer Jason Potter. Nusbaum's wild, robust and dexterous voice is big -- but emotive in just the right measure. Potter's drumming is spot on. (I frankly wish these two would release an album of '60s girl group covers; I think it would be awesome.) Their website is here. Bruiser Queen's music, including the latest album Sweet Static, is available on iTunes and CD Baby.

Bruiser Queen: Jason Potter & Morgan Nusbaum
Song & Video: "On the Radio." It's a kick-ass paean to the (throwback?) joy of discovering your favorite new song on the radio. Nusbaum and Potter are front and center here, singing and playing with only a minimum of effects -- it's a feisty, no-frills clip that just lets you appreciate these artists and their fervent sound.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Sound of Queer Music, Vol. 7

Celebrating artists and bands that fuck with the heteronormative cultural bias...

Mister E Machine. In late 2014, these Chicago-based indie rockers released a a 7-song EP entitled Shooting Stars. Rock in Chicago Magazine called it "one of the best acoustic rock albums of the last several years." From the unabashedly personal original material by songwriter/vocalist Manny Capozzi to a cover of Kylie Minogue's Can't Get You Out of My Head, these guys  offer up a captivating blend of acoustic pop rock and harmonies. Check out their website here. Easily one of my favorite discoveries of 2015.

Mister E Machine, left to right: David Ladon (bass),
Perry Simmons (backing vocals), Chuck Harling (drums) & Manny Capozzi (vocals/guitar)
Song & Video: "Rosa Marie." It's an anti-bullying tune in honor of frontman Capozzi's older sister, who stood up for him when he was tormented for being an overweight gay kid. Capozzi says it's not just a song about bullying, it's "a song about gratitude." (Side note: songs about bullying are often bleak and treacly; Mister E Machine successfully takes a far more upbeat, energizing route.) The video, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, features the band and their childhood counterparts tackling a backstory about bullying.

Shamir. On Twitter, 20-year-old Shamir uses this description: "musician, comedian, singer, rapper, twerker, chef, writer, filmmaker, skinny fat ass." His summer 2014 EP, Northtown, prominently featured his distinctive high tenor gliding through experimental electro-funk. People noticed. On the surprise follow-up fall single -- "On the Regular" -- Shamir raps with cheeky exuberance and wit. His debut album Ratchet was released in May. For more about him, consider reading his spring 2015 interview with NPR here.

Shamir (photo by Ruvan)
Song & Video: "On the Regular." With it's cowbell-heavy production and bright synth changes, this is bouncy rap with a decidedly queer attitude. The minimalist-but-colorful video prominently features Shamir, with special guest appearances by a disco ball and a Fisher-Price toy. (There's some explicit language in the lyrics.)

Double Duchess. This San Francisco-based duo consists of Krylon Superstar and davO. What they do is a bracing blend of performance art and electro hop. Krylon feels like the offspring 1970s divas Sylvester and Grace Jones; davO is an innovative producer and vocalist with a vivid imagination and a face that activates my lust. Their latest album, All Eyes On Me, is out now. Check out their website here.

Double Duchess: Krylon Superstar (left) & davO
Song & Video: "Good Girl Freak Out (featuring Future People)." Attitude, camp and an beat. Simply put, it's throbbing dancefloor gold. For the video, the duo surround themselves with some hellacious dancers, crazy good visuals and Kelly Osbourne as a sort of reimagined Jem (of the classic '80s animated Jem and the Holograms).  Note: there's some explicit language in this one.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Sound of Queer Music, Vol. 6

Celebrating artists and bands that fuck with the heteronormative cultural bias...

Homer Marrs and the Excellent Adventure. I've followed Chicago-based indie musician Homer Marrs for a couple of years now as a solo act. There's an observational, stand-up comic vibe to his music. Now Marrs, his guitar and quirky sense of humor have successfully merged with a band, the Excellent Adventure. He sums up this collaboration on his YouTube channel: "We are at once stupid and fierce."

Homer Marrs (top left) and the Excellent Adventure
Song & Video: "It's Amazing." A witty, winning  blast of pop rock. The video features Homer and the band, plus Gia Gunn, a contestant from season 5 of RuPaul's Drag Race, and a bevy of enthusiastic drag performers.

Baathhaus. They're a Chicago-based queer-performance-art-group-band that weaves its songs together with narrative, choreography and costumes. More specifically, they describe the music as "queer-electro-fuck." Yes, that's fuck, not funk. Need more info? Website is here.

