Rest In Peace: Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse (9/14/1983 – 7/23/2011)

Wow, there are so many things I want to say about Winehouse’s death. The way I feel the media, society and yes even her fans were complicit in her destruction. I want to pull clips of her when she first broke in the U.S. and was more coherent and open about her use of marijuana. I want to pair it with articles and comments on her weight despite being only a size 10 at the time. The way she always seemed to perform with her gaze lowered as if looking at the audience was too much. The way I can’t help but wonder if her decision to give up pot to lose the weight also led to her decision to start using heavier drugs that are more destructive but also lead to weight loss. There is a lot we’ll never know and will constantly want to figure out.

I want to dissect the whole thing but it feels too soon and too raw. I’ve been a fan of Amy Winehouse since the release of her first album in 2003, Frank. I loved her style, her performance and her complete unconcern for others opinions. There was a lot to critique about her music and her personal life but very few would ever try to deny her talent.

In this moment though? All I wanna do is hear her voice:

Valerie

Fuck Me Pumps – the first Winehouse song I ever heard and I still have a soft spot for it despite some issues I have with message/lyrics.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? – She never did an official video for this but such a great cover in any case and seems appropriate to end the post with.

Music You Should Listen To: CockNBullKid

So there have been plenty of amazing British imports when it comes to music. Just recently you have Adele, Duffy, Amy Winehouse and more. Reaching farther back The Sex Pistols, The Beatles, X-ray Spex, Dusty Springfield and more.

Currently everywhere I look singer Jessie J is being touted as the Next Big Thing(tm) from across the pond. Her song Price Tag is appearing in more and more places, other singers talk about her amazing range and voice. I have her album and it is very enjoyable but after a few spins I stopped enjoying the songs for what they were and started to try and figure out what 90s song she was channeling. I’m all for 90’s music, the beats were great and the lyrics awesome but you have to take influence/inspiration and make it your own not let it take you for a ride as an artist of any kind. She is certainly very talented and has an amazing voice but is perhaps not as original (in my opinion) as I would like.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered CockNBullKid only a couple of weeks ago. Another British singer-songwriter her album Adulthood is already out in stores and she’s versatile and fresh in a way that’s exciting to listen to. And I really wish her music was getting half the push that Jessie J is. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that Jessie J is just outside of the norm enough to be edgy and interesting without really challenging anything. Anyway, on to the fabulous CNBK (CockNBullKid for those who don’t know)!

Hold on To Your Misery – A take on more 60’s girl group pop but with a bit of a twisted message. I love the use of children mostly because it doesn’t feel precocious and twee and it easily could.

Yellow – More indie-pop feel song with some really unique and interesting beats backing it up. All about fear and cowardice and love a song that sounds cheery then as you listen closer sort of isn’t.

One Eye Closed – A slinky rock song with a compelling and somewhat disturbing thready beat/rhythm that fits so well. And really worth it just for the video, it starts with her in a monster costume handing out fliers…then it gets weird.

Asthma Attack – Full blown dancey pop and I LOVE IT. An ode to London that is suitably tongue-in-cheek from a singer that calls herself the CockNBullKid.

Bonus Video: So CockNBullKid has started a series of videos called Covered Off where she duets on a cover with another artist. So far she’s done three: Plan B’s ‘He Said’ with Clare Maguire, Rui Da Silva’s ‘Touch Me’ with Gonzales but my favorite based on the staging as much as anything else (’cause they’re all amazing) is CNBK and Eliza Doolittle doing Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bills, Bills, Bills,’ while checking themselves out in make-up mirrors.

Marriage As Inequality – Link with Commentary

Most people know I have very mixed feelings on marriage in general (Not The Marrying Kind) and the push for marriage equality in particular (Marriage Equality: Yay for California but My Overall Reaction to Marriage is *shrug*). I am far from the only person to critique marriage as an institution or the push for marriage equality but up until now most of where I’ve heard it is in more radical or independent presses/spaces.

Then someone pointed me to this New York Times article that was published after the marriage decision in New York. Judith Stacey a sociology professor at NYU and brings up some excellent points in her piece, Unequal Opportunity. Such as:

My research suggests that younger gays are less likely than their forebears to envision alternatives to marriage and nuclear family life.

