A Little Respect

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Part wood nymph, part rock star, the mere sight of Andy Bell in short shorts and wearing a flower crown undoubtedly changed me. Throughout the concert, he was flanked by two fierce black backup signers also covered in glitter and flowers. It was like a Renaissance painting did ecstasy while watching Little Shop of Horrors and decided to put on a show. And what a show it was. I was 16 years old and here was this rare, gay man out and proud and having a huge musical career in 1990 while I was a closeted, burgeoning drug addict who didn’t even know who I was. Bell was almost too much to look at. So in-your-face, so sweet, so charming and so out of fucks to give, it seemed like the me that could be but a me that was totally out of reach.  I mean Andy Bell was the lead singer of Erasure and I was just some effeminate teenager in Golden, Colorado.

Bullied, beaten up and black and blue, I ran towards anything that looked shinier and more beautiful than the existence I had as a teenager. It wasn’t just music like Erasure’s but Bowie, Sinead O’Connor, Deee-Lite, Madonna and anything else I could dance to and forget who I was. Drugs fit fabulously into this plan too. When I was high, I didn’t have to feel the pains of growing up gay and from an alcoholic home. When I was with the kids I used with I was cool, not just some kid that got routinely called faggot as he walked down the hall. I wasn’t the kid you pushed in the cafeteria because he wouldn’t push back, I was a smart ass drunk and drug addict and who could drink you under the table. I was cool or at the very least cool adjacent. I knew who to hang out with to at least give the appearance of being cool. I was also a kid with an incredible taste in music.

Drinking, drugs and listening to cassette tapes or going to teen alternative clubs was basically my whole life. Smoking cloves dancing to “Personal Jesus”, drinking Big Gulps spiked with whiskey and watching Book of Love in concert, taking drugs and seeing Love and Rockets, smoking weed and singing Madonna at Burger King instead of being in class. I had no use for traditional school, a place where I was regularly fucked with for being who I was. Instead, I sought out personal enrichment through drugs, pop culture and music. Like why go to biology when you can take acid, listen to New Order and go to the mall? Perpetually in peril and in over my head with a life out of control, most anybody who knew me who didn’t do drugs with me was probably concerned about me. People of all kinds tried to help or tried to figure out what was wrong but to no avail. After all, I was a nice kid, a creative kid and a kid who couldn’t if fit with everybody else no matter who hard he tried. I couldn’t even be invisible which was a real bitch. Okay, fine. I’ll be the gayest child that Colorado ever saw in 1989 but can I at least camouflage into the background?

Yet that was not my story. I was extra before we even started saying extra. Therefore the “extra” artists of that era– Erasure, Cyndi Lauper, Pete Burns, Boy George– forged the path for me to walk down. But what did I do when I wasn’t listening to music or dancing or going to concerts? It’s not like Andy Bell could magically appear like the fairy from Pinocchio and perform Blue Savannah every time I felt horrible. Likewise, giving myself platinum blonde hair like Madonna wasn’t a real substitution for self-esteem although it didn’t stop me from trying. Drugs and alcohol, thank god, gave me the ability to not give a fuck, like Mr.Bell himself. After spending my junior year harassed and pushed around, I emerged my senior year of high school as some kind of faux phoenix. The kids who fucked with me the most had graduated and now I could smoke cigarettes, talk shit, get high and listen to music in my friends cars without caring who hated me. Sure, I was still teased but after a summer of going to gay clubs, doing acid and dancing all night long, as directed by Miss Cathy Dennis, I had developed a swagger that sort of looked like self-esteem. I tried my best to own who I was but without actually being out of the closet or actually liking myself, it was just a performance.

A long running performance, at that. A tough exterior of joke cracking gay best friend who knew all the cool kids served me well and even well into my thirties. But the thing about that kid who knows all the good bands and has gossipy stories about celebrities and bitchy take downs of coworkers is that’s all there is to him. My inability to get real about the hurt, sadness, shame and self-hate that I felt inside 24 hours a day was killing me. Towards the end, drugs and alcohol didn’t just loosen up the act and make life more comfortable, they were vital for even leaving the house. I hated myself and no amount of  male pop stars in hot pants could make that go away.

At age 45 and counting, I am now unable to suppress a deep sigh or at the bare minimum a low-key eye roll when people flippantly say, “Love yourself.” Undoubtedly catchy for some other generation to enjoy in a Justin Bieber song, the idea of loving yourself to a person like me sounds downright puzzling. “Love yourself!” and while you’re at it solve world hunger. Love yourself. Please. As if someone merely telling us to love ourselves is enough. In fact, a lot of times when people say “They need to love themselves” it’s a way to comment on the perceived low self-esteem of others. Love yourself, you pathetic mess. Even Rupaul’s well-intended and much quoted,”If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”is a loaded shortcut to something that I’ve found very hard to do. Trying to love myself sounds a little easier while liking myself more than I did before is sometimes really the best I can muster.

