Obscurity Knocks

Earnest, empathetic, industrious, unpretentious, gay Virgo in Milwaukee with a great life, amazing friends, and a wonderful family.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


Barbie and I saw "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" last night. I should be clear right away that I'm not a big fan of Stephen Sondheim. I'll be the first to acknowledge that he's a very key and important figure in the history of the American musical. And Sondheim is probably the most accomplished living musical composer and lyricist. That said, I've never been able to get excited about his music. How I feel about Sondheim is similar to how I feel about Bach: I can appreciate the genius of the work, but it doesn't touch me on a deep level. I know that if you're a true musical aficionado, you're supposed to bow down anytime someone mentions Sondheim. And as a gay guy, I'm supposed to get even more excited. But I just can't get passionate about Sondheim.

Those things said, I enjoyed the film. Tim Burton is always able to transport the viewer to a fantasy world of the bizarre, the ghoulish, and the fantastic. Plus I think that he's a fatalistic romantic, which appeals to the sentimental part of me. Johnny Depp proves that he is indeed one of the greatest actors of our time. His career is packed with innovative roles, and "Sweeney Todd" adds another gem to his resume. Helena Bonham Carter does Angela Lansbury proud in her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett. The supporting cast do a fine job, although I can't stand Sasha Baron Cohen because he thinks he's much funner than he actually is.

The Sondheim music works well with this type of macabre story. Yet there was something lacking for me in the film that I can't really put my finger on. Perhaps it's because I like a more Technicolor-type musical, and this was much more grey. I enjoyed it, but wouldn't want to see it a second time.

Mostly, I'm glad that "Sweeney Todd" continues the resurgence of the musical in this decade. While not as good as "Moulin Rouge" or "Chicago," "Sweeney Todd" is right up there with "Dreamgirls" and "Rent."
And I was glad to be able to see this movie with Barbie, since she's a huge fan of Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Alan Rickman. So that made it a nice evening.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Loss of phone friend

Nate aka Queen Boots, formerly of the O.C., but soon to be of the C-Bus (aka Columbus, Ohio), and I typically talk on the phone about five times each week. Seeing as how we've known each other since 1991 and have been through all sorts of joy and pain over those many years, I've come to rely on our conversations as part of my regular routine. And you know how much Virgos depend upon their routines! Evidently his former employer used to pay his cell phone bill, but now he's on his own. Yesterday after we were on the phone for about 20 minutes, Nate cut me off and said that I "was using too many of his minutes." Now I know how I rate with him: he could talk with me when his employer was footing the bill, but he's not willing to talk when he's the one paying. My recommendation to Nate is that he fork over the bucks to increase the minutes in his phone plan. You shouldn't have to be worrying about the number of minutes you use. Just buy a monthly plan with additional minutes. Until he does that or until his new employer issues him a cell phone, I guess I'm cut off from voice communication with him.

UPDATE: Nate's former employer did not pay his cell phone bill, so I stand corrected on that. Since I would oftentimes call him on his work number, he didn't have to use cell phone minutes when I did that. With no work number for the next couple of weeks, he's worried about his cell phone minutes. He may have to bite the bullet and upgrade his plan, at least for this month. We have too many things to discuss, particularly since I might have a new "kissing partner," which is how Queen Boots refers to potential boyfriends. Ruben advises cutting Nat some slack given his impending move, and that seems like good advice. Perhaps I should send him a check for $10 to cover phone charges.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Joe Johnson update

My source just told me that Joe Johnson is indeed playing for my team. Unfortunately, he has a partner and they live together here in Milwaukee. Yet another one to add to my growing list entitled, "Relationships I'm Waiting Out."

Well, at least I tried.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Maharaja


Ruben, Mark, and I had dinner last night at Maharaja on Farwell Avenue. All three of us love Indian food, so it was a good selection. As tends to be the case when the three of us get together, we had a fun evening with lots of laughs. Yes, Boots, we did talk about you and your search for rice in Columbus.
Maharaja is decorated for the holidays with multi-colored Christmas lights on a white string carefully strung throughout the restaurant. Our meals were served on Corelle-ware. I said, "You know that you're at a fancy Indian restaurant when your meal is served on Corelle."

