Thursday, December 25th, 2014

Stargayzing Top 20 Posts of 2014

"2014"  logo

2014 was a very good year for Stargayzing, both in terms of growing its readership—it doubled—but also (I hope), in terms of the quality of its writing.  In addition to regular pop culture commentary here, I also began contributing to the Huffington Post, which has given Stargayzing the opportunity to reach an expanded audience (shout out to my friend Christopher Rudolph for facilitating this happy development).  A recent HuffPo piece is a re-written version of My Worst Audition Ever? Or, The Danger of Playing Paddle Ball, Chewing Gum, and Singing “We Built This City” Simultaneously.

I historically take January off to recharge my creative batteries and 2015 will be no different.  Along with the groundhog, Stargayzing will return on February 1, but before I jet, I want to leave you with a year-end list: The Top 20 Pieces of 2014.  During the break Stargayzing will still be active on Twitter and Facebook, because to completely disconnect is social media suicide.

So as 2014 winds down, all of us at Stargayzing—or, in other words, me—would like to take a moment to extend our sincere best wishes to all of you for a happy and healthy 2015.  As always, let’s take a moment to remember the Stargayzing motto from the great Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”



Stargayzing Top 20 Pieces of 2014 

Masada 201320.  Everyone’s a Shopper: Me and My Mother Visit Masada

When my mother and I visited Israel, I figured things would be too serious to provide me with material.  I was wrong.  As Nora Ephron’s mother said, “Everything is copy.”





Bridget Everett bathing suit19.  We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: An Exclusive Stargayzing Conversation with Bridget Everett, the Outsider Who Is Redefining Cabaret Music for a New Generation

Since I interviewed Bridget earlier in the year, her star has continued to ascend.  She released an album called Pound It with her band The Tender Moments and I’ve just learned that she will star in her own Comedy Central special in 2015.   Keep your eyes on Miss Everett.





k.d. lang, Madonna, Herb Ritts18.  Torch Song Elegy, Volume 5: (N)e(u)rotica: The Unbelievably Bitchy Thing Madonna Said to k.d. lang about Peggy Lee

This is the story that put me on the radar of James Gavin.  At the time he was writing his hypnotic biography of one of the all time vocal greats, Miss Peggy Lee.  The story sketched out in this piece wound up in the book and we ended up becoming very good friends.  (I also enjoyed interviewing him for the blog upon the occasion of the book’s publication—was also reprinted in HuffoPo.)




Paul Stanley purple17.  Eating With the Stars: Paul Stanley’s Brussels Sprouts

When an Eating With the Stars piece does as well as Mr. Stanley’s sprouts, I am often confounded.  I wonder, is it an enduring interest in Paul Stanley or a freakish fetish for Brussels sprouts?  Oftentimes, the recipes I am certain will be big hits—Angela Lansbury’s Power Loaf comes immediately to mind—often underperform.  Who knew that Paul Stanley’s Brussels Sprouts would be as popular as one of KISS’s greatest hits compilations?




Joni Mitchell bottles16.  Joni Mitchell’s House is a Very, Very, Very, Fine House, by Elisa Casas

This lovely piece by Elisa Casas continues to capture the imagination of readers; it reflects both the resonance of Laurel Canyon at the time of Joni’s residence as well as the enduring appeal of her early music.





[The top 15 blog posts of 2014 after the jump.]


Peter Zizzo songwriter

Peter Zizzo is an Emmy winning producer/songwriter whose songs have been recorded over the years by artists like Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez, Howie Day, Donna Summer and many others.  One of his more recent productions is the outstanding album Water in a Whale by singer/songwriter Jillette Johnson, which was released in 2013 on Wind-Up Records.  Zizzo was also instrumental in the early artist development of Vanessa Carlton and Avril Lavigne.

I met Peter twenty years ago when I was managing singer Billy Porter.  During the intervening years I have learned so much from Peter—he has some of the best pop ears I’ve ever encountered—so it was a particular pleasure to feature him in this installment of “20 Questions.” [My personal comments are in brackets.]


1.  Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?

“Blackjack.”  I was 12. It was a rocker; really just a hook I walked around singing with my guitar. I just liked the word and thought it sounded edgy and serious—had no idea what it was.

2.  Was there a defining moment you knew you’d broken through or “made it?”

Seeing my song “Whispers” by Corina, debut on the Billboard Hot 100.


3.  What was the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?

It was that same song! Hot 97 one sunny afternoon. I knew they’d added it and waited by my radio all day.  Absolutely stopped time for me when it came on.

4.  What’s the first record you ever bought?

Elton John’s Rock of the Westies— “Island Girl!” [#1, 1975]


5.  What’s your favorite Burt Bacharach song?

Hard to say. Maybe “Raindrops” or “I Say a Little Prayer.”

[Here is a great vintage clip of "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin performing "I Say a Little Prayer" dating from October 1970. Notwithstanding her hat, which looks like nothing as much as a woven silver trashcan from a dowager's bathroom, this performance is perfect in every way.]

[15 more questions with Peter after the jump.]


Tilda Swinton make up

Tilda Swinton photographed by Dave Piper

 “I loved this challenge.  I want to raise awareness of these films, and if anybody seeks them out that would be rocking.”

In March 2014, Tilda Swinton, who won the 2007 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her stunning performance in Michael Clayton, shared 8 of her favorite underrated films with Entertainment Weekly. The resulting list provided an all to rare highbrowish moment for the snarky, disaffected, and increasingly millenial-toned magazine, and a welcome respite from its slavish sucking up to studio tentpoles,  franchises, and CGD crap. (“franchise” and “tentpole” are two marketing words that I despise in relation to film—and I bet Tilda does too).

Here is her list along with her comments.


1.  Peter Ibbetson (1935), Directed by Henry Hathaway

“A fetish film for surrealists with the great Gary Cooper.  It’s a love story of two children who get parted, meet as adults, get parted again, and then meet in dreams.”

2.  A Canterbury Tale (1949), Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

“It’s about England and pride in national history and is almost a piece of propaganda but the most poetic and elegant propaganda you could imagine.”

3.  Twenty-Four Eyes, (1954), Directe by Keisuke Kinoshita

“A young primary school teacher on a small island off Japan.  Some of her boys grow up and go away to the war.  It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.”

4.  Britannia Hospital, (1983), Directed by Lindsay Anderson

“A satire about the National Health Service.  It’s sick, sick, sick funny and super political.  Lindsay Anderson is a great master of English filmmaking.”

5.  Ginger and Fred, (1986), Directed by Federico Fellini

“It’s about Ginger and Fred impersonators who are invited to a TV studio to take part in some terrible variety shows.  When I first saw it I thought it was the most extreme satire.  Now it [seems like] a documentary.”

6.  Barking Dogs Never Bite, (2000), Directed by Bong Joon-Ho

“The first film by my friend whom I’m proud to say I’m doing a film with [Snowpiercer].  It’s a pretty black comedy about eating dogs in Korea.”

7.  Idiocracy, (2006), Directed by Mike Judge

“God it’s so good.  The performances are fantastic, and it’s incredibly witty, and look out for the President of the United States is all I can say.”

8.  Gentleman Broncos, (2009), Directed by Jared Hess

“By the Napoleon Dynamite director.  It’s kind of insane.  It’s about a writer whose work is plagiarized, and it’s really, really, silly.  Just go and find it.”

Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton:


You may also enjoy:

John Waters 10 Favorite Overlooked Movies

On Peter Bogdanovich—Plus His List of the Top American Films of 1939

William Wyler’s 10 Greatest Films of All Time