Friday, May 25, 2012

Robin Gibb is Dead, Jim Parsons is Gay & The Real Sin of Sodom, Among Other Things

Bazinga! He's Gay! James Joseph "Jim" Parsons is the scene-stealing, two-time Emmy-winning actor who plays theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper on CBS's The Big Bang Theory. Reviewers and fans of the show have long speculated that the quirky character has Asperger syndrome and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and though technically straight, is so repressed that it doesn't matter. Now a New York Times profile matter-of-factly describes Parsons as "gay and in a 10-year relationship," a bit of information that probably does not surprise fans with sensitive gaydar. More interesting news, for me at least, is that Parsons has been cast in Ryan Murphy's screen adaptation of The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer's fierce (and largely autobiographical) play about HIV/AIDS activism in the early1980s.    

For at least a couple of years now, I already assumed Jim Parsons was gay. When comments and links to various articles starting coming through my Facebook news feed about it, I was only surprised by the number of tacky, cynical responses I kept reading. Like, "In other news, water was revealed to be wet today," or "Was this supposed to be shocking?"

Here's what I think. There are certainly people all across America who did not know Jim Parsons is gay; they will be surprised. And there are certainly gay and lesbian kids who will take some comfort in this revelation. It's a big deal when a star from the highest-rated sitcom on television comes out. But I feel like LGBT celebrities can never really please our community, no matter what they do. There's always going to be someone screaming "Why didn't he do this five years ago!" 

As far as I'm concerned, celebrities get to come out when it feels right to them, just like the rest of us. Lily Tomlin was 30 years into her career before she ever made it official. Sean Hayes from Will & Grace did not publicly discuss his sexual orientation until 2010, after the show had been off the air for four years. No matter how or when a celebrity comes out, their timing is never going to make everybody happy. And I'm genuinely weary of this idea that all gay celebrities have to spill their guts to People or The Advocate or Entertainment Tonight or Oprah or any publication or news program in order to make their sexual orientation real for everyone else.

For instance, here's actor Victor Garber with his partner, model and artist Rainer Andreesen. Garber never speaks of his personal life, ever, but is occasionally photographed with Andreesen and has been openly supportive of marriage equality. Does his failure to have ever graced the cover of People magazine with the words "I'm Gay!" next to his face make him any less gay? And if he did show up on  Ellen next week and tell the country's most famous lesbian that he's gay, wouldn't there be all kinds of people screaming, "Why didn't he say that when he starred in Titanic?"

The Real Sin of Sodom. A few years ago I invited theatrical performance activist Peterson Toscano to appear at a gay men's conference I was coordinating. Peterson has a fascinating backstory. He spent 17 years and over $30,000 in reparative therapy attempting to change and suppress his homosexuality and gender differences. In January of 1999 he finally came out and accepted himself as a gay man. Since then he's traveled the world as a survivor of the ex-gay movement, using comedy, storytelling and one-man plays to explore LGBTQ issues, sexism, racism, violence and gender. He also takes a radically realistic look at Bible stories, too. In this recent video from his YouTube channel, Peterson re-examines the Genesis story of Sodom, a part of the Bible that I've always found creepy and disturbing. Peterson says the story isn't about homosexuality at all. I agree.

Here's Your Religious Fruitcake of the Week. That would be Pastor Charles L. Morely of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina. President Obama's recent announcement that he supports same-sex marriage made the pastor "pukin' sick," so he got up in the pulpit and delivered a sermon that included a plan for killing off gays and lesbians. It goes like this:
"Build a great big, large fence -- 150 or 100 mile long -- put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. And have that fence electrified 'til they can't get out. Feed 'em, and you know what?  In a few years they'll die out. You know why? They can't reproduce."
Even Hitler himself would have rolled his eyes at this "Final Solution." Apparently it has not occurred to Pastor Morely that heterosexual couples outside the fence are going to keep having gay and lesbian babies. But wasn't that food drop business a compassionate twist?

You know, I can't even be outraged by this kind of language anymore. I pity him and his entire congregation, especially the ones condoning this plan with a hearty "Amen!" I don't even care that he said it, or that he won't take it back. I'll even defend his right to say it. What deeply offends me is that repugnant religious terrorists like Pastor Morely have tax-exempt status while preaching this bullshit. And that's not right. He and his ilk have abandoned Christianity.

R.I.P. Robin Gibb. First we lost Donna Summer to cancer, and now Robin Gibb succumbs after a long battle himself. If that name doesn't quite ring a bell, think Bee Gees. Robin, an extraordinarily gifted singer/songwriter, was the brother of Barry and Maurice Gibb. Sure, most people think of the Bee Gees as the '70s disco group whose music was omnipresent during the latter half of that decade, but I remember their pre-disco work in the 1960s and early '70s. That's when Robin's tender vibrato was featured on a number of Bee Gee's hits, including "I've Gotta Get a Message to You," "I Started a Joke" and "New York Mining Disaster 1941." The group disbanded in 1969, primarily because Robin wanted to fly solo. But people wanted the brothers Gibb together, so Barry, Maurice and Robin regrouped in 1970, scoring more hits like "Lonely Days" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart." 

