Let’s Talk Whitney

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Today would have been Whitney Houston’s 54th birthday.

August 9, 1963 – February 11, 2012

So let’s talk about Whitney and her talent, legacy, and so many gifts she gave to all of us.  I recently read an article in Entertainment Weekly with the band The Killers.  In the article, lead singer Brandon Flowers talked about one of their new songs, “Tyson vs. Douglas” named for the 1990 boxing match in which then champion Mike Tyson shockingly lost to Buster Douglas.  Flowers says the song, “explores what it is like to lose a hero.”  I immediately thought about my hero, Whitney Houston.

On January 26, 1987 Whitney became my biggest hero the night she won five American Music Awards and sang her hit “All At Once”.

As an 11 year old boy she stood ten feet tall that night and every night there after.  What is so sad to me is that Whitney Houston fell.  In the late 90s until she passed away she fell from grace and that is what people remember.  Whenever Whitney comes up in conversation (which actually happens all the time around me) people immediately say, “What do you think about Bobby Brown?” “What about the drugs?” You know what, she was SO much more than either of those things and right here, we are going to celebrate “The Voice” as Oprah called her.  We are going to celebrate my hero, Whitney Houston.

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In the coming weeks Showtime will air a documentary called Whitney Houston: Can I Be Me?  I want to explore this, one of her favorite sayings, as we celebrate Whitney.  She really was never able to be herself.  She was pure pop music and her persona took on a life of its own and her mother and manager marketed her to be WHITNEY HOUSTON, but Whitney Elizabeth Houston was a much different girl.

When Whitney was a young girl growing up in Newark, New Jersey she would go to church and sing.  She loved to sing.  Whitney was also a model.  She was the first African-American to ever grace the cover of Seventeen Magazine.  Before Whitney Houston became Whitney Houston, she was way more her than the person we would grow to know and love.  There are no wigs.  Whitney was a beautiful, natural teenager.  She was happy.

When her first album, Whitney Houston, debuted in 1985 we saw a slicked back haired Whitney on the cover, but soon after the 80s pop princess would be created.

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By 1986 and 1987 Whitney was America’s pop princess and her persona as a bubble gum pop beauty was set.  This wasn’t necessarily Whitney, but this was WHITNEY HOUSTON.

I remember when “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” came out in June of 1987 and in the video Whitney had several looks.  She has three distinctive looks in that video and I remember wondering about that because in January she had a shorter and full curly style.  Then a few months later she had really long curly hair.  It blew my mind being a white kid from west Michigan I had no idea what African-Americans did to style their hair.  Some process it, some use weaves, and some wear wigs.  Whitney wore wigs.  I remember asking my mom, “How can she have so many different looks in one video?”  And here you have why Whitney used to always say, “Can I be me?”  This wasn’t her but it very much was the pop persona created to be Whitney Houston.

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The Voice — Whitney had one of the most amazing vocal instruments of our time.  She was one of the most, if not the most, gifted recording artist of our time.  The purity, the power, the range make her voice one of a kind.  She remains the most awarded artist ever with over 600 awards and her record of seven consecutive number one hits stands to this day (Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know, The Greatest Love of All, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, Didn’t We Almost Have It All, So Emotional, and Where Do Broken Hearts Go).

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If you wonder why she has so many awards to her name, take a listen to the raw vocals for “How Will I Know.”

Awards over the years and Whitney looks.

 

From an Entertainment Weekly article about when Mick Jagger to come into Whitney’s studio as she recorded her mega hit, and my favorite, “So Emotional.” Her producer Narada Michael Walden,  “Houston headed to New York City to lay down vocals for “So Emotional” at Right Track Studios, and her powerhouse pipes caught the ear of the Rolling Stones frontman. “Mick was recording next door and he had to come in and witness it,” says Walden. “He started jumping around, as he does, and he just couldn’t believe the sound. Whitney was so excited about that.”

Sometimes it isn’t the studio versions or the huge live concert performances that show Whitney’s pure talent.  Take a listen to this clip with Paul Shaffer on the show Friday Night Videos from 1986.

It was recently the 30th Anniversary of Whitney Houston’s iconic Whitney album this summer.  There were a lot of articles that you probably missed (hahaha, but I didn’t) about this album, like, rating the Whitney album’s 11 songs.  Also with the new documentary coming out there have been articles rating her 25 best songs.  NPR recently rated her Whitney Houston album as the 14th best album by a female artist out of 150 albums.

‘Whitney’: Ranking every song on Whitney Houston’s seminal 1987 album

The 25 best Whitney Houston songs

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So here are my lists of Whitney songs.  We all have our favorites.  What are yours?

