A couple of weeks ago I downloaded the new Fountains of Wayne CD, Traffic and Weather. I don't normally go in much for pop music (although technically Fountains of Wayne are considered "alternative." Or are they "indie"? That shows how much I know.) Anyway, it's somewhat unusual that I should download an entire album like this but I like their music. I like the urban imagery and sometimes ironic commentary of their lyrics. But perhaps what really resonates with me is their name. You see, I grew up not 20 minutes from the actual Fountains of Wayne. Yes, it's a real place. They sell Fountains. In Wayne. New Jersey, that is.
Fountains of Wayne has something of a cult status in North Jersey so it makes sense that the band, which originated in New Jersey, would choose to name themselves after such a phenomenon. It's quite famous in those parts. Fountains and statuary from Fountains of Wayne can be seen adorning the exterior of Greek diners up and down the Rt. 46 strip. Whether you want to transform your Belleville backyard into the Piazza Michelangelo or create your own West Patterson Pitti Palace, Fountains of Wayne has the statuary for you! Want a naked David statue? They have it. How big do you want him? Venus de Milo? No problem! Would you like her with or without arms? But perhaps Fountains of Wayne's biggest claim to fame is their Christmas display. When I was a teenager it was the biggest spectacular west of Radio City.
People came from miles around to Fountains of Wayne conveniently located where Route 46 intersects Interstate 80 and Route 15 causing even more traffic and congestion for holiday shoppers at nearby Willowbrook Mall. Bumper to bumper cars would line the shoulder of the highway as each car full of families making their yearly pilgrimage would be waved into the parking lot as space permitted.
When you got inside you entered a tunnel-like structure with lots of colored lights, fake snow and white branches. It would open up into a Christmas wonderland where we gawked along with suburban families at miracle after Christmas miracle: a forest of aluminium Christmas trees in every color of the rainbow: flashing electric blue or entirely mauve and seafoam. Everyone of the Christmas cast of characters from Baby Jesus to Rudolph was represented as an electronic animated figure--sometimes in the same display. Christmas music was piped in adding to the absolutely dizzying affect of all the Jersey Christmas glitz.
I admit going a couple of times with a group of friends from high school. We would snicker about it over cheese fries and gravy at the Dakota Diner afterward, but secretly I think it appealed to the last bit of childlike wonder we had left in us about Christmas. Even today as I drive past I can't help remembering those years with bittersweet nostalgia.
Below are some pictures of the real Fountains of Wayne.
So there's a bit of personal catching up to do here on this blog o' mine. First, just as I had gotten over the rejection and humiliation of not getting into an MFA Acting program, the only school that did not reject me outright and put me on their waiting list has come through. I got my acceptance package last Friday. So that throws a serious monkey wrench into my Plan B. While it's nice to get a fat envelope with a letter that begins "Congratulations" rather than a pathetically limp single page note that says "We regret to inform you," I don't think I want to go there. After I applied and did some further investigation I decided it was too similar to my undergraduate program. The more I think about it the better fit for me is probably a program with a university affiliated professional theatre residency. But maybe I'll see what this school comes up with money-wise before I make a decision.
And second, I'll have time to mull over my decision next week ON MY TRIP TO ITALY! Yes, the triphas been planned for some time. Scott and I will be gone from June 5 to the 17. In honor of my parents' 45th anniversary they have rented a villa in Tuscany near my father's ancestral village (pictured below) for the month of June. They've invited all us kids over when our schedules permit. This will be Scott's first trip to Italy, so we'll use the house in Tuscany as a home base and travel around to all the famous sites. We're going to try and get a couple days in both Rome and Venice and spend the rest of the time exploring Florence and the Tuscan country side. I'm preparing to blog while I'm there, but I'm not sure what kind of wireless connections will be available. I hope to keep you posted with all our adventures and lots of pictures!
This morning when I woke up and turned on the TV I was saddened to learn that Charles Nelson Reilly had died over the weekend due to complications from pneumonia. To the television generation Reilly was mostly known as a fixture on game shows like Match Game, Tattletales and Hollywood Squares. I remember him from re-runs of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir with the beautiful Hope Lange in which he played the fussy, put-upon Claymore Gregg, the only living relative of the ghost, Captain Daniel Gregg, played by Edward Mulhare. He also starred in a couple of Saturday morning television series produced by Sid and Marty Krofft of H.R. Pufnstuff fame endearing him to a generation of children.
But Reilly was much more than a game show punchline. He got his start on Broadway having created such roles as Bud Frump in How to Suceed in Business... for which he won a Tony award and the love-sick Cornelius Hackl in Hello Dolly! for which he was nominated. He was an acting student of legendary teacher Uta Hagenand went on to become a renowned acting teacher at the famous H.B. Studiosin New York. He also directed operas and plays and earned a Tony nomination for best director for a production of The Gin Game with his dear friend Julie Harris.
Late in his career Reilly starred in an autobiographical one-man show called Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly. In it he told a story from early in his career in which he recounts a meeting with an NBC executive who told him "they don't put queers on TV." Reilly of course went on to become one of the most recognizable television faces of the 1970s. He carved out work for himself where he could, often playing the sissified fop, a movie staple left over from the '30s and '40s in the tradition of Edward Everett Horton. These roles were never openly gay, but certainly paved the way for audiences to accept the likes of Will and Grace's Jack McFarland into their living rooms decades later.
Reilly never hid his sexuality but never felt the need to come out publicly either, although he acknowledged his sexuality in his one-man show. I'm grateful he lived long enough so that his death will not be sensationalized with scandal in the tabloids like those of Liberace and Paul Lynde. Instead, his obituaries proudly read: "Charles Nelson Reilly was survived by his partner of 27 years, Patrick Hughs III." He was 76.
