Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Spotify Playlist: David Bowie - 70th Birthday Mix



I ended 2016 listening to George Michael non-stop, and now I've begun 2017 binge-listening to David Bowie.

Exactly one year ago today, I got off a flight from Bangkok to learn that he had passed away at age 69 from liver cancer. (In Australian time, it was Monday, January 11, but still January 10 in New York City, where he died.) On January 8, he would have been 70. I thought about it numerous times before he left us, and I could never imagine Bowie being 70.

Although I got to interview him twice, I always felt a little cheated when it came to David Bowie. He once told me that up until before the first Tin Machine album, all of the albums he made in the '80s, he made for money, not art. For those of you not doing the math, that would be 1980's Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) to 1987's Never Let Me Down.

Well, it just happens that I'm a child of the '80s, and the music that Bowie made in the '80s was the music that made me a lifelong fan. It wasn't until "Under Pressure" (the first Bowie song I can remember hearing and knowing who was singing it) hooked me in 1981 and I went back and checked out his earlier stuff that I discovered the brilliance that is "The Man Who Sold the World," "The Jean Genie" and "Sound and Vision" (my all-time favorite Bowie song).

But even after I discovered vintage Bowie, and even after his '90s creative renaissance, his '80s music still held up. It's all over my Spotify Bowie playlist, and I think it fits in quite nicely, thank you.

I like to think that as Bowie lay dying, as he made peace with God and made peace with his life, he also made piece with "Blue Jean." Ridiculous video attire aside, it really is a brilliant song.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Spotify Playlist: Boy Bands

A few things that ran through my mind while I was compiling my latest Spotify playlist:

1. "Hangin' Tough" by New Kids on the Block sounds a lot better now than it did in 1988, when, if my memory serves me correctly, I kind of hated it. How did that happen?

2. LeVert's "Casanova" has aged incredibly well. It's a shame that after it went Top 5 in 1987, white people pretty much lost interest in LeVert.

3. No shade to "Oh Girl" and "Have You Seen Her," but The Chi-Lites are best known for the wrong songs.

4. Since we're on the subject of artists who are best known for the wrongs songs, so are The Moments and The Delfonics.

5. I can listen to The Spinners' "Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me Girl" medley on repeat all day long and still not be tired of it.

6. It pains me to write this, since I'm so respectful of the late Curtis Mayfield's talent, but I prefer Brian Hyland's 1970 cover of "Gypsy Woman" to The Impressions' 1961 original. Both versions are killer, though.

7. Why can't I remember any country male vocal groups besides The Statler Brothers and The Oak Ridge Boys? Alabama doesn't count because they played instruments.

8. The '80s weren't so kind to R&B male vocal groups hoping to cross over to the pop (i.e., white) charts. New jack-era boy bands like Guy, Troop and Today struggled on Billboard's Hot 100 while racking up hits with relative ease on the R&B singles chart. If it had been released in the mid-'90s, Guy's "I Like" probably would have been a no-brainer Hot 100 topper.

9. The Temptations during their late-'60s/early '70s psychedelic soul era were so much more interesting than The Temptations during their "My Girl" traditional Motown soul phase.

10. It may sound dated as hell in 2017, but Another Bad Creation's Coolin' at the Playground Ya Know! (featuring "Playground") is crazy-good early '90s new jack swing.

Editor's note: I define a "boy band" as an act featuring no women and at least three male singing vocalists whose primary instruments are their voices. That makes acts like The Four Seasons, Bee Gees, The Osmonds and The Jackson 5, traditional "bands" whose members played instruments, ineligible.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The other side of sexual racism: gay white men, the N word and the slaveowner mentality



This has happened to me before.

A non-black man approaches me. I turn him down. He turns on me.

It happened to me twice in my book Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World.

I wonder how "Friendly guy" above would have reacted to a white man who replied the way I did to his disgusting opening line. There's a very good chance he would have let it go. After all, anyone who approaches others with any regularity on Grindr knows that rejection is part of the experience.

Of course, when someone sees you as nothing more than "BBC" (big black cock), as way too many non-black gay men do, they don't think of you as an equal. All you are, sadly, is "BBC."