Top 5 Whitney Pop Hits

  1.  I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)
  2.  I Will Always Love You
  3.  How Will I Know
  4.  So Emotional
  5.  The Greatest Love of All

My Top 5 Ballads

  1.  All the Man That I Need
  2.  I Have Nothing
  3.  Didn’t We Almost Have It All
  4.  You Give Good Love
  5.  Where Do Broken Hearts Go

HM. Exhale(Shoop Shoop)

My Top 5 Uptempo Songs

  1. So Emotional
  2. I’m Your Baby Tonight
  3. I Wanna Dance with Somebody(Who Loves Me)
  4. I’m Every Woman
  5. My Love Is Your Love

HM. Million Dollar Bill

My Top 5 Performances

  1.  All the Man That I Need – Welcome Home Heroes Concert 1992
  2.  Star Spangled Banner – Super Bowl 1991
  3.  One Moment In Time – Grammy Awards 1989
  4.  I Love You Porgy, And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going, I Have Nothing – American Music Awards 1994
  5. Didn’t We Almost Have It All – Saratoga Spring Concert 1987

HM. Loverman, My Man, All the Man That I Need – Billboard Awards 1991

My Top 5 Favorite Whitney Songs

  1.  So Emotional
  2.  All the Man That I Need
  3.  You Give Good Love
  4.  I’m Every Woman
  5.  Where You Are

HM. Nobody Loves Me Like You Do

*In future blog posts I hope to explore each of these lists with thoughts and insights and clips.

So here we are celebrating Whitney on her birthday.  Whitney was and still is so important to me.  People just know and have since I was in elementary school that I am her biggest fan.  The night she died, between Facebook and text messages I had well over 150 condolences.  I don’t know why but I just connected to her and here is why.  The Whitney Houston persona took over her life and led her away from her greatest gift.  We lost a legend and I lost a hero the day she died.  I will always continue to sing her praises and will always remind people that she was a gift and there was so much more to her than the negative 2000s.  She was a performer, a vocalist, a talent like we have never seen before.  Whitney was at her prime in this video and it is one of my all time favorite video clips.  Enjoy and always remember Whitney the way she should be remembered — for the gift of her voice that she shared with us all.

 

That’s What I Chose

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Life is all about the choices we make and where those choices lead us. I’m going to start a new blog series about my life’s choices, both good and bad, and where they have taken me. I’m calling it “That’s What I Chose.” I was just listening to an interview with Barefoot Contessa on Katie Couric’s podcast and she was asked about never having children.  Barefoot (Ina Garten) simply said, “That’s what I chose.”  I loved it and along with some other current things it made me want to reflect on the choices I’ve made in life.

My soon to be nephew is going through the college decision process as are the senior class of 2017 at my high school.  I have told all of them, “Go with your gut. Go where you feel you can most grow in confidence and in who you are as a person.” Today’s high school students have much different admissions experiences and choices than I did back in 1995. I’ve recently been thinking about that time in my life.

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It was the summer of 1994 and I was getting ready to be a senior in high school. There certainly were brief conversations about my next steps with my parents, but we were on two different pages, hence the brief discussions. My parents wanted me to attend our local community college and I ONLY would consider applying to Michigan State. You see, growing up I struggled in school, a lot, so my parents had good reason to be a bit concerned sending me off to a school of 35,000 students. I didn’t learn to read until I was in 2nd grade. I took Ritalin for ADD. My summers were spent in tutoring trying to make up for lost time with reading skills. By 6th grade I was spending three, sometimes four hours a night with my mom doing homework. In 9th grade I was diagnosed with dyslexia. So….I can see why my parents wanted me to start college slowly.  But what they didn’t factor into this entire experience was, as Macho Man Randy Savage would call it, my “intestinal fortitude.”  I wanted college so badly. I wanted to leave home and meet new people and experience new things so badly that I was going to make it work.

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However, looking back at my high school class ring, I’m pretty sure I did not always think I’d make it to MSU. I definitely remember insisting to my parents that I wanted a class ring. My dad had one from college and I thought it was so cool, but I did not know if I would go to college. Considering the struggles I had, was college for me? Our school colors were blue and gold so everyone got fake blue gem stones in their class ring. I chose a fake emerald green gem because, what if I never got to be a Spartan? But I persisted and insisted that I was only applying to Michigan State and that is what I did. I had to get away.

In late August I sent my paper application in the mail to MSU. September 22, 1994 I received a letter in the mail congratulating me on being accepted into the class of 1999. I was going to be a SPARTAN!!! Before this happened, my parents would say, “We’ll buy you a car if you stay home for two years and go to KVCC.”  Or, as worried and sensible parents would say, “What if you don’t get in?” My response to that, “I’ll figure that out later.” Luckily for me, I didn’t have to worry because I would be a Spartan!

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Sophomore year at Michigan State I moved to a new dorm. Early in the semester I saw a guy carrying his Entertainment Weekly Magazine into the bathroom. I thought, “I get Entertainment Weekly too. There is someone LIKE ME here.” Cary and I quickly became friends and after 21 years he’s still one of my best. I knew that going away to college would be life changing and it was. Cary and I would make mixed tapes and endlessly talk about his love of Mariah and my love of Whitney and who was better (Whitney). 🙂 I met so many other people too at MSU who have shaped who I am as a person and who have supported me all through this wonderful life.