In 2010, a good 20 years after I had the magical gay epiphany of seeing Andy Bell and Erasure on stage, the band once again entered my conscience. A year and a half sober, I was visiting my sister and her kids in Colorado. The place I had grew up in had changed too– thanks marijuana! It was no longer the deep red state steeped in homophobia and hatred. It had come around a little and so had I. My niece and nephew, who possess not just great sets of eyelashes but incredible senses of humor, were obsessed with the video game “Robot Unicorn Attack.” The ridiculous game had its moment in the sun as sort of viral obsession and along with it came an Erasure reemergence. The band’s song “Always” is winkingly featured as game’s theme song. Quick to pick up on anything amazing, my niece and nephew loved the song too. They’d giggle uncontrollably when Bell would dramatically sing, “Open your eyes. Your eyes are open.”  It seemed all too perfect that this band and this song would show back up at a point where I was starting to like myself.

Now aged 50-something with his hot pants days behind him,  Andy Bell is sober too. He’s talked openly, like we would expect anything less, about his battle with drugs and alcohol. There’s something comforting about knowing that this gay icon who was utterly 100% himself maybe hated himself too and that makes his role in who I grew up to be even more profound. It makes the beautiful angel I whose music I loved in on friends cassette tapes relatable and real, Perhaps Andy Bell, like the rest of us, faked loving himself, until he could get close to the real thing.

Maybe that’s the best any of us can do? Maybe we should take this ultimatum of “love yourself or fail at life” off the table completely. Because what I know is all of this–this feeling better, this trying to stop killing myself, this path to even tolerating myself, much less loving myself– is that it’s a lot of fucking work. No amount of Bieber songs or stickers or mugs or even Drag Race episodes can make me love myself. It’s a long road I have to walk (and occasionally fall of) everyday. Being the good drug addict that I am it’s unfortunate to discover I can’t snort self-esteem like I used to snort cocaine. Instead, it self-esteem and yeah even loving myself comes in little doses through small efforts. Just not being a dick to people at the grocery store. Holding the door open for someone and not expecting a round of applause. And not using drugs or alcohol one day at a goddamn time get me closer. Closer to a little more happiness, a little more self-esteem and a little respect.

I’m a spiritual being, muthaf*ckers

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Let’s get this out of the way before we roll up our sleeves and really talk about God: people who wear “Spiritual gangsta” hoodies or refer to themselves as gurus or have things like “Christ first” in their Twitter bios are the worst. I mean I get it. Everyone is seeking something so maybe these folks need to fly their freaky spirituality flag to let the world know how down with G.O.D. they really are. But still it does feel obnoxious. Like the most spiritual and god-like people I ever met were the ones who were humble and did amazing acts for their fellow-man all pretty much on the d.l. They didn’t need sweatshirts or Facebook groups to prove that they had spiritual lives. But who I am to judge really? I’m a seeker like everyone else even the spiritual gangsta. And this whole road of seeking is, as far as I can tell, a messy affair.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really do organized religion. I’m not much of joiner, I find religious services to be snoozy and oh yeah, I sort of hate people. So these things don’t really make yours truly the ideal candidate to organize your church picnic. Nevertheless, I have a version of god and spiritual life. Go figure. I had long thought the two went hand in hand and you couldn’t have one without the other. But, much like chocolate and peanut butter, I’ve discovered some people can enjoy religion and spirituality together while others have them a la carte. Thanks to nearly dying from drugs and alcohol and then getting sober, I found God. Not like God was missing. He’s not Carmen San Diego or something. Or even that I was struck by a lightening bolt and started dancing in the streets and speaking in tongues. I simply found something bigger than myself. My own version of god has a sense of humor (obvi) and takes their own damn time figuring things out but is always there for me. That’s really all I can tell because it’s my god, not yours. And I’m a middle child and bad at sharing. Get your own damn God, goddamnit.

So this thing bigger than me and more powerful than me keeps expanding and I’m still desperately seeking God. This apparently is good news. I was in a meeting on Saturday morning with drunks and drugs addicts, as I’ve been known to do, and there was a woman celebrating 30 years sober. She talked about moving through rough patches recently. She shared honestly about not always feeling connected to her version of God. But mainly, what I heard, was a woman who was sharing about still seeking. She’s still looking to strengthen the spiritual connection, to grow and to keep changing and getting better. By sharing about struggling but somehow persisting and staying sober anyway, she let me and presumably the others in the packed room know that we were okay just where we are. Because God and from what I can tell spirituality in general isn’t some graduate program or reality tv competition. There isn’t an end in sight or a certificate to achieve.

