Thursday, September 27, 2007

Blue and yellow make, um, Green Day?

It's always nice when friends from my Houston days come to visit me here. Especially when it's these guys:

Yes, Blue October, my favorite Houston-based band--OK, the ONLY Houston-based band I really like--was in the city Wednesday night, performing at the Nokia with Yellowcard. This was my third time seeing them. My college roommates introduced me to their music at a concert at Fitzgeralds in about 1998 or so. Yikes, almost 10 years ago! I saw them several years later at, I think, Numbers, about the time History for Sale was coming out. And this was my first time seeing them outside of Houston.

I really had lost track of them in recent years and was much more familiar with their older stuff, but no matter. I've always wondered why they haven't caught on to more widespread appeal when many less-deserving bands have, but even so, I was quite pleasantly surprised with their fan base here -- particularly since the crowd who were there for Yellowcard was making me feel damn old.

Although I was really familiar only with two Yellowcard songs, I gotta admit they put on a good show, too. The worst thing about Blue October concerts in Houston is that you had to sit through some awful bands to get to hear them. The first time, it was some angsty, pre-emo girl whose band featured an alto flute that suddenly launched into "The Hustle" mid-song. She was sweet enough to dedicate one song to her dad, who had showed up to support her, although the song was mostly about how horrible he was. At Numbers, it was some band of chunky frat boys who tried to turn "...Baby One More Time" into trance rock. Think Me First and the Gimme Gimmes on barbiturates.

Oh, and speaking of Yellowcard, tell me if this is gross. At the end, per usual, they tossed every expendable item onstage out to the audience: towels, guitar picks, water bottles, et al. I caught one of the lead singer's, Ryan Key, water bottle. It was half-full. I'd pushed my way up to a good spot, and I was thirsty. Leaving that spot would mean it would be filled with drunk Jersey girls. Do the math. Hey, he's cute, and I've swapped spit with worse.

Honestly, I need to get to more concerts, or at least, more concerts that don't feature a 60-something-year-old woman singing "Evergreen" in Madison Square Garden.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

ENDA scare tactics

Here's yet another ignoramus discovered in the sewer of World Net Daily: the neck-less Mychal Massie, perhaps the recipient of Jerry Falwell's donated jowls upon his death.

Today, he's terrified of the potential ramifications of passing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act:

In layman's terms, said lawyer-speak means, if ENDA becomes law (and I am in no way attempting to inject humor here), (Mike's note: Good, because if you were, you failed miserably) the branch manager of your local bank could, without fear of penalty, come to work looking like "Boy George in Liza Minnelli 1980s drag makeup, complete in his working girl commuter-friendly disco sneakers." And there wouldn't be a thing the bank could do or say about it – no matter how offended its customers might be or how uncomfortable it would make the other employees.

Passage of ENDA means that the surgeon scheduled to perform your operation could decide to do same in his blond wig with full mascara and his Playtex plus-size bra, and there wouldn't be a thing the hospital could say or do.

It means that your child's second-grade teacher could decide she was going to dress like a man, complete with makeup to simulate facial hair, and the school would have no recourse. And it goes without saying that the owner of a local Bible bookstore would be powerless to prevent a homosexual employee from holding hands with his or her homosexual lover within the workplace. Any attempt to prevent said behavior would result in immediate litigation.

Now that he's sufficiently frightened Bertha Sue from Peoria into think that Varla Jean Merman is going to dropkick Mr. McFeely out of the way and start showing up every day with her special deliveries, allow me to inject a little rationality here. ENDA means NONE of those things.

You see, Mr. Massey, corporate America, school districts and hospitals have these crazy things called dress codes. Just like the bank branch manager isn't showing up to work now in orange crocs, tattered sweatpants and a "No Fat Chicks" T-shirt and the surgeon isn't performing vasectomies in a top hat and tails. People are expected to dress a certain way for certain jobs, and ENDA wouldn't change that.

Massey is purposely melding campy drag acts with transgendered people when, in reality, or at least in my experience, those are two circles of a Venn diagram that have very little overlap. Most transgendered people I have known have dressed rather conservatively, in fact.

Nor would ENDA give Steve and Andrew the right to start groping in front of a shelf full of Joel Osteen's latest self-help advice book to the horror of Christian bookstore patrons. Workplaces are allowed to have rules against public displays of affection, and ENDA wouldn't change that.

