Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Holiday Music Sampler 2013

What's the matter? Can't quite muster up any holiday spirit?

Maybe one of these tunes will get you there.

Father Tiger - "On Christmas Day"

Father Tiger -- John Russell (left) and Greg Delson (right)

Upbeat, yet melancholy, this slice of synthpop pie was first released around the holidays in 2012. It's making the rounds again this year, and deservedly so. Father Tiger became one of my favorite bands in 2013 and I look forward to catching them live in the future. Find out more about them here.

Erasure - "Gaudete"

Erasure -- Vince Clarke (left) and Andy Bell (right)

After recording more than a dozen albums since the 1980s, this popular duo released their first holiday-themed collection this year,  Snow Globe, featuring a terrific synthpop cover of a sacred 16th century (or earlier) Christmas carol. Gaudete translates as "rejoice." And Bell sings it in the original Latin. Because... what else would you expect from the miraculously flamboyant Andy Bell?

The Wilderness of Manitoba - "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"

The Wilderness of Manitoba

One American music critic called this Canadian alternative chamber folk group, "totally modern yet captivatingly anachronistic at the same time." Yes, sure. I'd call their music, sweet, wistful and refreshingly honest. This live version of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" has become one of my holiday favorites since it was released in 2011.

Kyle Dunnigan - "Fuck You, Mistletoe"

Kyle Dunnigan

Comedian Kyle Dunnigan has a cautionary tale about the dangers of mistletoe for straight dudes. It's the novelty Christmas tune of the year. And in case you haven't already figured it out from the title, it's not safe for work. But it is available on iTunes.

Straight No Chaser - "Wonderful Christmastime"

Straight No Chaser
Full disclosure: I'm not particularly a fan of these guys, even though I think they're talented. I've just heard them obliviously ruin too many good pop songs. But I have to give them credit for re-imagining this cloying Paul McCartney seasonal tune from 1979. It suits them. Abandoning that cheesy synthesizer riff from the original and just putting the voices up front has saved it (for me at least). And they somehow managed to convince Sir Paul to be part of the recording, so God bless them, every one!

Mary J. Blige - "My Favorite Things"

Mary J. Blige

And now, the inimitable Mary J. Blige will sing the hell out of "My Favorite Things." I'm not sure when or how this became a holiday tune, but I hear it with all the other inescapable Christmas music that fills stores and restaurants this time of year. It must have something to do with the lyrical references to packages tied up with string, crisp apple strudel, sleigh bells and silver white winters that melt into spring. Anyway, it's on her holiday release, A Mary Christmas. See what she did there? It won't make purists forget Julie Andrews, but it will probably cleanse the palate of Carrie Underwood.

Have a cozy and peaceful holiday season. Or enjoy the madness. Your choice. Carry on.

Peace out,

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Sound of Queer Music, Vol. 4

Here's the latest in my series of blog entries featuring LGBTQ musicians. It's all about the sights and sounds of talented people fucking with the heteronormative cultural bias in some quietly breathtaking and flamboyantly splendid ways.

Well-Strung. They're an all-male singing string quartet. The sound is classical meets Top 40, covering everything from Mozart and Vivaldi to Rihanna and Lady Gaga. And the adorable quotient is kinda off the chart.

From the left, Christopher Marchant, Edmund Bagnell, Daniel Shevlin & Trevor Wadleigh

Here's their mash-up of Mozart's "A Little Night Music" and Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone." If you can't find something to like here, there's a real good chance you're a curmudgeon.

You can find their YouTube channel here and a pretty good article about them here. The music is on iTunes.

Extra Fancy. Led by openly gay and HIV+ frontman Brian Grillo, this post-alternative punk band made two damn good (but largely unappreciated) albums in the late 1990s.  Grillo has a commanding presence and a great voice -- thankfully, he never resorts to the kind of screaming vocal work you typically find in this genre. He was superbly supported by bassist D.A. Foster, guitarist Mike Hateley and drummer Derek O'Brien.

Extra Fancy lead singer Brian Grillo.

The video for the band's most successful tune -- "Sinnerman" -- regularly appears and disappears online, but you can hear it below. Grillo's aggressive swagger is wildly effective, but it's his lusty voice that gets me every time.

I became curious about Brian Grillo recently, hence the inclusion of Extra Fancy on this list, and decided to see if I could find out what's going on with him these days. He lives in Los Angeles, still performs occasionally, and is a sexy fiftysomething dude who can still rock the house. Here's your proof. Both Extra Fancy albums are available on iTunes.

Zebra Katz. His real name is Ojay Morgan. He's ambivalent about being categorized as a queer rapper, but had this to say to UK's The Guardian in May 2013: "Creating a strong, black, other, queer male is something that really needed to happen because you don't see that often, especially not in hip hop. But it's terrifying standing up as a queer man. People are getting attacked all over the world, but you have to use your sexuality as a tool, instead of having them use it against you."

Zebra Katz
His formidable single, "Ima Read," made a big impression last year when it was used at a Paris fashion week show. Featuring guest vocalist Njena Reddd Foxxx, the track exploded, in large part due to it's repetitive use of the word bitch. Says Katz, "It's seen as a very misogynist word in hip hop, but we're trying to numb it." The song is deceptively minimal, requiring a bit of explanation to really understand. It's an homage to New York's voguing and drag culture scene immortalized in the 1990 documentary, Paris is Burning. In that context, the phrase "Ima read" means to cut someone down to size by flexing your bitchiness. Here's the creepy, menacing and visually striking video for "Ima Read."

The Zebra Katz website is here. His music is on iTunes.

Tom Goss. This native of Kenosha, Wisconsin spent his high school and college years as a wrestler. After a brief stint as a teacher, he moved to Washington, DC and entered a Catholic seminary in 2004. He abandoned his quest to become a priest and started playing music in DC coffeehouses.  That led to recording and music videos and appearances all over the country. While building a dedicated national following, this very busy guy even managed to find love and get married in 2010.

