Monday, November 21, 2022

Guns and Hate

As many Americans head home for Thanksgiving, there are some who will not be heading home.

That’s because on Saturday, there was yet another mass shooting at a gay bar in Colorado, where five people were killed and many more were injured.

There have been over 600 mass shootings so far this year. That’s more than one every day.

I know we’ve become numb to the frequency of mass shootings in America, but we can’t allow that to happen.

I can’t allow that to happen. I’m too angry.

In the past few years, in addition to seeing people targeted and killed because they were LGBTQ (and, particularly, because they were trans), we’ve seen people targeted and killed because they were Black, Jewish, Asian, and Mexican. We cannot allow this hatred to continue.

But the thing that allows someone who is homophobic or racist or antisemitic to kill people, and the thing that often gets left out of the conversation, is guns.

And I’m tired of the excuses.

Don’t tell me it’s a “mental health” issue. Other countries have people who are mentally ill, but they don’t have anywhere near the level of gun violence America has. Not even close.

Nevertheless, now that Republicans are poised to take over the House, we also know that nothing will change.

And don’t tell me not to politicize a mass shooting. It is political.

That’s why we have laws. The number one responsibility of our elected officials is to protect the health and safety of Americans. And they are failing to do that.

That’s why I want President Biden to sign an executive order to ban assault weapons. And while he’s at it, he should also ban high-capacity magazines and body armor.

No one needs any of these things for “self-protection” or “hunting,” so I’m calling bullshit on Republicans and the gun lobby. I don’t even want to hear it. And I can’t wait another two years for things to change.

And let’s talk about the other thing that often goes unmentioned: hate.

While antisemitism and racism have become unacceptable (at least ostensibly), it seems that it’s still OK to target LGBT people (and, as I said, particularly trans people).

We just had a campaign season where LGBT people (and trans people in particular) were the centerpiece of many Republican campaigns.

And what message is Ron DeSantis sending with his “Don’t Say Gay” bill? He saying that LGBT people are second-class citizens and don’t deserve the same rights and protections as other Americans.

The fact that LGBT people are being targeted for hate crimes is precisely why we need to educate children about LGBT people, if only to say, “Not everyone is a cis-gendered heterosexual, but they deserve to be treated with respect, just like everyone else.”

As for guns, we know that gun control works.

It’s no coincidence that the number of mass shootings went up after we let the assault weapons ban expire.

Other countries have figured this out. Why can’t we?

After just one mass shooting in New Zealand, they banned assault weapons in three days.

Why can’t we? How many more people have to die?

And I’d like to ask our politicians, (particularly our Republican politicians), “How can you live with yourself? How you can allow this to continue?”

And you know that it will, unless we do something about it.

How long will it be until the next mass shooting?

It’s time to stop treating gun violence as yet another “culture war” issue and instead treat it as a public health issue.

I can’t wait any longer. Enough already!

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Will Ignorance Win Again?

I just got back from my corner newsstand, where I overheard three women discussing the price of a soda, which one of them mistakenly thought was $8. She said, “Inflation,” and then “Joe Biden,” as if a) Joe Biden was responsible for inflation and b) that was the hysterical punchline to a joke. It took all my self-control not to scream at that woman, “You fucking idiot! Do you even know what causes inflation?!” But I didn’t. They were probably tourists and they didn’t strike me as intellectuals. (The rest of their conversation was about a bag of gummy bears.)

I’d be surprised if they even bothered to vote.

This morning, a friend of mine, a former New Yorker who now lives in Virginia, texted me, “I take it that Eric Adams is not well liked in NYC?” to which I responded, “Huh?” This was news to me and I live in New York City. When I spoke to my friend later on the phone, I said, “Where did you hear that?” And he said, “The media.”

Everywhere I look, I’m hearing “crime, crime, crime,” and my reaction is, “What crime?” I haven’t been the victim of a crime, nor do I know anyone who has.

Today’s New York Times, in fact, has two articles which seem to contradict the running narrative about inflation and crime.

The first article’s headline is “Job Data Stays Strong, Despite Inflation Curbs” ( and the other’s headline is “High-Profile Subway Crimes Overshadow Riders’ Low Risk” (

Why are so many people taking the Republican narrative about inflation and crime at face value and why aren’t the Democrats fighting back?

I suppose part of the reason is that everyone’s living in an information bubble these days, so if you watch Fox News or read the New York Post, all you’re seeing is stories about inflation and crime. Missing from those stories are several important facts.

First of all, inflation is a worldwide problem that’s primarily caused by three things: 1) the lingering effects of the pandemic and the resulting snag in supply chains 2) the war in Ukraine, which has tightened the supply of oil (from Russia) and grain (from Ukraine) and 3) price-gouging from companies (primarily oil companies), who are experiencing record profits.

As for crime, a large factor is the widespread availability of guns in this country. (There are more guns in America than people.)

And perhaps the most important fact is that Republicans don’t have a plan for either of these things beyond cutting taxes for the rich and making guns even more available.

I know the polls are predicting that Republicans will win the House (and possibly the Senate), but democracy itself is on the ballot this year. Why are so many Americans willing to give up democracy just to save on their gas or grocery bill (two things over which neither party has much control)?

Bill Maher had a devastating “New Rules” segment on Real Time with Bill Maher last night about what will happen if Republicans win (and democracy dies). Here’s a link:

I would urge every American to watch it—and then vote Democrat.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Dear Democrats: Grow Some Balls

Election Day is in a little over two weeks and, according to most polls, Republicans are likely to take over the House and, possibly, the Senate.

This, in spite of the fact that we just spent the summer and fall watching the January 6 Committee painstakingly lay out their case that Donald Trump led a multipronged effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and not only orchestrated the attack on the Capitol, but did nothing to stop it.

As I write this, Trump has just been subpoenaed by the January 6 Committee (a subpoena which, if the past is any indication, he will probably ignore), and is the subject of several investigations. In addition to the January 6 Committee investigation, he’s the subject of several investigations by the Justice Department, including the Mar a Lago documents case, where he just lied to a federal court judge; Fani Willis’s investigation in Atlanta, where he interfered with Georgia’s election results (“I just want to find 11,780 votes”) and Letitia James’s investigation in New York, where he simultaneously inflated his net worth to banks and underreported it to the IRS.

In Texas, Greg Abbott is leading Beto O’Rourke in the governor’s race, in spite of yet another classroom of children being massacred in Uvalde and the Uvalde Police Department (and several other law enforcement agencies) doing nothing to stop it, and Texas’s electrical grid failing last winter.

In Georgia, the spectacularly unqualified former football player Herschel Walker is in a close race for Senate. He’s allegedly pro-life, in spite of the fact that he paid for his girlfriend’s abortion (and she has the receipts to prove it).

In Pennsylvania, TV “doctor” and snake oil salesman Mehmet Oz is running for Senate, in spite of the fact that, until recently, he didn’t even live in Pennsylvania.

And all of this is happening because the price of gas is too high.

Let me address the subject of inflation, since that seems to be the only thing that anyone cares about. The inflation we’re currently experiencing is primarily caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine and the lingering effects the COVID pandemic, both of which have had a devasting effect on the supply chain. We can also thank Russia (and OPEC) for recently raising the price of oil.

Moreover, it’s a worldwide phenomenon that President Biden has very little control over.

Inflation is a temporary situation. If we lose our democracy, that will be permanent.

I often wish Biden were a more forceful speaker. I know he had a stutter when he was a child (and he’s mostly overcome it), but nowadays, the ability to convey a “presidential” image on TV (whatever that means) means more than the ability to pass legislation or having any coherent policy positions.

Biden needs to be a motherfucker on the level of Trump. I don’t mean someone who’s willing to break the law. I mean someone who’s willing to call Republicans on their bullshit.

But speaking of legislation, Biden passed the only meaningful climate change legislation ever. He passed the only meaningful gun control law in decades. The Inflation Reduction Act will reduce the price of prescription drugs (among other things). Why aren’t Democrats shouting this from the rooftops? And, if they are, why isn’t it getting through.

Because Republicans (and, to a lesser degree, Democrats) are living in an information bubble. If you watch Fox News, you don’t even know the January 6 hearings happened. You still think Trump won the 2020 presidential election (even though numerous recounts—including by Republicans—and court cases have proven otherwise).

And if you think I’m being alarmist about losing our democracy, look at what’s happening (and has already happened).

Trump tried to overturn a free and fair election. That has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt and, if that weren’t enough to sway our opinion, we all watched the January 6 insurrection happening on live TV.

Republicans have passed numerous laws restricting people’s right to vote and are now threatening to engage in voter intimidation.

And, if they take over Congress, they’ll dismantle the January 6 Committee and try to investigate Biden. (For what, I don’t know, but that’s beside the point.)

If Republicans take over Congress (and State Houses and governorships), the price of gas will be the least of our problems.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Bros Blows Me Away

Part of me didn’t want to like Bros.

I was never a fan of Billy Eichner’s man-on-the-street interview show, Billy on the Street. But, then again, I never watched enough of it to know whether or not he was being serious about his infatuation with celebrities or whether he was sending it up.

I now have to admit that I vastly underestimated his talent.

Bros nails so many aspects of gay life and culture, it’s almost like an anthropological study. From the inantity of Grindr conversations, to gay stereotypes about masculinity (from which the movie get its title) to the ubiquity of gay men who aren’t “emotionally available,” this movie has it all.

It’s also the funniest movie I’ve seen since Trainwreck (which was also produced by Judd Apatow).

Eichner simultaneously mocks heterosexual romantic comedies and gives us the gay rom-com we’ve always wanted to see. (OK, some of us wanted to see.)

OK, so it strains credulity a bit to see Eichner hooking up with the impossibly gorgeous Luke Macfarlane (who, for you straight people, is like the gay John Cena). But it’s no less unbelievable than Amy Schumer hooking up with the actual John Cena in Trainwreck. After all, isn’t that what rom-coms are all about?

He even gives us the running reunion/finale that’s a feature of every heterosexual rom-com from When Harry Met Sally to Manhattan.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, Eichner can also sing (and has a great voice). I hate him!

In other words: go see Bros!

And, yes, I fully expect to be offered an acting and/or writing job after this review.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

How to Have a Fire Island Vacation in Two Days

As a temp who doesn’t get paid time off, I have to plan very carefully when I take a vacation. Fortunately, since I’ve been going to Fire Island for over 20 years, I’ve figured out how to have a complete Fire Island vacation in two days.

Now I should mention that there are two distinct Fire Island experiences. If you’re going to Fire Island to party, you should go there on the weekend. It will also be more crowded and expensive on the weekend.

If you’re going to Fire Island to relax, you should go there during the week. Rates will be cheaper and it will be less crowded.

This post is for non-A list gays like me who are going to Fire Island to relax. You won’t find anything in this post about the Pines, the Pavilion (the Pines dance club) or Tea Dance. In fact, the last few times I’ve gone to Fire Island, I didn’t even set foot in the Pines. I guess that makes me a Grove person. So be it.

One of the good things about squeezing your Fire Island vacation into two days is that you’ll be able to splurge. And you will splurge. Fire Island is very expensive. That’s because everything has to be shipped in from the “mainland” (i.e., Long Island).

Day 1

My first stop when I get off the ferry and after I’ve dropped my bags at the Belvedere (a “guest house for men” and my preferred place to stay in Cherry Grove) is Sand Castle for their lobster roll. Don’t bother with the French fries. That’s not why you’re paying $35 and, besides, you’re not allowed to eat carbs on Fire Island.

After lunch you’ll have time for a swim (if you can call three strokes in the Belvedere pool a “swim”) and a walk on the beach. That’s the one thing the Grove Hotel has over the Belvedere: they have a better pool. But the Belvedere is an architectural masterpiece and the Grove Hotel has all the charm of a Motel 6.

But I digress.

I don’t like to just lie (or sit) on the beach. That’s boring. Walking is good exercise and you’ll see a lot of hot guys (if you’re walking in the Pines), but I should point out that they’ll probably ignore you unless you’re also hot. In which case, you’d probably be staying in the Pines anyway. I also don’t like going in the water because I’m terrified of waves. If God wanted people to swim in the ocean, he wouldn’t have invented swimming pools.

After your walk on the beach, it’s time for dinner. I suggest Island Breeze. Actually, I’d suggest Top of the Bay, but every time I’ve gone there in the last few years they’ve been “full.” (Maybe because I was by myself?)

At Island Breeze I had an excellent sesame-crusted tuna. But if you’re going to have dessert, stay away from the churros, unless you like your carbs fried and with sugar.

If you time your dinner properly (sunset is deal), you’ll segue right into Hedda Lettuce’s show at Cherry’s (if it’s a Monday). Lettuce can write jokes and sing, which makes her a rarity among drag queens. (I kid the drag queens!) But I’d suggest standing in the back unless you have a strong ego.

Monday is also Broadway Sessions at the Ice Palace, where they have Broadway singers perform. I unfortunately missed it this time because I assumed they were just going to have another drag queen. (Oh, snap! Did I say that?)

Day 2

Breakfast at Floyd’s is a must. I recommend the Farmer’s Eggs, a combination of eggs, sausage (or bacon), potatoes and toast. You might want to break the carb rule for this one.

After breakfast, you have time for another swim, or you can just relax until lunch.

I hate to suggest Sand Castle again, but they are on the ocean. And since you can’t order lobster roll twice (well, you can, but I’m trying to give you options), you can try to Cobb salad. Just bear in mind that even when you try to order something healthy on Fire Island, they somehow find a way to make it unhealthy (usually by adding French fries or bacon).

After lunch you have time for another walk on the beach and then, voila! You’ve done it. You’ve fit your entire Fire Island vacation into two days and you still have time to catch the 6pm ferry.

If you follow my schedule carefully, you might even be able to squeeze in some sex.

A room fit for a queen (i.e., me)

F.k.a. The Bay Leaf, f.k.a. The Monster under construction

New, very Pines-looking house on Bayview Walk


Sesame-crusted tuna

Hedda Lettuce

Belvedere at night

Wanda Sykes sighting!

Monday, July 18, 2022

Howard Jones, Midge Ure, Getting Older, WLIR and the Concert Industry

I went to see Howard Jones and Midge Ure at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts last night and a good time was had by all. I’d previously seen Howard Jones’s “acoustic trio” perform at Sony Hall in New York City back in February, so I already knew that he puts on a good show. He also strikes me as a genuinely nice person. (In fact, all the people I’ve seen in concert strike me as nice people. Maybe that’s part of their success?)

Anyway, I was looking forward to this “full concert” experience (as opposed to the “acoustic trio,” which nevertheless was able to produce a great sound) and Jones did not disappoint. Mostly.

He did perform a remixed version of “The One Who Loves You,” which was a bit of a disappointment for me, as I’d been looking forward to hearing it since February. (He didn’t perform it in his acoustic show.) I know artists need to keep things interesting for themselves as well as their audience, but I’ve listened to the original version a million times and was quite satisfied with it. (You may have noticed that I’m a bit of a control freak.) Fortunately, the hits were all there and the audience sang along.

The real surprise for me this time was Midge Ure, whom I never thought I’d see in concert ever, as I was convinced he was a studio creation, as was the stereotype about many ‘80s bands. (See my review of the Tears for Fears concert at Jones Beach.) Imagine my surprise when I saw that he could actually play guitar! And despite looking quite a bit older than his Ultravox days (I know, I shouldn’t talk), his voice was still perfect! In addition to playing several of his Ultravox hits, he really blew me away when he played Visage’s “Fade to Grey,” which he co-wrote.

It’s interesting that Jones decided to play Long Island and not New York City on this tour and I’m wondering why. I’m sure part of it has to do with the fact that WLIR, the former Long Island radio station (it’s now available online) was responsible (along with KROQ in Los Angeles) for breaking many New Wave bands in America in the ’80s. But I’m wondering if part of it doesn’t have to do with the concert business itself.

The reason I mention this is because, after I saw The Psychedelic Furs at Pier 17 on Friday (see my review), I checked Ticketmaster's website to see how much tickets would be for Blondie and Elvis Costello, who are also playing there. What I found was what was being referred to as “verified resale” tickets, which basically amounts to legalized scalping. While these tickets normally sell for $49.50, the cheapest ticket for Blondie was $114 and the cheapest ticket for Elvis Costello was $225. I would have happily paid $49.50 to see them, but since I’ve already seen both of them, there’s no way I was going to pay those outrageous prices.

A large chunk of the concert industry is controlled by one company, Live Nation Entertainment, which consists of Live Nation, which promotes concerts, and Ticketmaster, which sells tickets. That’s what’s known as a vertically integrated monopoly, and it’s supposed to be illegal. (The only thing they don’t own in this arrangement is the concert venues themselves.)

So while it may seem like I’ve been seeing a lot of concerts lately (and I have), it doesn’t look like I’ll be seeing many more—unless the tickets are more reasonably priced.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

The Psychedelic Furs and X

I went to see The Psychedelic Furs again at Pier 17 last night (with X opening) and, I’m happy to report, they were MUCH BETTER than their show at the Apollo two weeks ago! They cleared up the sound problem on “The Ghost in You” and the missing xylophone on “Love My Way” didn’t bother me as much. (They duplicated the xylophone part on keyboards, and the keyboard and drum parts were spot on this time.)