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I had to go against my best advisors, my parents, and make a choice for myself. We all can look back now and realize the magnitude of my choice and its importance. I wouldn’t be the person I am today had I stayed at home. For so many personal reasons, leaving and getting out on my own shaped me and allowed me the space to mature and grow and meet people who would help me become the man I am today. I left home with so many hopes and maybe a few fears, but my desire to grow out weighed it all. It’s ok to not listen to our parents always, at least for me, one of my most defining choices was counter to my parents’ wishes. They’re ok with it now–whew it all worked out! Oh and they bought me a car anyway, so there’s that too. Thanks Mom and Dad. I love you!

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So there you have it, a new blog series “That’s What I Chose”.  I look forward to some of these topics: That One Last Drink, Wilmette, the high school swim team, study abroad in Australia, relationships, and much much more.

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Waving Through a Window

“On the outside always looking in. Will I ever be more than I’ve always been? ‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass. I’m waving through a window.”

Two really important things, at least to me, are happening right now.  I’m planning a wedding with my fiancé AND the Dear Evan Hansen Original Broadway Cast Recording has been released to Spotify.  IMPORTANT THINGS I SAY! Over the last week, if I’m at my desk, the songs from Dear Evan Hansen are on repeat, over and over again. I’ve also been, like I said, planning a wedding so if anyone asks, I’ll talk about it. Planning a wedding was never something I ever really thought about as a kid. Do boys think about their wedding day? Do gay boys think about their wedding day? The answer for me is, no, I never really thought about a wedding. The perfect day and setting and person was never really something on my mind growing up.  Geez, my life was filled just trying to figure out if it was going to be a woman or a man for crying out loud. I didn’t have time to think about an actual wedding until recently.

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 So while I was figuring all of that stuff out my friends were dating and getting engaged and getting married. Oh did I attend a lot of weddings in my 20s and 30s. That was a lot of cake and alcohol and dancing. It was fun, so much fun. However, it wasn’t for me. Somehow I didn’t fit in that societal norm of finding someone, getting engaged and planning a wedding. I didn’t really spend too much time thinking about it, rather I went about my life and enjoyed those people around me who were in love and getting married and getting all those gifts and inviting all those people to celebrate with them. On June 26, 2015 our societal norm changed. The Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled in favor of equal dignity and marriage for all citizens of the United States. Then, lucky me, on June 26, 2016, exactly one year later the man of my dreams asked ME to marry HIM!

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Well now this whole marriage thing got really real and really fast. My fiancé said he would be fine just going to the courthouse and getting married.  I said, “Do you know who you just asked to marry you?”  Haha, wait, I hadn’t ever really thought about a wedding, that is true, but now that I have the chance, I’m taking it.  People have said, “You’ve gone to your share of weddings over the years, now it is time for those people to buy you gifts!” Sure, I guess that is part of the celebration, but that’s not all it is for me.  I told my fiancé that the reason I want a wedding is because as I sat at all those weddings in the past I thought to myself, “I wonder if it will ever be legal for me to get married?” “Sure we have ‘civil unions’ in my state but that isn’t the same. That isn’t equal.” The reason I want to have a wedding is to celebrate with those people who have loved me for me. It is now my time to step inside and stop “waving through a window.”

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That brings me back to Dear Evan Hansen the new musical on Broadway. It’s about a boy who watches life pass him by due to severe social anxiety.  But why, to me, isn’t he point. Have you ever spent a portion of your life “looking in from the outside?” That is why I connected to this music and that is why I want to celebrate my love and my marriage because after June 26, 2015 I no longer had to look in from the outside.

“While I’m watch watch watching people pass I’m waving through a window, oh can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?”

Unlike Evan Hansen, I have never been socially isolated or lonely, luckily. But I have waved through the window while people who are accepted pass by. I’ve tried really hard not to get political in my blog, as far as this past election, but just briefly I have to. It really frustrates me when people say, “I support gay marriage and equal rights”, but that person voted for the Republican platform, one that does not promote equality. They might say, “Well gay marriage is a done deal.” Sure it is the law of the land, but depending on who the new Supreme Court justice is, that ruling could be overturned years down the road. Likely or unlikely, why chance it? And it isn’t all about equal marriage. It is about equal rights for all people. It is about accepting refugees and immigrants into our country. It is about accepting and loving others no matter their gender, sex, race, sexual orientation or other. Why make people in America wave through the window and hope that one day their difference will be just as accepted as someone else? Why? Why not share love and spread love and think about all those people who are waving through a window?

In this clip, Cynthia Erivo Tony Award winner from The Color Purple sings “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen.

Even when the dark comes crashing through/ When you need a friend to carry you /When you’re broken on the ground /You will be found

Why don’t we work on loving each other, all of us, and helping each other out. You are not alone I wish was the mantra of our country because far too many people don’t have the same power, privilege, and acceptance. Don’t wait until it is your time to suffer to “get it” and start thinking about others. Let’s help each other now.  Let’s share and care, just a little more. Let’s notice each other more. Let each other know, we all matter.

