Archived entries for Books and Music

Keep The Lights On

I have such ADD that I rarely watch films. But this week I saw a screening of Ira Sachs’ “Keep The Lights On” — hosted by Out Professionals — in advance of its New York and LA opening next week, and I was gripped. I simply have not been able to shut up about it since.

The film mirrors so much of the story told by Sachs’ ex-boyfriend Bill Clegg in Portrait of an Addict, the story of their relationship and Clegg’s descent into crack addiction. Far more than a gay drama, though, the beautifully shot film seems a universal story of confusion and obsession in love. The music, by Arthur Russell, is haunting and perfect. The last ten minutes of the film is perhaps one of the most incredible sequences every shot; I promise you’ll go to bed contemplating what happened with the lead characters, Erik and Paul!


I’ve been a huge Sade fan since 2000 when I remarked to an older friend that I had discovered this “new” singer. Silly me…she had of course been around for decades. So this week I was thrilled to see her live in concert on Long Island — a little 29th birthday present from my friend Dean. (I don’t go to Long Island for just anybody, but thanks to the wonders of black car services, it is possible.)

Along with Sarah McLachlan and Tina Turner, she is easily among the top three concerts I’ve seen. I nearly cried at every song! She is even better in real life than in her records! Run – don’t walk!

Rainbow Book Fair

I had no idea there was a Rainbow Book Fair in New York, the country’s biggest LGBT literary expo, let alone that it was a block from my apartment!

So I spent an afternoon this weekend taking in a few readings and panels including an excellent one featuring Vicki Eaklor, the woman who taught my Gay American History in college! Not only is she a riot but she is one of the most brilliant historians I’ve ever met. As a know-it-all 20-year old, she really changed my perspective and appreciation for history.

In a panel discussion, she mentioned something pretty interesting: we tend to be taugh history as a very linear narrative, meaning we’re urged to think that ‘things just keep getting better’ as time goes on. When posed the question in relation to gay life, she pointed out that she probably would have preferred living as a lesbian in the 1920s.

Her new book is Queer America: A People’s GLBT History of the United States. Buy it now!

Year of Magical Thinking

I finally got around to reading Joan Didion’s acclaimed book The Year of Magical Thinking, the story of the year following her husband’s death, and have to admit I was a little disappointed. I really want to like Joan Didion, but none of her books I’ve read have had me falling head-over-heels. Each is eloquently written but also seems to be overwhelmed and undermined by Didion’s subtle snobbery, and this book is no exception.

That said, one passage of The Year of Magical Thinking did strike me as truly profound: “We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.”

A few good books (and one less so)

I’ve been remiss in posting my usual book reviews, so I’m going to briefly recap a few of the books I’ve plowed through this summer:

Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran (Elaine Sciolino): An excellent account of post-Revolution Iran by a New York Times writer who was actually on the famous Air France 747 that brought the Ayatollah Khomeini back from exile in 1979! This was a true page-turner: I couldn’t put it down and ended up reading it in only a few sittings. A fascinating look at Iran by someone who spent the better part of the last 30 years living there.

Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Secret Saudi-U.S. Connection (Gerald Posner): What an awful book! I’m obsessed with Saudi Arabia and am well aware how bizarre the kingdom may be, but this book was over-the-top one-sided. In fact, it seemed so overwhelmingly biased, I actually felt bad for the House of Saud — an amazing feat by the author!

A History of Jordan (Philip Robins): A simple title and a boring academic-looking volume, but an excellent overview of Jordan — from the Ottoman and British Mandate days, through the period when the country was known as Transjordan to the present Hashemite Kingdom. Jordan is a fascinating place carved out of the Middle Eastern desert (like so many nations) and this easy read explains its evolution, the complexity of its relations with neighboring states, the roots of its liberal streak, and the unusual cast of characters who’ve played a hand in its development.

Zamalek: The Changing Life Of A Cairo Elite, 1850-1945 (Chafika Hamamsy): With the complexity of the Arab names that run throughout this book, Zamalek can be a bit of a slog. After visiting Cairo this spring and staying in the Zamalek neighborhood, I became obsessed with the place. (In fact, I picked up this book at Diwan, an excellent local bookseller in Zamalek!) The title is fairly self-explanatory; the book traces the changing mores and culture of Cairo’s upper-crust in the years when British and French influence were at their zenith. Like I said, it’s a slog, but interesting.

The best of YouTube

Absolutely brilliant…Party in the USA, Fire Island Pines version:

Paris to the Moon

It’s been ten years since Adam Gopnik wrote “Paris to the Moon,” and I just finally got around to reading it. (I generally eschew any book that’s a bestseller until it begins collecting dust on bookstore shelves…) I have to admit that it was a pretty good read (one chapter aside, on sports, which I couldn’t manage to slog through).  Gopnik’s tale of leaving New York and moving to Paris for a few years as correspondent for The New Yorker is every francophile’s fantasy. He writes, “It’s true that you can’t run away from yourself. But we were right right: you can run away.”

