BlackBook Interview: Disco Legend Gloria Gaynor is Still Surviving

Image by Alex Arroyo

 

 

 

A massive, era-defining hit song can be as much a curse as a boon to one’s career. Indeed, Mick Jagger famously said he’d rather be dead than sing “Satisfaction” at 45 (but guess it’s okay at 75); and commercial success was certainly partly to blame for Kurt Cobain ending it all at 27. Gloria Gaynor, thankfully, has no such issues regarding her 40-year old uber-smash “I Will Survive.”

Immediately successful on release, the ubiquitously disco-era empowering anthem was not only a platinum-selling #1 single, but also won a Grammy, and is included in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. Silver lining, all these years later, the song rings just as powerfully as it did back then (it remains an anthem of gay pride).

Still, it has been Ms. Gaynor’s boundless talent and formidable pipes that have sustained her over the decades. And while, she did take a decade and a half break from making music, since returning to the studio in 2002, nothing has been able to stop her.

Always outspokenly spiritual, Gaynor has released a number of religious albums – and her latest, Testimony, continues that trajectory in its repertoire of rootsy gospel. BlackBook checked in with the beloved icon between one of her many transatlantic engagements.

 

 

 

Your new album Testimony sounds so good. How nice it is to hear analog-sounding recordings, real recordings, the real sound of the bass. 

I had fun doing it, especially with all of the musicians in the studio together. That’s something that hasn’t happened in years. At least not for me.

I saw a little video footage of it. You did pretty much cut everything all together?

Yeah, a lot of it. Not all of the songs, but most of them. Yes, yes. I’ve always said, because I really believe it to be true, that the best recordings come when musicians are performing together and live.

Obviously, it’s a gospel record but not your first spiritual recording – you did a Christian record a few years ago as well?

Yeah. Gospel just means “good news.”

Is that what it is? I was going to ask the difference.

Gospel has come to be a genre that is basically the good news set to rhythm and blues music…

That’s a good way of putting it.

…where Christian music is the good news set to pop music. There’s another genre of quote-unquote Christian music that is set to country music. And that’s what’s from the south. So it’s all the same ideas with different genres, and as I said, the “good news.”

Did you always consider yourself pretty religious? 

It has. But I didn’t become really serious about it until after “I Will Survive.”

 

 

You include a Bob Dylan song “Man Of Peace” How did you decide to do that? Are you a Dylan fan?

It was totally (producer) Chris Stevens’ idea; but the moment he told me about it and let me hear the song, I was like, “Yes. You got an arrangement for that? Absolutely.”

I haven’t looked into it that much, but I wonder if that came from Dylan’s own Christian period.

I don’t know. I was wondering about that myself. I cannot wait for him to hear it and get some feedback on what he thinks of this, how we did it.

Dylan’s amazing, he’s still so prolific and active as a performer and songwriter 50 years on. Do you still feel a connection to your songs from so long ago?

Oh, yeah. Especially “I Will Survive.” I’ve come to…at points it was a double-edged sword, you know? People think it’s the only song I can sing, people think it’s the only thing I recorded. Others think it’s the only hit I’ve ever had. It has come to be the foundation and the core of my purpose.

At least you love it. It must be tough for an artist to have successful songs that they maybe don’t like, and they have to sing them for 40 years.

I know! Yeah. That can be rough. But I have to say, I never get tired of doing “I Will Survive.”

And the story around its recording and release is pretty epic.

[After falling from the stage at New York’s Beacon Theater in 1978] I was in the hospital with this surgery on my spine. My label sent me a letter saying that they were not going to renew my contract. They were just going to let it run out that year, and they were going around the company saying, “The queen is dead.” Then the new president came and decided that he wanted to repeat the success that he’d had in England with a song called “Substitute.” And he wanted me to do it, to record the song. He sent me out to California to do that and the producers had made a deal that they would record that song if they could write the B-side.

 

 

 

And gee, what could that B-side have possibly been?

When I asked them what it was, they said, “We don’t know yet. What kind of songs do you like to record?” I said, “Well, I like songs that are meaningful, that touch people’s hearts, have good melodies.” They said, “We think you’re the one we’ve been waiting for to record this song we wrote two years ago.” So I’ve always believed that God told them, “Sit down, write a song, hold onto it. I’m going to send you somebody.”

What was the process of recording Testimony?