God is on my mind this morning because I noticed I had several conversations about god this weekend. As an old AA friend of mine once said, sober people either talk about alcohol or they talk about god and this weekend, it was primarily the latter. Life is a mystery, as my own spiritual conduit Madonna once said, and therefore so is God. When I have conversations about God with sober people that’s sort of what we’re doing: unravelling the mystery and getting clues from one another on how you do this whole god thing. Before I stopped drinking and using drugs, I thought God was some punishing being who hated me for being gay and was probably still low-key pissed off at what a bad Catholic I was. So I need to see and hear what God is for other people and then go off continue to seek my own.

Therefore it isn’t really my business if someone has a God who hates gay people or belongs to a religion that oppresses women. Likewise it’s not my concern if Facebook friends post overly religious crap. I’m too busy trying not to be a horrible person, one day at time. So I guess even the guy in the “Spiritual Gangsta” hoodie gets a pass. That said, I’m gonna hold off on ordering one for myself.

 

‘Strike a Pose’ Strikes a Chord

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“Look, around. Everywhere you turn is heartache. It’s everywhere that you go.” Madonna,Vogue, 1990

It wasn’t the scene of Madonna simulating oral sex on a bottle. Nor was it the many scenes of her openly discussing her love life. It wasn’t even the scene where she turned “Like a Virgin” into a masturbating with a crucifix blasphemy filled ballad that people were talking about when they talked about 1991’s Truth or Dare. It was the scene where two of her male dancers kissed each other while playing the game in the title of the film. The sight of two men making out on the big screen was so nonexistent in 1991 that jaws dropped around the world when the film was released. Now over 25 years later, the story behind that kiss as well as the all the dirt on the tour, the film and the diva herself can be seen in the new documentary Strike a Pose, now on Netflix.

As a Madonna fan, I’ve been dying to see Strike a Pose since I read about it last year. The main reason being that Truth or Dare was seminal in my life as a gay teen trying to find the courage to come out. What that seemingly simple scene did for me and others like me was show that who we were was okay. Madonna and her dancers were presenting a life where you could be yourself and not give a fuck about what people thought. Sure sounded good to me, the terminally effeminate and unique soul that I was. Yet according to the film, that scene and the glamorous carefree life that came with it also came at a price.

Strike a Pose profiles the lives of six of Madonna’s dancers from the Blonde Ambition tour who were also featured in the “Vogue” music video. Luis, Jose, Salim, Carlton, Kevin and Oliver became instant stars during the tour and their fame exploded when moviegoers met them a year later in Truth or Dare. The movie takes an unflinching look at the past and pulls no punches especially when talking about the AIDS crisis. Two of the dancers, Carlton and Luis, tell heart-wrenching stories about how they were terrified to tell Madonna and other members of the company that they were HIV positive. Carlton found out in Japan while Blonde Ambition was getting ready to take over the world and Salim was diagnosed in 1987 but kept it hidden. Their stories are incredibly sad and ironic given that Madonna was vocal advocate for HIV and AIDS, having just lost her friend artist Keith Haring to the disease. These dancers were very young and I can’t imagine how terrifying that world was back then. Thus the story of Strike a Pose, after it gets done dishing the showbiz details, quickly becomes to a story I can really relate to: a story of survival.

How do you deal with the fall outs of instant fame? If we are to believe Strike a Pose, the answer is, not very well. These kids thrust into the spotlight were given all the drugs, booze and VIP access that they could handle and they rightfully took advantage of it. Naturally, things got ugly pretty quickly. Jose and Luis, who became minor club sensations with a record of their own, both got hooked on heroin and parted ways with Madonna after their addictions got out of control. For Carlton and Salim, the battle to stay well in a society where everyone with your condition is dying is a very real one, not helped by collective shaming and ignorance. In one of the films, more devastating segments, we’re introduced to Gabriel, the dancer featured, along with Salim, in that famous kiss. Gabriel died from complications of AIDS in 1995 at the age of 26. According to his mother, Gabriel wanted Madonna to cut the kiss from the film and after she told him to “Get over it”, he  went on to sue her for forcing him to come out. It’s an unsavory moment but not the only one. Kevin and Oliver also sued Madonna for compensation from the film. Yet the movie goes surprisingly lite on the Madonna bashing which is surprising given that her reputation as a difficult  boss and coworker is legendary.

It’s because of this however that Strike a Pose is effective and moving. By avoiding being a victim, bitchfest, Strike Pose turns into a portrait of growth. It isn’t about Madonna anymore. It’s about the six dancers and what happened since their worlds were turned upside down. Against the odds, these men have somehow stayed well, gotten sober and survived. Salim’s story, for me, is the center of the films’ heart and message of resilience. Still dancing and living in New York, Salim speaks  publicly for the first time about being positive and the result is a raw, tear-jerking emotional moment.