Woman Done Wrong




The third, and best, CD that Ruben and Mark gave me is entitled "Woman Done Wrong."


1. I Hate Men; From "Kiss Me, Kate"

2. If Looks Could Kill; Heart

3. You Ain't Woman Enough; Loretta Lynn

4. The Night That the Lights Went Out in Georgia; Vicki Lawrence

5. You're No Good; Linda Ronstadt

6. Gloria; Laura Branigan

7. Jolene; Dolly Parton

8. Girlfriend; Pebbles

9. Nobody; Sylvia

10. Cold Hearted Snake; Paula Abdul

11. Woman to Woman; Barbara Mandrell

12. I Will Survive; Gloria Gaynor


I've been a fan of Loretta Lynn for many years. Her life story, depicted in the film, "Coal Miner's Daughter," tells of her rise to country stardom from the mountains of Kentucky. "You Ain't Woman Enough" is one of her finest autobiographical compositions that she wrote after her husband had a dalliance with another woman. It includes the lines:


"It'll be over my dead body

So get out while you can,

Cause you ain't woman enough to take my man.

No, you ain't woman enough to take my man."


So Ruben and Mark knew that they had a winner with this Loretta Lynn composition.


The unexpected surprise on "Woman Done Wrong" was "Woman to Woman" by Barbara Mandrell, pictured above. "Woman to Woman" has the absolute best spoken introduction of any song I have ever heard:


"Hello,

You don't know who this is, but,

The reason I'm callin' you is because

I was going through my man's pockets this morning

And I just happened to find your name and number.

So, woman to woman,

I don't think it's wrong to call.

Now, I don't know how you're gonna take this,

You might even hang up the phone.

But you see,

It really doesn't make any difference,

And it's only fair that I let you know

That that man that you've been seeing,

He's mine,

And I love him.

So, woman to woman,

I think you'll understand..."


This introduction by Ms. Mandrell is so amazingly exciting and excellent that I actually did have to pull my car over to the side of the road on my way home from work to listen to it a second time. If you are seeking genius, look no further than this song's intro.


You have to admire Barbara's gumption and assertiveness in standing up to the other woman. Just like Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell isn't afraid to put the other woman in her place and let her know that she's going to fight for her man.


There was a moment in the summer of 2004 when I should have taken Loretta Lynn and Barbara Mandrell's example. I found another man's name and number in my man's pockets. Well, actually in his cell phone call log, but close enough. Contrary to my usual personality as someone who fights for what he believes in, I looked the the way, and our relationship ended about a month later. He left me for the other man.


In discussing "Woman to Woman" with Lesley, she raised a good point. Lesley argued that instead of directing her ire at the other woman, Barbara Mandrell should instead be awfully angry with her man. After all, he's the one that cheated on Barbara. The other woman might not even know that the guy she slept with is Barbara Mandrell's man. Good point. Lesley also suggested that the two women should join together in solidarity and recognize that men cheat and are scumbags. Barbara Mandrell should leave her philandering man and either be single or find a guy who is loyal to her. After all, she's a talented musician and country music legend who used to have an NBC television program, "Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters." She doesn't need any man who is going to cheat on her. She can, and should, do better than that.


Nevertheless, I appreciate Barbara's willingness to stand up for what she believes in, even if it's a cheating, low-life man.


I'm trying to convince Ruben and Mark that we should be Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters for Barbie's Halloween party next year. Mark would have to be Irlene, since she was the most attractive, and Mark looks the best in drag. Ruben would be Louise since she was the brunette. Which means, I guess, that I'd have to be Barbara herself. I'm happy to be one of the supporting characters, so maybe I should think again about this Halloween costume idea. Although it sure would be fun.

Slutty Girls



The second volume of the trilogy of CDs Ruben and Mark gave me is entitled "Slutty Girls."