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So that brings me back to why I want to have a wedding; a celebration of our love, an acknowledgment that our love matters and our love is important too. It’s not about the gifts (but I’ll take them, I guess) it’s about being surrounded by the people who love us; the people who have lifted us up when we were down; the people who, no matter what, have been with us throughout life to say, “hey, hey you, you matter.” 

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2017 Academy Award Recap

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The Red Carpet

Lin Manuel Miranda got his tux in Yonkers, NY at the same place he got his prom tux in 1998! Love him so much. Realness personified.

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Dakota Johnson trying to cover up for all of her Fifty Shades indiscretions.

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Octavia looked lovely.

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Former Miss Universe shout out, that’s all.  Olivia Culpo

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Casey Affleck will pass out in a few seconds due to lack of circulation.

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Slay!

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Terrence Howard wearing his best smoking jacket.

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Leslie Mann hoping to catch a breeze and be the first to fly around the world in a balloon.

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Halle Barry throwing it back to Whitney circa 1988!

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We were really just hoping that John Travolta was here again this year.

There is good and there is bad.

This is high fashion! Good on you Pharrell.

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Dr. Quinn Medicine Women.

I want this to be longer.  But those shoes!

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I want this to be less grandma quilt.

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“What was The Rock in?” “Manwana? Mohana?” “Moana” “Oh yes there it is.”  And apparently the highest paid actor in Hollywood.  Say wha….

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It’s so nice that Mel Gibson brought his granddaughter to the Oscars this year…..er…his girlfriend. What?!!

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The Show

What a way to get on your feet Hollywood and start the show with some Justin Timberlake. He just made it back in the top spot on my Top 5 List!

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“Black people saved NASA and white people saved jazz.”

“The only happy ending in the movies this year was in the middle of Moonlight.”

“If you work for anything with ‘Times’ in the title, including Medieval Times, I’m going to ask you to leave. We don’t have any tolerance for fake news. Fake hands are another story.”

That “carry” commercial by Cadillac tho!!

That 16 year old Moana girl is so cute—the breath at the end of “oh wow I did it.”

Most moving speech, Moonlight Best Adapted Screenplay winner. “We’ve got your back. For all those black and brown boys, who are not gender conforming, we’re trying to show you, you. This is for you!” Tarell Alvin McCraney screenplay writer for Moonlight. 

What just happened?!?


It’s Miss Universe all over again!  Where is Steve Harvey?  MOONLIGHT not LA LA for Best Pucture, the way it should be-such a great, bold, brave and moving piece of cinamatic art MOONLIGHT!!

“…and all you people out there who think there’s no mirror for you, that your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back. The ACLU has your back. We have your back. And for the next four years, we will not leave you alone. We will not forget you.” Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Best Dressed

  1.  Jessica Biel – This is how you do the covered up, gold look.  Stunning.

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2. Viola Davis – the color, the detailed top, the perfect fit

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3. Halle Barry – always stunning and on point, that hair and that fringe!!

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4. Karlie Kloss – the effortless beauty, the cape(I’m a sucker for a cape), the choker

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5. Hailee Steinfeld – youthful, fun, that collar!

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6. Janelle Monae – high fashion, gorgeous

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7. Emma Stone

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8. Chrissy Teigen

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9. Michelle Williams

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10. Nicole Kidman

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Celebrate the arts. Support the arts. 


“We’ve got your back! For all those black and brown boys, who are not gender conforming, we’re trying to show you, you. This is for you!” Tarell Alvin McCraney Best Adapted Screenplay winner for Moonlight

An Ode to Jon

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Last week I got to meet my absolute favorite living artist and see him perform in concert twice. Of course you all know my unwavering love for Whitney Houston, but aside from her, Jon McLaughlin is the man! What he does with lyrics comes straight from the heart. He is so funny and down to earth and it was an honor to meet him.

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Here is a signed Polaroid of our moment

I have been following Jon’s career since 2007 when I saw him open for Kelly Clarkson at the Chicago Theatre.  Back in the spring I actually met him at House of Blues by his merch tale when he opened for Parachute.  It was a brief meeting and after it was over I was kicking myself for not telling him what his music means to me. In those brief star struck moments it’s hard to remember every emotion you have felt when listening to someone’s music.

This night I stood just feet from him as Jon introduced a new song.  He asked, “Is this good?  I figure you’re a safe crowd to ask.”  Yes Jon, yes it is good!

When an artist writes a song they have a certain story they are trying to tell. Every listener interprets the lyrics in a different way. I wanted to tell Jon how much his music has gotten me through the hard times and the happy, but he self-admittedly writes mostly about break-ups. All of you who have read my blog know that I love hard and deep and was really hurt a few years ago. At that time I really got into Jon’s music and pretty much downloaded everything I could get my hands on. When I had 60 seconds with Jon last week it was really important for me to tell him how a particular song, “Questions” had impacted me.