I can't decide whether Massie is just a moron, or he assumes anyone who reads his column is a moron. Or both. Whatever. I'm done now, anyway. I'm at work, and it's really hard to type with these Lee's Press-On Nails on my fingers.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Weekend review round(about)up

The Ritz
I'll have to give this to Joe Mantello-helmed revival of this Terrence McNally bathhouse farce, now in previews at Studio 54. I've never had as big of a chuckle reading Playbill bios as when I came across one for an actor playing one of the many nicely sculpted denizens of "The Ritz." The bio proudly boasted of "movie-star good looks" and a few print ad modeling jobs -- and not a single theatre credit. Fortunately for him, the ensemble's purpose here is little more than looking good in a towel, and he did fine with that. But, of course, we'd expect a bit more than that when we were paying to see a Broadway production when we could get the same in, say, an issue of Men's Health, yes? Well, there are a few other things to appreciate about "The Ritz," but sadly, the play just hasn't aged well. The story centers around a rather amorphous feud between a man and his mobster Italian in-laws, when a deathbed wish from Papa puts Gaetano Proclo (Kevin Chamberlain) on the run and hiding in a gay bathhouse in New York. A fish out of water. Let the laughs begin! The broad stereotypes have a little bit to offend everyone. Gays? Every one possible, including a mincing sex fiend (Brooks Ashmanskas, who would be a natural if they ever do a one-man show about Paul Lynde) and bizarre fetishists. Italians? Those groups who protested "The Sopranos" for defaming Italians would be begging for another season by comparison. And Puerto Ricans? Um, Rosie Perez is playing a role based on a character Rita Moreno -- the role's originator -- used to do at cocktail parties for laughs. Enough said. Actually, Perez, though hard to understand at times, has one of the better and more inspired moments in the show, in a purposefully bad musical medley at the end of Act I. Whipping herself to the opening riff of "Jesus Christ Superstar" while singing "Sabbath Prayer" from "Fiddler on the Roof"? Brilliant. Chamberlain also makes an amiable straight man, in every sense of the word. But, for a farce, there just isn't enough manic energy onstage to keep some of the rusty groaners in the script afloat. Perhaps the pacing will improve before opening. But if not, hey. It's a chance to see porn star Ryan Idol onstage. He even has a line. Something about Crisco.

Here's a bit of irony. The Roundabout's other production now in previews, "Pygmalion," is about three times as old as "The Ritz" and already ingrained into any self-respecting theatre queen's mind, if for no other reason than repeat viewings of "My Fair Lady" on Turner Classic Movies. Yet, even on the first preview, the production, under the direction of David Grindley, seems as fresh as "The Ritz" seems stale. A lot of the credit goes to the star, Jefferson Mays, whom Grindley also directed in the stellar revival of "Journey's End" last season. I think Mays performance is going to produce some fairly divergent opinions, but I rather liked his Henry Higgins: a youthful, petulant brat who seems just a few steps from sucking his thumb when things don't go his way. Yes, we all love the Rex Harrison interpretation of the character, and Mays is still the same pompous jerk but adds an utter void of social grace that I've never seen in the character before. Another "Journey's End" alum, Boyd Gaines, is a nice foil in the better behaved but still child-like Pickering. And Claire Danes, making her Broadway debut as Eliza Doolittle, is already in pretty good shape in regards to accent and characterization. The show's also buoyed by a great design. Jonathan Fensom's sets and costumes are gorgeous, particularly the opening rainstorm tableau. That's not the rain in Spain, by the way. That scene's not even in the show.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sunshine, lollipops on

For the first time in a while, I'm actually going to have theatre to write about this weekend! It's not that I didn't see anything during the summer. It's just the things I had seen I had either seen before ("The Drowsy Chaperone," "Rent"), they'd been around so long I saw no point in writing anything about them ("Legally Blonde," "Three Mo' Tenors") or they were just so plain awful I didn't have the heart to write anything ("Ido..." -- no, wait, I'll hold to that promise).

Before that, however, I do have throw out a quick few words of praise for the Public's outdoor concert series. Or, the first concert in that series, at least. Yup. Lesley Gore's still around. Out and proud, in fact. And you wouldn't believe the number of people who responded, when I told them I was seeing her: "Isn't that Al Gore's daughter? She sings? Is she going to talk about global warming?"

Philistines. Lesley Gore was Britney when Madonna was still in kindergarten. Probably one of the last people to still sing hit songs about class rings and such. And the bubble gum might have been sitting underneath a chair for a while, but it's still just as chewy and flavorful as ever. OK, that was a little gross.

