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Entertainment LGBTQ

Strike a Prose

A friend of mine and I always joke that if you get more than two gay men of a certain age — over about forty-two, forty-three — in a room, the conversation has turned to Madonna within half an hour, sometimes within ten minutes, every time. What she has meant to us, what she meant to us growing up on a kind of fundamental, primal, existential level, is impossible to exaggerate.

Matt Cain, British writer

I should have known I was gay in 1986. I’d sit in my room for hours, playing Madonna’s “True Blue” album over and over. (This was before CDs and streaming. After the last song on Side A, “Live to Tell,” I’d have to physically remove, flip over, and reinsert the cassette. You kids get off my lawn!)

I knew not to discuss Madonna with friends and family. For reasons I couldn’t articulate at the time, I sensed that admitting my admiration would say something about me that I didn’t want others to know.

I’m thinking back to those days because I’ve just devoured “Madonna: A Rebel Life,” the new biography by Mary Gabriel. It’s hardly Pulitzer material (I’m struggling to come up with a Material Girl pun here), but I found it fascinating because, by exploring the effect Madonna had on culture and society, it helped illuminate the effect Madonna had on me.

I’ll start by sharing my thoughts on the book, then dig deeper into Madonna the Gay Icon.

To get you in the mood for this blog post, here’s a playlist I’ve created with the songs from every Madonna album, the new music from the complication albums, and the tracks released one-off.

Just Some Tome to Celebrate

As befits a meticulously researched, 800-page book about a cultural icon, “Madonna: A Rebel Life” has garnered a lot of attention from book critics. The best brief description of the book is the subhead of Alexandra Jacobs’ review in The New York Times (paywall): “Mary Gabriel’s biography is as thorough as its subject is disciplined. But in relentlessly defending the superstar, where’s the party?”

In my non-professional opinion, the book’s biggest strength is also its primary weakness: Gabriel sympathizes with her subject. It’s a difficult balancing act: Is she humanizing or idolizing Madonna? Is she Madonna’s advocate or apologist?

Here’s how this plays out:

When Madonna thrives, it’s because of her drive, creativity, and openness to collaboration. She isn’t afraid of risk. She seeks out what’s new instead of repeating what’s been done.

When Madonna fails, it’s because the cards are stacked against her. It’s because of resistance in the music and film industries. It’s because she’s ahead of her time. It’s because of political and social resistance.

This doesn’t make the book any less powerful or insightful. What Gabriel does best is contextualize Madonna’s story. It’s not just about her; it’s also about the culture that created Madonna (and, in return, the culture that Madonna helped shape). Remove Madonna from the book and you end up with a fascinating, well-researched piece about the evolution of music and art in New York in the 1980s, the rise of the Religious Right in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the push for LGBTQ rights, and even the politics of Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump.

“I Am a Gay Man”

Madonna has been a gay icon and advocate for LGBTQ equality since, well, forever. This book, more than anything else I’ve read, explains why and how Madonna the artist can’t be separated from Madonna the ally, or Madonna the activist.

Madonna said her first visit to a gay club was the first time she felt empowered to be authentic:

I felt like such an outsider, a misfit, a weirdo. And suddenly when I went to the gay club, I didn’t feel that way anymore. I just felt at home. I had a whole new sense of myself… Until that point, I kept seeing myself through macho heterosexual eyes… When Christopher introduced me to this life, I suddenly thought, “That’s not the only way that I have to be.”

Madonna, quoted in “Madonna: A Rebel Life” by Mary Gabriel

This meant, I think, that Madonna appreciated and understood LGBTQ people on a personal level. She didn’t wink at them like previous artists did. She spoke to them directly, openly, and inclusively.

When an interviewer asked her, “If you were a gay man, would you be a top or a bottom?” she replied, “I am a gay man.”

What makes this even more important and meaningful is that Madonna didn’t shy away from LGBTQ issues when speaking to the general public — especially about the AIDS health crisis. In fact, each copy of “Like a Prayer” included a pamphlet about AIDS and safe sex. Remember, this is a time when people didn’t discuss AIDS, or described it as divine retribution against LGBTQ people. Now, from Manhattan, New York, to Manhattan, Kansas, anyone buying her album would get the facts they need.

I’m Not Your Bitch. Don’t Hang Your Shit on Me.

The most important thing about Madonna to me is that, through her words and actions, she empowered LGBTQ people to be bold and proud when everyone else wanted them to be silent and ashamed. Her attitude: If other people want to shame me for what I say, what I do, or what I represent, fuck ’em!

You’re trying to put me down because of this? I’m not going to let public opinion dictate my own feelings about myself. I’m not going to apologize for anything I’ve done.