Super-cutie Tom Goss
Goss is an unabashed romantic, known for his songs about love, but recently he made a departure from pensive pop ballads to record an ode to gay bears. The video was an instant hit.

Check out his YouTube channel here and his website here. All his music is available on iTunes.

John Grant. Sometimes you discover a musician that just moves you in some remarkable way. Like John Grant. He used to front the Czars, a Denver-based alternative rock band, but when every member of the group departed, Grant was left solo. I admire the Czars, but I love John Grant. His first solo effort, Queen of Denmark (2010) was filled with smart, evocative, autobiographical angst. I wondered, Could he get any better? Happily, yes. His latest album, Pale Green Ghosts, is filled with some deeply personal stuff and surprising arrangements. Wisely, Grant's rich, caramel-coated voice is always above the mix, where you can hear the wry, painful or bitter lyrics. Grant's been out for years; in 2012, he publicly acknowledged that he's also living with HIV.

John Grant

One of several standout cuts from Pale Green Ghosts is "GMF," which features Sinead O'Connor singing backup and a bridge (beginning at 3:10) that's just one of the most lyrically exquisite things I've heard all year. And don't worry, you'll know exactly what GMF stands for about a minute into the song. Here's the video, which follows Grant around for a day, presumably a day not long after a break up.

John Grant's music is on iTunes. Check out his YouTube channel here.

Peace out,

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Sound of Queer Music, Vol. 3

Here's the latest in my series of blog entries featuring openly LGBTQ musicians. It's all about the sights and sounds of talented people fucking with the heteronormative cultural bias in some quietly breathtaking and flamboyantly splendid ways.

Samwell. This Greenville, South Carolina native became an overnight Internet celebrity in 2007 with a cheerful little tune called "What What (In the Butt)." It's about exactly what you think it's about. And if you're not one of the 52 million people, so far, that have seen the droll, low budget YouTube video, it's here.

Samwell (the stage name for Sam Norman)

So, what do you do after a phenomenon like "What What (In the Butt)?" Small movie roles, comedic sketch videos, a safer sex PSA and even an iPhone app called  Shaky Advice from Samwell that functions like a Magic 8 Ball and features him giving advice. It's hard out there for an Internet celebrity, so I was a little bit giddy when he released "Just Be Free" last spring. It's an unabashed dance floor anthem with a zippy video featuring Samwell as Malcom X, Jesus Christ, the Statue of Liberty and Madonna (I think). Even if you hate the song, visually speaking, 1:46 and 3:22 are subversively brilliant.

Jay Brannan. Born in Texas, this singer-songwriter appeared in Shortbus (2006), John Cameron Mitchell's film about a diverse group of New Yorkers looking for sexual satisfaction. It's a good movie that contains some of the most explicit sexual material to ever appear in a mainstream motion picture. Bonus: Jay Brannan has a song on the soundtrack ("Soda Shop").

Jay Brannan 

Since Shortbus, Brannan has released a couple of EPs/albums that wisely feature his gorgeous tenor voice supported by lo-fi arrangements. The style is raw, personal and intimate. Here's the video for "Can't Have it All," released in 2010.

Brannans's music is available on iTunes. You can check out his YouTube channel here, and his website here.

Diamond Rings. That's the stage name for self-taught Canadian indie/electronic/synthpop artist John O'Regan. He never talks about his sexuality, preferring to let people decide for themselves. He's unapologetic about his love for eye makeup, gender-bending outfits and playing lots of queer venues and festivals. In 2011, he told Canada's PrideSource.com: "Not that I'm unwilling to define myself, but I personally don't see it as being something that's necessary to do. It ultimately limits what I'm capable of doing as an artist and performer. I'm into just doing what I do and putting it out there and letting people figure it our for themselves." Some folks, naturally, will have a problem with that philosophy. Me? I think he's sublimely queer. And I bet he'd be fine with that.

Diamond Rings

I love quite a few of his songs, but "I'm Just Me" is probably my favorite. It captures the essence of '80s synthpop in the best possible way and makes you yearn for a dance floor. Also, it's entirely possible he's channeling the beloved, iconic diva Grace Jones. You decide. He'd want it that way.

The Diamond Rings website is here. His music is available on iTunes, too.

Carrie Brownstein. For eleven years, this Washington state native was the guitarist and vocalist for the '90s female rock/punk trio called Sleater-Kinney. Spin magazine declared her a lesbian at the age of 21. In 2006, the New York Times described her as "openly gay." In 2010, Brownstein decided to address her sexual identity in an interview with Portland, Oregon's Willamette Week just before the premiere of her sketch comedy series, Portlandia, on Independent Film Channel. "Only because it seems so culturally important to be able to say who you are: I definitely identify as bisexual. Every interesting person I've ever read about, sexuality's all over the map for them. It was never clearly defined. I've always just kind of existed in that world of openness. But right now, in terms of the political climate, and with the number of young gay suicides, and with Don't Ask Don't Tell not being repealed, and with so many politicians still be so aggressively against gay marriage, it is hard not to at least identify in a way that lets people know, 'It is okay whoever you are.'"

Carrie Brownstein
(Photo courtesty IFC/Christian Hornbecker)

Portlandia turned into a cult hit while Brownstein was simultaneously working on a new musical collaboration with former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss. Guitarist Mary Timony and keyboardist Rebecca Cole joined them and the new band was christened Wild Flag. Their debut album dropped in the fall of 2011 and featured one the best garage rock singles of the year, in my humble opinion. Take a look at the video for "Romance."

