Another month has gone by and here we are again, flooded with news like rivers after a hurricane. As always, we have as much to dissect as a medical student in anatomy class, so let’s get on with it. Let’s see if we can warm ourselves up a bit, since the cold weather is coming. Onward ho.
The Man is BackAlec Baldwin already said it in a memorable dialogue from the series “30 Rock”: “rich 50 is new middle-class 38.” In the case of Bryan Ferry, who looks great for his age, we should say that the 60’s are the new 40’s. The man, perhaps encouraged by how good his song with DJ Hell sounded ( “You Can Dance”) and the call from Groove Armada to produce the song “Shameless”, has surrounded himself with renowned musicians—I suppose he only needs to wiggle his finger to get anybody to come running to prostrate themselves at his feet—including his fellow former band members from Roxy Music, and he has finally put out a new solo album, “Olympia”. Kate Moss appears on the cover in satin sheets, no less. His new work is not surprising, and it is what was expected of Ferry: a classic, sophisticated sound, without incursions onto the dance floor—except for “Shameless”, there isn’t much to move to here—or innovative extravagances. Not even “Heartache by Numbers” gets out of control, a song produced by Scissor Sisters (not a month goes by without us mentioning about them in this column, as you see). It starts out like “Fame” and ends like The Killers (with the best choruses that I have heard in a long time, I have to say), although with a moderate, elegant touch, which is what the occasion called for. OK, “Olympia” comes close at times to the worst psychedelics of the 70’s, but later it grows up. Bryan, I’ll tell you one thing: even though you might have turned 65, you’ve done the right thing by not retiring.
While we’re appreciating all that age has to offer, let’s move on to another of our favourite old men, although he’s a little younger (I suppose, I don’t know what to think, here everybody and their brother takes years off their age, not only the quaint people): we’re talking about Louie Austen, who has also put out an album called “Last Man Crooning”. And in fact, it isn’t an album, but rather two, a double edition that includes “Electrotaining You!” the remixed version done by reputable pals on the European scene like Phonique, Rodion, Christopher Just, and Ian Pooley. Talking about a new album from Austen means celebrating that this Austrian Sinatra remains active and that his vocal chords are still in good condition, delighting us with his crooner’s voice at the service of productions that started out being experimental (even too much perhaps: his first album, “Consequences”, has become unbearable to listen to over time, to tell the truth) but which went on to slide over into easy dancing with instant hits like “Amore”, “Hoping” and “Easy Love”. All of this added to the way he oozes friendliness, means that the old fellow’s live performances are always a party. I’ve had the pleasure of opening for him a couple of times (#name-dropping mode on, you know) and he really is a charming man. One time, it was on a ferry –that is to say, on a boat, not on a Bryan– on the way to a festival in Majorca. Seeing Louie do his show in the bar of the boat next to the pool (as always, he was there with the music pre-recorded, but it doesn’t matter, he alone is enough for us) is a memory that I’ll never forget. I would love to see him in his natural habitat, the lounge bar of the Marriott in Vienna, where he has been singing the great jazz standards and American songs every Saturday of the year for many seasons (he has just returned to this hotel to stay, after a period of absence). I’ll have to plan a getaway to go see him.So let’s leave the old folks behind and move on to France, where they’re a little stirred up by Fred Actone ’s first single, “C’est Lui” (“It’s Him”), which sings openly about gay love, “to be honest,” as he himself has declared. In the video he doesn’t fool anybody: it’s about homo attraction, and that’s all there is to it. In a world like the music scene, where it is still habitual to be in the closet, and outings always take place by surprise (for example, Tiziano Ferro on the cover of the Italian Vanity Fair: “mi voglio innamorare di un uomo”—this declaration was only surprising for those on the outside, of course) or when there is no longer any way to hide one’s homosexual inclination, and you have to sell your autobiography (this would be the case of Ricky Martin), but there are very few songs that speak clearly about it from the very first verse. “C’est Lui” is a French-style crooner ballad, an advance from his first album, “Parfums de Vie”, in which he promises not to hold anything back and to talk about ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING in the lyrics, including drugs and dark rooms amongst other things. We’ll keep an eye on him.
