Tag Archives: Culture

It Gets Better

Tiffany,

No doubt you are just as saddened as I am by the number of reported gay-related suicides that have occurred the past couple of weeks. My hope is that news of these deaths will wake people up and shake the apathy from their brains. People need to realize that being a gay youth in our culture can be very challenging – and they need do something about it.

To a certain degree, this is already happening. Within the GLBTQ community there has been an upsurge of activism. One project I am particularly fond of is the It Gets Better Project which was spearheaded by Dan Savage. The mission of the project is help youth see a future for themselves beyond the present moment.

The project calls upon the entire GLBTQ community to submit videos to the project that share personal stories about how life can get better. If Tiffany and I can gain access to a video camera, we would love to shoot our own video. In the meantime, one of the most touching stories I have seen so far is Tim Gunn’s.

Check out It’s Gets Better and The Trevor Project for more information on how you can help. Thank you.

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OMD and the meaning of music; part 2

Tiffany,

When we last left our hero, (me) I was just getting ready to listen to ‘History of Modern’, the new OMD album, for the very first time. I had my headphones on and a fresh cup of coffee in hand. For this blog entry, I had planned on writing a track by track review of the album, but I have found the process incredibly difficult to do. Instead, I’ve decided to share some general thoughts and impressions.

Of course, it goes without saying that my biggest fear in buying this album is that it would suck. Let’s be honest, how often do our favorite bands from our youth tend to get worse with age? Even worse, how many of them don’t seem to recognize that fact? I am still recovering from the atrocity that is Duran Duran’s worst selling record of all time, Red Carpet Massacre. Duran Duran goes ‘urban’? I think not. Anyway, I wondered if after 14 years, would OMD still be able to make good music?

The first day I listened to ‘History of Modern’ I listened to it over and over again – each time listening more and more closely to each track, each arrangement and every note. The more I listened, the happier I became that my old friend had not only returned, but had returned in top form. Truth be told, ‘History of Modern’ ranks highly among the other albums in OMD’s glorious discography. In fact, it’s arguably their best album since ‘Architecture and Morality’ was released in the early ’80s. That’s saying a lot.

History of Modern promo shot of OMD's Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey

‘History of Modern’ opens with a raw, energetic number called ‘New Babies: New Toys‘. After I listened to this song, any doubts I had about OMD still being able to write and record quality music quickly disappeared. It blends edgy guitars and buzzing synth melody that knocks your socks off. It’s a side of OMD that is rarely seen, but it’s a fucking fantastic side! In my opinion, it should be a single – it’s simply that good.

Paul Humphreys

What I like most about this album is that OMD are true to their roots, but the album is very modern – this is not completely about nostalgia. This is not 1982 take two. At times, the album is experimental with songs like ‘New Holy Ground‘ that use the sound of a woman walking in heels as the beat, and the gorgeous, eight-minute long ‘The Right Side?‘. At other times with songs like ‘The Future, the Past and Forever After‘ and ‘Sister Marie Says‘ the album is just the damn good, unapologetic pop music that OMD is known for.

Andy McCluskey

Andy McCluskey

For me, one of the things I love most about OMD is their use of choir oohs and aahs. I simply melt at what these men can do with a choir sample. And, in that respect, ‘History of Modern’ doesn’t disappoint, either. OMD’s use of choirs on this album is in many ways more inventive and beautiful than on any of their previous releases. For proof of this, one need look no further than ‘History of Modern (part 2)‘ and ‘The Right Side?’; both are simply stunning pieces of art.

OMD

All told, the new OMD album is a triumphant return for one of the most innovative bands in the electronic music movement. They are a band that has played an enormously important role in my life. They inspire, they rekindle fond memories of friends and my grandfather, and I will always be indebted to them. Welcome back, friends!

OMD and the meaning of music; part 1

Tiffany,

I talked a little bit last week about the release of the new OMD album, ‘History of Modern’, but would like to spend a bit more time talking about OMD today.

The music of OMD has played a number of important roles in my life over the years. For me, OMD is not so much about music as it is about an entire experience. I will do my best to explain what I mean by that in this post. I mentioned before that I first fell in love with OMD when the movie ‘Pretty in Pink‘ came out. Their song ‘If you leave’ was one of the standout tracks on the movie’s soundtrack, and was a huge radio hit here in America. For some reason, I remember riding the bus home from school with that song playing on the radio. I thought to myself that ‘If you leave’ was one of the coolest songs I had ever heard. To this day, I still think that is true – it’s a prefect pop song.