As a fan of Madonna and Truth or Dare, the movie delivers on the serving the desired nostalgia of the time. With clips of the film and access to the songs, the movie gives a fan what they want. But as somebody sober with HIV, the movie goes a lot deeper and soon becomes relatable and courageous. Gay men like myself have always been attracted to women who survive. Cher, Elizabeth Taylor and Tina Turner all had been through the ringer and counted out but somehow came back. It’s a glamour and toughness that we as gay men latch onto and find aspirational. Yet what Strike a Pose does beautifully is finally give gay men the fierce, empowered, truthful comeback story of their own.

Bartles & Gays

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When you’re seventeen and somebody offers you a wine cooler while you watch a 300 pound drag queen do a version of “Rhythm Nation”, you take it. And if you’re me at age seventeen, not only do you take that wine cooler but you’ve already taken nearly everything else anyone has ever offered you. I’d like to say it was because 1990 was a freer, wilder time but if we’re being real here I would have been a drunken teen delinquent in even during the Revolutionary War. Getting lit with Paul Revere, y’all! Yet 1990 was unique for me because it was the year that I went to my first gay bar.

Down by the railroad track in an area of Denver that’s now filled with stoned bros stumbling towards sporting events, was a 3.2 gay bar called Stars. In my mind, it was Stars with a Z but when it comes to details from the late eighties and early nineties, I am admittedly an unreliable narrator. Whatever it was, it looked a lot like liberation in that moment. Already a fixture on the teen goth and alternative nightlife scene, I was always in search of new spots to dance, be loaded and be my snarky, bitchy little self. I was also in my coming out phase which officially wouldn’t really happen until later but at seventeen I knew I liked boys, I hated my parents and I loved to dance. That was enough. I was, as our dear Janet says in the aforementioned song, “looking for a better way of life” and I was pretty sure that included kissing boys and getting wasted.

The bar itself was nothing to speak of really. Kind of a hole in the wall and filled with a mix of lesbians, creepy older dudes, drag queens and lots of queer youngsters like myself. Allegedly the bar, was supposed to be 18 and up but my shady ass always found a way in. I remember this curvy, gorgeous biracial girl named Shanni who helped sneak me into a club through a fence on the patio. She seemed like the disco unicorn of my dreams and like a girl I’d never met before. Little did I know that all the gay clubs were filled with awesome chicks like her but I was thankful for her assistance. 1990 lent itself to a “look the other way” type of attitude about underage people hanging out and drinking in bars. Plus, Denver had that whole weird ass 3.2 drinking thing which was basically, let’s face it, a preview for the hardcore boozing coming attractions. The humble trappings and colorfully sketchy regulars didn’t scare me off. I was in love with the place. It blew my brain open to see gays of all sizes and colors being themselves and having a really good time doing it.

The song of the summer was certainly “Vogue” by Madonna. It was that song that gave every homo a chance to be flamingly gay on the dance floor and be as over the top as possible. It was our anthem and the moment that solidified Madonna’s role in my coming out. I remember sipping wine coolers with a friend watching a pimpled, discount version of Madonna lip synch the song and him saying of the performer, “Well, bacne certainly isn’t very vogue.” I had entered the realm of gay nightclub cuntiness and it came with drag queens and a dance floor. I truly belonged.

Other songs like “Everybody, Everybody” by Black Box, “Two to Make it Right” by Seduction and “Hold On” by En Vogue were also deep in the gay club rotation. Although I worshipped (and still do) at the Church of Madonna, what my mind kept coming back to when I sat down to write this was Janet Jackson. The songs we were hearing in the club that summer were from Rhythm Nation, 1814 which was released in the fall of 1989 but still getting tons of airplay. The children today would definitely describe that record, with its political undertones and brutally honest outlook, as “woke AF.” The mind-blowing thing about that record is that it has a mere three songwriters for the entire album. Doesn’t sound that impressive but when you consider that most of today’s “deeply personal” pop records boast upwards of 50 songwriters it at least proves we were dealing with a different caliber of artist on the radio back then. Sorry, but with 50 writers, nothing can be deeply personal. That’s a group assignment. Anyway, while not overtly gay and far from her all-out-sexual phase of her career, the songs of that record like “Miss You Much”, “The Knowledge” and “Black Cat” had a self-awareness and strength that on some level as a gay man in the making I must have needed to hear.