Some might say - some have already said - "If you don't like it, get off the Grindr." Unfortunately, it's not that simple. The guys lurking on Grindr, simultaneously craving and despising "BBC," exist in real life, too.

The only difference is this: The anonymity of Grindr breaks down the inner censor that keeps most of us from walking around bars showing our cock pics to potential conquests, so it's easier to accidentally hook up with a closet racist when your first encounter with him is offline.

That said, the closet racist can strike anywhere. The worst experience I've had with a guy who went from lusting after me to loathing me in the space of minutes happened entirely in real life. One minute he was aggressively pursuing me (in a manner that would have been considered sexual assault if I were a woman), the next he was hurling the N-word at me.

It's the flipside of the "No blacks/Asians/whites/whatever" sexual policy, but the racism at the root of it is just as powerful and hurtful.

I'm sure the N-word was ringing in the ears of many black female slaves (and probably some male ones) as they were raped by their white masters. Does anyone who watched the perverse sexual relationship between Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) and Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) in 12 Years a Slave actually think he respected her? Too him, she was less than human, a piece of meat with a vagina.


To "Friendly guy" and to too many non-black guys who approach me both on Grindr and in real life, I'm "BBC," whether or not I'm even worthy of "Hello." At least you're more likely to get that message quickly on Grindr.

"Just because he fucks you doesn't mean he respects you," a wise writer once wrote. I already knew this before I read it, and I owe that awareness all to Gaydar and Manhunt (precursors to Grindr).

So for all of its flaws and faults (which are too numerous to go into here), Grindr can be illuminating in ways bar talk and pillow talk might not be. In this Grindr day and age of gay men freely letting it all hang out from the moment of first contact, I don't have to fuck anyone to find that out how little he respects me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Spotify Playlist: George Michael, 1983 to 2004

Several years ago when George Michael nearly succumbed to pneumonia, I so thoroughly prepared myself for his passing that I'm handling 2016's latest death of an icon with a lot more composure than I might have otherwise. 

That said, it's hard not to lose it a little when listening to all of the rich art that George left behind when he died on Christmas Day at the age of 53. 

Over the years, I've sometimes wished he had been a more conventional recording artist and released new music less sporadically. But then, if he had embraced convention in any way, the music that he did release might not have been quite as special. R.I.P.

For those wondering why the dates in the title of this blog post aren't the actual dates of George's life, it's because the Spotify playlist below covers music dating from Wham!'s 1983 debut album Fantastic to George Michael's 2004 solo album Patience.

And it begins with the song that I consider to be his crowning artistic achievement, from his 1990 magnum opus Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. I never stopped waiting for volume two, and now, the hope for it is gone. You can't always get what  you want... to paraphrase George quoting The Rolling Stones on one of many Prejudice standouts.

But getting back to "Praying for Time," lyrically, It's as relevant today as it was when it was released in 1990. Musically, it's timeless, like so much of George's art. 

"You have been loved," he sang on his 1996 album OlderHe has been, he will be, he is loved. And he will be missed. 


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Spotify playlist: New wave 1985-1990

A Spotify playlist: New wave 1979-1984

Losing a friend: Judging the way I live my life pretty much guarantees you won't be a part of it

This week I had to let a friendship go.

The falling out took me by surprise because it had absolutely nothing to do with Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, which seems to be the cause of most of the social contention in my life these days.

The friendship is collateral damage from, in the words of this former so-called friend, "how wrong I live my life"...and, well, my temper. You see, racism, homophobia, and Hillary Clinton-bashing aside, nothing gets my blood boiling like challenging the way I live my life. You'd think gay men would know better, but they don't.

In fact, I can trace the last ending of one of my friendships to the last time someone challenged me on the way I live my life.

"But don't you get bored?" that other ex-mate had asked, questioning my sabbatical from the 9-to-5, a hiatus that lasted eight glorious years, up until I moved to Sydney two years ago to take an editing job with ninemsn (now known as nine.com.au).

I knew as soon as he asked the question that our friendship was a goner, not because of the question but because of the way he had asked it (the way you'd ask someone dressed for a wedding in his Halloween clown costume: "Are you really going to wear that?") The implication was that my days (and by extension, my life) were less significant because I wasn't spending them slaving away for pay.