Which has always been something that bothered me. The narrative of: ‘There is a different way to live your life, a different family structure you can form that may not look like what you’ve been taught to expect but is valid nonetheless’ has gotten completely lost in the last couple of decades. More and more I see the marriage equality push legitimizing itself by trying to look more and more normative by which I mean white, male, masculine and traditionally attractive. A line is drawn, those who want to get married and “freaks”.

Another great point Ms. Stacey brings up:

For this very reason, same-sex marriage enthusiasts are wrong to celebrate the democratizing effects of their victory in New York. To be sure, it removes an indefensible form of discrimination against lesbians and gay men. But the upshot of celebrating marriage is to exacerbate discrimination against the unmarried and their children — a rising proportion of our population, particularly among its poorer and darker members. Same-sex marriage, like its heterosexual model, is disproportionately accessible to members of the white middle class.

I enjoy the fact that she acknowledges that this is a blow against discrimination but that there are more complex issues and interactions at work here as well.

The article is shorter than I wanted and doesn’t goes as in-depth (I’m thinking I may need to pick up her book on marriage) but hits some excellent points that I and other people have been arguing for years and it’s great to see these points and perspectives brought up in a larger arena.

Now go read the whole thing

Why I Hate Brokeback Mountain…

So this is a post that’s been sitting in the back of my mind for a long time (years and years) and since I’m making the attempt to get back into blogging regularly I figured I’d pull it out of the back of my mind and shove it onto the blog.

I hate Brokeback Mountain.

This has nothing to do with it being a queer movie. It has to do with the fact that the narrative around Brokeback Mountain has been one of love and railing against the unfairness of a heterosexual world. The tragedy of it all, the romance of it all.

The infidelity of it all.

My main issue around this is the fact that if you had two men of color, especially black men, engaging in a clandestine affair with one another to the ignorance of their wives? I doubt there is any way in hell it would be called a romantic movie at all. It would have been called a movie about folks on the down low. The commentary would have been dissected on Oprah and in the media as a betrayal of women, as the reason that HIV is so prominent in the African-American community and a whole host of things that men on the down low get accused of all the time.

But somehow in this instance it’s become this ultimate romantic movie with this horrible tragic ending. The characters of the wives are rarely brought up in discussion, when most people discuss the film the fact that the characters are married is barely touched upon in terms of betrayal. It’s discussed in terms of the way that they are trapped by an unfeeling society and expectations.

Perhaps as men on the down low are? Trapped by fear of rejection and ignorance of their existence not to mention a dollop of self-hatred. Yet somehow the cute white boys are a tragic love story while the millions of men who are involved in down low culture are vilified.

This isn’t a defense of being on the down low. I don’t agree with keeping relationships secret when they may effect other relationships whether that be physical or emotional. My issue is the way that the framing of this movie has happened.

As a love story I believe the movie fails. As a commentary on the different ways we view sexuality when it’s tied to race it says a whole lot.

If you want a good movie about being gay in America that deals with race and family expectations and is even directed by Ang Lee try The Wedding Banquet.

P.S. – I could also bring up the fact that I think that in the original short story two of the characters (including one of the main pair) are actually latino. Not so in the movie

P.P.S. – The Wild West has always had a very large queer undercurrent and this was not the wild west even it was 1970’s Montana where people were at the time living openly as gay couples. Yes, even in Montana.

Glee, Why You So White?

So Gwyneth Paltrow singing Cee-Lo Green. For all the reasons this hurts and why it should not be even in the most hellish of nightmare worlds, go here: A Few Things About Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘F*ck You’ As Performed on Glee for an excellent, intelligent and hilarious take on why it is so not okay. I’ve dealt with a lot on Glee (I’m looking at you Matthew Morrison and your incessant need to rap) but this is the first time I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting the songs on my iPod. So the part of the post linked above that seems to be causing the most drama up and in the comments is this part:

The song is off-limits for white people
Unless! Unless you really want to match Cee Lo sound for sound. First off, the soul-pop package doesn’t mitigate this song or its message; it mainstreams it. It’s subversion on steroids, and watered down to high-school pop it’s about as subversive as Reader’s Digest. More technically, I guess there’s nothing keeping Paltrow from actually rhyming that “if I was richer/I’d still be wit’ cha,” (hello, Amy Winehouse!), but her whitening of the phrase is kind of… well, disgusting. Let’s face it: Gwyneth Paltrow singing any variation on “F*ck You” is like Pat Boone singing “Tutti Frutti,” and maybe even worse: At least he didn’t have to dance with Cory Monteith and Chris Colfer.

