Silver foxes

Over a quarter-century, Erasure has grown from pop wunderkinds to senior statesmen

A LOTTA RESPECT º Andy Bell, left, and Vince Clarke of Erasure have earned their places as music legends and queer icons, but look forward with a refreshed sound and tour that hits Dallas on Sunday.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

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ERASURE
With Frankmusik.
House of Blues, 2301 Flora St. Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. $39–$65.
Sold out. Ticketmaster.com

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There is an almost jaw-dropping effect to the idea that it has been 25 years since the world first heard of Erasure. Andy Bell’s distinctly boyish voice was theatrical with the heartbreak and optimism of youth. Vince Clarke joined Bell as a veteran of Yaz and Depeche Mode, but with Erasure came a sense of ebullience those bands never possessed. Bell and Clarke might be pop music’s most perfect marriage.

As music icons, they have actually relinquished control of their upcoming album, Tomorrow’s World, which drops in October. Interestingly, soon after the group marks its 25th year with its 14th studio album, its producer, Frankmusik, will celebrate his 26th birthday.

“It turns out his mum was a huge fan of ours,” Bell laughs.

Being a contemporary of your producer’s parents is the least of Erasure’s concerns. Bringing Frankmusik on board is both a blur and a blessing to Bell. As a producer, he has worked with everyone from Lady Gaga to Erasure contemporaries Pet Shop Boys, and brings a freshness to Tomorrow’s World that hasn’t been heard in the last decade. Still, the sound is distinctly them.

“Nobody knows quite how it happened, but we had this instinctive feeling about him,” Bell says. “He was championed by our more fanatical fans and they made a really good choice. I don’t know how those straight boys can do it but he’s embraced that synth genre and loves that metrosexual culture.”

When Frankmusik was asked if he was intimidated by working on this album, his appreciation of Erasure is fully relayed.

“No, no. It felt like my calling, it really did. I felt like I needed to make that album — for me and for them,” he told QSyndicate earlier this month.

Both acts are on the road touring together, as if Erasure is somehow passing the pop torch. No need to call this a farewell tour, though: Bell doesn’t feel like they are going away anytime soon.

“You don’t take it for granted at all,” he says. “We’re almost halfway through the American tour, but we are looking forward to the end of this tour, but at the same time we’re loving it. It’s been great fun. It’s a lovely thing to have a great job.”

Erasure has released many gems over the years that have also become signature hits. “Oh L’Amour,” “A Little Respect” and “Chains of Love” are just a sampling of their mark on the industry. But among that huge foundation of songs are some Bell wishes had become bigger hits.

“Sure, you get disappointed when certain ones aren’t played on the radio, but you can’t have that all the time,” he says. “I loved ‘You Surround Me’ and ‘Rock Me Gently’ a lot. Unless we feel strongly about something, then the label chooses. At some point, we have to realize its true worth.”

Erasure comes to the House of Blues Sept. 25 to an already-sold-out venue. Clearly they have not lost their drawing power. Bell says Dallas has always been good to the band despite some of the not-so-approving denizens Texas is sometimes known for.

“We love playing there because we’re have this really great fan base in Dallas and it’s continued over the years,” he says. “I do get fed up with these ‘pray away the gay’ folks who wage warfare on young people. Those closet cases always have their hidden agendas and just take it out on other people.”

After 25 years, it would appear Bell still retains his sass, only now it’s more like a guided missile.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Latin flair

comedy
MUY FUNNY | Dan Guerrero works for laughs while being gay and Latino in his one-man show.

Before he could write ‘¡Gaytino!,’ Dan Guerrero first had to find his roots

rich lopez  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Growing up gay and Latino can be a tough hand to play. In a culture that revels in religion and machismo — hell, the word “machismo” is Latino — coming out poses pitfalls.

But Dan Guerrero lucked out. With some artsy upbringing by a musician dad and a not-so-practicing Catholic background, Guerrero’s closet was easy to open. In fact, it was harder for him just to be Hispanic.

