Tag Archives: elton john

Trump says he didn’t want A-list performers who rejected him anyhow

After multiple A-list performers turned down Donald Trump’s invitations to perform at his inauguration ceremony in January, the president-elect now says that he didn’t want them anyhow.

Trump says he wants “the people” to attend his inauguration, dismissing the “so-called ‘A’ list celebrities” who’ve dismissed his overtures. He claims they are seeking tickets to the Jan. 20 event, even though they want no part of performing in it, according to The Associated Press.
On Twitter late Thursday, Trump slammed the celebrities who supported the campaign of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, saying, “look what they did for Hillary, NOTHING.”

The tweet doesn’t name any specific celebrities.

The website Vulture posted a partial list of the high-profile performers who have said no to Trump. They include Elton John, who was reportedly furious with Trump for using his song “Tiny Dancer” on the campaign trail without his permission. John issued a statement saying, “I’m not a Republican in a million years. Why not ask Ted f**king Nugent?”

Céline Dion is said also to have strongly refused the Trump administration’s invitation.

Trump’s transition team claims that Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli asked to perform at the inauguration but was rejected by Trump. There have been media reports, however, saying that Bocelli was booked but backed out of the event after backlash from his fans.
Kiss, Garth Brooks and David Foster also have refused invitations to perform at the inauguration of one of history’s most polarizing president-elects.

So far, Trump’s transition team has named just two high-profile acts willing to perform. Yesterday, the Radio City Rockettes announced that the troupe would participate. So did the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, although that decision prompted some backlash against the celebrated group.
Jackie Evancho, a contestant on America’s Got Talent has also said yes to Trump.

Trump’s inauguration event is expected to have far fewer well-known entertainers than inaugurations of other recent presidents.

Mika stops hiding with ‘No Place in Heaven’

Mika is one of pop music’s most uniquely talented artists. The Anglo-Lebanese singer burst into the spotlight with his superb debut album, Life in Cartoon Motion, which has sold nearly 6 million copies since its release in 2007. 

Since then, he has continued to demonstrate the gift for sweet melody and catchy hooks that has become his trademark, along with a voice that evokes the spirit and register of Elton John, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie.

His new album, No Place in Heaven, is perhaps the 31-year-old singer/songwriter’s most potent and inspired artistic achievement yet. Evoking vintage pop and sprinkled with emotionally charged love songs, No Place in Heaven is the result of a two-year period of intense dedication. The album has in part been conceived as an act of personal liberation for the artist, who in recent years has admitted the difficulty of coming out and being open about his sexuality, now saying, “I no longer want to hide.”

Of course, when you’re a mega-selling pop idol like Mika, it is practically impossible to live beneath the radar. Today, the tall, lean singer best known for songs like “Grace Kelly,” “Relax, Take it Easy,” “We Are Golden” and “Elle me dit” (“She Tells Me,” recorded in English as “Emily”), is embracing life more fully than ever and his new album is conceived in part as a more intimate portrait of his life.

“Until three years ago I was very resistant to revealing myself: on TV, in (magazine and print) interviews. Then I started to do the opposite. I stopped trying to protect me, to be afraid to show my inner life. I won the battle!,” Mika says. “I began talking about myself, explaining who I am, as if I had found a sort of candor in my way of being and making music. I also decided to stop putting distance between me and my songs. This album, No Place in Heaven, is my diary.”

Born in Beirut, Mika was barely a year old when in 1984 he and his family were forced to flee the country in order to escape the Lebanese Civil War. Mika lived first in France and then, from the age of 9 onward, he grew up in England. Growing up, he dealt with the challenges of being dyslexic and also suffered from intense bullying.

A few years ago, Mika opened up about being gay and having to overcome the stigma that comes from a Middle East culture on his father’s side: “I was scared of not being accepted by my family. No one in my family is gay. No one in my extended family is gay. It was a very foreign, alien thing. You’re scared of being judged. Then you realize there is nothing to be afraid of if you are happy. I fell in love. I lost love. I found it again. I reached a point where I was like, ‘You know what, I’ve lived my life and I’ve never pretended to be anyone else.’”

Mika, is this the most personal album of your career?

This album is much more intimate and personal. There are no metaphors or turns of phrase to mask my feelings. Having come from a Middle East culture, I felt weighed down with a sense of shame for a long time, and this album is a way of escaping that paranoia.

This is an album that speaks of freedom, of becoming an adult — the person we want to become is always more interesting than who we are. But I don’t want to be a role model, a model for others, that’s something that scares me. I write songs that are part of the process of living and expressing my life.

Why did you choose this particular, rather sad title for the album?

The title is not sad. On the contrary, it’s joyful. If I find place in heaven, that’s fine, otherwise there’s no problem — I won’t go there at any price. This goes against the culture in which I grew up, though. My Lebanese side includes a healthy dose of paranoia in dealing with personal issues.

Now I feel I’ve finally been able to knock down the wall, to break out of that shell. Now I understand that the real shame is to keep inside certain things. Years ago when I would give interviews I would avoid talking about serious personal things, I kept everything at a distance. Now it’s my time to free my soul.

The title also kind of makes you wonder why a guy who is 31 can say that there’s no place in heaven for him. It’s a liberating title and it’s all about shaking off the concept of shame and wrestling with the concept of living in the moment more.

Is there an overriding emotional theme to your music?