And how can a man/Be all that they say/When all that I know/Is men run away/I think I lose just a little bit of me/In every man that I see

I absolutely had to take this opportunity to tell Jon that his lyrics helped me get through the hardest emotional time of my life. I know that how I interpreted the song wasn’t exactly how he wrote the lyrics, but I told him, “I know the story you wrote wasn’t exactly mine, but your lyrics connected to me and helped me see the truth in my situation and the light at the end of the long emotional tunnel.” He thanked me and said, “Yeah, that is one of my oldest songs. I think that was about the fourth song I wrote years ago.  Thank you for telling me.”

I came for your questions/Of what you don’t know/But you can’t see the answers/Unless I go

When I listened to “Questions” back in 2013 I would just cry and cry and sing it at the top of my lungs while driving to work and driving home from work. Those were the hardest moments for me being alone in my car. What allowed me to cry was that he left me but what gave me strength was that he came for my questions and took the answers with him because he wasn’t going to be able to give me what I truly wanted out of life and deserved to have. Now I am happy in love and getting married to a guy who can answer my questions and can live the life that we want to live together. It meant a great deal for me to be able to have that moment with Jon and to let him know how his lyrics helped me heal.

A quote I always read back in the day

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So when the show started we were sitting a mere 5 feet from Jon.

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“Anybody Else”

He opened the show with one of my favorite songs, “Anybody Else”. I always imagined this song if I ever ran into my ex again. Basically that I was waiting around for him to change his mind. I did this for far, far too long.  I think in those moments of despair you cling to anything, any hope that it might not be over.  So again this was one of those emotional songs I used to sing and cry to in my car.

How long has it been?/I think about you every now and then/It’s good to see you doing so well/Oh no, right now I’m not with anybody else

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And I’ve got oceans of time/Oceans of time to sink/And I’ve got oceans of memories

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Sometimes a word or a line from a song/Can send me back to when we had it all/But in the end, you play the cards you’re dealt/And I’m not ending up with anybody else

I thought my life was over because he left me. In those moments, days, weeks after he left I never thought I’d find anybody else. That didn’t happened and luckily so for me since I met and fell in love with such a wonderful, kind, and loving man. But more than anything now-a-days, it is just one of Jon’s most beautiful songs. He really is such an amazing lyricist. Take a listen to this song below — the harmony, the lyrics, Jon’s emotion.  It is just the best. And I love how the song ends so soft. It’s a wonderful 5 minutes of emotion.

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“Human”

Three songs in Jon sang “Human”, a song off his first album Indiana. The best part of this is when he sang “Fast Car” in the middle of the song. It is one of my all time favorite songs. Admittedly, I went to see both of Jon’s shows, so I knew the second night that my fiancé was going to be overjoyed when he heard “Fast Car” and he was. I just wish Jon sang more of it. Maybe one day he’ll do a cover for an album. Maybe he’ll do a duet with Tracey Chapman. Now that would be amazing.

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“Before You”

Screaming at the top of my lungs/Finally I found someone/Never knew what love could do/Before you

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Guns out blazing/My heart is racing/And even the ordinaries amazing

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Blasts of color bounce off each other/And you’re the reason why I’m/Screaming at the top of my lungs/Finally I found someone/Never knew what love could do/Before you

“Before You” is the opening song off Jon’s latest album Like Us and it is one of my absolute favorites.  It speaks to the love and excitement I have for my fiancé.  I’ve certainly dated men in the past who I really liked, but honestly, the ease of loving my fiancé is something I never felt before.  There have never been those insecure wonderings if he liked me or if he was interested or if he would stick around or if he … You know what I’m talking about.  From the get go it has just been easy and consistent and loving and all the things that for years I longed for from other people.  Now I have it from him and I’ll “scream at the top of my lungs” about it!

“You & I”

This is our song.

I got a funny feeling everything’s going to be okay/All of my worries suddenly fading away/And I just can’t stop smiling/Ever since I heard the news/That you love me and I love you

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But one thing’s for certain/I’m one happy, lucky fool/’Cause you love me, and I … I love you

You already know I went to see both of Jon’s shows at City Winery last week.  The first night my fiancé was not with me and Jon did not play this song.  When I met Jon I meant to tell him the full story, that “Questions” was my breakup, get over it song and “You & I” is now my song with my fiancé.  We’re thinking it will be our first dance together when we get married.  It is all full circle JON!  The second night he played “You & I”.  At the first chords of the song my fiancé and I looked at each other with joy.

So this is my Ode to Jon.  I first heard him open for Kelly and I knew he was special.  Then one of his biggest successes was singing “So Close” from the movie Enchanted.  I too love that song, but Jon is so much more than that(and he didn’t actually write that song).  He is a singer/songwriter and a master at writing lyrics.  For a lover of sappy songs, Jon’s my guy.  He loves to write a good breakup song or a good healing song.  He loves to jam on the piano.  In a way I’m happy he is still playing places like City Winery because it means we get to have those intimate venue vibes.  It means that he’s still super accessible to his fans.  Jon really has been with me on a journey.  His lyrics have helped to mend a broken heart and to heal and to see the light again.  Thank you Jon.  Thank you.