OMD's 'If you leave'

I later reconnected with the band around 1993 when they released their ‘Liberator‘ album. That particular record is not one of my OMD favorites, but it was good enough to rekindle my romance with the band. At that point, I began to purchase any and all OMD records I didn’t already have. Finding the album ‘Pacific Age’ turned out to be a particular challenge given that the album had been deleted by the record company. But, on a weekend home from college I was dumbfounded when I found it searching in a discount bin at a K-Mart of all places. Probably the only think K-Mart has been good for…well, that and Martha Stewart!

When I was on campus at the University of Portland, I spent many Saturday afternoons at my favorite record store in Portland (2nd Ave Records) searching through boxes and boxes of LPs and CDs trying to find rare or imported OMD albums. My heart would leap with joy when I would find something new. I must admit that there was an element of rivalry in this, too. My friend Joel and I both loved the same bands and we would often try to ‘one up’ each other with our latest finds. In fact, the rivalry was such that the staff at 2nd Ave Records began to recognize me as ‘that OMD guy’. I would like to think my enthusiasm for the band was charming to them.

OMD's 'Everyday' - One of many 2nd Ave finds!

It was also during this time that I remember hanging out one day in Portland with two of my old best friends from High School; Jacob and Josh. We were blasting OMD’s ‘Dollar Girl’ in Jacob’s car as we cruised down the avenue. Jacob and Josh didn’t really like the same kind of music as me, but they let me have my moment and I loved it: the bass was pumping and we didn’t have a care in the world. Sadly, a few short months later, Jacob unexpectedly passed away. I will always remember that time in his car together as one of my fondest memories. To this day, I often think of him and Josh when I listen to that song.

In 1996 I took a vacation to visit my grandparents in Long Beach California (my birthplace, by the way). This was shortly after my father had passed away. One day, my grandfather and I spent our time record shopping together. He was big fan of classical music, movie soundtracks and being a Scot, traditional Scottish music. We went to many music stores on our journey, having long conversations about music as we went from shop to shop. He took my interest in music more seriously than anyone else. And, as luck would have it, that day in the Virgin Megastore in Newport turned out to be a goldmine of finds for me. There, sitting in the import bin was a copy of OMD’s latest album ‘Universal‘. I eagerly snatched it up along with copies of the album’s debut single ‘Walking on the Milky Way’ and couldn’t wait to get back to my grandparents house to hear the new album. Little did I know at the time that ‘Universal’ would be OMD’s last album until this year’s ‘History of Modern’.

OMD's 'Universal'

I was devastated when OMD retired after Universal failed to generate the commercial buzz the band had hoped for. I had not realized just how important they had become to me. I was a young guy trying to figure himself out: who was I? Was I gay? What did I believe in? Was it ok to be me? Why did my father have to die? I didn’t know the answers to any of those questions. But, I all knew was that when I put on an OMD record all my problems melted away. All I felt was music – glorious music!

Even though OMD had retired, I continued my hunt for rare OMD material and continued to play their records with just as much passion. I felt like I had won the lottery when I purchased a deleted copy of OMD’s single ‘Sailing on the Seven Seas’ because the word ‘Orchestral’ had been misspelled as ‘Orchstral’ on the spine of the CD. I treated each new purchase as prized possession and I cherished every new b-side track I found as if it were a rare gemstone.

Front Cover of OMD's Ltd. Edition CD single 'Sailing on the Seven Seas'

In the meantime, I began writing my own electronic music on my computer. I would sit in the dark and listen to OMD songs over and over again and ask myself ‘how the hell did they do THAT?’ and then do my best to figure it out on my computer. For years I have been tinkering away at my computer trying to write an OMD song but always failing. Whenever I sit down to write, OMD is always in the back of my head and I am always trying to emulate them. I will never write anything as good as OMD, I am simply not that talented; but, I sure do enjoy trying.

During 2005 when it was announced that OMD would be reuniting, I was a like a compass near north. At that time, the band expected only to tour together, not write. But, words can not describe the emotion I felt when I heard the band had decided to return to the studio and write a new record. It was as if a long lost friend who had helped me through some really tough times was returning.