Sadly, my re-entry into the rat race doesn't mean I no longer have to defend the way I live my life. Several days into my holiday return to Bangkok, my latest ex-friend was questioning my life without a two-year plan. He already has 2017 mapped out, and he can't understand why I don't.

There are two years to go on my Australian visa, and he wanted to know what I plan on doing if my employer doesn't renew my sponsorship and I'm kicked out of Australia.

"I have no idea," I said, listing relocating or applying for residency as two possibilities. "I guess I'll figure it out when the time comes."

"Are you serious?" He was looking at me like I had sprouted an extra head.

"Yes," I replied. Why should I start planning that far in advance? After all, I could be dead in two years."

Or maybe I'll get a job somewhere else, or maybe I'll get another job in Sydney, or maybe I'll fall in love with a hot Israeli guy and go back to Tel Aviv (or better yet, Jerusalem), or maybe I'll return to the U.S. Did I really have to figure it out before the arrival of my shawarma entrée at Shoshana, the Israeli restaurant where we were having dinner.

He stared at me, frowning.

"I mean, I could get hit by a tuk-tuk while crossing the street tomorrow." I tried to break the tension with a joke. We were reunited in Bangkok, the city where we met roughly four years ago, so I figured a little geographical humor was in order.

My ex-friend then proceeded to call out my "negativity." He thought I was living negatively and recklessly. No wonder I didn't have a boyfriend. I couldn't commit to anything.

This is when I started to lose it. After informing him that the tuk-tuk comment had been a joke, I told him that my reluctance to commit to a two-year professional plan, or the fact that I had no idea whether I would stay in Sydney or leave in two years, had absolutely nothing to do with my relationship status.

Being wary of commitment in one aspect of your life doesn't necessarily make you wary of commitment in every aspect of your life.

The more he stared at my extra head, the more passionate I became. The more passionate I became, the more I raised my voice.

"You're pissing me off because you're judging me," I said, when he commented on my volume. I felt like a gay kid trying to explain his "lifestyle" to his parents.

And like the gay kid, I'm hardly much of an anomaly. Surely I'm not the first person to approach life this way. I didn't invent the concept of "one day at a time" or "living day to day."

My brother Alexi once commented that I lived my life like "clockwork" and that I was a "man of the firm." Back then, he was right. I was tied to my career trajectory, my life in New York City, my schedule. I gave that up when I left New York City for an uncertain future abroad.

Several years ago, I found myself having to justify that decision in another friendship-ending conversation. Now here I was doing it again under completely different life circumstances. I have a full-time job, daily deadlines, and a new one-year lease on my apartment. I'm not running from anything, yet I was being accused of being afraid of commitment, of being negative, of being a curiosity because I don't have my entire future mapped out.

"Why can't you live your life your way, while I live my life my way? I mean, we're two different people. Your way isn't the only way."

I didn't mention that having all of his 2017 vacation days planned was thoroughly anal, because I was well aware that's how some people roll. It's the reason why some people lay out tomorrow's outfit the night before. There's nothing wrong being a planner, if that's your thing. Embracing spontaneity should be equally acceptable.

But my ex-friend continued to gasp in horror at my recklessness, even when I quoted the first line from my book: "You get what you're not looking for." Obviously, he hadn't read it. It would be almost hypocritical of me to schedule my entire future after writing that opening line.

The conversation continued to crumble. He continued to look at me with that horrified expression, and the more I felt his judgment, the louder I became. Other customers were beginning to look at us, annoyed.

I'm not sure how we got there, but before long, we'd wandered onto a new topic: family and my rather strained relationship with mine.

I feel that family members should be held to the same standards as friends, higher standards even, because family demands so much more from us. He feels family should get a free pass for pretty much anything. Fair enough. He's not the first person to voice that opinion, and I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that approach.

"To each his own," I said, trying to move away from the uncomfortable subject.

"But your family knows you better than anyone else. I can't imagine ever having the kind of relationship you have with your family with my family."

"That's OK. We're living two completely different lives, and we're two completely different people."

"I know."

"So what's your point then? Why are you judging every aspect of my life. I don't need your judgement...or your lecture. It's not like you're saying anything I haven't thought – or been told – before."

"If you don't fix your relationship with your parents, you'll regret it later."

