Monday, February 27, 2012

confidence is singing along like you know the lyrics

I am drinking a glass of beaujolais nouveau right now. That says something about my mood, says what I had wanted to say in very few words about the past few days, about how happy I have been. I am drinking a glass of beaujolais and enjoying it. I was at Warehouse Wine and Spirits this evening, looking at the wines, doing as I often do there, looking for the most dry, earthy wines I could find. That is what I have been drinking the past few months.

But I said that it was time for something different tonight, and picked up a cheap bottle of beaujolais to accompany my dinner tonight. And, yes, it's not serious, yes, there is not much to it and it goes down like water, but water quenches various thirsts and so does this wine.

On Saturday, I got a new mattress, a soft and wonderful thing purchased for much cheaper than its retail price through Jacob's hotel. What a difference a good mattress makes. Despite all the great memories I had on that mattress, innumerable boys slept with, relationships started and ruined on that thing, adventures in group sex had, hookups from Craigslist, Manhunt, and then Grindr had on that bed, including my now boyfriend of two years, I experienced no sadness when I tossed it on the street.

In the middle of the night last evening, some brave or desperate person, picked up the mattress. This morning, I woke up and it was gone, only pink pieces of old bed frame remaining.

Jacob and I broke in the bed after setting it up, have had sex a couple times on it, which certainly has a bit to do with my good mood today, as does a great night's sleep despite being drunk and sleeping less than most reccomended lengths of time. I have a new job, a new mattress, and am drinking a cheap, fruity wine, and I could not be happier. I played Beyonce's "Love on Top" during a slow moment at work today for some of my co-workers and it has carried me through for hours, perked me up. I sing the lyrics, the few ones I know, but mainly hum along with the rhythm.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

take us to church

I have been at the new job for a couple of days now. It is what it is, a job, one that I feel a little too qualified from, one that is too far from what I would like to be doing, and yet also one that pays money, a decent amount, and so I can only complain so much. My dream life of the past couple weeks came to a close, the life of sleeping in, reading books, working out, and making myself healthy meals, listening to new music, and having a sense of leisure in my everyday life. I miss it already. My pace of reading has slowed down a great deal, the book that I was plowing through earlier, The Marriage Plot, has now slowed greatly.

I went to see Prima Donna, Rufus Waingwright's opera, performed at BAM last night. It was fairly boring, as opera often is, but lacked the visual and musical thrills that normally draws me to opera. I nodded off throughout most of the first act. I went to Westway afterwards and drank far too much, especially considering I had to work this morning. Work, already, getting in the way of fun.

I am listening to Mary J. Blige and falling asleep. I am going to get high so I can fall asleep quickly so I can really enjoy my morning coffee tomorrow when I wake up, be well rested enough that it doesn't make me want to hurl, but rather makes me sigh with pleasure, enjoying being more awake to this world around me. Ash Wednesday, today is. The beginning of a forty day ordeal. I haven't given up anything, intentionally at least.

I just watched Drag Race. Willam asked Latrice Royale to "take us to church," and despite the potential for problems here, for the weird power dynamics making me squirm of a white person asking a black person to sing for them, it really was a joyful moment. Latrice belted out some tune and the entire cast of queens danced around happy, releasing things. It was incredibly sweet, what a family does, really close friends do. It was even more striking given the unfortunate negative and catty nature the series has taken recently. I am thinking about Latrice Royale. I found this beautiful Tumblr and it is making me incredibly happy, making me love her even more, seeing how great she looks in these captured stills and gifs. That, and the voice of Ms. Blige. Those things, and the much needed sleep that is within such close reach, the really deep, exhausted kind that you wake up so much happier with the world from.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

a light rain, a cup of tea set next to the couch

Vacation is a state of mind. You can be there if you tell yourself you are there. Forget the job you left a week ago and also don't think about the one you are starting on Tuesday and enjoy this time, this leisure. Do as you will. This morning, Jacob asked me what I was going to do today. I'm going to the gym, I said. That's it, he asked, judgmentally. He doesn't understand leisure; most people in New York don't. We rarely allow ourselves to really do nothing. We feel guilty if our day is not packed full of plans and things to do and places to go. I am doing my best for the next few days before I have to start my new job to leave that mindset behind, to do as I will.