Opening for the Furs was X. They played a combination of—what would you call their music? Rockabilly? Surf rock? Tex-Mex? Anyway, they rocked, and their guitarist, Billy Zoom, was a virtuoso on the order of Chris Spedding (whom I saw play with Robert Gordon at Coney Island Baby a few years ago).

Also, the venue, the roof of Pier 17 (which I’ve never been to before) is a great place to see a concert, with views of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan and—especially good for these Covid pandemic times—outdoors.

Friday, July 1, 2022

The Psychedelic Furs and Tears For Fears

I recently had the chance to see two bands on my bucket list: The Psychedelic Furs at the Apollo Theater and Tears for Fears at the Jones Beach Theater. (At my age, my bucket list consists of bands to see before they die.)

I purchased my tickets for The Furs almost a year ago and their concert was postponed twice, so I was a little bit concerned before I saw them. I’m happy to say that Richard Butler can still kick ass. (Butler strikes me as a cross between David Bowie and Johnny Rotten: a crooner with a punk attitude.) I was mostly pleasantly surprised, but I had two minor disappointments. I’d been looking forward to hearing them play “Love My Way,” but when they played it, it was sort of anti-climactic. The distinctive xylophone part that opens the song was missing, replaced by a keyboard line (How do you play that song without a xylophone?!!!) and the keyboard and drum parts that have been tattooed on my brain were also gone. There was also some kind of sound problem during “The Ghost in You.” I’m not sure if Butler couldn’t hear himself (he kept touching his earpiece, as if he was saying “What the fuck?”) or he was singing to a backing track, but it sounded like two different vocals, and one of them was out of tune. At this point, “The Psychedelic Furs” has several new members, but their drummer, Zack Alford, also kicked ass--this is a rock and roll band! I also liked the song “No One,” from their new album, Made of Rain. Why isn’t WDRE playing it?

Tears For Fears is a different kind of band, but I was also pleasantly surprised. A lot of ‘80s bands have a reputation for being “hair bands” or “pretty boys,” but Tears For Fears are real musicians. They were also backed up by an excellent background singer, Carina Round, who provided great vocals on songs like “Woman in Chains” and “Suffer the Children," the latter of which she sang entirely by herself. Even though Roland Orzabal now looks like Gandalf from “Lord of the Rings,” his voice is still in excellent shape. And Curt Smith (who, I have to admit, really is a pretty boy, even now) also sounded great.

So sometimes you can see your heroes--four decades later--and they (mostly) don’t disappoint.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Supreme Death Court

I couldn’t sleep last night. I woke up this morning and I’m still angry.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court overturned New York’s concealed carry law. On the same day, the Senate passed a weak gun control law that doesn’t address any of the major issues: banning assault weapons, banning high-capacity magazines or raising the age to buy guns.

It’s like we took one half step forward and one million steps backward.

We’re becoming a society where we’re going to need metal detectors in every public building. They already have them in theaters in concert halls. Now, if you don’t like what a comedian says, you can just shoot him.

I’m trying to write jokes about this, but reality is outstripping the most cynical thing I could ever think of.

Bill Maher jokes about extreme wokeness: If it sounds like an Onion headline, don’t do it. But the opposite is also true. If the most outrageous far-right thing I can think of is reality, how am I supposed to joke about it?

Here’s my attempt at a joke: New York will now be installing metal detectors in the subway. Too far-fetched? They’re already checking people’s bags. What are they going to do now that concealed carry is legal?

Another attempt: How many guns can you hide under Supreme Court robes? I don’t know, but they’re gonna need ’em.

Too much? They’ve already asked for increased security.

Someone on Twitter said they should take away the Supreme Court’s security detail and just give them guns. I agree. They should know the fear that every American now feels.

Faith in the Supreme Court is now at its lowest level in history. Only 25% of Americans have faith in the Supreme Court.

I’m not surprised.

It’s going to be the wild West out there.

In the past, if there was an argument, it might wind up in a fist fight. Now it winds up with one or more people dead.

That’s what happens when you have a country with more guns than people.

