Monday, January 11, 2016

Rebel Rebel

Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters
Talking 'bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
New York's a go-go, and everything tastes right 

-David Bowie, "The Jean Genie"

I was supposed to be productive today. I was supposed to wake up, get to work, and hustle like I usually do. But then the news fell in front of my eyes and the rest of the day fell away.

I found out that David Bowie died at around 10 o'clock this morning. Since then, my insides have ached. As Hilton Als wrote in The New Yorker this morning, "This was not supposed to happen. Ever. Because he had been so many people over the course of his grand and immense career, it was inconceivable that he wouldn’t continue to be many people—a myriad of folks in a beautiful body who would reflect times to come, times none of us could imagine but that he could. He always got to the unknown first." Like Als, David Bowie was not a person I ever imagined dying. His death was not something a person even thought about. He was just...Bowie. And he always would be.

Yet today I mourn with people the world over the loss of an innovator, a creator, a paragon of talent and reinvention. As many people have written, without Bowie there would be no Madonna, no Lady Gaga, no Prince, and the list goes on. His commitment to curiosity and creation raised pop music to a high art, perhaps in ways that nobody did before or will do after him.

And even in the last 18 months of his life, the time when he knew he had the cancer that would eventually lead to his death, he had created even more lives: with the release just two days ago of his newest album Blackstar and of his off-Broadway musical Lazarus. His death, in the spirit of Als's thoughts, is merely another way he continues to leave us all behind in favor of another, probably better, life.

My first exposure to David Bowie came when I was in high school. I used to hang out at a record store in my hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Florida called All Books & Records. It was a big, dusty place, lit by fluorescent lights above and covered in linoleum below. The clerks who worked there taught me about not just artists I should know, but the ways to find them. This was the time before YouTube, when I would log onto the website and had only 20-second snippets of artists to listen to before I decided whether or not I would go back to the record store the following week and purchase one of their albums.

The first Bowie album I found this way was Aladdin Sane. It was supposed to be one of his better albums, the site said, plus I liked the cover art, this bright, colorless figure with a magenta lightning bolt slashed across his face, metallic liquid pooling in the space between his clavicle and shoulder. I managed, also, to find the gatefold version of the album which, in the vinyl world, is said to be worth more. But putting the needle on the record gave me back whatever the album's "worth" was tenfold.

I sat in my parents' den, sprawled out on the beige carpet while David sang to me from my bright red record player. I stared at David staring at me from inside that gatefold. He was sexy, ethereal, somehow vulnerable yet impenetrable. From the album's opening with those delicious guitar licks, I was hooked and needed more; not just of the album, but of Bowie.

I bought Station to Station on a school trip to New Orleans. It was in a vintage clothing store near Tulane's campus and I couldn't wait to get back to Florida to listen to it. Luckily we were flying that day. I came home and put the record on, listening as Thin White Duke-era Bowie crooned "Golden Years, Golden Years" over and over.

The fellas at the record store gave me The Idiot, the Iggy Pop album produced by David Bowie that's considered the album where Pop went from gnarly gutter punk to refined gutter punk.

Time passed and I found myself with Heroes as well and, later, a 45rpm of Bowie singing its title track in French. Vinyl remains my favorite way to listen to him.

As a sophomore in high school, I watched Labyrinth and was entranced by his Goblin King, a purring evil in oh-so-tight pants. As I write this I can hardly remember the plot of the movie but damned if I don't remember that grey spandex hugging his hips and that burst of champagne-colored hair on his head.

My favorite thing about Bowie was his fearlessness: in dress, in combinations of musical influences, in lifestyle, in presentation, in career choices, in everything. And he appreciated talent and raised others up instead of bringing them down--see the aforementioned Iggy Pop example as well as Bowie's inclusion of a young, then-unknown singer and songwriter named Luther Vandross on his Philadelphia soul-inflected 1975 album Young Americans, among countless others.

And today, when I am supposed to be working on this freelance life, all I can do is listen to his other classic albums: Diamond Dogs, Low, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, among many others. I find myself totally unable to work. To me, David Bowie meant that there was still salvation from bad, corporate pop music and a thoughtless, money-driven art world; that popular music really could be a thoughtful art form; that there was a living example of the power of intelligent yet consumable creativity. While he was alive, those things were guaranteed. Now that he is dead, my fear is that they are not.

While I would never profess to have the Bowie prowess to consider myself a fanatic, I am merely an admirer, a casual fan who knows that we have not just experienced the loss of a man today, but of a creative force and spirit unlike any we may possibly know again. My heart aches, a magenta lightning bolt burning in my chest.

I'll leave you with some of my favorite Bowie songs. What are some of yours? Tell me below, and share your Bowie stories.




Sunday, January 10, 2016

Top Great Moments I Didn't Write About But Should Have: 2015 Edition

As ever, a list of some of the great moments from the past year that I didn't get a chance to write about as they happened.

