Monday, December 29, 2008

He Loves Paris

The new single, "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris," will be released in February. It's a glorious sounding song and the lyrics are classic Morrissey. I'm already getting excited about the new album and the tour.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Judy Garland sings "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"

From "Meet Me in St. Louis"
Here's a synopsis:
It's 1903 and the well-off Smith family, with four beautiful girls, including Esther (who's just fallen in love with the boy next door) and little Tootie, learn that their father has been transfered to a new job in New York, which means they will have to leave St. Louis, the upcoming World's Fair and all their friends and family, behind, setting the stage for this poignant song.

A Merry Little Christmas

There are Christmas songs and carols and hymns that I like far and above any others, among them "Adeste Fidelis," "Silent Night," "Do They Know It's Christmas," any of those Vince Guaraldi "Charlie Brown Christmas Show" songs, and the David Bowie/Bing Crosby "Little Drummer Boy." But no other song quite has the power and punch and emotional impact for me as "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Like any Christmas song, there are many versions of it and many are done quite badly by people who just sing it without understanding it. It wasn't until just last year that I discovered how great this song, in the right hands, could be.

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light,
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight..."

Because I had my own beliefs as far as how I thought the song came about, I looked into its origin and uncovered just how many layers there are to the story. Because of the lyrics, which speak of being away from dear friends and maybe being with them again next year, I thought that it was a World War II-era song, perhaps originally sung by Frank Sinatra. Would have been a great story, but not quite the case, although Frank figures quite prominently in the story of the song, but later on in its history.

Hugh Martin wrote the song for the 1943 Judy Garland movie, "Meet Me in St. Louis." Judy thought the song was too maudlin, that people would hate her character for singing such words, so he lightened it up a bit (but not too much -- the original said "Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last..." the newer version was just as sad-sounding, but more along the lines of "we'll be together some day," instead of "no more Christmases for you!" I paraphrase.)

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the yuletide gay,
Next year all our troubles will be miles away..."

While "Meet Me in St. Louis" was a hit movie, Christmas songs apparently weren't such a big deal back then, so it didn't become a hit (that distinction went to "The Trolley Song). Still, what with all the turmoil Judy was going through and would continue to go through in her personal life, the scene where she sings that song stands as a mesmerizing moment, where some real truth shines through.

Sinatra sang the song in 1947, but 10 years later he went to Martin and told him he wanted to do the song again, but he wanted it to swing just a bit and the lyrics needed to change for this new version. Martin surprisingly (hey, are you gonna argue with Sinatra?) went along with the request and changed tenses into the present, as well as taking out the "we'll have to muddle through some how," and replacing it with "hang a shining star upon the highest bough!"

"Once again as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who were dear to us,
Will be near to us once more..."

Whatever lyrics are used, the song still has a maudlin, wistful, sad quality to it. It rolls right over all the silly, goofy Christmas songs, and among the season's secular songs, this one is as close to sacred as you can get. Anybody can sound happy. Anybody can act happy. But it takes someone who has truly lived to be able to convey these sort of feelings to you, whether they are singing or acting or writing. That's part of the appeal for me of a singer such as Morrissey, for instance, or the sad songs of the Carpenters -- there's just so much more there to appreciate and relate to. Just because someone is singing a sad song doesn't mean they or those listening will slit their wrists when the last note is played -- rather, I think, they know what it's like to be happy, they know what it's like to be sad, and they won't ignore the bittersweet feelings, they won't pretend things are OK when they are not. But through it all, they smile at the memory of a happy day and somewhere in their hearts, somehow, they keep hope alive that they may yet again share in those happiest of days with the ones they love.

"Someday soon we all will be together,
If the fates allow,
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow
(Hang a shining star upon the highest bough)...

And have yourself, a merry little Christmas now."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Leno to Wanda Sykes: "I Made You Gay!"

Sure you did, Jay. Nevertheless, it was cool for Leno to have Wanda Sykes on his show to talk about her recent coming out and the Prop. 8 fight.

"Pork and beans, they stick to your ribs. Not like hate. Hate fills you up," she said. Great analogy.

I've always kind of liked Wanda Sykes. Really. Even better is she talked about Prop. 8 and being gay and she did not sound like a Public Service Announcement. She was pretty funny, too.