"But who lives life without regret? No matter what kind of relationship you have with your parents, you're going to have regrets when they are gone."

He wasn't budging, and neither was I. The difference was, I wasn't critiquing his life. But I was stuck defending every aspect of mine. It was probably the most one-sided conversation I'd ever had.

Nothing was resolved that evening, and we parted as friends, and I put the entire uncomfortable episode behind me. Then two mornings later, I received a private message from him on Twitter while I was having breakfast at my hotel.

After informing me that he'd arrived safely in Ho Chi Minh City, he called me out for being "aggressive and defensive" that night at dinner. I called him out for being judgmental. After some ugly back and forth, during which he called me lonely and bitter, he wrote: "Give yourself a good look in the mirror and you will see how wrong you live your life."

There, he said it. The night before I had accused him of being judgmental. He said he was only asking questions and sharing opinions. I pointed out that there's a difference between "asking questions" and "questioning" – and unsolicited opinions about one's life are rarely welcome. With that one sentence – "Give yourself a good look in the mirror and you will see how wrong you live your life" – he proved me right. He'd been judging me all along.

"I suppose I am a failure then," I wrote back. I was totally over it...and him.

"Please do not ever contact me again. I have absolutely no interest in you, your life, your 'opinions,' or your judgment.

"In other words, fuck you."

And I took my lonely bitter ass back to the breakfast buffet for another serving of mini-pancakes, happy to be enjoying this meal in silence, in solitude, and in peace.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

This is what happened when I clapped at Cher's Donald Trump takedown

I've never been much of a clapper. I have very vivid memories of Sunday morning song services at church when, try as I might, I could never quite get the rhythm of the Holy Spirit down.

Occasionally, I've clapped along at concerts (more-than-once again, generally just missing the beat) and before and after speeches and rah-rah announcements. But I've always felt a bit awkward putting my hands together.

So I don't know what possessed me to clap this past week during my showbiz segment on Nine News Now's mid-afternoon broadcast. I was talking about Cher's spectacular moment at a Massachusetts fundraiser when she compared U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin.

"Preach it, Cher," I said while clapping awkwardly at the end of the Cher portion of the segment.

"Preach it, Cher"? 

Who told me to say that? Amber, the newsreaders seemed amused, which is always a good thing (LOVE her), but really, "Preach it, Cher"?

It wasn't long before I got a second reaction to my "Preach it, Cher"? This one wasn't as positive as Amber's. It was from someone who shared my first name and who thought I deserved to be out of a job for my gross misconduct.

But it wasn't the clapping or the "Preach it, Cher" that he objected to. It was the fact that I had clearly shown my disdain for Donald Trump.


"You are a terrible reporter and a bias one! I hope Channel 9 wakes up and fires you!" he wrote underneath some pro-Trump propaganda.

Now I have received my share of hate letters, hate emails and hate comments over the long course of my journalism career. That comes from the territory when you write about such divisive tops as race, sexuality and celebrities. But in a country (Australia) where I've yet to meet a single person who gets Donald Trump, I certainly wasn't expecting a simple "Preach it, Cher" to get such a vitriolic response.

I wonder what he thought of the clapping.

video

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Work(out) from home: Going to the gym is the worst part of going to the gym

In the immortal words of Saturday Night Live's Roseanna Roseanadana (RIP Gilda Radner), it's always something. If it isn't one thing, it's another. That's been the case pretty much every place I've lived over the course of the last decade.

In Argentina, it was the obsession with bureaucracy, which made pretty much everything, from ordering a drink in a nightclub to selling your apartment, an unnecessarily drawn-out process. Oh, and it was also the crime, often within the very halls of the bureaucracy.

In Thailand, it was the enforced patriotism, which made it compulsory to stand in cinemas while the national anthem played before movies. It also made publicly uttering a negative word about the king a punishable offense.

In South Africa, it was the segregation. A city as colorful as Cape Town was still so black and white.

In Australia, it's the rules and regulations that govern practically everything you do. Big Brother is always watching and waving his finger. You can be fined up to $200 for jaywalking and up to $500 for cursing in public or "offensive behavior."

