Obscurity Knocks

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Backwoods Barbie

Ruben, Mark, my parents, and I went to see Dolly Parton at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee last night. She's touring in support of her new album, "Backwoods Barbie." This was my second time seeing Dolly, and this concert was even better than the last time I saw her in 2005. There is no question that Dolly is one of America's finest songwriters, singers, and musicians. She may have had lots of plastic surgery, but her talent is real and authentic. In the pantheon of American songwriters, Dolly has secured a place right at the top. Her ability to craft songs that are both autobiographical and relevant to others is unparalleled. She is also a fine musician, effortlessly playing guitar, banjo, dulcimer, fiddle, and other instruments. And let's not forget that this woman can really sing.

One of the many things that I love about Dolly is that she gives the audience what it wants. She isn't one of these artists who discards the songs that made her famous in favor of performing only new songs. She performed all of her major hits, including "Two Doors Down," "Jolene," "Coat of Many Colors," "Islands in the Stream," "Here You Come Again," "9 to 5," and "I Will Always Love You."

Dolly also knows how to work a crowd. As she commented last night, "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap." She also explained how her look was inspired by a prostitute in Knoxville, Tennessee that she saw as a child. Growing up poor, Dolly was infatuated with this woman's painted fingernails, red lipstick, high heels, and low-cut dress. An intelligent businesswoman, Dolly parlayed her "dumb blond" image into career success. Anyone who thinks that Dolly is dumb doesn't know anything about her; she's quite intelligent.

Ruben was particularly glad that she performed "Why'd You Come In Here Lookin' Like That" from 1989's "White Limozeen" album. She also did an excellent cover of the Fine Young Cannibals song from the late 80s, "She Drives Me Crazy." I was also glad to hear Dolly perform "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind," not just because it's great song; it's something that I wonder about my two ex-es: do I ever cross their minds? The version last night was done a cappella with the guys in her band singing background vocals.

I also enjoyed the song "Backwoods Barbie" that will be featured in the new "9 to 5" Broadway musical and "Shattered Image," where Dolly played the dulcimer.

The highlight of the evening for me was "Coat of Many Colors." Dolly has such a natural stage presence, and she set up the song beautifully by talking about her childhood in rural Tennessee with her 11 brothers and sisters. While some may dismiss the song as sugary sentimentality, I think it's one of the true highlights in all of American songwriting. The song is a tender remembrance of a childhood where love was far more important than material possessions. Like Dolly, I unabashedly believe that love is the most important thing. It's clear that Dolly was raised correctly and that she is a genuinely good person. I think that I also love "Coat of Many Colors" because it reminds me of my maternal grandparents. My mom is one of seven children who grew up in the northeast corner of South Dakota. Like Dolly, my mom's family didn't have much money, but they always had a roof over their heads, food on the table, a commitment to doing well in school, and presents at Christmas. It's difficult to explain because it's so personal, but I think that my mom has a better understanding of that song than most people because she grew up poor yet with lots of love.

As Ruben and I like to say, "She's not just a singer, she's a storyteller." To which Ruben has now added, "She's not just a storyteller, she's a philosopher of the American condition."

Dolly Parton is a living legend, and I was glad to be in her presence last night. Thank you, Dolly!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Malatesta Trattoria

Nate and I met up in New York this past weekend. Saturday night we had dinner at Malatesta Trattoria in the West Village. While we were eating, Nate asked me to turn around casually to see who was sitting across the restaurant. Lo and behold it was Adrian Grenier having dinner with two women and one other man. He was in his usual uniform of jeans and a fitted t-shirt. I got up to use the little boys’ room so that I could get a better look. Adrian's hair was longer than it looks on TV, and he had his typical five o'clock shadow. He's even more of a looker in real life than on television; Adrian is quite pretty. Since it was a small restaurant and since it was New York where you’re supposed to leave celebrities alone, I didn’t attempt a photo or try to shake his hand or anything like that - knowing that doing so would have been rude and interrupted Adrian's dinner. Nevertheless, it was a fun celebrity sighting.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My latest pretend boyfriend

I am happy to introduce you to my latest pretend boyfriend. His name is... Wait, does it matter what his name is? Not really, so you can call him anything you want. I call him hot. Actually, he wouldn't even have to be my boyfriend. At this point, I'd happily settle for him being my one night stand.

'Nevermind' 17 years later

Has it really been 17 years? Wow. I was a freshman at Marquette University in the fall of 1991 when I first heard the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from Nirvana's "Nevermind" album. Dave Kendall played the video for the first time on MTV's "120 Minutes," a program that I dutifully recorded on VHS tape each Sunday night.