It was three years in the making, because we were trying to get some duets – we were trying to get Yolanda Adams. We had finally decided, okay, enough. We’ve spent enough time on this album. We’ve got to put this out. Sorry we can’t have Yolanda, maybe another time. And just before we were about to master it we found out she was going to be in New York at the same time I was going to be in New York. We decided to have her come in and re-do “Talkin’ Bout Jesus” and remotely produce it from Nashville. She’s awesome. She brought the thunder on that ensemble, she did.

She does sound great. You live in New Jersey now – did you like traveling to and working in Nashville? Had you done that before?

No, I hadn’t. I’d only performed in Nashville once, in one day and out the next. But it was nice to spend some time there, get to know the people, figure out the lay of the land. I really love Nashville, love the atmosphere. People are very friendly and helpful. Love that it’s a music town.

I know you still are out there performing quite a bit. What’s the schedule like in the coming months?

Last night – no, not last night…night before last I came back from Dubai. Before that I was in Mexico. The week before that I was in Manila and Singapore. So yeah. I’m getting around, and I am loving every minute of it.

What do you hope for the new album?

I’m really hoping that this album inspires, uplifts, encourages, empowers people. And that there is more to come.

 

Anthony Bourdain is Getting a Documentary

Images courtesy of CNN / Parts Unknown

 

 

It takes just a few seconds of hearing his voice to be fully transported back into Anthony Bourdain’s world of international fascination and intrigues. Cue up an episode of one of his quartet of life-altering shows, from No Reservations to The Layover to Parts Unknown to his last TV role as host of Raw Craft, and wonder at his canny, sardonically witty, sometimes contentious, but always charming extrapolations on everything from global politics to tattoos to the music of Brian Jonestown Massacre to the epicurean joys of a plate of pig’s head pie at St. John in London – all delivered in that sonorous, slightly hoarse baritone…you can’t help but feel a deep sense of loss.

Indeed, the very thought of his suicide last summer still elicits a tear.

 

 

News then that there’s a documentary (a collaboration between CNN Films, HBO Max, and Focus Features) on the horizon about Mr. Bourdain is heartwarming, to say the least. And there’s little doubt that with the thousands of hours – Bourdain’s obsessive work ethic was well-documented and resulted in a prodigious output – of show and interview footage available, that the result will be uniquely compelling. The Bourdain estate is said to be providing generous access to family photos, home movies, letters, music, and other such personal items, that will hopefully give the viewer an even deeper insight into his work and life.

Oscar winner Morgan Neville of 20 Feet From Stardom and Keith Richards: Under the Influence notoriety has been tapped to direct; and although no release date has yet been announced, we’ll surely be marking our calendars when one is, and utterly relish the opportunity to dive back into Bourdain’s uncompromising nature and views on travel, food, and life. To quote the man himself, “It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Neither would have we.

 

Watch: Kim Petras Breaks Free in Hyper-Sensory New Video For ‘Icy’

 

 

In an interview earlier this year, Kim Petras told BlackBook, “I feel like I’m a different person every single day, but I think all it’s 100% me. For this particular era, I wanted it to feel like you’re hanging out with me when you listen. I’m kinda inviting you into my life.”

This is especially exciting considering that in her hyper-sensory new video for “Icy,” she’s never been more alluring, or sensually captivating…which definitely makes us wish we there, well…hanging out with her.

In it, we see her trapped in a glass cube, struggling to break free. She does, of course, and then, face painted silver, we see her splashing around in a bath of ice. (Brrr…)

 

 

“I wanted the visual to feel fresh and signify becoming a stronger version of myself,” she explains. “The video starts with me feeling trapped, but I escape and evolve into a bionic version of myself through the pain of heartbreak.”

The opulent, groovalicious track is taken from her recently released 12-track project Clarity. The Clarity Tour will take her from Vancouver on the 21st to San Diego in early December, before she kicks off the European leg in Amsterdam on January 24.

 

 

 

Michael Stipe is Back! New Single + Video Supports Climate Activists ‘Extinction Rebellion’

 

 

They may have disbanded (for good?) in 2011, but R.E.M. continue to pop up in cognoscenti conversation as one of the grand architects of the age of modern rock, which, unfortunately, also seems to have disbanded. Their monumental sophomore album Reckoning just hit 35, and has been on the lips of the cultural chattering classes, surely due to a just-published new book, Begin the Begin, about their early years in Athens, GA.

Things ended amicably for the exalted quartet, and in the years since, Michael Stipe has lived a seemingly unhurried professional life, jumping up on stage with Chris Martin, recording a song with his pal Courtney Love, even doing a little soundtrack work.

