Friday, August 28, 2009

Dumb Sheep

The leaders of the Republican party need to completely denounce the ignorant morons who perpetuate lies - but they aren't doing that. Why? Because the lies work. We live in a highly uneducated, media illiterate country. And so the smart and powerful can prey easily on the dumb and weak. For some reason, Republicans have claimed this corner of the market. And oddly, much of it is "Christian" - and I'm sure Jesus would have just HATED to give up material goods in order to heal the sick. Please. The level of absurdity is unbelievable.

Check out this terrific article from The Independent.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Singing Pig's Blood

In 1991, a fellow student at the Meadows School of the Arts told me he had mailed away for a bootleg copy of the most notorious musical in Broadway history: Carrie.

As many already know, the film Carrie had a huge impact on my artistic sensibilities. Brian de Palma is very much a "hit or miss" director. He takes huge risks and is never one to shy away from the edge. "Over the top" does not frighten him, and there is no better example of this than Carrie. Watching Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek do battle in that film is wickedly delightful. It manages to be terrifying, hilarious, and moving all at the same time. And the highly choreographed prom - from it's Cinderella-inspired beginning to it's pig-blood soaked ending - is a masterpiece "film within a film".

My entrance into theatre was through musicals. And I remembered in 1988 seeing Stephen King's novel in stores with a new cover - an unusual, minimalist rendering of what appeared to be a girl - and under it: "Now a major Broadway musical." I asked around the next year about why there was no cast recording. To combine one of my favorite films with my new-found love of musical theater was a dream come true! But I was ignorant to just how "major" the musical was: the biggest flop in history. Five shows. Closed.

But what I came to learn is that the critics, though they panned it to shreds - and rightfully so, acknowledged that a couple of duets from the show were some of the best in the history of all musicals. Ken Mandelbaum, in his book Not Since Carrie, writes about this. He asserts that one of the big tragedies is that Betty Buckley and Linzi Hateley were so good as Margaret White and Carrie, this should have been a star-making show. Instead, the immense talent on display and the raw power of their duets was buried in a heap of incoherence and lethal missteps; RSC Director Terry Hands should never have worked again.

My college friend gave me a copy of the bootleg recording - a scratchy cassette that had been created by someone sneaking into the closing show with a tape recorder in his pocket. Uh...not high quality. was good enough to capture the power Buckley and Hateley and from my first listen, the song "And Eve Was Weak" has remained one of my favorite duets of all time.

I came upon this YouTube video - a clip that starts half way through the number...a bootleg video from 1988 at the closing performance at the Virginia Theatre. Again - scratchy...but the power is there. And it makes me wonder...if in the right hands and a competent creative team...could this have been "ground breaking" instead of "bank breaking"?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Songs to Light Me Up

In the spirit of endless Facebook lists, I offer some songs that have always stuck with me.

Why not?

Funky Sexy
-Son of a Preacher Man, Dusty Springfield
I always liked this infectious tune, but when I fell desperately in love with a bisexual preacher's son in 1996, the song was burned into my brain forever. I soon had a note to self, however: Don't fall in love with bisexual preacher's kids. :)

-Closer, Nine Inch Nails
So yeah, this is not exactly a subtle number from Trent Reznor, but I dare anyone who is in a randy mood to hear this and not get caught up in its hypnotic, debauchery-inducing spell. This became the theme of what came to be known as the Dionysus parties in my college years. No explanation needed.

-Criminal, Fiona Apple
The opening lyric sets the tone. "I've been a bad, bad, girl. I've been careless with a delicate man." Brilliant. Fiona may be a bit nuts - but this debut album was truly amazing...her talent and soul cannot be denied.

Darling Nikki, Prince
I was pretty young when the Purple Rain album came out, but my parents loved it and so it played on an endless loop in our house. And as a pubescent boy, this particular track was not lost on me - even if it didn't reflect my eventual persuasion. And Prince?...genius. Truly.