Fearing they had become mired in a creative rut, the brothers relocated from London to Miami and reinvented themselves, eventually releasing 1975's Main Course, a breakthrough album that was divided between romantic balladry and tunes with an aggressive beat. And although brother Barry's falsetto emerged as the dominate voice, Robin continued to co-write the songs and make those three-part harmonies soar. Then came Saturday Night Fever, the movie soundtrack that sold 15 million copies and stayed at the top of the Billboard album chart for 24 consecutive weeks. Robin co-wrote eight of the 17 songs on the soundtrack.

Robin's fraternal twin brother Maurice died in 2003; brother Andy died in 1988. He's survived by his wife Dwina; mother, Barbara; daughter Melissa, sons Spencer and RJ, and brother Barry. 

Robin's solo efforts are largely forgotten, but he managed to crack the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984 with a skippy new wave synthpop number called "Boys Do Fall in Love." Back in those pre-Internet days when we didn't have access to every detail of a celebrity's life, I wondered if Robin Gibb was gay. He wasn't, even though this is exactly the kind of song that feels like it could only have been written by a gay dude. If Donna Summer is an obvious gay muse, Robin Gibb is a sly one.

And we try to be cool as we dance in a crowded room
At the end of the day, makin' love to a paper moon

Peace out,

Friday, May 18, 2012

Donna Summer is Dead and Dubstep Lives, Among Other Things

R.I.P. Donna Summer. Yes, I'm old enough to remember the assassinations of a president and a civil rights leader, the scandal of Watergate, the tragedy of Vietnam and the surreal exclamation point that followed it all: disco. Seriously, after all that, who can blame people for just wanting to tune out and dance? But has there ever been a musical genre more maligned than disco? Donna Summer, dubbed the Queen of Disco since the late '70s, has died of cancer at the age of 63. Even if disco is not your thing, it's impossible to dismiss the splendor of her mezzo-soprano vocal range or her accomplishments as an artist.

Born Ladonna Adrian Gaines, Summer's first success came in European stage productions of Hair and Godspell in the early '70s. Then she met legendary producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte who convinced her to record 1975's star-making, erotically-charged whisper-and-moan ballad "Love to Love You Baby," a song with one-hit wonder written all over it. But Summer emerged as a bonafide force to be reckoned with, recording 32 singles that charted on the Billboard Hot 100; fourteen of them made it into the top ten. She was the first artist to have three double-albums reach No. 1 on Billboard's album chart, won five Grammys, and experimented with a variety of styles when disco faded, like pop-rock, new jack swing and gospel/inspirational. Of her hits, I like "Dim All the Lights" (which contains the longest sustained note sung by a female artist in a top 40 song in both the US and UK, at about sixteen seconds), and "MacArthur Park," a stunning, peerless rendition of song that was covered by everyone from actors Richard Harris and Howard Keel to country stars Waylon Jennings and Glen Campbell (yes!). But you can't beat "Hot Stuff," a perfect disco-rock fusion with scorching electric guitars and a classic keyboard riff.

No one this famous ever avoids controversy. In the early '80s, following a divorce and depression, Donna Summer became a born-again Christian and attempted to shed her sultry, sex kitten image, wishing to be taken more seriously and reinvent herself as an artist. Speaking casually to a group of fans after a 1983 concert, she shared some details about her faith. A man in the group identified himself as having AIDS and asked Summer to pray for him. She said she would, hugged him and then encouraged him to turn his life over to Jesus (which, you know, is something Christians tend to do). Afterwards, a rumor started that she claimed AIDS, only recently discovered but already killing a lot of people, was divine punishment from God against gays for an immoral lifestyle. Summer vehemently denied ever saying anything like that for the rest of her career, and in fact, eyewitnesses have since come forward to say that the story is simply a myth. Some context... in the early '80s, plenty of preachers and so-called Christian groups and organizations were demonizing gay men and characterizing AIDS as retribution from God. When Summer became a born-again Christian, some gay men were all too willing to believe Donna Summer had become the enemy. Not me. I'm going to remember Ms. Summer as one of those artists who contributed significantly to the soundtrack of my life.

Summer is survived by her husband Bruce Sudano, their daughters Brooklyn and Amanda, as well as her daughter Mimi from a previous marriage.