Ms. Jackson aside, my inner personal dealings with people my age or older weren’t all that amazing. Pretty disastrous, in fact. I mean, I was seventeen and just coming out so I was an asshole. I wanted boys to like me but had zero game. There was always some dramatic falling out with a group of friends that I knew from the club which I was usually smack dab in the middle of it. So thank god there was alcohol. The wine coolers made dancing and talking to boys easier. They made meeting new people easier. They made me easier. Tasting like Kool-Aid’s more ghetto sister, wine coolers were what I secretly really looked forward to the most about those evenings. Not too harsh and grown up in their 80’s appearance, wine coolers made underage drinking feel more normal. They also unshackled me from any other fears I had. That summer, I did cocaine for the first time, had my first three-way and basically checked off all the “I’ll never do that!” boxes off my list. And again, I was only seventeen. No wonder I felt like a Sheen family member by the time I turned 20.

At age 44 as I write this with Janet Jackson videos in the background, I feel for kid with the wine cooler. As if coming out wasn’t enough of a mindfuck, the poor dude had to wrestle with addiction that was already proving to be unmanagable.He had no idea the ride he was in for. Yet I wouldn’t change a moment of it. I wouldn’t go back in time to warn him about his future. Mainly, because that’s impossible and even if I could go back in time, the bitch wouldn’t listen anyway.

Instead what I’m left with is some amazing music, some hilarious fuzzy memories and some times that I loved but don’t really miss. Well, much, anyway.

What Can You Lose?

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What can happen in 30 minutes? Turns out, a lot of things. A pizza can be delivered. A commute can be completed. A sitcom can be ingested. A meal with Rachael Ray can magically come together. Some highly-touted, super efficient workout can be finished. And a brilliant blog post can appear like a glittering Pegasus from the sky. Or that’s at least what I’m hoping will happen in the next 30 minutes. It’s helpful for me to think of it like this. Like if a whole pizza can be ordered, made and delivered in 30 minutes, surely I can vomit out some thoughts on a page, no? Yet it’s funny how paralyzing just the mere thought of doing something, hell, anything, can be for me. Like, “Wash those three plates AND put them in the dishwasher? What is this? Some kind of internment camp?” The sheer force of my Jedi-strength complacency can really make the idea of doing things really sound impossible.

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But 30 puny little minutes? I can do that. And maybe that’s the secret to stuff and by ‘stuff’ I mean success. I don’t know why just writing that word, success, makes me squirm a little but yes, success. And not necessarily in a I’m totally buff and make 7 figures a year kind of way (which I’d be totally down for if I could achieve those things by eating brownies and watching Netflix) but in a I’m satisfied and happy with my life kind of way. On some cellular level, I know that this is true. I wrote two full length plays both of which enjoyed happy, packed runs and I’ve also written dozens of short plays, a slew of articles, a spattering of short stories and some other stuff. And none of it has happened in a single sitting. Thank god. Can you imagine? “Honey, I’m gonna go sit down and write a script. See you in four days.” No, all of it has been quilted together minute by minute, a page at a time and over the course of several days. I do, however, do better with deadlines, as the additional terror tends to bring out the best in me but even then I know that the bulk of the work comes together in itty, bitty chunks. The toughest part of anything that looks like work, for me, has to be conquered with my attitude before I get started. If I don’t immediately reject the thought of doing something, anything, progress might just be possible.

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I recently shared with my sponsor that I was afraid of success. He pointed out to me that I was in a happy successful relationship, that I had successfully stayed sober for the last 7 years and that I had a roof over my head and jobs which regularly paid me. He was gently trying to pound into my head that I was, in fact, already successful. Moreover, all of this success had happened in little increments. And so, why couldn’t even more success happen in the same way? There’s no reason and as usual the only getting the way was me and my old nemesis fear.

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All this brings me to the title of this post which also happens to be a Sondheim song which Madonna sings in Dick Tracy (it all always leads back to Madonna. Duh.) But yeah, what can I lose? So I lose 30 minutes writing a post that maybe no one will read? Big deal. Or I try something and it doesn’t work out? Okay. Or I submit pieces and people say, “Sorry. Not interested.” Fine. But I at least did it. If I can shut fear up and just keep moving, even for 30 minutes, who knows what can happen? This is all on my mind today because I’m toying with pitching new ideas and putting myself out there creatively in different frightening ways. I guess it’s scary but no scarier than quitting drinking or leaving a relationship or standing up for myself in professional situations– and I’ve done all of those things already. So what can you lose?  30 minutes later, I still can’t come up with anything and that might just be my answer.