Joy! But in my songs there is always a conflict between the immediacy of melody and very blunt words that reek of truth. The album No Place in Heaven is perhaps difficult to understand immediately. You discover the meaning by listening to it several times, reading the lyrics. I talk about love, but also about suffering, ecstasy and violence. A mix of conflicting feelings, which makes my music emotionally true. 

In one song, for example, I wonder if there is a love story that is truly full of joy. But maybe that doesn’t exist — there. Maybe it you can only find that at Disneyland where a romantic date is totally happy. Maybe there will be 10 fantastic minutes, 40 unforgettable, but then 20 horrible minutes. But we seem to be programmed to remember only the good things. 

You wrote this album while living in California?

Yes, in Laurel Canyon (Los Angeles). My inspirations are first and foremost Elton John, Billy Joel, and the golden age of pop songwriters from the ‘70s. I first started working in a huge, very modern studio in Los Angeles, but I ran away after a week, because it wasn’t the place where I wanted to write an album. So I went to the Apple store, bought a computer, bought a piano, called my musicians and we moved into a 1950s era house in L.A. But what I didn’t know was that Orlando Bloom had been living in that house and there were always tourists and fans standing outside waiting for him! But I stayed there for three months and it was very beautiful and intense.

What was the experience like? 

I was kind of inspired by the story of how Elton John composed his Yellow Brick Road album at a place called The Castle in France, where he would compose in the morning and record in the afternoon. The house in Los Angeles was like a little factory. We would record and write in the living room, different musicians would come in and out, some would be waiting in the garden. It was a very creative atmosphere. I was constantly writing. During those three months, I maybe left the house four or five times. I wanted to write a record that felt like it came out of a bubble. 

Your new album has a very distinct French chanson influence to it.

I spent a lot of time growing up in Paris and my first musical education came through the French songs of Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy, Barbara Moustaki, Rita Mitsouko, etc. I’m not afraid of melody — it’s part of my training. I had wanted to sing in French for a long, long time, which I finally did on my previous album, but I knew I could not write in French myself, because in my head I think in English. So I had to wait until I met Doriand, a lyricist who interprets my ideas and can put that into French. 

“All She Wants” seems to be a very autobiographical song? Is it about your own mother?

Of course. It’s about a mother who dreams that her son will get married, find a good job, have a family and lead a traditional kind of life. But she always believed in me and stood by me even if though she knew I wasn’t going to be that kind of son. Today my mother works with me (as his stylist) and we are very close. My mom does my clothes for all my shows and she’s become a gypsy without realizing it!

But I am convinced that if I were a more “normal” son, with a beautiful wife and many children, it would be better for her. I think she’s 90 percent happy with who I am, but inside her there will always be that 10 percent of desire for normality, which I can’t give her. That’s part of the inspiration for the song, because even though I have a very good relationship with my mother, a singer/songwriter always finds inspiration in the “grey” area, in the darker side of reality. 

How would you describe your childhood and having to move from one country to another with your family? 

It was difficult for me. I felt like an outsider wherever we went. It was like being shipwrecked. Twice we lost everything and I grew up knowing what it’s like having money and then not having any money at all. Now I can appreciate that this kind of economic instability was a gift from God. Even though my family didn’t have an easy or normal life, it was full of love. And love is the most important thing. 

What was your life like going to school in France? 

As a child I hated school, because I could not read and write and the French school system was rather cruel. When we went to live in England and I started attending a school in London, I was told: “You’re stupid, you’re dyslexic.” It was the first time I had experienced that kind of taunting. At my French school we all wore uniforms, but in England that wasn’t required. I started to wear my own clothes. I would show up at school wearing bow ties and shirts with polka dots and that’s when I started to have a lot of problems. 

How did you deal with the bullying? 

It made me want to succeed and prove myself. Bullying is a way of punishing people for being different and to try to make everyone be the same and be less special. My mother always gave me a lot of encouragement. She told me that you only need to have one great talent or skill and that will overcome all the other disadvantages that I had because of my dyslexia. She understood that my being different and having a very creative side was my gift to succeed in life.

Elton John: Mayor supporting removal of children’s books is ‘boorishly bigoted’

Elton John has slammed Venice’s conservative mayor over moves to remove books from public preschools dealing with gender issues and featuring same-sex couples.

The singer, who has a home in Venice, Italy, called Mayor Luigi Brugnaro “boorishly bigoted” in an Instagram post following the removal of some books from preschools pending an evaluation of their appropriateness. 

Brugnaro shot back on Twitter, saying, “The challenge is to give real resources for saving (hash)Venice,” adding in dialect: “Let’s get to facts, out with the cash (hash)Elton John.”

The mayor in a statement last month voiced reservations about several books with LGBT themes.

He said it would be decided over the school break who would make the selections “to avoid further diatribes.”

Dolce & Gabbana faces celebrity boycott after anti-gay remarks

Celebrities are joining the boycott launched by Elton John after fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana criticized same-sex parents and the use of in vitro fertilization in an Italian magazine, calling the resulting children “synthetic.”

Courtney Love, Ricky Martin, talk-show host Andy Cohen and “American Horror Story” creator Ryan Murphy are among those pledging to ditch their Dolce & Gabbana clothes and support the boycott.

“My D&G shirts are going in the bin — don’t want ANYONE to wear them,” tennis star Martina Navratilova posted on Twitter.

