Free Download: The Luxuriously Smooth ‘Dedications’ Mixtape

Great news: your one-stop summer mixtape has arrived. Dedications, presented by pop duo Kisses (whose latest album, Kids in LA, we’ve already gushed about) was for the show Art Laboe Connection on freestyle LA beacon 92.3 FM. And while the typical mixtape means one producer exerting control over the whole, Dedications is assembled track by track from musicians the world over, each of whom insert a shout-out.

Who wouldn’t want a glimpse into the smooth sounds favored by Erika Spring of Au Revoir Simone (she goes with Sade) or Swedish maestro Jens Lekman (the truly chill “Our Love,” performed by Jennifer Lara)? This is like having your barbecue tag-team DJ’d by some of the coolest people in the world. And nowhere else are you going to get Explosions in the Sky’s “Your Hand in Mine” compiled with Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”—but still, it all manages to hang together, fading from purple drank to pop balladry and back to funk again. Sure beats sweating over your own playlist. 
 

Broadway Gets Kinky: Tony Award Nominations Announced

Well, well, well, the truth comes out. The Great White Way’s kinky, laced-up, leathered side has officially slinked its way into the public eye with the announcement of this year’s Tony Award nominations – specifically the 13 nominations for Kinky Boots – the musical about a failing shoe factory’s success when it starts producing fetish footwear. With music by Cyndi Lauper, the musical adaptation of the 2005 British film garners the greatest number of nominations of any show this season. Couple that with the over-$1 million it makes a week, and it’s clear the people want kink with their song and dance, and Broadway knows how to deliver.

But beyond the sex, rock and roll, and more sex, the nominations also reveal that movie musicals are the only musicals worth producing on Broadway. Best musical nominees include: Bring It On, The Musical, A Christmas Story, The Musical, Kinky Boots, and Matilda The Musical, thereby proving that if you once paid $12 to see this story in cinemas, then it’s worth paying $125 to see it live and with song, percussion accompaniment, and revolving, wooden sets.

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How Was Your Gay Pride?

Yesterday was the 43rd annual Gay Pride Parade in New York City, with celebrities like Cyndi Lauper and politicans like Governor Andrew Cuomo and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joining thousands of celebratory LGBT community members and their allies. Plenty of floats played Lady Gaga as they rolled down Christopher Street in the West Village (although the most popular parade float soundtrack hit was "Call Me Maybe," natch). But of course, the most important sights were those off the beaten path.

Upon my immediate arrival in the West Village, I was not surprised to see hundreds of proud onlookers trying, like confused hamsters, to navigate the barricaded sidewalks on Sixth Avenue. I made my own way through the maze, finally managing to cross the street so that I could walk over to the nexus of homosexuality: the corner of Christopher and Gay Streets (the gayest intersection on Earth, really). Before I made it through the throngs of tank-topped gays on Waverly, I spotted a skinny blonde girl squatting on the sidewalk, beads hanging from her wrists as she cried into her iPhone. "Happy Pride!" I thought.

Rather than watching the parade, I immediately headed into Pieces to meet my friends. There was a seven-dollar cover which included a free "entry shot," a novelty I by-passed for several full-priced gin and tonics. I suppose the real reason to pay a cover to get into a gay bar on Pride is to be able to use the bathroom, which I guess is worth the money as I am an adult and don’t really like peeing in streets. Also noteworthy: the two times I entered the bathroom, I saw a woman gleefully squatting backward onto a urinal, as there were no toilets in the facility. I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit in the bathrooms of gay bars, but that was probably my favorite sight.

After leaving Pieces and walking back out into the bright daylight, I caught a total of five minutes of the parade. I saw a group holding up signs saying, in all caps, "QUEERS FOR PALESTINE," and then a high-school step team. "I’ve seen everything I wanted!" I thought, as I tipsily wandered back toward Sixth Avenue, where I knew I could find some pizza and avoid being pelted with condoms and tiny rainbow flags. 

After scarfing down a pepperoni slice, I headed over to the Thompson LES, which was hosting a party thrown by the hipster gays Gumbo, the bi-weekly dance party that alternates between Brooklyn and Manhattan locations. They had required an RSVP for the event, and then emailed all RSVPers that such an RSVP did not guarantee admission, which makes me wonder why, exactly, parties such as this one request one in the first place. Never has the idea of waiting in line for an over-crowded bar filled with gay guys enticed me to head out at night. Having said that: we were already out, and figured we’d give it a shot.

We stood on Allen Street outside the entrance behind some silently confused twinks in tank tops and shorts, and finally we asked if they were actually waiting in line to get in. "I guessss?" one of them slurred. In response, two of the braver guys in our party just walked in, and then texted me, "Just say you’re going to the bathroom on the second floor and then you can just take the elevator to the third where the pool is." Seemed easy enough! We did just that, smirking as we walked by the party doorman who had floppy hair and a sleeveless denim jacket. (They run a tight ship over there!) Of course, the party was not as fun as the typical Gumbo event; rather, it was just a gathering of random strangers sitting on the sofas around the Andy Warhol filmstrip pool. In the pool were two people: a beefy dude in short blue trunks, and a very giddy topless woman. So proud! We did not stay long.