Madonna, quoted in “Madonna: A Rebel Life” by Mary

Madonna showered us with love and visibility long before anyone in mainstream popular culture did. As far as examples go, “Vogue” is a gimme. So is her inclusion of LGBTQ people in “Truth or Dare” and the “Justify My Love” video in the early ’90s. Knowing Madonna was an unabashed ally gave her other songs deeper meaning and more resonance. “Express Yourself” isn’t just about demanding more from a partner — it’s about self-respect and -love in a society that expects you to put up with less than you deserve.

While “Human Nature” is based on Madonna’s experiences after “Erotica” and the “Sex” book, the lyrics are a rallying cry to everyone who doesn’t fit the tiny box that white, straight, cisgender, Christian men want to force everyone into.1

Wouldn’t let me say the words I longed to say
You didn’t want to see life through my eyes

Express yourself don’t repress yourself

You tried to shove me back inside your narrow room
And silence me with bitterness and lies

Express yourself don’t repress yourself

Did I say something wrong?
Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about sex
I must’ve been crazy

Did I stay too long?
Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t speak my mind
What was I thinking?

And I’m not sorry
I’m not sorry
It’s human nature

And I’m not sorry
I’m not sorry
I’m not your bitch don’t hang your shit on me

“Human Nature,” Madonna

You’ll See

In 1990, after the success of “Vogue” and “Dick Tracy,” and before the blowback from Sex and “Erotica,” Madonna embarked on her Blond Ambition tour. She captured everything — good and bad, on stage and off — in “Truth or Dare.” Anyone who saw the documentary will remember the tension between Madonna and her boyfriend at the time, Warren Beatty:

Warren Beatty would say that Madonna didn’t want to live off camera. Christopher said he was wrong: Madonna didn’t want to live offstage. She agreed. “I love reaching out to people and I love the expressions in people’s eyes and just the ecstasy and the thrill.”

“Madonna: A Rebel Life” by Mary Gabriel

Why do I bring this up? Because I need a segue to introduce some of the videos I took when the Complimentary Spouse and I saw Madonna in Washington D.C. in 2015!

This is the end of my long post, but I hope we’re nowhere near the end of Madonna’s long career. Britt and I will see her on stage next year. I might be a middle-aged curmudgeon, but when it comes to Madonna, I’ll always let my body groove to the music … let my body go with the flow …

Don’t just stand there.

Let’s get to it.

Strike a pose.

There’s nothing to it.


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1 Check out the box imagery in the “Human Nature” video:

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Just the Axe, Ma’am

The Complimentary Spouse and I are at the Jobsite Theater tonight to see Lizzie, a rock musical about axe murderer Lizzie Borden.

I’d be neglecting my responsibilities as the world’s most cromulent Simpsons expert if I didn’t point out that the Simpsons did it first.

You may also remember that Lizzie was part of the Jury of the Damned.

A sharp axe and a sharp legal mind. What else do you need?

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Entertainment

The Boss and I

The first CD I ever bought was Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen. It was 1985, and I got it when I purchased my Sony Discman from the small electronics store on our High Street. As an American kid living in England, I didn’t know much about Bruce Springsteen. Still, I had heard a few people in school talking about him, and the album cover seemed more patriotic than a bald eagle soaring past Mount Rushmore while firing an AK-47 and drinking a Coke.

I got a second CD that day: Paul Young’s The Secret of Association. Unlike Springsteen, I knew all about Young. He was well-known in the U.K., and the album was No. 1 on the charts. I still remember skipping the syrupy “Every Time You Go Away” — the biggest hit from the album — to get to the faster-paced “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down.”

So, as you’ve probably figured out by now, I listened to Young way more than Springsteen. But Springsteen had a longer-lasting impact. I’ve bought every album since Born in the U.S.A. I dipped into his older songs, like “Thunder Road,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” and “Atlantic City.” I learned to appreciate both the high-energy rock songs and the slower, more intimate ones.

In 2023, I have no idea what Young is doing, but I know exactly what Springsteen is up to: Last night, he kicked off his first tour in six years — right here in Tampa.

Now, I don’t consider myself a big Springsteen fan. I enjoy his music and recognize his artistry, but I don’t know all the songs. I only know a handful of lyrics. And if you asked me which song came from which album, I’d probably give you the wrong answer every time.

Nevertheless, I didn’t think twice about getting tickets. I saw Springsteen in concert once before — it was right after The Rising was released — so I know what a dynamic performer he is. And the Complimentary Spouse had never seen him live. Many of our friends got tickets. And my cousins’ husband, a die-hard fan, was going to fly down from New York to see the show. It wasn’t just going to be a concert — it was shaping up to be a shared cultural experience.

