Blurred lines? As if.

Going through and doing my (now, apparently) annual update of this blog.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies and consent lately and stumbled across an old post I wrote on my Tumblr blog back in March, after a friend mentioned the name of a man who attacked me in 2004.

HE RAPED ME

Yeah, some nights end with that being blurted out in a bar.

I stunned myself and wanted to crawl under the bed. That bed.

It’s not a question of forgiveness, it’s a desire to forget.

This is not a poem and the answer is “no.”

Coming up on a decade having passed since the assault, I still think about it a lot. It used to be once a day and now it’s multiple times. It doesn’t help when popular music is spreading the message that “NO” draws a blurred line.

Fuck you and your “blurred lines” in your summer jam attempt,Robin Thicke.

2011 in music: Favorite albums and live shows

It’s now (beyond) time for my annual listing of favorite music from the previous year. Though countless others have taken on the task of somewhat arbitrarily ranking their favorite songs from the previous year, I still deeply enjoy the challenge of acknowledging full albums worth of work that were truly excellent (in my mind). Sure, it’s a probably dying art, but to me, it’s more difficult to achieve. Especially now.

And I also enjoy the diary-like aspect of the annual challenge, cataloging each year some of my favorite jams. This will mark the fourth year I’ve ranked my top albums in some fashion or another and it’s a tradition I plan to stick to.

These are the 26 albums that made me stop for a moment. To listen to more than simply one catchy track amidst a mix on shuffle. That either made me picture a different reality or conjure my own in a way that probably wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. I’ve chosen a track from each to comprise two 8tracks mixes: Part one (#26-14) here, part two (#13-1) here. And without further ado:

  1. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
  2. Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams
  3. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
  4. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  5. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
  6. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints
  7. Destroyer – Kaputt
  8. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
  9. The Weeknd – Echoes of Silence
  10. Iceage – New Brigade
  11. The Roots – Undun
  12. Beyonce – 4
  13. Pictureplane – Thee Physical
  14. Yuck – Yuck
  15. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
  16. Zola Jesus – Conatus
  17. The Kills – Blood Pressures
  18. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Belong
  19. Shannon and the Clams – Sleep Talk
  20. Rihanna – Talk That Talk
  21. Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years
  22. Neon Indian – Era Extrana
  23. Le Butcherettes – Sin Sin Sin
  24. Black Lips – Arabia Mountain
  25. Battles - Gloss Drop
  26. Planningtorock – W
In terms of live music, several experiences in 2011 will stand out in my memory for some time to come — below are very scattered notes on the stand-out concerts I was able to see this year:
  • Portishead at the Aragon — heavenly, divine, there are no words — I honestly never thought I’d have the opportunity to see Beth Gibbons live and the experience lived up to my wildly high expectations
  • Twin Shadow at Lincoln Hall — George Lewis = the next coming of Prince? almost
  • Lollapalooza — so, so, so much: Bright Eyes, Le Butcherettes, Titus Andronicus, Beirut, Deftones, Lia Ices, Phantogram, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, watching Elijah Wood DJ
  • EMA at Empty Bottle and Pitchfork — she is a force
  • The Kills at the Vic with Cold Cave opening — a sweaty, gothy night
  • Shannon and the Clams at Empty Bottle — another tremendous force
  • Pitchfork — No Age, OFF!, Deerhunter, HEALTH
  • Leslie Hall at Subterranean — perfect as always

Here’s to 2012!

A beardy challenge

I love November.

First, there’s the change of season — often as harsh as it is lovely and unpredictable. And there’s also my birthday, which arrives on the 3rd of the month.

But, in recent years I’ve also come to love the trend of “No Shave November” mustache and/or beard campaigns. As a not-particularly-athletic person who admires the many individuals who run marathons to raise money for various organizations and groups, I think it’s important to have another sort of venture that individuals can coalesce around for a good cause.

And frankly, there are some of us for whom facial hair growth is a unique talent. Sort of like calligraphy or crafting gem sweaters.

So, this year, I’ve decided to take up a “No Shave November” challenge of my own. After starting the month with an already-pretty-unruly beard, I’ve pledged to donate $5 (or the price of a really fancy cup of coffee) to the Greater Chicago Food Depository for every day I can manage to resist the urge to trim this baby down.

I will be documenting my progress both here and on my Tumblr blog.

Beardiness as of Nov. 7. Seven days in. $5 a day to the GCFD. $35 pledged thus far.

So, why a food bank rather than any other cause? A study released earlier this year estimated that just over 20 percent of Chicagoans struggle with food insecurity, meaning that are unsure where their next meal will come from or how they will pay for it. They go to sleep hungry. In some parts of this highly racially and economically segregated city, that number is as high as 40 percent. As a result, groups like the GCFD have been overwhelmed with record-high demand at a time when their support at the federal, state and individual donor levels is declining. I feel like this is an overlooked issue that could only get worse with the current state of things. I wanted to do something about it.