Left to right: Jesse Hozeny, Jesse Young, Dan Foley & Patrick Andrews
Song & Video: "Cave Song." Frontman Dan Foley describes the song as "a stream of consciousness of musings on your past self and looking back at growing up gay." Don't worry, you can definitely dance to it. The video is inspired by a classic Italian horror film (Suspiria) and a soft-core gay film (Pink Narcissus). Directed by Katie Isaacson, it's erotically theatrical, plenty queer and bathed in glitter. Thus, it's not really safe for work... unless you work in a gay bar or an adult superstore.

Tawnee Kendall and the Hangover Brigade. This San Francisco-based solo performer needed a backup band to record her debut album back in 2011. A musically diverse group of friends came to together and the Hangover Brigade was born -- after some whiskey-soaked evenings. For more about Tawnee and the band, go here. The Hangover Brigade's YouTube channel is here.

Song & Video: "Exit Strategy." According to Kendall, it's a love song about having someone you can depend on to get you out of any situation. Conceived as a duet, Kendall works a folk pop groove with Jeb Havens. The video -- shot in Guernville, California -- is just the band doing it's lovingly-crafted thing. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

2015 Eurovision Song Contest Sampler

Eurovision Song Contest. It's my pop culture guilty pleasure... that I don't feel remotely guilty about. Broadcast every year since 1956, it's one of the longest-running television programs in the world. In 2014, Eurovision drew an audience of nearly 200 million. All active members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) can take part -- 40 countries are sending artists to compete in Vienna, Austria this year. The 2015 winner, chosen via a combination of televoting and juries, will be announced May 23rd. It's all done live for the contest, but you can find performance clips or music videos for all the songs online. I can't show you all 40 acts, so I picked seven -- personal favorites, one surprising entry, real contenders and the odds-on favorite to win.

Australia: "Tonight Again" by Guy Sebastian. Eurovision has been broadcast in Australia for 30 years. It's wildly popular there even though they don't compete. This year, in honor of the 60th anniversary and in recognition of Australia's fandom, the country was invited to participate. Their choice is enormously popular Guy Sebastian, the first winner of Australian Idol in 2003. My prediction: The song is semi-funky dance pop that should easily propel Sebastian into the Top 5. Goodwill towards Australia will help. His website is here.

Russia: "A Million Voices" by Polina Gagarina. It was only a few years ago that Russia took second place with a gaggle of grandmothers in traditional garb singing "Party For Everybody." Last year they sent two wholesome blonde sisters who performed with their hair tied to together. I'm not making this up. This year's entry is a shameless, calculated feel-good anthem about the world's people believing in a dream because we all shine like stars and our hearts beats like drums. To be fair, Polina Gagarina sings the hell out of it. Won't win, but if someone ever imprisons Vladimir Putin for crimes against humanity or something, I hope they make him listen to this until he gets the dry heaves. (And the video is like the longest life insurance ad ever made.) My prediction: It will go -- bafflingly --Top 10.

Israel: "Golden Boy " by Nadav Guedj. This is a personal favorite that doesn't have the slightest chance of winning or even landing in the Top 10. But Nadav Guedj is having a blast as it coyly builds to an irresistibly goofball dance song. Also, he's adorable. My prediction: Might squeak into the Top 20.

Serbia: "Beauty Never Lies" by Bojana Stamenov. 

Bojana Stamenov
Another personal favorite. Basically, if you're going to write a dance-pop anthem, this is how you do it. Stamenov goes full diva before it's over and just owns this song. Lots of people can relate to these lyrics:

Finally I can say
Yes I'm different 
And it's okay
Here I am

This video was created by editing together footage of Stamenov and fan submissions recorded on cameras and smartphones. An alternate video, featuring her in a smashing red dress is here.  My prediction: Regrettably, it won't make the Top 10. But it will probably make some queer folk happy.

Finland: "Aina Mun Pitaa" by Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat. I'll let bass player Sami Helle explain: "The members of our band are four middle-aged, mentally handicapped men. The music is, of course, Finnish punk." All they want to do, the band claims, it raise awareness of people with learning disabilities and "have a fucking good time along the way." Eurovision purists may be squirming, but I think it's pretty cool. English translation of the song's title: I always have to. It's assertive and brisk -- clocking in at about a minute and a half. I really want to see this done live. My prediction: Top 10.

Italy: "Grande Amore" by Il Volo.  They're an Italian pop opera trio consisting of Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto and Gianluca Ginoble. English translation for their name: The Flight.

Il Volo
One of only a handful of acts that will perform in their native language, these guys are becoming very popular outside Europe. "Grande Amore" (translation: great love) is one of those ballads that gradually and skillfully swells into an effusive track that sucks you right in, even if you can't understand a word they're singing. My prediction: This seductive blast of popera with go Top 5, maybe even Top 3. Their website is here.