Murphy said not only will he personally cease to wear the brand, he won’t allow the characters in any of his shows to wear it, either.

Dolce & Gabbana has been popular on red carpets and TV and film screens for years.

Channing Tatum and David Oyelowo wore the brand’s tuxedoes to the Oscars. “The Theory of Everything” star Felicity Jones chose one of D&G’s gowns for the Critics’ Choice Awards. Mindy Kaling recently donned a colorful frock from the designers on her show, “The Mindy Project.” Taraji P. Henson, as Cookie Lyons, has also worn Dolce & Gabbana on the Fox hit “Empire.”

Blogger Perez Hilton, who runs a website about fashion and celebrity, thinks the designers’ comments could hurt their Hollywood relationships.

“If a stylist or a celebrity has a choice of a designer to wear right now, I don’t think anybody will be choosing Dolce & Gabbana,” he said. “Because they haven’t just offended gay people, they’ve offended people across the board.”

Most shoppers wouldn’t be in a financial position to boycott the designers. A man’s pullover sweater costs $1,100; a cocktail dress could top $6,000. 

The company also has faced criticism over its fashion advertisements, including one campaign that suggested a gang rape of a woman.

Martin blasted the designers on Twitter Sunday, saying their voices are too powerful to spread such hate.

“Wake up, its 2015,” he wrote. “Luv urselves guys.”

Dolce and Gabbana are both gay and were previously in a relationship with each other.

“To see two very successful gay men with a large platform use that to promote small-mindedness infuriates me,” Hilton said. “We should be promoting openness and acceptance.”

Puppetry is part of ‘The Lion King’s’ magic

This November, the Milwaukee Theatre will transform into the African savannah, as The Lion King’s national tour rolls into town for four weeks. The lavish production, originally directed by Julie Taymor and featuring music by Elton John and Tim Rice, has gifted singers, actors and dancers, plus impressive set and costuming elements.

But what’s distinguished the Disney-produced musical for a generation of theatergoers is its extensive, multifaceted puppetry. Ornate masks resting atop actor’s heads, animal puppets controlled by visible actors and Indonesian-inspired shadow puppetry are a large part of the cast and the magic.

In total, the show features 200 rod, shadow and full-sized puppets. It takes a talented team to keep them working for eight shows per week. One member of that team is Milwaukee-native Bruce Paul Reik, a puppet assistant with the company for more than nine years.

As Reik prepares to bring the show to Milwaukee, WiG asked him to explain how he got into puppetry and to describe his day-to-day role with the production.

How did you first get involved with puppetry as a career? And how did that career get you to The Lion King? That goes back a long ways. How much time do you have? (laughs) I started making puppets when I was a kid, hand puppets and marionettes, and I used to put on puppet shows in my parents’ backyard outside of Milwaukee. It never occurred to me that one could make a living doing puppets.

What was growing up in Milwaukee like? Did you always plan on moving away? I had a great time growing up, and it never occurred to me that I could or should go anywhere else. But as I was finishing up my BFA at UWM (in clay sculpture), I decided to go on a trip with a friend to Boston. I just liked the energy and the environment so much that I decided to move to Boston just for the hell of it. It was not a well-founded decision, it was just a casual idea that perhaps went wrong — it didn’t work out so well for me in Boston. But I don’t regret having tried it. 

Then later, after I went back to Milwaukee for a year and a half, I decided to try the East Coast again, this time moving to Philly, where a friend of mine had moved. After being in Philly for a while, which also didn’t feel like a good fit, my friend and I happened to go to a party in Baltimore and I liked the energy so much that I decided it was a good thing to move there. Once I got to Baltimore it seemed like a lot of things fell into place. I guess that’s why I’ve continued to keep that as my home base.

How did you end up working with The Lion King puppet team? When the show was in Baltimore for 14 weeks and I was working as a dresser with one of my local unions, (a) Lion King position in puppets opened up. The job was first offered to me as a full-time, on-the-road position, and I was initially hesitant to do that. I had been on the road with two other shows. Angels in America was the more recent show and that was really exhausting. It felt like after I’d been on the road for a year that I’d been gone for four or five years, it was so hard. So I wasn’t so keen on jumping back to the full-time on-the-road thing.

Oddly, my union was having their international convention in Hawaii, and I went as the delegate from my local, and it seemed like Hawaii made all the magic happen. While I was in Hawaii, I had this idea that it’d be great if I could work six weeks on and then have six weeks off, never thinking it was a possibility. Within a day of that notion, I got a message from the Lion King people saying, ‘Hey, instead of full-time on the road, would you consider a job-share, where you would share a full-time position with somebody else?’ And I said ‘yes’ immediately. So I’ve been doing it that way for over nine years. I now work almost every other city.

When you’re on the road, what are your day-to-day duties? There’s a very specific schedule for the puppet department. There are three of us working full-time, in any city, and we share the workload. There’s eight shows a week, and each of us does some of those shows during the week. Once the show is down at night, everything is quickly put away, and then the next day someone is always showing up in the morning to start the process of getting everything ready for the next show. There’s always things to check, things to repair. A lot of my job is sort of like a fix-it man or a maintenance man. There’s always something going wrong or breaking, and I actually love that aspect.

Are there any especially common repairs you find yourself making on a regular basis? There’s always some stuff that is part of the normal workload, because stuff wears out or has to be replaced or has to be cleaned. Having to clean makeup off of stuff, changing the foam that wraps against the face, various hardware aspects that continually show wear — there’s hundreds of pieces and details that are checked every time.