Bob Mould. He was the front man for the popular Minneapolis-based hardcore '80s band Husker Du. When that band ended, he found '90s success with a power trio called Sugar. And when Spin magazine outed him in an early 1990s interview, he let it play out naturally, but remained pretty invisible within gay culture. Until... he played lead guitar in the house band for John Cameron Mitchell's 2001 film Hedwig and the Angry Inch... co-organized a benefit concert for Freedom to Marry, an organization devoted to marriage equality...  and started self-identifying as a bear -- even appearing in the 2010 documentary Bear Nation. His 2011 memoir (See a Little Light) is a great read and he co-hosts and DJs an annual musical event for bears called Blowoff. And he's a D-A-D-D-Y. Yup.

Bob Mould

In 2012, Bob Mould released a new album, Silver Age, containing a power-pop gem entitled "The Descent." And this video was one of my favorites of the year.

You can check out Bob Mould's website here.

Peace out,

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Avoiding Tired Old AIDS Queen Syndrome

Over the past couple of years I've seen this easily recognizable biohazard symbol...

... appear in some unexpected places -- like the bodies of other gay men.

Including gay porn performers...

Treasure Island Media's Ethan Wolfe

And at least one gay porn company has incorporated the symbol into its logo.

The biohazard symbol dates back to 1966. It was created for Dow Chemical Company by environmental-health engineer Charles Baldwin as a means of designating "containment products" -- biological materials that carry a significant heath risk.

The first time I ever saw the symbol tattooed on a guy's body, I thought, "Oh, he's probably got HIV." I eventually did a Google search for biohazard tattoo and Ask.com convinced me I'd probably jumped to the right conclusion.

What does a biohazard tattoo symbolize?


A bio-hazard symbol tattooed on someones body could have several meanings but it is a very common tattoo used among gay men who are HIV Positive. Depending on the individual, it is a warning sign to potential partners, a sign of strength that they are dealing with the illness, or a discreet way to find people who have the disease in common with them. However, not everyone who has a bio-hazard tattoo on themselves is gay or HIV positive, many people have gotten the tattoo just because it has a personal meaning to them or they enjoy how it looks.

(It's a good thing I don't work for Ask.com. I'd be correcting grammar all day.)

Then I wondered if there was a real gay man with HIV who'd ever explained his own tattoo to a media outlet. Another Google search turned up this two-minute CNN video from 2011. Description: Michael Lee Howard, like many HIV-positive men, lives with a biohazard tattoo. He explains the significance of this "ink."

All this got me thinking about my own journey with the virus...

I was infected with HIV twenty years ago; June, 1993, a couple of days after my birthday. Yes, I know exactly when, where and with whom. There has never been an ounce of comfort in knowing... because knowing exactly has meant that I can relive it, turning it over and over again in my head until I want to take a hatchet to the memory. I'd rather be one of those people who couldn't recall the specifics of getting infected if their life depended on it.

My father died of esophageal cancer barely two weeks after I seroconverted. My mother succumbed to lung cancer a year and half later. If they had lived longer and known I was positive, I have no reason to believe they would have been anything but supportive. But many times I'm relieved they never had to witness the toll HIV has taken on my body, my career and my mental health. When I eventually got around to telling my siblings, my sister, a nurse and college professor, said, "I love you; please don't shut me out of your life over this." My brother's only comment on the matter was, "Man, I always thought you were smarter than this." Well, so did I.

Even though HIV has been inside me for two decades, I've lived with it much longer -- three freakin' decades. I started working at CNN in the summer of 1983, around the same time that the mainstream media began its dangerously maladroit reporting on the epidemic. I remember the first time I saw something about it. I was sitting at work reading the Associated Press wire stories in preparation for my shift and there was an article about how this thing that started as "gay cancer," and then became known as GRID (Gay-related Immune Deficiency) was now called AIDS -- Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. I shuddered; it felt like my lungs had collapsed. I scrolled past the story, but my brain delivered a chilling synopsis: I'm barely out of the closet and I've had sex with exactly one man. What does this mean? Shit. 

And then people started dying -- the famous, like Rock Hudson, and the friends, like Darrell, a guy I had known since first grade. They weren't beautiful deaths, like Ali McGraw in Love Story. They were horrible, slow motion departures that came one after another, made all the more excruciating by fervid judgment. I vividly recall a news report in which the leader of a Christian organization cruelly and casually remarked, "Well, as far as we can tell, this disease is killing all the right people."

AIDS was everywhere in the '80s and '90s -- the news, magazine covers, TV shows and movies (Beverly Hills 90210, thirtysomething, Designing WomenAn Early FrostParting Glances, Longtime Companion, And the Band Played On). It came to dinner with friends. It wandered around my eccentric pal Aubrey's annual Easter egg hunt. AIDS hung out at the bar. And it cast a shadow over every sexual encounter. Sometimes you knew who was positive because it was painfully obvious, or because they just told you. And sometimes you found yourself sucked into gossip about who has to have it because, you know, he's slept with everybody.

I remember hanging out with my mom on a day off  back in 1985 when she turned away from All My Children and said, "I'm afraid I'm going to get AIDS." I gingerly explained to her how that was not possible. I'll never know if maybe all she was really looking for that day was some kind of reassurance that her gay son wasn't going to get it. A few years later, the most heated argument I ever had with my boyfriend of two years, Tom (circa 1987-89), was whether or not to get the test. I said, "Isn't it better to know?" He said, "What could you do about it if the test is positive?" That was not an uncommon point of view at the time.