And so I did indeed go to the gym this morning and did indeed do very little else. It was a great day. After working out, I sat in the steam room by myself, enjoying the rare solitude of that space. A boy came in and sat directly across from me in the narrow space. I knew that he wanted to jerk off, that this is a method of flirting in the steam room, sitting awkwardly close to someone. I wasn't into him and did my best to seem uninterested. He was a cute white, twentysomething with a hip haircut and a tattoo on his shoulder. In these steam room situations, I never find this type attractive. In a bar, I might, maybe, but here, it is a very rare thing. I am always vaguely embarrassed by this type for reasons that aren't entirely clear even to myself. Some of it probably is that I don't know where I will encounter this person again, but the likelihood of an encounter outside the gym is probably far more likely than with an older, more muscly dude, that I don't necessarily want that awkwardness of going to some gallery or Metropolitan and seeing this person that I jerked off with in the steam room. It's also just harder for me to see them as dirty, sexual enough - that they seem to lack the physical passion that I imagine other people having, that I can't make dirty faces at them as I am working up toward orgasm, that I would feel ridiculous.

A little while later, a Latin guy, older and muscly, came in and sat nearby as well, also across from me. I was able to look to my left and see this one type and to my right and see this other type, this Latin guy. I kept looking to my right. Slowly everyone began to dip their toes in the water, to hold their hand over their crotch for longer and longer durations, to eventually rub their crotches slowly, to eventually start stroking their dicks.

I came on my towel, showered, and then got dressed. I thought about these two guys, the differences between them and how it highlighted my sexual preferences as of late, allowed me to think about what it is that turns me on these days and why that is. I have Jacob at home, skinny, young, white, and hairless. And so the first boy across from me did little to tempt me, too close to Jacob, too close to myself. This second guy with his beefier build and hairy body did much more to tempt me, there was more of a body there to project on to, to imagine losing myself over, more things to like.

I went out into the rain, bought some arugula, mushrooms, avocados, generic Advil, and a face mask. I came home, ate some of those things, put on a face mask, and read on my couch for most of the day, really enjoying this ability that I have had this past week to do as I please and to feel no obligation to worry about this or that, to put all of that on a temporary hold, and to just sleep in, work out, go see art, read on the couch, and get lost in thought and dreams of the good kind.

I finished Christopher Bram's Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America this afternoon and now have a very long list of books and essays that I need to read. The book is a good history of gay American writers from the 20th century and weaves together stories from many writers I am familiar with, with some I wasn't familiar with, into this dishy narrative about the connections among all these men. The first half of the book was the most interesting part for me, and seemingly for Bram as well, focussing to a great deal on the connections and careers of Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Christopher Isherwood. The second half of the book, focussing on the 1980s and 1990s, doesn't have as good a narrative engine as the friendships of these men. But that is probably because the field of gay literature expanded a great deal during these last couple decades with many, many writers and so it's not as easy a story to tell, or at least not as compelling a story to read.

The to-read list I made at the front of the book probably has about twenty novels on it that I need to get around to reading soon. The book inspired me to read a lot more, but also to produce stuff to be read, to again get serious about writing things myself.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make"

I went to the Metropolitan Museum yesterday afternoon to see "The Renaissance Portrait" exhibit. I strolled through the galleries, taking in the history of portraiture. It was soon after the Botticelli paintings of Florentine women that I began to get bored. I started walking quicker past paintings, skipping entire rooms of drawings, and soon found myself spit out of the exhibit. The thing I love about seeing anything in that particular exhibition space is that when you exit the space, you come out into the room containing the Met's Caravaggios. No matter if the exhibition was dull or fantastic, there is always this nice dessert awaiting you, Caravaggio's "The Musicians," probably my favorite painting in the museum. It is such an erotic painting for me. The expression on the lute player's face is the expression you see when you are in a bar late at night and you have been talking to a boy and it's clear the two of you are about to go home together and his lips part slightly in anticipation of what is soon to come. There is also something louche in his open hips that I had never noticed before, his legs spread open, a bit of his thigh visible at the bottom of the painting, one of the others musicians legs dangling between those open thighs. His fingers are adjusting the strings of the lute and it is not too difficult for my mind to replace that lute with something else, with a human body, mine, those fingers caressing me, playing me. There are the bared shoulders of the other musicians in the room, the tease of skin. I had to leave the museum, it all becoming too much.

It was Valentine's Day yesterday when I was looking at this painting. Perhaps that bares mentioning, perhaps it doesn't. I was horny, and that probably does indeed bare mentioning, perhaps explain why this painting was able to stir things in me even more than it usually is capable of, why I couldn't look at art any longer.