“Los Angeles never made me feel like I was good enough,” he says. “I fell in love with musicals in junior high. I wanted to hear Julie Andrews in Camelot! Who gives a rat’s ass about mariachi?”

His dad might have given one. He was famed musician Lala Guerrero, the father of Chicano music who popularized the Pachuco sound in the 1940s (the beats most associated with Zoot suits and swing dancing). While Guerrero appreciated his father’s legacy, he established his own identity by moving to New York to become an actor. That didn’t work out so much, but becoming an agent did.

“It was kind of by accident, but I ended up being an agent for 15 years,” he says. “I got into producing and I loved it.”

Although he stepped away from performing, Guerrero finds himself back onstage Friday and Saturday at the Latino Cultural Center with ¡Gaytino! The autobiographical one-man show is part comedy, part cabaret, with Guerrero recounting in lyrics and punch lines his experiences growing up gay and Latino, life with father … and having to rediscover his roots after moving back to L.A.

“The main reason I did the show is, I wanted to know more about my dad and my best friend. I was already fabulous,” he laughs. “So I don’t think of this as my story. I wanted to embrace his legacy and celebrate him and our lives, but also tell of being a born-again Hispanic.”

In L.A., Guerrero rediscovered his heritage. While still working in entertainment, he noticed a lack of Latinos behind the scenes. He started a column in Dramalogue to change that, interviewing actors like Jimmy Smits and Salma Hayek and producing shows that spoke to Latin audiences.

And then came ¡Gaytino!

“Well, the word itself hit me first so I trademarked it. Then it was madness as I set about writing it,” he says.

When the show debuted in 2005, Guerrero hadn’t performed in 35 years. He was a different man, no longer a young buck with nothing to lose and untarnished optimism. He was a behind-the-scenes producer and casting agent. He was — gasp! — older.

“I remember thinking, ‘What am I gonna do? What if I forget my lines?’ I’m an old codger,” he says. “But I got onstage and it was like I had did it the day before. Performing is just part of who I am.”

With his successful day job (he once repped a young Sarah Jessica Parker), a healthy relationship (32 years this November) and irons in many other fires, why bother with the daunting task of writing a show and carrying it alone?

“It still feels like I’m breaking into show business. At least when you’ve been around as long as I have, you can get the main cheese by phone,” he answers. “But really, I had something I wanted to say and I love doing it. I’ve been lucky to stay in the game this long but it’s not by accident; it’s all been by design.”

What he loves isn’t just doing his show, but how it pushes positive gay Latino images. He’s dedicated this chapter in his life to that. Guerrero now feels parental toward the younger generation — maybe because he has no children of his own.

“I do feel a responsibility and not just to younger people, but to all,” he says. “For ¡Gaytino!, I first want them entertained, but I hope audiences will leave more educated about some Chicano culture and history and Gaytino history.”

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QUEER CLIP: ‘BEGINNERS’

screen

 

Beginners is such a dreadfully forgettable and generic title for what is the year’s most engaging and heartfelt comedy, you feel like boycotting a review until the distributor gives it a title it deserves.

Certainly the movie itself — a quirky, humane and fantastical reverie about the nature of love and family, with Ewan McGregor as a doleful graphic artist who, six months after his mother dies, learns his 75-year-old dad (Christopher Plummer) is gay and wants to date — charts its own course (defiantly, respectfully, beautifully), navigating the minefield of relationships from lovers to parent/child with simple emotions. It’s not a movie that would presume to answer the Big Questions (when do you know you’ve met the right one? And if they aren’t, how much does that matter anyway?); it’s comfortable observing that we’re all in the same boat, and doing our best is good enough.

McGregor’s placid befuddlement over how he should react to things around him — both his father’s coming out and a flighty but delightful French actress (Melanie Laurent) who tries to pull him out of his shell — is one of the most understated and soulful performances of his career. (His relationship with Arthur, his father’s quasi-psychic Jack Russell, is winsome and winning without veering into Turner & Hooch idiocy.) But Plummer owns the film.