1. My Heart Belongs to Daddy; Eartha Kitt

2. Dance: Ten, Looks: Three; A Chorus Line

3. It Ain't Easy Bein' Easy; Janie Frickie

4. I Know What Boys Like; The Waitresses

5. Sugar Walls; Sheena Easton

6. I Don't Know How to Love Him; Yvonne Elliman (from "Jesus Christ Superstar")

7. London Bridge; Fergie

8. Physical; Olivia Newton-John

9. Lady Marmalade; Patti LaBelle

10. Freak Like Me; Adina Howard

11. I'm the Kinda; Peaches

12. If I Can't Sell It, I'll Keep Sitting On It; Pussy Tourette


Two songs merit special mention. First, "I Don't Know How to Love Him" contains the classic lines:

"I don't know how to take this

I don't see why he moves me.

He's a man

He's just a man

And I've had so many men before

In very many ways

He's just one more."


How can you argue with that? You can't.


Second, I believe that Janie Fricke, pictured above, is an underappreciated artist. I say this because of the genius that is her most popular song, "It Ain't Easy Bein' Easy," from 1983. I would argue that truer words have never been spoken. The chorus is as follows:


"It ain't easy bein' easy, no,

You're the one who took my heart and my soul

Walked away and left me out of control

And it ain't easy being easy, no.

No, it ain't easy when you're needin' someone

And it ain't easy bein' under the gun

And i'll surrender even though I should run

It ain't easy bein' easy."
You could place "It Ain't Easy Bein' Easy" in the same category as "I've Never Been to Me" by Charlene since both songs are by a woman whose been around the block more than a few times. In each song, the narrator is imparting her wisdom, based on lots of experience, to the listener.
Ruben and Mark know me so well - they knew that their inclusion of Janie Frickie's "It Ain't Easy Bein' Easy" on this CD would whip me into a shrieking frenzy. And, of course, it did. The first time I heard the song, driving south on Lake Drive in Shorewood, I almost had to pull the car over to the side of the road because of my admiration for this gem of a song.
There's no doubt that "it ain't easy bein' easy."

Ladies First

Ruben and Mark made me the following CD entitled "Ladies First." It's a great female power collection.

1. I'm Every Woman; Chaka Khan
2. And I'm Telling You I A Not Going; Jennifer Hudson
3. Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves; Eurhythmics and Aretha Franklin
4. Invincible; Pat Benatar
5. She Works Hard For the Money; Donna Summer
6. Ladies First; Queen Latifah featuring Monie Love
7. I Am Woman; Helen Reddy
8. Sisters of Avalon; Cyndi Lauper
9. I Am the Body Beautiful; Salt-N-Papa
10. River Deep, Mountain High; Tina Turner
11. The Glamorous Life; Sheila E.
12. 9 to 5; Dolly Parton

Friday, December 14, 2007

my latest note to Joe Johnson

December 14, 2007


Dear Joe,

I sent the enclosed note to you earlier this fall, and I’m not sure that it ever reached you, so I’m trying a second time. I’m motivated by the life-affirming performance of the Beethoven Symphony No. 9 by you and the MSO that I was fortunate to attend a couple of weeks ago. The concert was wonderful, and any attempt I’d make to describe it in words would be inadequate.


In any event, I enjoyed seeing the fund raising video for the MSO that featured you playing your cello at home. It motivated me to make a small gift toward the $1 million challenge. I wish that I could give more, but I work for a non-profit university.

After hearing you speak before the concert at the end of September, seeing you in the video, and watching you perform at three concerts, I’m interested in getting to know you. It’s clear that you’re intelligent, kind, and talented. My friend Barbie and her mother Suzy, who have also seen you perform, both think that we’d be a good match.


I’m a decent, well-educated person with a great life. As I mentioned in my previous note, I work at [company] with Christina, Mark’s wife. Feel free to ask them about me - they can tell you that I’m a nice guy.

Life is too short to spend alone, so give me a call or send me an email. Take a chance on me, Joe!