Do you think The Lion King would work as a stage production without its puppetry? No. I think the puppet aspect is an integral and necessary aspect of the show. Can the story be told in a different way? Yes, obviously, because there was the animated film telling the story. But this show has become known for the puppets, and the integration of the puppets and the performers.

Why have you stayed with The Lion King for so many years? It still feels like the perfect fit. This job works on so many levels for me — or I work on so many levels with the job. I love being in the environment of theater. I’m using my art skills. I’m using what’s left of my brain skills. I like interacting with performers; I like troubleshooting. I think (the job-share) has contributed to my longevity on this job. If someone had told me I was going to be working on The Lion King for nearly 10 years on the road, I would think it was preposterous. But because I can live in the two worlds — on the road doing the theater thing, and then being home — it’s a dream come true, a dream job.

On stage

Disney’s The Lion King appears at the Milwaukee Theatre, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave., from Nov. 11 to Dec. 7. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. weeknights; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets range from $26 to $76. For more, visit marcuscenter.org or phone 414-273-7206.

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Elton John planning a low-key wedding in England

Elton John and his partner David Furnish are planning a low-profile wedding in May, following a change in British law allowing gay marriages.

The singer told NBC’s Today show that he wants to celebrate “very quietly,” and added: “It will be a joyous occasion and we will have our children.”

The two men, who have been in a civil partnership since 2005, have two children.

In quotes released on NBC’s website on March 31, the singer said: “We shouldn’t just say `Oh, well, we have a civil partnership, we’re not going to bother to get married’. We will get married.”

Same-sex marriages were allowed for the first time in Britain Saturday, when a new marriage law came into effect.

Entertainment briefs


Tom Hardy to play Elton John in biopic

Tom Hardy will play Elton John in a biopic titled Rocketman. The film is planned to begin shooting late next year.

The 36-year-old British actor is well respected for his wide-ranging talent, but his brawny, tattooed frame makes him an unconventional choice. Hardy is most famous for playing the terrorist Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. He has showcased a muscled masculinity in films like Warrior, Lawless and Bronson.

John’s an executive producer of the film.

MTV debuts new program in app

In a technological milestone for television, MTV recently released a full season of its new series about a downtrodden high school football team on its mobile application a week before the first episode is seen on TV.

MTV’s release of Wait ‘Til Next Year on its app is reminiscent of when the streaming service Netflix made an entire season of the drama House of Cards available at the same time.

Nearly 2 million MTV apps have been downloaded, primarily on iPhones and iPads, since MTV made them available in June. The network also recently experimented by making extra content from its Miley Cyrus documentary available exclusively through the app.

New musical brings back songwriter Fred Kander

The Landing, a musical starring out actor David Hyde Pierce, had its world premiere at New York City’s Vineyard Theatre on Oct. 23.

The play is notable because it brings legendary composer Fred Kander (Chicago, Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman) out of retirement at age 86 and teams him with Pierce’s nephew, rising playwright Greg Pierce.

The Landing, which consists of three one-act musicals, is garnering strong reviews from critics.

‘Ragtime’ breaks Rep’s record

Ragtime became the bestselling musical in The Milwaukee Rep’s history after the first week of performances, surpassing the previous recordholder Cabaret. The latter, which opened The Rep’s 2010–11 season, was artistic director Mark Clements’ directorial debut. Ragtime was Clements’ latest directorial effort and also the largest production ever mounted on the Quadracci Powerhouse stage.

Clements signed a new four-year contract with The Rep earlier this year.

Skylight reports record year

Skylight Music Theatre’s 2012–13 season broke box-office records and resulted in a small operating surplus, according to managing director Amy Jensen.

“We are pleased to report that we increased revenues by 14 percent over the prior year while holding our expenses to a nominal 2 percent increase,” she said in a press release.

Ticket sales topped $1.5 million — the highest in the theater’s 54-year history and 31 percent above projections. Last year’s The Sound of Music was the biggest draw.

Last season was the ninth and final year for outgoing artistic director Bill Theisen.

Harper Lee sues Alabama museum

To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee is suing a museum in her hometown of Monroeville to stop it from selling souvenirs with her name and the title of her Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Mobile, said the Monroe County Heritage Museum has traded on Lee’s fame without her approval and without compensating her. It seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

The lawsuit comes after Lee sought a federal trademark for the title of her book when it’s used on clothing. The museum opposed her application, saying its souvenir sales are vital to its continued operation. A ruling is more than a year away.

Lee’s book is set in fictional Maycomb County, but her suit says the setting was inspired by the real Monroe County in south Alabama, where she lives. The museum in Monroeville has displays honoring her and presents the play To Kill a Mockingbird each summer in the old county courthouse courtroom, which served as a model for the movie’s courtroom. The museum pays royalties for using the play, and that is not an issue in the suit.

The Milwaukee Rep presented the stage version of the book last year.

‘Walking Dead’ inspires new convention

Cable TV’s The Walking Dead has inspired a new convention, a podcast and a one-man play.

The podcast and Atlanta-based convention are the creations of Eric Nordhoff and James Frazier, also known as the “Walker Stalkers” because of a road trip they made last fall from Nashville, Tenn., to Georgia to see the AMC show being filmed.

