Photo by Elisa Casas

I’m so happy to report that Stargayzing has doubled its readership in the last twelve months, thanks to loyal readers like you.  Indeed, to use a prominent metaphor from Jerzy Kosinki’s Being There, keeping Stargayzing thriving oftentimes feels like maintaining a garden.  Sometimes, though, it feels more like I’m feeding an animal that is endlessly hungy.  While I consider the blog my most passionate project, it’s a huge amount of work.  It is in the spirit of both of these feelings that every six months I need to ignore the first rule of blogging—don’t stop—and take a short break to renew my energy and live a little.

If you think of me as your pop culture analyst, it won’t seem that odd that I’m taking August off; the only difference being that there is nobody covering for me, so you’re on your own, kids.  I do want to reassure you that I will be back right after Labor Day with more of the quality pieces that you have come to expect.  While I’m gone, I encourage you check out some of the great older posts you may have missed, which I’ve taken the liberty of aggregating below.  You can still follow me on twitter during my hiatus, because unplugging completely would make this analyst—well—nervous.

Until September, let’s remember what Oscar Wilde said: “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,” so, look up!


P.S.  If you haven’t already, take a moment to subscribe to the Stargayzing monthly newsletter to the right, just below the Girls Who Like Boys icon.  It’s the best way to keep up with blog or catch up on anything you may have missed.


k.d. lang, Madonna, Herb Ritts1.  Torch Song Elegy, Volume 5: (N)e(u)rotica: The Unbelievably Bitchy Thing Madonna Said to k.d. lang







Joan Crawford cigarette2.  Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, & Shirley Eder: Hollywood’s Original Two-Faced Women, by Corinna Tomrley







Lesbian music 1980s3.  Profoundly Awful Yet Hyponotic 1980s Lesbian Music Video







Karen Black sexy4.  Karen Black: “My Top 10 Favorite Moments in All of The Sci-Fi/Science-Fantasy/Horror Films I Have Seen”







Kate bush live5.  Honoring Kate Bush on her 55th Birthday







David Munk featured6.  What Not To Wear When Going To Prison: or, How One Bad Decision and Three Loose Pills Sent Me To The Slammer For Three Days with Eyeliner and Crimped Hair, Part One






Hermione Gingold dog7.  Hermione Gingold Singing “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You” from Evita, Plus: Eating With the Stars Features Her Recipe for Steak and Kidney Pudding, Which Would be Surprisingly Not Good For You






Michael Jackson illustration8.  An Unexpected, Highly Informative, and Exhaustingly Comprehensive Letter From a Reader About Michael Jackson’s Nose






Cowardly Lion curls9.  Guest Blogger John Richkus’ List of 11 Performances that Should Have Won Oscars







Lucille Cataldo "Hairdresser"10.  Stairway to Stardom Redux: “Hairdresser”— A Tribute to Lucille Cataldo


k.d. lang "Sing it Loud"1.  k.d. lang, “Sing it Loud” (2011)

k.d. lang is simply one of the best singers currently breathing.  An intrepid boundary-crosser and rule breaker, lang has struggled with record labels from the jump.  Her brilliant early work, generally labelled as “Alt-Country” at the time, was not embraced by the rigid Country music establishment.  Though she had a significant moment of radio success  and cultural presence with Ingenue in 1993, it didn’t last long.  Then it was back to fringes, recording when she wanted and what she wanted.

“Sing it Loud” is a truly first-rate adult pop record that few outside her core fan base heard.  This is a shame because both the song and the album are delightful—as ingratiating a slice of sensual music as has been created this decade.  The song was written by album co-producer and co-writer Joe Pipasia.  It is languid and moody; it takes its time; it is sublime.

lang has always been an iconoclast and may have, perhaps, made peace with the mainstream’s cold shoulder, but as a lover of great pop songs and real singing, I don’t mind telling you that I have done no such thing.  The failure of “Sing it Loud” to connect with radio at any format reflects the overall sorry state of popular music.  k.d. lang is not auto-tuned; she is real; she is exquisitely gifted; and when she sings—be it loud or soft—hers is a voice that must be heard.



Robin Thicke "A Beautiful World"2.  Robin Thicke, “Brand New Jones” (2003)

“Brand New Jones” was the second unsuccessful single released from Thicke’s debut album (the first was a clever reworking of Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven”).  For my money, “Brand New Jones,” a joyful piece of soulful pop craftsmanship, is far more compelling than many of Thicke’s subsequent hits.  The album, A Beautiful World, only sold 63,000 units, but in a bit of old-fashioned artist development acumen, the label stuck with Thicke and was duly rewarded for their stewardship.

“Brand New Jones” remains a go-to song whenever I am driving or looking to feel uplifted; I’ll take it over “Blurred Lines” and its blurry provenance any day of the week.



Christine Russell music publishing3.  Christine Russell, “Life Isn’t Fair” (demo) (1995)

When I first met Christine Russell in the mid-1990s, she was a singer/songwriter fronting a band.  This demo was first played for me by my friend Steve Greenberg.  I was drawn to its cinematic sweep and powerful message.  It’s another one of the demos I’ve hung onto all these years.

If memory serves, Steve actually cut it with Daphne Rubin-Vega (from Broadway’s Rent), but it wasn’t released (or if it was released, it wasn’t a single).  I don’t think Daphne really had the right voice for the song.  I’ve remained friendly with Christine through the years and watched with admiration as she transitioned to a very successful career as a music publisher through her Evolution Music Partners company,  (she looked after the late Gerry Goffin, among many others).  A while back I asked her to send me the original demo I fell in love with and it was like reconnecting with an old friend.

Thank you Christine for the gift of this song.  It may not have become the hit that it should have been, but it is part of the soundtrack of my life.  Your own lyric is as good an explanation for what did not happen: life isn’t fair, but I am only so glad to still be out there pitching it for you.



Songwriter Shelly Peiken

Shelly Peiken is a multi-platinum Grammy nominated songwriter who is best known for her #1 hits, Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants” and “Come On Over Baby (All I Want is You).”  She earned a Grammy nomination for the song “Bitch” recorded by Meredith Brooks.  She’s had hundreds of songs placed on albums, and in TV and film.

Her Serial Songwriter blog adds depth to conversations started on her Facebook page; it has become a forum for all things songwriting and ideas about navigating a changing music business as a creative person and parent.

Shelly is a contributing writer for Songwriter Monthly, and is well known in the music industry as mentor, panelist, consultant, and guest speaker. She is currently working on her first book, Confessions Of A Serial Songwriter.

Shelly is a New Yorker at heart who enjoys her life in Los Angeles with her husband, composer Adam Gorgoni and their daughter, Layla.


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

Yes, but my father told me it very reminiscent of Hatikvah, the Isreali national anthem and I was devastated.


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

Taylor Dayne. I was sure I was on my way.

[Shelly is referring to "Carry Your Heart," a beautiful ballad from Dayne's 1988 debut Arista album, Tell It to My Heart, produced by Ric Wake.]


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

Natalie Cole. “I Can’t Cry.”  It was an album cut. They played it anyway. I was in my apt on 12th street. All by myself. What a pity.

["I Can't Cry" was on Natalie's 1989 album Good To Be Back and also produced by Ric Wake.]


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

Beatles. “Penny Lane”? The 45?


5.  What’s your favorite Burt Bacharach song?

Duh.  “Close To You.”


After the jump, 15 more questions for Shelly Peiken.