Some readers have been asking me lately about the absence of Hurts in these columns. In the beginning I didn’t talk about them because the duo was already being talked about everywhere, and I take hype (more specifically music blog hype) with a major grain of salt. Later came the album, “Happiness”, and even though I was hearing and reading praise everywhere, their electronic ballad sound and that grandiloquence in Ultravox style really didn’t do much for me. But I’m not alone when I say that only the singles “Wonderful Life”, “Better Than Love” and “Stay” stand out somewhat above the rest. The strange thing is that they seemed to be liked, and a lot, by the entire gay community. I could tell when I saw them live: the hall looked like a 90’s gay discotheque, filled to the brim with 30-somethings. Live, I could also confirm that what the album offers is real: a lot of posing, elegant dressing, and not much enthusiasm. The same thing happened to me when I listened to their album: except with the hits, I was totally bored and I spent the concert saying hello to people that I hadn’t seen in years. Well, at least going some good came out of going to see them.
To wrap up the musical section, we’ll sign off with a ration of new albums with their corresponding videos. Gossip, which got rid of the “The” in front of their name some time ago (who knows why), are still around, savouring the success that has accompanied them since they caught our eye with “Standing in the Way of Control”. This month they’re starting a European mini-tour, with Hercules And Love Affair opening for them (much is expected of their second album, which has repeatedly been put off and is officially announced for the 31st of January. We’ll talk about them here, have no fear). Gossip is re-releasing “Music for Men” with the addition of seven live songs and a DVD with the video clips and fragments of concerts, and they’re going to celebrate it with a video for “Men in Love”, their most evident song, in which Beth Ditto (who looks more like Divine all the time, something that I get a kick out of like you can’t even imagine) drives a school bus transformed into a party bus for modern party-goers of different breeds.
And if Gossip is Beth and company, Men, Le Tigre’s sequel, means talking about JD Samson and her buddies, who are also on a European tour. It seems that his first album is finally going to arrive next year, entitled “Talk about Body”, but first they will put out an infectious single with the title “Off Our Backs”, which comes with an attractive video that promises to become an indie-dance hit. I have to say, the song catches like gum to the bottom of your shoe (thanks to that chorus that reminds one of… Bryan Adams!), but the video goes where Gossip doesn’t dare, heating people up: hairy torsos everywhere, dancing mods, a lot of denim, and even more crotch rubbing in the choreography. With lyrics like “ I’ll Let You Ride My Pony”—what were you expecting? A Taylor Swift single?
The third video of the month is “Somebody to Love Me”, by Mark Ronson, who on his new album, “ Record Collection”, has recovered the voices of Simon LeBon (Duran Duran) and Boy George, who, with Andrew Wyatt (from Miike Snow) sings on this song. But be careful with the clip: George is the star of it… without even appearing: it simulates a home video recording of a house party in the early 80’s, starring a girl dressed up like Boy George from the Culture Club period.