Unless you lived through that period, you simply cannot possibly imagine how pervasive AIDS was, or how hopeless things felt. And because I worked at CNN, it was literally impossible for me to escape the daily onslaught of stories. Sadly, the network eluded excellence on the subjects of HIV and AIDS, embracing a frequently irresponsible, overwrought style that regularly made me queasy. Yeah, I was there when one of our worst anchors went all bug-eyed for the camera, clutched her copy and exclaimed with hysterical urgency, "The AIDS virus has been found in tears!" I was also there in '95 when Olympic diver Greg Louganis revealed that he'd been HIV-positive during the '88 Seoul Olympic Games. To me, the story was: Here's an athlete under enormous pressure to compete and win (with the entire world watching) while simultaneously living with HIV and taking the first (and very toxic) AIDS drug, AZT. He suffered a concussion after hitting his head on the springboard during preliminary rounds, but went on to win the motherfucking gold medal anyway. CNN chose to frame the story differently: Greg Louganis cut his head and bled in the pool and we don't really know what that means, but we're just gonna go ahead and imply that he endangered everybody who got into the pool afterwards, you know, because he's got HIV. By this time, I'd really had enough, so I summoned the spunk to tell the supervising producer that we needed to change the way we were reporting the story because HIV is no match for thousands of gallons of chlorinated water. I reminded him that it was 1995, not 1985, so any doctor or scientist from the CDC could confirm that fact. He changed the story. Next shift, different producer, the story went right back to being all about the cut, the blood and that goddamned pool.

When I tested positive in 1993, the first thing I did was get the test again. Sometimes you just have to slap denial in the face, hard. Then I went to an infectious disease specialist who immediately prescribed AZT, the only approved antiretroviral drug for HIV at the time. I said no. Everyone I knew who took that drug was already dead or desperately ill (which makes the Greg Louganis story even more remarkable to me, frankly). The doctor said, "If you're not going to take this medication, then I don't even know why you came here." So, I never went back to see him. Instead, I volunteered at several AIDS service organizations and surrounded myself with all things HIV. Know your enemy. I became a peer counselor, a peer group facilitator, a safer sex educator, a workshop creator, and an expert on disclosing my status before sex -- and yes, I continued to have my fair share of sex. I chose, however, not to disclose my status at CNN. It wasn't safe to do so; that was my judgment call. (Side note: I am bewildered by people who won't shut up about liberal bias in the media. It's bullshit. Newspapers and newsrooms are filled with people from all corners of the political spectrum. For a period of time, I was supervised at CNN by a guy who voted for Pat Buchanan in the 1992 Republican presidential primary. Seriously. He didn't like the fact that I was gay and he certainly wouldn't have been okay with me having HIV.)

I was gone from CNN by the end of the '90s. It was difficult to abandon a career in broadcast news -- something I'd wanted ever since I watched the first episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show as a kid -- but I sincerely believe it would have killed me to stay in that business. You see, I progressed to AIDS in roughly four years. Why? Was it the stress of working in an environment with insane deadlines and crazy hours? Was my body simply unable to juggle the virus, a demanding career, a relationship and an intense schedule of volunteer commitments? Should I have taken the AZT? Did I wait too long to start combination therapy once the drug "cocktails" arrived? If HIV has taught me anything, it's that you can't change a second of the past. I've learned to live with my decisions and navigate the consequences as best I can. I've definitely fucked up a few times, but I've also made a bunch of smart choices.

So, I carved out a niche for myself in HIV/AIDS work and stayed busy writing dozens of articles, facilitating workshops and serving on committees and boards. I met thousands of people living with HIV and got emails from readers all over the world. I was asked to do more -- a blog, PowerPoint presentations, panel discussions, podcast interviews, TV appearances. I'm not even going to pretend that I didn't consider becoming a famous gay poz dude that would eventually end up chatting with Oprah, but I just didn't have the energy for it. I walked away from it all in 2008, choosing to focus on running a non-profit spirituality organization for gay and bi men for a while, and enjoying a sweet, three-year relationship with an adorable cub named Greg.

Now, somehow, it's 2013 -- thirty years since the first time I heard about AIDS and twenty years since my own infection with HIV. I made it to my 50s and reinvented myself more times than Madonna.  I've lived long enough to see one of my HIV meds go generic, to read articles about "the graying of the epidemic," and to witness the release of an Oscar-nominated AIDS documentary called How to Survive a Plague (2012). Over the past few years I've read multiple blogs written by newly-infected gay guys half my age who are promoting a new adage about living with HIV: it's all good. I confess that I wince a little bit when those bright-eyed, self-assured bloggers advise everyone not to worry because it's all manageable now, the drugs are better and everyone with HIV is going to live an average lifespan. Surely it will be better for their generation. I genuinely hope so. I just can't forget that it's been pretty devastating for mine -- innumerable deaths, discrimination, stigma, and that first wave of drugs that kept a lot of us alive but ravaged and disfigured our bodies in all kinds of unexpected ways while simultaneously elevating our lipids and spiking our blood sugar. Some, (okay, many) of us probably have Post-traumatic stress disorder. Me? I desperately want to avoid becoming a Tired Old AIDS Queen who waves his arms and shouts, "Hey, you HIV kids! Get off my history!"

Here's the thing. Right now, to me personally, it feels like there's a huge paradigm shift happening around gay men and the virus. It's feeling more and more like testing positive is becoming an acceptable, inevitable rite of passage. Get it. Get over it. Get on with your life. If I could illustrate what I think is happening with a meme or JPG, it might look something like this:

This is one of my Facebook friends. 
At first I thought he was being ironic. Now, not so much.
So, finally, that brings me back around to this phenomenon of HIV-positive gay men tattooing biohazard symbols on their bodies. I think it's... curious. And a little troubling. I mean, I LOVE tattoos, but I'm still wrestling with the fact that the symbol stands for toxicity, contamination and danger. As a means of communicating your HIV-positive status to someone else with HIV, I don't think a tattoo is a surefire shortcut. On the other hand, if it starts a conversation that gets everybody on the same page before sex, I'm all for it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I really need to go find a biohazard-tattooed poz dude half my age and have some raucous... um, intimacy. It might be the only cure for Tired Old AIDS Queen Syndrome.

Peace out,

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Sound of Queer Music, Vol. 2

This is the second in my series of blog entries featuring openly LGBTQ musicians. It's all about the sights and sounds of talented people fucking with the heteronormative cultural bias in some quietly breathtaking and flamboyantly splendid ways.