And when it's all said and done, in the near future, marriage will be equal. But as she alluded to in the interview, the Mormon and Catholic Churches will have spent so much money and effort fighting it, and all while they could have done something decent and Christian with that money and time and effort and energy. Really, you've got to ask just what Jesus would have done. How would he have reacted to so much money being spent to spew and inflame hatred when it could have gone to feed the hungry, clothe those who need clothes and house those who have no homes. That's one of the saddest things about it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"I'm Shocked!"

The past 24 hours, when Illinois politicians were tripping over themselves running fast and far from now indicted Gov. Rod Blagojevich and were just as madly trying to outdo each other with their expressions and exclamations of shock and dismay over his alleged corruption, made me think of this scene from Casablanca.

In it, the police guy says he is "shocked to find out there is gambling going on here," and as soon as he finishes saying that, someone brings him his winnings from said shocking gambling.

Similarly, how many of these politicians, be they Democratic or Republican, knew Blagojevich was dirty? Why did no one say so publicly before the indictment? Why did no one who was approached by him or his lackeys (yeah you Jesse Jr., Sam Zell and Ms. Sneed) go to the feds? (the exception, it turns out, being Rahm Emmanuel, who may have been the one to tip off the feds about Blagojevich's outright auctioning of Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.)

Shocking, indeed, but not because of the reasons these bums want us to believe.

Do I Make You Nervous?

Two people who just may be the most beautiful couple to appear on film, in a smoldering scene from 1951's "A Place in the Sun."

Oh, but no one knew the pain behind the faces of Liz Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Such great chemistry on screen between these two. Maybe that's part of why they lasted as the greatest of friends until Monty died.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Crane Kenny

I don't mean to direct any more attention the way of the guy running the Chicago Cubs, whose name is Crane Kenny, but that's the name that came to mind for this item. The crane Kenny I am talking about here, however, is Ken Derry, an actual crane operator for McHugh Construction, which is the firm putting together the Trump Tower in Chicago. He has taken loads of absolutely stunning photos from his perch, often high above the city, throughout construction of the building. He has put them together on this photo blog.

Some of the photos are just absolutely breathtaking, especially when you stop to consider that there was someone behind the camera, sometimes 70 or 80 stories above the city, exposed to the elements, with no walls or windows around them. I'd be terrified to be up there with them, but these guys, the construction workers who take the dreams and visions of real estate developers and architects and make them into reality, have got to have balls of steel to do what they do. Hats off to them.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Wordsmith

President-elect Barack Obama said some pretty extraordinary things during his primary and general election campaigns over the past two years. His words were sometimes criticized and belittled by his opponents, but the fact is that they inspired millions and more impressively, they consoled and encouraged his supporters when things seemed down, when the campaign experienced a setback or two. Like any politician, Obama didn't write every word of every speech. He had a team of three people handling those duties. Esquire magazine has put together a brief profile on one of Obama's speechwriters, Jon Favreau. (Not the star of "Swingers," in case you are wondering.)

One of the more interesting things about Favreau's work, the Esquire piece points out, is how he handled Obama's primary loss in New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton.

"After consulting with Obama for half an hour -- Obama talked, Favreau typed notes -- they decided to reprise the hopeful refrain of 'Yes we can ...' which had been the slogan of Obama's 2004 senate race in Illinois. And at that moment, a mere presidential campaign was transformed into a movement, coalesced around three simple words."

Awesome. People who use words to inspire and encourage and aim for the stars. How cool is that?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Not My Church

When people act out in a blatantly homophobic manner, rather than get angry at them, maybe it's more constructive to ask, "what are they afraid of?" or "what are they trying to hide?" If someone isn't trying to dispel any doubts about their own sexuality, then why would they feel a need or desire to taunt gays with hateful rhetoric or to engage in physical violence against them? We see this all the way from the high school jock bullies who use the word "fag" or rough up gay boys in public, while acting quite differently in private, sometimes with the same boys they terrorize publicly, to examples like the supposedly closeted Dan White, the tortured man who murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and gay city supervisor Harvey Milk.

