Giving Thanks, 2014 Edition

It’s Thanksgiving Eve. Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, a day to consider how we are blessed (in a fortunate way/not simply a “Christian” way) and a day to consider – honestly – just how lucky we are.

It would be easy for me to say that 2014 has sucked so far, and ask The Universe just where the hell my “blessings” are.

In August 2014, I closed my business after almost seven years of (literally) blood, sweat and tears. Mostly tears. The closing of my business was a bit devastating emotionally and certainly was, and continues to be, somewhat crushing financially as well. With the closing of my business came my return to the employment market as a job SEEKER – I hadn’t “filled out an application” in more than probably twenty years; each of my jobs before opening my own business was the result of scouting by my then-future employer – I got ASKED to work with them. Reciting my high school GPA and “Other Interests” was something very alien and foreign to me.

The summer and fall of 2014, I stood by and watched as state after state achieved marriage equality, while my state CONTINUES to maintain an almost pre-Stonewall attitude around this issue. And earlier this month, somehow my state granted the madman that is our governor the power of four more years to destroy our state. And don’t even ask me about what happened in the Senate.

Probably saddest, in October of 2014, I lost my father, my beloved Pop-pop, to a long and valiant battle with cancer. I lost Grammy (my mom) six years ago and, during the time since, my Dad and I had become closer than ever; in fact, it was like getting to know him all over again. I called Pop-pop every day. I miss him, and I miss my Mom. A lot. A well-intentioned friend called me an “orphan” upon finding out my Pop-pop had passed away. I am NOT an orphan. I have two AMAZING parents – they are just away from me now, for the time being. They are now two amazing guardian angels.

Those are just the “highlights” of 2104 for me but – you know what? The year has been pretty great to me as well…

While I closed my business, I embarked on not one but TWO new endeavors, one at a cherished public institution in my adopted hometown and one in a new design venture with a new partner who is, in fact, my husband. Both careers look bright and, while I am “starting on the ground floor” at both, good things are already happening at each. Two days ago, I got promoted at “my day job” and assumed a new position within the organization, a position that suggests career growth and a stable, secure future. As far as my new design venture goes, working with my life partner/husband is a joy and our new firm is already developing a following. Hooray!

Even though Ohio (my state) is in The Dark Ages as far as marriage equality goes, I am legally-married to my husband and we will soon be celebrating the one year anniversary of his Green Card approval (that was a L-O-N-G journey/struggle, chronicled in many previous posts here on this blog). If it is possible, I think that guy loves me more every day – and I love him more, too. Eventually, Ohio will “see the light” and finally join the 21st Century with regard to LGBT rights and equality.

Finally, while I miss BOTH my parents every day, I am happy to know that they are reunited and happy. And contrary to what I feared, being “parent-less” has not left me feeling rudderless or adrift. Rather, I feel empowered and almost a bit reckless (but in a good way). The state of answering only to yourself for your actions (and your spouse, of course!) is actually a very liberating one. I like it. I miss Grammy and Pop-pop terribly but the freedom they have given me is a great, great gift.

So all in all, 2014? Maybe NOT so bad so far… Sure, heck – I hope 2015 will be even better but we still DO have almost a month of 2014 left. Who knows? It may still turn out to be the best year ever…

It’s funny. I was looking for a profound, “deep” quote about being thankful and ran across this sage advice from Oprah Winfrey herself. Who’da ever thought I’d be sharing inspiring Oprah quotes on my blog? Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thanksgiving Oprah

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Thank God It’s Friday

I must admit, I look forward to some “weekends off” more than others.

I’m looking forward to this one…

I made myself laugh a few minutes ago when – I’m embarrassed to admit – I actually said, like, out loud, to a co-worker, “Thank God it’s Friday.”

Which made me think about the now-classic cult film of the same title from 1978,

thank-god-its-friday-donna-summerwhich made me start singing the disco classic from Love & Kisses, Thank God it’s Friday – hear it HERE.  It also reminded me of Donna Summer (goddess!) and how much, probably more than almost any other song, ever – “Last Dance” impacted my life…

IFWT_DonnaSummer-LastDance

To enjoy Last Dance – and watch the seminal scene from the movie that made it famous (at least with straight people, LOL!) – please click HERE. Whenever I hear this song, I smile from ear-to-ear and am a 20-year-old gay boy again.

TGIF! Have a GREAT weekend, everyone!

Falling in Love – Twice

I am a “disco kid.” I grew up during disco’s golden age and was, for about a year and a half, the DJ at Richard’s Nite Club in Mansfield, Ohio, spinning vinyl on two adjustable Teac turntables, using big-ass groovy headphones and a mixing board probably from Radio Shack (Richard’s was a high class joint!)Teac turntable

One of my favorite all-time dance/disco songs is 1977’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Santa Esmerelda – I had a bootleg 12″ extended recording of this song that I put on the turntable whenever I wanted to grab a smoke break. I love this song:

So, imagine my surprise today when – for the first time – I hear legendary jazz artist Nina Simone’s version from like 1964:

I heard one of my favorite songs performed by a legendary artist, the artist for whom the song was supposedly written. The song was still amazing but now entirely different – it was personal and haunting. Here are both versions. Enjoy!

