Sunday, November 30, 2008

Self-Discography #7 "Book of Love" by Book of Love

Sometimes the most innocuous music becomes the most enduring. I didn't know this to be true when I first heard Book of Love. But their now-22-year-old debut album still imparts to me small moments and vignettes of only happiness.

Seemingly manufactured purely for the sake of dance-club hits, Book of Love is hardly the kind of band I thought I'd still listen to in my approaching middle age. I first heard them when I was living in Southern California during the summer of 1990. My first boyfriend was a fan who introduced me to their mix of clever pop songs frosted with drum machines, hand claps, bells, and probably three different kinds of keyboards. The brilliant "Boy, in particular, was a revelation simply because of the disaffected voice (Susan Ottaviano) recounting how she is denied entry to a gay bar and can't play with all the other boys. Her tone--balanced somewhere between dismissive and wistful--was unlike anything I'd heard on Top 40 radio. Learning that two of the band members were gay was not exactly a revelation, but it made them feel that much more important.

And that encapsulates their paradox: On the surface they were shiny, twee, forgettable pap. But the music was also more melodic, yearning, and--dare I say it?--soulful. The jubilant yet distanced tone permeates the eponymous debut, beginning with the nearly effervescent "Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes)." Ostensibly a love song about looking into someone's eyes and being lost in them--you know, the usual that was already done by, say, Debbie Gibson--the title name checks a prominent 20th-century Italian painter who was known for his mystical, somewhat creepy way of depicting his subjects' eyes. So, I wondered while sill in high school art history, is this really a love song to the painter? Um, well...duh.

It wouldn't be the last time I picked up the album after a number of years, only to be hit by some sense of nostalgia or new found respect for a band that had precious little of it in their own time. It was only upon listening to "Die Matrosen" in 2002 or so, for example, that I realized Book of Love had covered a song by the infamous all-female Swiss punk band, Liliput--a band almost no one had heard of in the U.S. in 1986.

In college, I would sneak songs from "Book of Love" onto mix tapes made for dance parties in the houses on campus and although many people would snort when they'd come on, few could resist the pull of an anthemic dance hit like "I Touch Roses"--cotton candy in sonic form, with no meat or nutritional value, and yet irresistible. The dance floor in the house living room would fill up with any number of Book of Love songs. When you've had a few drinks, they simply amplify the euphoria.

Just last week, my high school friend Kathleen came to visit me in Los Angeles and, seemingly out of nowhere, asked me about a song she remembered from years ago with a girl singing about boys, or not being a boy. "You mean 'Boy' by Book of Love," I said, and not only did I then need to hear it, but I had to make her a mix of Book of Love songs to take home.

I've been re-listening to "Book of Love" all weekend, remembering these small moments I've experienced with it: dancing at college house parties; riding in my first boyfriend's car from suburban Claremont to Los Angeles to go shopping on Melrose Avenue, unable to believe that I A) had been sleeping with a boy and B) was in Los Angeles; driving in the middle of the night through the empty streets of Portland with Susan, cranking the music out of my shitty car speakers on our way to go dancing downtown; traipsing through the Australian Outback with my iPod looking for emus and kangaroos.

Now, the album feels like an old friend--the one you see after any number of years and with whom you still have an instant rapport. You may at first forget what you had in common, but then, the memories begin to flow. And before long you're laughing about some memory and re-telling the story--turning it into another part of your personal history. And happily so.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Randomly Rediscoverd iTunes Playlist #1

Just because I was surprised to find it and remember May 2007 so clearly. What an incredible month it was--full of exciting trips, lots of laughter, warm sun, a (then) new boy, beer, and much more. Funny how even the "downer" songs here sound optimistic to my ears:

1. Open Your Heart--Lavender Diamond
2. Winter--Kristin Hersh
3. A Good Start--Maria Taylor
4. Million Dollar Smile--Jennifer O'Connor
5. Georgia--OMD
6. Full Moon, Empty Heart--Belly
7. Fiery Crash--Andrew Bird
8. Everyday Boy--Joan Armatrading
9. A-Z--Tracey Thorn
10. In Between Days--The Cure
11. Black Mirror--Arcade Fire
12. You Know I'm No Good--Amy Winehouse
13. Heavenly Day--Patty Griffin
14. That Teenage Feeling--Neko Case
15. Clumsy Sky--Girl in a Coma
16. Mambo Sun--T. Rex
17. Sunday Morning--Velvet Underground
18. 1234--Feist
19. Earth Intruders--Bjork
20. Silently--Blonde Redhead
21. Rainbowarriors--Cocorosie
22. Back to Life--Soul II Soul
23. Song to the Siren--Chemical Brothers
24. Destroy Everything You Touch--Ladytron
25. Look at Miss Ohio--Gillian Welch

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

At Least One Gay Bright Spot + How I've Come to Still Be Angry

Connecticut officially legalizes marriage for gays, and the weddings begin today. A lovely little piece of news as the infighting, confusion, and anger over the passage of Prop 8 continues in California.

I'd still like to start a drive to put a measure on the ballot in 2010 that eliminates the word "marriage" for all unions performed in state. From then on, you only get a "civil partnership," and if your church, synagogue, what have you, wants to perform a religious ceremony for you, then great. Otherwise, shut up and see that your special union is merely a tax break in the eyes of city hall.