Anyway, the Public helped Gore put out her first album in decades a few years ago. You can still hear traces of the old Lesley's voice, but it's really involved into something remarkable to hear: much deeper, rather husky but still able to sustain quite well. Her newer stuff is smoky jazz that juxtaposed remarkably well with her peppy, innocuous hits of the 60s, which she didn't shy away from at all. She even sang "Judy's Turn To Cry," the sequel to "It's My Party" and a song she said she didn't even care for when she first released it.

Also fun was Jill Sobule. Yeah, another name that usually got me blank stares. Remember "I Kissed A Girl"? "Supermodel" from "Clueless"? Yeah, her. Well, aside from those -- and she didn't even perform the latter, while Gore joined her on the former -- she has a repertoire of some really lovely songs with some brilliant lyrics, particularly "Mexican Wrestler."

Anyway, it gave me some downloading ideas. Speaking of which, I've already lost two more songs from the theme list: Rufus Wainwright's "Crumb by Crumb" and the Willie Nelson/Kimmie Rhodes duet "Love Me Like A Song." Pity. I liked those.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

To the moon, Juanita

The obscure World Net Daily columnists have done the unthinkable. They've made me defend a TBN personality.

In his latest bleatings, homobigot pastor Jesse Lee Peterson comes down hard on the self-proclaimed "prophetess" Juanita Bynum. In a story that slipped under my radar, Bynum apparently was badly beaten by her fellow minister husband, Rev. Thomas W. Weeks III, in an Atlanta hotel parking lot.

In his misogynistic dissection of the story, Peterson gives one sentence to condemn Weeks. The rest of it is devoted to attacking Bynum for daring to use this incident to raise public awareness of domestic violence. Says he:

And if Juanita were truly a woman of God, she would not use her marital problems for personal gain – or use the media to destroy her husband.

At her press conference, Bynum stated, "My focus is not the marriage. My focus is to accomplish a new purpose [domestic violence cause] that God has given me."

Bynum then attended a fundraising event for Barack Obama where she planned to discuss her domestic abuse concerns with the candidate. Oprah Winfrey hosted the event at her estate in California.

And why would a woman of God go to the government, especially to a liberal Democrat like Obama, to address a spiritual sickness?

I'm sure it won't be long before we see Bynum on "Oprah" dressed in pink and with just the right lighting to make her appear soft, vulnerable and innocent.

I suppose Peterson thinks it would have been marginally better if she had gone to, say, Fred Thompson or Rudy Giuliani, because there's two guys who know how to treat a woman right. But, I digress. Peterson then goes on to belittle the problem of domestic violence, which he ultimately concludes is just because dames are getting too damn pushy. You know, not being submissive and all.

Now, in my limited exposure to her, I am NO fan of Bynum. Her wedding was typical TBN excess--a network that's purpose seems largely to snatch grocery money from gullible poor folk--and her shrieking sermons usually had their own elements of homophobia in them. But trying to call attention to domestic violence is one thing for which she should be applauded, and if her husband followed the woman-shut-your-mouth attitude of Peterson, it's not really that surprising he thought so little of her as to beat the crap out of her.

Next up: I explain how Benny Hinn really did get those people out of the wheelchairs!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Not so proud to be a luddite anymore

So, I didn't buckle. I bought a new VCR. No DVR for now. But, I'm starting to have some second thoughts about my strategy. I didn't realize how tough it is for us dinosaurs.

I mean, I thought it was easy. I made my first ever trip to Target in the Bronx -- quiet an interesting little mini-suburbia they have there, consequently -- and found a decent VCR/DVD combo for about $70. Not bad, I thought. It had all the features I wanted, which isn't much. Or, so I thought.

As I got home to set it up, I realized there was no place to plug the cable into it. What's worse, my television in my bedroom, which I got for about $30 off of Craigslist, is so old that it has no place to plug the A/V lines into it. In other words, I had a useless $75 piece of metal sitting on my bed.

Thanks to the local Radio Shack, I found a little modulator thingie that let me plug the cable from the television and the a/v cables from the VCR/DVD player into it, so it works now, at least. Add about $25 for the modulator, plus $10 for a new cable to connect my cable box to the VCR, and the $70 VCR is now closer to $110. And -- and take note, hack comedians who still make jokes about how hard it is to program a VCR (Jay Leno, looking in your direction) -- there is absolutely no programming feature on it. So, I can watch tapes, but that's about it!

I'm still not sold on getting the DVR service, though. I'm finding out that I can live without taping things when I'm not home. All it ultimately does is encourage me to watch TV. Fight the power!