Love Hangover

Do you have songs that take you back in time? Songs that make you remember an event, or a night or place? I heard one of those songs today at work, “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross. (I was listening to the “disco” station at work today, LOL!) I can absolutely remember the first time I heard Love Hangover – I was standing in The Retreat, a little bar that catered to gays and lesbians in Mansfield, Ohio in early spring 1976. The guy had just come and loaded new tunes on the jukebox (I’m not even kidding!) and, as I stood there, enjoying my $2.00 pitcher of 3.2 draft beers with best “girl friends,” the song played…

Diana Rossclick image above to hear “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross

I thought the song was brilliant – and still do. I remember pumping quarter after quarter into that machine, punching in the number over and over and over again. Sadly, The Retreat is long gone, now only an empty parking lot. The friends I enjoyed that song with – Kirk, Donny, Chip, Michael and Harold – are all now gone as well, but every time I hear this tune, I return to the corner of Trimble Road and West Fourth Street, remember them and get “the sweetest hangover.”  Thanks for the memories, Miss Ross.

Look How Far We’ve Come

Last night, my beloved Martin and I enjoyed a post-Valentine’s Day dinner and movie night with our besties, Joe and Scott. After dining on melt-in-your-mouth filet mignons, roasted fingerling potatoes, oven-roasted asparagus, delicious spiral-sliced zucchini and the most mouth-watering, fresh-from-the-oven rosemary sourdough bread ever (Joe and Scott are gourmet cooks – I love them and am intimidated by them at the same time, LOL!), we enjoyed the 1980 gay cult classic, “Can’t Stop the Music,” featuring the Village People. It is a cinematic time capsule and unintentionally shows just how far America’s LGBT community has come since its release:

I remember seeing this film in a theater in Columbus, Ohio in 1980 (on one of the three days it probably survived in theaters!) I can remember sitting in the dark, a reasonably-out-for-the-time 22 year old “gay” and smiling at all the inside jokes in the movie that I was sure only “the gays” would understand, things like –

A male performer (in gold lame hot pants, no less!) twirling two fire batons, the actor credited as “James the Flame” at the end of the movie. James’ one big line in the movie? “James is my name, flaming’s my game.” 

Then there is the goodbye scene between actors Paul Sand and Valerie Perinne, where Perrine’s character leads on/flirts with ex-lover Sand through an extended goodbye that is a string of song titles, the passage ending with Olivia Newton John’s “I Honestly Love You.” So clever…

When complimented on her outfit, character Sydney Channing, owner of THE leading modeling agency in NYC, calls out the designer layers of her apparel as “…Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci” – a clear reference to the lyrics from “He’s The Greatest Dancer” by legendary disco group, Sister Sledge.

And finally, there are the Village People themselves. The G.I. The Construction Worker. The Leatherman. The Cowboy. The Indian. The Police Officer. Iconic gay male stereotypes. I remember thinking they were kinda’ “hot” in 1980. Last night? They looked like bad sitcom caricatures of gay men. I mean, Glenn the Leatherman’s big line in the movie? “Leathermen aren’t supposed to cry.”

We all laughed and guffawed as we watched. The acting is wooden. The plot is stupid. And – speaking of stupid? Did ANYONE in 1980 actually think those six poof-tahs in the Village People could possibly be straight?

villagepeople-1No offense, gents, but looking back at the film now? You look like a bad girl group, prancing around on stage, probably opening for someone like Miley Cyrus.

Listen, I am SO happy that the Village People “blazed the way” (another flaming reference) on the way to LGBT equality. But last night, sitting watching that movie with my legally-wed husband and our best friends that have been partnered for like a zillion years, well, I was reminded how far gays and lesbians have come in my lifetime. And while The G.I. has probably been replaced by The UPS Man, and The Construction Worker has probably been replaced with The Heart Doctor, I acknowledge and thank those men and women who were brave enough in 1980 to make that movie. While we still have a ways to go, we have indeed come a long, L-O-N-G way.

He STILL Makes Me Feel Mighty Real

Depending on your source, yesterday or today was the birthday of Sylvester James, commonly known as Sylvester, one of the first great “personas” of disco. For those unfamiliar with Sylvester, he could best be described as Diana Ross, Thelma Houston and Martha Wash, all rolled into one. For me, as a gay boy coming out in Mansfield, Ohio in the mid/late 70’s, Sylvester epitomized sexual freedom, disco and fabulousity, all in one energetic package.

First at Richard’s Night Club in Mansfield and later – when I had gas money – at clubs like The “K” (Kismet), The Grotto and The Twilight in Columbus, my gay posse and I would bump and bus stop for hours on the weekends, drinking 3.2 beer and feeling oh so glamorous. We would dance to EXTENDED remixes of “Dance (Disco Heat)” till our Huck-a-poo Shirts and Angel Flight elephant bells (no outside seams!) were soaked with sweat.