 

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83. 83 days. 83 freaking days! That’s all have we left. In 84 days, we will be crying or celebrating or at least shutting the fuck up about who is the president of the United States. Insert every happy dance/whew/hallelujah gif ever. It’s been a long and arduous pain in the ass. Yet it’s also been incredibly revealing. The friends of mine with a sense of humor and an ability to keep their head up have floated to the top. The ones who need to yell or think there’s a global conspiracy about everything? It’s been a tough year for them, to say the least. Bless (and unfollow) their crazy ass hearts.Nevertheless, here we are just 83 days away. Just 83 days left of this nonsense and we can all go back to talking about ourselves. It may seem like a long time away but for those of us who have gotten sober, we see a number like 83 days and we think, “I got this.”

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When you’re counting days in early recovery, it can be a long,long time. 30 days without drinking is a huge deal. 90? Even bigger. A year?!? Get the hell out of here. These milestones seem unachievable, mythical even. Yet if you’ve got the right support and you’re really ready, they can happen. So in later sobriety, I’ve been amazed what I can do for days in a row. I’ve quit meat for 6 months. I quit Facebook for 3. I quit smoking. Period. This structure I used to quit drinking and used to change my life has since been used to change all kinds of things. I recently decided when I launched this website that I would publish three times a week until the end of the year. I have tried to be divorced from the results, the page views, the comments and just write and publish 3 times a week. And this, my friends, is how we ended up here at my 32nd post. 32.jpg

Truth? I’ve had some stumbles along the way. I haven’t always wanted to write nor have I been crazy about everything I’ve published. There’s been pieces I really liked that no one has read and pieces I’m indifferent about that people respond to. Such is life. But the point is a little 60 days later, I’ve kept going. I’ve kept a promise to myself. So woo hoo for that.

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And while we’re throwing glitter and celebrating days passing, why not dive into the Seanologues Greatest Hits? Sure 32 posts might seem a little premature to put out a greatest hits but I disagree. I mean. If Stacey Q can have a greatest hits than gosh darn it I can too!

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So here are some of your favorites and some of mine too:

1.) I Won’t Ruin Your Barbecue: This was hands down the most read and most reposted. Thank you so much for that. I’m glad my exploits as the world’s worst drunken barbecue disaster resonated with so many people.

2.)Your Permission Slip: Well, holy shit. Just thinking about this post puts a lump in my throat. I’m just glad people read it and it struck a chord with them. I wrote it after being devastated and sad after Orlando. And I wrote it for myself. So that fact that you responded to it is overwhelming.

3.)Angry Anymore: Gosh. I loved writing this, even if it dealt with a less than savory part of myself. Turns out lots of you hate the angry bastard lurking inside too and you left some amazing comments.

4.) I Walk Alone: Walking is kind of the closest thing I have to a regular spiritual practice and writing about it felt good.

5.) Hey Ninety: Ditto writing about the amazing older people in my life. Plus, a Steely Dan song!

6.) I See You On The Street & You Walk On By: My very first Redditted work which is so millenial for a post about a 30 year old Madonna album. Nevertheless, I’m glad people read it as it was one that I worked on for a while and was very close to my Material Girl loving heart.

7.) the bullshit of busy: Another one I wrote to call myself out for bad behavior that readers gave me a big, “Amen, sistah” to. Writing this, as a matter of fact, has helped me change “busy” as my go to answer so thank you for that.

8.) Long Train Running (or not): Sometimes, I like to write to capture a moment in my life so I won’t forget it. This post about a train trip with the husband did that and bonus–you guys liked it and read it.

9.) Flight or Fight (or Write): This post makes the Greatest Hits for two reasons- 1.) I really enjoy writing about writing and 2.) people who I respect who also write got something out of it too. Win!

10.) new victors: Well every greatest hits has that new song on the end that maybe you’re not crazy about but maybe you’ll grow to love.  Enter “new victors.” I published it yesterday and it came from a scattered place but it felt oddly cathartic writing it so there ya go.

Yet, in the end, navel gazing at the past or freaking out about the future don’t really matter. All we have is one day: right now. In this the glorious right now, I just want to tell you thank you for reading, for helping me as a writer, for making me laugh my face off and for being the greatest.

 

I See You On The Street & You Walk On By: 30 Years Of True Blue

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30 years ago today, True Blue by Madonna was released which makes it official: It was a really long ass time ago when I was a teenager and there’s no turning back. I was 13 that summer. If I seem spastic and kinda wacky to you now, multiply that by 80 and you’ll get me at 13. Awkward, effeminate and a neon glitter crayon in the box of Crayola primary colors. I hadn’t really started to think about sex and I’m sure on some level I knew I was gay but at 13 I was still holding out for the possibility that I might develop magical powers and would be able to forgo life’s more difficult moments. I was always a realist.  Thankfully, the music of the era facilitated escape while being properly dramatic in a way that 13-year-old me could really identify with. True Blue fit that prerequisite like a lace fingerless glove.