Oh, and I'm one song closer to a theme song, as thankfully, "I Wanna Be A Producer" came up and is subsequently off my list (and my iPod).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pain is Hate

Not reaching people with those Pat Boone records? Worried that nobody knows who the hell Dean Jones is anymore? Thinking Anita Bryant is never going to get out of Branson? Don't fret, Concerned Women for America. You've found your new musical spokesperson: Jeffrey Atkins, er, Ja Rule. Said he to Complex:

We need to go step to MTV and Viacom, and lets talk about all these fucking shows that they have on MTV that is promoting homosexuality, that my kids can’t watch this shit. Dating shows that’s showing two guys or two girls in mid-afternoon. Let’s talk about shit like that! If that’s not fucking up America, I don’t know what is.”
Yeah, Ja. Those dating shows are pretty insipid. But, as far as I know, those contestants haven't been arrested for beating up a DJ in Nigeria, played a part in shooting a rival rapper, gotten arrested for gun possession nor called their fellow collaborators a bitch. Well, maybe they did do that last part. But, whatever. Go on back to spreading the Gospel of Jesus, peppered with the word fuck every few minutes, and working for Murder, Inc., and your liquor and online gambling enterprises. You're a moral beacon to us all!

Up to this point, Ja Rule was best known for feuding with a bunch of people, grumbling a few things under Jennifer Lopez's vocals and putting out a bunch of songs no one has thought about in several years. He's also rumored to be starring in the family-friendly flick "Saw IV."

Enjoy your new friend, Sandy Rios! Perhaps he can rechristen the group Concerned Women For Not Fucking Up America.

In other news, the homophobic 50 Cent--the aforementioned rival rapper, in fact--was outsold by Kanye West, who has made it a point to speak out against homophobia in hip-hop. Let's hope fiddy keeps good on his promise to retire.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Maybe the Madonna impersonator video wouldn't have gotten one star if...

Another sign of my technology idiocy: I didn't realize until this weekend that my camera has video capabilities. And here I've been shooting grainy cell phone videos all this time!

Here's my virgin video from the camera: a gorilla at the Bronx Zoo from this past Saturday. He's tired! Or she's tired. I didn't zoom in close enough to find out.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Proud to be a luddite

I can only laugh at the doofuses who are griping now because -- shock! -- the iPhone just dropped in price. The horror! Who would have thought that the insane $500-plus initial price would quickly drop once the gotta-be-first twerps had finished their storefront camp-outs?

I am the quintessential late adopter. You know how much I paid for my DVD player? Nothing. I got it for free from a friend who had bought a new one. You know how much I paid for the decidedly non-flat television in my bedroom? Forty dollars. I got it off craigslist from some dude in the Upper West Side. I even tricked my former roommate into carrying it up the six flights of stairs to my apartment. My iPod mini still works just fine, and I'm not getting rid of it until somebody either gives me a better one or until it drops dead.

But, see, now I'm in a bit of a quandary. Alas, last weekend, my very ancient VCR finally broke. So, what do I do? Finally call Time Warner and agree to get their DVR service? Or shell out the $100 for a VCR/DVD combo? I do still have a lot of old tapes of stuff I've recorded over the years, but honestly, they take up a lot more space than their value in the number of times I actually watch them. Then again, some people pay ridiculous amounts for old recorded shows, particularly if they still have the commercials.

Either way, I'd better figure it out quickly. I have no idea what's happening on "Days Of Our Lives" right now!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The smutty professor

In a blink-and-you-missed scandal, Jerry Lewis used the word "fag" in an aborted joke in a late-hour segment of his annual telethon (specifically, he called either an invisible person or a camera an "illiterate fag," but the clip was rather baffling). He subsequently issued an apology, and that seemed to be the end of it. And honestly, that's fine with me.

So why was I not as forgiving with Ann Coulter and Isaiah Washington when they used the word to a much broader outcry? It's not because I'm particularly a fan of Lewis. He was fine but not outstanding in a production of "Damn Yankees" I saw years ago, but his movies have always annoyed the hell out of me. But every once in a while, I let the "leave the poor old man alone" defense stand.

Perhaps this is because of my grandmother. Gaga, as we called her (thanks to my oldest sister), died more than 11 years ago, but she was the only grandparent I ever really knew. She was already in her 60s and somewhat feeble by the time I was born, but I always knew she was a powerful woman. Her husband, my mother's father, was a rather rough man by the limited accounts I've heard, and he died when my mother was only 12, leaving my grandmother to raise her daughter alone. She didn't run to another man. She worked and raised my mother on her own, which was pretty darn good for rural Texas in the early 1950s.

