CD reviews: Elton and George, gayer than ever … plus Rufus and more!

It’s the old and the new in music this week.

EJ_Std-Sleeve-PS_300dpi_rgb-(3)-smFirst the old: Sir Elton John wasn’t officially out (neither was he a “sir” yet) when he released his two-LP milestone recording Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in 1973. Newly reissued by Mercury/UMe/Rocket in an expanded 40th anniversary deluxe edition, GYBR was the most glam album of his career to that point, a style he would continue to explore on a few more albums. “Glam” didn’t necessarily mean “gay,” but Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was also his gayest album until then. The titular reference aside (we know Elton was a Friend of Dorothy now), EJ heaped on the hints in songs such as the Marilyn Monroe memorial “Candle In The Wind,” as well as “All The Young Girls Love Alice” and the sexual ambiguity of “Bennie and the Jets.”

A source for several hit singles in addition to songs that would become instant classics, GYBR kicked off Elton’s musical reign, which would last throughout the 1970s and ’80s. The deluxe edition includes one remastered disc with all 17 songs from the original. The second disc features nine songs, “highlights” from the December 1973 Hammersmith Odeon concert. The remaining nine songs on the second disc fall under the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Revisited heading. An odd assortment of artists including Fall Out Boy, Emeli Sande, Miguel and The Band Perry, all try their hands at interpreting Sir Elton. Thankfully, someone thought to include John Grant, an openly gay artist, among the performers. As it turns out, his rendition of “Sweet Painted Lady” is the best of the cover versions.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

GIVEAWAY: Elton John’s new book “Love is the Cure”

Earlier this week, singer Elton John released his book Love is the Cure: On Life, Loss and the End of AIDS. In it, John recounts his own life and career during the height of the AIDS crisis and how the death of Ryan White both devastated and charged the singer to take a stand against the epidemic. This led to the creation of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

“This is a disease that must be cured not by a miraculous vaccine, but by changing hearts and minds, and through a collective effort to break down social barriers and to build bridges of compassion. Why are we not doing more? This is a question I have thought deeply about, and wish to answer-and help to change-by writing this book,” John wrote.

We have two copies of Love to giveaway. How do you get one? We want to know what you would ask Elton John if you had five minutes to chat with him? Whether about his career, his advocacy or even his fun feud with Madonna, what would you want to know about the legendary gay icon? Send your questions to me here with “I Want Elton” in the subject line and winners will be selected on Monday. That gives you the whole weekend to think about it.

Good luck!

 

—  Rich Lopez

Super Bowl goes gay with ads, halftime show

The NFL might want to consider changing the name of the Super Bowl to the Faaabulous Bowl. At least if last night’s game was any indicator.

It’s not enough that it featured hunky QBs Tom Brady and Eli Manning (and could have Drew Brees or Tim Tebow), running around in Spandex with other muscle bears. And there was of course Madonna’s mega-gay halftime show with scantily clad gladiators and cross-dressing scruffy guys and Nikki Minaj, who kinda-sorta seems like a drag queen to me. Even the first half recap was set to “Edge of Glory” by Gaga.

No, the real gayness was in the commercials. Watch a few of them below  …

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

A few Oscar oddities

Among the unexpected, bizarre or surprise decisions at this year’s Oscar nominations ceremony:

• Only two songs were nominated — and neither went to Elton John for Gnomeo and Juliet’s ”Hello Hello” or Madonna for W.E.‘s “Masterpiece.” They may be in terrible snits about it.

Undefeated, fortunately not the documentary about Sarah Palin, The Undefeated, was nominated for best doc feature. But I did do a double take.

• The two noms for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close show the power of a marketing campaign. I do love me some Max von Sydow, though.

• Sydow’s supporting actor nom seemed to “steal” the one expected for Albert Brooks in Drive, who was considered a frontrunner. This may lock up the win for Christopher Plummer as the gay dad in Beginners.

• The eye-straining visual effects of Transformers 3 and Real Steel over Captain America and MI: Ghost Protocol? Puh-leez.