Take the first single off the record, “Live to Tell”, for example. As kids we honestly wondered, “What the hell is she talking about?” The song didn’t make sense but by the music video but by her dowdy appearance, we knew it was serious. Don’t take my gay card/Madonna card (active duel member since 1991!) when I tell you I don’t always love Madonna ballads. There often too mopey. Her vocals grating. The lyrics goofy. And I felt that way about “Live to Tell”. However, the song’s legacy has endured. Madonna said,”I thought about my relationship with my parents and the lying that went on. The song is about being strong, and questioning whether you can be that strong but ultimately surviving.” Definitely the kind of stuff “the kids” who were buying records at the time could relate to. Later, Madonna used the song for people with HIV and AIDS and to represent political oppression. When I listened to it for this piece, I still don’t love it. It’s still melodramatic. It’s still kinda silly and way too long but I can appreciate it for what it is.

The song we were all really talking about that summer was “Papa Don’t Preach”. An upbeat dance number about teen pregnancy (only in the 80’s). The song was escandalo for me and my group of catholic school friends. Just hearing it on the radio, I worried about going to hell. But to be honest, I didn’t worry too much about it. I thought just being a Culture Club fan had sort of sealed the deal on that end, not to mention the whole being in love with boys thing. The song, in 2016, is harmless but the moxie and attitude Madonna was cultivating at the time still blasts through the speakers at full force. Plus, who doesn’t love those strings in the intro?

For me, the song that captures the isolation and invisibility of being a thirteen year-old is “Open Your Heart”. Despite the stripper-peep show-dancing with a child video, the lyrics of the song as well as her delivery just nail that feeling of wanting to be noticed and paid attention to. Lyrics like, “I follow you around but you can’t see. You’re too wrapped up in yourself to notice”describe my relationship with pretty much every older kid I wanted to pay attention to me or boy I wanted to be friends with. Although nearly 28 at the time, Madonna got it and knew that my 1980’s tween struggle was real. The song describes wanting to loved by someone emotionally unavailable and given what we know now about her then relationship with Sean Penn, the tune might be more autobiographical than we gave it credit for back in 1986. “Open Your Heart” is a peek at the songwriter Madonna was on the way to becoming that speaks to the loneliness and desperation of teens everywhere.

True Blue is often called Madonna’s most girly album. The title track certainly reinforces that label. Bouncy, poppy and sugary, it’s the musical equivalent of a jelly donut. By the way, peep actress Debi Mazar in the video above! Ditto for two other songs on the record “White Heat” and “Jimmy Jimmy”respectively which show Madonna’s love of old movies. “White Heat” features Jimmy Cagney samples while “Jimmy Jimmy” tells the imaginary tale of a teen romance with James Dean. Keeping in line with femininity and high drama, “La Isla Bonita” was a huge hit. The sing predates latin pop songs by the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin by over a decade and remain a karaoke favorite by white girls everywhere. As she twirls her dress around in the video by all of those candles, you worry about her safety (Stop, drop and roll Madonna!) but the song is still a spicy guilty pleasure.

Like thousands of gay kids from the 80’s, Madonna was big part of growing up and coming out of the closet.True Blue predates those two things by a few years but at the age of thirteen spoke to my soul. Today, in my forties, It’s still a solid listen. It serves as timecapsule for sure. Hearing the lyrics and watching the videos, I was transported back to those awkward 13 year old days. As an artist, her best days were ahead of her (Like A Prayer, Ray of Light and Confessions on a Dancefloor being my top three albums were yet to come.) and as a teenager, my tastes would shift to the darker and even more emotional (the Smiths, Siouxsie, Bowie) but I always came back to Madonna.

While researching this piece, Orlando was all over the news. These silly songs didn’t feel so silly. But then again nothing did. I’m lucky to have grown up and come out in an era where artists like Madonna were saying “Be who you are and love who you are and fuck anyone who doesn’t get it.” So for all it’s dated synthy pleasures and theatrical lyrics, True Blue and message of its artist, might be something we need now more than ever.

 

My Week in Pop Culture: Crap Therapy

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Kids,

My Week In Pop Culture is a new feature here on the Seanologues. Since I consume film, television, books and music like Pac-Man does little dots, I thought one weekly ramble about it would be cool. Each Sunday, I’ll tell you what I’ve been reading, watching and listening to and hopefully you’ll be inspired to do the same.

xo, S.

It’s been a week since my heart basically fell out of my ass. It’s been 7 days since I went to a meeting on Sunday morning feeling like a lost lamb with crying the only thing I was capable of doing. It’s been a week. Fuck has it.