All the new films coming out now have been eclipsed by the opening of “The Social Network”, but not only in terms of the media—the story of the creator of Facebook has got everyone’s attention, what can I say?—today any news about social networks or browsers floods the pages of newspapers and readers eat it up like sushi. David Fincher’s film also eclipses everything else artistically, as the results are better than expected, even though expectations of the director are already usually high. “Se7en”, with all of its twists and traps included, seems to me to be one of the greatest works of the 90’s, and even though I didn’t enjoy “The Fight Club” as much, I have to admit that there are reasons for it to have been considered a cult film since its release. I’m less into his latest works: “Zodiac” was promising, but it ended up boring me, and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” seemed like a miniature, very lovely, but almost minor work. And now there’s “The Social Network”, the fastest 2 hours I’ve spent in the cinema lately without looking at my watch for even once. What a pleasure it is to come to the end and be surprised that it’s over. Of course the merit isn’t only Fincher’s: the performances are spot on, Aaron Sorkin’s script is prodigious (people are talking all the time, and even so it manages not to bore you with all the chattering) and the pace is frenetic. In the end, this story of betrayal, broken friendships, interests and envy becomes a human story that is exciting and brilliantly told, a real piece of clockwork that ticks along with surgical precision. And what a soundtrack: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have added that musical touch, whether melodic or frenetic (I love “In Motion”), that goes perfectly with the images. You can tell how enthusiastic I am about it.
But there is more: Gregg Araki, the indie director who always surprises, is back, and even if he had only filmed a few of the films on his long list of titles ( “The Doom Generation”, “Nowhere” or “The Living End”), he would already deserve the title of cult filmmaker. The one that really won me over was “Mysterious Skin”, which starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt just starting out as an actor, whom we now have—check it out—rubbing elbows with Leonardo di Caprio in “Inception”. Araki is now offering us the fantastic comedy “Kaboom”, winner of the first Queer Palm at Cannes last May. They say it’s “Twin Peaks for the Coachella generation”. The star, who is bisexual because it allows more room to play, has hallucinogenic experiences in which he thinks that he has seen a murder. It’s all combined with his everyday life in the university dorms, punctuated with plenty of sex, nudity and lesbian witches. Curiosity makes it a must-see.The film that we have seen already is “Undertow”, a production from the Peruvian director Javier Fuentes-León, an unusual debut film that has been doing very well at independent and gay-lesbian film festivals all over the world for several months now (it won the audience’s first choice award at Sundance). “Undertow” tells the story of Miguel, a fisherman in a small village, married and about to become a father, who has a secret romance with Santiago, a foreign artist. Starting from here, the story takes on an air of magic realism—I don’t want to say anymore so as not to spoil it for you (that would just be mean)—and it makes the film a story with a message. A sad message, if we think about the impossibility of making this love visible. If it’s hard enough coming out of the closet anyway, imagine in a fishing village on the Peruvian coast (by the way, the film was shot in Cabo Blanco, Peru, which already had its moment of glory more than 50 years ago, when Hemingway was there fishing and shooting scenes from “The Old Man and the Sea”). But it also has a hopeful message that shows a glimmer of freedom; small, but possible. We’ll have to keep an eye on this director, as he has two more works in mind to complete a personal trilogy about love.
More. In India people are all worked up about the first movie from the Bollywood factory to show erotic scenes between two men. Keeping in mind that not even heterosexual couples kiss in these films, “Dunno Y Na Jaane Kyun...” is pretty daring. The film is causing controversy and, if it actually comes out, seems like it will do so censored. A couple of years ago another film was promoted, “Dastana”, as promising gay scenes, but it was a comedy in which the stars pretended to be homosexual in order to seduce the inevitable gorgeous girl. In any case, it is said that this film is more serious, with unknown actors, looking to cause controversy, so much so that the family of one of the actors has disowned him for participating in the film. We will be keeping an eye out for news about it, waiting for it to be shown on Western screens. So far it is on the programmes of several international festivals, so there will be opportunities. By the way: looking at the trailers from the latest Bollywood hits, it looks like the actors have been going heavy on the steroids, don’t you think? So many muscles!
Aaarrghhh!!! The monthly space they give me in PlayGround is running out, and with so much new music, videos and film, this month I haven’t said anything about television. I swear on Nick Kamen that I will talk about it in coming columns. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you all with a bit of lighter, but very artistic reading: “ The Art of George Quaintance ”, a book recently published by Taschen. I’m going to delight in the visions of cowboys in love he paints. Real rural macho men, because man doesn’t live on Tom of Finland alone. Hummmm…