The convention, Walker Stalker Con, is expected to draw 10,000 or more participants, Nordhoff said.

The Walking Dead characters battle zombies known as “walkers” in the streets of downtown Atlanta and in forests, small towns and a prison south of the city.

The convention will feature appearances by some of the show’s actors.

The series returned for its fourth season this month with its biggest audience ever. The 16.1 million people who watched the Oct. 13 series premiere shattered the show’s previous record of 12.4 million, the Nielsen company said.

Peck School professor honored

Rebecca Holderness, associate professor of acting at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts, will be honored for her work in regional theater and for transforming “the national arts landscape by (her) artistry, passion, and courage,” according to a UWM press release. Holderness is one of four finalists for the Stage Director and Choreographer Society’s Zelda Fichandler Award, to be presented Nov. 4 in Cincinnati.

The university said that Holderness has reached “beyond the world of academia to create opportunities for creative endeavors in Milwaukee.”

REP wins UPAF award

Milwaukee Repertory Theater has been named recipient of the prestigious 2013 United Performing Arts Fund’s Management & Organizational Performance Excellence Award, sponsored by Northwestern Mutual. 

The Rep also announced that it’s conducting a fundraising challenge campaign to coincide with its anniversary. Anonymous donors have pledged to match every new or increased gift up to $200,000, doubling the impact of each gift. To learn more about Milwaukee Repertory Theater, its productions and how to donate, go to www.milwaukeerep.com.

Carol Burnett wins America’s top prize for humor

A big Tarzan yell to Carol Burnett. The trailblazing comedienne received the nation’s top humor prize at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Top entertainers, including Julie Andrews, Tony Bennett, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, paid tribute to Burnett as she received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The show will air on Nov. 24 on PBS stations. Ellen DeGeneres won the prize last year.

Lou Reed dead at 71

Lou Reed, the bisexual punk poet of rock ’n’ roll who influenced generations of musicians as leader of the Velvet Underground and as a solo performer for decades, has died at 71 from complications related to a recent liver transplant.

No band did more than the Velvet Underground to open rock music to the avant-garde — to experimental theater, art, literature and film, to William Burroughs and Kurt Weill, to John Cage and Andy Warhol, Reed’s early patron.

Indie rock essentially began in the 1960s with Reed and the Velvets. Likewise, the punk, New Wave and alternative rock movements of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s were all indebted to Reed.

Reed’s New York was a jaded city of drag queens and drug addicts. His songs quested for transcendence.

His one Top 20 hit “Walk on the Wild Side” and many other Reed singles became standards among his fans, including “Heroin,” ‘’Sweet Jane” and ‘’Pale Blue Eyes.”

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Recent releases by LGBT performers demonstrate range of musical styles

disappear fear

After detouring into blues (Blood, Bones & Baltimore), Latin music (Tango) and other genres, disappear fear, led by the versatile SONiA, returns with its best album in years. Broken Film incorporates politics and social commentary in SONiA’s distinctive style, but also takes on family (“Farmland and The Sky,”), spirituality (“Ari Ari”) and, of course, love (the anthemic “Love Out Loud” and “L Kol L Vavcha,” which is partially sung in Hebrew). The album’s high point is the breathtaking “The Banker,” in which SONiA deftly addresses the impact of the financial crisis with wisdom, sensitivity and fury.

Ezra Furman

Bi-singer/songwriter Ezra Furman includes a quote by trans writer/activist Kate Bornstein in the liner notes of his new disc Day of the Dog. Listening to Furman’s latest release is a little like walking through the pound and looking at all the pooches in cages, each with its own distinctive personality. There’s the fierce “Maybe God Is a Train,” the affectionate “Been So Strange” (dig that brass) and “Slacker/Adria,” which is the kind of mixed-breed that stops people in their tracks. Considered the suburban Chicago Bob Dylan of his generation, Furman whips listeners into a frenzy on “I Wanna Destroy Myself,” which combines the garage heat of Hunx & His Punx with the Violent Femmes. “Tell ’Em All to Go to Hell” is a slicked-back, rockabilly rouser. “My Zero” is easily one of Furman’s catchiest and most pop-friendly tunes.

James Booker

The subject of Lily Keber’s fascinating documentary Bayou Maharaj: The Tragic Genius of James Booker, the late, queer New Orleans piano legend James Booker was a gifted performer with a serious substance abuse problem. He died at 43 in 1983. Booker was so unpredictable that he was able to make only a few studio albums. To coincide with the release of the documentary film about him, Classified, considered his masterwork, has been reissued as Classified: Remixed and Expanded. It’s an exceptional 22-track crash course in Booker. Almost half of the songs were previously unreleased, including the extraordinary Booker original “I’m Not Sayin’,” which says plenty about his talent.

Elton John

As flamboyant and talented as James Booker, Sir Elton John also has battled demons. Fortunately, he was able to overcome them. John’s new album The Diving Board finds the piano man re-teamed with T Bone Burnett (who produced John’s collaboration disc with Leon Russell). It’s an admirable return to form. In this outing, John’s sensational playing is not buried under distracting production effects. “Oscar Wilde Gets Out,” one of the album’s best songs, reminds us of the way John first made us swoon decades ago. His keyboard prowess also distinguishes “The Ballad of Blind Tom,” “My Quicksand,” “Home Again,” and “The New Fever Waltz.” John hasn’t had a hit single in a while, and he may not have one on The Diving Board either. But “Can’t Stay Alone Tonight,” which recalls some of his 1980s hits, has the best shot.