 In addition to the people in my life who’ve graciously nestled me like a baby bird for seven days, I’ve relied on a lot of outside help. Meetings. Meditation. Prayer. Animals. Flowers. Chocolate. And lots of bad television and a juicy, trashy novel. I’d say they’re my guilty pleasures but in the words of the immortal Barbra Streisand, “We’ve got nothing to be guilty of.”  I mean I also love highfalutin arty stuff too. But it’s all about balance. Back in the day, in order to ease the pain of modern life I’d simply drink enough tequila and snort enough cocaine until I couldn’t feel anything. This is obviously a healthier route. After all, hours of reality TV never made me throw a shoe at someone or get kicked out of a bar. My Sunday ritual of Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley was entertaining although I kind of don’t remember them because I still felt pretty sad and numb.

Monday, I needed an extra heaping helping of brain rot. Enter Food Network Star. Now, by all accounts this show should probably be against the law seeing as it is solely responsible for thrusting the food and television plague that is Guy Fieri onto the global consciousness. Yet I can’t stop watching this bizarre combination of Star Search and Top Chef. The idea is that the contestants should be able to cook and be able to present themselves like cohesive human beings in order to win their own show on Food Network. Weirdly enough, they’ve cast some people who can barely do either. It makes for foodie trainwreck complete with the douchey guy obsessed with bacon, the scary skinny lady who wants to teach healthy eating and the sassy girl who speaks in Internet clichés. (Yaaasss, Tregay!) The whole thing about reality TV (spoiler alert!) is that they often pad the cast with people who make for good television but some of these people are so boring and so untalented that it almost has the opposite effect. Like Anna, for example. She apparently was a Real Housewife of Wherever the Hell but what she really wants to do is be  a chef. Uh. Okay. So boring and uncharismatic, Anna’s food must taste really incredible or she’s using some Miami via Stepford sort of mind control to stay in the competition. Really though, I think I actually watch Food Network Star to see itty-bitty judge Giada De Laurentiis make a stank face while she chokes down disgusting food and raise her perfectly waxed brow as the hot mess contestants try to present garbage to the camera.

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Speaking of food reality shows, I should probably attend a 12 Step meeting for Gordon Ramsay shows. Listen, I don’t even love Gordon Ramsay. I think his whole goofy empire of yelling at people cooking shows is really ridiculous. And people who think he’s sexy?gag

I’ve somehow managed to quit watching his other 187 shows but every year I get pulled into MasterChef. This summer is no exception. I caught the premiere and I’m toast for the rest of the season. Unlike the aforementioned culinary sideshow, MasterChef presents normal folks who can really cook. Or they tell us they can. This being television we can’t actually taste the food so the whole thing could be a big Milli Vanilli style lie but we trust our judges Christina Tosi and Gordon Ramsay. This season they’re doing faster eliminations, head to head cook-offs and have trimmed it down to just two judges allowing space for guest judges. This Wednesday kept the action moving while trimming the fat of contestants that seemed to be taking up space. It’s a better format so far but honestly if they held it in a swap meet parking lot and had six weeks of contestants frying corndogs I’d probably watch it and still love it.

Elsewhere this week, I watched more Girls reruns on HBO Now, continued my brain-sizzle with America’s Got Talent, caught up on movies for the new season of Sloshed Cinema and tore through a really juicy book. The novel in question is 2014’s Little Big Lies by Liane Moriarty. This Australian based potboiler is one party mystery, one part suburban confessional and all parts addictive. I haven’t finished it yet but am looking forward to doing so as I take a little train ride up to the mountains today. After reading several depressing ass books in a row about rape or World War II, Moriarty’s little elixir is just what I needed plus it’s really, really funny. Next year, you’ll see it as a series on HBO with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern. Can’t wait.

I’m writing a piece celebrating 30 years of Madonna’s True Blue so I listened to that a few times. This was a wise move. As a gay kid from the 1980’s Madonna is often my musical therapist during times of strife. From lip synching “Dress You Up” in my basement as a kid to voguing at gay dance clubs as a teenager, Madonna has always been there for me. This week was no exception. It occurred to me was that True Blue was the very beginnings of Madonna starting to develop a narrative as a pop artist and songwriter. I’ve got lots to say on this record but we’ll get into it (as well as the groove) next week when I publish it.

So the answer is no. No, the candy-coated dance songs of Madonna nor the delights of reality tv didn’t make my pain go away but they did help me move through a tough week. But that’s enough out of me. Please. Tell me what you’ve been reading, listening to or watching over the last week. Also, I wanna know what’s your go to movie or album when you feel terrible. Also, share with me some hidden pop culture treasure you’ve recently discovered. Finally, share with me your guilty pleasures. This your safe space to tell me the crap you unabashedly love. No judgement.