Springsteen took the stage at 8 p.m. and played for nearly three hours without a break. He opened with “No Surrender,” and I couldn’t help but wonder if a song about staying strong in the face of adversity was a deliberate choice in a state where people’s rights and dignity are under attack. Perhaps “No Surrender” should be our new rallying cry!

I was surprised at how many songs I couldn’t recognize. As I said, I’m not the biggest Springsteen fan. But I’m a fan nonetheless, and I’ve heard his music quite a bit. When you’re dealing with an artist whose career spans several decades, a casual listener will miss a few things.

When I knew a song, I felt alive and engaged. When I didn’t, it was a weird experience — everyone around me was dancing and singing along, and I felt like a novice among experts. I was in a 400-level course when I didn’t even pass the 100-level prerequisite.

Springsteen’s cover of the Commodores’ “Night Shift” was exceptional. He reclaimed “Because the Night” from 10,000 Maniacs. And “The Rising,” performed live, gave me chills.

Springsteen saved the best for last. For the encore, they turned on the house lights and went through a whole bunch of crowd-pleasers, including “Rosalita,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Glory Days.”1

For the last song, the house lights went dark again and the other performers left the stage. With just a guitar and a harmonica, Springsteen performed “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” It’s about love, loss, and death — themes worth exploring when you’re a 73-year-old man. It was a quiet yet powerful way to end the evening.

Did last night’s concert convert me to the Church of Springsteen? Not really. I’ll always be a fan, but never a rabid one. But I walked away more in awe of the man and his music than before. And, once the ringing in my ears goes away, I’m eager to explore more of his work.

That CD is long gone, but Springsteen is still here. And that makes me thankful.

Now let’s check out some photos!

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1 I have come to dislike “Glory Days.” A lot. The song celebrates the joy of being in high school and implies that life goes downhill after you graduate. No LGBTQ person I know looks back at high school fondly. If we weren’t being tormented, we were sacrificing our mental health to conceal who we were. Those were other people’s glory days, not ours.

In other words, the world Springsteen is describing doesn’t seem to have people like me in it.

I’m only harping on “Glory Days” because it’s top of mind. I think this way about a lot of things these days. At my age, it’s unsettling to look back at the cultural touchstones of my youth and discover I was invisible in them.

This is in no way a knock on Springsteen. He is an ally, and I like that he’s authentic and finds inspiration in his personal journey. This has nothing to do with what he wrote. It’s about the way it makes me feel.

Plus, plenty of other songs don’t reflect my life experiences. After all, I’ve never left a cake in the rain, and yet I love “MacArthur Park.”

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A Totally Cromulent Thing to Post Before the Springsteen Concert

If you know, you know.

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Entertainment

I’ve Got It Covered

I’m starting a new year with a new playlist — a collection of covers that are equal to (or even better than) the original song.

Enjoy!

What songs do I need to add?

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Entertainment

Songs About Bond, James Bond

Here are a few thoughts about James Bond theme songs. They’re in no particular order because, try as I might, I find it very hard to rank my favorites.

You can’t talk about Bond songs without praising “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran. This one holds a special place in my heart because it was the first Bond song by a band I grew up with. I’m not knocking Paul McCartney and Shirley Bassey and all the rest, but they were artists that belonged to previous generations. I bought Duran Duran tapes. I listened to Duran Duran songs on the radio. I tuned in to watch Duran Duran on Top of the Pops. “A View to a Kill” was the first time a Bond theme song seemed targeted to me.

And let’s not forget that the video for “A View to a Kill” is one of the coolest ones ever. Simon LeBon looking hot in a beret. The Eiffel Tower. Walkmen. Flying cameras. Stuff blowing up. Who wouldn’t love it!?

A-Ha’s “The Living Daylights” is another Bond song I enjoy, and the reason is similar — A-Ha is band I grew up with. They’re best known for “Take on Me,” but I think this song is richer and more complex.

I also enjoy “The World Is not Enough” because it comes from Garbage, another GenX favorite. It’s a slick, orchestrated song with a bit of a grunge mentality and impressive vocals by Shirley Manson.

No gay man would leave Madonna’s “Die Another Day” off his list because, you know, it’s Madonna. The video is cinematic and tells a story. You can tell Madonna was deep into the Kabbalah stuff when she made it.

“Live and Let Die” is simply a great song, period, and a masterpiece by Paul McCartney.1 It’s all over the place in the best possible way. What a shame about the faux blacksploitation shitshow of a movie.

Believe it or not, I much prefer Guns N’ Roses’ version of “Live and Let Die” to McCartney’s. I think that Axl Rose’s rough voice and the rock approach give it a raw edge that simply sounds better.

Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” is big, brassy, and bold — with just a hint of grit. It simply works on all levels.

“Goldfinger” is such an iconic song that it, of course, has been parodied by the Simpsons. It comes from the Season 8 episode “You Only Move Twice,” which is just magnificent.