I was intrigued by the song, particularly the title's reference to Teen Spirit deodorant, but I didn't care for it much musically. Even though Nirvana became the band and the Seattle grunge sound swept college campuses and took over alternative and college radio, I never warmed up to Nirvana. During those years, I was much more into The Ocean Blue, The Judybats, Morrissey, Blur, Northside, The Farm, 10,000 Maniacs, Electronic, and the Trash Can Sinatras.

The photo above shows Spencer Elden re-creating the iconic "Nevermind" album cover 17 years later. I think it's cool that Spencer is a fellow redhead.

Keith Olbermann: Gay marriage is a question of love

Olbermann: Gay marriage is a question of love
Everyone deserves the same chance at permanence and happiness
By Keith Olbermann
Anchor, 'Countdown'

Finally tonight as promised, a Special Comment on the passage, last week, of Proposition Eight in California, which rescinded the right of same-sex couples to marry, and tilted the balance on this issue, from coast to coast.

Some parameters, as preface. This isn't about yelling, and this isn't about politics, and this isn't really just about Prop-8. And I don't have a personal investment in this: I'm not gay, I had to strain to think of one member of even my very extended family who is, I have no personal stories of close friends or colleagues fighting the prejudice that still pervades their lives.
And yet to me this vote is horrible. Horrible. Because this isn't about yelling, and this isn't about politics. This is about the human heart, and if that sounds corny, so be it.

If you voted for this Proposition or support those who did or the sentiment they expressed, I have some questions, because, truly, I do not understand. Why does this matter to you? What is it to you? In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships, these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is your option. They don't want to deny you yours. They don't want to take anything away from you. They want what you want—a chance to be a little less alone in the world.

Only now you are saying to them—no. You can't have it on these terms. Maybe something similar. If they behave. If they don't cause too much trouble. You'll even give them all the same legal rights—even as you're taking away the legal right, which they already had. A world around them, still anchored in love and marriage, and you are saying, no, you can't marry. What if somebody passed a law that said you couldn't marry?

I keep hearing this term "re-defining" marriage. If this country hadn't re-defined marriage, black people still couldn't marry white people. Sixteen states had laws on the books which made that illegal in 1967. 1967.

The parents of the President-Elect of the United States couldn't have married in nearly one third of the states of the country their son grew up to lead. But it's worse than that. If this country had not "re-defined" marriage, some black people still couldn't marry black people. It is one of the most overlooked and cruelest parts of our sad story of slavery. Marriages were not legally recognized, if the people were slaves. Since slaves were property, they could not legally be husband and wife, or mother and child. Their marriage vows were different: not "Until Death, Do You Part," but "Until Death or Distance, Do You Part." Marriages among slaves were not legally recognized.

You know, just like marriages today in California are not legally recognized, if the people are gay.
And uncountable in our history are the number of men and women, forced by society into marrying the opposite sex, in sham marriages, or marriages of convenience, or just marriages of not knowing, centuries of men and women who have lived their lives in shame and unhappiness, and who have, through a lie to themselves or others, broken countless other lives, of spouses and children, all because we said a man couldn't marry another man, or a woman couldn't marry another woman. The sanctity of marriage.

How many marriages like that have there been and how on earth do they increase the "sanctity" of marriage rather than render the term, meaningless?

What is this, to you? Nobody is asking you to embrace their expression of love. But don't you, as human beings, have to embrace... that love? The world is barren enough.

It is stacked against love, and against hope, and against those very few and precious emotions that enable us to go forward. Your marriage only stands a 50-50 chance of lasting, no matter how much you feel and how hard you work.

And here are people overjoyed at the prospect of just that chance, and that work, just for the hope of having that feeling. With so much hate in the world, with so much meaningless division, and people pitted against people for no good reason, this is what your religion tells you to do?

With your experience of life and this world and all its sadnesses, this is what your conscience tells you to do?

With your knowledge that life, with endless vigor, seems to tilt the playing field on which we all live, in favor of unhappiness and hate... this is what your heart tells you to do? You want to sanctify marriage? You want to honor your God and the universal love you believe he represents? Then Spread happiness—this tiny, symbolic, semantical grain of happiness—share it with all those who seek it. Quote me anything from your religious leader or book of choice telling you to stand against this. And then tell me how you can believe both that statement and another statement, another one which reads only "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
You are asked now, by your country, and perhaps by your creator, to stand on one side or another. You are asked now to stand, not on a question of politics, not on a question of religion, not on a question of gay or straight. You are asked now to stand, on a question of love. All you need do is stand, and let the tiny ember of love meet its own fate.