Carnage, with high-caliber Oscar written all over it (Roman Polanski, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster) was completely overlooked.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

RCD receives Elton John grant

Money targeted at reaching Latino community is believed to be the first grant from the foundation to a Dallas organization

Ruben-Ramirez

STEPPING UP PREVENTION EFFORTS | Community Health Programs Manager Ruben Ramirez will target the Latino community for HIV prevention funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The Elton John AIDS Foundation has given Resource Center Dallas a $38,000 grant to be used in targeting HIV prevention efforts within the gay Latino community.
Community Health Programs Manager Ruben Ramirez said this week that the money will allow RCD to expand its outreach and testing program to a population that has seen a dramatic rise in infections.

“The grant will be used to expand the activities we do now and give it more visibility, and then to provide a social support group on a monthly basis,” Ramirez said.

When the organization had city funding, the center provided more testing and social support to the Latino community than is currently available, Ramirez said. The increased programming begins next month.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation generally funds innovative programs that are already successful in reducing the spread of HIV. So rather than create something new, Ramirez said the center will use the money to enhance the outreach that’s already working.

In other target groups, RCD has followed up testing with support groups and social networking that has reinforced the safer-sex and prevention message.

Ramirez said that within the Latino community, he has heard quite a bit of misinformation.

“We’re still seeing the old myths from way back when about how people get HIV,” Ramirez said, adding that he had recently spoken to someone who thought he could get HIV from sipping from the same glass as someone who was positive.

“I was astounded,” he said.

Ramirez said that although information is readily available, language and immigration barriers stand in the way of some people learning about HIV.

“And some folks just bypass the sea of information of HIV information that is out there,” he added.

In addition, those with information don’t necessarily access testing. Ramirez said RCD will collaborate with area bars to provide testing as well as with other groups.

“We’ve worked very well with AIDS Interfaith Network in the past, and the gay LULAC group,” he said.

Ramirez said plans for implementing the grant, which appears to be the first the Elton John AIDS Foundation has made to a Dallas organization and is the largest the foundation has given to an agency in Texas, are still under way.

In 2010, EJAF gave OutYouth Austin $25,000 for its HIV prevention program that included testing that targets those ages 14 to 20.
Metropolitan Community Church of Abilene received $25,000 in 2008 for its drug intervention program for people who are HIV-positive.

EJAF was established in 1992 by the singer and is based in London. John’s husband, David Furnish, is chairman of the foundation.

EJAF supports programs that aim to reduce the incidence of HIV as well as end the discrimination and stigma associated with the disease. Other grants fund direct care for people living with HIV.

Ramirez said that RCD was particularly honored to receive this grant because it was competing with other organizations around the world to get the funds.
The EJAF has raised more than $225 million and funded projects in 55 countries since its founding.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Spin magazine posts special report on homophobia in indie rock

Leisha Hailey cried 'homophobia' when she was booted off a Southwestern flight. Other LGBT musicians have endured many different types of attacks while moving forward with their art.

Following the Leisha Hailey/Southwest Airlines incident, Spin magazine’s Rich Juzwiak wrote this piece on homopobia toward LGBT musicians, mostly independent ones. The article wasn’t just sparked by the plane episode (by the way, have you seen this?), but also by the bashing incident against Violent Lovers band members Brontez Purnell and Adal Castellon at Club Paradiso in Oakland in August and a few other accounts of out musicians suffering literally for their art.