Funkier Than a Mosquito's Tweeter, Ike and Tina Turner
I am not sure, but I think this was the flip side of the 45 we had of Proud Mary. I know that it got played a lot before I was five. And I know that I used to shake my butt to it in my diaper. Later, I came to find it completely humorous for its sexy-silly euphemisms. Nikka Costa did a GREAT cover of the song on her album: Can'tneverdidnothin'

Smiles and Movin' Feet
-Chains of Love, Erasure
Bubble gum dance music at its best - and with a message. In an era plagued by overt homophobia along with AIDS deaths and thousands of deaths now known to be attributed to AZT poisoning, this gay anthem was a perfect antidote to a difficult reality. Together we'll break these chains indeed!

-Love Shack, B52s
Sadly, this song has almost worn out its welcome. Overplayed at weddings and the like. But I heard it again the other day and was able to travel back to high school when it came out... everyone running to the dance floor to celebrate youth and friendship. Some say the Cosmic Thing album was their "sell out" - I think it's great they crossed over and kept their unique brand of harmonies and humor.

-You Spin Me Round, Dead or Alive
This may be one of the best dance songs ever recorded. But to enjoy it, one must abandon all sense of good taste and dive into high club kid drama. It's in that sugar coated drug induced neon state that the operatic vocals and psycho-synth arpeggios can be fully appreciated. And what other song has a veritable Tarzan call as its signature?

-Express Yourself, Madonna
I must clarify that though I can still groove to the more electric version of this song as heard on the Immaculate Collection, it is the more acoustic, big band version on Like a Prayer that really stands out. Until this point, I had no interest in the material girl - but this call for independent thinking rang true to a gay kid just discovering theatre in 1989. And those backing vocals! Love it. And let's remember that now famous director David Fincher shot the video along with Vogue.

9 to 5, Dolly Parton
-How can anyone hear the opening vamp of this song and not smile? It's one of the catchiest tunes...EVER. And makes me want to dance like a silly cartoon character (I don't understand this myself, so don't try.) But I also associate it with the film, which is one of the few movies I can see from any point and it never fails to put me in a good mood. And plastic and genuine at the same time.

Tears and Melancholy
-Hurt, Johnny Cash
In his final moments, Cash recorded this song by Trent Reznor and delivered a masterpiece. Whenever I hear, "What have I become, my sweetest friend?" I choke up. There is something so quietly desperate in both the lyric and melody. There are times when it's almost too much to listen to...

-Here Comes the Rain Again, Eurythmics
The combination of soaring strings and fast-moving synth beats offered a unique fusion for radio in 1983. Pop songs do not sound like this anymore. And there is no voice like Annie Lennox at the climax - a siren's cry for answers. In 2005, I got to see her perform it as a quiet ballad on solo piano. It still packed a punch. Not a dry eye. That is the sign of a lasting song.

-Kissing You, Des'Ree
Chosen as the love theme to Baz Luhrman's R&J, rarely has a song felt more appropriate for star-crossed or unrequited love. It is, I think, the saddest love song ever recorded. Des'Ree's smoky voice leaves not a single syllable untouched with longing. And I admit, during more than one break up, this has been my tool for cathartic weeping...both as a listener and singer. Though on the R&J soundtrack, I highly recommend the album Supernatural where it also appears.

-Ordinary World, Duran Duran
This song manages to say it's time to move on without discarding the pain altogether. In this way, I find it to be one of the most mature songs from Duran Duran. The soaring vocals accompanied by a terrific guitar line both massage the ear and hit the gut. There's a good reason this single marked a comeback for the 1980s pop band.

-Angels, Robbie Williams
I cannot help myself. This song is so very cheesy. I know that. But the melody manipulates me into falling for it every time. So what that the simple lyrics feel written by a moody high school girl...when Robbie belts out the chorus and the full orchestra takes over, it's worthy of a thousand lit lighters in a stadium. And dude, it makes for awesome karaoke! :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wish/ Expect

A dear friend and colleague of mine got married recently, and I had the pleasure of attending his wedding. Such a handsome groom and stunning bride; I wish them much happiness. But something happened to me in the middle of the ceremony...something that has taken over a week to process. I got red-faced and angry. As the Anglican Priest talked about Genesis, first man, first woman, and the sanctity of marriage, I sat there with my male partner and had to simply eat the fact that we were outsiders at this party. We are not allowed to marry. And for many, we are an abomination.