For dinner, Jacob and I went to Gwynnett St, did the Valentine's dinner out of the house again this year, despite it being what it always is, a room full of awkward couples on display, everyone a bit uncomfortable eating an unsatisfying overpriced prix-fixe menu. It didn't help that I was placed in the corner of the restaurant and literally had a view of the entire room, every table, every couple. It wasn't a flattering view. I didn't particularly like the design of the restaurant, something a bit off about it that I couldn't ever figure out. Our server was even more awkward than all the dates I kept watching, mumbling what every wine was, failing to bring wine often, and never once smiling the entire night. The food was so-so, which I was disappointed by. I had probably had too high of expectations given all the good buzz the place had been getting on Yelp. The dessert, however, was fantastic. All the fancy plating and fancy food techniques did little to add to the earlier courses, but the desserts we had were out of this world good. They were beautiful to look at and even better tasting.

Over the meal, Jacob and I talked about views of the stars at night in the Southwest, about taking a trip to DC soon, and about doing a West Coast road trip this summer. There was lots of dreaming, lots of the desire to run, to go other places, see this or that place. I think that if one were reading this narrative, if these were characters in a novel, say, and not my boyfriend and myself, I would say to myself that these two were unhappy where they were, unhappy with where their lives are at, and that that is why they are continually talking about traveling to other places. But since it is Jacob and myself, I will tell you that that is only partly the case, that following dinner, I had the most fun I have had in this city in a long time, and really loved my life and this place that I live in.

We went to Westway for a gay party happening there now, Westgay. Several hours later, we stumbled out of this bar near the West Side Highway sometime after 3 am, sweaty, drunk, and very happy. We let the night air cool us off and walked up to the L train to head back home to Brooklyn. I had danced and danced. There was amazing song after amazing song played. Whitney Houston's cover of "I'm Every Woman" came on at one point when we were near-ready to go, but I rushed to the dance floor, having to pay tribute by dancing my ass off to this song, and then from that point on it was jam after jam, each song better than the next, the two of us unable to leave because we just kept wanting to dance to every song. After this one, we'll leave. Bad Girls? Okay, after this one. Vogue? Oh shit, okay, after this one. Okay, no, really, this will be the last one. And on and on until physical exhaustion won out.

At home, we had drunk sex. We then ate a frozen pizza and watched Drag Race - all I really needed from Valentine's Day here in this sentence, my guy next to me, the two of us in the home we have made together in this city.

new york city, february 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012

the greatest love of all

I read the news yesterday on my phone while having some happy hour cocktails at the Boiler Room. Jacob was outside smoking and I occupied myself during that time on my phone, scanning through the news. That is when I came across the headline announcing that Whitney Houston was dead. I didn't believe it immediately, thought it another Internet rumor that had run ahead of itself. I didn't want to believe it. Shock is always registered slowly in cases like these. The immediate reaction is always denial, thinking that this can't be true, that, no, something must be wrong here, that this can't be. But then more details start to appear. Her publicist confirmed that she was found dead at 3:55pm. No other details were known or disclosed, but on my mind and everyone else's was drugs, assuming that that must somehow be the cause.

My heart sank as the shock started to register, it truly heartbreaking that such a beautiful voice that gave us so much left this world so early. Jacob came back in, he having heard the news from someone while outside smoking, telling me that Whitney Houston had died.

I took over the jukebox at Boiler Room in Whitney's memory, fed dollar bills into the machine and played a good ten or so Whitney tracks. As song after song played, memories flooded over me, the moments in which these songs intersected events of my own life. These songs are there in the background in even some of my earliest memories. That the voice behind these songs had died really hit me hard last evening, bringing to the fore a stark awareness of our mortality, of our short time here on this planet. There is, of course, "I Will Always Love You," it such an incredible rendition full of clear emotion that nearly everyone has projected their own hurt and desire on to at one point or another. My mom was in love with this song, bought The Bodyguard soundtrack, and played it repeatedly as we drove around the suburbs of Northern Virginia in her minivan. I was too young at the time to understand what I understand now, that my mom was going through something, probably a lot of things, with her rocky marriage to my father, and that this song gave her comfort by vocalizing very clearly particular moods and feelings. I just thought it was a beautiful song and didn't really hear all the hurt in the song until a few years later, but then when I did, I had similar moments with this song, would turn it up real loud when it came over the radio on long drives, turn it up loud enough so that I could still clearly hear Whitney's voice over my own as I sang along to the lyrics, getting very emotional, thinking about various loves, crushes, and life in more broad terms.