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Celebrating 40: Iconic Album Covers

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A few weeks ago I was gathering songs for the “poolside” playlist on my 40th Birthday Celebration trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My friend Cary and I were messaging back and forth about songs. He sent me a list of every #1 song on my birthday over the past 39 years. There was only one song that I wrote back and said, “I can’t have “The Macarena” on my playlist.” He suggested I use the #2 song from my birthday in 1996, “You’re Makin’ Me High” by Toni Braxton. I said, “Oh, is that the ‘red’ album cover?”  “No, that was later in the 2000s.” At that moment, a new blog post started to be created.

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I heard Dick Clark tell Oprah once, “Music is the soundtrack of our life.” For me and many of you, music is just that for you too. I’m a pretty nostalgic person. I get that from my dad. There are so many memories that I have that are related to music. “Drive” by the Cars takes me back to a moment when I was driving home for curfew back in high school. It was summer and my windows were down. I think it was probably 11:45p.m. I will always remember that drive down Westnedge Avenue past Portage Central High School, on my way home. Album cover art also can take us back to times in our lives in an instant. There are many album covers that are on lists of “the best ever”. Perhaps some of my “iconic” covers are the same, but probably not most. My iconic album covers take me back to childhood, the teen years, college, and even the more recent past. Join me down my memory lane.

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1980

 One of the first influential artists for me was Barbara Mandrell. I was four or five years old and used to dress up and perform alongside her and her sisters on Saturday nights during their show. A wooden spoon was my microphone, the fireplace hearth was my stage, and the light above was my spotlight. My grandparents took me to two county fairs to see her in concert. I had several of her albums. My favorite was the vinyl of her live concert which she ended with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” But it was this album that always has stayed in my mind. I LOVED the hot pick and I LOOOOOVED her high heels on the back cover. She was fierce!

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1983

My mom had this cassette tape. I remember getting a new station wagon in 1984 with a tape player in it. It was so exciting to go for rides in that car and get to play this tape. It had so many hits, “Penny Lover”, “Running With the Night”, “All Night Long”, “Hello”, “Stuck On You,”and my absolute favorite, “The Only One.” So many hit songs. Albums don’t produce this many hits now. This is a classic album and I will always remember the white and blue.

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1982

Another early classic in my life, the cassette tape of Olivia Newton-John’s Greatest Hits Volume 2. This WAS basically her 1983 HBO concert that I was obsessed with. Again, I used to find my mother’s clothes and dress up as close as I could to her four costume changes and I would perform over and over again as I watched this concert. “Make a Move On Me”, “Magic”, “Suddenly”, “Physical”, “A Little More Love”, “Heart Attack” and of course, “Xanadu”. You can’t even find this album on iTunes or Spotify.  It’s a real shame. I love this entire album! It is too bad that Olivia never had much after about 1984. Could that be because Madonna hit it big?

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1986

Speaking of Madonna, True Blue, is her most iconic album cover to me. The short blonde hair is everything and those thick eyebrows! “Open Your Heart”, “La Isla Bonita”, “Live To Tell”, and “Papa Don’t Preach” are such iconic songs to me. I remember when “Open Your Heart” came out I was 10 years old, roughly the same age as that boy in the video. He was so cute and I definitely noted that in my head.  Hmmmm…. I loved that he got to dance around with Madonna too. This was also the album that sparked conversations with my parents about what I was listening to. My parents never made much fuss over my music choices. I guess probably because I was listening to Lionel, Olivia, and Whitney. However, “Papa Don’t Preach” sparked conversations and a somewhat ban on me listening to that song. I don’t think the “ban” stuck very long, I guess a battle they didn’t want to fight. Mostly this album was about “Open Your Heart” for me. It really was my jam as a young gay boy!

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1982

RIO by Duran Duran was totally 80s pop art. This cover WAS 1982 at it’s best and is what I think about when I think about the early 80s.  One of my second cousins had this album. He was a bit older than me. His hair style and clothes matched that of the early 80’s Duran Duran. I was so jealous of his style. I love the 80s!

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1982

Another early 80s gem is Vacation by the Go-Go’s. This makes me remember spending long summer days over at the Anderson’s house. I would play dress up and pageants with Melanie and her cousin Pam. I would also get to play with Mel’s Barbie dolls. She was a bit older and so over playing with Barbie, but it was everything to me because I wanted a Barbie so badly. Haha. Anyway, listening to the Go-Go’s and Tears For Fears and watching General Hospital filled those summer days in 1984-85. What great memories!

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1984

1984 was all about Michael Jackson. I think my brother had this cassette tape. The thing I remember most was the baby tiger and Michael on the inside cover. While “Thriller” scared me(Vincent Price laughing), “Billie Jean”, Human Nature” and “PYT” were my favorites. I think Bad was more my time, but this album cover was Michael’s big push away as an iconic solo artist.

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1984

Also in 1984 my brother had this Van Halen album, 1984. I just remember thinking that baby was so naughty and I couldn’t believe my parents let my brother have this tape. However, I’m glad they did because….”Panama”, “Jump”, and “Hot For Teacher”.