A few years ago, after the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon, there were police sharpshooters with machine guns guarding the New York City Pride Parade to prevent a similar attack.

The Supreme Court just made the their job a lot harder.

I no longer feel safe in this country.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

America’s Uncivil War

This morning I awoke to an email from The New York Times about the latest mass shooting in Buffalo, NY, but I didn’t read the article. I didn’t read the article because, frankly, I’m exhausted and overwhelmed. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed because mass shootings have become an almost daily occurrence in the United States and our government has become powerless to do anything about it. Our government has become incapable of exercising the will of the American people.

Part of this is because our government is inherently undemocratic. From a Senate that gives the same number of senators to Rhode Island as it does to California, to an Electoral College that twice in the last 22 years has given the presidency to someone who didn’t win the popular vote, to the Supreme Court, which has become yet another partisan branch of government. (Then again, when you over 400 million guns combined with a nearly nonexistent mental healthcare system, that’s a recipe for disaster.)

Every time our democracy fails, people like Vladimir Putin use that as proof of their theory that democracies don’t work. I know that there’s a war between democracy and autocracy going on in Ukraine, but we can’t even defend our own democracy at home.

Ironically, this is precisely the kind of environment that’s a breeding ground for authoritarians and dictators. It gets to the point where people get so fed up, they just want “law and order,” even if they have to give up some of their rights in order to get it.

I keep thinking of that line in Network where Howard Beale says, “Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone."

That’s increasingly how I (and I suspect many others) feel, especially now that so many people are working from home. We’re all just crawling into our own personal fortresses just to stay sane.

I often joke, “Thank God I live in the independent republic of New York City” because I increasingly feel like I wouldn’t even be safe between the two coasts. I actually feel safer in New York, because of its tough gun laws, then I would in, say, Texas.

This is the kind of environment that swept Trump into power and could sweep him into power again if Democrats don’t get their act together RIGHT NOW.

For the last three days, I’ve been having conversations with my friends about the increasing incivility of American people (all people?), at every level of society, from my neighborhood, with its noise and graffiti, to comedians being attacked on stage, to the assault on the Capitol. It’s starting to feel like nobody’s in charge.

Why is this happening?

I think part of it can be traced to the Covid pandemic, which, in addition to killing one million Americans, has been far more destructive than I think anyone thought it would be. For almost two years, we’ve been essentially locked up in our homes, and I honestly think that people have forgotten how to behave in public (assuming they knew how in the first place).

I think the other part can traced to Donald Trump, who, through his words and actions, gave permission to people to say and do things that, prior to his presidency, were, at the very least, considered impolite.

What else?

Police departments (or at least New York City’s police department) that basically stopped enforcing the law (especially quality-of-life laws) after the Black Lives Matter protests.

I hate to sound like I’m defending Rudolph Giuliani’s “broken windows” theory of policing, but there has to be a way to enforce the law without resorting to his racist stop-and-frisk tactics.

Bill Maher did a segment on his show this week that showed shoplifters brazenly stealing from a drug store while security guards just stood there and watched. And anyone who’s ridden the subway in New York City (that is, anyone who still is riding the subway) can attest to the number of homeless people—some of whom are obviously mentally ill—who have made the subways their home. Yes, Mayor Adams has added more police to the subways, but a lot of times they’re just looking at their cell phones.

We shouldn’t be worried about foreign countries attacking us. (OK, we should, but not exclusively.) We should be worried about ourselves.

I have seen the enemy and it is us.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Rereading The Andy Warhol Diaries

I just finished rereading The Andy Warhol Diaries after having seen the Netflix documentary series of the same name. I have to say, it was mostly filler, which makes the Netflix doc’s accomplishment even more remarkable. By focusing on Warhol’s relationship with Jed Johnson, an interior decorator, and Jon Gould, a movie producer at Paramount, the documentary succeeded in somewhat humanizing Warhol, who always presented himself to the public as a somewhat asexual person (even though his art had an extremely gay sensibility).

The main revelation of the diaries is that Warhol was a workaholic. During the period covered by the diaries (1976-1987), Warhol was primarily known for his society portraits. It’s hard to say which came first. Did he associate with rich and famous people because he did society portraits or did he do society portraits because he associated with rich and famous people?

He was also very insecure about his position in the art world, constantly comparing himself to contemporaries like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg and members of the new guard like Julian Schnabel and Jean Michel Basquiat, with whom he had a close relationship and on whom he seemed to have a kind of crush.