It’s hard not to be excited then, to hear actual new music from the enigmatic frontman / possessor of a voice that everyone knows made even Bono jealous. The first track, “Your Capricious Soul,” has just been released, and it’s a moody, ethereal bit of art pop. And if we’re being honest, if not for his utterly inimitable vocal phraseology, it might even be mistaken for Radiohead.

 

 

“I took a long break from music,” Stipe explains, “and I wanted to jump back in. I want to add my voice to this exciting shift in consciousness.”

As befits the always ideologically piqued Stipe, the release is tied to a movement, in this case the recent global rebellion protests against climate change. In fact, all the proceeds from the song over the next year will go to the very zeitgeisty new group Extinction Rebellion, which organizes non-violent protests against government inaction on climate change.

“They gave me the incentive to push the release and not wait,” he says of the organization. “Our relationship to the environment has been a lifelong concern and I now feel hopeful…optimistic, even. I believe we can bring the kind of change needed to improve our beautiful planet Earth, our standing and our place on it.”

There’s also a haunting accompanying video by noted filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson.

Welcome back, Michael.

 

BlackBook Exclusive: Brooklyn’s Grindhaus Embraces Japanese Influence, Shares Revelatory Recipes

 

 

It was one of the great New York City restaurant stories…ever.

Erin Norris’ Grindhaus was about to debut in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy came along and wiped the place out. Two years, intensive post-storm construction, and a Kickstarter campaign later, it was securing Two Stars from the NY Times – and became an immediate Red Hook / Brooklyn staple.

Today, in the midst of an exciting new second culinary act, the hip but welcoming restaurant is newly embracing Japanese influence.

“I suddenly found myself chef-less in the middle of the summer,” Norris explains, “and sickened by the summer heat, I craved lighter fare. Chef John McCarthy (formerly OKA, wd-50, and Crimson Sparrow in Hudson) happened to pick up my psychic plea.”

Now, despite – or perhaps because of – its relative inaccessibility compared to neighborhoods with actual subway stops, the still cobbled streets of Red Hook continue to exude an exotic charm apart from the rest of NYC…which has been fast losing any sense of the individuality that made it so special.

 

 

Not that developers haven’t been reworking fish warehouses into fancy condos there for years; but at a seemingly much slower pace than, say, Greenpoint. It is thus still possible to walk said streets at a slower pace, pausing to window shop at a quiet gallery, or grab a relaxed beer at the 125-year-old Sunny’s Bar.

It was into this close-knit community that music PR maven turned restaurateur Norris at last opened the doors to Grindhaus in 2013. No carpetbagger she, Red Hook is also her home.

For the five years since, their creative New American cuisine has been a local and critical hit. But with new eateries opening at a startling pace, Norris felt the urge to reinvent. So she and McCarthy teamed up to introduce the aforementioned Asian accents to the menu to absolutely remarkable effect. And indeed, though the interior décor of Grindhaus remains charmingly Red Hook casual, on our last visit we found the new culinary direction to be nothing short of a revelation.

Norris makes a point of the, “lighter and brighter flavors and textures. There are four vegan dishes on the menu…and you wouldn’t even know they were unless you asked or I pointed it out.”

 

 

Part of the magic of the new menu is that while the limited items (the current offerings max out at 13) sound slightly familiar in regards to ingredients, the experience of eating them is anything but. zucchini noodles, chili oil, and wasabi greens, for instance, are all words we’ve seen before – yet when combined here make for an incomparable flavor bomb. Likewise the fried cauliflower with red curry, coconut, and lime, and Japanese caesar with nori, parmesan, and bonito; we’ve eaten similar dishes, but never anything quite like this.

“And let’s not forget the saké!,” Norris enthuses. “We can pair the hell out of your meal with sakés which you can glug like Japanese mountain water, to the full bodied, complex and brow raising slow sippers.”

To celebrate their exciting new direction, Norris and McCarthy were gracious enough to share the secrets behind a pair of their most inimitable creations. But we strenuously, absolutely recommend experiencing Grindhaus in person.