This is not new. And I am not naive. But you see, this was the first wedding I have attended since Prop 8 and gay marriage heated up the news and pushed the issue further into the public consciousness. And it made my experience quite different. At previous weddings, not only did I accept the "way things are" - it never really occurred to me that they could be different. But now that's not the case. And I realized, sitting there, that I was not okay. In fact, I felt a bit betrayed. And I have to wonder if I will attend another wedding so long as my civil rights are denied me.

Brad Pitt famously said this past spring that he and Angelina Jolie might get married once it is legal for everyone to do so. It was a bold statement. And it is precisely what the gay marriage movement needs: straights to stand in solidarity with us. And really, if a heterosexual couple truly supports full marriage rights, then to maintain absolute integrity, that couple has no business getting married. They can have a spiritual commitment ceremony the way so many a gay couple has done...but to be legally married? No.

Back to my friend. This is someone I care about very much. And in no way do I want to strip him of his happiness or the legal benefits of marriage. But I have to admit - had he and his now wife made a declaration and postponed their wedding until my partner and I also had the right...that would have been cause for great celebration. Do I have less respect for them because they got married? No. But would I have had more respect had they waited? I gulp as I type this...but yes. Absolutely.

In trying to articulate my feelings on this, another friend - this one gay - said to me: "There's a big difference between what we wish for and what we expect. We don't expect our straight loved ones to sacrifice their happiness for our cause...but boy, we wish they would." Exactly.

And I dread the next wedding invitation that comes in the mail. Because I'm really not sure I can do it again.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

House of Numbers - film review

Director Brent Leung is a brave man. But what makes his explosive documentary, House of Numbers, so undeniably effective, is that he didn't set out to be. As he tells us in the film, he was born in 1980...part of the first AIDS generation, a group who came into their sexuality with the threat of HIV strapped to their genitals like a potentially lit bundle of dynamite. A few years ago, Leung came to learn there has always been a debate over the current HIV/AIDS scientific paradigm. Having never known a world without AIDS, this intrigued him, and so his investigative journey began. He was not trying to show courage through radical activism or by asserting some aggressive agenda. He had some questions, and he went around the world asking top HIV/AIDS scientists for the answers. would think that, at least on the basic facts, these pioneers of HIV/AIDS research and treatment might all agree. Think again. They not only don't agree, they contradict each other in ways that are truly terrifying. From these orthodox HIV experts, there is no agreement on what HIV looks like, how it kills human cells, how the virus is isolated, how one confirms an HIV test, how drugs should be used to treat it, whether co-factors are necessary, or if our own immune systems can beat it all on their own. And there is much scandal on how it came to be "discovered" in the first place. There are moments in the film when I found myself laughing heartily at this clownish behavior from our world's top scientists; it almost plays like satire. But then I'd remember: this is about lives. And there is nothing at all funny about this. To his credit, Leung does not try to elicit laughs...he simply places the interviews side by side, juxtaposing so as to highlight the contradictions. It serves to rattle any trust one may have in our medical establishment. In an instant, these scientists lose credibility and reveal that on the issues of HIV/AIDS, it is confusion, not certainty that prevails.

In addition, the film gives voice to many self-proclaimed "dissidents" like Peter Duesberg, Kary Mullis (Nobel Prize winner), and the late Christine Maggiore - along with investigative journalists Celia Farber and Liam Scheff. To many, their opinions might seem downright insane. What do you mean HIV might not cause AIDS? What do you mean we're wasting money giving Africans HIV drugs when all they need is clean water and nutritional food? What do you mean "lifestyle" may indeed have played a role in the immune collapse of some gay men in the early 1980s? None of these are said to be "true" and all are politically incorrect at best, heretical at worst. But accompanied by the orthodox swamp of contradictions, one sits back and ponders...deeply.