It's A Viral Thing. The Internet makes it possible for anything to go viral, like this video, simply entitled "Teachers Dancing Behind Students." Massachusetts high school history teacher Mike Penney pulled out a camera and asked students to reflect on the ups and downs of the school year that's drawing to a close -- all while his fellow teachers secretly danced in the background. Then he replaced the audio with Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" and posted it to YouTube. The clip amassed over 800,000 views in a week; the students are reportedly amused by the prank. Two observations: Abby Kelley High School appears to have a disproportionate number of sexy bear teachers, and the adorable cub in the black sweater that shows up at :50 has got some sweet moves.

Homophobic Moment of the Week. In Lincoln, Nebraska, recently, the city council listened to public comments about their proposed "Fairness Ordinance," a measure that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city's non-discrimination law. A woman identified as Jane Svoboda shows up to oppose the ordinance, offering up a series of bizarre observations on gay sex, HIV/AIDS, and Hillary Clinton's sexual orientation, among other things, before finally proclaiming that, "Jesus was kissed by Judas, a homo, who tried to sabotage Jesus' kind ideas. Do you choose Jesus, a celibate, or Judas, a homo? You have to choose!"

This would all be too painful to watch if it weren't for the comical reaction of the guy sitting behind her. Now here's the twist. After this video went viral, Jane Svoboda's brother came forward to let everyone know that she's a diagnosed schizophrenic who lives in an assisted living home and he's her conservator because she's incompetent. He figured it was only a matter of time before she got into trouble. According to brother Patrick Svoboda, "She does have a very tender heart... but anything she says is certifiably schizophrenic... she's not some crazy conservative." But, see, the thing is... she doesn't sound terribly different from a lot of conservatives I hear railing against gay rights ... the ones who haven't actually been diagnosed as certifiably schizophrenic... yet.

My Favorite Music Video(s) of the Week. There's a dubstep artist named Skrillex whose music sounds like his name. He's achieved trans-continental fame and won three Grammys earlier this year. His video for "Bangarang" has been out several months now, accumulating a staggering 33 million views on YouTube. He's hot. But what is dubstep? It's a genre of electronic dance music that originated in South London, England. It's characterized by killer bass lines and reverberant drum patterns, clipped samples and occasional vocals. And since I hear people constantly maligning it, dubstep may very well be the new disco. But I digress. Watch the video for Skrillex's "Bangarang" and decide for yourself.

I showed you that so that I could show you this. If you want an honest opinion about dubstep and "Bangarang," ask a kid. The folks at music channel Noisey did just that.

Peace out,

Friday, May 4, 2012

Munch's Scream and The 3-Second Rule, Among Other Things

Among other things I found online this week...

The Scream. One of the most recognizable paintings in the world has been sold at auction through Sotheby's. The Scream, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's vivid expressionist depiction of psychological anxiety (or angst, depending on who you ask), sold for the record-breaking sum of nearly $120 million dollars. Considered priceless by many, the pastel on board work was expected to fetch around $80 million, but it easily surpassed the previous record for an artwork sold at auction --  $106 million for Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust in 2010.

There are four versions of the painting -- three hang in Norwegian museums and this was the last one privately owned. So who bought The Scream?  Sotheby's is not disclosing that information, but Chinese billionaires are dominating the art world these days. So what does a Sotheby's auction look like? This short clip provides a glimpse of the process.

The artist, Edvard Munch (1863-1944), never married but is alleged to have had a number of heterosexual affairs. There's been some speculation but no confirmation that he was gay, very likely because his nude works feature women and men. He painted The Scream in 1893 and this is his explanation for creating the iconic painting.
"I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature."
 Yeah, I can relate. Incidentally, here's what he looked like...

3 Second Rule, 15 Minutes of Fame. Now for something completely different to get the bitter taste of Bryan Fischer out of our mouths. Here's singer/songwriter Lisa Gail Allred, a Texas native who's been singing since she was a child. In the last two weeks, the homemade video for her country/pop song "3 Second Rule" has gone viral, because it's unintentionally hilarious and she sings like those people who get roundly rejected during the auditions portion of American Idol. It's got hot cowboys, camel toe (at 1:26) and vocal nirvana (at 2:34). Haters gonna mock, but it's maddeningly catchy as shit. And who can blame her for pursuing a dream? I just hope she makes some money from all the fun covers already turning up on YouTube.

My Favorite Music Video(s) of the Week. First up is the clip for "Wandering Sailor" by Brooklyn-based duo Kingship (Paul Leschen and Chris Hall). For their first ever video they've delivered a dreamy, sexy homage to the little-seen 1982 foreign film Querelle. The song is a pretty solid retro-rocker with great vocals (okay, his voice may be an acquired taste), and the video is just the right mix of tongue-in-cheek camp -- though you may have problems with the ending; I didn't.

And this is B.A.P.,  a South Korean hip hop boy band (yup, that's a thing). Their name stands for Best Absolute Perfect. The song is called "Power" and the video is a giddy, expensive, elaborately choreographed spectacle featuring a crashed spaceship and aerosol spray cans. It's all kinds of wonderful terrible.

Peace out,