Okay so the inevitable response to such queries as this is to scream “If you said black people couldn’t cover white songs that would be racist, so this isn’t okay! It’s reverse racism!” Okay first of all that’s a straw man argument that has nothing to do with the initial reasons given for why it’s not okay. Second of all, racism (as many people have said over and over) is privilege plus power. Black people as a group have never had enough power to enforce a nation-wide prejudice on white people in the west which continues through media to this very day.

Ignoring that let’s address that argument as if it’s valid. See the problem is that it’s only valid if equality is the base and we don’t live in an equal society at all and Glee certainly doesn’t exist in a universe of racial equality. See when this season started I was already a little put out that football coach Ken Tanaka and glee member Matt Rutherford were written out of the show and essentially replaced with white folk. Beiste for Tanaka, Sam for Matt. This is no comment on the characters of Beiste or Sam (both of whom I actually enjoy) but to show the whitening of the show in terms of diversity, one of the things they were initially praised for.

In the midst of this look at the guest stars they’ve had on the show so far: Eve, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Neil Patrick Harris, Barry Bostwick, Meatloaf, John Stamos, Johnathon Groff, Britney, Olivia Newton-John, Josh Groban, Cheyenne Jackson and now Gwyneth Paltrow. With the exception of Eve they are all white and Eve doesn’t even get to sing during her entire one episode appearance. How many songs has Kristin Chenoweth had on the show so far? More than Tina, one of the “main characters” that’s for sure.

So why can’t we have some Broadway legends of color? Some Jennifer Holliday, Stephanie Mills, Rita Moreno, Lea Salonga, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Taye Diggs. Shoot at this point I’m willing to accept Carol Channing’s sketchy claim to some black heritage and cheer for her as a guest star. Or even some actors/musicians of color? Jennifer Hudson, Halle Barry, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Enrique Iglesias, Lenny Kravitz. You could just prop Whitney Houston up in the corner and have her bust out some ‘Greatest Love of All’. Shit, why couldn’t Cee-Lo himself play the substitute teacher and sing his own damn song?

I’ve watched Mercedes get slowly pushed aside, until she is the only glee club member without any kind of romantic interest, or urge at all if the show is to be believed. The relationship between Tina and Mike crosses the line from cute to stereotype so many times it makes my head spin and the treatment of Santana, especially in this last episode with the whole Puck/Artie storyline has drifted far into the overly sexualized latina stereotype.

The way the characters of color end up sidelined so much has resulted in many, many songs by artists of color being sung by white characters on that show. The reverse is hardly ever the case. When Mercedes is given a whole song to sing it is most often a song already done by a black female artist. She doesn’t get to cross that barrier ever (with the exception of Rocky Horror which she got crucified online by Glee fans) while characters like Mr. Schuester and Artie do so on a regular basis. This is not a case of there being a basis of equality that has suddenly changed. This is a case of people beginning to notice that the show is getting more and more white and monolithic in terms of race.

Glee does not rest on a base of equality, just as the world itself does not. To argue the charge of reverse racism you basically have to prove that all things being equal the world isn’t already slanted against People of Color and other oppressed groups. I’m not saying that individual members of an oppressed group cannot be prejudiced but the charge of reverse-racism is erroneous and detracts from the overall question I’ve started to have with Glee, a show I love and would like to continue too love, Glee why you getting more and more white?

And don’t even get me started on the conflation of white, young boy and gay that happens on the series, that’s another post that will be going up later this week.

Is He or Isn’t He? Take 5,890,763,111 – The Zachary Quinto Edition

Politically I’m quite a bit to the left (quelle suprise, I know) so it’s fairly often that more mainstream media pisses me off. Mainstream GLBT media especially which tends to be very white, male and “normative”, ignoring a lot of other parts of the queer community and thus pissing me off. So I tend to stay away from sites like Afterelton.com, the exception to this is the Glee Recaps which I enjoy and head over to read every week. This particular week I clicked on a link in the sidebar to a weekly column entitled, “Best Gay Week Ever!” and was scrolling through when I came across this charming little tidbit.

There was a lot of discussion this week about Zachary Quinto’s declining to address his sexual orientation when asked by the New York Times. That is certainly Quinto’s right and we here at AfterElton.com firmly don’t believe in outing in any way, so that’s pretty much all of what I have to say about Quinto.