If you feel so inspired, I urge you to consider making a contribution of your own to the GCFD or perhaps another food bank or group working to fight food insecurity. You can even donate a certain amount for each day my beard continues to grow. If I make it the entire month and you donate 50 cents for each day I grizzle it out, that means $15 for the food bank.

Here’s hoping we can all help some folks out this month. Please let me know if you decide to join in on my little experiment, so I can give you some much-deserved props. Thanks for your support.

Playing favorites, or resisting “best of”: 2010 edition

Every December, a personal dilemma arrives: The “best of 2010″ music list. To make one or not? Such lists often feel stifling, sometimes bullying, and I don’t particularly feel justified in claiming the decidedly dubious title of “tastemaker.” Last year, I chose to, instead, create a mix honoring some of my favorite musical discoveries of 2009 and did not make my personal list public. This year, instead, I created a series of 8tracks mixes to accompany a brief essay here on the blog (while I still reserve the right to devote a blog to my favorite discoveries of ’10, too!) While this still feels weirdly preachy, I welcome you to indulge my selections for what they’re worth (not much!) and possibly even discover something you may have never heard before — the best part of being a music junkie, in my book.

My personal favorite albums of 2010:

1. Titus Andronicus – The Monitorlisten to the top 10
2. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
3. Twin Shadow – Forget
4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
5. Jonsi – Go
6. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
7. Male Bonding – Nothing Hurts
8. Owen Pallett – Heartland
9. Glasser – Ring
10. Marnie Stern – s/t
11. Local Natives – Gorilla Manorlisten to #11-21
12. Lower Dens – Twin-Hand Movement
13. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
14. Robyn – Body Talk
15. Wild Nothing – Gemini
16. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
17. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
18. The National – High Violet
19. Menomena – Mines
20. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – I Learned the Hard Way
21. Dessa – A Badly Broken Code
22. Sharon Van Etten – Epiclisten to the rest
23. Matthew Dear – Black City
24. Beach Fossils – s/t
25. Diamond Rings – Special Affections
26. Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
27. No Age – Everything In Between
28. Foals – Total Life Forever
29. S. Carey – All We Grow
**Girls – Broken Dreams Club
**Active Child – Curtis Lane
**Generationals – Trust

Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus

Honorable mentions: Salem – King Night, Warpaint – The Fool, PS I Love You – Meet Me at the Muster Station, Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), Eternal Summers – Silver

2010 was a great year for music, and as such, I must add one important caveat to this list: I was fortunate enough to see several of the acts listed below live in concert and those experiences surely colored my enjoyment of their recorded material ever since. LCD Soundsystem and Titus Andronicus at Pitchfork, Twin Shadow at Schubas, Jonsi at the Vic, Local Natives at the Metro and Owen Pallett at Lincoln Hall were all fan-freaking-tastic (if not brilliant, in the case of some) live shows that really spoke truth to the power of each of their albums released this year. On the flip side, I didn’t so much jive with either Sleigh Bells’ or Best Coast’s sets at Pitchfork this summer, and it soured me on their albums. I have a feeling that, were my economic situation different, had I seen a few of the other acts on this list in concert – namely Janelle Monae, Joanna Newsom and Sufjan Stevens – they likely would have been higher, but such is life.

Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom

What I really loved about albums like Titus, Jonsi and LCD’s releases were that they were able to take huge, grandiose things — in the case of Titus and LCD, some pretty epic songs; with Titus, a nerdy historical concept; with Jonsi, some pretty epic instrumentation — and made it work. They made it near-perfection, in my mind. Other albums – like Joanna’s and Sufjan’s – also had lofty ambitions and have some really glimmering moments, but on the whole, I think both suffered from their lack of editing.

Jonsi

The opposite extreme of the spectrum: Somewhat simple, often brief music, also really stood out to me this year. The Lower Dens’ debut album, as well as Carey and Van Etten’s, provided us with a much-needed break from the grandiose. Their voices are endearingly raw at times and it all adds up to so much more than the sum of each song’s parts.

All of these albums helped me through the difficult times this year and if you haven’t heard any of the above artists before, I’d highly recommend you check out the mixes and if you like what you hear, head out and buy their album, see their show the next time they’re in town and tell your friends about what you’re listening to. I highly doubt you’ll regret it.

Election redux

It’s undeniable that many of the developments from this Tuesday’s election were disappointing to Democrats and progressive folk around the country. But I must admit that I had to pause this time before announcing another (mostly empty) threat to leave the country entirely, now that I – once again – live in one dark blue county surrounded by a sea of red.* That’s right – put the whiskey down, my friend: Contrary to the mainstream media narrative comparing the GOP takeover of the House and theoretical shutting down of political productivity in Washington to a tsunami, I think there are a few positives to take from Tuesday’s election results.

