Milk, Jens and Third: A few of my favorite things..

I had originally hoped to start the new year here with another “Best beats” post similar to last year’s, but as I went to work on the year-end summary, the list format just wasn’t working for me.. I was fortunate enough to engage with art of so many different varieties in the past year, that a bulleted list just didn’t seem to do it justice. Here’s my attempt at encapsulating a banner year of artistic appreciation chronologically-ish.

Jens Lekman owns.
Jens Lekman owns. (Photo from Myspace)

When I began to think back on all of the live music I have witnessed in the past year, it was especially hard to choose a favorite. And then, my mind drifted back to a lovely spring evening in the history-filled Old Music Hall on the University of Wisconsin’s infamous Bascom Hill. Jens Lekman is a musical genius, and his performance that evening was breathtaking.

Running late to the show, which I was staffing as part of my internship duties with a music promoter, I stumbled into the theater just in time to catch the end of Lekman’s sound check – a nearly private performance of “Your Arms Around Me,” off of the Swede’s critically-acclaimed and fan-adored 2007 album Night Falls Over Kortedala. Later that evening, before a packed house of university hipsters happy to have such a wonderful excuse to spend a Sunday night avoiding the library, Lekman and his band lilted through their set list with a whimsical and charming style that filled the room. This show certainly deserves the stamp of “best show of the year” from me.

Springtime was home to a number of other fantastic shows which served as excellent distractions to my final semester as a college student in Madison. Leslie Hall made me a believer, once more, in the power of the gem sweater with her sparkling (though too short) set at the High Noon in March. Stars sparkled at the Barrymore. Ra Ra Riot proved why they’ve received blog buzz up to wazoo — these kids are going places fast. Tegan and Sara were their adorable, witty selves — though the mostly 18-minus audience of screaming adolescent girls made me feel out of place and… uncomfortable. And in May, at the Annex, The Kills killed. Their shows have a performance art, voyeuristic quality to them – like you’re watching a private, intimate moment between lovers while peaking through their living room window.

The spring also brought with it the release of my favorite album of the year. Around a month after the Lekman show, on April 29, I ran to the record store to pick up Portishead‘s first original release in over a decade, Third. To say that the album exceeded my expectations would be one sin of an understatement. The album is brilliant, continuing Beth Gibbons and company’s pension for music that creates the soundtrack of loneliness and despair. The single “The Rip,” featured in the video below, is a particular favorite of mine. This is music that, much like P-Head’s previous releases, will stand the test of time and cement their position as rock, er, so-called “trip hop,” legends.

And then it was summer. The official new owner of a very expensive piece of paper, I began waiting tables with the same zeal I had usually reserved for racing through poorly-written essays toward the finish line of a rapidly-approaching due-date. I also sold edible, flower-shaped fruit baskets to middle-aged women. But more importantly than that, it was my last summer of pure “freedom.” Of course, I saw the Sex and the City movie. And of course, I cried. This was required — otherwise, I risked losing the precious gay card (on which I’d only recently had my credit limit increased..). And there were Hellboy and Twilight, both of which were less impressive. Thanks to more recently viewed films like Doubt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Milk (which I’ll talk about more later), the year’s unimpressive cinematic lineup was mostly salvaged in my mind.

The summer’s main jewel was a weekend trip to Chicago for the Pitchfork Music Festival. The hot, summer weekend spent out in the sun basking in glorious sets from Animal Collective, !!!, Dodos and M. Ward, to name just a few of the highlights, was a fantastic send-off to summer, and an excellent preview to the city which I would shortly thereafter call home. Bon Iver was a particularly great way to wind down from Sunday’s craziness, as his music played just as well to the sweaty, dehydrated masses as it did at the Orpheum Stage Door for his April show in Madison. Only disappointments: Vampire Weekend‘s far too tame set (are they the most overrated band of the year? Discuss) and missing Cut Copy‘s set due to their tardiness and my own lack of sobriety/patience.