Best wishes,
Steve

END OF NOTE

Perhaps my Christmas wish will come true and Joe will ask me out.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

All I Want for Christmas is You



Another song on "Christmas Down on Ol' Andy's Farm" is "All I Want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey. I'm not a Mariah fan, but I like this particular song, mostly because it's produced in the Phil Spector "wall of sound" style. In addition, I share this funny video of my cousin Brian enjoying this tune at a Christmas party last year. His enthusiastic dancing was clearly fueled by some alcoholic beverages.

Joseph Johnson: all I want for Christmas is you!

Christmas decorating

I put my Christmas tree and decorations up last Saturday. As is my tradition, I listen to a CD that my friend Andy gave me entitled, "Christmas Down on Ol' Andy's Farm" while decorating. The CD contains some classics such as "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Andy Williams, "Silent Night," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Bing Crosby, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Burl Ives, "Jingle Bells" by Dean Martin, "O Holy Night," "Sleigh Ride," and my all-time favorite non-religious Christmas song: "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole.

As happens each year, I start crying when "25th December" by Everything But the Girl plays. It's a poignant song that reminds me of the mistakes I've made in the past with respect to how I treated my family, friends, and my ex.

Everything But The Girl - 25th December

"And I see forests and it's the 25th of December and my old man plays the piano for Christmas. He plays the piano for Christmas.
And we're all there, all the aunties and uncles, and the angle's on the top of the tree. Up there on the top of the tree.
And I never, no I never ever realised. And I never, no I never ever realised.
Have I enough time, have I just some time, to revisit, to go back, to return, to open my mouth again and say something different this time.
And I see bags of newspaper and a car in the carport, and you're a grown up and still unsure, and I'm thirty and I don't know nothing no more.
And I never, no I never ever realised. And I never, no I never ever realised.
And I'm sitting, sitting on the top of the stairs, and you're crying out on the towpath by the river with all the swans and all the people walking by.
And all of a sudden I'm stuck with an urge to unlock a door with a key that's too big for my hands and I drop it, and it falls at your feet.
Come on, come on, it's there at your feet. And I never, no I never ever realised. And I never, no I never ever realised."

latest interest: Joseph Johnson


The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has a new principal cellist this season, Joseph Johnson. In addition to being a remarkably talented musician, Joe is also very attractive. I've seen him perform three times so far this season. After the first time, I sent him this letter:

September 29, 2007

Mr. Joseph Johnson
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
700 N. Water St., Suite 700
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Dear Joseph,

Welcome to Milwaukee, and congratulations on earning the principal cello position with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. I attended the concert on Friday evening, and I enjoyed it a great deal. The Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 is one of my favorite pieces. The whole work is sublime, and listening to the second movement is a particularly transcendent experience. You did a fantastic job in your remarks to the audience. It was interesting to hear your comments as a professional musician on the Rachmaninoff and on the Beethoven Symphony No. 5. Your talk helped me appreciate the Beethoven more than I would have without your perspective, particularly the third and fourth movements. So thanks for making the concert more enjoyable.

I’m writing not only to say how much I enjoyed your talk at the concert, but also because I’d like to ask you out for coffee or dinner in the unlikely event that you don’t have a partner. You seem like a great person; someone worth getting to know.

A bit about me: I’m 34, I earned a master’s degree in history from Lehigh University, and I work at Marquette University with Christina H, Mark H’s wife. Feel free to ask Christina about me if that would be helpful. I’m an avid runner and swimmer, and will be running my fourth marathon on October 7. I’m no musician, but I’ve been a MSO subscriber for quite a few years. You can check out the following links to learn more about me:
http://profiles.friendster.com/7392106
http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=28886081
It would be great to get to know you, Joseph. I hope to hear from you.
Best wishes,
Steve
Unfortunately, I have yet to receive any sort of reply from Joe.
Before the Beethoven Symphony No. 9 concert, they played a video asking people to donate to the MSO. Joe was featured in the video practicing his cello at home. His house looked very Virgo-esque: clean, minimalist, tidy, hardwood floors.
From hearing him speak both at the concert and in the video, it's clear that he's gay. Now I just need to get him to respond to me. I'll keep trying, stay positive, and remember that hope springs eternal.
Joe Johnson: please call me!
Steve