The other option? Make divorce A LOT harder to get. That might do the trick, right? If divorce was not as easy as going to a salad bar, then maybe a lot fewer people would get married. And a lot fewer people would ask you to spend outrageous amounts of money on buying them shit they don't need just because they managed to buy fancy clothes, two rings, and have sex a lot.

Can you tell I am still pissed?

More and more, I can't go outside without looking at people and wondering if they voted away my rights. Which is horrible, because what good does that do anyone in the end? I am also sick of people telling me they're "sorry" about Prop 8. Yeah, you're sorry!? Thanks! Now, please don't DO anything to help the cause or help build awareness in communities that still need to be educated. Just keep saying you're sorry. Or better yet, just don't say anything, OK? Or do me another favor, get divorced (since it's so easy) and then try and figure out how to own your house, get health benefits, and raise your kids when the state doesn't consider you and your partner a couple. Imagine if you had to do THAT? It seems so HARD, doesn't it? Phew, I'm exhausted... and I'm still sorry, but I need to go home and enjoy my rights that you don't have now.

And don't even get me started on taxes. That hits home right now, too. I pay just as much in taxes as the rest of y'all, and yet I don't get equal rights. Yeah, that seems fair. It's a wonder I am not just casually saying "Fuck you" to more people I pass on the street.

Either way, I am done with ever feeling like a victim here again. I am angry, and will remain so. I will continue to march, and to yell, and to lobby, and to find out which businesses supported Prop 8 so I don't have to support them. And I will not let anyone tell me that it's time to simmer down. To do that is to have someone say they're sorry and then just say "Gee, thanks."

In other words, it's really not my style.

As for protests, there is one this Saturday--part of a coordinated effort nationwide:Join the Impact.

And for just one example of how the boycott is beginning to spread, look at this example of El Coyote here.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

It's Now November 6th...

...and though I am still angry I don't feel as isolated as I did a few mere hours ago. Tim stopped by to pick me up and Ryan came along at the last moment, and we picked up Tim's friend Dave and headed to West Hollywood, where a big rally was taking place to protest the passage of Proposition 8. When we first got there, there were speakers emphasizing what we need to do now, what we have NOT lost. Ryan and I got separated from the others and ended up next to a gay couple whose young daughter was all smiles at all the people around her. Best sign: I WANT THE SAME RIGHTS THE CHICKENS GOT (in reference to Prop 2, which makes it law that egg-laying hens need to be treated humanely).

Just before 8 p.m., a guy moved through the crowd and said we were going to "take the intersection" at Santa Monica Boulevard and San Vicente, so Ryan and I headed with a big chunk of the crowd into the middle of the intersection, chanting, yelling, clapping. Already, it was cathartic to be surrounded by so many people who were just as angry as I was. We were drifting eastward on Santa Monica until suddenly people in front of us said "Go to Sunset! Go to Sunset!" And so we did--a wave of hundreds of people crossing traffic and heading uphill through residential areas to the busy Sunset Strip--which is much more straight, to boot. And at the Viper Room we turned right on to Sunset and saw emptying eastbound lanes in front of us.

The police presence at first was minimal, as I think we surprised them. After all, we left the rally in the middle of the speeches. We need to yell and scream and remind ourselves that we were not alone--that others felt this way, that we were angry, outraged, and hopeful for the future. Especially on the march down Sunset through what is ostensibly a straight (and often gross) ground zero for scenester nightlife, it was gratifying to get affirmative honks from westbound traffic, see businesses empty as workers came out to stare or hoot with us, give us a thumbs up, or just smile--strippers, waiters, valets, limo drivers, truck drivers, Starbucks employees, even straight guys who looked befuddled and then would honk.

And the march kept going... We didn't know til later that several groups had splintered from the rally and that WeHo police stopped a second wave of protestors further back. Our march continued through Hollywood, as mystified restaurant patrons and others came to Sunset to see what the news was broadcasting. And through it all, only ONE guy heckled us, calling us disgusting and he was drowned out by boos and people yelling "SHAME ON YOU!" We ended up at Sunset and Highland... a good 2 to 2 1/2 miles from where we started, Ryan by my side, yelling and screaming, holding my hand, smiling at me every step of the way.

We'd lost Tim et al back at the rally and now there was no easy way to reunite, so Ryan and I hopped the subway and then got on a quick bus ride to get home... walking in the door, feeling relieved, lighter, buzzed from adrenaline, legs throbbing, throats sore. It's been a while since I have been part of any spontaneous protest like this--especially in L.A., a city not known for its protests. I can;t say if they really do help in the long run, but I'd be happy for more just to share some more time with such an amazing cross section of people.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

It's November 5th...

...and as exciting as it is that we've elected our first African-American president and Democrats have taken commanding leads in the House and Senate, I am filled with a distinct sense of how hypocritical America is. California has passed Prop. 8, which, for the first time actually *takes away* the rights of a group of people. Arizona and Florida also voted to enshrine anti-gay discrimination by banning same-sex marriage. For all the talk of change and healing and unity that's taken place in the last several years, there are many, many Americans out there who voted for Obama (for "Hope," for "Change") who were just as quick to single out gays and lesbians as people who somehow don't deserve the same rights. I've also never been so disgusted about the idea of marriage. It's not anyone's fault that this is what our country calls this union. But I can't smile fully today. I am still a second-class citizen.