Recently another entity afraid of its gay shadow has begun to seriously act out against the gays. The Catholic Church. For years the Church has scapegoated homosexual priests as the cause of its history of child abuse, when the facts disprove that assertion and the Church itself, in covering up or refusing to acknowledge the problem and prosecute the criminals, is really the one that is (since it is since going on and lawsuits are still being filed) more at fault. But now the Church (as much as I have grown to hate the institution I still capitalize the "C," since it is a sign of respect, respect that the Church has frittered away) is going after the gays again, and making no secret of it.

While the marches, protests and boycotts in the wake of the passing of California's Prop. 8, which denied marriage rights to gays and lesbians by a vote of 52 percent to 48 percent have targeted for the most part, Mormons, the Catholic Church has escaped the brunt of such outrage. The Church, however, recruited the Mormons into the Prop. 8 fight and the U.S. Conference of Bishops, headed by Chicago's very own Francis Cardinal George, gave at least $200,000 to the cause to strip a segment of the population of their inherent human rights (yes, that's right, it's a human right, not a religious right. If it is not a human right then take away all the civil rights, such as joint filing of income taxes, tax-exempt status for churches that perform marriages, etc.). And where do you think the money the bishops gave to uphold "traditional" marriage came from ? Well, certainly not their own change purses -- it comes from the pews. The pews where church-going people who reach into their pockets and give a few bucks to their archdiocese sit. But that's hardly surprising that churchgoers have to pay for the bishops' political activity, since those same churchgoers are the ones who have gotten stuck with the bills of millions of dollars related to lawsuits stemming from sexual abuse by priests.

But the Church's attack on peaceful, decent, law-abiding gays and lesbians isn't limited to the United States. They (and when I say 'they' I mean the Prada-wearing queen who is the head of the Church in Rome and all his minions) want to bully and deny the most basic human rights to gays and lesbians throughout the world. According to Time magazine, Pope Benedict XVI has gotten his United Nations envoy, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, to announce "that the Vatican will oppose a proposed U.N. declaration calling for an end to discrimination against homosexuals."

According to Time's Jeff Israely, "No one should be surprised to find the Catholic Church hierarchy butting heads with gay rights activists. But this particular French-sponsored proposal, which has the backing of all 27 European Union countries, calls for an end to the practice of criminalizing and punishing people for their sexual orientation. Most dramatically, in some countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, homosexuality can be punished by death." Of course, the ever-compassionate Catholic Church is still opposed to the death penalty (they're "pro-life," don't cha know) so they wouldn't go so far as to endorse the death penalty for homosexuals, but anything short of that, eh, they're kind of fine with. Gotta protect marriage, you know (even though marriage is not part of the U.N. resolution. But the Church has managed to invoke that demon anyway.).

Fueling the fight against equal marriage. Threatening and pressuring those who would support human rights for homosexuals. Rooting out gays from the priesthood. Pinning the blame for the decades of sex abuse in the Church on gay priests. I'm tempted to invoke the well-worn, "Me thinks the men in the Prada heels doth proteth too much" paraphrase, but seriously, why so riled up against the gays? Especially since, for a Church that professes to preach the words and actions of Jesus Christ, who never said anything about homosexuality, it just doesn't seem to be a part of the mission statement. What does the Church have to gain, or rather, what are they trying to protect, by acting this way?

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Pilgrims: Cool With Equal Marriage?

Well, at least they may have been cooler with it than today's religious fanatics, says Mo Rocca, in his AOL (AOL? That's still around?) blog.

In a nicely researched, brief blog post, Mo says the Pilgrims, for all their religious devotion, believed only two acts, sacraments, as the Church called them then and now, should be blessed by the church -- and marriage wasn't one of them.

His piece, which is more thoroughly researched than many op/ed columns on the matter these days (see Sun-Times, Chicago, for instance), points out that these Pilgrims, who were way into the Good Book, found no scriptural basis for marriage, and thus believed it to be a purely civil matter. In fact, the whole act of performing marriages within a church is relatively recent, concocted by the Catholic Church in the 12th Century. So much for all those arguments that 'this is the way it's always been' and 'you're insulting and upsetting people's religious beliefs by making them accept gay marriage,' etc., etc.

Facts can be an annoying thing sometimes, can't they?