Lovers

Is there anything more thrilling than connecting with a band and following it from its first album to its latest, charting its evolution and growth? A melding of Tegan and Sara, Le Tigre and Luscious Jackson, the queer Portland band Lovers has been through a series of incarnations in its more than 10 years of existence. A trio since 2010’s Dark Light, Lovers delivers on the promise of that record with its latest – the brilliant A Friend in the World. “The Modern Art Museum of the Modern Kiss Goodbye” is a perfect dance track, “Oh Yeah” has a funky strut, “Lavender Light” is a dreamy pop number and “James Baldwin & the Diagonal Trance” delivers subtle electro. Dark Light should have listeners falling for Lovers.

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Elton John goes back to beginning on new album

A step back in time proved to be a forward-looking move for Elton John.

Upon the suggestion of producer T Bone Burnett, the 66-year-old singer reverted to a musical format he used when starting out more than four decades ago. The new album features John, his piano and vocals backed primarily by bass and drums, with subtle embellishments.

The disc, “The Diving Board,” is getting positive reviews and John said he’s “ecstatic” about how it came out. His compositions with writing partner Bernie Taupin offer mature reflections, from Taupin’s tribute to his father and the World War II generation in “Oceans Away” to the title cut’s take on stardom. He performed one of the new songs, “Home Again,” on the Emmy Awards telecast.

“I’ve made over 35, 36 albums and I’d never thought of making an album like that,” John said. “I mean, how crazy am I?”

Hearing it reminded critic Robert Hilburn of John’s shows at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles in 1970. Those shows, and the review Hilburn wrote about one of them for the Los Angeles Times, essentially introduced John to a U.S. audience and propelled him toward becoming one of music’s biggest stars in the 1970s.

“If he had been playing some of these (new) songs that night, I think the enthusiasm in the room would have been the same,” Hilburn said.

Burnett was in the audience for at least one of those nights (the Troubadour was a favorite watering hole at the time), and remembered the Little Richard-like sense of abandon John exhibited at the piano. He felt it was time for an album where the piano came first.

He was a facilitator, pushing John in a direction he was probably headed but didn’t know it yet – to reconnect with what got him excited about music in the first place. An in-demand producer, Burnett had worked with John on his collaboration with a musical hero, Leon Russell.

“The timing was right,” Burnett said. “It just takes a lot to say, `Oh, I’m going to step up and play an hour’s worth of piano.’ It takes a lot of energy and fortitude. It’s a lot easier to hire some great musicians and let them put it all together and go sing.

“The arrangements, the tone – all of it depended on him,” he said.

“The Diving Board” continues one of music’s oddest creative partnerships. Once the musical approach became clear, there was no sit-down with Taupin to lay out a master plan. There was no thematic scheme. It was the same as always: John tells Taupin he needs new songs by a certain date, and waits for lyrics to arrive. He then sits down at a piano and puts them to music.

“I don’t see any reason to change it because I like it more and more as I get older,” John said. “It’s always exciting to not know what you’re going to get.”

John loves the reveal, seeing Taupin’s face when he first hears the tunes John has put to the words.

Capitol Records is offering “The Diving Board” in three versions – the standard CD, a “deluxe” version that includes a bonus track and three songs recorded live in the studio and a “super deluxe” package with CD and vinyl versions of the album, a photo book and DVD of the in-studio live performance recorded in April.

The challenge will be reaching an audience.

John is at that career stage reached by artists with a long track record where many fans aren’t interested in hearing something new. They want what they remember. Artists can rage at the injustice and try to squeeze into new styles. They can essentially turn off the creative spigot and make money on memories – like John’s frequent touring partner Billy Joel. Or they can be creatively liberated by not having to worry about hits.

“I’m not going to get played on the radio,” he said. “I’m not a chart artist anymore and that’s fine. It gives me the chance to do what I want to do.”

The current state of the industry, with a focus on pop hits and short-term careers, makes it much harder for musicians trying to make serious artistic statements, Hilburn said.

“I think it’s sad,” he said. “I think it’s sad for Elton. I think he probably knows in his heart that (‘The Diving Board’) is not going to get attention.”

When he tries to play a new song in a big arena, John said it’s “usually met by a mass exodus to the toilet.”

In some upcoming European shows, he plans to try some of the new songs to see which ones click with the audience, in the hope that two or three of them can be included in the set when he plays the United States later this fall.

After releasing so many songs over the years, he said he can’t really complain about it.

“Of course, it’s frustrating,” he said. “You want people to like the new stuff as well as the old stuff.”

On the Web…

http://www.eltonjohn.com

Hillary Clinton to receive award from Elton John AIDS Foundation

The Elton John AIDS Foundation will honor former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton with a new award in October.

Clinton will receive the foundation’s first Founder’s Award. A statement on the foundation webiste said a 2011 speech in which Clinton asserted that gay rights were human rights helped to envision a world without AIDS.

Others to be honored incllude celebrity chef Sandra Lee, business mogul Ronald Perelman and founding board member Howard Rose.

The awards will be presented at an annual benefit on Oct. 15 in New York City with Anderson Cooper hosting.