Beethoven Symphony No. 9


One of my highlights of 2007 was seeing Andreas Delfs conduct the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 "Choral." This was either the third or fourth time that I've seen Maestro Delfs conduct this piece, and I don't think that I could ever tire of it. Delfs is recognized as one of the best conductors of Beethoven's work in the world, and I'd argue that he's the best. He conducts Beethoven without a score; the score would be as unnecessary for him as a map of the interior of your house would be for you. He doesn't just conduct from memory - he knows Beethoven's works so well that they're internalized in his heart. For Delfs to conduct the Beethoven No. 9 is like signing our name for most of us.


My left loge seat offered me a unique view of Delfs' facial expressions. You can see angst, happiness, levity, seriousness, intensity, and fulfilment - the range of human emotion - in Delfs' conducting. He literally dances on the podium in an altogether appropriate communion with Beethoven. The orchestra and chorus cannot help but excel, even exceed their usual limitations, as a result of this conducting.


Some post-modernists trivialize Beethoven's Ninth Symphony from their deep-seeded cynicism. For me, the Ninth is the pinnacle of music in our culture. It simply doesn't get better than this. The emotion communicated in the Ninth Symphony goes beyond words and effects us profoundly and deeply.


Touching upon philosophical aspects of this masterwork, Maynard Soloman in his Beethoven (Schirmer Books, 1977) writes:


"I want to revoke the Ninth Symphony," cried Adrian Leverkuehn in Thomas Mann's post-World War II novel Doctor Faustus. The Ninth has been perceived by later generations as an unsurpassable model of affirmative culture, a culture which by its beauty and idealism, some believe, anesthetizes the anguish and the terror of modern life, thereby standing in the way of a realistic perception of society. Marcuse writes, "Today's rebels against the established culture also rebel against its all too sublimated, segregated, orderly, harmonizing forms...The refusal now hits the chorus which sings the 'Ode to Joy,' the song which is invalidated in the culture that signs it." The fatal (and destructive) error behind such attitudes is this: if we lose our awareness of the transcendent realms of play, beauty, and brotherhood which are portrayed in the great affirmative works of our culture, if we lose the dream of the Ninth Symphony, there remains no counterpoise against the engulfing terrors of civilization, nothing to set against Auschwitz and Vietnam [and Iraq] as a paradigm of humanity's potentialities. Masterpieces of art are instilled with a surplus of constantly renewable energy - an energy that provides a motive force for changes in the relations between human beings - because they contain projections of human desires and goals which have not yet been achieved (which indeed may be unrealizable)...Hegel wrote that "it is the defects of immediate reality which drive us forward inevitably to the idea of the beauty of art,"; perhaps so, but Schiller expressed his own, and Beethoven's, view when he perceived the opposite process at work: "To arrive at a solution even in the political problem, the road of aesthetics must be pursued, because it is through beauty that we arrive at freedom."

Symphony transportation

I had a ticket to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert last Saturday. The program was unparalleled: Andreas Delfs conducting Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 "Choral."

There was a snow/ice/rain storm in progress in Milwaukee that evening, so I decided not to drive from my condo to Uihlein Hall. I wasn't worried about my own driving, but I was concerned about someone sliding into my car, either while I was driving or when it was parked while I was at the concert. So I decided to take the bus. There's a stop right across from my condo. I was the only person to get on at that stop, and the bus got stuck in the snow after stopping to pick me up. There were about 40 other people on that bus, and I thought that they were going to go after me since the bus got stuck in the snow after stopping to pick me up. Fortunately, it was a well-behaved group and I was fine, although a few of them gave me dirty looks. We had to wait until the next bus on that line showed up about 15 minutes later and then get onto that one. Fortunately, the second bus didn't get stuck, and I made it to the concert with time to spare. It was snowing when I went into Uihlein Hall and raining after.

Since it was raining more horizontally then vertically, I decided to start walking along the bus line and get on the first bus I saw. I walked/jogged the entire 1.8 miles home and didn't see one bus the entire time. I was completely soaked from head to toe by the time I arrived home. But it was most definitely worth it because the concert was transcendent and amazing. I was on such a high after the concert that I didn't mind the chilly and wet walk home.