This is the new New York City bus shelter that's been popping up all over town. Its sleek and modern appearance seems to dress up any street corner although Scott says it was clearly designed by someone who has never had to wait for bus. He points to the gap between the shelter wall and the slightly pitched roof which offers no protection to commuters from wind and rain. I don't know. I think it looks cool. But then I never take the bus.
In an interview with the Associated Press yesterday regarding a portion of his campaign tactics he calls "Ask Mitt Anything," Romney had this to day about his stance on gays.
"I don't think that a person who's running for a secular position as I am should talk about or engage in discussions of what they in their personal faith or their personal beliefs is immoral or not immoral." Separation of church and state? What a concept!
"What you look for in a leader is someone who will welcome and treat with respect people who made different choices and have different beliefs in their lives and have differences. I have nothing but respect and feelings of tolerance for people with differences from myself and feel that way with regards to those who are gay...I oppose discrimination against gay people," Romney said. "I am not anti-gay. I know there are some Republicans, or some people in the country who are looking for someone who is anti-gay and that's not me."
I have to say I'm impressed. He then went on to say that the reason he spent the last year of his governorship in Massachusetts trying to overturn the court's decision on gay marriage was because it wasn't in the best interest of children. Well, of course! Won't someone PLEASE think of the children! In any event, these remarks all but seal Romney's fate of never getting the Republican nomination in a million years.
No, I'm not referring to Valerie Cherish's fictitious one-time television hit "I'm It." (Pictured Left) I've been tagged for my first meme! (One question though, is it pronounced with a long "e" as in "mean" or is it the French word "même" meaning same, which seems to make sense since it's a set of questions that are the same for everyone? Just asking.)
* Post a similar post like thisone and add a link back to the person who tagged you.
* List down 5 reasons why you blog about the things you blog on your blog.
* Choose your 5 tag ‘victim’ and tag them nicely :)
* Write a comment on their blog letting them know that you tagged them. Voila!
Funny, my answers could be the same as Vinnie's (except for the part about caring if there's clean air and water in a 100 years. Not that I don't care about that! I mean, come on, who doesn't? But that's not why I blog.) Okay, so on with my answers.
Five reasons why I blog about the things on my blog:
5. To reflect the many complex and fascinating facets of my personality.
Well, not really--everything I blog about is a subject I'm interested in or feel passionate about. Otherwise, why bother?
4. Life in New York is unique. (Quick, say "Unique New York" 10 times fast!) I try to reflect that perspective in my posts whether it's no-nonsense opinions or talking about theatre or just posting pictures of city landmarks I love. It's life in the big city. Like my byline says.
3. It's a great place to channel my creative energy and it keeps me off the streets.
2. I have opinions about absolutely everything from who should be the next American Idol to who should be the next president. Blogging gives me a forum to post those opinions and hopefully takes the heat off my friends and family from having to listen to them unsolicited ad nauseum.
As much as I like Jordin and Blake, I have to say this was perhaps the dullest American Idol finale to date. We all know who should have won the competition and that's Melinda. This finale would have been far more exciting with her presence in it. But oh well, she was eliminated. Go figure the how the American public votes. I've been trying since 2000! But I will say without Melinda, the playing field was pretty even between Blake and Jordin, and so the outcome isn't necessarily obvious. And now, on with the critique:
Round 1 Blake graciously volunteered to sing first starting with "You Give Love a Bad Name." He was heavy on the beatboxing, but as it turned out it was his only opportunity to do so all evening. At first I wanted to see him have more fun with it, but he got there by time he started strutting around with the mic stand. But I'm sorry, no one does the one-handed mic stand strut better than Bo Bice. Blake was good though. A strong start to the competition.
Jordin chose to start with Christina Aguilera's "Fighter." Her vocals were great on this, but I don't think it was the best song choice for her. Jordin's strengths are her youth, sunniness and vitality. This song didn't play to any of those. The theme off it was dark, and that's not the quality that earned her a place in the finals.
Round 2 Blake started off round 2 with "She Will Be Loved," a great choice for him. His voice is suited for it and he sang it pretty well. He was a bit unsupported going into the falsetto and I worried about his pitch however. His presence is charming though and all in all it wasn't bad. But as Simon said, it's not the kind of safe, middle-of-the-road performance we expect to see in the finals.
Jordin's second song was Martina McBride's "With a Broken Wing." See my critique for round 1.
Round 3 Every year for the Idol finale they make both singers sing the winning song in this lame song writing competition they have. It's always one of these schlocky, sentimental ballads about making a dream come true, or in this case "This Is My Now." It invariably ends up being much better suited for one of the singers over the other and ends up doing the other one in. (Again, I bring up Bo Bice.) This was certainly the situation with Blake. He was clearly out of his element and seemed uncomfortable with this song. I mean, where was he gonna beat box with that thing? It wasn't his style but he did the best he could with it.
Jordin clearly benefited from the song style here and she gave a powerful and honest performance. One thing Jordin is not afraid to do is become emotionally invested in a song. Her very real tears and the emotional break in her voice were so affective they may have won her the competition. She gave a beautiful performance of the song.
As you may or may not know, Fantasia Barrino, American Idol Season 3 winner known simply as Fantasia now, opened recently as Celie in The Color Purple on Broadway. In the wake of an Oscar winning performance by Jennifer Hudson whom she defeated for the title of American Idol and replacing Broadway actress LaChanze in the Tony winning role she created, Fantasia had a couple of tough acts to follow. Here are some of her reviews.