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Hillary Clinton’s Human Rights Day speech: 

Good evening, and let me express my deep honor and pleasure at being here. I want to thank Director General Tokayev and Ms. Wyden along with other ministers, ambassadors, excellencies, and UN partners. This weekend, we will celebrate Human Rights Day, the anniversary of one of the great accomplishments of the last century. 

Beginning in 1947, delegates from six continents devoted themselves to drafting a declaration that would enshrine the fundamental rights and freedoms of people everywhere. In the aftermath of World War II, many nations pressed for a statement of this kind to help ensure that we would prevent future atrocities and protect the inherent humanity and dignity of all people. And so the delegates went to work. They discussed, they wrote, they revisited, revised, rewrote, for thousands of hours. And they incorporated suggestions and revisions from governments, organizations, and individuals around the world. 

At three o’clock in the morning on December 10th, 1948, after nearly two years of drafting and one last long night of debate, the president of the UN General Assembly called for a vote on the final text. Forty-eight nations voted in favor; eight abstained; none dissented. And the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. It proclaims a simple, powerful idea: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. And with the declaration, it was made clear that rights are not conferred by government; they are the birthright of all people. It does not matter what country we live in, who our leaders are, or even who we are. Because we are human, we therefore have rights. And because we have rights, governments are bound to protect them. 

In the 63 years since the declaration was adopted, many nations have made great progress in making human rights a human reality. Step by step, barriers that once prevented people from enjoying the full measure of liberty, the full experience of dignity, and the full benefits of humanity have fallen away. In many places, racist laws have been repealed, legal and social practices that relegated women to second-class status have been abolished, the ability of religious minorities to practice their faith freely has been secured. 

In most cases, this progress was not easily won. People fought and organized and campaigned in public squares and private spaces to change not only laws, but hearts and minds. And thanks to that work of generations, for millions of individuals whose lives were once narrowed by injustice, they are now able to live more freely and to participate more fully in the political, economic, and social lives of their communities. 

Now, there is still, as you all know, much more to be done to secure that commitment, that reality, and progress for all people. Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm. 

I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time. I speak about this subject knowing that my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect. Until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country. Many LGBT Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences. So we, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home. 

Now, raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs. So I come here before you with respect, understanding, and humility. Even though progress on this front is not easy, we cannot delay acting. So in that spirit, I want to talk about the difficult and important issues we must address together to reach a global consensus that recognizes the human rights of LGBT citizens everywhere. 

The first issue goes to the heart of the matter. Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They also weren’t thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity.

This recognition did not occur all at once. It evolved over time. And as it did, we understood that we were honoring rights that people always had, rather than creating new or special rights for them. Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights. 

It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives. And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.

The second issue is a question of whether homosexuality arises from a particular part of the world. Some seem to believe it is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors.

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The Government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Now, some worry that protecting the human rights of the LGBT community is a luxury that only wealthy nations can afford. But in fact, in all countries, there are costs to not protecting these rights, in both gay and straight lives lost to disease and violence, and the silencing of voices and views that would strengthen communities, in ideas never pursued by entrepreneurs who happen to be gay. Costs are incurred whenever any group is treated as lesser or the other, whether they are women, racial, or religious minorities, or the LGBT. Former President Mogae of Botswana pointed out recently that for as long as LGBT people are kept in the shadows, there cannot be an effective public health program to tackle HIV and AIDS. Well, that holds true for other challenges as well. 

The third, and perhaps most challenging, issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights. 

In each of these cases, we came to learn that no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us. And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing.

Of course, it bears noting that rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights. Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. It was not only those who’ve justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it. And let us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source. For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people. And likewise, for most of us, the bonds of love and family that we forge are also vital sources of meaning and identity. And caring for others is an expression of what it means to be fully human. It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures.

The fourth issue is what history teaches us about how we make progress towards rights for all. Progress starts with honest discussion. Now, there are some who say and believe that all gay people are pedophiles, that homosexuality is a disease that can be caught or cured, or that gays recruit others to become gay. Well, these notions are simply not true. They are also unlikely to disappear if those who promote or accept them are dismissed out of hand rather than invited to share their fears and concerns. No one has ever abandoned a belief because he was forced to do so.

Universal human rights include freedom of expression and freedom of belief, even if our words or beliefs denigrate the humanity of others. Yet, while we are each free to believe whatever we choose, we cannot do whatever we choose, not in a world where we protect the human rights of all. 

Reaching understanding of these issues takes more than speech. It does take a conversation. In fact, it takes a constellation of conversations in places big and small. And it takes a willingness to see stark differences in belief as a reason to begin the conversation, not to avoid it. 

But progress comes from changes in laws. In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate.

Many in my country thought that President Truman was making a grave error when he ordered the racial desegregation of our military. They argued that it would undermine unit cohesion. And it wasn’t until he went ahead and did it that we saw how it strengthened our social fabric in ways even the supporters of the policy could not foresee. Likewise, some worried in my country that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have a negative effect on our armed forces. Now, the Marine Corps Commandant, who was one of the strongest voices against the repeal, says that his concerns were unfounded and that the Marines have embraced the change.

Finally, progress comes from being willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. We need to ask ourselves, “How would it feel if it were a crime to love the person I love? How would it feel to be discriminated against for something about myself that I cannot change?” This challenge applies to all of us as we reflect upon deeply held beliefs, as we work to embrace tolerance and respect for the dignity of all persons, and as we engage humbly with those with whom we disagree in the hope of creating greater understanding.