But I just as firmly believe that every GLBT person who is able to live a life today that is more free and open than ever before has an obligation to do their part to make things better for those who come after us.

That’s why I’ll always champion out actors like [Chad] Allen and Cheyenne Jackson and Jonathan Groff, and won’t spend much time thinking about those who benefit from the sacrifices made by others yet live in glass closets.

Okay. *Deep Breath* Let’s ignore the hypocrisy of “[we] don’t believe in outing” and ending the rant with “others yet live in glass closets” and the fact that after saying that’s all that will be said about Quinto that the following two paragraphs are pretty much a passive-aggressive statement all about Quinto despite the fact that his name doesn’t appear. This isn’t even really about the person who wrote this column as much as it’s about  this pervasive idea in mainstream GLBT media that being out is the only way to live your life and that it’s worth anything and everything and on and on. It’s happened with rumors about Elijah Wood and Queen Latifah and Ne-Yo and a hundred other entertainers, along with the continual refrain of “Why won’t you just come out?” and frankly I’m sick of it.

First of all, let’s talk about the fact that the only reason that Quinto has had his sexuality questioned is his support of GLBT causes and issues. Take a moment to contemplate the sad fact that any straight man cannot support GLBT causes without it become a question of his sexuality and inevitably his manhood as well. That’s a whole research thesis in and of itself.

Now, let’s also look at the fact that Quinto [and Wood, Latifah, etc...]  could very well be straight, that his denial to reveal his sexuality could actually be a strong and interesting position of basically saying, “Despite my heterosexuality I don’t feel the need to confirm or deny my sexuality and make that the issue here rather than the GLBT issues we’re talking about”.  I don’t subscribe to the idea that a ‘No comment’ is the same as admitting to something. There are simply too many variables that we don’t know, that we can’t know, to make it that simplistic.

And let’s say they are queer in some fashion (or even straight!), maybe they just feel it’s none of  our damn business and that’s okay. It’s okay for someone who lives their life in the spotlight and has everything scrutinized to want to keep their private life private. Now I’m not one to jump on the “woe are the celebrities/rich” whiny bandwagon by any means and I admit to an unhealthy love of celebrity gossip and reality TV but should someone be judged and held up for (albeit mild) contempt because they didn’t answer a question the way you wanted them to? I don’t think so.

There is a contract between entertainer and audience, it says: you will entertain me and I will pay you. That’s it. That’s all she wrote.  Somehow it’s shifted to this entitlement that we as the audience have the right to know everything about an entertainer and put them on some pedestal as a leader, a hero and it’s an insidiously pervasive idea our society. Bottom line is that none of these people that (the generic) you believes to be in the closet ever promised to be your: leader/lover/healer/hero/figurehead/and the list goes on. To put that expectation on them and then be angry when they refuse to live up to it exhibits a level of arrogance that really bothers me.

And finally, and this hearkens back to what I said about not knowing all the factors, the idea that just coming out is the solution is too simple and too one-pronged a position to take for such a complex issue. (This at the base is the same issue I have with the It Gets Better campaign, even though I get the motivation and impulse, because it doesn’t always get better for some folks and others can’t wait that long). The thing is that you can’t know what is best for someone else. It’s impossible. You don’t know their family dynamics like they do, their religious affiliation and level of belief, their ethnic culture, their racial identity, their connection to community and that community’s value system, their political identity, their age and how they’ve identified so far, their class background and a hundred other things of both large and small effect that determine whether it’s better for someone to come out of the closet.

Basically by taking the position of out being the only way, the GLBT mainstream not only makes an amazing display of privilege in urging everyone that one way is the right way, they are also saying that coming out is worth everything you might change. And that’s probably the case for some and some of have less to lose but for others maybe they don’t want to deal with familial fall-out, maybe they don’t want to change the way people look at them, maybe they want to keep their career on a huge uptick [anyone remember how quickly Rupert Everett's rocket ride to leading man came to an abrupt halt, Hollywood is always more comfortable with gay actors when they play gay/desexualized characters] and maybe they just don’ t think it’s any of your business. And maybe just maybe they’re fine with that decision, maybe it actually makes them happy. Maybe things are more complex than ‘in the closet’ = sad panda and out = healthy vibrant queer.