In inner Sydney, you can't legally purchase alcohol from a bottle shop after 10pm, buy a shot after midnight (in those bars that are still open!), or enter a nightclub after 1.30am. No wonder they call it a nanny state… though the nanny is more like stern, humorless George Banks than Marry Poppins.

Here in Sydney, even an everyday workout can be ruined by rules, regulations, and a rigid, by-the-book attitude (the three R's) that contradicts the carefully manufactured carefree Aussie image.

That's precisely what led me to write the complaint below to my gym, Anytime Fitness.

Hello. I have been a member of Anytime Fitness for almost exactly one year, and up to now, I have been relatively happy with your services. But this morning, around 4am, I went to the Hyde Park Sydney branch for a workout, and it was an absolute disaster.

First of all, the music was blaring so loudly that I couldn't hear myself counting my reps in my head, and there was no way to turn it down... or off. Second, unlike the other Anytime gyms I've been to, there was no sign informing members of the WiFi code. No Spotify playlist for me!

But the part that really infuriated me is that when it was time for me to leave, my locker code would not work. I have been using the same code for an entire year, and it always worked before. I don't know why it didn't this morning, but I'm certain it was not because I'd forgotten or incorrectly inputted a combination of numbers that I've been using since the dawn of time.

I had to call the after-hours service and pay $70 for someone to retrieve a key from the office a few metres away from the locker. This is unacceptable. There are signs all over the gym governing the conduct of members. But where is your accountability for your own equipment?


Normally I probably wouldn't even have used a locker at 4 in the morning. But a sign on one of the boards warning members of an intruder who has been stealing from Anytime branches put the fear of robbery in me, so I secured my belongings.

I know you pretty much wash your hands of responsibility for anything that happens outside of regular business hours, but that doesn't seem appropriate for a gym whose prime selling point is its 24-hour access. As for the lockers themselves, if a branch is going to hold members responsible for any difficulties in unlocking them outside of normal business hours, the least that branch can do is provide lockers that allow members to use their own locks rather than a built-in coding system that is not infallible.

I am seriously considering cancelling my membership after my experience today. But first, I'd like to discuss how we might be able to rectify this situation.

Jeremy Helligar

I spent most of the day after sending my complaint mentally debating whether I wanted to go back to that particular branch while waiting for a response. I'm glad I decided to return the following morning around 4am. When I walked in I saw the night patrol guy who had opened my locker the previous day. He was doing the same for another member. A rush of vindication swept over me.

"Did you have trouble opening your locker?" I asked the annoyed member, who was Asian and spoke very broken English.

"Yes, I did," he replied, nodding, as the patrol guy shot me a look of recognition.

"The same thing happened to me yesterday. Did you have locker 69? That's the one I couldn't open."

"No, I had locker number 71."

"I guess they're all undependable. I've already filed a complaint with management."

"So will I. I can't believe they charge $70. That's enough to buy a t-shirt in Australia!"

After he walked away, I decided to check my Facebook page to see if anyone else had had after-hours locker issues. Surprise!...


Clearly someone's been sleeping on the job. Here comes the wake-up bomb.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Australian TV debut

On Monday, May 30, 2016, I made a comeback of sorts while breaking new ground. For the first time since leaving New York City nearly 10 years ago, I filmed a TV spot. It was also my first appearance on Australian TV (discounting the Janet Jackson E! True Hollywood Story from ages ago that apparently still occasionally runs down under).

I was invited to discuss the breaking celebrity news of the day on Nine Network's afternoon news show, Nine News Now. It wasn't just a random appearance. The entertainment website I edit, TheFIX, and Nine Network, are both owned by the same company, Nine, so it all came together in a perfect storm of synergy.

Although my performance received excellent reviews (I've been invited to return two times next week), I know there is plenty of room for improvement. It was only the second time, I've ever taped a TV spot alone in a room (the other time was when I did a point-counterpoint segment for Fox in New York City after the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake Super Bowl XXXVIII Nipplegate scandal in 2004).

So if you notice I keep looking off to the side, it's because I was focusing on the camera where the anchor was visible rather than the one straight ahead (a common rookie mistake, I'm told), and of course, there's the issue of my voice. Does anyone ever love the sound of their own voice once they've heard how other people hear it?

Oh, well. We live and learn and improve...hopefully by next week.