The day the album finally arrived, I told my partner that I would be spending the majority of the day listening to the album. There would be no talking, there would be no phone calls, there would be no interruptions whatsoever. And, I was damn serious! My day was for OMD, and nobody else but OMD. First, I unwrapped the box, and took pictures during the process. I carefully removed the LPs, examined the gate-fold artwork, and then made my way to the CD, carefully unwrapping the shrink wrap. I practically sprinted to my computer to download the tracks to my i-Tunes library so I could begin listening. To prepare, I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee, put my headphones on and eagerly awaited to push the play button…

OMD's History of Modern box set

The end, Part 1

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Reframing the gay marriage debate

Dear Tad,

Forgive me for my brief hiatus. It actually seems like an eternity. I did not have much of a possibility for holiday this summer what with getting my five-year old son off to his first year of school (kindergarten), so this was my time to take a few days off. Tad, I want to applaud you for your recent work on the blog (I noticed your Aussie boys are getting a lot of attention!) and I want to take this moment and thank our readers for continually tuning in. Just fabulous, Darlings!! We’re blowing up!! I want to, on a more subdued note, give you my condolences and the rest of our community as well for the recent mishap in the Senate. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was not repealed and this is a sad note for us all, as a nation. And it brings me to another battle we face I want to talk about: so-called gay marriage.

I want to speak about marriage and gay marriage in particular because I think my views on this issue are not part of our current dialogue on the issue and I think they should be. Gay people want the right to marry, but I am beginning to question some of the reasoning and assumptions behind marriage. I am wondering if we wish to emulate what marriage currently is, or rather, move into a new paradigm of what marriage should look or be like. If giving homosexuals the right to marry strengthened the institution of marriage then it would be easy to support the idea of “gay” marriage. But in my opinion, gay marriage only perpetuates a flawed institution.

A civil union is a legally recognized union similar to marriage. Beginning with Denmark in 1989, civil unions under one name or another have been established by law in many developed countries in order to provide same-sex couples with rights, benefits, and responsibilities similar to opposite-sex civil marriage.

Gays should encourage civil union legislation. Why? It could be argued that marriage is an elitist institution. It is an institution that survives (to) the exclusion of certain people. In American society today, marriage rights are granted to certain individuals and not to others. This in itself creates conflict. Heterosexual marriage is posited as the good or moral alternative to anything else and gay marriage is seen as an abomination on several levels by more than 50% of Americans.

Coupling is the norm for most people. If a person is not coupling, he or she is seen as a dissident or a non-conformer. Just as heterosexuality is the norm and is in no need of explanation, people are expected to couple up and marry, because this is one of the oldest and most socially accepted practices in our Western industrialized civilization.

One is either for marriage or against it; either capable of ‘participating’ in marriage like normal citizens, or not capable (in which case there must be something psychologically or emotionally flawed about such a person). Married people never have to explain why they are married, but single people seem to be pressured by those around them about why they are not “coupled.” Indeed this must cause many single people who desperately want to be married a great deal of embarrassment and consternation. What these attitudes do to single gay people is another matter, but we can safely assume that the psychological damage is worse as these people already feel inferior and marginalized. Marriage perpetuates the idea that there is a “soul mate” and that there must be something wrong with a person if he or she does not have this set-up or even want it.

The idea of romantic marriage is a very 20th century one. In previous centuries, men and women got married for financial or political reasons, not for romantic love. Romantic love was a side-note, a distraction to the reality of property rights, social ambition, and security. More than likely in the 16th century people married for financial or political security, whether this be the king or the vassal in the field. Most people entered into some kind of arranged scenario for expediency, not because they were in love. Today, if a person were to marry for money, this would be seen as scandalous. Marriage today is romantic. People who don’t marry for love are seen as problematic. If a person married for reasons other than romantic love, the marriage contract would become invalidated and the institution marginalized.

Heterosexual marriage discriminates against straight people as well. Straight, unmarried couples are also not entitled to the benefits of marriage, according to our very puritan society; only persons who are “fortunate” enough to enter into this contract are allowed these special rights. The institution grants rights to heterosexual couples such as tax cuts, hospital visits, inheritance rights, but only if two people are legally bonded in hopefully “holy” matrimony. Whether it be straight, single people (unworthy because they refuse or haven’t been capable enough of finding themselves true love) or gay people who are seen as simply immoral, the marriage institution succeeds in rendering these two groups as abnormal and unworthy. Heterosexual marriage is not to be questioned. It is the foundation of most societies. Further, people who don’t subscribe to marriage values are considered the “other” and eccentric.