The piece is compelling with perspectives by the likes of Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, Hunx and his Punx’s Seth Bogart and MEN’s JD Samson, all who have graced our pages or blog as well. While it may not answer questions or find solutions to homophobic tendencies in the industry, it does paint a picture of what smaller queer bands have to endure just to play music. From SPIN: ‘

Purnell, Hailey, and Grey are far from the first gay artists to encounter serious resistance as a result of their sexuality, of course. In fact, if you ask most out musicians about their experiences with homophobia, you’ll hear a story that will break your heart. I did, at least, when collecting anecdotes for this piece. Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt was pelted with bottles, rocks, and slurs outside a club in Philadelphia in the 1990s. Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart was called a “fag” and had lit cigarettes thrown at him onstage in 2003 in Austin, Texas. After Holly Miranda recently played her song “Pelican Rapids,” about Proposition 8, the 2008 California amendment restricting marriage as only between a man and a woman, she was confronted by a “big, burly door guy” who said that “if I got with him, he would make me do a 360,” says the singer-songwriter. “I was like, ‘I think you mean a 180. You’re more right than you know.’”

I would love to have heard input by the somewhat elder statesmen of LGBT music like Melissa Etheridge or Elton John. Does the homophobia go away once your big or is it just easier to shield away from with awards and gazillions of dollars.

Be sure and check it out.

 

—  Rich Lopez

‘Born This Way’ truly is an LGBT anthem

No matter what machinations may be hiding in the background, the message shines through in the new song from Lady Gaga

RAFAEL MCDONNELL | Special Contributor

Last Friday, Feb. 11, as I drove into work, I listened to Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” on the music player built into my cell phone. I mention that because I’ve never been the most technically-proficient person. In fact, among my friends and family, I’m known as a “late adopter” of technology.

Yet, I daresay that I likely wasn’t the only person to listen to the song that way, that day.

You couldn’t go anywhere last weekend without bumping into “Born This Way.” From restaurants, clubs and shops to radio, TV and the Grammy Awards, the song was everywhere. According to Billboard magazine, “Born This Way” was downloaded nearly 450,000 times between that Friday and Sunday, Feb. 13 — setting a record for a female artist.

The song also debuted at number one on the “Billboard Hot 100” this week. Only 19 songs have done that since 1958, including those by Elton John, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Aerosmith.

But before this column turns into a Casey Kasem imitation, let me say I’m mentioning these statistics for a reason.

It’s not important if “Born This Way” sounds like a song Madonna released in the late 1980s. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Lady Gaga or not. It also doesn’t matter why she recorded the song — whether it is a paean to her LGBT fans or merely a cynical marketing ploy to sell a product.

The rapid pervasiveness of “Born This Way,” much as the “It Gets Better” videos did last fall, has the potential to spread discussions of LGBT issues far from Oak Lawn, Greenwich Village or West Hollywood. It transcends borders of geography, race, class, social status and history. How could it not, with lyrics like “No matter gay, straight, or bi/ Lesbian, transgendered life/ I’m on the right track, baby/ I was born to survive”?

Think of it for a moment. A kid in rural America, miles away from a traditional LGBT community, might be questioning her sexual orientation or gender identity. That kid may not have an understanding family or easy access to supportive resources. But if she has an Internet connection, or a digital music player, or even (gasp!) a CD player or radio, she will hear a message affirming her individuality played either on demand or seemingly every 90 minutes.

Saying the specific words of support and affirmation towards the LGBT community are what matters. Who cares if Lady Gaga emerged from an egg while doing it?

Let’s look at it from another perspective.

The field of semiotics is the study of communication through signs and symbols. Those who study semiotics believe that all cultural phenomena can be studied as a form of communication. Since bursting onto the musical scene, Lady Gaga is undoubtedly a cultural phenomenon. But, what’s the message being sent, and what’s being received?

To me, the message is a simple one.

From her concerts to her activism supporting the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Lady Gaga has reiterated a clear and consistent message of support for the LGBT community, whether she’s wearing a meat dress or a bra shooting sparks.

With the debut of “Born This Way,” she has cranked that message to maximum volume via multi-channel distribution. Its permeative nature will undoubtedly shape conversations from Dallas to Dime Box and beyond, and it has the potential to open minds and change hearts. If it does that, it’s a success.

Yes, there have been other songs offering support and understanding to the LGBT community. For example, I remember hearing Erasure’s “Hideaway” in the late 1980s. But at the time, that song was never released as a single and it never garnered much radio airplay.