One of my favorite scenes from that episode is a parody of the laser scene from “Goldfinger.”

Adele’s “Skyfall” is perfection. It’s haunting and dramatic, yet somehow still feels intimate.

Here’s the whole Bond playlist. Enjoy it with a martini. You can stir the martini if you’d like. I won’t tell anyone.

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1 In Goldfinger, Bond disses Paul McCartney’s best-known band: “That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.”

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To Boldly Go Where No Golden Girl Has Gone Before

Why hadn’t I figured this out before?

As far as I know, this is the only overlap between the Star Wars universe and 6151 Richmond Street in Miami. However, there are a few times when Dorothy (Bea Arthur’s character) shows she’s aware of my other great sci-fi love, Star Trek.

In one episode, Dorothy tells Blanche, who was sitting under a hairdryer, that she looks “like something that came out of the air duct of the starship Enterprise.”

In another, she and Rose have the following exchange after being informed the UFO they saw was really an airplane:

Rose: What are you doing, Dorothy?

Dorothy: Oh, looking at the stars. Pondering the universe.

Rose: I’ve been doing the same thing, thinking how wonderful it would be if there really were aliens. Maybe it’d be just like “Cocoon,” and they’d take us away and we’d never grow old.

Dorothy: See, I don’t know. I like my life. I mean, I’m not president or anything. I’m just a teacher. A substitute teacher. A divorced substitute teacher, who can’t even afford her own place to live. Beam me up!

See? Dorothy knows all about transporters.

The sci-fi connection doesn’t end there. Bea Arthur was also a guest star on one of my favorite episodes of Futurama, playing the mighty Femputer in “Amazon Women in the Mood.”

I’m amused to think about Bea Arthur, a professional actress, in a recording studio, perfecting her delivery for lines like “Have you any idea how it feels to be a fembot living in a manbot’s manputer’s world?” It just shows there was nothing in the comedy world she couldn’t slay, whether it was a substitute teacher or a supercomputer.

Bea Arthur as a Golden Girl and a goddess of sci-fi? That definitely femputes!1

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1 I just remembered Rue McClanahan had a small role in Starship Troopers. Someone please, please, please tell me that Betty White was the diva beneath all the blue paint in The Fifth Element.

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Frankly, My Dear …

Dear Hollywood,

Please stop using “from the studio that brought you …” as a selling point when you promote new movies. It’s disingenuous. It’s ludicrous. It’s like EMI telling people they’ll enjoy Iron Maiden’s “Dance of Death” because it comes from the same label as the Beatles’ “St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Let me explain from two different points of view:

Dave puts on his movie lover hat.

Studios play a massive role in the industry, but are they really the creative force driving the quality and character of individual movies? No. That’s true for actors, directors, and creative professionals. Tell me a film is from James Cameron and I have a good idea what to expect. Tell me a film is from the studio that brought me Avatar and I don’t give a damn.1 It’s just a cheap attempt at name association. 

Dave puts on his MBA hat.

The problem with “from the studio that brought you …” is that it’s a feature, not a benefit. That’s just bad marketing. Consumers don’t care how and where the product is made. They want to know what it will do for them. So don’t tell me who owns the soundstages and took care of payroll. Tell me why I’ll like your film. You can even say that if I enjoyed a certain movie in the past, I’d enjoy the new movie you’re promoting. That’s information that helps me make an informed decision. 

Pixar is the only exception I’ll allow, and here’s why: Pixar is not just a studio. It’s also a brand promise — consumers know what Pixar provides in terms of value and experience. In that way, identifying Pixar as the studio is a benefit and not a feature. 

Dave takes off his hat.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little rant, Hollywood. Now would you mind reading my screenplay about the guy who becomes a billionaire overnight by blogging about random stuff?

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1 It took a while, but now the title of this blog makes sense.

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The More You D’oh!

Plato? Descartes? Emerson? What a bunch of amateurs! The philosopher that best understands the human spirit is Homer Simpson, a middle-class American man in his late 30s. As one of Homer’s disciples, I’d like to share some of his teachings.

First, if you want people to respect you, you have to give them something of value.

Ignore all the language lessons you learned by rote in school.

And the math lessons too.

Put your faith in a higher power.

Tell other people what you need from them.

Provide evidence to back up your claims.

Live up to your potential.

And, finally, inspire others.


Credit where it’s due: All screen grabs generated by Frinkiac.

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Entertainment

Yeah, It Makes Me Smile

A few days ago, I wrote about how much I missed live music and shared a few videos from 2019. Here’s a clip from another concert I absolutely loved: Lily Allen’s No Shame Tour at Terminal 5 in New York on October 20, 2018. This is one of my favorite songs of all time.