Why after all of the discussion here would gay people want to partake in an institution that is unfair, elitist, and emotionally damaging, because of its lofty ideals and exclusiveness? Gay marriage should not exist based on a heterosexual model. By getting rid of the “marriage system”, the playing field is evened out. How one should exist as a couple or a single person would no longer need to be defined or measured by “marriage.” No sexual identity should be normative and therefore no group of people should be seen as normative and have any more special rights than any other group. Marriage rights are denied to all people who cannot or wish to not engage in the institution of marriage. Moreover, single people of any sexual stripe should not be seen as damaged or lacking somehow if they are not married. Gay people should not be encouraged to participate in an unfair system. If gays and lesbians want true equality, they should work to dismantle the institution of marriage and never should they encourage gay marriage. They should encourage other ideas such as civil unions and move away from wanting to reproduce traditional heterosexual marriage.

Yours,

Tiffany

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Bea Arthur, Shoulder Pads and Duran Duran

Tiffany,

I’ve been thinking a lot about our recent conversation regarding identity and want to share another trip down memory lane with you. When I was a child, I fell in love with the music of Duran Duran. They have been part of my life for a number of years and at many points along my journey I have found comfort and solace in their music. True, I have no idea what the hell ‘The Reflex’ is about, but it makes me feel good so I don’t really care. All I know is that the Duran Duran mullet defined an era and Nick Rhodes proved that Bea Arthur wasn’t the only one who could rock the shoulder pad.

Tiffany, do you remember those buy 12 records for a penny offers that Columbia House used to have back in the ’80s? I remember my sister and I used to sign up for those offers all the time. True, we would often get in trouble by our parents for doing such things, but that didn’t stop us. Besides, all my dad ever listened to was the Beach Boys, so my sister and I were forced to take drastic measures into our own hands (Pet Sounds really isn’t all that amazing after hearing it 500 times).

Anyway, I remember one time my sister and I sat poised at our dining room table pondering our 12 choices and trying to be very diplomatic in our process. My sister, with pen in hand, would fill in the album code on the Columbia House form while we both scanned our choices, rating each record based on how much we wanted it. This must have been circa 1986 because Duran Duran’s Notorious album had just come out. I wanted it. Badly. I remember pleading with my sister to let me have it. I even let her pick more albums than me in order to get my hands on it.

In the end, my sister conceded defeat and filled in the album code for Notorious on the order form. Let’s just say I’ve never been the same person for it. Although my love affair with Duran Duran had started before Notorious, there was something about that particular album that spoke to me. Songs like American Science and Matter of Feeling touched me quite deeply. I remember listening to them in the dark in my bedroom over and over again, completely enthralled with their beauty.

Then, there were the Duran boys themselves. Now, shockingly, despite how attractive they are, I never had a ‘thing’ for any of them. However, I was always oddly attracted to Nick Rhodes’ gender-bending style. He looked fabulous in pink lip-gloss and black eyeliner. I even seem to remember him rocking tri-colored hair once (black, white and red) and being totally amazed by it. Gender-bending was a big part of the New Romantic movement in which Duran Duran pioneered. I loved many of the New Romantics because of their stunning combination of glamorous music and striking visual imagery. Duran Duran just happened to be my favorite.

At this point, you might be thinking that I am writing this post whilst donning my fake eyelashes and ruby-red lipstick. Truth is, I never raided my mother’s makeup when I was a child, that’s not the point I am trying to make (but if that’s you, go for it!). The point I am trying to make is that the New Romantics represented a stance against traditional cultural norms of what it means to be masculine. They threw ‘manliness’ out the window and created something entirely new. It was a bold statement that spoke to me. It said that it was okay to be me, whatever I decided that should be. In other words, it meant freedom of expression without fear of oppression.

So to loop this piece back to present day, earlier this week Duran Duran released their fabulous cover version of David Bowie’s Boys Keep Swinging – a song that pokes fun at machismo and the idea of the privileged white male. It has been on constant repeat on my iPod for days now. In my opinion, this is the first time Duran Duran have embraced their classic sound and New Romantic sensibilities in over 25 years. I will even go so far as to say that this song represents the very core of what Duran Duran are all about, at least to me. It’s also a representation of what I would like to think I am about.

In other words, nothing real or meaningful can be gained by conforming to society’s idea of the privileged white male. You don’t get to be ‘first on the line’ just for being a boy, you get there by being yourself.