Steven Rosengard update


My love for Steven Rosengard from Season 4 of Project Runway has already been documented on these pages. He's kept advancing on the show, but just barely. He almost didn't make it the past two episodes, but fortunately, the reality television gods have been smiling on him. Steven is so earnest, soft-spoken, kind, and talented. I hope that he stays in the competition and makes it to Bryant Park.
Even thogh Steven has a boyfriend, I'm still in love with him. Steve, if it doesn't work out with the guy you're dating now, I'm available!

Chocolate chip cake


I baked this chocolate chip cake for Ruben and Mark last week for our "Desperate Housewives" viewing. It was a recipe I received from my aunt Mary Ellen, so I had to take a photo to show her that it worked. Ruben and Mark enjoyed it. In fact, they said that I had "outdone myself." I usually don't cook much since I'm single, but it's nice to cook when someone else can appreciate the effort.

John and Lesley imitating me


My favorite Brit Inn photo is the one of John and Lesley imitating me. Great job, guys!

Brit Inn photos, part 2







1. Dave, Sarah French, Barbie (hiding), Chad.

2. Barbie and Chad.

3. Kim, Barbie, and John.

4. Lesley and Dave.

5. Sarah French and Barbie getting into the music.

Brit Inn photos, part 1






Here are some photos from the "Separate Lives" evening at the Brit Inn.
1. Yet another Steve and Lesley photo.
2. Lesley and Barbie.
3. Lesley (foreground) with karaoke operator guy in background.
4. Dave and Sarah French.
5. Kim and Michelle.


Drain an Energy Hog



Lesley and I can't resist taking photos of odd advertisements. This one seems to speak for itself.

Lesley's visit






As documented on her blog, Lesley visited Milwaukee over Thanksgiving. Being the Virgo creatures of habit that we are, we had dinner at Harry's, followed by frozen yogurt at Lixx. It was a fairly cold evening, so Lesley was bundled up as only a Wisconsinite transplanted to Los Angeles could be. Lixx is for sale, and I'm worried that this Upper East Side Milwaukee institution is going to close forever. If I had the money, it would be fun to buy it and then hire hot gay guys to work there.

Most popular baby names in Wisconsin

The most popular baby names for 2006 in Wisconsin were:

GIRLS
1. Ava, don't like it at all.
2. Emma, pretty cute.
3. Emily, I like it.
4. Olivia. pretty decent.
5. Isabella, pretty decent.
6. Abigail, I love it, though am partial because that's my niece's name.
7. Hannah, OK, but not great.
8. Ella, like it.
9. Grace, nice.
10. Sophia, like it.

My favorite girls names are Elizabeth, Eleanor, Lucy, and Laura. Elizabeth because it's a great name, and H.M. Queen Elizabeth II is worth naming one's daughter after. Eleanor or Ellie in honor of Eleanor Roosevelt. Lucy for in honor of two great ladies: Lucy from C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia and Lucille Ball. Laura in honor of Laura Ingalls.

BOYS
1. Ethan, like it.
2. Jacob, don't like it for reasons known to many of my readers.
3. Logan, don't like it, sounds like a porn star.
4. Mason, don't like it, too Southern.
5. Alexander, OK.
6. Noah, like it.
7. Benjamin, love it.
8. Owen, like it.
9. Tyler, OK.
10. Michael, classic.

My favorite boys names are all screwed up because many that I used to like are the names of ex-boyfriends. Matthew and Harry are my favorite boys names. I've never dated a Matt or a Harry, so those are both classic and safe.

Respect

Lesley's and my performance of "Separate Lives" is preserved for posterity. Unfortunately, Sarah French's rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Respect" was not. The memory card on my camera was filled up with the "Separate Lives" video. Sarah French's "Respect" was far superior to Lesley's and my effort, which is why it's too bad that no one else had a camera. Frenchie owned the room with her commanding voice and choreography that engaged the entire Brit Inn.