The video essentially concedes that what we have here is a pop opera boy band, then brazenly riffs on a trio of famous Hollywood movie scenes. It's silly, gorgeous and, well, a little bit operatic.  

Sweden: "Heroes" by Mans Zelmerlow. He's a native Swede that the news/media website BuzzFeed described as, "so handsome it hurts."

Mans Zelmerlow
This one has winner written all over it. It pretty much defines the state of modern pop music. And it's got one of those killer hooks that lodges in your head and periodically demands to be sung out loud. My prediction: Barring an upset or surprise, here's your winner.

Examples of why BuzzFeed declared Mans so handsome it hurts...

Usually when I see a photo like this I think, "sunscreen." Not this time.

For a 2014 Swedish awards show, he did a playful parody of Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" video.

UPDATE: Sweden won!

Thanks for indulging me with this one!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Queer Cinephile(s) #34: Vertigo

I'm a gay dude who loves movies -- a queer cinephile. I studied film in college and once reviewed movies for a TV station (don't get excited; it was way back in the 20th century). For this blog series, I'm watching and reviewing 50 films I've never seen before -- Oscar bait, indie darlings, black & white classics, blockbusters, cult flicks and weird shit my friends keep recommending. Go on, say it: "I can't believe you've never seen..."

 (released May 1958)

James Stewart as John "Scottie" Ferguson in Vertigo.
This image is from a nightmare sequence in which he morphs into the Wizard of Oz for a second. 

Here's the original theatrical trailer...

What the Queer Cinephile Says: Vertigo's opening sequence -- lasting all of a minute and half -- plays like a bad dream. Police Detective John "Scottie" Ferguson" (James Stewart) and another cop are chasing a felon across some San Francisco rooftops at night. Scottie slips. As he dangles from a gutter about half a dozen stories above the street, the other cop attempts to rescue him. "Give me your hand!" he yells, just before plummeting to his own death. It doesn't feel real -- you expect Scottie to wake up from a nightmare, drenched in sweat. Nope, it happened. We never learn exactly how Scottie managed to survive the incident himself, but he tells his lovelorn college sweetheart Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) that the aftermath has left him with a fear of heights, known as acrophobia. And acrophobia can cause vertigo, a feeling of dizziness associated with being in a very high place. Vertigo is also a much better name for a movie than Acrophobia.

Scottie retires from the police force, but agrees to do some private detective work for Gavin Elster, another old college friend. Elster married well and became a shipping magnate, but now has a quandary about his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak). "Scottie, do you believe that someone out of the past, someone dead, can enter and take possession of a living being?" See, Gavin doesn't want Scottie to follow Madeleine around because he suspects she's an adulteress. He just thinks she's possessed by her own great grandmother, a woman that died in 1857. And so Scottie follows Madeleine to various locations -- her great grandmother's tombstone, a museum where a painting of the woman hangs, and even an old hotel that's only slightly less foreboding than the one in Psycho. Baffled, Scottie recruits Midge for some research and they visit a San Francisco historian who connects the dots: the old hotel had once been the great grandmother's home, she was abandoned by her wealthy husband, separated from her only child, went mad and committed suicide.

Fortunately, I'd never read a single review of Vertigo before I watched it, so nothing was spoiled for me. But this is an Alfred Hitchcock movie. The celebrated director didn't do ghosts or demons or possession. Everything about his film work suggests that he believed human beings are capable of sinister, monstrous things because of individual motivations or a personality disorder. So I was not remotely surprised that the eventual explanation for Madeleine's behavior doesn't involve anything supernatural. And, of course, Scottie falls in love with Madeleine -- the only way you wouldn't see that coming is if you'd never watched another movie in your entire life.

As Scottie, James Stewart gets to play a man with acrophobia and vertigo, then acute melancholia with a twist of guilt (yeah, that's a thing), and finally he's consumed by unrelenting obsession. I'm not a James (It's a Wonderful Life) Stewart fan at all, but Hitchcock pulled quite a performance out of him -- before it's over, he's a fervent, anguished mess. As Madeleine, a stunning and excellent Kim Novak is just the right combination of strange and alluring -- it's as if she's bathed in a mysterious dreamlike aura. In contrast, there's Scottie's down-to-earth college sweetheart Midge, played by Barbara Bel Geddes (known to '80s night time soap fans as Miss Ellie on Dallas). She's a nice lingerie designer with a funky cool little San Francisco apartment that would probably rent for $4,500 a month today. Midge has a bittersweet, unrequited crush on an oblivious Scottie, and there's nothing she can do as he becomes increasingly obsessed with the gorgeous, enigmatic Madeleine. Spoiler alert: It doesn't end well.