Farewell, Senator Feingold.

To be sure, the disappointments are there too, and there are many. Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, known best as the lone dissenting voice against the Patriot Act, was blown out of the water by his heavily-financed-by-out-of-state-$$$ Republican competitor Ron Johnson in my home state. Vehemently anti-war and a friend to the LGBT and immigrant communities, Feingold was a unique politician who truly voted with both his heart and mind — not always with his party. He will be missed dearly.

In Iowa, out-of-state, anti-gay dollars to the estimated tune of at least $600,000 squelched any hope of three state Supreme Court judges there to retain their jobs, collapsing under the weight of a far-reaching campaign to oust them following their affirmation of same-sex marriage in 2008. Brian Brown, leader of the National Organization for Marriage, one of the anti-gay organizations that bankrolled the campaign against the judges, is touting their successful campaign as “sending a powerful message to any judge who thinks they can impose gay marriage by judicial fiat against the wishes of the people.” NOM spent, all told, $7 million on this and other races in the name of “protecting marriage,” rendering mixed results but solidifying its status as the leading, most well-funded anti-gay group in the country.

Another important, mostly under-the-radar development is the likely death of net neutrality — a principle that blocks Internet service providers and governments from having too much influence on the Internet as we see it or creating tiers of “premium” access at different price points. Out-of-state funding here contributed to every single one of the 95 House Democrats who stood against net neutrality losing their races. Al Franken has called this the “First Amendment issue of our time” and, given Tuesday’s results, that may not turn out to be too broad of a hyperbole.

It was further saddening to see Penn. Congressman Patrick Murphy lose his race to Mike Fitzpatrick. Murphy was one of the leading voices in the House for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and was growing into a strong ally for LGBT people there on any number of issues. The fact that Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann earned over 50 percent of the popular vote statewide for the first time in her re-election is also somewhat troubling. Bachmann has consistently described gay people as having “sexual identity disorders” among any number of troubling positions on a number of social and economic issues. She stands a good shot at becoming the GOP’s Conference Chair.

But there is a glimmer of good news for LGBT activists. For the most part, candidates who campaigned on a fringe perspective, embracing anti-gay rhetoric to be used toward our communities and families, lost. And they did so from coast to coast: Senatorial candidates Ken Buck in Colorado, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Joe Miller in Alaska and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. Gubernatorial candidates Carl Paladino and Bill Brady in California and Illinois. I repeat: They all lost.. except for South Carolina’s Senator Jim DeMint, who has said that openly gay and sexually active, unmarried straight teachers should be barred from teaching children.

No dice this time, Miss Angle.

Perhaps now more than ever, public homophobia has become a political liability, unless you live in South Carolina apparently. But that’s not to say that politicians (both parties included here) are going to march, lock in step, toward endorsing equality for LGBT Americans or any other minority group. It seems just as likely that while public disgust with gay people may wane, that bigotry may continue its shift toward open racism against Muslim Americans and immigrant communities. And chances of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or comprehensive immigration reform passing during the lame-duck Senate session appear incredibly slim.

As of earlier this year, a higher percentage of Americans reported having negative feelings toward Muslims than reported opposing same-sex marriage. And while many politicians who utilized anti-Muslim rhetoric during their campaigns lost their elections – including Angle and Paladino who, notably, were also mentioned two paragraphs above – in Oklahoma, a ballot initiative successfully barred judges from “considering Islamic or international law when making a ruling.”

Indeed, bigotry remains alive and well and it would appear that any checks of the growing corporate influence on our politics, culture and lives will continue to be difficult to come by. It’s funny, over the course of this column those glimmers of “good news” have lost some of their sparkle so.. take that for what you will.

I’ll leave you with a song that feels appropriate as a lullaby to progressives everywhere today: Metric’s Emily Haines’ Winning.

*If you don’t already know, I attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, based in Dane County, one of only a handful of counties that did not vote to elect former president Bush to his second term in 2004, which marked my first time voting in a presidential race.

Films to see at Reeling ’10

Today, the twenty-ninth annual Reeling Film Festival opens here in Chicago with a lineup of extraordinary queer-centric features, documentaries and shorts. As the second longest-running LGBT film festival in the nation, Reeling has earned a unique status not only as a cultural institution among Chicago’s queer communities, but also among LGBT film festivals worldwide.