And I loved it…

Sylvester's Greatest Hits Album Coverclick image above to hear “Dance (Disco Heat)” – 1978

For people that were born AFTER disco, I kinda’ feel sorry for you. In my opinion, no other musical movement has ever been so liberating or joyful, so glamorous or just plain beautiful. We planned our “outfits” days before the weekend arrived. We aspired to be as handsome as John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. The four, six or eight of us – we were a big group – all knew we were going to move to New York and hang out at Studio 54 with Halston and Liza and Warhol. We would be friends with super models – heck, we were already friends with stunning drag queens in Columbus with names like Brandy “Lick Me” Lamont, Tiff Daniels, Misty Blue and Miss Georgia Jackson. Those ladies were “fierce” before the word was even invented; they were “hot” decades before Paris Hilton was even born. And the soundtrack always running in the background – the music that made me feel alive – was always Sylvester. Sylvester’s music fused with my soul. He made me feel “mighty real…”

Sylvester: Mighty RealGreatest Dance Hits album coverclick image above to hear “You Make Me feel (Mighty Real)” – 1978 

Sadly, eventually disco faded. No one from our group moved to NYC. No one met any super models. Most of us went on to have fairly regular lives, although quite a few of us are gone now. And yet, whenever, I hear these songs, I am transported back to the glittery night life of my youth, surrounded by Kirk and Chip and Donnie and Kevin, Scott and Creepy David (long story), Rick and Little Gregg and Harold – and so many others.

Music has always been very special to me, and Sylvester? Thank you for being such a HUGE part of my coming out, and the decades since. I have always believed Heaven looks like a big, olde skool disco – shiny, with glitter balls and smoke machines and beautiful men and women just dancing and feeling free. I hope I don’t see you TOO soon but, when I get to Heaven, I’ll follow the music till I find you so I can finally thank you in person and tell you how much your music has meant to me….

Sylvester Jamesclick image above to read Sylvester’s bio

While the songs above are probably more familiar, please click the mirror ball below to hear Sylvester sing “Stars” from 1979. It is MY favorite Sylvester song – it is an amazing affirmation set to music. “You are a star…” 

Mirror Ball

Grace Jones – The Original

This year, I will turn 55 years old on my birthday. Fifty-five. Five five. I’m sure there will be many more significant posts about that event as it gets closer but I only mention it here now to give a sense of history and perspective as I begin my yammering for today. I guess the reason I find it necessary to discuss my age is that I like to think I have “been around” and “seen some things.” I have a sense for what is real and unique, special and genuine. And, on a really convoluted path, that brings me to female “pop” icons from the last few decades.

You know their names (or at least I hope you know some of them):

Cher. Babs. Celine. Madonna. Janet. LaToya. Christina. Britney. Mariah. J-Lo. X-Tina (same woman, new name). Beyonce. Ke$ha. Lady Gaga.

All pop icons of varying degrees of talent. However, before all these ladies, there was the original. The Goddess. Her name is Grace Jones.

Grace Jones

 

I will admit – I am totally in awe of Grace Jones. I first became infatuated with her as a young gay man in the late 70’s/early 80’s. I mean, there she was – foreign and mysterious and exotic and beautiful in the most unconventional way. Her androgynous presence made her living art to me. That, and the fact that she was partnered with Dolph Lundgren for a time (I seem to recall they were dubbed the “Most Beautiful Couple on the Planet”). She was everything: super chic, a model-singer-actress-celebrity, friends with the likes of Steve Rubell and Andy Warhol.

I mean, She. Was. It. for me…

grace jones gold

 

 

Grace Jones had a fabulous, jet set life, with fabulous friends always doing fabulous “things.” She didn’t wear clothes, she wore art. In fact, when she was out and about, Grace Jones wasn’t wearing art, she WAS art. Her every movement and motion seemed calculated, like she was living in a performance art piece. Even some of her career choices seemed to mimic that notion. I think most people associate Grace Jones with her songs (click on any image to enjoy a Grace Jones tune) but she also appeared in a number of films, some big, some small.

She was super human bad ass May Day in the Bond flick, “A View to a Kill.” In “Conan the Destroyer,” she was Zula opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan. In my favorite Grace Jones movie, “VAMP,” she plays Katrina, Queen of the Vampires. In “VAMP,” Grace Jones commanded the screen while only having about seven lines of dialogue in the entire film. Talk about screen presence…

VAMPI have had the great good fortune to see Grace Jones, live and up close, three times. Thanks to my friend Danyo, I even have her framed autograph from her concert performance at Cleveland night club U4ia probably two decades ago. Sure, the autograph says, “To Hellen, Love Grace Jones” – somehow the phrase “…for my friend, Tim” turned into “To Hellen” in a noisy gay bar – but that autograph means the world to me. In person, even after that concert, Grace Jones seemed otherworldly and magical. It’s like she really isn’t human at all…

GJ Butterfly

Grace-Jones-Photo-smll

So, despite huge stage shows with thirty back-up dancers, fifteen costume changes and blazing pyrotechnics, despite fifty-show worldwide tours and sold-out stadium venues, despite meat dresses and albino boa constrictors, there will NEVER be anyone that compares to Grace Jones for me.

She is unique. She is special. She is the real deal.

She is “The Original.”