Plummer, best known for his blustery, villainous characters (even the heroic ones, like Capt. Von Trapp and Mike Wallace), exudes an aura of wonder and discovery as the septuagenarian with the hot younger boyfriend (Goran Visnjic, both exasperating as cuddly). As he learns about house music at a time when his contemporaries crave Lawrence Welk, you’re wowed by how the performance seethes with the lifeforce of someone coming out and into his own. His energy is almost shaming.

Writer/director Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical film suffers only being underlit and over too quickly. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to spend more time with these folks.

—Arnold Wayne Jones

Rating: Four and half stars
Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Bouncin’ wit’ it

When Big Freedia sissy bounces, everybody listens

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

MAN ENOUGH Big Freedia brings a whole lotta shakin’ to The Loft Saturday.

BIG FREEDIA
with Rusty Lazer. The Loft,
1135 S. Lamar St.. Dec. 4. at
7:30 p.m. $12–$14.
GilleysDallas.com.

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Sissy bounce. The two words either say it all — or say it all wrong.

But Big Freedia says it’s just a party to him. Relying on heavy samples and jagged dance beats, the sound is having a resurgence just as its home, New Orleans, is, too. And for Freedia, right now is the time for the world to get onboard. The gay performer plans to show Dallas on Saturday just how New Orleans gets down.

“At the end of the day it’s all bounce music,” he says. “That category just separates us from other rappers, but I’m totally fine with it.”

“Bounce music” has its roots in Southern rap and is characterized by party beats, sexualized chants and call-outs. Add a queer slant to it and it becomes “sissy bounce.” Outside its Deep South roots, sissy bounce takes on a more underground flavor.

And people are taking notice. Articles have been appearing more in recent years featuring Freedia and his gay bounce contemporaries, Katey Red and Sissy Nobby. But the music and musicians may have gotten their most rewarding exposure when Jonathan Dee’s impressive piece in the New York Times, “New Orleans’ gender-bending rap,” came out this summer. When the Times takes notice, people follow.

“It’s not a new thing going on, just right now,” Freedia says. “The music has been around for 20 years, but it’s new for a lot of people all around. There’s a boom and I’m just excited to be one of those artists.”

Out musicians across genres are having a noticeable emergence in music. Beyond mainstream Ricky Martins and Melissa Etheridges, indie rock, neo-folk and pop are genres bursting with their share of LGBT musicians contributing to the musical fabric; gay rappers Drew Mason and Yo! Majesty take on hip-hop to tell their stories in a genre that’s notoriously homophobic. But sissy bounce takes the gay perspective to different levels. The brash aggressiveness of it could be a declarative statement of Pride, but could it also perpetuate stereotypes?

“Bounce music is up-tempo with a heavy bass. It’s party music that’s all about ass-shaking and pussy-popping,” Freedia says.

Note that last part — sissy bounce is highly charged with lyrics on defiant sex and partying. Sometimes this is an image gay men can’t escape. As the profile of sissy bounce grows, it’s easy to ask if mainstream coverage will focus on the actual brilliance of the music as a whole or merely pinpoint lyrics that will be used as a tool against LGBT communities.

Sissy bounce might suffer from “parade syndrome,” where all mainstream media shows are scantily clad dancers and high-heeled drag queens rather than paint a complete picture. and rebuilding both his career and his home, Freedia is on the verge of bigger things and any publicity is good exposure. Besides, he’s got a positive message underneath all that rapping about “Azz Everywhere” and “Gin in my System.”

“My mission is to put bounce music all over the world and teach my culture about growing up with struggles. I firmly stand and believe on encouraging peers and my younger generation. If you believe in anything and move forward, good things can happen. That’s my message — especially in the gay world.”

Non-gay listeners can take heed as well. Freedia’s music has resulted in mixed crowds at his shows. This excites him as a gay performer to break boundaries.

“It don’t matter who it is. [Audiences are] loving what I’m singing and feeling it,” he says. “When I perform, my intention is all about bringing it and making people have a good time. Some people don’t know exactly how to accept it at first, but by the end, it’s a real party.”

Which sounds like a reasonable approach to the music itself for the uninitiated.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens