By Gregg Shapiro

 

Photos: A24

 

The world has changed quite a bit since John Hughes’ `80s portrayals of adolescent angst in movies such as “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club”. In the interim, we’ve seen the best and worst of that challenging phase of life represented in films such as “Thirteen”, “School of Rock”, “Heavenly Creatures”, “Boyhood”, “Lady Bird” and even Disney/Pixar’s “Inside Out”.

 

Comedian turned writer/director Bo Burnham’s feature film debut “Eighth Grade” (A24) is a welcome addition to the genre. Honest, sensitive, genuine and astute, Burnham never trivializes the subject matter, but he’s careful not to celebrate it too much either.

Socially awkward Kayla (Elsie Fisher) lives with her father Mark (Josh Hamilton). He’s a good dad, encouraging and concerned, with an affectionate sense of humor. Kayla is a solitary teen, occasionally sullen, whose entire world revolves around social media. In other words, online she can be whoever she wants to be.

 

For example, Kayla, who is experiencing her final days as a middle schooler, makes a series of videos on a variety of subjects of interest to those in her age group, such as “Being Yourself”. The thing is, Kayla herself is struggling with all of the issues she posts about with confidence. Painfully shy, Kayla is voted “Most Quiet” during a class superlatives assembly.

 

There is, however, a ray of light in Kayla’s world. With his bedroom eyes and pouty lips, Aiden (Luke Prael) is Kayla’s unrequited middle school crush. He barely knows she exists, although she does what she can to remind him, including flirting with him during a school-shooting preparedness drill.

 

But, sadly, there is more darkness than light. Popular girl Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere) barely acknowledges Kayla’s existence, even after Kennedy’s mother insists Kayla attend her birthday/pool party. Following an eighth grade class visit to the high school she’ll attend in the fall, where she shadows sweet upper-class-person Olivia (Emily Robinson), Kayla is nearly sexually assaulted by high schooler Riley (Daniel Zolghadri).

 

Nevertheless, Kayla prevails, confronting her demons with a maturity and strength she was unaware she even possessed. An initially gawky introduction to Kennedy’s cousin Gabe (Jake Ryan) at the birthday party leads to a hilarious Chicken McNugget dinner date (complete with all of the dipping sauces) where they bond over “Rick and Morty” and their collective geekiness.

 

Also, it would be remiss not to mention Anna Meredith’s score for “Eighth Grade”, which is fantastic and effective.

 

All things considered, “Eighth Grade” makes the honor roll.

Rating: 4½ peaches

 

By Gregg Shapiro

 

In the history of modern pop music, certain acts are associated with the songwriters behind their biggest hits. Dionne Warwick will forever be linked with Burt Bacharach and Hal David. While they had hits written by others, the 5th Dimension’s most memorable hit singles were penned by Laura Nyro. Motown divas The Supremes (Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard) are another perfect example. It’s hard to imagine where they would be without the songs composed by the team of Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland. Essentially an expanded and rebranded reissue of 1967’s The Supremes Sing MotownThe Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland (Motown/UMe) is a double disc set that features both the original mono and stereo LP mixes as well as a dozen bonus tracks on the first disc. Featured are number one hits such as “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and the dramatic “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone”, as well as the Supreme’s readings of “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave” “It’s The Same Old Song” and eight more. The extended hit mix and film version of “The Happening” are among the best of the bonus cuts. Disc two features the live At The Coparecording.

 

 

 

Even though it was Joan Baez herself who wrote what is probably her greatest song – “Diamonds and Rust” – it is her long career as an interpreter of others’ songs for which she is probably best-known. In fact, her biggest hit to date, was a cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. Baez’s 21st century albums found her covering Eliza Gilkyson, Steve Earle, Patty Griffin, Josh Ritter, Gillian Welch and out singer/songwriter Diana Jones, to mention a few. Whistle Down The Wind (Bobolink/Razor & Tie), Baez’s first studio album in 10 years is a welcome return. The titular tune, written by Tom Waits (whom Baez has covered before) is marvelous and her rendition of trans singer/songwriter Anohni’s “Another World” is, well, out of this world.  Never one to shy away from political statements, Baez has her say in Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace” and Tim Eriksen’s “I Wish The Wars Were All Over”.

 

 

 

An actress whose extensive resume includes Broadway, film and television, Betty Buckley is about to embark on the national tour of the recent stage revival of Hello, Dolly! as Dolly Levi. Throughout her esteemed career, Buckley has had the privilege of singing songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Schwartz and countless other musical theater legends. However, it’s her pair of recent live albums, 2017’s Story Songs and her latest, the exceptional Hope (Palmetto) that are especially fascinating. Most likely expanding the palates of her longtime fans, Buckley lends her distinctive voice to a number of unexpected covers. Story Songs featured her stellar interpretations of Radiohead’s “High & Dry” (really!), Emmylou Harris’ “Prayer In Open D” and Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up”. Buckley continues to challenge and reward listeners with her versions of Lisa Loeb’s “Falling In Love”, Steely Dan’s “Any Major Dude”, Joni Mitchell’s “Shades of Scarlett Conquering”, Paul Simon’s “Quiet” and T Bone Burnett’s “Dope Island”.

 

There is little question that most people know the work of Fred Neil via Nilsson’s version of “Everybody’s Talkin’”, featured on both his 1968 album Aerial Ballet and the 1969 soundtrack to the movie Midnight Cowboy. “Everybody’s Talkin’”. Keith Sykes covers the songs on the  appropriately titled Everybody’s Talkin’: A Tribute to Fred Neil (Y&T Music). Sykes is among the better-known performers on this various artists compilation which also includes Rodney Crowell (performing “Candyman”), Eric Andersen (singing “The Dolphins”) and Charlie Pickett (doing “The Other Side of This Life”).

 

Leave it to the Brits to concoct a ridiculous jukebox stage musical such as Mamma Mia! and then unleash it on ABBA-loving Americans. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a truly hateful and horribly miscast movie version landed with a thud in movie theaters in 2008. But wait, now there’s a prequel/sequel, starring Cher, with its own accompanying album Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: The Movie Soundtrack Featuring the Songs of Abba (Capitol). In addition to new version rehashes of songs featured in the 2008 movie, the soundtrack includes Cher singing “Fernando” (with Andy Garcia) and taking a lead role on “Super Trouper” (featuring the whole cast). The biggest treat is, believe it or not, Meryl Streep singing the 1982 non-LP Abba song “The Day Before You Came”, which features updated lyrics.

 

 

 

 

 

As albums by Tony Award-winning Broadway divas go, Take Me To The World (Ghostlight Deluxe) by Sutton Foster is in a league of its own. Just listen to choral renditions of “I’m On My Way/On My Way” (featuring Megan McGinnis, Darcie Roberts, Jodi Cotton, Johnna Allen Tavianini, Elizabeth Truitt and the Ball State Cabaret Class Female Student Singers) and “Every Time We Say Goodbye” (with the Ball State Cabaret Class Student Singers). To say Foster plays well with others is an understatement. Throughout the disc, Foster shares space with other vocalists and a fantastic group of musicians for a marvelous musical journey.

 

 

 

 

 

With the exception of two original compositions, the songs on Changes (Concord) by Arianna Neikrug, winner of the 2015 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, are covers. The most thrilling among them include her unexpected pairing of Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” with “Be Cool”, a marvelously jazz-inflected reading of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and the medley of Nat King Cole’s “Never Let Me Go” and the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There”.

 

 

By Gregg Shapiro

Photo: Ian Bonhôte, Ann Ray

 

One of the many things for which the year 2018 will be remembered is the number of (mostly) good documentaries playing in theaters. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and “RBG” are sure to be remembered as “best of” lists are compiled at year’s end. Both films are also shoo-ins for Oscar nominations. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the flawed “Whitney.”

 

Closer in quality to “…Neighbor” and “RBG” than to “Whitney,” the Alexander McQueen doc “McQueen” (Bleecker Street), co-directed Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, tells the rags to riches story of the fashion designer born Lee Alexander McQueen. Separated into five sections, “McQueen” portrays the brilliant man who went to the far reaches of his dark side to pull the horror from his soul, and then put them on the catwalk.

 

McQueen, who admitted he wasn’t very good in school, except for art, and was “always drawing clothes in every lesson,” was encouraged by his mother Joyce to apply for (and got) a Saville Row apprenticeship. He learned Bespoke tailoring from master tailor Cornelius O’Callaghan and then went work for avant-garde designer Koji Tatsuno. The “sweet boy from the East End” who “listened continually to Sinead O’Connor” learned about “visual research” and historical and sexual references in fashion from Red or Dead designer John McKitterick.

 

Before you know it, McQueen lands a job in Italy with designer Romeo Gigli. Back in London, McQueen earned his MA at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design under the guidance of Bobby Hillson, thanks to his generous Aunt Renee who paid is tuition.

 

From there, McQueen made his name by combining the “modern and the classical” and “sabotage and tradition,” creating beautiful things out of his dark side. A fashion disrupter, McQueen incorporated fetish fascination into his work, which he boldly displayed in his designs as well as his legendary runway shows. Along the way, the “romantic craftsman” with a self-destructive streak, won British Designer of the Year two years in a row. But there were casualties and his intertwined personal and work lives suffered.

 

Fame didn’t provide McQueen with happiness. He indulged in drug use. He changed his physical appearance. He felt pressured which led to paranoia. McQueen did, however, find pleasure with his dog at the seaside. Still, the deaths of influential magazine editor Isabella Blow (with whom he had a falling out) and his mother proved to be too much. McQueen committed suicide in 2010.

 

Interviews with sister Janet McQueen, nephew Gary James McQueen and boyfriends Andrew Groves (who was also an assistant designer) and Murray Arthur, provide intimate details. Most of the other insider interview subjects, including Detmar Blow (Isabella Blow’s husband), hairstylist Mira Chai Hyde, agent Alice Smith, writer Plum Sykes, assistants Sebastien Pons and Ruti Danan, and models Jodie Kidd, Debra Shaw and Magdalena Frackowiak, may only be recognizable to those with some familiarity of the high fashion world of the nineties and early aughts. While they may not be familiar names, their connections to the McQueen and the industry definitely give their insights considerable weight.

 

Rating: 3 1/2 peaches

By Gregg Shapiro

 

When it comes to album titles, gay singer/songwriter came up with a good one for his second album. Not the End of Me (stevegrand.com), on which Grand deals with his pre-sobriety downward spiral, is definitely fitting. Facing his demons head on, Grand has written some of his most visceral songs for this album (check out “Disciple”). Nevertheless, Grand knows his fan-base well enough to also include the kinds of songs his devoted followers will appreciate, as in the case of “You or the Music”. We spoke about the new album and his newfound clarity in July 2018, while Grand was doing his Provincetown residency.

 

When we spoke in late spring 2017, I asked you about being “laser-focused” on your second album and you mentioned having just written and recorded a chorus, as well as the production work you were doing. How much of what you were creating at that time ended up on what is now Not The End of Me?

(At that time) I think I was really refining my song “Safe and Sound” which is on the new record, track number five. I was hoping to get the album all done before I got to Provincetown (in the summer of 2017). I was going to do a shorter version of an album. But it’s such a time commitment being out here and promoting the show. I was flying out on the weekends, so I didn’t have any time to record.

 

One of the first things I noticed about the songs on Not The End of Me is that you are doing different things with your voice, for example the gorgeous vulnerability of “Can’t Go Back”. Can you please say something about that?

I wanted the sentiment of the song to be reflected in the way I was singing it. With this album I was more focused on being truly honest and vulnerable instead of just making something that was as mass-appealing as possible. I allowed my voice to do what it was going to do. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more comfortable with some parts of my voice that I wasn’t always comfortable with. Which is also a metaphor for the way we go through life, I guess. I’m more comfortable with it and I’m more than okay with parts of my voice that used to bother me. I’ve come to appreciate them more. It’s my voice and I know what’s behind that voice, what that voice has been through. There’s an authenticity there that’s been earned. When I was younger I didn’t always feel that way. I’m confident I’ve earned whatever authenticity and vulnerability is there in my voice.

 

If there is a prominent theme on Not The End of Me, it would be the issue of indulgence and recovery, something listeners can hear on “Pink Champagne”, “Don’t Let The Light In” and “Ain’t It Somethin’”, to mention a few. Please say something about addressing these subjects in song.

Because I’m lucky enough to have a lot of loving and caring people in my life, they were able to catch me before things got too bad. But I was definitely on a road to self-destruction. I’ll say that. I was able to catch myself before it got too bad. It did get to the point where I was drinking every single day. I would drink in the morning and I started to rationalize drinking for just about every situation. It became my way of self-medicating. I wanted to numb myself out when I was feeling too stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, which is something I was feeling all the time those first couple of years. I always want to talk about this in a nuanced way and it’s hard to communicate that nuance in a headline. I feel like there’s an understandable tendency for writers and bloggers to sensationalize the experience of addiction of whatever you want to call what I went through. Like everything, it’s complex and it’s different for everybody.

 

I’m glad you said that because, in addition to your record, recent albums by Nicole Atkins (Goodnight Rhonda Lee), Girl In a Coma’s Nina Diaz (The Beat is Dead) and fellow Chicago musician Michael McDermott (Out From Under), are indicators that recovery music has become its own genre. What do you think about that?

I think we can continue to break everything down into infinitely smaller sub-genres [laughs]. But if that’s a way for people to classify music, then so be it. If it’s something that has an audience that wants to hear that and take strength from it, I’m for that.

 

You included two versions of “Walking” – an “original cut” and a “radio cut” – on the album. Was this because you couldn’t decide which you liked better?

That was part of it. Also, the original version is the one that came first. At some point after that, I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to try and make a fun pop record. I was experimenting with making it sound more fun and lighter than more commercially viable. That was version that I released and made a video for last year. I always kept going back to the original version. It was one of the first songs I recorded for this album. I wanted to put it on the album because it was the initial intention that I had for the song. I thought it would be a great way to start the album; also because of the lyrical content. I really love books and songs that start right in. I love when, with the first line or two, the writer throws you into it. I sing, “Caught up in the lights/Cameras in my face/Where did we go wrong/Why’d you walk away”. It gives you the right amount of information with the minimal amount of words to take you to exactly where I’m at. That’s where I wanted the album to start; in the chaos and confusion of having a viral hit and being overwhelmed by trying to keep my life together as things in my personal life are spiraling out of control. How that fed into whatever I was doing professionally at the time.

 

 “You or the Music” is also reflective of the kind of pure pop elation that your fans have come to expect from you. Have you ever had to choose between your music and a boyfriend?

It sometimes has felt that way. I was in a very tumultuous relationship, my first relationship ever that lasted quite a long time. Of course, it’s not that simple. In order to make a cool song about it, you have to drastically oversimplify things.

 

Exaggerate a little bit.

Yes. There were times when it felt that way. Because of the life I live and the guys I tend to go for – they really want no part of all the flying around and social stuff and social media. The guys I like are generally very reserved and keep to themselves. Which I think makes a nice yin and yang. I’m very much an introvert who is forced to put myself out there. Like today, I went to the Ptown Inn pool and I was flyering. It makes me anxious to walk up to strangers and say, “Hi! Come to see my show”, because not everyone is going to react positively to you. You know some people just want you to get lost. I don’t necessarily like it when people get up in my face and are trying to sell me something or get me to go somewhere. I know I don’t like it, so I understand how other people feel. Still, it takes courage to do that when I’m inclined to want to stay home and spend time with one person or a group of close friends. It forces me out a little bit. To answer your question, the guys I like are generally the ones I feel a genuine sense of home with. I don’t need all the hustle and bustle of all those other things in my life.

 

I know that you come from a religious background and the song “Disciple” is full of religious imagery. Would you mind saying a few words about that song?

I want to leave that song open to interpretation. It was a cathartic experience writing that song.

 

I can imagine.

I wrote it in a dark place, at the very end of my drinking days. I threw it all out there on the table. The song’s about a lot of things. There are things that have double meanings. There are things that have taken on additional meaning over time. I want to leave it up to my fans…I’ve already had a lot of people message me about it, wanting to know what it’s about. People are sending me their different interpretations. I like that. I was super-unsettled when I wrote that song. I was at my wit’s end. There’s a quote that goes something like, “It’s an artist’s job to comfort those who need comforting and to make those who are comfortable feel uncomfortable”. If people walk away from that song feeling uncomfortable, that’s not a bad thing. Not everything wraps up neatly in life. I want people to feel what I was feeling at the time. That push forward. The anxiety of life changing around you, forcing you on, even if you’re not ready.

 

At the time this interview is taking place, you are performing in Provincetown throughout the summer of 2018. Is there an autumn and winter concert tour in the works?

I’m going to go wherever this album takes me. You can follow me on bandsintown.com/stevegrand and that notifies people when their favorite artists, and hopefully that includes me, come to a town near them. That’s the best way to know when I’ll be in your area. Slowly but surely my dates are filling in. We’re starting to get more offers, especially with my new album coming out. We’re getting a lot of great press and my fans are excited about it. All of that is helping.

 

 

By Gregg Shapiro

 

Filmmaker Tom Gustafson and his frequent screenwriting collaborator Cory Krueckeberg (2008’s Were the World Mine and others) definitely had their work cut out for them with their ambitious, but flawed, film adaptation of John Michael LaChiusa’s non-traditional off-Broadway musical Hello Again (The Orchard/Speak), now available on DVD. Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play La Ronde, LaChiusa is not the first playwright to have his way, so to speak, with the original play’s overt themes of uninhibited sexuality.

 

Opening in what looks like the near future, Hello Again begins with Ruth (Martha Plimpton) in a cozy peepshow setting where she swipes a credit card and begins her quest for lost loves, guided along by masked and shirtless Leocadio (Sam Underwood). The first stop is 1901where hot and horny soldier Les (Nolan Gerard Funk) hooks up with a cross-dressing singing prostitute. In 1944, an ageless Les is getting drunk at a USO dance. There he meets nurse Marie (Jenna Ushkowitz) for a little R&R (ramming and release) and a song.

 

Looking as if no time has passed at all, the 1967 version of Marie is still in the healthcare biz. This time she’s caring for Alfred (Al Calderon), a privileged college student nursing a sprained ankle. In case you haven’t noticed the established pattern, they have sex and sing to each other. Next, we are transported back in time to 1929 where Al is having an affair with married woman Emily (Rumer Willis). Their usual meeting place is a movie palace where, you guessed it, they have a sexual encounter (and sing).

 

The 1956 version of Emily is worried that husband Carl (T. R. Knight) is tired of her. Rightfully so since he’s more concerned with making it to the opera on time than making time with his wife. On the Titanic, in 1912, Carl lures younger Jack (Tyler Blackburn), who is stuck in third class, to his stateroom. Carl, aware that the ship has hit an iceberg, doesn’t let such a detail get in the way of his pursuit of the young man. Like the Titanic, this segment doesn’t end well.

 

The Jack of 1976 is a disco twinkie who hooks up with self-absorbed auteur Robert (Cheyenne Jackson) for a night of gay passion back at the filmmaker’s pad. Not making movies anymore, but still creative, the 2002 Robert is trying to resuscitate the career of diva Sally (Audra McDonald). He’s convinced her to return to the recording studio to make a dance music record to attract some new fans. Of course, the song was written by Robert. But Sally’s not happy with the auto-tune voice manipulation and is on the verge of calling it quits. Robert and Sally have both a professional and romantic history, making for an opportunity for them to have sex in the studio.

 

As we’re about to come full-circle, we are given a glimpse of Sally’s 1989 affair with a closeted female senator named Ruth (played by, you guessed it, Plimpton). Of course, their love can’t be made public and so both women end up alone and unfulfilled.

 

In addition to sex, lovers being cruel to each other, especially the men to the women, is another theme that runs through this complicated, non-linear musical. Gustafson does an admirable job of bringing it to screen in that he makes it look good. But, if you loved Were The World Mine (as I did), you will surely be disappointed by Hello Again.

 

If all of this sounds like too much, consider taking a listen to Hello Again: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Broadway Records). You won’t have the visuals (think Jackson’s butt, Funk’s abs and all of Underwood’s body), but you will still get to hear the songs, including dancefloor-ready “Beyond The Moon”, sung by McDonald.

 

By Gregg Shapiro

 

Photo: Frank Ockenfels

 

HyperFocal: 0

Even if you are not a fan of TV talent show competitions, sometimes they get it right and manage to introduce an artist who is worthy of your attention. Calum Scott, who was a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent (he finished sixth) is one such example. A blue-eyed soul singer in the mold of Sam Smith, Scott’s exquisite reimagining of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” as a ballad hinted at his great taste in music. That song, as well as a reading of Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” can both be found of Scott’s full-length debut album Only Human (Capitol). In addition to being indicative of his interpretation skills, they also demonstrate his vocal abilities – the guy can sing! Scott’s also a decent songwriter, as you can hear on the Leona Lewis duet “You Are the Reason” and the rhythmic “Give Me Something”. Currently on a US concert tour, Scott was gracious enough to take the time to answer a few questions.

 

You first crossed most people’s radar when you competed on season nine of Britain’s Got Talent on which you performed a ballad version of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own”. Please tell the readers why you chose that song.

I’m a fan of Robyn’s. I love all the music she put out. Obviously, “Dancing on My Own” is one of those songs that is super-relatable. We all know what unrequited love feels like. I was a fan of that song way before the audition. On the path to discovering my own voice, I had come across a ballad version of the song. Kind of without thinking, I remembered the lyrics to the song and pressed (the) record (button) on the little home studio that I built. It felt so honest. Another thing I did was not change the pronouns. It came from the perspective of myself, a gay man who was desperate for love, and always seemed to be falling in love with the straight guy [laughs]. Not only did I personally relate to the song, but in my rendition, I tried to make it my own. I think, in a ballad version, where you strip away the beat and the production that makes you want to dance around, you can hear how heartbreaking the song is. It jumped out and hit me in the chest, really, because I personally related to it. It made sense. I remember recording it and playing it for my mom and my sister. I knew I had found something very powerful.

 

Have you met Robyn and, if so, do you know what she thinks of your rendition?

I haven’t managed to meet her! It’s like a dream of mine. Being in the industry now, I get it. It’s very busy and you don’t have a minute to sit down. We haven’t connected in that way. But, when I was writing in Sweden, I was lucky enough to meet up with Patrik Berger who was the songwriter on “Dancing on My Own” with Robyn. I said to him, “I really want to know what Robyn thinks of it”. He said he has spoken to her and that she loves it and thinks it’s great. Thank God! I would hate it if she hated it [laughs].

 

You included the Tiesto mix of “Dancing on My Own” on your debut album Only Human. Was that done as a nod to Robyn and the original version?

Yes, of course. I pay tribute to Robyn all the time. Every time I post about the song, I always include her. She’s an incredible songwriter who not only helped so many people with the way she sang the song, but she affected me in a way that allowed me to retell the story. It just shows you the power of songwriting. I wanted to make sure the song was on my album. The way that Tiesto put the song back into production similar to Robyn’s, it’s come full circle. I want to give thanks to him as well for putting me under people’s noses who may never have heard the ballad, reintroducing me and Robyn to a whole new audience. I’m a very grateful person.

 

Excluding the Robyn and beautiful Bob Dylan covers, you co-wrote the remaining 11 songs on the album. How would you describe your role in the songwriting process?                                                           

When I first started writing music, which wasn’t so long after (appearing on) Britain’s Got Talent, probably in September 2015, I was writing songs about going to the clubs and partying [laughs]. All the things I expected people wanted to hear. You listen to the radio and you hear all these feel-good songs.  I guess that’s what I thought songwriting was, writing for the people. It wasn’t until I started writing personal and honest songs about my childhood, the issues I had with my sexuality growing up, all that kind of stuff; when I started writing about that, suddenly it made sense. I started to write more sensitive songs. Some of the songs I’ve written are anthems for people struggling with their own sexuality. It’s a huge privilege to be able to help people with what I went through, the similar circumstances. I would say my role in the writing of this album was integral. I wrote songs that were honest because I wanted to relate to my audience. I still consider myself a very normal guy who experiences emotions like everybody else, has my heart broken like everybody else. Part of the success of this story is because I’m still very normal and relatable. With this album, I wanted to make it the same as that and reflect who I am as a person. Coming from a Human Resources job, I had an opportunity to write an album that could be my only album. I wanted to make something that was a reflection of who I was and an album that I could stand by and say, “This is my story. It’s no smoke and mirrors. It’s just me.”

 

We hope that there are more albums to come.

If people will have me, I will make albums until I can no longer make them. I’m going to stick around for a little while.

 

The album closes with a duet version of “You Are the Reason” on which you sing with Leona Lewis. What was it about Leona that made you want to sing a duet with her?

She’s a superstar, first and foremost; from her personality to her singing capabilities. We were introduced organically; Leona and I have both worked with a very prolific songwriter in America called Diane Warren. Diane had emailed me to say she had just worked with Leona on this duet and that we would be perfect together; two Brits. She said, “Let me introduce you”. We were introduced by email and I was like, “Oh, my God, I just got an email from Leona Lewis” [laughs]. I emailed back and she sent me some of the stuff she had been working on. I sent her “You Are the Reason” and asked her what she thought of it. She said, “This is beautiful. Can I be a part of it?” Hell yes [laughs]! My A&R sent her the song and she sent it back. I was picking my jaw up from the floor. I’m in awe of her. To watch Leona on her journey and see her become a superstar around the world and then for her to be singing one of my songs, it was a very emotional and surreal moment.

 

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been to concerts by Culture Club and Erasure. As a gay artist, would you consider Boy George and Andy Bell to be influences?

Yes, of course! I was actually just watching a documentary on Freddie Mercury. In the same vain with those guys, it wasn’t necessarily spoken about as openly as now. We’ve come to a really good time in the world where more and more people are speaking out about the issues we have in the community. Those issues are becoming less and less. Unfortunately, they do still exist in some places and religions. We will get there, I think. People like Boy George and Freddie Mercury and George Michael, artists like those, contributed to the movement for people to be educated and understand that the LGBT community is exactly the same as everybody else. Love is love. That’s why I wrote the songs that I did for my album. It was terrifying for me write some of the songs about my sexuality because I had suppressed it for such a long time. Being in the Northeast of England, being abandoned by friends when I told them. I really had it rough. Alongside that, Sam Smith and Troye Sivan and all these other artists that are keeping that conversation alive about LGBT issues moves the world forward. Music is the language of the universe, I feel. It can translate how we feel through music. Boy George, in his image and music, did make that movement more powerful. We’re not going anywhere!

 

You are currently on a US concert tour. What can people who attend your show expect to experience?

I had my very first show last night, which felt incredible! It was with Pentatonix here in Salt Lake City. As the opening act, I performed in front of about 8,000 people. I was really nervous. I didn’t expect the kind of welcome that I got. It was the best feeling ever. My face was aching by the end from smiling so much. Like my album, people can expect very honest and raw songs. I’ve stripped it back to just me and a piano. The message will be plain as day to hear. As you can tell, I don’t stop talking [laughs]. I refer to my songs and give a bit of a story about each one. People are going to hear a little bit about me as an artist and a person and the songs that I have created as the person I am today. It’s privilege to be able to be in front of such an incredible crowd and to tell my story.

 

By Gregg Shapiro

 

Summer’s (finally) here and the time is right for reading at the beach (or wherever your heart desires).

 

In Read by Strangers (Lethe, 2018), the follow-up to Washington DC-based gay writer Phillip Dean Walker’s 2016 story collection At Danceteria and other stories, he populates the sixteen pieces (one that is less a page in length, another that is 32 pages long) with gay porn stars (“Brad’s Head Revisited, ‘94”), a meth-addicted escort (“Three-Sink Sink”), fierce front-desk receptionists (“The Gargoyles”) and a mother having an affair with her daughter’s teacher (“Hester Prynne Got an A”). There’s even a spooky homage to gay bar culture in “Caravan”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another DC-based gay writer, Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, best known for his six volumes of poetry, makes the transition to prose with his debut short story collection Prodigal Children in the House of G-d (Austin Macauley, 2018), deals with issues of family, society and ostracism within ultra-Orthodox and LGBTQ communities through a series of 10 stories, complete with a glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish term

Rounding out the trilogy of DC writers, poet and historian Kim Roberts’ informative A Literary Guide to Washington DC: Walking in the Footsteps of American Writers from Francis Scott Key to Zora Neale Hurston (University of Virginia Press, 2018), while not a specifically LGBTQ title, does feature queer literary luminaries such as Walt Whitman (and his lover Peter Doyle), Langston Hughes, Angelina Weld Grimké and Richard Bruce Nugent. The inclusion of five literary walking tours (and maps) is an added bonus.

Long before Edmund White was the recipient of the 2018 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, he was beloved by readers gay and straight alike for novels such as A Boys Own Story,  the memoir City Boy, and of course, The Joy of Gay Sex. White “remembers his life through the books he has read” in his latest, The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading (Bloomsbury, 2018).

 

With cleverly titled chapters including “Manilow of the Hour” and “New York State of Blind”, gay memoirist Eric Poole picks up where he left off in his earlier memoir Where’s My Wand? in Excuse Me While I Slip Into Someone More Comfortable (Rosetta Books, 2018), guiding readers from suburban St. Louis in the `70s into the brave (and potentially deadly) new world of the 1980s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The `70s and `80s, as well as the Midwest, also figure prominently in Now I’m Here (Beautiful Dreamer Press, 2018), the new novel by Lambda Literary Award-winning writer Jim Provenzano, as we learn the story of small-town Ohio boys Joshua and David as told by their childhood friend Eric.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Step: A Memoir (Mad Creek Books, 2018) by “working-class bisexual” writer Anthony Moll follows the “pink-haired queer” through his military enlistment during the time of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, coming of age “against the backdrop of hypermasculinity and sexual secrecy”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An “expert on nothing with an opinion on everything”, RuPaul’s Drag Race season six winner, Bianca Del Rio, the self-described “clown in a gown” unpacks a steamer trunk full of advice on a variety of topics in her first book Blame It on Bianca Del Rio (Dey Street, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything you’ve heard (or read) about My Ex-Life (Flatiron, 2018), the acclaimed new novel by Stephen McCauley (of The Object of My Affection fame) is true; it’s subtly wicked funny and insightful, a portrait of the unlikely reunion of gay man David and his ex-wife Julie, each in the midst of their own life crises, who come to the aid of each other in unlikely ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Soil (Soho, 2018), the new novel by multi-award-winning gay writer Dale Peck, is a frank exploration of the secrets families keep, sexual experimentation, the “legacies of racism and environmental destruction”, all woven into the story of potter Dixie Stammers and her son Judas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lambda Literary Award-winner Amber Dawn’s second novel Sodom Road Exit (Arsenal Pulp, 2018) combines a paranormal thriller with family melodrama during an Ontario summer in 1990 in which protagonist Starla returns home to the virtual ghost town where her mother lives and is forced to face the startling history of Crystal Beach.

 

 

 

Gar McVey-Russell’s debut novel Sin Against the Race (gamr books, 2017) is the story of Alfonso Rutherford Berry III, a African American man whose family’s political legacy plays a powerful role in his life until he comes out and becomes “a formidable presence in his community”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeled Tov (Lethe, 2018), Hebrew for good boy, is the latest book by gay writer Daniel M. Jaffe (Jewish Gentle and Other Stories), in which gay teen Jake struggles with “desire and devotion” as he comes of age in the 1970s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first issue of Crude (Image/Skybound) from queer comic book writer Steve Orlando, who recently collaborated with Gerard Way (of My Chemical Romance fame) and is the person behind gay superhero Midnighter in the mainstream comics universe, was recently launched.

By Gregg Shapiro

 

Photo: Fathom Events

 

Great comedians make you laugh and think. Great comedy stays with you long after the laughs have subsided. If you’ve seen Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special “Nanette”, you’ll understand what this means. Gadsby singlehandedly raises the bar for comedy, putting it out of reach for many other stand-up comics.

 

“Out On Stage” (Fathom Events/Comedy Dynamics), which is being shown in theaters for one night only on July 24, shortly after “Nanette” began airing, will suffer by comparison. True, it features a multitude of comics, not just one. But the main similarity is that “Out On Stage” touches on several of the same themes as “Nanette”. There are jokes about straight people, transgender people, lesbians, homophobia and coming out. However, not a single one of the comedians featured in “Out on Stage” can match what Gadsby accomplishes and in the same way she achieves it.

 

To be fair, a few of them, including Raneir Pollard, Kyle Shire, Jonathan Rowell, Julian Michael and Irene Tu, bring a fresh perspective to topics ranging from dating and relationships to stereotypes and body image. One of the biggest problems is comedian “host” Zach Noe Towers, who simply isn’t funny. The interview scenes, of which there are far too many, bring things to a screeching halt. Also, a segment of HIV jokes is more than a little questionable. Another issue is that director Samuel Brownfield’s theatrical version of “Out on Stage” is supposedly meant to whet our appetites for a forthcoming TV series of the same name.

 

Unfortunately, none of the comedians in “Out on Stage”, representing a broad swath of ages and backgrounds, is on the same level as say, gay comic Matteo Lane. Lane is not only funny and smart but can also sing opera and is sexy AF. Even sadder is the early 2018 loss of groundbreaking gay comic Bob Smith, to whom every LGBTQ comic, including those in “Out on Stage”, owes a debt of gratitude for his TV appearances in the early 1990s.

 

Rating: Two peaches

 

By Gregg Shapiro

 

In case you missed it, there appears to be a new movie trend in the works this spring. Single dads raising teenagers. First there was gay filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s “Lean On Pete”. The forthcoming “Eighth Grade” features a single dad and his daughter. Presently, we have Brett Haley’s “Hearts Beat Loud” (Gunpowder & Sky).

 

In “Hearts Beat Loud”, Frank (Nick Offerman) is a widowed single father raising daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) after her mother was killed in a bicycle accident when Sam was young. Frank, who had a brief, promising music career, is the proprietor of Red Hook Records, a vinyl only shop in Brooklyn. He’s a music snob who thinks nothing of smoking cigarettes in his place of business.

 

Sam is spending her last summer in Red Hook before heading off to UCLA to be a pre-med student in the fall. She’s taking summer courses to get a head start on things. At an art gallery in the neighborhood, Sam meets burgeoning artist Rose (queer actress Sasha Lane), and a summer romance begins.

 

Meanwhile, Frank has decided to close up shop after 17 years. It’s a strange and unexpected decision, especially since hipsters dig LPs and Red Hook Records has plenty in stock for sale. When he breaks the news to his landlord Leslie (Toni Collette), she appears genuinely shocked and saddened.

 

Sam is equally disappointed; and concerned. What will Frank do for money? Fortunately, because of Frank’s income situation, Sam’s tuition is greatly reduced. Nevertheless, it’s obvious that Sam’s impending departure is causing him all sorts of grief. Adding insult to injury, Frank’s kleptomaniac mother Marianne (Blythe Danner) keeps getting arrested for stealing. She also refuses to move in with Frank so he can keep an eye on her.

 

While looking for Sam’s birth certificate to complete her paperwork for college, Frank stumbles across a box of memorabilia. This inspires him to start making music, which in turn leads him to ask Sam to have the kind of jam sessions they used to enjoy together.

They end up collaborating on a song, “Hearts Beat Loud”, featuring lyrics by Sam. It’s so good that they record it. Then Frank takes it one step too far by uploading the song on music streaming service Spotify. Frank is back in songwriting mode, but Sam doesn’t particularly want to be in a band with her father.

 

Still, you can’t blame Frank for being excited when he hears “Hearts Beat Loud” playing on a local coffee house’s playlist. Naturally, Sam is mad at Frank for uploading the song without her permission.

 

Things are alternately bumpy and smooth after that. Leslie makes Frank a business proposition to keep the store open. Frank seeks advice from old friend and tavern owner Dave (Ted Danson). Sam tells Frank about Rose. Rose teaches Sam to ride a bike (something that was forbidden after her mother’s death).

 

As both Sam’s inevitable departure and the closing of the store approach, Frank gets the idea to go out with a bang by having him and Sam perform under the moniker We’re Not A Band. It’s here that “Hearts Beat Loud” gets Hollywood predictable. Regardless, it doesn’t necessarily detract from our fondness for the characters or the story.

 

Clemons is a revelation and Offerman manages to be slightly less annoying than usual. The supporting players, especially Collette and Danson, are welcome additions.

 

Without belaboring the point, “Hearts Beat Loud” is a movie with its heart in the right place. Rating: 3.5 peaches

 

By Gregg Shapiro

 

Photos: Sean Dunn, Keith Trigaci

 

With the release of her debut solo disc Change (Kill Rock Stars), Cindy Wilson is now the third member of the legendary B-52s to record a solo album. Be forewarned, you shouldn’t expect to hear the Cindy Wilson you remember from B-52s’ songs such as “Give Me Back My Man”, “Girl From Ipanema Goes to Greenland”, “Legal Tender” or “Love Shack”, on Change. Closer in mood to the subtle soul drama of “Ain’t It a Shame” (from 1986’s underrated B-52s platter Bouncing Off the Satellites), the songs on Change introduce us to a more soft-spoken Wilson who sings these 10 songs (two of which are covers) in a breathy belt. The disc opens with “People Are Asking”, a potential activist anthem if there ever was one. Wilson, who has an appreciation for a good beat, invites us to “dance this mess around” again on “No One Can Tell You”, “Stand Back Time”, “Mystic”, “Memory” and the title track. Wilson takes an unexpected experimental rock turn on “Brother”, her interpretation of a song by Athens, Georgia band Oh-OK. Just back from her first solo concert tour, Wilson took a few minutes to answer some questions in a phone interview.

 

Your full-length solo debut album Change was released in late 2017. Why was this the right time for you to put out a solo record?

I had the time to do it. The B-52s were laying off for a while. It was a stressful time and I started to get together with a friend of mine to do some music. We went into Suny Lyon’s studio to kick it around and experiment and see what kind of direction we want to go in. It took about three and a half years, off and on, recording and everything. Then we put the songs together with a band and went down to Austin, Texas. We met Portia (Sabin) from (record label) Kill Rock Stars and she helped us get on the right path. It’s been amazing, really.

 

Change is an accurate name for the album, because it doesn’t sound like the Cindy Wilson people are familiar with from your years in the B-52s. Was that a deliberate decision?

Of course. I’ve been doing the B-52-thing for 40 years. It was really fun to be experimental. I had a different set of musicians. It was a real learning experience for me. The music scene is a whole new thing now. With the business end and creatively. I had a blast experimenting with that.

 

There are a couple of cover tunes on Change, including “Brother” which was originally performed by Athens GA band Oh-OK. Was this meant to be a nod to your roots in that music scene?

We started in the late `70s and they came just a tad later. What happened was we had done Oh-OK songs in Athens with Ryan (Monahan) and Lemuel (Hayes) and some other musicians. We had done a tribute to Vanessa (Briscoe) from (the band) Pylon and different musicians who were in Athens at the time. It was so much fun. The Oh-OK song “Brother” turned out so well that we decided to record it. Everybody loves that song!

 

With the exception of the cover songs, you co-wrote the remaining tracks with Suny and Ryan. In what ways would you say that your writing experience differed from when you co-wrote songs for the B-52s?

Luckily, I thrive in a situation where people are being super creative. You let down your guard. That’s when a lot of good ideas can come through. You bounce off each other and you create things together. You tap into this stream of consciousness. It’s really magical. It was different from the B-52s, but it was definitely being able to feel the vibe. Like I said, for the Cindy Wilson thing, I let down my defenses and explored. This was great. I did a lot of listening to Suny and Ryan and I got to throw in some things of my own. It was really fun.

 

You mentioned how this has been a stressful time and I was thinking about how “People Are Asking”, the first song on the album sounds like one of your most political songs, which feels new for you. Am I on the right track?

Yes! It’s one of the elements, definitely. I hate to tell people what a song is about, because it does feel better for it to be a personal thing. But it definitely had those (political) elements in it.

 

Kate Pierson’s solo debut was released in 2015 and Fred Schneider put out one in 1984 and another in 1996. Did they have any words of advice for you on the subject of going solo?

Yes [laughs], yes! They did it their way. Everybody does it a different way. When we signed with Kill Rock Stars Records, they had a lot of ideas, too. It was definitely a joint thing.

 

You recently completed some tour dates. What was that experience like for you?

I love taking recorded music and making it come alive; actually having to perform it! When you tour, your show gets better and better and stronger and stronger. You get even more intuitive with the musicians in the band. There are so many great elements that come through the personalities of the people in the band that adds so much. I had the best time. We’re building an audience. It’s been really purposeful to take it slow and build and experience a new beginning.

 

On June 10, the B-52s are headlining Milwaukee Pridefest. As the B-52s’ sole straight ally member, can you please say a few words about what the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ fans mean to you personally?

[Laughs] I’ve got so many friends and family members and loved ones that are in the gay community in all different forms. I take my hat off and say thank you!

 

You will be on tour with the B-52s throughout the summer and early autumn. What do you like most about performing with your longtime bandmates?

To me, it’s amazing that we’ve been around 41 years. I’ve known them and I’ve seen them go through different phases of their lives. Losing Rick (Wilson, Cindy’s brother) and the different changes that go on in the band, the musicians who step in and out; it’s a marriage and it seems like the B-52s are an entity all its own. I’m just one aspect of it. It’s amazing to look across the stage and see Fred in 2018. And Kate! How much life has shaped her. You see their souls. We’re singing “Rock Lobster” and it’s an amazing thing to look out in the audience and see people having such a good time. It’s really special to be able to bring that to an audience after all these years. From my point of view, it’s an amazing story, really.

 

One of the tour dates brings the B-52’s to Atlanta in July. What does it mean to you to play to your hometown audience?

It’s very special. Everybody says it’s the hardest when you come and play to your hometown. There are so many fans there and everything. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a hoot!

 

The B-52s perform on July 22 at Chastain Park Amphitheater in Atlanta.