You don't have to help it, you don't have it applaud it, you don't have to fight for it. Just don't put it out. Just don't extinguish it. Because while it may at first look like that love is between two people you don't know and you don't understand and maybe you don't even want to know. It is, in fact, the ember of your love, for your fellow person just because this is the only world we have. And the other guy counts, too.

This is the second time in ten days I find myself concluding by turning to, of all things, the closing plea for mercy by Clarence Darrow in a murder trial.

But what he said, fits what is really at the heart of this:"I was reading last night of the aspiration of the old Persian poet, Omar-Khayyam," he told the judge. It appealed to me as the highest that I can vision. I wish it was in my heart, and I wish it was in the hearts of all: So I be written in the Book of Love; I do not care about that Book above. Erase my name, or write it as you will, So I be written in the Book of Love."

© 2008 msnbc.com
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27650743/

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Second class citizens

This has been a bittersweet week. Sweet because Barack Obama is our president-elect. Bitter because voters in California passed Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, even though same sex marriage had been legal in that state since May. Sweet because the United States finally overcame hundreds of years of racism and elected an African American to the highest office in the land. Bitter because the majority of voters in California said that gays and lesbians are second class citizens who do not deserve equal rights.

I am angry. I feel like I have been punched in the stomach. I wonder why gays, lesbians, and our straight allies are so unorganized that Proposition 8 passed. Incensed because so many gays and lesbians take any crumbs that straight people throw our way rather than organizing behind a movement to get us our Fourteenth Amendment rights of equal protection. Frustrated and defeated because our democracy is supposed to protect the rights of minority groups, not trample on them.

I'm perplexed wondering why civil marriage and religious marriage aren't separated in the USA. Religious marriage and civil marriage are two completely different things. With respect to religious marriage, I strongly believe that every religion and every religious denomination should be able to define marriage however it so chooses. The First Amendment to the Constitution makes that clear. Religious marriage should be defined by individual religions. But why does the government at both the federal and state level define marriage in religious terms and not in civil terms? It's a no-brainer that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that any two people regardless of gender should be able to have the civil benefits of marriage. Religious beliefs should have nothing to do with civil marriage. What we need is a system similar to many nations in Western Europe: you are required to have a civil ceremony to receive the government benefits of civil marriage. If you choose to have a separate religious ceremony, that's up to you.

I'm dismayed that so many people in California voted for Barack Obama but against the basic civil rights of gays and lesbians. That seem so incongruous. What the fuck is their problem?

How does it make sense that I could get ordained online right now and marry a heterosexual couple? How are we protecting the "sanctity" of marriage when half of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce? Has the world come to an end in Massachusetts, which has had same sex civil marriage since May 17, 2004? Of course not.

I don't understand why the voters of California let a small yet organized group of hate-filled Utah Mormons and other crazies invade their state and scare enough people to pass this vile and unconstitutional amendment. It's hard to believe that there are so many people who hate other people. It's sad that people let their fears of gays and lesbians overcome logic and reason. It's sad that people turn their fears of gays and lesbians into hate by voting for Proposition 8.

Why do gays and lesbians have to pay the same taxes as everyone else, yet we don't get equal civil rights? Why is it now legal in California to teach children that it's all right to discriminate against gays and lesbians? How can people be pleased that civil rights have now been taken away from the people of California? What happens to the 16,000 same sex couples who are/were legally married in California? How can any American be pleased with taking away the civil rights of their fellow citizens?

My friends Lesley and Mikel live in California and attended the protest in Los Angeles last night. I wish that I could have been there with them.

I'm convinced that someday we'll look back on the denial of equal civil rights to gays and lesbians in a similar way that we look back on the Jim Crow era today. Much of this is generational, with most people under 40 not believing that anyone would want to deny gays and lesbians their civil rights. In the meantime, I hope that people who believe in civil rights will continue to fight the good fight and stand up for equality.

This morning at Plymouth UCC, the sermon focused on the dichotomy of Obama's election and the denial of rights to gays and lesbians. For the closing hymn we sang "We Shall Overcome." It was bittersweet for our open and affirming congregation. Sweet in the sense of all that has been accomplished with Barack Obama's election. And bitter because there is still so much to do to ensure that gays and lesbians have equal civil rights.

Visit with Angie

Kim, Michelle SD, and I went to Chicago yesterday to visit our friend Angie. We hadn't seen Angie in over a year, so this was an overdue trip. We had a nice day that included lunch at a Julius Meinl coffee house, lots of talking and catching up, shopping, a visit to see the Christmas windows and Christmas tree in the Walnut Room at Marshall Field's Macy's on State Street, and dinner at a Spanish fusion restaurant. All in all, a fun day in spite of the cold, grey skies and windy weather.