She’s pretty terrific. So terrific that this earnest but mechanical musical is more effective and affecting than it was when it yawned open a year and a half ago at the Broadway Theater... Fantasia exudes a sweetness, simplicity and honesty that gives it a core of authentic feeling. --Charles Isherwood, New York Times
That she could sing, we knew... But that she could act . . . and act so wonderfully. So tenderly, so touchingly, so effortlessly. That came as a surprise. I'm talking, if you haven't guessed, about Fantasia, who has taken over so commandingly the role of Celie in the musical "The Color Purple" at the Broadway Theatre. --Clive Barnes, NY Post
(Fantasia) establishes a direct line of communication with the audience that's fortified whenever she sings, whether it's the touching lullaby "Somebody Gonna Love You," sung to the infant about to be snatched from her arms, or the triumphant affirmation of her existence "I'm Here." And when her immersion in her sister Nettie's letters from Africa prompts her to cut loose in choreographer Donald Byrd's tribal dance, a surge of affection pulses through the house, as if the entire audience were proud parents of an awkward child stepping forward to shine. --David Rooney, Variety
Fantasia Barrino - high-school dropout in ninth grade, single mother at 17, "American Idol" winner in 2004 - makes a phenomenal stage debut as Celie in "The Color Purple."Much as fellow "Idol" discovery Jennifer Hudson swept into the Oscar books as Effie in "Dreamgirls," the 22-year-old known as Fantasia steps confidently into the demanding role in which LaChanze won last year's Tony Award. With a startling mixture of subtle delicacy and raw power, she dares us to take our eyes off her. --Linda Winer, NY Newsday
Wow. How many Broadway veterans would kill for reviews like that? Good for her!
Thousands turned out today to take part in GMHC's annual AIDS Walk New York, the biggest fundraiser of the year for the organization. Starting in Central Park with a speech from Whoopi Goldberg and a stirring rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" by The Pirate Queen's Stephanie J. Block the walk meanders through the park, across Cathedral Parkway (110th Street) and down Riverside Drive to 74th St. I'm in a prime location at 83rd and Riverside to watch and cheer for the walkers as they pass by.
The walk brought out its usual cast of colorful characters which you can see pictured below including: bears greeting dogs, tranny waitrons, cute volunteers, muscle boys and in the last photo, my parents who participate every year. Mom got to wear a crown as a star walker this year. She raised $1350 for the cause.
UPDATE: $6.8 Million was raised to benefit the Gay Men's Health Crisis by over 45,000 walkers, both new records for AIDS Walk New York!
Even former President Jimmy Carter, humanitarian, Nobel Peace Prize winner and diplomat extraordinaire, can't find anything nice to say. Here are some of his remarks on the current Bush Administration:
“I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history. The overt reversal of America’s basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including those of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me.”
Carter gave an interview to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in which he expounds on George W. Bush's war, foreign policy and the separation of church and state. Read more here.
One of my favorite stories of all time is that of Peter Pan. Whether it's the Disney version or the Broadway version or the original James Barrie, there is something about the story that moves me; something about believing in something strong enough that it comes true. I know I'm not alone in this, for no matter how many times the show is revived, an audience full of hard-boiled New York theatre goers never fails to applaud loud enough to bring Tinkerbell back to life. The other moment that gets me every time is when the Darling children think lovely enough thoughts that they fly for the first time. This happens in the number "I'm Flying," which is the clip I've included here. I cry like a baby. Happens every time. Instant water works.
The score for Peter Pan was written by Jule Styne with Book and Lyrics by Comden & Green and Carolyn Leigh. There were three major productions of Peter Pan on Broadway, the original in 1954 with Mary Martin, the 1979 production with Sandy Duncan (seen here) and the most recent in 1999 with Cathy Rigby. I have the Mary Martin filmed-for-television version on tape and the DVD of Cathy Rigby. (Yes, I'm a dork.) I also saw the Rigby production live and it remains one of my most precious theatre-going memories ever.
I attended a benefit performance of the show for the Actors Fund of Americawhich champions such causes as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative, The Actors Work Program among others. Many Broadway shows do these benefit performances and they are always so much fun to attend. The cast, crew and musicians volunteer their time and there is a tremendous sense of community in that everyone in the theatre, including the audience, is united in the cause.I brought my then 6 year old niece, Katie, and my mother to the show. I happened to know one of the keyboard players in the pit who arranged for us to go backstage after the show, walk around on the set of a real Broadway stage, tryout Nana's doghouse and even get to meet Cathy Rigby who could not have been more lovely or gracious to my little niece. She sent Katie home with a pocket full of fairy dust that my niece says she still has somewhere. It was a truly magical experience.
I've not commented on the Rosie O'Donnell/Donald Trump "feuds" this year at all so far. For the record I've been on Rosie's side from day one. I'm a big fan of hers even though she gets a bad rap for having a big mouth. In many ways, that's a good thing. She has opened up controversial political discourse to a market that was otherwise bombarded with celebrity gossip drivel and the latest in shoe fashions for Spring. Also, I love what she does for the arts, particularly Broadway and her philanthropic work for children's charities is admirable. I'm proud that she's part of our community. Also it makes me angry when others in the gay community engage in low brow attacks on her character and work (see Queerty.com) in attempts to be pithy and further the stereotype of the bitchy queen. In my opinion we should be thanking her for bringing LGBT issues to middle America.