 

 

Miso Granola 

Ingredients
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons white miso paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
¼ cup white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 cups rolled oats
½ cup sliced almonds
½ cup pistachios
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Maldon’s Sea Salt (to finish)
Directions
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cook the butter, brown sugar, honey, molasses, miso paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the butter melts and the sugar and miso dissolve, about 3 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and stir in the sesame seeds, sesame oil, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt. Let cool for 3 minutes.
Toss the oats, almonds and pistachios in a large bowl. Drizzle the miso mixture over the oat mixture, and stir until everything is well coated. Spread the granola in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes for even toasting. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with Maldon’s Sea Salt. Let cool and store in airtight continer.
Uses
This sweet and savory granola can be used for a great many dishes. For example, use with vanilla ice cream as a topping or add it to baked butternut or acorn squash for an additional flavor and textural element to your dishes.

 

 

Yeasted Sunchoke and Salmon Roe 

Recipe and Procedure
 
Yeasted Sunchoke
Ingredients
2.5 lb. Sunchokes
500g Whole Milk + 250g Milk
80g Butter
100g Dry Yeast
Salt
Procedure
Peel the sunchokes and rough chop them. Add milk and 40g butter and dry yeast to a pot. Gently warm the mixture. Add the chopped sunchokes and simmer until the sunchokes are soft. Remove the sunchokes and add to a Vita-Prep, reserving the milk mixture. Add some of the milk mixture and puree the sunchokes. Mount with butter and season the sunchoke mixture. Pass the mixure through a tamis and check seasoning. Cool the puree.
Sunchoke Chips
Ingredients
200g Sunchokes
Peel and slice the sunchokes on a mandolin into water. Blanch the sunchoke slices in milk and remove and dry on papertowels. Fry the chips in 275 F oil. Remove and drain on papertowels. Season with salt.
Dashi
Ingredients
82.5g Kombu
125g Hanakatsuo Flake
4.5 quarts water
Procedure
Bring the cold water and kombu to 120F to 140F and maintain the
temperature for 1 hour. Remove the kombu and bring the water to 140F to 160F and add the bonito flake and maintain the temperature until the bonito is fully hydrated and settles to the bottom of the pot. Strain. Reduce and season.
Marinated Salmon Roe (Ikura)
Ingredients
250g Salmon Roe
75g Dashi
5g Soy
5g Mirin
Mix the marinade ingredients. Gently dress the roe and allow to marinade before use.
Assembly
In a bowl, place two tablespoons of the puree on one side of the bowl. Add a tablespoon of the marinated salmon roe on the other side. Between the two ingredients, place sunchoke chips. Serve.

 

 

 

 

Review: The ‘Downton Abbey’ Film Brings the Edwardian Drama…With A Few Sexy Bits

 

 

 

There’s no question that we’ve seen a precipitous decline of all things civilized in the three years since the wrap party for the beloved English period drama Downton Abbey.  So having the chance for a two-hour break from all things ‘modern media’ to immerse oneself in the frivolous and fripperous trappings of 1920’s English high society seems just about right; and the quite anxiously awaited new Downton Abbey film brings the flouncy escapism in abundance.

It opens with the assumption that we know all the central characters, and of course we do. Within five minutes we’ve been thrust back into the upstairs/downstairs world of the Crawleys and their formidable support staff, as they are presented with the main story arc of the film…an upcoming visit by their highnesses the King and Queen no less!

 

 

Heavens what will Mrs. Patmore cook?! What will Lady Edith wear?! And how many caustic barbs will the Dowager Countess get in before supper???!!!

While the film feels like an immediate extension of the television show – a new episode after a long break – unlike the series, in which each episode focused on smaller stories involving a handful of characters, here we have multiple story arcs deftly fitted into its two-hour time frame; any sense of leisurely languidness is left in the dust.

 

 

Some of the plots are of course more charming, intimate and satisfying than the grand events surrounding the royal visit. Without giving too much away, we were chuffed to see Mr. Barrow, now with a touch of grey, discover a world he had only dreamed of; and seven years after becoming a widower, it seems Tom Branson might at last be getting back in the saddle. Whoever Laura Carmichael’s (she plays Lady Edith) agent is, bravo on the insistence of some “indiscreet,” partially dressed scenes, which should ruffle a few Tory feathers even now.

Downton Abbey the film is, naturally, stunningly shot, very well written, and will most likely be a smash. And its brisk pace will hold rapt even the Downton neophytes. Yet we were most happy when things slowed down and the action was confined to a couple of characters – specifically towards the end when Violet confides a secret to Mary, and gives her the Goodbye To All That defying “Downton must go on even in these modern times speech.

Surely the inevitable sequels will see to it that her wish is decisively filled.