The film was screened this week at the Washougal International Film Festival. Brent Leung and his producer were present and most humble. Knowing the film has received great backlash from the orthodox scientists he interviewed, I asked the director to respond to accusations that he has somehow misrepresented them in the documentary. He simply said, "Not one person has ever offered a specific example of how I have done so. We invite them to join in on the discussion. We want there to be an ongoing dialogue." An audience member asserted that many of the outraged are linked to pharmaceutical companies that manufacture HIV medications. My research has shown this to be, at least in part, true. And one must ask, "How could he misrepresent them?" There are long interview segments with clear, unedited responses. It's not as if Leung utilizes second-to-second jump cuts to create a message. In fact, the style of the piece is very straight-forward and journalistic with very little editorial commentary. It trusts the audience to draw individual conclusions.

If there is one moment of overt theatricality in the film, it is in its final frames when the score serves to highlight a most shocking revelation offered by Luc Montagnier, who just last year was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering HIV. He says that one can be exposed numerous times to HIV and that if they have a strong immune system, their bodies can cleanse it out. He is asked to repeat this notion by Mr. if the director cannot believe what was just said. Montagnier does not hesitate. He reaffirms with a simple "yes" - and with that, the ominous piano and minor synth-string chords echo out. But you know, this moment earns a touch of scary music - because the implications are monumental.

If Luc Montagnier is correct...if the discoverer of HIV is right...then an HIV+ status might be meaningless. If one is exposed to HIV and cleanses it out, then the immune system's antibodies have done their job - but those antibodies would still show up on the HIV antibody test, resulting in a + result. This happens a lot with other diseases. For instance, I test + for TB, which means I was exposed to it and beat it. But with HIV, a + test result currently means lifelong drugs and eventual death. Are there thousands of people partaking in the drug protocol who actually have immune systems strong enough to battle it alone? Given the drugs are lethally toxic, might this be considered a type of mass medical homicide?

Throughout the film, the struggles of an HIV+ baby girl and her adoptive parents are followed. While still a toddler, she experienced horrific side effects from the AZT regimen given to her by doctors to keep her alive. When the parents reported the horrible side effects, they were told it was HIV creating the leg cramps and other painful symptoms. Finally, the parents turned to dissident Peter Duesberg who convinced them to take their daughter off the meds and leave HIV behind.

During the Q&A after the film, this little girl - now a beautiful, healthy 19 year-old young woman - came onto the stage with her mother. It was a truly breathtaking moment - one that could not be more illustrative. She has not taken a drug since she was a toddler. She has no idea what her "numbers" are in terms of CD4 counts and viral load. For her, it is clear HIV is something of a mythological boogey man...something that haunted her early childhood, and has been forever locked in the closet.

And that is what I was left with. Is HIV the deadly epidemic that defines modern sexuality? Or is it a boogey man perpetuated by a passionate, often well meaning medical community that might have it all wrong? Brent Leung is a brave man, because he dares to ask. But what scares me more than anything is: how have we come to a place in our scientific discussions that one should have to be brave to simply ask a question?

NOTE: The film is screening all over the US and in the UK in festivals and other showings. Check for more information.

Monday, August 3, 2009


So I'm sure most everyone has seen this picture by now. It's years old. But my beloved Bill Maher introduced it to me just a week ago on his New Rules segment of Real Time. It's crude and overtly blasphemous, and so of course, it makes me laugh. BUT...what is terrifying about my experience with Jesus in a Dog Hole is that I had the mute button on at the time Bill was ranting about it. I had taken a phone call and silenced the television, and just as I hung up, this image was filling my screen, and, I thought - oh look, a surreal picture of Jesus; Bill must be plugging his movie, Religulous, again. And then I turned the sound back on and heard Bill tell me what I was seeing, and I thought, "Oh no...I saw Jesus in a dog's anus. I had no idea it was a dog's anus." And then I had to recall that "DOG" is "GOD" backwards - the whole thing sent a shiver down my body, and I almost ran to the kitchen to check the tortillas and toast.

It shook be spiritually,, for real.

And then I thought...Photoshop is cool.