To compile the list I usually go through all of my social media platforms from the entire year and I pick out the moments, later finding images and doing research (into my own life, which is strange and revelatory each time) about each to make sure they're accurate. The process usually takes longer than a) I think it will and b) than most of my blogs do, but it's the only year-end, or rather year-beginning, list I do so I might as well go big, no?

That being said, here they are. Enjoy!

The first time I saw it, it was a tiny little note on my Facebook page, but I don't think I made anything of it. Like everyone else, I get a lot of invites to a lot of events (and I send a lot of them myself). But then it was a link sent from HanOre via Facebook messenger. Did I want to go see a Broadgay, comedically staged, all-gay male retelling of an episode of Sex and the City? While I'm not the biggest Sex and the City fan, I live for a good gender bending every day of the week, not to mention one of my favorite performers and writers, Joel Kim Booster, would be playing Samantha. Yes. I was in.

Brandon Scott Jones as Carrie, Julio Torres as Miranda,
Sam Taggart as Charlotte, Joel Kim Booster as Samantha
Not too long after, Joel had tagged me on Facebook: the show's producer/director Bowen Yang needed a photographer for the show. Was I interested? I was! So HanOre and I arrived early to the Jerry Orbach Theatre and got amazing seats, from which I sat and photographed the show. I laughed so much my stomach hurt and eyes hurt as Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha--played with wonderfully over-the-top commitment by Brandon Scott Jones, Julio Torres, Sam Taggart and of course Joel, respectively--ran through the black box of fictional New York, brightly colored purses swinging and flowered brooches growing by the minute (Carrie's flower pin grows so big by the end of the show it is smacking people in the arms and chests, but still with perfect comedic timing). I was hooked. I think people forget how much work it takes to make good comedy--I've always believed that anyone can make you cry, but not everyone can make you laugh.

I had the pleasure of photographing the second Broadgay in August at Littlefield in Brooklyn, as well, with the same results. I had to, at points, prevent myself from rolling out of the chair and clutching my stomach in the beautiful agony of laughing so hard. And if you are in New York on February 25, 2016, there is no place else you should be than at Littlefield for what will likely be yet another evening of Broadgay brilliance. Tickets are only $8-10, and can be purchased here.

MV holding up RD's brownie birthday cake
RD's Birthday

If you told me I would end up behind a tree in on a weekend in June to celebrate RD's 30th birthday, that would have been okay with me, honestly. SA and MV had planned the event, a surprise party unofficially called "RD's Dirty, Flirty, Squirty 30," for months, making sign-up sheets for bringing things, sending out e-vites, securing a plot of land in Central Park with the Parks & Recreation department (!), assembling RD-related bingo, making bagged lunches for everyone (!), buying decorations, and so much more. They really did an incredible job, too, because when he showed up and tons of his friends were jumping out from behind a tree yelling surprise, he had absolutely no idea. We sat in the park all day until it got dark, laughing and talking and playing games, eating sandwiches, sipping from juice boxes, and occasionally snuggling with a giant inflatable stegosaurus someone had brought.

Medieval Times

I would say I have a love/hate relationship with Middle America, but it's mostly just a hate relationship. Typical suburbia--with its chains and parking lots and manicured gas stations--is the stuff of my nightmares. So when we were going to out to Medieval Times in New Jersey for SA and MV's joint birthday party, I was skeptical to say the least. I knew it would be rife with screaming children and tourists at the worst, historical inaccuracies at best, phrases like "ye olde" tacked onto things that wouldn't be invented for another 500 years, like plastic cups, photo booths, and light-up princess crowns. I was not wrong on either account, and when I walked in I needed a drink. It was...a lot of stimulation, a lot of light up swords, a lot of The King's Olde Photo Shoppe. But after ye olde chardonnay in ye olde plastic cup, I was having a great time. I cheered loudly for our knight in the jousting tournament, I happily dug my hands (because there was no silverware in medieval times, apparently?) into the giant turkey leg offered to us, I booed the bad knights, cheered for the good ones, and ambled through the torture chamber with glee. I chuckled at the placemat that begged me to call 1-800-WE-JOUST if I wanted more information for my corporate retreats. I left full and happy and just a little drunk, passing out on the air mattress at SA's house, the reigns of my urban snobbery loosened, at least for the evening.

The first time I went to Buvette, it was a hot Saturday night in early September. I had been working all day and needed desperately to get out of the house. I texted SJT: Did he have plans? Miraculously, he did not, and we resolved to meet for dinner. I had heard about Buvette on more than one occasion, and it was supposed to be excellent: French tapas and small plates by chef Jody Williams hailed by regarded publications like The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and Bon Appetit. Surprisingly, the menu is reasonable, as well. Would SJT want to give it a shot with me? He did.