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101 Uses for a Dead Cat

Tiffany,

I totally understand what you are saying about how relationships change when you become a parent. That’s like when I decided to adopt cats, all of the dog people in my life had no idea what I was doing. They were all like ‘cat’s suck!’. What a bunch of ignorant people some of those dog folks are. The entire experience was really quite traumatic for me and my cats.

Did I ever mention that I grew up in a household where my father loathed cats? I mean he seriously, seriously loathed them. One of his prized possessions was a book called 101 Uses for a Dead Cat. It was book full of illustrations depicting people using dead cats in completely inappropriate ways. I remember my favorite picture being of a man sitting at his desk using a cat’s asshole as pencil sharpener. Another favorite was a picture showing a man using a cat as a blow-up doll.

Anyway, a year or two after 101 Uses for a Dead Cat came out, the sequel, 101 More Uses for a Dead Cat was released. It sat proudly on our bookshelf next to its predecessor. In most homes, children are surrounded by the classics; I was not. My literary experience was dumbed-down to cat assholes being used in a variety of horrifying ways. Is it any wonder that one of the first books I proudly purchased was called The Dictionary of Farts? Ahh, Tiffany, how I cherished that book!

As it was in my household, so to is it today with my extended family. In my extended family cats are generally despised. Only a couple of us dare to make company with cats, and even fewer are willing to admit that they actually like them. I kid you not, these people take the cat vs. dog debate to epic new proportions. Which, in reality is quite hilarious considering that in my family Boston Terriers and Dachshunds wearing Juicy Couture are considered to be ‘real’ dogs. Seriously.

Tiffany, in all earnestness, I know your experience as a parent is in no way the same as taking care of a couple cute cats. But, I also think that cats are widely misunderstood in our culture. In fact, I used to teach people about dog and cat anatomy, physiology and adaptations. And, I figure if I can just get a few people to understand that a cat’s butt is more than just a potential pencil sharpener, then I’ve done the species justice!

Tad

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Lesbians with Strollers at Drag Shows don’t make a Good First Impression

Dear Tad,

Speaking of possibly bringing up children bi-racial and bilingual (whether it be English/Jive or something else), I wanted to chat about the many things that changed when I became a mother. When you’re a lesbian and you become a mother, some people want to know what on Earth you were thinking.

For starters, friends I used to know dropped away, some relationships changed, and others were just dumbfounded as to what I was doing with my life. Many of my single gay friends in Paris thought I should just forget about the idea; who would want to change the single lifestyle for parenthood? Some of my old friends have still managed to hang on, and although they do not all have children, they respect my decision. But, to become a mother was my plan despite some of the criticisms I received.

The truth is that when we become parents, our lives are transformed, whether we are gay or straight. How do new parents get the people around them to see and understand these changes? I sort of liken becoming a parent to getting up the nerve to attend one’s first AA meeting. When your old drinking buddies realize that you no longer want to drink, they move on – especially when they are Aussie’s drinking Foster’s at 10am during Footy season. You’re no longer any fun. Somehow, the numbers of people who can get used to you being a parent just dwindle. Your friends still want to continue to enjoy their adult fun, free of diapers and play dates. And, let’s face it: hauling kids along to your gay boyfriend’s drag show just might not escape the radar of CPS. So, it’s best to reconsider what it means to be mature and responsible. You and your stroller just cramp the cool, single, child-free lifestyle.

Our lives are very different when we are no longer single and hopping around the globe doing whatever we want (as was in my case). I was an international teacher for several years. I had a fabulous time living in Paris and then Abu Dhabi and then parts of Asia. Then, when I had my son, my entire world changed dramatically. For now, I have become a kind of soccer mom, sans mini-van, but with an HRC sticker on my car bumper. Most of the other parents at the PTA meetings in my God-fearing small town don’t get the sticker and just presume I like to go diving. I let them think that, choosing my battles as I go.

In the end, I have to say, I don’t regret becoming a parent for one minute, despite the many challenges. My son is the light of my life, the joy of my world and I wouldn’t trade him ever for the single life again–not for The Eiffel Tower, The Berlin Wall, or The Coliseum. Having him was the best choice I’ve made. If there’s anyone who has taught me more about love and enjoying one’s life, it is my child.

Why, just the other day he asked, “Mama, can we go to Rome one day and see gladiators?” To which I replied with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

Very kind regards,

Tiffany

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