Gaga, however, was a product of her time and place, and in matters of race, would often say some jaw-droppingly awful things in that regard. Loudly. In public. Sometimes it was unintentionally funny. She used to call her cleaning lady her "colored girl." Near the end of her life, when she had to move in with my parents, she also referred to our cleaning lady as my mother's "colored girl." And my mother's maid was white.

Even the worst things she said, however, were not hateful at the core. Just ignorant. I never saw her treat anyone badly. In fact -- and I hope this doesn't sound like one of those "some of my best friends" comments, because that's not what I'm intending -- her physical therapist near the end of her life was black, and they became close enough to the point that she wept when she heard my grandmother had died.

Maybe that's why I'm fairly forgiving of Lewis. He's a goofy old man raised on Friar's Club roasts and smoky backrooms. He's said stupid things before, like saying that no female comedienne -- is that redundant? -- has ever been funny. But I don't think he's hateful.

Coulter had a long line of horrible comments behind her -- things like saying she had gay friends, but she knew they were going to hell and such -- when she said faggot, and she was proud of her remark. Washington hemmed, hawed, apologized, backtracked and went all over the map afterward. Lewis quickly admitted he was wrong and apologized. Good for him.

But I'm still turning off the TV any time "Cinderfella" comes on.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Reverse reverse psychology

I made it through today without buying cigarettes, and seeing as I should be on the upswing of my biorhythm by this point, I think my nonsmoker status is secure for now. But even considering it made me realize on of those little ironies: It was actually the anti-smoking zealotry of the school systems that led me to ever becoming a semi-regular smoker in the first place.

Follow me here. When I was in high school, I somehow got roped into going to some sort of student leadership conference that focused on the drug wars. This led to the creation of a somewhat pointless anti-drug school club, of which I was a charter member. A quick side irony: I know at least two other charter members turned out to be full-time smokers. But I digress. The sole tangible accomplishment of this organization, to my recollection at least, was to push the city in which the school was located to pass an ordinance making it illegal for people under the age of 18 to possess tobacco products. That made us quite popular amongst our peers, as you might guess.

Anyway, being directly involved in the media coverage surrounding that -- and for our town, any media attention was exciting -- was part of what led me to start exploring journalism as a career, rather than my choice at the time, veterinary medicine. And most journalists are smokers or smoker enablers. Therefore, I can place the blame for me ever taking a puff on a cigarette squarely on the blame of the people who most vehemently wanted me to never touch one at all. The moral: Tell your kids to smoke, and they won't.

This twisted logic brings me to my 200th post! Oh, and one more song choice gone today: Patsy Cline's "Tra Le La Le La Triangle." Thank goodness I don't have to type that anymore.

Monday, September 03, 2007

My body's smarter than I am

I was a semi-regular smoker back in college, and every once in a while, I get the urge to start up again. Times like this past month, for example. Nasty things tend to happen in clusters, and that's not good for addictive personalities like mine. So, when confronted with a bunch of things -- an increasing uneasiness amongst rampant cost-cutting measures at the office, two roommates at home who have begun to hate one another and insist on re-enacting a passive aggressive war of the roses, having to watch the rapidly declining health of a close family member, getting way too damn close to 30 and dealing with my own usually lethal combo of high pride and fragile ego -- well, the pack of Marlboro Reds seem like the right way to go. That's right. I smoked Marlboro Reds. I'm hard-core like that. None of those wussy lights for me, unless that's the only thing available to bum.

How about a bargain? I mean, I had already intended to turn pescetarian at the end of the year (making an exception only for the delicious turkey-based gravy served every year with the stuffing at Thanksgiving). So, if I'm cutting red meat out of my diet -- not that I eat that much of it in the first place, but whatever -- doesn't that allot me a poor health choice in its place? Kind of the same thought behind carbon offsets.

Anyway, to make a long story even longer, I had my first cigarette in quite a while on Saturday night. I don't even know what kind it was. I just know it felt freaking fantastic.

And now today, I have a shallow cough and a scratchy throat. One probably has nothing to do with the other, but OK. Point taken. I won't start smoking again. Not tobacco, at least.

Oh, by the way, one song down already for the 2008 theme, as the Bach Toccata/Fugue came up the other day. Which would have been a terrific song to smoke to, of course.