When "The Greatest Love of All" came on last night, I spiraled back into more recent history. I landed at Metropolitan several years ago for Queereoke. Gabriel was attempting to sing this song, failing cause he's not Whitney, cause no one is, but doing a great job of conveying his own emotional attachment to the song, and the rest of the bar enjoying the performance, singing along as well, getting carried away in the song's emotions. That friendship ended a couple years ago and there were some thoughts about that, brought about by hearing this song, recollections of that time of my life. But then I found myself hurtling back into the present, carried gently by Whitney's soaring vocals in this song, listening to these gorgeous lyrics about the beauty inside of all of us, one of those eighties anthems about uplifting humanity that only Whitney and Michael Jackson would even attempt to pull off.

"Million Dollar Bill" came on. These were the nights when I was going out to bars just about every night, dancing until the wee hours. This was my jam when it first came out, the song that would make me run to the dance floor. It's a beautiful pop song, her vocals not as clear here as they used to be, but still good enough to make you sing along to these lyrics and know exactly what that feeling is she is talking about, wanting that feeling and so singing about it, because there are those people, those early stages of seeing a guy, when they make you feel like a million dollars. Working at the hotel, Dwayne and I in the back office with the radio on all day, really turning up the volume and freaking out whenever the song would come on KTU.

"I Wanna Dance with Somebody" still provokes similar emotions. If you're between me and the dance floor when that synth drum starts up at the opening of this song, look out. And I recalled all of these moments, now past, from the perch in time I occupied last night, knowing that the person responsible for so much joy and beauty in my own life was now dead. It is such a sad, sad end to her life. Whitney Houston's death brought about a renewed awareness on my own part of endings, particularly my own eventual one, but also of the stuff that lies before them, the hit singles that we dance to and sing along to, trying to make the most of this time that we have here on this planet.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

wisdom teeth

There was a cake with a firework on top of it. It was a sweet goodbye from my co-workers, especially the firework part. After nearly three and a half years, I quit my job at the hotel I had been working at. Walking away from the building through the streets of the Meatpacking District yesterday afternoon, I knew that it would be my last time walking this way at this time of day. I was quite happy for various reasons and also at the same time quite sad for other reasons. It was a jumble of emotions, the happy and sad ones each competing to dominate the narrative of this moment. Drinking would have been an appropriate reaction here, often is when the emotions are big and you are not sure what else to do, but I have yet another throat sickness this winter and so that idea was quickly struck.

This morning, I had two of my wisdom teeth removed and I have spent the day since on my couch in pain and sleeping, rousing every hour or so to change the bloody gauze that is in the back of my mouth. The dentist spoke to me of Costa Rica. Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen" came on over the office radio at one point. He told me I had acne as a kid. He could tell by the color of my wisdom teeth, told me I took tetracycline as a teen.

I have two weeks to myself now before I start my new job at another hotel in another part of town, before I develop new habits, before I know which subway car I need to ride in, before I find a new deli to stop in for coffee each morning. I picked up coffee and a bagel for most likely the last time yesterday morning from Super Gourmet Deli on 14th Street and 9th Avenue. I thought of this when I was in there and yet did not say goodbye to any of the deli guys that I have seen nearly every morning for the last few years, that knew what to make me as soon as I walked in the door.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bjork at the Queens Hall of Science

“Now, forget the size of the human body. Remember that you are a gateway between the universal and the microscopic - the unseen forces that stir the depths of your innermost being, and nature who embraces you and all there is. We are on the brink of a revolution that will reunite humans with nature through new technological innovations.”
-from the introduction to Biophilia, narrated by David Attenborough

It was a full moon and I was on the brink of a revolution. There were rockets outside the science museum, relics left behind of a World’s Fair that captured this nation’s imagination some decades ago in Queens. There were gyroscopes, tornados, and a hall of mirrors to play with within the museum.

Tim and I played with these toys, waiting for the venue, the Queens Hall of Science, to open up for seating. We had eaten some pot brownies on the walk to the museum after eating at a great Mexican restaurant in Corona, Tortilleria Nixtamal. The brownies started to take effect when we discovered all the optical games there were to play with at the science museum – the hall of mirrors, various spinning hypnotic discs and a screen that shadowed your body in the different colors of the light spectrum.