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1984

Isn’t it funny and interesting what speaks to people? What stands out to one person is totally different than another person. When I’m asked the age old question, “When did you know you were gay?” I often think about 6th grade as that pivotal time of noticing boys and thinking they were cute. But then I think about this album cover for Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen. We didn’t have this album in our house but I remember seeing it and thinking, “his butt!” Obviously there is more to this album, “Born in the USA”, “Glory Days”, “I’m On Fire” and “Dancing in the Dark”, but really, it’s that butt!!

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1987

While most people think very fondly of this album, and I admit now, it’s a great album. “Where the Streets Have No Name, “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” stand the test of time. I love those songs. Yet, on March 2, 1988 at the 30th Annual Grammy Awards, The Joshua Tree beat Whitney Houston’s Whitney album for Album of the Year and I was SO MAD!  Haha, oh to be an outraged 11 year old! Anyway, this is iconic for me because it beat Whitney.  How dare they!

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1987

That smile! That hair! This album was and will forever be everything to me! Many people think about Whitney’s debut album with her slicked back hair and that peach toga on, but I really think this fun, bright 80s album cover is an 80s classic. My cousin Tammy got this cassette tape for me for my birthday in 1987. Whitney was 23 years old when she recorded this hit making album. With the release of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody(Who Loves Me)”, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, “So Emotional”, and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” along with three hits from her debut album, Whitney hit a record which still stands today-Seven Consecutive Number One Hits. Mick Jagger was in a studio next to Whitney the day she recorded “So Emotional”.  On his way out of the studio he knocked on her door so he could meet the person behind that voice. Mick told Whitney she had an instant hit with “So Emotional” and he was right. It might be some of the non-released songs that are my favorite. The sultry, r&b burner “Just the Lonely Talking Again” and “Where You Are” probably my favorite Whitney song ever. It’s simple with classic 80s saxophone and just her pure 23 year old voice. This is Whitney’s pop sensation and the cover is pure pop perfection!

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1992

That dancing bee!

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1999

I don’t really know why this cover sticks out to me?  You? Haha! This IS the TRL Generation for sure. We had boy bands and Britney, but we also had Blink 182 and “What’s My Age Again”.

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1995

Tragic Kingdom and No Doubt was my freshman year at Michigan State. There were a ton of other albums that year too, but for some reason this one sticks in my mind. “Spiderwebs”, “Don’t Speak”, but mostly “The Climb” played over and over again in A416 Bryan Hall. There is so much going on on this cover. The flies, the fruit that looks like chocolate chip cookies, but mostly Gwen!

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1994

“Waterfalls” was everything and this album was everything also my freshman year of college. CrazySexyCool spoke to each of their personas but it’s the red color, the eyes that stand out. “Creep”, “Diggin’ On You”, “Waterfalls” and “Red Light Special” were the hits, but “Sumthin’ Wicked This Way Comes” was on repeat. CrazySexyCool propelled TLC into the r&b stratosphere!

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2013

I have a love/hate relationship with this album cover. It’s iconic because there are very few people who are known by just their first name. Beyoncé is one of those artists. This album was a surprise release and it is one of her best. Yet, is she a little lazy by just making it black and pink? Why so lazy Bey? Or did she do it simply because she can? Regardless, it stands out to me and I remember it because it came at a time in my life that was rocky. I remember going over to my friend Dennis’s apartment and drinking martinis and listening to this album over and over again one cold February night. It was one of those times that you just needed a friend and music.

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1993

May 1993, “That’s the Way Love Goes” was everything to me. I know I use the word “everything” a lot in this post because depending on the time in my life, these albums were everything to me. Janet. came at a time that I was really trying to figure things out about life and high school and all of that stuff. My brother was off to college and his high school relationship had ended. I remember thinking during “Again” that maybe they would get back together. They didn’t and as we know now, that is how life works, but I really thought and hoped they would get back together because of the words in “Again.” Haha, oh youth! This was the controversial album that had a man holding Janet’s breasts on the cover of Rolling Stone. Regardless of that, I absolutely LOVED her short ringlets.  I loved them.  I loved the sepia tone and the burnt siena “Janet.” This album exudes sex and sexiness – “Throb” and “Any Time Any Place” for a teenager just starting to take note of all of that stuff. And of course, there is the video that every girl and gay man still wants to recreate, “IF”. This album will go down in my history as one of the best.

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So there they are, the album covers that are iconic to me and some of the music that goes along with them. Is it just me or have album covers and album art become less relevant over the years? With iTunes and Apple Music and Spotify, are we really that concerned with the cover art? Do we look at it the same? Do we need it like we used to? Remember walking into the music store and going straight to the poster section? I would always go in and hope for a new Whitney Houston promotional poster. I missed out on her first posters for the Whitney Houston album, and finally this one came out and the Anderson’s got it for me for my birthday. I still have it!

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Yet I do wonder, do we view album art like we used to? I don’t think we do because everything is so quick on the internet. Rarely are we going to the music store to buy albums. We used to need to see that artwork and get excited over it. Now we just buy things on the internet in an instant and it’s done. I love that all of these album covers mean something to me and derive memories over time.