 

 

 

Banksy’s ‘Devolved Parliament’ Will be Exhibited at Sotheby’s London

 

 

Bill Maher was famously sued by Donald Trump in 2013 for comparing the future president to an orangutan. And at times like these, it does seem as though comedy and art are all we have to turn to for sanity.

Things are little better, of course, over in Brexit era Blighty – with new Prime Minister (and Trump ideological equivalent) Boris Johnson unsurprisingly bungling his way through his first month on the job. And so Sotheby’s London will decisively answer his performance by exhibiting Banksy‘s sardonic 2009 masterpiece Devolved Parliament.

In it, MP’s are portrayed as merely chimpanzees. And despite its obvious wit, the aesthetic tone of the work is actually quite somber, even rather depressing. Still, the artist himself is able to find humor in it, joking, “You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerrilla artist.”

The painting will be on exhibit from September 28 – October 3, and an auction the final night will likely see it fetch between £1.5 – 2 million ($1.8 – 2.46 million) from a politically savvy collector.

“Banksy is a modern-day Voltaire,” observes Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s European Head of Contemporary Art, “confronting the burning issues of the day with caustic wit and biting satire. Regardless of where you sit in the Brexit debate, there’s no doubt that this work is more pertinent now than it has ever been, capturing unprecedented levels of political chaos and confirming Banksy as the satirical polemicist of our time.”

Indeed.

 

First Images: Mama Shelter London Hotel Opens in Hackney

 

 

In 2017, Damien Swaby’s film Living in Hackney documented the significant gentrification of a neighborhood once rife with squatters and punks – and a recent Vice article addressing the same subject followed it up.

Into this comes the 11th installment of the French boutique hotel brand Mama Shelter, as high-profile hospitality creeps further into East London. Nearby to the Cambridge Heath and Bethnal Green tube stations, this is definitely not Notting Hill, and most definitely not South Kensington. But then, the MS manifesto isn’t quite directed at the Fortnum & Mason crowd.

 

 

But for those who appreciate, say, the cheeky, decidedly mod-Bohemian juxtaposition of bankers lamps and retro Deco chandeliers, Mama Shelter London absolutely wants to be your temporary home in Blighty’s capital. The 194 rooms are divided up between Small Mama, Medium Mama and Large Mama, the latter offering up to 376 square feet of space – a genuine luxury in a city of stylishly cramped quarters. Graphic carpets and quirky art belie the basic 99£ rate.

Still and all, the MS gospel generally urges guests out into the public spaces. And the namesake restaurant, with its mismatched furnishings, and stylistic jumble of lamps and pillows, plays perfectly to the brand’s eccentric visual ideology. Hardly a surprise, there’s also a karaoke room, because…why wouldn’t there be?

Affirming the neighborhood’s idiosyncratic heart, nearby to the Mama Shelter are London Fields, the Broadway Market and the delightfully gothy St. John at Hackney Churchyard Gardens cemetery. Did we mention it’s not South Kensington?

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: New Sara Melson Single ‘Coming Out’ is an Anthem of Self-Possession

Image by Michael Crook

 

She’s been making music for more than a decade now, following a successful career as a television actress. Now, with the help of a long-standing yoga practice, meditation, and a thoughtful new EP, Sara Melson might be coming to terms with, well, everything.

Digging into the L.A. singer-songwriter’s backstory leads into a wonderful wormhole of ’90s TV viewing. As a wide-eyed ingenue and Geena Davis doppelganger, she starred, for instance, opposite Kelsey Grammer in Fraiser and Fred Savage in The Wonder Years. But by the early aughts she was releasing her own music, and sharing the stage with the likes of Ben Folds, Juliana Hatfield and Lissie, while performing backing vocal duties for Moby and the Dandy Warhols.

 

 

And through it all, Melson has also been a disciplined yoga practitioner, who now even teaches the science at select retreats – which may help explain the attitude that influenced the aforementioned new EP, Wild & Precious Life, which is due out this December.

And indeed, the first single “Coming Out” – which BlackBook premieres here – is a spirited, piano-heavy ballad that lyrically attempts to answer the many questions that come with being a sensitive, creative human being.

“It is a defiant, weary, and yet serene ‘I-don’t-give-a-f*ck’ anthem,” she reveals. “The simple mantra-like refrain ‘I’m coming out’ is for anyone who is tired of wearing a mask to conform to others’ expectations, and who is ready to step out, fully, into one’s authentic self. Better late than never.”

Zen, baby.