If you’re not a Paris fanatic like me, you probably won’t enjoy the book and all its local references quite as much.

A Times reviewer explained, “The distinctive brilliance of Gopnik’s essays lies in his ability to pick up a subject one would never have imagined it possible to think deeply about and then cover it in thoughts, making connections with literature, sociology and philosophy — all treated in a highly readable way.” French fax machines, Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, and chocolat chaud at The Ritz all get their fair share of ink.


A few good books

I’m way behind in my book reviews, so I’ll be brief here to catch up and blurb a few recent-reads…

Saudi Arabia Exposed (John Bradley): Sounds like it was written by a Republican, but it was actually a very fair and balanced English journalist. A fascinating look at the world’s most closed country. It was my first book on Saudi Arabia and now I’m hooked. I recommend it — even if you don’t care about Saudi Arabia.

Bobos in Paradise: The new upper class and how they got there (David Brooks): LOVED IT! A very good read for anyone who has lived in civilization for the past decade or two (small town America doesn’t count unless it’s Missoula or Burlington).

Brooks devotes much of his book to self-conscious wandering AND the idea of venturing further and further afield in search of spirtual or emotional fulfillment. He writes,

But the ultimate problem with spiritual freedom is that it never ends. As [the American philosopher Richard] Rorty points out, it widens endlessly, Freedom means always keeping your options open, so it means you never settle on truth, you never arrive, you can never rest. The accumulation of spiritual peak experiences can become like the greedy person’s accumulation of money. The more you get, the more you hunger for more. The life of perpetual choice is a life of perpetual longing as you are prodded by the inextinguishable desire to try the next new thing. But maybe what the soul hungers for is ultimately not a variety of interesting and moving insights but a single universal truth.

Crescent & Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds (Stephen Kinzer): Best book on Turkey I’ve read yet — and I can’t stop reading about Turkey. Very easy to digest for anyone not already into the history of Turkey.

The Turks Today (Andrew Mango): Not quite as good or as flowing a read as Crescent & Star, but I still recommend it to any Turkophile. The book traces the republic’s history since the death of Ataturk — quite interesting.

America Anonymous

america_anonymousI tend to be a voracious reader — you really have to be if you sit on the subway as much as I do — but my latest book was a slog. I picked up Benoit Denizet-Lewis’s new volume, “America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life,” about the lives of a handful of compulsive eaters, sex addicts, gamblers, meth addicts, kleptomaniacs, etc. — because everyone seemed to be talking about it. It was slow going, but there were a few nuggets of insight that I thought were so apropos:

Effectively combating addiction would require more than a complete rethinking of our drug policies. It would necessitate nothing short of a radical cultural shift of consciousness. In his book Addictive Thinking: Understanding Self-Deception, Abraham J. Twerski points out that curbing addiction would demand that American culture establish a “tolerance for delay” and “ultimate goals in life other than sense gratification.”

In 1948 author and Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote, “We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible.”

We’ve created a schizophrenic culture where nothing is ever enough, where stillness is equated with boredom, and where we need increasingly intense experiences just to feel alive.

Benoit comes out

Like just about everyone who’s ever been in his company, I’ve always had a major crush on Benoit Denizet-Lewis. His new book “American Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life,” and his own admissions, first reported in The New York Times, of a fascinating, debilitating sex addiction, have certain circles abuzz. I just picked up the book and can’t wait to get started!

Songs of the time

Like the 175 million other iPod owners around the world, I’m addicted to mine and constantly listening to the latest (or 80s-era) tunes. Of course I won’t have ear drums left when I’m 30, but who cares? While one’s iTunes library is a very private place, like the contents of one’s diary, I always like to go back at the end of the year and reveal my most-played songs. Here they are!

• “Wrapped around your finger” (The Police)
• “I just died in your arms tonight” (Cutting Crew)
• “1973” (James Blunt)
• “Day old hate ” (City and Colour)
• “Waiting” (City and Colour)
• “I’ve had the time of my life” (Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes)
• “Mr Blue Sky” (Electric Light Orchestra)

• “Can’t sleep” (Above & Beyond)
• “In my mind” (Heather Headley, Freemasons remix)
• “Touch my body” (Mariah Carey, Haji/Emanuel radio edit)
• “Break my fall” (BT and Tiesto)
• “Bleeding love” (Leona Lewis, Jason Nevins radio mix)
• “Anthem” (Filo & Peri)
• “Lost” (Roger Sanchez, 12″ mix)
• “Carry me away” (Chris Lake, club mix)
• “Amazing” (Seal, Thin White Duke edit)

Happy new year!

As the sun sets on another year, best wishes to all.