As I turn 40 and reflect back on music and the memories it produces I am able to see that for me music is really my spiritual connection with life. Listening to artists interpret songs is nothing short of transformative for me. Music does take me back to times in my life that I want to remember, whether happy or sad, simply because it helps me understand my life better and helps me see how far I have come in the last 40 years.

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Celebrating 40: Friendship, Love, and All That Makes Me Happy

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The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of love and excitement. As we were all saying goodbye after five amazing days together, I was so sad. But I had to remind myself to “Smile because it happened.” For over a year I had planned for a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to celebrate my upcoming 40th birthday. When I started planning in June 2015 I said to myself, “I want 5 days with some of the most important people in my life.” I was blown away when 15 people said, “YES!” I know that it is no small order to plan for childcare and to put down the money for such a trip.  Just to celebrate me? Everyone is busy with life, whatever “busy” is to us, we are all busy. I have learned over my 40 years that the best gift you can give someone is the gift of your time. We are not guaranteed tomorrow so choosing to spend time with those you love is a blessing, and I am very blessed.

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I wrote in my blog post Thank You For Being a Friend in May 2015, “The way I got out of the darkness of loss is because of friends. The reason I started this blog is because of friends. The reason I met my love is because of friends. Friendships ebb and flow, but the real ones last forever.” I often think about how people come in and out of our lives sometimes for just a season, but there is always a reason. When we arrived in Puerto Vallarta it definitely felt special.  These are the ones who are in my life for more than a season. Some I have known for more than 20 years and some for just about two years, but the time of friendship didn’t matter, this was a special trip. I knew that everyone there could hang and chat in the pool or on the lounge chairs, of course with a cocktail in hand. These are the people who love me so they will all love each other. I was pretty spot-on.

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It is so important to wrap yourself in love, as I wrote about in October 2014, Wrapped In Love. We all go through times of happiness and pain, but surrounding yourself with love is the only way I see out of those painful times and we find that love in the happy times. I am blessed to have a huge support network.  Frankly I’m not sure why so many of them have stuck around so long, haha, but I’m thankful that they have and I’m thankful they chose to spend time with me to celebrate my birthday milestone. I am also grateful to my #squad, did I just write that, for helping me through confusing and painful times in my life. They held my hand and walked with me. I did the personal emotional work and they walked with me.  Had that not happened, my heart would not have been open to let someone great into my life.

Cause once you know what love is, you never let it end.

So I’m feeling all this love celebrating with my friends. See the love and fun!

On this trip, business ventures were created, phone apps were created, caftans were worn, #swan became a friend of all, water was splashed, champagne bottles popped every 15 minutes, and such amazing times were had by all of us. Seriously, just as one drink was finished another one was in your hand and just as the thought of, “man I could use some guac” came across your mind, there was a plate full with accompanying quesadillas poolside! What a dream come true to spend such a special and amazing time with my favorite people in the world!

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What happened at the White Party was probably the most special moment of my life. To celebrate Amanda’s actual birthday and my upcoming one, I thought a White Party was in order.  Everyone came through like rock stars!  I am fortunate that everyone played along with my request, even the husbands!  Thank you. All of a sudden people were dancing and my family was on the computer.  The words “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” were displayed by all of my friends. I leaned down to say something to my family on Skype and then I heard the opening notes of Whitney Houston’s “All the Man That I Need” and I thought, “Here we go.” As I turned to face my friends, many were crying as they flipped the signs to now read, “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” and holding the question mark at the end of the line was the love of my life.  YES, YES OF COURSE I’LL MARRY YOU!!!

WOW, what a night of love and celebration! My fianceé outdid himself and my friends are one of a kind for keeping the secret and helping him execute the most special memory I have. Turning around to see the words “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” held by my best friends, some of them crying with joy(they’ve been on this journey of life with me), my family on Skype, my boyfriend holding the ? and the ring, and Whitney Houston playing in the background…..what could be better? I will get chills thinking of that moment forever.

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We must Be In Love With Our Life. Sometimes that is easier said than done. What I know for sure is that wherever we are and whatever we are doing, its a gift to be here. There are sad times and happy times but those sad ones are meant to lead us down the road to discovering something more happy. Over my almost 40 years I have learned a lot about life and people. These people who just spent five days celebrating with me are so special and so wonderful. As Heather Headley(AIDA fame, now in The Color Purple on Broadway) sings in her song “My Wish”, “I wish you rainy days so you can see the beauty of the clear blue sky…. I pray you’ll always see the forest through the trees…. and I wish you nights of love and days of joy and shoulders when you cry. And just enough hellos to get you through goodbye.”  These are the wishes of friends over the years whose eyes were just a bit clearer than mine. What a gift!

It has been a life’s journey so far and I am lucky to have been on it with so many wonderful and caring people.  Thank you for journeying with me and taking the time to be part of this special trip and our special day. And now, as we do, “Happy birthday day to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Amanda. Happy birthday to you!” (This will bring smiles to 15 people’s faces I know for sure!) Memories to last a lifetime, that I know for sure!

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