Another revelation is that Warhol comes across in his diary—especially reading it in “woke” 2022—as someone who was racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and (ironically, since he himself was gay) homophobic. The most charitable explanation I can come up with (not that I condone such behavior) is that he was a product of his time and upbringing. The other explanation is that I don’t think this diary (as the word implies) was intended for public consumption; it was mainly a means of keeping track of expenses, which he details meticulously. (The shocker here is that his cab fare was often what it costs just to get into a cab these days!). But, hey, even I have been known to make the occasional off-color (no pun) remark in private.

The main value of this diary is that it records what I think of as the last great creative period in New York City’s history—and by “New York City,” I mean Manhattan. That’s because this was the last time in which artists could actually afford to live in Manhattan.

It’s also the last great period of sexual freedom, coming as it does before the AIDS crisis, which looms heavily over this book. (Jon Gould is only one of the many people in this book who died of AIDS.)

Ultimately, though, Warhol remains an enigma. Someone who was obsessed with fame, wealth and celebrity (which were often the subjects of his work) and at the same time was filled with existential dread (which could be seen as the theme of his skull and shadow paintings). His life can seem either glamorous and exciting or meaningless and empty, depending on how you look at it.

Even so, I’d trade places with him in a heartbeat.

Monday, March 28, 2022

The Slap Heard Round the World

I must admit, before the beginning of last night’s Oscars, I was seriously thinking about watching something else. (I know, that could cost me my gay card!) Unfortunately, even HBO’s Sunday night lineup sucks right now. So, I reluctantly tuned in, taking care to avoid most of the ass-kissing red carpet arrivals. (Case in point: Kristen Stewart: a beautiful woman with an awful hairdo. Why didn’t anyone tell her?!)

I thought the big story of last night’s Oscars was going to be boobs. Big boobs and lots of them. Boobs falling out of dresses as far as the eye could see. You know things are bad when a gay man (i.e., me) can be accused (as I was on Facebook) of being obsessed with boobs. But, hey, you couldn’t get away from them.

There were a number of noteworthy moments, but unfortunately, one of them is hogging all the attention, so let me get the elephant in the room out of the way right now.

I’ve never had strong feelings about Will Smith one way or the other, but his slapping Chris Rock in response to a joke Rock made about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith’s close-cropped hair, is still bothering me a day later. Let me just state up front that violence is never an acceptable response to free speech that you don’t agree with. As a stand-up comedian myself, the idea of somebody in the audience walking up onstage and assaulting me because they didn’t like one of my jokes is terrifying, and when someone of Will Smith’s stature does it before a worldwide audience on the Academy Awards, it’s extremely dangerous.

Now, I should also say that it’s generally considered to be in bad taste to make fun of someone’s medical condition. I didn’t know until after the altercation happened that Pinkett Smith has alopecia (a condition that causes one to lose one’s hair) and I don’t know if Chris Rock was aware of it either. If he did, then he was wrong, too. But at the moment it happened, it seemed like a harmless joke (and, for the record, I think Jada looks great with a shaved head). That’s why I, along with probably a lot of other people, thought it was a staged routine at first, until I saw Smith’s angry verbal response to Rock being silenced by ABC (even though I could clearly see him saying the “f” word)

That makes Smith’s subsequent acceptance speech for Best Actor (in which he talked about being “called on” “to love people”) all the more galling. (To be fair, Jessica Chastain’s acceptance speech for Best Actress was also kind of cringeworthy.)

As someone on PBS News Hour pointed out, if there were to be any repercussions for Smith’s behavior, they should have happened immediately. As it was, he got to deliver his acceptance speech as if nothing had happened. I think this illustrates the power imbalance between a movie star like Will Smith and a stand-up comedian like Chris Rock who, even though he’s made movies and is widely considered to be one of the best comedians working today, is still that red-headed stepchild of show business: a comedian. (It also demonstrates the power of ratings: ABC isn’t going to cut away during one of the only moments of real drama in the three-hour ceremony.)

I think the reason we watch the Oscars is because it allows us a peek at a rare moment of spontaneity within the carefully constructed public persona of Hollywood celebrities. No one (except perhaps people in the film industry) cares about the actual awards.

These celebrities sometimes have an exaggerated sense of their own importance (shocking, I know), and it’s not surprising, living in the bubble of Hollywood, surrounded by sycophants.