Last batch of Barbie and Chad Halloween party photos

A final batch of photos from the Barbie and Chad Halloween party.
1. "The Calling" sculpture in downtown Milwaukee by Mark di Suvero. We locals call it the sunburst sculpture.
2. Kat dressed as "The Calling" sculpture.
3. Barbie and me in front of her pleasure chest.
4. Me, Mark, and Ruben.
5. Barbie and me.

Barbie and Chad's Halloween party, part 2

More photos from Barbie and Chad's Halloween party.

1. Dave H. as a member of Spinal Tap with Barbie.
2. Kim's cousin as autumn and Kim as Little Red Riding Hood.
3. Ruben as a hunter.
4. Mark doing a spot-on impression of TV pitchman Billy Mays.
5. Julie and Jennifer E. as Laverne and Shirley.

Barbie and Chad's Halloween party, 2008

This was my eighth consecutive year attending Barbie's (and now Chad's) annual Halloween party. Barbie and Chad pull out all the stops with catered food, impressive and extensive decorations, and lots of fun. It's always one of the social occasions of the year. Many thanks to Barbie and Chad for their gracious hospitality.
Photos above:
1. Kelly as David Lynch's films.
2. Michelle as Rhonda Byrne's bullshit book, The Secret.
3. Me as a really bad Austin Powers, John M. as a Ken doll, and Kelley as Twister.
4. Barbie and Sarah French as a black-eyed P.
5. Barbie and Chad portray Sid Visious and Nancy Spungen.

Hopefully Brad, Anne, Erika, John B., and Mandy will be able to attend in 2009.

Abby's Halloween costume

My niece Abby was a bee for Halloween. I loved her costume. So cute! In the solo photo, she's channeling Lesley with her photo posing skills.

Welcome George William!

As usual, I'm way behind on blogging. But that does not diminish the great news that I have a new newphew, George William. George was born on October 24 at 5:22 a.m. He weighed 8 pounds, 10 ounces, and was 22 inches long. Both George and mom Sara are doing well. You forget how tiny babies are when they're newborns. He's so adorable.
October 24 was a great day with George's arrival. Unfortunately for Uncle Steve, I came down with a 24-hour stomach virus the night before George's birth. So the day of George's arrival was not as busy as his sister Abby's on February 7, 2007. October 24 was a rare sick day for me, spent on the couch recovering. Fortunately, it was just a 24-hour virus, so I was able to meet George two days after he was born.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Change has come

What an exciting and fun evening last night. I had been waiting eight long years for this. Ruben, Mark, and I had dinner at Comet, then hunkered down at my condo at about 7:30 p.m. CT watching CNN, MSNBC, and NBC coverage of the returns. It was encouraging when they called Pennsylvania for Obama, but our first real inclination that it was going to be a great night came when they called Ohio for Obama. It became pretty clear by 9:30 p.m. CT that once the polls closed on the west coast, they could call the whole thing for Obama. And, of course, that is exactly what happened. It was surreal at 10:00 p.m. CT when the networks announced that Obama was president-elect. We opened a bottle of champagne, toasted our new president-elect, and watched history being made on TV. We drained the bottle of champagne in a half-hour, sat back, and watched the speeches.

I thought that Obama's speech was excellent. And how fun to see his daughters in addition to Joe Biden's elderly mother. Congratulations, president-elect Obama and vice president-elect Biden! To give credit where credit is due, McCain showed a lot of dignity and grace in his concession speech. I must admit that I loved seeing Sarah Palin get all teary-eyed at how the vast majority of the USA repudiated her.

My good mood is tempered, however, by the news coming out of California this morning that Proposition 8 (banning gay marriage) looks like it will pass. Very sad.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day 2008

This morning I voted in my 5th presidential election. Wow - hard to believe that I'm told enough to have voted in five presidential elections. I was honored and proud to vote for Barack Obama.
My presidential election voting history:
1992. Age 19. Voted for Bill Clinton in New Berlin, WI. Opponents: George H.W. Bush and H. Ross Perot. Winner: Clinton.
1996. Age 23. Voted for Bill Clinton in Bethlehem, PA. Opponent: Bob Dole. Winner: Clinton.
2000. Age 27. Voted for Al Gore in Milwaukee, WI. Opponent: George W. Bush. Winner: Gore, but the Supreme Court gave the election to Bush.
2004. Age 31. Voted for John Kerry in Milwaukee, WI. Opponent: George W. Bush. Winner: Bush.
2008. Age 35. Voted for Barack Obama in Milwaukee, WI. Opponent: John McCain. Winner: TBA, but hopefully Obama.