For these reasons I am delighted to hear that a divine dose of Karma has been dealt to Rosie's nemesis, Donald Trump. After months of unsolicited infantile attacks on Ms. O'Donnell that have gotten him nothing but bad publicity, it seems NBC's love affair with the misogynistic, materialistic, ego maniacal comb-over king is over. Reuter's reportsthat Trump's "Apprentice" has been left off the new NBC Fall line-up. All but the final nail has been put into his coffin and only as a last resort will his show be brought back. Keep your fingers crossed.
Donald Trump, whose low-rated reality show "The Apprentice" was left off the new prime-time schedule unveiled this week by NBC, says the network can't fire him --he quits. The real estate mogul issued a statement on Friday saying he has informed the U.S. television network he is "moving on from 'The Apprentice' to a major new TV venture," though he declined to elaborate.
Trump then referred to NBC network executives as "big poo-poo heads," thumbed his nose at the camera and made a raspberry before taking his marbles and going home.
Well, here we are again. Down to the last three very deserving performers. They're all good so I don't have that much to say except that the jury is still out as to who the final two singers battling it out for the title of American Idol will be.
This week each singer performed three songs, one selected by one of the judges, one selected by the producers and one chosen by thesingers themselves. It made for an interesting if not completely spectacular evening. Here's the rundown. I'll try to be brief--for me anyway.
Jordin Sparks: Her first song was "Wishing on a Star" chosen for her by Simon. This was a disappointment. While her vocals were beautiful, mature and controlled, the cool jazzy arrangement gave her no emotional or vocal meat to work with. It's a mood song, not a dramatic or vocal powerhouse which is what Jordin does best.
Jordin's second song was "She Works Hard for the Money" originally sung by Donna Summer. You'd think that Jodin would be great singing anything by Donna Summer, but I felt she was just a little too young to connect with the meaning of this song. She seemed to be playing "at" it rather than really resonating with it. Again, her vocals are wonderful, but that Jordin "spark" we've become accustomed to was missing.
For her last tune Jordin chose "I Who Have Nothing" the powerhouse ballad she did so well with during British Invasion week. She sang this as beautifully as she did the first time, even kicking up the vocals a bit at the end by improvising an extra high note. But this was perhaps not the best choice of song following her previous two. We didn't get to see that vibrant, youthful energy this week that only she brings to the competition. It's a shame. I still love her though.
Blake Lewis: Paula chose for Blake "Roxanne," the 80s hit by the Police. This seemed a logical choice for him. More than once Blake has conjured up visions of British 80s pop crooners. But for some reason he never got there with this song. He didn't seem to be enjoying himself and the instinctively sexy Blake couldn't seem to find the sex in the song. It was a dull but adequate performance.
For song number two, the producers chose "This Love" and Blake was back! He was completely in his comfort zone with this song and it allowed him to give the kind of exciting, well rounded performance we look forward to from him every week.
For his third song Blake chose "When I Get You Alone" managing to top his previous performance. It showed off all his strengths. It was sexy, current, rhythmic and musical. This was a great note to end on for Blake.
Melinda Doolittle: Melinda started with "I Believe in You and Me" originally sung by Whitney Houston and chosen for her by Randy. It was a challenge she rose to with ease. Once again, Melinda relies on the dramatic meat of the song to fuel her stellar vocals. You can't lose with that combination.
Next, the producers gave Melinda "Nut Bush City" to perform as her second number. It's amazing how easily Melinda can assume the role of that Tina Turner style rocker chick at the drop of a hat. As I've said before, this comes from her history as a back up singer where one must imitate, blend with and assume the style of anyone she happens to be singing with. She gave a great performance.
For song number three Melinda chose "WOMAN," an excellent choice for her. The bluesy style, the era, the sentiment are all well suited to Melinda's talents. I only wish the arrangement was a little longer to give her more of a chance to drive home the message of the song and allow her to play with the riffs a bit more. But I did like the way she brought the back up singers center stage for the end of the song.
Best Performer of the Night: Melinda Doolittle. No surprises.
Weakest Performer of the Night: Jordin Sparks, but only because of song choices.
Who will go: This is a toss up. IfK voters base it on last night's performance I'd have to say Jordin will go because Blake was the stronger of the two this time. On the other hand, if voters take into account Jordin's body of work over the season, she could end up in the finale with Melinda. Personally I think they are both deserving of it. It's just a matter of personal taste.
RESULTS UPDATE: OMG!!! TOTAL UPSET! THE BIGGEST UPSET IN IDOL HISTORY! How could Melinda not be in the final??? I suspect that people thought she'd be safe and didn't bother to vote. Everyone knew it would be a close call between Blake and Jordin so they got all the votes. I called in for Melinda, though. Twice.
Sunday I was one of the good boys not at the Eagle. Instead I spent the day with my mom and hosted a Mother's Day brunch along with my sister at her place in Asbury Park. Following our mother's example, we prepared a menu of much too much food which included:
Fresh Fruit Salad
A Selection of fresh Bagels, lox and cream cheeses (both plain and vegetable)
Prosciutto and Melon
Banana Walnut French Toast
Tomato, Basil and Feta Frittata
Grilled Rosemary Chicken on a bed of mixed field greens with a lemon vinaigrette
Lemon Poppyseed Cake with fresh Strawberries
Chocolate Covered Strawberries.
Nothing makes my mother happier than seeing her children eat heartily. Oh yeah, I did the flowers, too.
Starting at Abingdon Square (Hudson and 12th St.) and ending at the Bowery, Bleecker Street meanders along in defiance of New York's grid system through some of the city's most colorful neighborhoods. Not so long ago as you walked south from the North West village down to the gritty Bowery, the street told the stories of the inhabitants of those neighborhoods by the businesses and institutions along the way.
In the fashionable West Village where the streets are lined Georgian with brick townhouses, Bleecker Street played host to dusty antique shops, rare book stores and art galleries. Near the intersection of Christopher Street, an "apothecary" still stands that has served the neighborhood through the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic losing many of its customers to the disease over the years. A little further down another shop that was once the Army/Navy Surplus store dressed gay men in faux-military gear as warriors against the plague.
On the south side of Seventh Avenue as you approached Carmine Street, suddenly a glut of Italian Bakeries with fancy cookies and cannoli in the windows appear reflecting the Italian American enclave centered around that intersection. On the corner of Carmine Street is Our Lady of Pompeii, a mostly Italian Catholic congregation where my father used to attend dances in the church basement as a teenage immigrant.
Past Sixth Avenue the unmistakable energy of student life becomes apparent as Bleecker Street becomes part of the NYU campus. As you proceed east to the Bowery, you'll find dark bars that served as venues for alternative bands and overflowed with carousers till the wee hours of the morning.
Today, the section of Bleecker Street north of Christopher is lined with high-priced designer boutiques like the ones pictured above. Even though I hate to admit it, the ever increasing real estate prices and these business reflect the changing face of Bleecker street and the inhabitants of the neighborhood where celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Mathew Broderick and Tim Gunn call home. One can even spot "Sex and the City" walking tours traipsing past Magnolia Bakery every day.
I'm all for being politically correct, but some of the objections to Disney's first black heroine seem a bit far fetched. Even for me. This from Studiobriefing.com:
PROTESTS COME EARLY TO DISNEY'S PRINCESS Almost two years before its hoped-for release of its first hand-drawn animated film produced under the supervision of Pixar's John Lasseter, Disney has already drawn fire for alleged racial and ethnic insensitivities that were detected in its original announcement of the film, according to Disney watcher Jim Hill. Since the original title, The Frog Princess, might be regarded as a slur on the French, the title has been changed to The Princess and the Frog. The main character, named Maddy -- who was to become Disney's first black princess -- has had her name changed to Tiana, since Maddy reportedly sounded too much like Mammy. She will no longer be seen as a chambermaid working for a rich, white spoiled Southern débutante. In a statement, Disney, which said that it ordinarily does not comment on its animated films in the early stages of production, observed: "The story takes place in the charming elegance and grandeur of New Orleans' fabled French Quarter during the Jazz Age. ... Princess Tiana will be a heroine in the great tradition of Disney's rich animated fairy tale legacy, and all other characters and aspects of the story will be treated with the greatest respect and sensitivity."
The part about her being a chambermaid I guess I can understand, although it did wonders for Cinderella's popularity over the years, but "The Frog Princess" as a slur against the French? Gimme a break.
I've seen The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold on the table of reader's favorites at Barnes and Noble for years now. But I was never compelled to read it. Why? Because of the cover. Yes, I admit I was judging this book by its cover. It looked like a chick book to me. The Lovely Bones, with a charm bracelet and a little house on the cover. I thought it was about some suburban woman who wanted to be skinny because she has lovely bones or something. Well, I was wrong. It's nothing like that.
I finally decided to read it because Scott has been recommending it to me for about a year now. I was delighted to find it's a very thoughtful and moving story that centers around the murder of a 14 year-old girl namd Susie. It's told from Susie's point of view from her heaven. (Apparently everyone's is different.) She hovers above her family and friends and watches as they deal with her death and their grief and eventually come apart at the seams. Her sister, closest to her in age, still carrying the burden of sibling rivalry with a dead girl. Her father who becomes so obsessed with finding his daughter's killer he becomes known as something of a neighborhood loon. Her mother who becomes increasingly distant and cold to the rest of her family. The brother who was so young at the time of his sister's murder he was shielded from the reality of it and grows increasingly resentful with age for not being allowed to feel the loss. And finally, a once flighty and alcoholic grandmother who moves into the dead girl's room and attempts to pull the family back together.
The characters are very human and don't always behave as you would want them to or think they should. But therein lies the beauty of it. The painful humanity of the survivors who, like the dismembered bones of the murdered girl, separate, each in his own turmoil, but finally come together to form the body that was her life.
I found the device of using Susie to tell the story original and fascinating. I also applaud Sebold for not trying to turn the story into a suspense thriller with the characters in hot pursuit of a killer. It deals with the much stronger force to reckon with: their grief. That said, I found the pacing a bit plodding at times, but Sebold's beautiful prose is a pleasure to read.
It's down to the final four best singers on American Idol and yet this had to be the worst week to date this season. The only thing that kept the show from being a complete snooze-fest was the rapid fire pace the show was forced to keep in order to give all four singers a chance to sing two songs each. The theme was the music of the BeeGee's. At first I didn't think this would make for such an abysmal week, but after an entire evening of these unspectacular, mundane, boom-chicky, easy listening dirges I realized that the the only reason these songs were ever hits is because of the BeeGee's distinctive, gimmicky, falsetto sound.
I know this theme was chosen long before the producers knew there would be three incredible black divas in the final four, but I felt it was a SIN not to have this week be 70s disco week instead of the BeeGees. Like last week, this music is too distinctive to one particular group and not suited for female singers. Here's my critique--fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night.
Melinda: Started with "Love You Inside and Out." Barry Gibb was surprised she chose it because the song was written for a falsetto and not a woman. To which I would have said "Well, DUH, Barry, ALL your songs are written for a falsetto." What choice did she have? Melinda proved herself a competent singer with this song which we already knew, but she didn't necessarily impress with it. As things shaped up though, this turned out to be one of the better performances of the night.
For her second song she chose "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart." I've always hated this song but I thought if anyone could make me like it, it's Melinda. It has the potential to be kind of a bluesy torch song. Well, she did the best she could with it. It wasn't Melinda, it's the song. The only interesting part of the whole thing was the key change, obviously put in by the musical director to bring some kind of excitement to this awful song.
Blake: Okay, as Randy would say, "I gotta give him props, yo" for trying to do something interesting with "You Should Be Dancing" but I think the lesson learned here is that there is such a thing as too much beat box. To his credit, he chose to sing by beat boxing the most interesting thing in the original recording, that is, the horn parts between the repeated line "you should be dancing, yeah." It didn't quite work though, partly because his pitch was off in places and also because he seemed to be working too hard to make it exciting.
For his next song Blake chose "This is Where I Came In" and frankly, I wish he had stayed out. The song is terrible and Blake relied on the other crutch in his bag of tricks: the British 80's pop crooner sound a la Sting. Not a wholly inappropriate choice for this song, that is if one must sing it.
LaKisha: Proving that her appalling lack of originality all these weeks hasn't been a fluke, she chose perhaps the most obvious BeeGee's song ever: "Stayin' Alive." By choosing this she automatically opens herself up to comparisons of the original which, for this song, every single viewer watching can easily conjure up without even thinking about it. Also, in her coaching Barry Gibb instructed her on the correct melody to sing which she seemed fine with but then went on stage and made up her own thing. The watered down tempo didn't help either.
For her second choice Lakisha chose "Run To Me" and as Paula would say, she looked great! Again, the song is boring and the only thing that saved it was a well placed key change. She did the best she could with it considering the material.
Jordin: Jordin's first performance of "To Love Somebody" proved to be the most exciting of the evening. Jordin was able to bring the youthful fresh take she's become known for to this old pop tune. I think the key should have been raised though since the song has a decent release and could have shown off her voice better. Instead she had to rely on riffing higher notes for that. But at least she was smart enough to make that choice.
Her second song was "A Woman in Love," of Barbra Streisand fame. It seemed an obvious choice since it's one of the few songs by the BeeGee's actually written for a woman. At first I thought she would do well with it. I always thought the Streisand version was whiny and screechy and again Jordin did her best but there's just not enough meat to the song to make it interesting. The key was probably the original which was just a little too high making her strain for all those belted high notes. As a result her pitch suffered a bit. A valliant effort nonetheless.
Best Performance: Jordin
Worst Performance: Blake
Who Will Go: LaKisha or Blake, but I'm leaning toward LaKisha.
RESULTS UPDATE: Well, I was right, LaKisha goes home. I thought it was odd they saved all the best BeeGee's songs for a medley performed by the remaining four tonight. It reminded me that the BeeGee's did in fact have some decent tunes. But what was up with that sound? Yikes!
Originally I was hoping to find a clip of Julie Andrews singing "The Lusty Month of May" from Camelot for this week's Musical Moments, it being May and me being a big showtune queen and all, but alas, I was not able to find one of that particular song. At Bluegobo.com there is a clip of Julie Andrews and Richard Burton singing "What Do the Simple Folk Do,"from an Ed Sullivan Show appearance however. It's worth a gander over there if you're so inclined. What I was able to find on YouTube.com from Camelot was a clip of Julie Andrews singing the title song at the 1991 Tony Awards. Julie's character of Guinevere never actually sang that song in the show, but it is a lovely backdrop for a montage that someone put together of rare footage, television appearances, costume designs and publicity stills from the original Broadway production. Like the mythical land of which it tells, the original production of Camelot starring Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet was nothing short of idyllic.
One can see what beautiful art direction the show had from the footage shown here and the performances of the three stars are the stuff that Broadway legends are made of. Add to that a masterful score by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe and you have an instant classic. The show opened in 1960 following the success of Lerner and Lowe's unprecedented hit, My Fair Lady in 1956. The genius of their music I believe comes in their ability to fully define and develop real, three dimensional characters that the audience becomes invested in, cares about and even grows to love in little more than a three minute song. From the very first moment we meet the character of Arthur when he sings "I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight," or Guinevere singing "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood," or Lancelot with "C'est Moi" we know everything we need to know about those characters. We know who they are, where they came from, what their passions, desires, prejudices, fears and dreams are. Lerner and Lowe's use of language and their ability to write melodies ranging for the most adept of singers like Goulet and Andrews to a non-singing classically trained actor like Burton are unmatched in the musical theatre genre.
Camelot is also often associated with the Kennedy Administration partly because it opened the year he was elected and ran on Broadway during his administration. Supposedly it was one of the president's favorite musicals and it is said he enjoyed listening to the original cast album at the end of a long day as leader of the free world. Camelot also serves as an allegory for the administration itself and the loss of innocence of the country following Kennedy's assasination.
Just so you know, I had written an absolutely delightful post about Lerner and Lowe's classic Broadway musical Camelot for this week's Musical Moments feature. However, the post appears to be lost in cyberspace limbo. You see, YouTube.comhas a very irritating little glitch occasionally. To their credit, the good folks at YouTube have made it as easy as possible to post a video to your blog. They accommodate a variety of blog hosts and all the information for your blog is preloaded with your account registration so it literally takes one click to make a video appear on your blog. Once you make that one click a confirmation message comes up that says "This video will appear on your blog shortly." You then click "okay" and that's that. (Okay, technically that's two clicks--but still pretty easy.)
The only problem with this system is the word "shortly" in the confirmation message. Shortly. It's so vague. Shortly as in a few minutes or a few days? Apparently it can be either of these. In most cases the video will appear on your blog in a few minutes but once in a while it won't show up till a day or two later. This of course prompts you to try posting it again and again thinking it didn't take for some reason so that when it finally does show up, it will appear as many times as you tried re-posting it. Say, oh, 17 times. So this is what must have happened with the Camelot post. It could show up any day now--four times. It's a shame, too, because it was to be the 200th Manhattan Chowder blog post, but instead this stupid post is number 200. Whoop-de-doo.
UPDATE: Okay, thanks to Gavin (YOY)I have solved the mystery of the missing blog post. It seems the "embed" feature of the particular video I wanted to post has been disabled by FunStuff1623, the person who put it on YouTube originally. The question is why? Why, FunStuff1623, why disable the embed feature so others can't share it? There's no fun in that stuff. You misrepresent yourself.
When Jim McGreevey came out as a "gay American" on national television with his wife at his side and resigned as governor of New Jersey three years ago, I honestly felt sorry for the man. I felt sorry that an office as high as governor in our country is reserved mostly for straight white men. I felt sorry that such a man had to hide his sexuality in order to be elected. And I felt sorry for his wife who was an unwitting pawn in the charade that is American politics. It was a shame all around.
As a former Jersey boy, I liked McGreevey and he was a rising star in the Democratic party. After the blackmail scandal of Golan Cipel in which McGreevey emerged as the wronged party, McGreevey was poised to use his political clout for good. Perhaps to further LGBT causes or join forces with one of the many gay rights groups lobbying congress in our interest. But no. He squandered that opportunity. Instead he went and wrote a tawdry tell all book with all the gruesome details of his indiscretions then made the talk show rounds starting with Oprah. (Talk about going into the mouth of the lion!)
In the meantime an ugly divorce and custody battle ensued during which Jim McGreevey and his rich new Australian boyfriend showed off their lavish lifestyle on TV at their historic New Jersey mansion. This of course was shown by the media in stark contrast to the tiny 1950s ranch style house where his ex-wife Dina and daughter, Jacqueline now live. Details about erotic art in McGreevey's house swirled around the papers further fueling the unseemly custody battle. It didnt't take long before it was announced that Dina McGreevey, certainly the lower-profile of the two, would be having her say in her tell-all book, Silent Partner,which she has been promoting on the talk show circuit all this week. Starting with who else? Oprah.
Not to be outdone by this news, just as Dina was telling her tale of woe on Oprah's couch, Jim McGreevey announced he is going to become an Episcopal priest! Well of course! What else could possibly be next in this literal "holier than thou" battle? Now, I don't doubt McGreevey's religious convictions. Supposedly he either entered the Catholic seminary or was preparing for it at one time but his inner conflict regarding his sexuality put an end to that. He also credits his religious upbringing for his once closeted lifestyle. But his timing of this announcement as his wife's book is being released is highly suspect.
I don't know about you all, but I have had just about enough of these two. And here's a little unsolicited advice from me to Jim McGreevey, one gay man to another: Lay low for a while. Let Dina have her say and take it like a man. You are a disappointment.
By the way, Jim McGreevey will be pursuing his religious studies at the General Theological Seminary. In Chelsea. New York's gay Mecca. Of course.
At the intersection of Broadway and Westend Avenue at 106th Street is Straus Park. The park and this fountain are dedicated as a memorial to Isador and Ida Straus, owners of famous Macy's Department Store from 1896 until their death aboard the RMS Titanicin 1912. The story of how the Strauses perished that day is legendary. Not wanting to board a lifeboat ahead of any of the women or children, Isador insisted that his wife, Ida, and her maid, Ellen Bird, board lifeboat No. 8 without him. It was then that Ida was heard to say to her husband, "We have lived together for so many years. Where you go, I go." And so the two went down with ship together--a romance more moving than Hollywood could ever concoct.
One of the things people both love and hate about a city like New York is the anonymity of its inhabitants. But once in while a phenomenon occurs where you run into old friends, acquaintances or people you "used to know." I've written about this before and for some reason these meetings always seem to happen in bunches.
Yesterday I passed a guy on the street whose social circles sometimes overlapped with mine. I knew him slightly and he was always nice enough. But I only remembered who he was after I had already rounded the corner and he was probably gone. But then on my way home there he was on the subway platform. After that awkward moment of recognition we exchanged pleasantries and then caught different trains. Then this morning on my roughly four block walk from my house to the subway I ran into two old friends from college. Two in ten minutes. What are the odds?
The music of John BonJovi was a curious choice for this week's Idol theme, not only because there isn't a full fledged rocker left in the remaining bunch of singers, but because his music doesn't exactly appeal to the American Idol viewing demographic. Gay men and 13 year-old girls hardly ever listen to BonJovi, right Katie? More than that, BonJovi's music is so very specific and only works for a very particular kind of performer. The singers would have been better served if the theme was '80s Rock rather than the music of just one band. I was slightly encouraged though during Mr. BonJovi's opening remarks to the kids when he advised them to take his music, make it their own and tell the particular story that the music tells to them. If only he meant that.
And now, this week's contestants in review:
Phil Stacey: Not only had the advantage of already being familiar with the song "Blaze of Glory," but had a big enough voice to carry it off plus years of practicing in the mirror for this very moment. I was glad to see that Phil was able to bring the commitment of that bedroom mirror performance to the stage and act out his rocker dream come true for us. But I think it was clear he was acting. Once again he would have been wise not to start in the audience since clearly he's not comfortable being close to them. The moments where he tried to relate to a girl in the audience and even Randy were his only missteps in his performance. Overall, Phil was good.
Jordin Sparks: I knew Jordin was in trouble when her first words to BonJovi were "Oh my gosh, my mom is gonna flip out!" OUCH! Even I felt the sting of that one. It was an uphill battle from there as the very talented otherwise adept Ms. Sparks struggled to find some resonance with "Living on a Prayer," perhaps one of the best known songs in the BonJovioeuvre. For all of his advice of "making the song your own" BonJovi didn't even change the key for Jordin. It sounded very much to me like she was singing it in his key, rather than hers. She could have sung that song at least a step or two higher, perhaps even as much as a third. It would have sat in the brilliance of her voice and sounded much better. The performance was rough and not her finest hour. I still think she is one of the most talented singers in the competition, but this was an inopportune week to have an off performance.
LaKisha: In one of BonJovi's better coaching moments he was able to explain to LaKisha what the song "If I'm Not Right" means. And in one of LaKisha's better moments, she actually listened to him! She gave a pretty good performance but the entire time I was thinking, this is how she should have sung "Stormy Weather." But like Jordin, she could only do so well with the song singing in what sounded like a male key in her own octave.
Blake: Once again, for all of his "make it your own" talk, BonJovi was highly skeptical of Blake's very original take on "You Give Love a Bad Name" and dare I say even unsupportive. Knowing he's not a rocker, Blake wisely brought back the beat box in a big way, reminding us of his unique talent after a couple of weeks of pretty tepid performances. His timing was perfect and his performance was spot on. The key to an exciting performance is taking risks, going the extra mile and committing 150% to it. Blake proved to me again why I considered him one of the front runners behind Melinda for so many weeks.
Chris Richardson: Okay, I'm getting really tired of the Justin Timberlake comparisons and judging from the look on his face when dopey Ryan Seacrest said "I'm here with Justin Timberlake," so is Chris. That said, I give credit to Chris for trying his absolute damnedest to pull of a rock tune like this. He did all he could with it but unfortunately I think Chris was a casualty of bad theme week. It's just not his style. This could be it for him.
Melinda: Proving that she can sing absolutely anything, Melinda channelled Tina Turner for her performance of "Have a Nice Day." Knowing that the song would not show off the tessatura of her voice Melinda very wisely chose to color the vocals with rocker style rather than rely on her magnificent pipes. She completely committed to the role of the rocker chick convincing everyone watching that that is who she is, but of course we know she is so much more. Another great performance--true star quality.
Best Performance: Blake and Melinda
Worst Performance: It breaks my heart to say it, but Jordin.
Who will be voted off: Unfortunately, two of my favorites, Jordin and Chris.
RESULTS UPDATE-- So, two of the boys go home this week. I was slightly surprised about Phil because he seems to have struck a cord with the country music community which can be a formidable fan base. Plus he's got the military thing going for him and tonight he just happened to mention that his Daddy was a preacher. I'm not worried one bit about Phil's career, Nashville will eat him up with a spoon.
Speaking of eating with a spoon, my adorable Chris Richardson also goes home this week. This was not so much of a surprise as Chris has been in the bottom three on more than one occasion this season. My favorite moment tonight was when Blake and Chris declared themselves "best friends." Chris went a step further and said he would gladly go home for Blake. I'll admit I had to rewind and watch this moment several times. They are SO doing it. That's all I'm sayin'.
For years it seems New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been searching desperately for a way to leave his mark on the city. If Dinkins was known for bringing back the beat cop, Giuliani for cleaning up Times Square, just what will Bloomberg be remembered for? If you ask me it's precisely that--he's just looking to be remembered. First he chased the boondoggle of the West Side Stadium which was supposed to make us a more attractive candidate to host the 2012 Olympics. Then he spent millions of dollars for an ad campaign on television, bill boards, subway cars and buses promoting the idea of hosting the Olympics to New Yorkers, as if somehow we were the ones in control of the decision. The stadium was shot down by the city council and the Olympics were nixed by the Olympic committee. So, at this point it seems Bloomberg will mostly be remembered for his nanny-state legislation banning trans fats from New York City restaurants. After all, the public can't be trusted to make its own decisions about what to eat.
The latest idea being bandied about by the Bloomberg administration is a congestion fee for all cars wishing to drive below 86th Street. It worked in London, so why shouldn't it work here? Never mind that the building boom Bloomberg presided over to attract new businesses and tourism is in large part responsible for the added congestion on the streets of Manhattan. The proposed fee is $8 which is on top of the tolls and fees it already costs to enter the city through most bridges and tunnels, not to mention hefty parking fees once you get here. The congestion fee is supposed to be incentive for commuters to use mass transit, but what it amounts to is a commuter tax on the working class. What else is new? The logistics of such a tax sound complicated and difficult to enforce and would not go into affect for at least 3 years. Also, it must first be approved by the State Senate which could take some time.
In the meantime, in his latest attempt to be business-friendly, the Mayor has sunk to a new low prostituting the city out to Sony Pictures in declaration of Spiderman Week. That's right. A whole week full of Spidey festivities to promote the release of Spiderman 3 this Friday. Martin Luther King and Columbus only get a day and we don't even celebrate Washington's or Lincoln's birthdays anymore, all the presidents must now share one day, but Spiderman gets a whole week! There will be various events at businesses participating in the festivities which supposedly will draw tourists far and wide. Of course, if this event were held three years from now all those folks flocking to Manhattan for Spiderman Week would have to pay an $8 congestion fee just for the pleasure. Brilliant.