It’s a shame that Smith’s altercation with Rock eclipsed an evening of notable firsts: first acting Oscar for a deaf male actor, first acting Oscar for an openly gay Latina actress, first Best Picture win for a streaming service.

But, hey, at least it was real.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

On Nostalgia

According to the New York Times email I received this morning, nostalgia is now a thing. “As Gen Xers and many millennials approach or move through middle age, the entertainment industry has become determined to soothe their passage with a ceaseless and sentimental remembrance of things past.”

It also mentions the Super Bowl halftime show (which I didn’t watch) because Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and 50 Cent are now considered nostalgia acts. It goes on to say that, “This fall, Avril Lavigne, Bright Eyes and My Chemical Romance will perform at the early-aughts emo-and-rock festival When We Were Young.”

My reaction to all this is twofold. First off, I was nostalgic when nostalgia wasn’t cool.

Second of all, boo fucking hoo! Gen Xers and millennials are crying into their avocado toast because they’re approaching or moving through middle age? Wait til you get to my my age! Boomers are invisible!

I’ve been watching Seinfeld reruns since they went on the air (after having watched the original series—because I’m that old). I’ve gotten to the point where I can recite pretty much any Seinfeld episode verbatim.

“Why?” you ask.

Apart from the fact that it’s a brilliant sitcom, there’s the undeniable nostalgia factor. The characters on Seinfeld (particularly Kramer) could never exist in today’s New York City. They could never afford it! All the interesting kinds of people who made New York a place people would want to live in (or visit) in the first place have either died or left!

As for music, I basically stopped buying music after the 1980s.

Last week I went to see Howard Jones in concert. Let me tell you something. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen an audience of 60-somethings going, “Ooh ooh ooh” to “New Song”!

Even more ’80s bands will be touring this summer (including Jones): Tears for Fears, Devo. Madness was supposed to be doing a 40th anniversary tour, but their New York dates were canceled. (Not enough boomers?)

I even had an idea for a movie script. I was going to call it Every Band in the ’80s. (Agents, if you’re reading this, I’m happy to “take a meeting”!) The plot would center around a character whose goal was to see every band that came out in the ’80s before either he or they died. Unfortunately, many ’80s music icons already have: Prince, George Michael, Whitney Houston. Yikes! It’s depressing! It would probably have to be rewritten as Every Band in the ’90s! Oh, well…

I’ve been known to go into what I call a “nostalgia K-hole” where one memory triggers another and, thanks to the Internet, I can spend my entire evening playing “Whatever happened to?” (Speaking of which, that cute little boy from The Hours has grown up to be a hot young man! But I digress.)

I even wrote a novella called Nostalgia, a sequel, of sorts, to my book New York Trilogy, which was about my coming of age in the ’80s. (Nostalgia-in-the-making, if you will.) And that was 30 years ago!

So when it comes to nostalgia, remember: you heard it here first! (Or second, if you get the New York Times email.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Our Government Is Broken

Our government is broken. Congress can’t legislate and the Supreme Court has become a partisan institution that’s lost all credibility.

In just the most recent example, two senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, are standing in the way of passing a voting rights bill or changing the rules of the filibuster so anything can be passed (or even debated).

So this is where we are. Republicans stonewall for two years and then retake the House. We saw a similar playbook with Obama, when they blocked his nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court until a Republican—Trump—was elected and then let him install three Supreme Court justices.

They’re also gerrymandering Congressional districts and installing political appointees to oversee elections in order to guarantee permanent Republican rule.

If ever there was a reason to storm the Capitol (and, no, I’m not advocating violence), this would be it.

The irony is that the party that is actually rigging the system is the same one that tried to overturn the election when their candidate (Trump) didn’t win.

And that’s to say nothing of the Electoral College.

Twice in the last 22 years, the person who lost the popular vote actually wound up winning the presidency.

So now we have a nonstop election cycle and nothing gets done. Not just voting rights. Not just Build Back Better. Nothing. No gun control, no abortion rights, no universal healthcare. Nothing.

And the irony (there’s that word again!) is that the majority of Americans want these things.

But our system of government is inherently undemocratic.

The Senate is an inherently undemocratic institution.

Rhode Island has the same number of senators as California. The 50 Republicans in the Senate only represent a minority of the population.

So we now have minority rule.

And that’s undemocratic.

And there’s not a fucking thing we can do about it.