We went into the Hall of Science early on once they started seating people since they had given us a colored sticker to go in during one of the first groups since we had arrived at the science museum so early. A perimeter of people one deep had already formed around the square of the stage. We quickly found a spot with a great view and stood mere feet from the stage, only one person between Bjork and ourselves. Waiting for the concert to start, I got more and more excited, started traveling back in time at this point, knowing how jealous my 15 year old self would be of my current self, how he would not to be able to believe that I would be standing only several feet away from Bjork as she performed for such a small audience.

I first saw Bjork play when I was 16, nearly a decade and a half ago – May 15, 1998 at the Capital Ballroom in DC. Aside from the fact that it was a Bjork concert and she was one of my favorite musicians of the time, aside from the fact that music is for whatever reasons able to effect us the most emotionally during those later teenage years, this concert also holds such mythic import in my mind, in the recounting to myself of the history of my relationship with music, because it was the first concert I attended having purchased the tickets myself, not something I had been taken to by my parents at some stadium or park.

And that time when I saw her then, I was a ball of giddiness, swaying, eyes watering up, my heart ready to jump out of my throat, thrilled to such a degree by the sounds I was able to see perform lived, by even being in the same building as this woman who made this music which I would lie in my bed at night and listen to on my headphones while my family slept safely in our house in the suburbs of Northern Virginia and I experienced a world of beauty that I had never been exposed to before, had no idea even existed. I had fallen down the rabbit hole and saw the most strange and lovely place, was shown other worlds.

Last night, the brownies certainly helped to some extent, but I was again taken back to those days, that swell of feeling and emotion brought about music, specifically this woman’s. Waiting for the show to start, I kept on thinking that there was only this one person between me and where she would be, waves of excitement kept crashing hard against the shore, the sea swelling, something on the way, and I could not fucking believe that this was happening, that somehow I was able to get so close to the stage, that I was going to see Bjork in person, so close, singing. Her backing choir of some twenty or so Icelandic girls came out on stage and Bjork came out soon after that.

They stood motionless, lights dimmed on them, and there was David Attenborough’s soaring introduction explaining that the pleasure we receive from music occurs because through it we are returning closer to nature, that music puts us in touch with objects at a remove, hidden, but part of us, puts us again in touch with these things.

And they started to sing while music was played and they did so for the next ninety or so minutes and I smiled ear to ear for most of that duration, often shaking my head, not believing that I was able to experience such joy, that there were things capable of this still, that music could provoke such things, that any art could. I was thrilled with the knowledge of art’s potential, of our ability to stir up magical things in other human beings, that magic does exist.

There were moments, again let me point or not point to those brownies, when I thought of covens and The Craft, that there was something witchy going on here. Bjork, the sorceress in the middle, singing in this tower under a full moon in her mysteriously evocative plastic blue dress, these young Icelandic girls encircling her, adding their voices to the spell. Something was being called forth.

I kept having flashes of what it meant to first experience music. There was also a bit of sadness that that first experience is so far removed, that the experience of music has become so common, that a great deal of its powers have been diminished. Perhaps that is why I have found myself attending two Bjork concerts in the course of the past year, one of them taking me across the Atlantic, to Manchester, to see this woman.

I have been trying to get something back. Something has been lost. Skins are shed over the course of time. Gray hairs appear slowly on scalps, hairlines become not as strong as they once were. All very small signs of aging, but signs nonetheless. Music and one’s relationship another sign of that I think. Getting absolutely deliriously lost in the spell of music was something that used to happen so easily, be such a common occurrence. Now those moments come much less frequently. They do still appear, often when I am stoned late at night, alone, headphones on, listening to songs online. But I don’t lie in bed and listen to stuff on my headphones and stay awake late into the night to do so. The Internet, like it has done with many forms of engagement, has made it more difficult, made me too easily distracted, that it becomes too easy to skip from one video to the next, search this person or that, and to get lost in an album is more and more rare. Did I mention I have been off of Facebook for a good month now? Only slightly related seemingly, but there is this big problem that I think exists with our ability to engage with art and to get lost in the wanderings of our own thoughts when we have this constant feed of scattered thoughts from some hundred or so people, throwing us so far off the trail of the scents we were following.