A fifth and final question is how we do our part to bring the world to embrace human rights for all people including LGBT people. Yes, LGBT people must help lead this effort, as so many of you are. Their knowledge and experiences are invaluable and their courage inspirational. We know the names of brave LGBT activists who have literally given their lives for this cause, and there are many more whose names we will never know. But often those who are denied rights are least empowered to bring about the changes they seek. Acting alone, minorities can never achieve the majorities necessary for political change. 

So when any part of humanity is sidelined, the rest of us cannot sit on the sidelines. Every time a barrier to progress has fallen, it has taken a cooperative effort from those on both sides of the barrier. In the fight for women’s rights, the support of men remains crucial. The fight for racial equality has relied on contributions from people of all races. Combating Islamaphobia or anti-Semitism is a task for people of all faiths. And the same is true with this struggle for equality.

Conversely, when we see denials and abuses of human rights and fail to act, that sends the message to those deniers and abusers that they won’t suffer any consequences for their actions, and so they carry on. But when we do act, we send a powerful moral message. Right here in Geneva, the international community acted this year to strengthen a global consensus around the human rights of LGBT people. At the Human Rights Council in March, 85 countries from all regions supported a statement calling for an end to criminalization and violence against people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. 

At the following session of the Council in June, South Africa took the lead on a resolution about violence against LGBT people. The delegation from South Africa spoke eloquently about their own experience and struggle for human equality and its indivisibility. When the measure passed, it became the first-ever UN resolution recognizing the human rights of gay people worldwide. In the Organization of American States this year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights created a unit on the rights of LGBT people, a step toward what we hope will be the creation of a special rapporteur.

Now, we must go further and work here and in every region of the world to galvanize more support for the human rights of the LGBT community. To the leaders of those countries where people are jailed, beaten, or executed for being gay, I ask you to consider this: Leadership, by definition, means being out in front of your people when it is called for. It means standing up for the dignity of all your citizens and persuading your people to do the same. It also means ensuring that all citizens are treated as equals under your laws, because let me be clear – I am not saying that gay people can’t or don’t commit crimes. They can and they do, just like straight people. And when they do, they should be held accountable, but it should never be a crime to be gay. 

And to people of all nations, I say supporting human rights is your responsibility too. The lives of gay people are shaped not only by laws, but by the treatment they receive every day from their families, from their neighbors. Eleanor Roosevelt, who did so much to advance human rights worldwide, said that these rights begin in the small places close to home – the streets where people live, the schools they attend, the factories, farms, and offices where they work. These places are your domain. The actions you take, the ideals that you advocate, can determine whether human rights flourish where you are.

And finally, to LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face. That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.

The Obama Administration defends the human rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy. In our embassies, our diplomats are raising concerns about specific cases and laws, and working with a range of partners to strengthen human rights protections for all. In Washington, we have created a task force at the State Department to support and coordinate this work. And in the coming months, we will provide every embassy with a toolkit to help improve their efforts. And we have created a program that offers emergency support to defenders of human rights for LGBT people. 

This morning, back in Washington, President Obama put into place the first U.S. Government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad. Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President has directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons.

I am also pleased to announce that we are launching a new Global Equality Fund that will support the work of civil society organizations working on these issues around the world. This fund will help them record facts so they can target their advocacy, learn how to use the law as a tool, manage their budgets, train their staffs, and forge partnerships with women’s organizations and other human rights groups. We have committed more than $3 million to start this fund, and we have hope that others will join us in supporting it. 

The women and men who advocate for human rights for the LGBT community in hostile places, some of whom are here today with us, are brave and dedicated, and deserve all the help we can give them. We know the road ahead will not be easy. A great deal of work lies before us. But many of us have seen firsthand how quickly change can come. In our lifetimes, attitudes toward gay people in many places have been transformed. Many people, including myself, have experienced a deepening of our own convictions on this topic over the years, as we have devoted more thought to it, engaged in dialogues and debates, and established personal and professional relationships with people who are gay. 

This evolution is evident in many places. To highlight one example, the Delhi High Court decriminalized homosexuality in India two years ago, writing, and I quote, “If there is one tenet that can be said to be an underlying theme of the Indian constitution, it is inclusiveness.” There is little doubt in my mind that support for LGBT human rights will continue to climb. Because for many young people, this is simple: All people deserve to be treated with dignity and have their human rights respected, no matter who they are or whom they love. 

There is a phrase that people in the United States invoke when urging others to support human rights: “Be on the right side of history.” The story of the United States is the story of a nation that has repeatedly grappled with intolerance and inequality. We fought a brutal civil war over slavery. People from coast to coast joined in campaigns to recognize the rights of women, indigenous peoples, racial minorities, children, people with disabilities, immigrants, workers, and on and on. And the march toward equality and justice has continued. Those who advocate for expanding the circle of human rights were and are on the right side of history, and history honors them. Those who tried to constrict human rights were wrong, and history reflects that as well.

I know that the thoughts I’ve shared today involve questions on which opinions are still evolving. As it has happened so many times before, opinion will converge once again with the truth, the immutable truth, that all persons are created free and equal in dignity and rights. We are called once more to make real the words of the Universal Declaration. Let us answer that call. Let us be on the right side of history, for our people, our nations, and future generations, whose lives will be shaped by the work we do today. I come before you with great hope and confidence that no matter how long the road ahead, we will travel it successfully together. Thank you very much.