That evening, around 8:30, we strode into Buvette in the West Village and, another miracle for the evening, were able to find two open seats together at the bar. The doors were open inviting the still-summery warmth into the restaurant. SJT was wearing shorts, which made me feel glamorous being with him: only a certain kind of person has enough grace and style to make shorts look perfectly elegant while in what's considered a high-end (yet still low-key) bistro/cafe of sorts. Get on my high-end shorts and gold-wire-rimmed glasses and polka-dot tote bag level, his visage seemed to say to anyone in the vicinity.

We started with glasses of rose, then made our way through foie gras with cornichons, then tartinettes topped with anchovies (he) and walnut pesto (me) sharing bites along the way, and finally sharing a dense, rich chocolate mousse topped with homemade whipped cream for dessert. It was a perfect, petite summer meal Ina Garten would have loved. We ended the evening with cocktails at the Duplex, a gay bar not too far away on Christopher Street, laughing and singing Eve into the night. 

The Broadway show Hamilton is virtually impossible to get tickets to for the next millennium, probably, but by the good graces of SD, I was able to score a ticket via an offer at her company. I had been excited to see it for ages, not just because of its amazing press but because my dear friend SW was the show's Beatmaster and had been with the production from the beginning, when it was still called The Hamilton Mixtape and when it was first making waves at The Public Theatre. Most of our friends had seen it already, singing its praises over and over, and it was finally my turn. By this time, I could have watched clips of it online or heard parts of the soundtrack or what have you, but I very actively made the decision not to do any of that. I just wanted to walk in and have a story told to me. I was not disappointed.

There were so many things I loved about Hamilton, but my favorite thing was the storytelling. There aren't a lot of fancy set changes or anything, but you don't need them: just by the way the show is written and rapped through by its diverse cast, you can see and experience what the characters were feeling along the way. To quote The Producers, a Broadway show can have lots of "dopey showgirls in gooey gowns," but if you can tell an amazing story without them, the work you've done is that much more powerful. I could say so much more about it, but you should really just get tickets as soon as you can, even if the first available date is in 2017 (which, at this point, it might be). 

After the show, SW was kind enough to take time out of his evening to take me onstage, where I was able to see the set up close, meet some of his colleagues, and ask him infinite questions about the show. Kerry Washington was backstage casually talking to Lin-Manuel Miranda about how much she loved it. I got to see all the costumes lined up for props and changes, and some of the cast were onstage talking to their friends in their street cloth
es, that is to say their non-revolutionary gear. SW and I took the train uptown, talking more about the show. I feel privileged to have seen it, and my belief and hope is that it will change the face and focus of American theatre going forward.

I began photographing concerts more frequently this year, and one of the best shows I saw not just this year but probably ever was Peaches as she came through New York's Irving Plaza on her Rub tour with Deap Vally. I've loved her badass, brash electropop ever since I heard "Fuck The Pain Away" for the first time, and when I had the opportunity to actually photograph her show I leapt at the chance. For just one person, she dominated the stage and put on an unbelievable show, complete with custom-designed costumes, salacious dancers and props, trips into the audience, and more. Not only that, but I was able to see the show pretty much from the front row the whole time, since after I was done shooting it (the first three songs only is pretty standard), I just stepped to the side of the stage. I was right in front of the speaker so it was definitely loud, but it was totally worth it. Check out more of my images from that night here on Impose magazine.

We're going OUT
SC and EH at The Ritz
My dear friend EH is a surgical resident at a hospital in New Jersey, and she's totally killing the game. She works hard, she's smart, and she also barely ever gets a weekend off. When she does, she likes to come into the city and blow off steam. Last time she came in, though, I dropped the ball: I was working weekends, waking up at the buttcrack of dawn to get work done, so I could just barely stay awake by the time evening rolled around. This time she came to visit I vowed things would be different. We. Would. Go. Hard. Maybe even harder than we used to in college, if that was still possible for two professional women in their late twenties? But I made her a promise, and I never, ever break a promise. The evening began with Turkish meze at Beyoglu on the Upper East Side, then a jaunt down to SC's apartment for pre-going-out festivities with B and R. Our festivities went a little longer than usual, and we didn't leave there until 1am, arriving at our destination, the delightfully trashy Ritz in Hell's Kitchen. We drank whiskey and we danced everything out--stress, work, bills, zits, dudes, you name it. That night there was nothing Lady Gaga and RuPaul could not heal. We shook til our bodies hurt and then we shook some more. All of us were a beautiful mess of sweat and alcohol. And we shut the club down, making our way across the street in what was almost a mass exodus to the Galaxy Diner. We ate french fries and eggs and R fell asleep at the table. At 5 am, we dove into a cab, shivering in the loud emptiness of the night and fell asleep by 5:30am. I had kept my promise.