I am trying to get back to something and so I have been going to Bjork concerts because that is where some fourteen years ago I felt something more strongly than I ever have, that I have always been wanting to repeat that moment with every concert I have attended since. I have very often been able to do so, have had something close to a spiritual connection with the music being made and performed made in front of me. However, I would be lying if I were not to admit that those moments happen less and less, now to the point where I sometimes wonder if I still hold the capacity to be moved, or whether the world and my length of time in it have inured me to such pleas.

I know they haven’t, but it is a matter of continuing to keep those paths open, to clear the branches that fell on the trail and make it walkable again. And so I go to see Bjork and know that it is still possible, that things can still do this. A few songs into her set, she played “Mouth’s Cradle,” and it happened. It happened again and again throughout the night. The swell really almost flooded the place when she opened her encore with a very minimal version of “One Day,” accompanied just by the sound of a hang drum being played lightly by Manu Delago. It was such an insanely beautiful and soul-rousing performance. She left the stage after a performance of “Declare Independence,” calling back to the still cheering crowd, “Raise your flags!” And we all yelled back, very certain and damn proud to exist in this world after the time spent under the spell of this woman, yelled back, “Higher! Higher!”

Saturday, February 4, 2012

"every record sounds the same"

"Every record sounds the same /
you gotta step into my world."

Madonna, again showing a striking amount of chutzpah, complains about every record sounding the same. Even more audacious, she makes this complaint on one of her most boring singles ever, a retread of innumerable bland pop songs that we heard at the turn of the millennium. Every record does indeed sound the same - you have to step out of Madonna's world. "Give Me All Your Luvin'" is terrible and it makes me angry how terrible it is. It makes me angry because Madonna is someone that I would really like to get behind, someone who historically is so central to pop music, especially female pop music. It's really hard to remember what a shock she was in the eighties to mainstream culture, to sexist culture. All of that early boundary pushing becomes hard to remember now that it's no longer weird to see near-naked pop stars singing things far filthier than Madonna ever did. This is the woman, who after all of that pushing against gender expectations and restrictions in the eighties, put out a trifecta of near-perfect albums in the 90s that I still listen to all the time: Erotica, Bedtime Stories, and Ray of Light. All three are very distinct and quite exceptional - really good music, records that don't sound the same. Since that time though, Madonna has put out disappointing album after disappointing album, albums trying so hard to be pop radio hits, but neutered in some way, missing a spark, a fierceness, save for some of the songs on Confessions.

I remember a couple of months ago when "Give Me All Your Luvin'" was first leaked and how incredibly let down I was, how I had been looking forward to new pop from Madonna, hoping that she was going to bring it, that we are really in an incredible era of pop music and I thought Madonna was going to contribute to it. Instead, there was this insipid song that we now have a video for, inane lyrics and a bubblegum beat, so boring. This track was leaked right around the time that Rihanna's "We Found Love" was pumping out of every sound system. When you compare the two, damn, does Madonna sound terribly irrelevant. Katy Perry, of all people, is putting out more exciting music than Madonna right now. Both are going for a similar cutesy bubblegum pop sound, but Madonna's just sounds so false. And this is the woman who recently has been making catty comments about how great she is, how people should save their pennies to pay $300 to see her in concert, and how Lady Gaga's music is "reductive." You can say all the catty comments you want, but if you can't back it up with good music, then shut up and go home.

And then there is the video itself. What a mess. I just don't get it - any of it - the song or the video. This is Madonna, who has an unlimited budget, and who probably has her choice of producers, song writers, and video directors that would love to work with her, and this is the best she could do? What the fuck? It really is maddening. And I'm not sure why it is that it all bothers me so much, why I want so badly for her to put out a string of amazing songs. I think it is probably because I am so invested in her back catalog, have such a strong emotional connection to it, that it really stresses me out to hear all this bad recent stuff that then forces me to question the quality of that earlier stuff, to reevaluate it. That reevaluation would force a rewriting of so many moments in my life that I really don't think I can handle right now, or ever if I were to be honest. I don't want all those moments where I felt such a strong connection with this music, or danced like a maniac to particular songs, or watched her early videos on MTV with my sister in our basement in Virginia, that I don't want any of that to be reconsidered, compromised.

I am not sure why MIA is in this video, why she consented to be a part of this mess. Nicki Minaj, I know why. She is already overexposed and will guest on anybody's track. I really wish she would disappear from pop music. But MIA is a different story. She looks deeply uncomfortable in this video, dolled up in a stupid cheerleader's outfit and having to be a backup minion to Madonna.

