This has been a wonderful year for Stargayzing. The blog has grown tremendously with each passing month and its consistent increase in readership has been a source of great satisfaction. While I take my January blogcation to work on some other writing projects, I wanted to leave you with a list of the top ten pieces of 2013 to enjoy.
Here then, in ascending order of popularity, are the most-viewed pieces of 2013 as determined by Big Brother—I mean the good folks at Google analytics or, if you prefer, Mary, Our Sister of Holy Metrics.
Fact: I can’t stand reggae, with its endless, monotonous beat and incessant call to action or, rather, inaction. Reggae gets on my nerves; the more it jauntily commands me to chill, the more tense I get; the more it implores me to relax with its persistent directives, the more the urge to putter. Why isn’t there a genre of music that extolls the virtues of keeping busy?
In this piece I decided to stand up for my God-given right to refrain from jammin’. Working from a vibrant quilt of stereotypes, “A Gay Man’s Comprehensive Guide to Reggae Music (in 830 Words)” explores the full extent of my antipathy toward a musical genre that, truth be told, always has the Pavlovian effect of making me want to take a bath.
In this memory piece, I recall my career as a cabaret singer, which had the unusual distinction of lasting a single hour or, roughly the length of time it took my uncle Harry to cross the Halloween parade (then on Sixth Avenue) to attend my West Village vanity production. Though in the abstract there is certainly no shame in youthful career experimentation there is, in hindsight, quite a bit of embarrassment associated with such a public enterprise upon the later realization that your need for approbation exceeded your musical ability.
Of course I could have left the show in the past where it cannot hurt me, but I found myself unable resist the mental clawing of its fertile potential for humor, so roaring back it came like Carol Channing in the 1990s revival of Dolly. Though it came 25 years later, with this piece I think I finally found the creative reward I probably sought in the first place, albeit with less vibrato.
Here at Stargayzing we love ourselves a good listicle, and our guide to some of the most stunningly over-the-top vocal performances of the 1960s (a decade that was pretty over-the-top vocally to begin with), provided a wonderfully dramatic stroll down memory lane. From Eydie Gormé, to Sammy Davis, Jr. to Jackie Wilson and many more, this list is certain to bring a smile to your face while serving as a useful guide to the biggest, brassiest, most balls-to-the-wall belting of the 1960s.
I was beyond excited when I happened upon this obscure late-period Joan Crawford industrial film. Aside from its many moments of mirth and gonzo-what-was-she-thinking? lunacy, the short film memorializes for the last time in her long career the only unassailably authentic thing about the actress’s acting style: the obsession with Being Joan Crawford. But Big Rock Candy Mountain is, as you will see, much more than a mere star turn. Among its many pleasures is the not incidental fact that you will get to the end of the film and most likely have no more idea what the film has to do with Joan’s brand Pepsi-Cola than you did at the beginning.
It was a true pleasure to deconstruct Miss Crawford’s work here and I was gratified that so many Stargayzing readers seemed to agree the hours I spent combing through this unintelligible brew of muddy film stock and surreal plot points was indeed, time well-spent. Just watching a medicated, windswept Joan attempting to navigate a supermarket parking lot in a hat the size of a wimple was enough in itself, but then there was the matter of choosing the lobster and that pesty vending machine.
I enjoy aggregating my lists of songs that should have had a greater impact, as it allows me to put on my music business cap, a dusty chapeau that otherwise sits on the shelf above my typewriter with a forlorn, distant look—like Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain, but sadder, bitching about auto-tune and the death of melody in pop music.
The fourth volume, devoted exclusively to the music of Elton John, just missed this top-ten list, but volume three, the Clive Davis edition, which had the benefit of being published early in the year, came in at number six. This list has some wonderful songs, including tracks by Chaka Khan, Anastacia, the Pretenders, and French pop band Phoenix.
The catalogue of the great English singer/songwriter is like a soundtrack of my twenties. I was so happy that Stargayzing readers—especially in the U.K., where Bush is considered a national treasure—connected with this tribute. For those who are unfamiliar with the eclectic, brilliant Bush, this piece is a great place to begin exploring one of the most influential artists of her generation.
The most personal piece I wrote all year was this elegy to Steven Stern, my first boyfriend, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his death. I was incredibly touched (and a bit surprised) that it was so popular and found its way to so many people who knew him; I never stopped to think that I was doing anything more than trying to have a private catharsis in a somewhat public way. Your comments reminded me that Steven touched so many people very deeply.
As I watched him hanging out in the “Most Popular this Month” column for weeks, I realized he would have loved being nestled between icons like Cher and Barbra Streisand. From my vantage point 25 years on, Steven’s presence has an almost myth-like quality.
When Beyoncé surprised both her fans and the music industry a few weeks back by releasing her eponymous album unexpectedly, she was widely hailed as a trailblazer for bypassing entrenched rules about marketing music. I wonder how many people realize that Ola Ray, the girl from the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video, did essentially the same thing earlier this year, the difference being that no one noticed but myself.
When I happened upon the Ola Ray video for “Remember,” it was as if God had put the gift of a giant, gleaming turd directly into my outstretched arms. I did not waste a minute and ran to my computer to begin writing what would turn out to be the third most popular Stargayzing piece of the year; but I assure you, I was just a humble vessel. All credit must go to Ola Ray herself, who no doubt toiled for months, if not years, to create this astonishing piece of pop culture detritus that was, even upon the very moment of its birth, too obscure to be regarded even a viable trivia question.
Like many people, I was transfixed by Scotty Bowers’ autobiography in which he claimed to have organized assignations or personally gratified some of the most famous stars, both male and female, of Hollywood’s golden age. In the process he pissed off many folks who simply don’t want to believe that Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were not really in love, or that Charles Laughton was into scat, or that Cary Grant and Randolph Scott were, in Carole Lombard’s words, “the most happily married couple in Hollywood.”
Personally, I believe every word he wrote as Scotty Bowers, now in his 90s, has absolutely no motivation to craft a work of fiction. In addition, the veracity of his claims has been confirmed to me by many of my older gay friends in L.A. who knew or still know the man. Whether you choose to believe it or not, Bowers’ stories made one hell of a list, which turned out to be the second most popular piece of the year.
My piece about Christina Aguilera and what I perceive as the gradual abdication of her true musical passion went viral. Who knew that I would strike such a chord, with many of her fans writing to tell me that they agreed. While I don’t purposely endeavor to create controversy, I seem to have naturally backed into it this time.
I stand by the piece, though I would like to amend it in one way: Christina’s recent duet with the band A Great Big World on the ballad Say Something was in so many ways the antithesis of my criticism of her musical choices in the this piece. Here Aguilera’s vocal performance is straight-forward, direct, unembellished, and the most emotionally satisfying musical moment she has given us in years. Though I never did hear from her regarding this piece, it was as if she read it, understood it, and responded musically. Of course I do not think this is the case, but in musical terms I could not be more impressed with Say Something. Even her look in the video is timeless and chic. We can only hope that this new-found simplicity and maturity is not a one-off but a harbinger of great music to come, for Christina Aguilera is a great talent who is hopefully learning to trust the voice within.