I wrote a feature for EDGE last week profiling Andy Blubaugh, the director of just one of the films playing the festival this year, The Adults in the Room. Blubaugh, who lives in Portland, Ore., takes a somewhat unusual approach to his filmmaking, using his own life experiences as a lens through which to view various social phenomena. In this, his first feature, Blubaugh references his experience as a 15-year-old engaging in a romantic relationship which a closeted man nearly twice his age, juxtaposing this narrative both with his own filmmaking process and the controversy surrounding Portland mayor Sam Adams’ relationship with a 17-year-old Beau Breedlove. The film deals with a potentially squeamish subject with a fresh perspective — one that makes it stand out from a lot of other queer cinema.

The Adults in the Room

“It was never my intent to be a ‘gay filmmaker,’ which is not to say that I don’t appreciate the support I’ve gotten from the queer filmmaking community and festivals I’ve been lucky enough to screen at, but I never considered that to be my home. I just make personal films and happen to be gay,” Blubaugh said.

This film, playing the festival Monday, November 8, at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema at 7:30 p.m., is just one of many gems playing the festival. Given the phenomenal contribution Reeling makes to this city’s dialogue on LGBT issues, I wanted to take a moment to spotlight five of its other offerings that would probably be worth your time to check out:

Gen Silent (Saturday, 11/6, 12 p.m.) – A Stu Maddux-directed documentary on the difficulties facing the aging LGBT population, a group that fought so hard to climb out of the closet only to be forced back in the winter of their lives.

JoJo Baby (Saturday, 11/6, 5 p.m.) – A hometown film depicting the man (and the dolls) that lives behind the wild makeup of JoJo Baby, a portrait of a truly inspired and bizarre queer artist. The documentary is produced by horror extraordinaire Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Candyman).

I Killed My Mother (J’ai Tue Ma Mere) (Saturday, 11/6, 7:15 p.m.) – A French coming-of-age feature from writer-director-actor Xavier Dolan telling the story of an angsty gay teen deeply at odds with his family. Bonus: Major hottie factor.

Rock Hudson: Dark and Handsome Stranger (Tuesday, 11/9, 7:15 p.m.) – We like to throw around Hudson’s name knowingly when discussing the legacy of gay actors in Hollywood, but how much do we really know about the former A-Lister, who was outed when he succumbed to AIDS in 1985? This documentary digs deeper.

Undertow (Contracorriente) (Saturday, 11/13, 7 p.m.) – Peru’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards is closing out this year’s Reeling. The feature tells the story of a sexy married fisherman’s complicated gay affair.

So… maybe I am a tad biased toward documentaries and foreign films? In addition to these, the Ewan McGregor-Jim Carrey gay film that’s finally seeing its limited American release after innumerable delays, I Love You Phillip Morris, plays Wednesday, 11/10, 9 p.m. And the shorts program titled Love is a Battlefield (Sunday, 11/7, 1:15 p.m.) includes two of James Franco’s shorts — including that naked basketball one.

Support queer film and check out Reeling ’10!

Excitement!

It’s been said that the only constant in life is that it is ever-changing.. And in that vein, comes an exciting announcement from My Writings and Me, Inc.

As of this Friday, I’ll be taking a leave from the fantastical Chicagoist. In the year-ish since I came on board the site, I’ve written 101 posts and enjoyed an incredible opportunity to reach a new audience with my writings on Chicago’s queer communities while dabbling in a bit of witchcraft – er, music coverage – too. (What, you haven’t!?) Dreams came true when I interviewed Mink Stole. I had an outlet for what turned out being a love letter of sorts to Courtney Love and ’90s nostalgia. And, more importantly, I had the opportunity to work closely with a talented bunch of hyper-motivated and hardworking fellow writers who I’m sure will continue to shock and amaze. So, if you haven’t already, please bookmark and follow Chicagoist religiously, as though it were the cult you almost joined in college. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

While you’re bookmarking things, be sure to add the Windy City Times’ home page, where you will shortly find news coverage written by yours truly. As of this week, I’m coming on board the incredible enterprise, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary of publication. I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to work with such a legendary paper. As I described in my interview with publisher Tracy Baim for ChicagoPride.com, I think the paper provides not only invaluably attentive coverage of this city’s LGBT community, but also crucial visibility. I very much encourage you to check out last week’s special issue commemorating the paper’s silver anniversary to learn more about the paper’s past, present and future.

My work will also continue to be featured on ChicagoPride.com and Edge Media Network. Follow me on Twitter to stay on top of my latest pieces, and also be sure to visit my blog, which will continue to feature various run-off — most recently my response to former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee who, for some reason, is really obsessed with some article I wrote earlier this year.

Thank you all for your support through clicks, retweets, e-mails, “likes,” Facebook postings, comments, etc. etc., etc. As a good friend of mine, Brittany Julious pointed out in a recent interview with ch!cktionary, these are challenging times for freelance writers and every nugget of encouragement is fuel for our passions. Both that and news like this. And songs like this.