But then I saw that MIA released her new music video, "Bad Girls," on the same day Madonna released this one, clearly using the attention she knew she would get from being in Madonna's video to promote her own music, which is pretty brilliant, and which is why I am hoping she agreed to be part of this Madonna mess. And damn, what a video MIA has put out! This is interesting pop music though it does have vague inane lyrics, possibly just as inane as the ones in Madonna's new single, but it has a way more interesting beat and the force of MIA's personality and the politically-charged theatrics that MIA likes to adorn herself in. People have questioned MIA's authenticity as this anticolonial pop star her videos like to set her up as, and that's fine. I am not sure how authentic she is, but I also think that that misses the point of what she is doing. This is great music and great art. This video is fantastic and really it's unfortunate for Madonna that it was released on the same day as hers. Viewing them side by side, Madonna looks entirely irrelevant and absent from the conversations culture should be having right now.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Richard III

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid...

It's always an interesting thing to see words you have read solitary, imagined a certain way in your head, performed aloud by actors. One of two things will occur: you will find fault, these actors not as good as the ones in your head, or actors will out-do your imaginary actors and you will be wowed. Sometimes the both will occur, last night for instance.

Earlier in the week, I had read Richard III, in anticipation of seeing it last night at BAM, a production directed by Sam Mendes and starring Kevin Spacey in the titular role. During this opening monologue, I got giddy, knew already that I was going to love the next few hours with Kevin Spacey performing this role. He hit the ground running, as you have to do given the opening monologue of the play, and performed it in a way that really added layers of flesh and depth to these lines which I had not seen in my reading of the play. That's what good acting is certainly. His Richard was cruel and funny, terrible and yet somehow charming in that terribleness, always seeming to be on the verge of veering into camp but straddling that line so well. It was a magical performance on his part. Despite his villainy, probably because of it actually, I was so enthralled with this character. It's a weird play in that despite Richard's cruelty and murderousness, we, as an audience, are drawn to him, his way with language making his power grabs sound reasonable. Despite their very good reasons to hate him, he succeeds to a great degree in being able to win over both Anne and Elizabeth, the both of whom he is responsible for their widowhood. And to a great degree in this production, he wins over this audience. It's actually quite an amazing thing, how such a loathsome man, through the force of his on-stage personality, becomes someone that the audience, despite knowing better, loves to watch and is so entertained by. These numerous murders that occur throughout the play lack pathos. In a couple instances, they are ghoulishly funny. There is a complicity on the audience's part with this play, much like the royal court at the time, to tolerate these things, smirk at them.

Spacey is a barreling force of energy, lumbering around on his braced leg, his foot bent inward, supporting himself on a cane, hunched over, and scurrying across the stage arachnid-like - a staggering amount of physical energy on Spacey's part. It is an amazing performance to watch. The problem though is that despite it almost being a one-man show, it is not one, and the rest of the cast isn't always able to engage this storm of a performance. Chuck Iwuji, who plays Buckingham, does an amazing job as well, and so does Haydn Gwynne, who plays Elizabeth. A lot of the cast though never really seem to be able to engage with Spacey's performance. Some of the actors seem like they belong in an entirely different staging of Richard III and I am sure some of them probably wish that they were.

I was comparing them to the actors that had played these roles in my mind when I read the play a few days earlier. With Shakeseare though, often I am able to get more out of the plays reading them than seeing them performed. Because the language requires a little more time for me to appreciate it, to realize how great and clever some of the lines are, I miss out on some of the things when the lines are delivered rapid fire and I am not able to make out everything that's being said, let alone what some of the words and expressions mean.

The set was pretty boring, though in a few scenes it did work very effectively, beautiful tableaus presented by the blocking at times. Richard marching down the long stage toward the audience, a line of drummers behind him, something parade-like, carnivalesque, and absurd - power on the march, power done up in military costumes and with a soundtrack of drums. It is stopped momentarily by his mother, the Duchess of York, only momentarily though. They have a fierce exchange, the drums quieting slightly though still beating, the Duchess cursing her son to a bloody death.

My mind's staging didn't have Kevin Spacey, these occasional drums, or Iwuji's playing Buckingham like a revivalist preacher in one scene. These are aspects to the play that will now always attend it when I reread it, aspects that have broadened the meaning of this play for me. Annette Bening is in this mash-up as well, her Elizabeth from the 1995 film version amazing. Robert Downey Jr. might be in there as well. But all of these are in the service of these lines, these really well-written lines.