Amanda Palmer also owns.  Major.
Amanda Palmer also owns. Major. (Photo from Myspace)

Since calling Chicago my permanent home, my financial position has precluded enjoying as much live music as I would’ve liked to, but I still managed to make it out of the apartment for quite a few notable shows: Andrew Bird, free of charge, at Jay Pritzker Pavilion; Lykke Li, bouncing around the Empty Bottle stage; El Guincho, launching a hipster dance pit to their infectious fusion beats. In early December, Amanda Palmer played the Metro, proving that she can rock the stage solo just as well as when she performed as half of the Dresden Dolls earlier in the year at a January show at the Vic. Another bonus of the Palmer show, which surprisingly had the most diverse audience in terms of age and appearance of any other show attended this year, was the on-stage appearance of Neil Gaiman. Gaiman read had an excerpt from his upcoming book collaboration with Palmer. The show kicked outrageous amounts of ass — don’t miss any opportunity that you have to see this fabulous performer live. You won’t regret it. Not a chance.

And finally, I have to give a shout-out to the movie that really made me cry like a baby — moving me to the core with its ironic relevance to today’s political landscape facing the LGBT community. Milk is an incredible film, and it (as well as Sean Penn) deserves all of the accolades coming its way. Harvey Milk died at the hands of misunderstanding and ignorance of the same grain as that which allowed Prop. 8 to pass in California. Although it is true, as the movie said, that “you have to give them hope,” hope alone is no longer going to cut it. I hope that this film inspires all those who see it to call out and stand against prejudice and double-standards whenever you see them — such as the apparently new law that it is illegal to fly while Muslim.

Yay for art! I need a nap.

Meet me at the rally

On the morning of Wednesday, November 5, I awoke with feelings of hope, renewal and pride unlike anything I’d experienced in.. well, at least eight years. On the heels of four days spent knocking on doors; reminding voters in Madison, Wisconsin, to get out the vote; I remained physically and emotionally exhausted, but knowing that our nation had elected its first ever African American president quickly made the pain of aching feet dissipate.

My elation at Barack Obama’s victory was quickly squelched by the news from California that a slim majority of that state’s voters had chosen to reverse the state supreme court’s decision to legalize gay marriage by approving Proposition 8.

How could it be, I wondered in disbelief, that the lefty land of Hollywood, fruits and nuts [as aptly described by my right-leaning — Understatement of the Century — father] had just written inequality into their state law book? How could barely half of a state’s people take away marriage rights from our community? What was to happen to the thousands of lesbians and gay men whom had already wedded in the state? And why, I wondered, did it matter so much to those who had said ‘yes’ to overruling marriage equality? Who exactly are these people, and what do they want from us?

I’m sure that many of you reading this blog have wondered many of the same questions regarding the latest injustice to face our community. And as bothersome as these questions are, I think we need to save finger-pointing and self-deprecation in the past and look forward to the next questions: Where does our movement go from here? How do we spark a revolution?

Our answer can be found in the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” We must, as a community, take each others’ hands, hit to the streets and make our voices heard.

Alongside my fellow happy, chilly protesters du jour.
Alongside my fellow happy, chilly protesters du jour.

dscn5044This is precisely what happened yesterday, Saturday, November 15, as tens of thousands of protesters simultaneously gathered in cities across the United States and world to protest the continued denial of marriage and other civil rights to the LGBT community. I was lucky enough to be present at the Chicago rally (click for video clips) which began at Federal Plaza and continued through the streets of the busy downtown loop area, blocking traffic and raising hell, just as intended. Though an accurate number would be near impossible to quote, the amount of protesters was awe-inspiring. Certainly at least 3000 gay men, lesbians and their friends and family were present, making our chants of “Yes we can!” echo against the walls of high-rise office buildings and shopping meccas.

dscn5062I was amazed as I walked alongside people from all backgrounds and of all ages, as a community united in uproar against the disgusting decision. We were greeted with thumbs up, peace signs, smiles, car honks and; in the case of one older man I observed; slow, steady applause accompanied by trembling tears of joy. Not everyone was having it, though. One woman passing by screamed at a demonstrator: “Why do you think you’re so damn special that you can shut down the streets?”