Vertigo received mixed reviews back in 1958 and only broke even at the box office. It was removed from circulation for a long time, but finally given another U.S. theatrical run in 1983 and released on home video in 1984. Proving commercially successful with '80s viewers, many contemporary critics reevaluated the movie. By 1989 it was recognized as "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. In 1996, Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert called it "one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made." Then something genuinely amazing happened to Vertigo: it was named the greatest film of all time by Sight & Sound,  the British Film Institute's film magazine. Every ten years since 1952, Sight & Sound has asked the world's leading film critics to compile a list of the 10 best films of all time. Vertigo entered their list at 7th in 1982, then placed 4th in 1992, jumped to second place in 2002, and took first place in 2012. Most astonishing, Vertigo bumped Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) from the top spot, a position it had held since 1962!

Vertigo is a far-fetched but insanely compelling mashup of mystery, melodrama and romance. I can agree that it deserves preservation in the National Film Registry, but I'm going to have to disagree with Sight & Sound over that greatest-film-of-all-time acknowledgment. Vertigo is not a better film than Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. I studied Kane in college; it's a flat-out masterpiece that changed American filmmaking. In my opinion, Vertigo is not even Alfred Hitchcock's greatest film. I'd argue that Rebecca (1940) or Rear Window (1954) are superior works. And if you want to call any one of his films "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant," look no further than Psycho (1960).

Vertigo is the first film in this blog series that left me genuinely conflicted. I admired some of Hitchcock's choices, including long dialogue-free sequences, the use of San Francisco area locations and some splendid camerawork and cinematography (which would later be replicated by directors like Steven Spielberg and Brian DePalma). But a couple of things really bothered me. I was troubled by one nagging plot hole. Bernard Herrmann's score is frequently terrific, but there are moments when it sounds awfully similar to music he composed for Psycho two years later. There's a psychedelic nightmare sequence that looks like an experimental blooper. And it just feels too long. Then I watched it again. After a second viewing, my verdict on Vertigo: it's a great film.  The central performances are outstanding and the final thirty minutes are riveting. All the things that bothered me the first time I saw it were still there, and that led me to the obvious conclusion: even great films have flaws.

Stray Gay Observations:

Vertigo's main theme music is cleverly sampled for the opening sequence of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City mini-series that originally aired on PBS in 1993.

As far back as silent films, Hollywood has been obsessed with female eyebrows. Some of the earliest stars had their eyebrows completely shaved off, then drawn back on with a grease pencil. The desired arch and fullness have evolved over time, but the trend toward a more natural look didn't really arrive until the1960s. Below, Kim Novak has a common 1950s look. The arch is softer and her real hair is enhanced with a pencil to make it look darker and fuller. Vertigo was shot in color using the higher resolution wide-screen VistaVision format, so Novak's eyebrows didn't really have a chance at looking natural -- they look like they were painted on by someone in the makeup department.

Kim Novak
One of the original problems I had with Vertigo is the significant (and obvious) age difference between James Stewart and Kim Novak. He was 49 and she was 24 at the time the film was made. At first the disparity irritated me, but then I realized Vertigo is way more serious about obsession than love. As it progresses, that age difference adds an extra measure of creepiness to what's happening. Although Hitchcock deemed Vertigo one of his favorite films, he wasn't shy about blaming it's tepid box office and indifferent critical response on James Stewart. Stewart, he claimed, was too old to be a convincing love interest for Kim Novak. So here's what I'd say to Hitch if we could resurrect him for a chat: Oh, Alfred, please. You cast the man. You also cast Barbara Bel Geddes as his old college sweetheart. Bel Geddes was 35 when you made the movie. So she was roughly 15 years younger than Stewart. Was he her professor at this college? And incidentally, you also cast Tom Helmore as Novak's husband. He was even older than Stewart -- 54! Consider this: Maybe 1958 audiences didn't connect with your movie because it was an unexpected departure from the romantic thriller promised by the trailer. Your movie is dark. Very dark. Your leading man is an emotionally disturbed abject failure. Your ending is cruel and shocking; it offers no solace. In other words, your film was way ahead of its time. So let's just be thankful for all those people who rescued it from obscurity back in the 1980s.  

Should You See It? There are Hitchcock films I find a lot more satisfying, entertaining or disturbing than Vertigo -- RebeccaStrangers on a TrainRear Window and Psycho. And I definitely have some personal reservations about it, but that wouldn't stop me from recommending Vertigo. It may be flawed, but I can't deny that Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is also an audacious, twisted and risky motion picture that deserves to be seen and discussed .
Next Time: Cabaret (1972)