Other pop songs, from “Over the Rainbow” to “I Will Survive” to “It’s Raining Men” have been adopted as anthems for the LGBT community — even though they weren’t directly written for us.

Add to that the technological changes that allow stories, music and art to go viral. The phone on which I listened to “Born This Way” can also play the YouTube video of the Grammy Awards performance, and upload comments and links to Facebook and Twitter. All of this serves to amplify the message behind the music.

That’s what makes “Born This Way” different. Lady Gaga is in your face with a specific message that all people — not just the LGBT community — should, as the song says, “rejoice and love yourself today,” and it’s being communicated on an unfathomable scale.

It also doesn’t hurt that it has a good beat and you can dance to it.

Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager at Resource Center Dallas. E-mail him at rmcdonnell@rcdallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Cop resigns over anti-gay posts; gay spider monkeys to get Valentine’s Day treat

Elton and David, gay spider monkeys

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A sheriff’s lieutenant in Colorado has resigned after he was caught posting racist and anti-gay comments on news websites using his work computer. For example, here’s what Lt. Jeff Engor of the Douglas County sheriff’s department wrote below a story about the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” in December: “New miltary [sic] slogans: The few, the queer, the Marines! Butt Rangers lead the way! Be as gay as you can be! Aim for a high hard one, Air Force! Join the Navy, see naked men!” There’s no word on whether Engor was simultaneously crusing Manhunt on the same computer.

2. A zoo in the UK is preparing a special Valentine’s Day treat for two gay spider monkeys. The monkeys, who share an enclosure, have been a couple since last March and have since been renamed Elton and David, after Elton John and his partner. For their first Valentine’s Day together, the zoo has announced that it will be giving the monkeys a romantic meal of fruit and nuts. Wow, talk about a brilliant marketing scheme. No one had even heard of these monkeys before!

3. As we noted below, our new so-called anthem, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” was released this morning. But seriously, and we don’t mean to sound like haters here, but if it’s really a gay anthem, why is Gaga partnering for the release with Target?

—  John Wright

Elton John: Most annoying out performer

Elton John

Am I the only one who finds Elton John getting more and more annoying by the day?

First of all — and maybe this is more of an argument with American media than with John — why do I see him referred to as “Sir” Elton so often? I thought we fought a war against the tyranny of a monarchy and as Americans we do not recognize the inequality of those silly titles. The Queen is nothing more than the world’s wealthiest welfare recipient. I do not recognize nobility and I’m won’t call anyone by a title of inequality.

But here’s my real beef:

Two years ago, John was criticizing the LGBT community for pushing for marriage equality rather than civil unions in the Prop 8 debate. Now he’s complaining he can’t get married.

—  David Taffet

Queer Music News: Melissa Etheridge does Broadway; Elton John shows off new baby

Billboard reports that Melissa Etheridge will step into Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong’s role in the Broadway rock musical American Idiot. The show is based on the band’s landmark album. Armstrong agreed to do the show himself for a run of 50 dates in spurts, but is now taking a small break:

Etheridge, best known for her song “Come to My Window,” will play drug dealer “St. Jimmy” from Feb. 1 to Feb. 6. Armstrong, the composer and co-author of the musical, returns Feb. 10.

The high-octane show follows three working-class characters as they wrestle with modern life. One joins the Army, one becomes a father and one descends into a drug-fueled life – thanks to St. Jimmy.

Says director Michael Mayer: “This character is seductive, thrilling and dangerous. Melissa Etheridge is all that and so much more.”

Elton John and David Furnish grace the cover of Us Weekly showing off their new family pictures. Ain’t that cute?

On the cover of the new issue out Wednesday (Jan. 19), John and Furnish are photographed with their new bundle of joy, Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John.

“I’ve never felt anything like it in my life,” says John of holding his son for the first time. “You’re so awestruck. What can you say? You take it in. The feeling, the joy, the warmth of his body, his breathing … I will never forget that experience ever.”

—  Rich Lopez