dscn5051This issue is not about being special. It’s about being equal. It’s about spreading love; and as Keith Olbermann so nobly articulated in a magical, must-see special report; treating your neighbors as you would like to be treated. I, like so many others, dream of a day when I can stand before my family, friends and community to proclaim undying love to the person that I want to grow old with. And it’s going to be to a man. It’s going to be a marriage — not anything else going by any other name — and it’s going to come complete with every other right that heterosexual marriages are granted. I believe that everyone deserves the chance to make this dream come true.

dscn5057Saturday’s protest was preceeded the previous weekend by another demonstration against the induction of right-wing-nutzo James Dobson (of Focus on the Family fame) into the Radio Hall of Fame — a demonstration which I was able to report from. Both protests were peaceful but the message was clear: We’re not going to take this lying down. I could not have been more proud of my community for getting out and demanding equality. I have renewed confidence that it is dscn5049going to happen, because — gay, straight, white, black — together we are going to make it happen.

Below are a number of pictures from Saturday’s protest. Want to get involved? Check out JoinTheImpact.com, open your hearts and minds and help to create a better and more equal world for everyone.

Download: Phoenix ‘Rally’

Download: Nina Simone ‘Here Comes the Sun’

Download: Ben Sollee ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ (Sam Cooke cover)

Don’t you know that you’re toxic?

x17_britney_080107_ms.jpg

As I’m sure you are all aware, Britney Spears has started out 2008 as the focus of much controversy, due to a chaos-filled child-handoff with K-Fed last Wednesday evening that culminated in Spears being wrestled into the back of an ambulance to spend two nights under observation at LA’s Cedar-Sinai Medical Center. Having tested negative for illegal drugs and alcohol, Spears checked herself out of the hospital on Saturday. No one seems to know at this point what caused the complete breakdown of the teen-star-turned-trailer-mama-slut, with hypotheses ranging from People Magazine’s Britney’s Bipolar Theory to the well-known Selfish Diva Theory.

When it comes down to it, I honestly couldn’t care one way or another about what “caused” Spears’ apparent meltdown. What really concerns me about the whole situation is rarely being discussed in any of the zillions of articles that have sprang up across the Internet on the incident: How the hell are those damn kids supposed to have any shot at this point to become well-adjusted adults at any point in the future? Brit-Brit has completely fucked these kids over, and even though her custody has been completely taken away, the damage has already been done. Not letting Spears see her children is likely going to cause them more harm than good, though it could be the lesser of two evils, given that it would allow for the kids to be distanced from the traveling tabloid military that have been hounding Spears for years.

I enjoy celebrity gossip as much as the next gay boy, but enough is enough. Hollywood wannabes: Give this girl some space and let her sort this stuff out — she is clearly on the brink of sheer insanity.

In other news, Brit-Brit popped up in an unexpected place, at the sold-out Dresden Dolls concert at the Vic Theatre that I was lucky enough to attend on Saturday night. Prior to the fantastic show, which included a number of new songs in addition to fabulous standards (‘Coin-Operated Boy’, ‘Missed Me’, ‘Girl Anachronism’) all performed with unbridled panache, a troupe of interpretive dancers took to the stage to perform a three-minute dance telling the story of Romeo and Juliet. Nothing too groundbreaking, I suppose — except that they were both lesbians. And performed to ‘Toxic.’ Check out the video below.

The show was just one of many highlights from a fantastic weekend adventure in Chicago. Sylvia and I started Saturday on Michigan Avenue, so that I could stock up on underoos from H&M, and before long, we made it up to Lakeview, the site of the night’s show and the center of Boystown. Even though I had one too many vodka tonics at Roscoe’s, the night taken as a whole was incredible, and I’m looking forward to my August move now more than ever. Sunday morning, we traveled up the Red Line for brunch at an adorable restaurant in Andersonville, where I ate the best crepe EVER — filled with caramelized onions and feta cheese.