AB Soto. This visual/performance artist and musician has made quite a splash over the past year, releasing music and a flurry of can't-look-away videos. He appeared at San Francisco's annual Folsom Street Fair in 2012 and the official bio states that he was born in East Los Angeles. What you see in his work is an amalgamation of his Latin roots and a background in professional dancing and fashion design.

AB Soto
His bio also says AB's aim is to show the diversity of the more marginalized members of the gay community and bring them to a wider audience. As if that wasn't a large enough goal, his work challenges mainstream gay culture and norms. Serious stuff. Good thing he has the energetic swagger and cocky sense of humor to pull it off. And here's proof -- the sassy and smashingly art directed video for "Keep it Movin'."

AB Soto's music is available on iTunes. For more videos, check out his YouTube page here.

SSION. Part band, part art project, it's the creation of Cody Critcheloe -- and it's pronounced "shun," as in shunning day jobs and making art for a living. Critcheloe has made music videos for artists like Santigold, Peaches, Gossip, MNDR and the Liars, but SSION has really started to get some well-deserved attention the last couple of years.

Cody Critcheloe, creator of SSION
SSION's sound has been called sultry pop with a disco backbone. And Critcheloe's videos are wildly entertaining, nonsensical blasts of absurdity. Take the video for "Earthquake." Critcheloe describes it as "a coming of age love story between an enigmatic instigator and and alien-brother-lover resulting in the purest form of magik, with a bit of feminism and Las Vegas showmanship thrown in for good measure."  Oh, and it was all filmed in Kansas City.

To check out SSION's website, go here. The music is available on iTunes.

Jonny McGovern. He burst onto the scene in 2000, mixing satire, bawdy comedy and music in his nightclub acts. Albums, music videos and a podcast (Gay Pimpin' with Jonny McGovern) followed. The man has a big personality and a raspy I-smoke-3-packs-of-Marlboros-a-day voice that make for some rollicking good songs and videos.

Here's Jonny McGovern. Just look at the mischief in those eyes.
Here's the music video for "Dickmatized." Which is exactly what you think it's about. So do I really need to warn you that this video is not safe for work? Or for the faint of heart? Or anybody who's easily offended?

McGovern's music and podcast are available on iTunes. You can check out more of his videos -- including "Sexy Nerd" and "Bossy Bottom" -- on his YouTube channel. Just click here. And if you just can't get enough, his website is a lot of fun, too. It's here.

Kele Okereke. He was born in Liverpool to immigrant (and very Catholic) Nigerian parents who kicked him out of the house in 2000 when he told them he was gay. He moved in with friends, got serious about his music and ended up the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of British indie rock band Bloc Party. Okereke came out in several 2010 interviews while promoting a solo album entitled The Boxer. Although he says he was already out and open about his sexuality before the interviews, he finally talked about it publicly because he was tired of having journalists and critics describe him as closeted.

Kele Okereke
Today, Okereke lives in New York but communicates with his family regularly even though they still don't get his homosexuality. In 2012, he told The Advocate, "They weren't into it all, and they are still very Catholic and from a place where there are no visible gay people. They don't quite understand. But they love me, and they understand that I'm happy, and we're finding a way."

Here's the music video for "Everything You Wanted," a great track from The Boxer, his well-reviewed pop-rock album with driving dance beats.

Most of his music, solo and with Bloc Party, can be found on iTunes. Check out his website here.

Drake Jensen. In early 2012, this Nova Scotia-born country singer came out in a big way -- by releasing a music video that featured the man he'd married and dedicating it to a gay Ottawa teen who committed suicide after being bullied. Jensen told the music publication Cash Box Canada, "I'm a homosexual musician telling my story through songs and spreading the message of love. In a perfect world, what could be wrong with that?"

Drake Jensen. Better than anything in Disney's Country Bear Jamboree.
Jensen has an earthy, world-weary voice that's going to remind you of a handful of country stars (Alan Jackson, George Strait and Charley Pride come immediately to mind). He can nail a country ballad. And here's your proof, the single "When It Hurts Like That" from his cleverly titled second album, OUTlaw

Jensen's music is available on iTunes. To check out his website, go here.

Until next time...

Peace out,

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Eurovision Song Contest 2013!

For my European friends, no explanation is necessary. So here's the scoop for everyone else: In 1955, the alliance of public service media entities known as the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) came up with the idea of an international televised song contest. Without interruption, the Eurovision Song Contest has been broadcast every year since 1956, making it one of the longest-running television programs in the world. Since satellite television didn't exist when it began, only viewers in Germany, Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland saw the early contests. These days the competition is broadcast throughout Europe, but also in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Jordan, New Zealand and the United States, even though those countries cannot participate. It's wildly popular, pulling in an audience of about 600 million annually.

All active members of the EBU can take part and this year 39 countries are sending artists to compete. For everything you ever wanted to know about the history of Eurovision Song Contest, including this year's event, click here. Who became the most successful Eurovision Contest winner of all time? A little Swedish pop quartet called ABBA. (Although Celine Dion didn't do too badly either.) The 2013 winner, chosen via a combination of televoting and juries, will be announced May 18th. It's all done live for the contest, but a lot of the performers make music videos to promote their songs internationally, too. I can't show you all 39 acts here, so I picked five that are likely to end up in the top ten based on buzz and momentum. Have a look...

Robin Stjernberg - Sweden. Sweden's Loreen won last year with an irresistible dance-pop confection called "Euphoria." Can cheerful, energetic former boy band member Robin Stjernberg take Sweden to a second consecutive win?

Robin Stjernberg

I don't think Stjernberg has the winning tune here, but he's adorable and lots of fun to watch. I can imagine every teenage girl on the European continent voting for him. And maybe a few gay guys, too.

Cascada - Germany. It's a band -- and a pretty successful one -- known for bombastic electro dance-pop. Vocalist Natalie Horler is the one featured prominently in all their videos... because, well, look at her. And she can sing.

Natalie Horler of Cascada

Cascada's entry is called "Glorious." It's enjoyable, despite the utter banality of it. In the music video, unfortunately, she's wearing a tacky dress with a silly train and unflattering bustier that is precisely the kind of garment that gets you kicked off Project Runway. Psst... Natalie... please don't show up at the contest in that thing. I'm begging you.

Krista Siegfrids - Finland. There are usually a couple of novelty tunes in every Eurovision contest and some of them fare pretty well. Buranovskiye Babushki, an ethno-pop group of Russian grandmothers came in second last year with a song called "Party for Everybody." Krista Siegfrids has perhaps this year's liveliest tongue-in-cheek entry, "Marry Me."

Finnish beauty Krista Siegfrids
There's a lot of buzz about this song, perhaps because Krista is ridiculously watchable and the lyrical hook is, I kid you not, "uh oh uh uh a ding dong." It has the same stuck-in-your-head quality as last year's "Call Me Maybe." You have been warned. And here's the nutty video for "Marry Me." Side note: for those of us who are not drawn to beautiful Finnish women, there's some male eye candy here, too. The object of her affections is handsome, but I'll take either of Krista's campsite buddies.

Margaret Berger - Norway. She's a Norwegian Idol runner-up with two successful albums and a growing fan base outside her home country.

Norway's Margaret Berger
Berger's song -- "I Feed You My Love" -- is a big electronica anthem with teeth. I don't recall anything sounding like this at all last year. I think she'll easily end up near the top, but won't win because this is not a love song, an obvious dance track or a song with a discernable feelgood message. In other words, it sounds like a song that was not written to win a contest. It's solid; I like it. Side note: the majority of artists sing in English rather than their own language even though there's no requirement to do so. There's a certain whimsical charm in hearing Berger's pronunciation of words like cocoon and reward.

Emmelie De Forest - Denmark. First things first: she publicly claimed that her great-great-grandmother was Queen Victoria of England. When that was disputed by various genealogists, she just dropped it. So, there's a chance she's crazy, which at least helps you differentiate her from all the other attractive young women in this contest (and there are scads of them).

Denmark's Emmelie De Forest
According to virtually every gambling site out there, De Forest's "Only Teardrops" is the favorite. Even I have to concede it has winner written all over it. Cloying and melodramatic, it sounds exactly like something Celine Dion would have recorded at her chest-thumping My-Heart-Will-Go-On peak. Yup, this is one of those songs you pretend to loathe, but secretly sing in the shower or alone in your car. You'll put this on your iPod and tap your foot right along with it. So, just surrender.

Here are five more songs with good odds of getting into the top ten. Just click on the link to take you to the video.

Zlata Ognevich - Ukraine (This has a kicky show tune quality about it.)
Dina Garipova - Russia (Includes the remarkable lyric, What if we chose to bury our guns.)
Marco Mengoni - Italy (He sings it in Italian; has the wickedest hair in the competition.)
Anouk - Netherlands (This has a certain melancholy charm -- it's a favorite of mine.)
Nodi & Sophie - Georgia (Nodi is a bit of a hunk.)

And finally, If you've been wondering whatever happened to '80s diva Bonnie Tyler ("It's a Heartache," "Total Eclipse of the Heart"), she's representing the UK with "Believe in Me."

Peace out,

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Sound of Queer Music, Vol. 1

This is the first in a series (hopefully) of blog entries featuring openly LGBTQ musicians. 

Lots of musicians have come out after a run of mainstream success -- Elton John, George Michael, k.d. lang, Lesley Gore, Janis Ian, to name a few -- but the artists below have done us all a favor by skipping the coy is he?/is she? interviews and letting the truth set them free to make whatever music they want for whomever wants to listen. It's the sound of talented people fucking with the heteronormative cultural bias in some quietly breathtaking and flamboyantly splendid ways.

The first five...

Conquistador. Los Angeles-based musician Alexander Antebi is a defiantly eccentric guy with a fondness for cat suits, unusual hats and his mustache. In fact, he was the first American, first Jew, as well as the youngest competitor in history to win the title of "World Imperial Moustache Champion" at the World Beard and Mustache Championships, held in Brighton, England in 2007.

Alexander Antebi
His Pinterest page describes him as, "A glitter shaman, gangster of love, and conjurer of sonic spirits from the deserts of Sudan and the gardens of Japan to Milan and Yucatan." And one critic called him the love child of Frank Zappa and Prince. So there's that... and then there's his music. It's been called "fuzzy roller-disco," "glitter soul" and an amalgam of "Zappa-flaired psychedelia and Bowie glam rock." Yeah. And I dig it. Check out the award-winning video for "With A Love Like That."

If you like this single, it's available on iTunes or his website.

Big Dipper. No gay list would be complete without the obligatory bear. Come to think of it, Obligatory Bear sounds like a great name for a band. Anyway, here's husky, hairy Chicago-based Big Dipper, the self-described queer, Jewish, bear-cub rapper.

Big Dipper
Big Dipper is sexy and funny and demented, but also a really good rapper. Now enjoy the manic, tongue-in-cheek, cheerfully vulgar video for the first song he ever wrote, "Drip Drop." This is probably not safe for work, but then again, I don't know where you work, so...

Can't get enough Big Dipper? Click here for his YouTube channel and a couple more equally outrageous videos. You can download his 5-song EP here.

Beth Ditto. She's best known as the lead singer of Gossip, an indie rock band from Washington state. She's an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ and feminist causes, classifies herself as a punk and celebrates her full figure. The phrase, "You go, girl!" was pretty much invented for women like her.

Beth Ditto
After the success of Gossip's 2009 album Music for Men, Ditto released a solo EP in 2011 that featured "I Wrote the Book," a song that I could imagine Madonna recording back in the day.

Ditto's EP is available on iTunes.

Logan Lynn. This minister's son is a singer-songwriter, producer and LGBTQ activist from my favorite city, Portland, Oregon. And also a really sexy ginger dude with bedroom eyes.

Logan Lynn
On his Facebook page, Lynn lists "Sex & Guilt, mostly" as his musical influences. I love that. And to me, he has one of those unpolished, endearing voices that works well with electronic beats. Here's the video for his sweet dance track, "Hologram." It features a generous amount of eye candy. You're welcome.

You can check out Logan Lynn's website here. His music is also available on iTunes.

Matt Alber. This man is one of the sexiest muthafuckers on the planet. There, I said it. The fact that he has a marvelous voice (yes, I said marvelous, goddammit!) is the best kind of icing.

Matt Alber
A former member of Chanticleer, San Francisco's excellent male classical vocal ensemble, Alber got hearts beating a little faster back in 2008 with the release of his first solo album, Hide Nothing, featuring "End of the World," a soulful, aching ballad sung with the kind of raw sincerity that just makes you wanna give the guy a hug. And the video for it is a gorgeous, unabashedly romantic exaltation of love at first sight.

Alber has developed a devoted following, released more original material and covered songs by Everything But the Girl ("Missing"), Fleetwood Mac ("Dreams"), Madonna ("Take a Bow") and even Whitney Houston ("I Wanna Dance With Somebody"). His music is available on iTunes. Click here to visit his YouTube channel.

Until next time...

Peace out,

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Planetary Video Mixtape #3

Another in my series of video mixtape blog entries...

Here's a handful of artists/bands I've happily discovered, but that haven't garnered much attention in the U.S., yet. The set up: I pick five, but only one can originate from the United States. Enjoy!

Slowolf. That's the stage name of producer and singer Andreas Asingh. There's very little info out there about him, but his Twitter and Facebook pages declare that he's "rising from the cold north of Copenhagen."

Slowolf (Andreas Asingh)

I fell in love with the first single I heard, "Dance Floor," a successful mix of metal, hip hop and dream pop that features iconic rapper Raekwon. Killer hook, terrific video.

Disclosure. These south London brothers started out making music in their bedrooms a few years ago.

Disclosure -- Howard (left) and Guy (right),  the Lawrence brothers

Fusing a handful of musical styles -- garage, house and soul -- they managed to concoct a gorgeous dance single, "Latch," with the help of guest vocalist Sam Smith. The video is like sensual icing on the cake.

The Ruby Suns. In the event that you can't think of a single indie pop band from New Zealand, here's one. The Ruby Suns have been around since 2004 when Californian Ryan McPhun moved to Auckland and hooked up with local musicians.

Ryan McPhun, frontman of The Ruby Suns
The Ruby Suns have a glistening, eclectic sound and McPhun's voice is a perfect fit. Seriously, get over to iTunes or Spotify and listen to this band. In the meantime, enjoy "In Real Life, a swell electro-pop single from their fourth album and its goofy video, which features McPhun playing all the parts in a parody of reality competition shows entitled Are You Good at Something?

Fucked Up. Hailing from Toronto, Ontario, they've been around since 2001. You're either going to love this band's name, or dismiss them simply because of it. You're either going to like the fact that they're unapologetically punk, or you won't. Fact is, Fucked Up is a great band. In 2009, they even won the Polaris Music Prize for producing the best full-length Canadian album. The award is based on artistic merit, regardless of sales, genre or record label.

This is Fucked Up. That's lead singer Damian Abraham in your face.

And this is what Damian Abraham usually looks like when he's performing...

Damian Abraham routinely performs shirtless.
You're either turned on by this, or you're not. I am.

In 2011, Fucked Up released their critically acclaimed third album, a rock opera entitled David Comes to Life. And here's the video treatment for one its songs, "Inside a Frame," featuring an emotionally charged choreography session for a punk dance crew.

John Fullbright. This singer/songwriter hails from Okemah, Oklahoma, the birthplace of folk music legend Woody Guthrie. Fullbright shares some of Guthrie's gifts, so make your comparisons. Hell, you might even hear echoes of Tom Waits or Neil Young in his music, too.

John Fullbright
After a 2009 live album, Fullbright released his first studio recording (From the Ground Up) in 2012. It received a Grammy nomination in the category of Best Americana Album. Considering where he was raised, it's not surprising that some of his songs are sprinkled with Biblical allusions. The surprise is that fan favorite "Gawd Above" is sung from the perspective of the deity Himself.

Peace out,

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Planetary Video Mixtape #2

My second stab at the concept of a mixtape blog, in which I present some artists/bands I've happily discovered, but that haven't garnered much attention in the U.S., yet. The catch: I pick five, but only one of them can originate from within the United States. Enjoy!

Father Tiger. From their website: Father Tiger is a modern indie synthpop duo with a love of vintage analog synthesizers and everything mid-century modern. Having grown up on opposite ends of Los Angeles county, members Greg Delson and John Russell now both reside in Hollywood, where they met in 2005 at audio engineering school.

John Russell (left) and Greg Delson (right) are Father Tiger.
I accidentally discovered them last December when they released their second EP, Winter Solstice. It contained a terrific tune entitled "On Christmas Day," but the real pop gem of the collection is "Head Hung Low." Fortunately, it's been released as a single with a knockout video. Also, Delson delivers the chorus at fever pitch, so here are the lyrics in case you miss a line.

Well enough is enough 
I may have broken your heart
But I never did anything to rip it apart
Told you my doubts right from the start and oh
I never cheated or messed around 
Or spread my love all over town
I gave you my all baby that's a fact
Please tell me what's so bad about that
I know that you're sad that it's over but even so
I'm tired of walking with my head hung low
With my head hung low

Frightened Rabbit. They've been around since 2003, but I only discovered this Glasgow, Scotland band last year as they gradually released singles from their fourth studio album, Pedestrian Verse. The restrained urgency of their folk-rock style has really grown on me.

Frightened Rabbit (lead singer Scott Hutchison is on the left)
Their music videos always veer off in some unexpected direction, and this one for "Backyard Skulls" is no exception. How great would it be to have Frightened Rabbit perform at your homecoming dance or prom? Well, at least one person at this high school likes the idea.

Japandroids. I discovered this Canadian duo last year when they released their second album, Celebration Rock. The "semi-factual promotional biography" on their website claims that "Japandroids are maximal -- a two-piece band trying to sound like a five-piece band" with "the boys ripping off too many different bands to sound like any other duo making music right now."

Japandroids -- David Prowse (left) and Brian King (right)
And here's the video for their damn fine rock anthem, "The House That Heaven Built," a song that's been named the entrance theme for the Vancouver Canucks professional ice hockey team.

Dry the River. If you've been paying attention at all the last few years, you already know that folk-rock has made a huge resurgence the last few years -- and the best of it (to me, at least) is coming out of the UK.  London's Dry the River released their debut album, Shallow Bed, in 2012, and it's a shimmering mix of spiritual/religious imagery, tribal grooves, melancholy nostalgic glow and boisterous shifts in mood.

Dry the River
Here's the hauntingly peculiar video for "No Rest," one of the best tracks on the album.

Passenger. In the early part of the last decade, UK's Passenger was a critically acclaimed five-piece band. But when the members chose to go their separate ways in 2007, singer/songwriter Mike Rosenberg opted to stick with the Passenger moniker and do his own thing.

Passenger, aka Mike Rosenberg
He sounds a little bit like the love child of Cat Stevens and Macy Gray, and his earnest, world-weary music has a certain charm and discernable streak of optimism that may bother folks who prefer their angst straight up. I had trouble deciding which video to show you, but finally settled on this live performance video of a fan favorite, "I Hate," from his latest album, All the Little Lights. Even nice guys can be cheeky bastards sometimes.

Peace out,

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The 2013 Grammy Sampler

I remember the first time I ever saw a Grammy Awards telecast as a wee boy -- 1971. Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" took Song of the Year and Record of the Year. Dionne Warwick and Ray Stevens reigned in the Best Contemporary Vocal Performance categories (which would be renamed Best Pop Vocal Performance the very next year), and The Carpenters beat Elton John and The Partridge Family for Best New Artist.

Before I post some of this year's winners, please take a moment to consider this partial list of artists who've never won a Grammy: Led Zeppelin, Dusty Springfield, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Electric Light Orchestra, The Who, Bob Marley, Diana Ross (nor the Supremes), Talking Heads, ABBA and Queen. Yes, freakin' Queen. If that's not a palm-to-face-WTF? generator, I don't know what is.

Here's  a sampling of the winners from various categories at this year's 55th Annual Grammy Awards...

Best New Artist: fun. Yes, that's the name of the group. It's fun., with a lower case f and a period. It's so obnoxiously hipster that it makes me not want to like them. But, I do like them. Their album, Some Nights, is energetic, bombastic, ambitious and... fun. It's all pretty uplifting, which can rub music snobs the wrong way, but I say the world needs music like that sometimes.

Jack Antonoff, Andrew Dost and Nate Ruess -- they're fun.

The older I get, the more ridiculous I find the Best New Artist category. It just doesn't make much sense. I mean, if the Grammy voters are so enthusiastic about these people, won't they just garner nominations in other categories and get some recognition anyway? (As a matter of fact, fun. took home a Grammy for Song of the Year, too -- "We Are Young.") But of the five nominees this year -- fun., The Lumineers, Alabama Shakes, Hunter Hayes and Frank Ocean -- the only one whose music I'm seriously avoiding is Hunter Hayes, a country heartthrob who seems destined for Celebrity Apprentice or some equally grotesque reality show in about five years.

In case you're unfamiliar with fun., here's the video for the title track of their Some Nights album.


Best Americana Album: Slipstream -- Bonnie Raitt. It was her first album in seven years; lovely, tasteful and soulful. Her voice has aged well and she remains a singer who knows how to pick a song. The album is mostly a collection of covers, including the familiar "Right Down the Line" from 1970s singer/songwriter Gerry Rafferty. The simple video is about love -- all kinds of love. Sweet and very inclusive.

Best Dance Recording: "Bangarang" -- Skrillex. What can I say about the artist known as Skrillex? Well, ironically, a lot of his music sounds like his name. It's called dubstep. I've never actually met anyone who likes Skrillex, but the Grammy voters have given him six Grammys over the past two years. Six.


You can certainly dance to Skrillex; some of his music actually sounds like music. I don't dislike the guy, I just don't like this particular song. It feels like something that would appeal to meth addicts around 3:00 a.m. on a dance floor in hell. You'll either like Skrillex or you'll long for the good old days... like 2000, when Grammy voters decided Cher's "Believe" was the year's best dance recording.

Anyway, here's the video for "Bangarang."


Best R&B Song: "Adorn" -- Miguel. If you're hearing this one for the first time, you may feel like there's something familiar about it, but you can't quite put your finger on it. Let me help you: Miguel is either channeling the late, great Marvin Gaye, or he's deliberately adopting the singer's style. "Adorn" has the same vibe as Gaye's classic "Sexual Healing." Miguel, who wrote this himself, may have a classic in him, but this just makes me want to listen to Marvin Gaye.


Best Short Form Music Video: "We Found Love" -- Rihanna. All things considered, this was a pretty good choice. The song is a stunning slice of dance pop that was given a completely unexpected video treatment. Rihanna slips into the role of drug addict, albeit the most gorgeous one in the history of the world, and everything spirals out of control for her and her exotic junkie boyfriend. Controversial when released? Sure was. Rihanna tweaked her image here, and probably no one was expecting such a riveting visual juxtaposition to the song's lyrics.

For a complete list of winners in all 81 categories, go here.

Peace out,