A few of my fav memories of the year:

• Running the Vancouver Sun Run, and not dying
• Lauren Bacall’s reading of “Just A Little One” at Poetry and the Creative Mind.
• Munich and Prague bar hopping
• The Simpsons Movie premiere in L.A.
• My France-New York flight pit stop in Goose Bay, Labrador

My top ten most played songs, according to iTunes:
• “Castles in the Sand,” The Philosopher Kings
• “Steppin’ Out,” Kaskade
• “Irreplaceable,” Beyonce
• “Lost (12″ Mix),” Roger Sanchez
• “Not Falling Apart,” Maroon 5
• “Day Old Hate,” City and Colour
• “Happiness by the Kilowatt (Live),” City and Colour
• “Like Knives,” City and Colour
• “Save Your Scissors,” City and Colour
• “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” Belinda Carlisle

Selfish & Perverse

selfish_perverseLast night I had the pleasure of attending a risible reading of comedian Bob Smith’s new book, “Selfish & Perverse.” Although I’m not one to recommend a book without having read it, I can almost guarantee this one will be a page turner — if his reading last night, and his track record…his “Openly Bob” was one of the funniest books I’ve ever read (so funny, in fact, I’ve read it four times)….are any indication. That said, I bought the book and started reading it this morning. I’ll let you know how it was!

The highlight of the reading was certainly getting to meet his mom, who jetted in from Buffalo for the event. She was just as Buffalo as I’d pictured after reading about her in the opening of “Openly Bob.”

David Halberstam is dead

halberstam_davidProlific writer and journalist David Halberstam, whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak two weeks ago at Poetry and Creative Mind, died today near San Francisco.

In one of my fav quotes, the famed Halberstam once said, “Memory is often less about the truth than about what we want it to be.”

New York Times obituary

Poets Gala

PEOPLE BACALL Last night I attended Poetry and the Creative Mind at Lincoln Center, the excellent annual benefit for the Academy of American Poets. Last year’s event was great, but this year was even better thanks to a truly stellar reading by Lauren Bacall — who didn’t look a day under 120 — of Dorothy Parker’s “Just A Little One,” a hilarious satire on romance. Though she broke the rules of the American poet-only event by reading what is more like a short story, her delivery was truly amazing. I left in awe of her.

Well, I don’t know Fred – what are you going to have?
Then I guess I’ll have a highball, too; please, just a little one.
Is it really real Scotch?
Well that will be a new experience for me.
You ought to see the Scotch I’ve got home in my cupboard.
At least it was in the cupboard this
morning – it’s probably eaten its way out by now.

Glen Close and Ethan Hawke were among the other celebrity readers, but Patrick Wilson (right) definitely was the most jaw-dropping eye candy of the night.

City and Colour

I’ve been in love with the solo act known as City and Colour since I first heard them/him this summer in Vancouver. The St. Catharines, Ont.-based Dallas Green is one of the best crooners I’ve heard recently. I highly recommend the album, “Sometimes,” available on iTunes.



Who knew that Bananarama is back? Last night I had the distinct pleasure of checking out the ladies at Borders in Manhattan with my friend Kenneth. His blog has the full scoop.

Andrew Bundy

andrew_bundyThis week in San Francisco I had the pleasure of checking out a performance by my friend Andrew Bundy. Not only is Andy an amazing person, but he is also the only friend I have who can truly sing well. He is a jazzy mix of Stevie Wonder, Tori Amos, and Harry Connick, Jr. — if you can imagine that.

Download his MP3s from MySpace (I recommend “Where Did I Go Yesterday”) and put them on your iPod. Then look for him at a performance at the Virgin Megastore in Union Square May 3. We’re both running in Bay to Breakers on May 21–I can’t disclose what Andy’s costume will be, but let’s just say it is not to be missed.

On writing

It’s been almost five years since I first heard the song “Cry Ophelia” by Adam Cohen, Leonard’s singer-songwriter son. I remember liking it a lot back then (perhaps it was the “Dawson’s Creek” soundtrack connection), but recently I rediscovered it and it has taken on new meaning considering everything that has gone on in life since then.

Something went wrong
You are not laughing
It’s not so easy now to get your smile
You gotta be strong
To walk these streets
And keep from falling
But when you’re not, just let yourself cry

In talking about writing this song, Cohen once said, “I fall in love every day with someone, something or a place..It’s the result of an acrobatic imagination. I suppose the darkness comes from the fact that I suffer great disappointment with life on a regular basis and the best therapy is to write about it. It’s song-writing as exorcism.” That line hit me: it’s why I write. And then I found this great Joan Didion quote that went even further: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

An evening of poetry

Last night at Poetry & the Creative Mind, the annual benefit of the Academy of American Poets, I had the pleasure of seeing Gloria Vanderbilt – a.k.a. mother of my future ex-husband, Anderson Cooper. She truly is timeless; she doesn’t look a day over 120. Her face was so tight and so lifted it was like she was blinking with her lips. Clearly she’s ‘gone to Arizona,’ as they say, once or twice, or maybe three or four times.

The event featured ten well-known figures–including Wynton Marsalis, Mike Wallace, and Alan Alda–reading their most beloved poems. Meryl Streep was a show-stopper, not because of her rapturous selections, but because she fell on stage as she was being introduced. She caught the lip of her chair just as she went to be seated, and it was all downhill from there.

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