Because I’m not talking about staying in the closet miserable and afraid by any means, I think every who wants to come out should be able to in a safe and loving environment. I also think someone should give me a billion dollars. Not only does not everyone exist in a scenario where they are able to come out but some people don’t feel the need to, some just don’t care about making an announcement to anyone. I’m saying that this is a much more complex and minefield laden issue than a simple “Hey, come on out, the water is fine.” and that whatever decision someone may make on the spectrum of ‘out’ to ‘in’ their choice is a valid one and one that should be respected.

Really it all amounts to the fact that we should be praising Quinto and others for supporting GLBT issues however they identify. This focus on “Well are they or aren’t they?!? And if they are they should be out!” makes it seem as if the only reason they could ever be invested in the politics is if they had a personal stake in it which is surely not the impression that should be given out.  And I think that with his activism and voice Quinto is (as the columnist above stated of GLBT out actors) doing his “part to make things better for those who come after us” whatever his sexual orientation may be.

For Colored Girls…But Not Really

Now I’ll fully admit that I have watched some Tyler Perry movies in the past and even enjoyed one or two. There’s a lot to discuss about Perry most especially the way women tend to be portrayed in his work. Strong but unable to be so if they continue to be single. It’s like the law of Tyler Perry movies a female character cannot just leave her abusive/mean/dismissive/boring husband or boyfriend unless there’s another man already lined up for her to lean on. There’s also the added facet that all of these women go from “professional” men to “working class” men which adds a whole class aspect to his work. The men always marry up and the women always marry down in terms of socio-economic level. And this isn’t saying that that is not a valid story for some folks but it’s less the individual movies I have a problem with as much as the overall thematic pattern of his work. The only woman allowed to be angry and strong consistently in his work is himself dressed as Madea, which is a whole essay on its own. We could also talk about the fact that those who starred in his original plays and happen to be plus size and black never make the transition to screen unless its in the background, there’s not even talk about the originators of the roles being cast which is interesting considering the to do that’s happened around other transitions like Rent and such but again point for another time that none the less informs a lot of the things that bother me about him and his portrayal of women of color.

So I was understandably nervous when he bought the rights to Ntozake Shange’s amazing choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf which is an amazing work from the perspective of eight  black women only known  by the titles: Lady in Red, Lady in Orange, Lady in Yellow,…Green, …Blue, …White, …Brown and …Black. It’s one of the most moving pieces I’ve ever read period. It interrogates the perspective of black women as they fall in love, deal with abuse, raise their children, confront their secrets, work, dance and just live their lives. It’s nuanced. It’s moving. It’s smart. It’s beautiful. These are not words I really connect to Tyler Perry or his work.

The fact that originally Nzingha Stewart was supposed to direct the film before he used his connections to snatch the film from her already did not make me a fan of  him. When it was announced that he was considering Beyonce for one of the roles I was too through. Then as things started to come together in terms of the cast I had hope: Janet Jackson (who lest people forget started in acting – Good Times, Fame and Poetic Justice), Whoopi Goldberg, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Loretta Devine, Kerry Washington, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Tessa Thompson and more. These are all actresses I’m a huge fan of and began to balance out the presence of Tyler Perry. I also learned that rather than writing the screenplay himself he was using the the screenplay that Nzingha Stewart wrote when she was still in charge of the film which IMDb and various sources confirm. Another point in the movies favor.

And as I was watching the trailer I actually was interested.

(WordPress would not let me embed the video of the trailer, go here to watch it.)

Until the whole video ended with this:

“Written For The Screen, Produced and Directed
By Tyler Perry”

WTF? So not only did Perry snatch the film itself from Stewart but he’s taking credit for her work. Now if it turns out that what I’ve heard and IMDB is reporting is wrong then I’ll take this back but as of now I hate Tyler Perry. What a move to make? To take a story about black women’s experiences written by  a black woman, steal it from a black female director (of which there are few enough as it is) and then take credit for her work. Methinks you actually need to read some of the original work you’re adapting:

somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff

somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff 
not my poems or a dance i gave up in the street
 but somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff

like a kleptomaniac workin hard & forgettin while stealin
 this is mine/this aint yr stuff/
now why don’t you put me back & let me hang out in my own self

somebody almost walked off wit alla my stuff 
& didn’t care enuf to send a note home sayin 
i was late for my solo conversation
 or two sizes to small for my own tacky skirts

link to the entire piece

We could also have a conversation about the shortening of the name, erasing a lot of the context in terms of the lives being portrayed, but that’s a post for another time.