There was a time when the pride parade was a good excuse to drink all day in the heat and stay out all night. While I did imbibe quite a bit and stayed out until around midnight, it was still a tame affair compared to my years in Chicago, which always seems much more of a debaucherous parade than in New York. (The cops there turned a blind eye to our red solo cups filled with more whiskey than ginger ale, where as I watched as New York’s finest yelled up at parade watchers and instructed them not to stand on their fire escapes.) The New York parade is also soooo long, with most floats and marching organizations sponsored by corporate entities or political groups. It seems like every year there is a debate about the oversexual nature of the parade, and each year sees fewer assless chaps up on those truck beds. 

Is the parade getting too soft, too corporate, too family-friendly and lazily political? Are we missing out on the activist spirit behind the origins of the event, which was more of a march and less of a parade of the svelte, the muscular, and the beautiful? Have the years of treating the notion of "gay pride" as a party resulted in the blasé attitude that most (including myself) have of the weekend, which is now just an excuse for an entire community to collectively day-drink and shed layers of clothing? It’s an issue I struggle with at the end of every June, and will likely be reminded of next year. There are no immediate answers, obviously, and what I think most of us are pleased with today are the ability to celebrate so openly—and that our hangovers aren’t completely preventing us from accomplishing anything today.

Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper, & More Salute John Lennon

John Lennon fans filled the Beacon Theater on Friday night to watch over a dozen entertainers – including Jackson Browne, Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper, Aimee Mann, Keb’ Mo’, Shelby Lynne, and Martin Sexton – take the stage for the 30th annual tribute concert in honor of the late, great Beatle.

During the rousing three-hour celebration, the all-star lineup sang Lennon covers that varied from heartfelt to eclectic to plain absurd. For an example of the last, look no further than the version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” that featured Joan Osbourne and Maura Kennedy on vocal duties, while Chris Bliss sent yellow glowing balls rapidly into the air in perfect tune with the song (his juggling routine for the Abbey Road finale has been viewed on YouTube over 60 million times).

While the divergent musical lineup gathered to honor the memory of Lennon, they also hoped to raise funds for Playing For Change, which builds music schools for impoverished children around the world. The 6-year-old organization announced that together with Theatre Within, producers of the annual charity show, they’re launching Power to the People, a worldwide “peace through music and activism” campaign. The charity has earned the rare blessing of Yoko Ono, who delivered a video message to kick off the concert, saying: “John would have loved what you are doing.” The endorsement of Lennon’s very private widow is not entirely surprising – one imagines if Lennon was alive today, he would be at the center of this kind of idealistic grassroots cause.

We caught up with the performers backstage and asked them about why they chose to perform the Lennon classics they did. Their responses, along with a photo gallery of the event by guest photographer Jeff Fasano, follows.

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Jackson Browne plays “Revolution” with Mermans Kenkosenki (right) and the rest of the Playing For Change Band, a globe-trekking band of musicians from places as diverse as Senegal, Argentina, New Orleans, Netherlands and New York. Kenkosenki, who grew up in the Congo, has lived in South Africa since 1998. He spoke to us after the show about performing with Browne. “Yaaw! He’s a very good guy,” said the always festive Kenkosenki. “We’re from the Congo so we don’t know much about American music. But he’s a lovely guy.”

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Among the most inspired renditions of the evening was Martin Sexton’s breathtaking acoustic cover of “Working Class Hero.” While too many artists were content to hang in the background along side the house band, singing behind music stands, a solitary Sexton sat on a crate in the front of the stage, guitar in hand, and then with the wry howl of a down-on-his luck troubadour on a Dublin dock, peeled the song to its most angry, defiant and heart-wrenching core. “It was an honor to sing that song, especially in these troubled times we’re living in now,” Sexton told us. “John said that was a song for the revolution, and I think it’s a wonderful song for a revolution because even though it has some cuss words, it means something.”

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Patti Smith delivered a subdued, utterly surreal take of “Strawberry Fields” before telling the crowd about the pain of losing her husband Fred Smith in 1994, and how Yoko Ono’s graceful strength and determination after John had been killed served as a model for her. “She taught me how to carry on as a widow,” Smith told the rapt audience before honoring her with a light, zippy “Oh, Yoko.”

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Eighties pop icon Cyndi Lauper, looking great in a black leather outfit, belted out “Across the Universe” over swelling digital strings, so that her distinct voice could be heard, well, across the universe. Lauper emailed us her reason for picking that song. “As a kid, when school or life as I knew it then became unbearable, that song made everything bearable.”

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By injecting his mellow, Delta blues style, Keb’ Mo’ rearranged the melancholy ballad “In My Life” into a joyous piece of remembrance. “John Lennon wrote it, so he’s in there,” Keb’ Mo’ told us after the show. “So what I do is kind of to represent his soul.”

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Joan Osborne lent her gutsy voice to a groovy rendition of Yellow Submarine’s “Hey Bulldog.” “It’s a great rocker,” said Osborne. “I love that aspect of John Lennon, but actually, years ago when I was a film student at NYU, I used it as the soundtrack of a short film of mine. The film I had made wasn’t that good but when I put “Hey Bulldog” to it, it made it ten times better. So I thought, this is all you have to do – put great music to a scene and you’re home free.”

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Among the highlights of the show was Shelby Lynne’s rendition of “Mother.” Hearing her universe-splitting quaver exposes the deep wounds that sent Lennon into “primal scream” therapy around the time he wrote this heartbreaker.

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Jackson Browne gives a faithful rendition of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Way.” We spoke to Browne before the show but he barely spoke above a whisper, and stared at me with such focused intensity whereby he put some kind of mind meld on us, rendering us and our digital recorder useless. After speaking to his road manager, among others, we learned it’s Browne’s m.o. not to look at you, but through you. Funny thing is Browne should have done a bittersweet countrified “Take It Easy”-like rendition of “I’m Looking Through You,” a song he could have connected with better than the one he chose.

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Just before intermission, Chris Bliss delivers a fresh, psychedelic spark with his oddly moving juggling routine to “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

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Aimee Mann, who writes as good a Beatlesesque ballad as anybody around, delivers a solid if not exceptional version of “Jealous Guy.” We’ll stick with Bryan Ferry’s soulful, spaced-out treatment.

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The headliners valiantly try to perform the majestic epic “A Day in The Life.” To be fair, tough song to pull off without much rehearsal. To create some chemistry between the quirky pair, they might have joined for a sweet, heartfelt “Norwegian Wood.” Oh well, we can imagine.

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The show closed with the all-star lineup gathering on stage to remind concert goers of Lennon’s defining message: “give peace a chance.”

Lady Gaga and Cyndi Lauper Hawk MAC’s Viva Glam

Gaga looks good in anything, as she’s proven time and again, from the infamous Kermit the Frog dress, to the leotard made from bubble bath she rocked on the cover of Rolling Stone, to, yes, the full-on mask she wore at an MTV press conference. But Internet naysayers — rabid, obnoxious, and anonymously loquacious, they are — have poked fun at her nose, her face, and her phantom penis. Imagine my delight, then, when I came across this MAC Viva Glam Spring 2010 campaign, featuring the pop star and the legendary — and gleefully campy — Cyndi Lauper.

Unabashedly and deliciously theatrical, MAC campaigns have always featured guilty pleasure icons, from Dita Von Teese and Fergie to Pamela Anderson Christina Aguilera. But this one might just be their crowning achievement of kitsch, not to mention a middle finger proudly raised to Gaga’s critics. At first glance, one wonders if the campaign really features Bette Midler and Nicole Richie (next season?). Still, these girls just wanna have fun, and look smoking hot doing it. Bonus points for the giant euphemistic pearl necklace.

Paula Abdul Shines As Breakout Star on ‘VH1 Divas Live’

So last night, VH1’s christening of the next generation’s pop primadonnas took shape as Divas Live. However, I missed the “live” part of the broadcast as I was off doing more important things at a bar in some part of Manhattan that probably should be called NoChita because Little Italy basically doesn’t exist anymore (by the by, happy birthday Foster!) Luckily, the magic of the internet makes it possible for me to immediately witness all of last night’s defining moments. Some were terrible, like Miley Cyrus sneezing her way through a duet with Sheryl Crow on the latter’s “If It Makes You Happy,” and Jordin Sparks singing a song that is not “Battlefield” even though that is the only song by her any of us remotely care about. But there were a few brilliant moments too, apparently. Like Cyndi Lauper and Leona Lewis (I know, right!?), Kelly Clarkson, solo and with Melissa Etheridge. But the most pleasantly surprising part? Paula Abdul’s comeback coup.

Maybe it was the strain and pressure of a daily obligation like American Idol (or the constant bullying by one of her co-hosts) that curbed Abdul’s potential and transformed her into such a pill-popping punchline, but last night she was in top form. Glowing, in fact. Leaving Idol may have been the best career hiccup to happen to Abdul because at Divas Live, she exuded wit and moxie, both which somehow eluded her in the many years past. Not only did her shtick involve a gentle ribbing at her replacement, but it involved witty banter with a D-lister (how fitting for an event with so many non-divas) and an icon.

But first, her opening monologue:

Uncomfortable banter with Kathy Griffin:

A chat with Liza Minnelli:

Kathy Griffin Tickets