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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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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Celebrating 40: Let Your Freak Flag Fly

 

“Let your freak flag wave. Let your freak flag fly.” When I saw Shrek The Musical and heard “Freak Flag” years ago I thought, “Yes, this is amazing. These lyrics are so incredible.” We are all freaks in our own way. We all have quirks and we are all different, but not enough do our children or the youth see our freak flag because we are conditioned to keep it hidden. Even as adults we keep our quirks in the shadows even though it is our quirks that make us unique and different and special and weird and memorable and the best person we can be in this life. The other day a co-worker said to me, “I don’t think we let our kids see our quirky side enough.”  I completely agree which made me want to write this post.

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A few weeks ago that same co-worker came to my office and told me, “Nine is singing Whitney in the Variety Show.” Nine is a talented group of nine young men who sing acapella at the school where I work. One of my students who is in Nine was in my office just days later.  I said to him, “I hear you are singing Whitney Houston in the V-Show.” He looked at me quizzically. I sang, “How will I know if he really loves me? I say a prayer with every heartbeat.” He said, “Oh, Sam Smith.” At that moment, I knew we had a problem. This generation of kids don’t know Whitney Houston. I knew I had to right this wrong. The next day I wrote to one of his teachers and asked if I could come in and give a 20 minute presentation.  I emailed other students in class to give them some answers so it looked like they knew way more than him. Luckily he is one of the best students I have met in my 16 year career. Plus, this was a leadership class with only 10 total students so I knew my Master Class Lesson on Whitney Houston would work.

I went into his class on Friday and gave this presentation.

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When I arrived this young man said, “Are you here to teach us about Whitney Houston?” The other students smiled then we got started and they enthusiastically answered the questions. One young lady, another of my students, got up and started doing the “How Will I Know” dance moves from the video playing. We laughed, they answered questions, and my heart raced. I am almost 40 years old but I was still nervous. What are these 10 students going to think of me? I don’t care, but what are they going to think? Even though I’m not trying to hide my freak flag in the shadows, I still was a bit nervous. And even though I don’t care what they think, I was nervous. Maybe I care a little more than I think but I really don’t care what they think. In almost 40 years of living I have learned to be confident in me, but in this moment I was nervous. Have you ever been in this situation? We are adults and we have been through our teenage years and our 20s and our 30s, but the moment we put ourselves out there it is like we are 15 again. AH! What was so wonderful is that from what I could tell, these students got it. They let me have fun and they laughed and had fun with me. I thanked them for letting me fly my freak flag, and I encouraged them to fly their own freak flag because we all have one or two or three or more freak flags to fly. As I walked down the hallway back to my office I could hear some of them, “And IIIIIIIIII, eeeeee, IIIIIII will always love youuuuuuu.”  Mission accomplished!

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What started years ago, and I’m not quite sure how, was an ability I had to be me. When I first came out as a gay man, people would ask, “When did you know you were gay?” I mean, there were signs all along that looking back could have been indicators to other people but to me, I just always knew I was different. I did not want to play football after school with the other boys on the street. I wanted to put on shows and pretend I was a Hollywood star accepting awards and I wanted to play The Price Is Right and I wanted to create dance shows and I wanted to reenact Days of Our Lives: Cruise of Deception scenes(the clean ones), yes I did! Ha, that memory just made me laugh. I wanted to lay in front of the living room stereo on Sunday mornings and listen to four hours of The Weekly Top 40 and I wanted to watch Star Search on Saturday at 5 p.m. and then the same episode repeated Sunday at 4 p.m. About the only thing I had in common with some of the boys on my street was WWF wrestling but secretly I liked Lady Elizabeth and the pomp and circumstance of Macho Man Randy Savage and his sequined robes more than anything else. I was different than the other boys and I knew it; I felt it, but it did not stop me from enjoying what I enjoyed. I just pretty much had to do it on my own because no one else was interested in the same things as I was at the time. I knew I had to hide my interests as not to get teased. I knew that I had a safe place at home but taking my interests out of my house was risky. Finally in middle and mostly high school, I was able to be in band and musicals and I found other people who were like me.  Finally boys and girls were starting to hang out together in mixed groups which made me way more comfortable. Finally I started to feel more like I could express myself. Don’t get me wrong, a lot was still hidden, but I didn’t shy away from my love of Whitney, or Paula Abdul, or Kristi Yamaguchi. I did not shy away from making up a dance to “Vogue” for a band fundraiser. In a way, I had a confidence to do what I wanted to do. I found the right people to surround myself with and that allowed me to be me. I am thankful for my high school friends for allowing me to be me, for laughing with me and at me and loving the young person I was being. I am very blessed to have had the childhood and friends that I did back then.

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Although for 26 years I hid one aspect of myself to the world, I still feel like I said YES to life and let people get to know all the quirks and freak sides of me. Honestly when Whitney Houston died people from elementary school sent condolences because they remembered my love for her. Whenever there is a pageant on television, people know I’m watching. When I was in my first year of teaching, I taught my students the *NSync “It’s Gonna Be Me Dance”. At work now, right next to my marathon metal mug is my Whitney Houston mug. Are my quirks because I’m gay? Hardly. My freak flag flies because it is me. Are my interests different than other men? Perhaps. Or, are other men afraid to fly their freak flag because society has taught them not to? Like I said above, I felt different way before I knew what gay was, so I am thankful that I have always been able to pretty much express my quirks with the support of my family and friends. My dad is the one who actually suggested I tape the 1987 Miss USA pageant, “seems like something you might enjoy.” He was right. The pomp, the circumstance, the SEQUINS! For what it is worth, I’m different and I celebrate it. I Say YES to Life!

Be-Yourself

Get out there and fly your freak flag. Let your kids and other people experience your quirks and encourage theirs. Let them know that being different is just fine and actually what makes life interesting. When they mention someone else’s difference, that is an opportunity to encourage seeing uniqueness in the other person as wonderful. Let them see you celebrate being different and flying your freak flag! Say YES to Life!

Freak Flag – Shrek The Musical

“All the things that make us special

are the things that make us strong.”

26.2 Miles of Thoughts

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I’m often asked, “What do you think about for 26 miles?”  First of all, I think about the 0.2, the POINT TWO, because that is the most important, gut wrenching, “I’ve got this”, part of the 26.2 miles.  The 0.2 is when you are at your most tired, your most weary, your most pained, but you dig so deep to run your hardest to finish strong–always finish strong. So what do I think about for 26.2 miles? Recently I completed my 5th marathon, the Marine Corps in DC back on October 25th. I compiled a list of thoughts.

26.2 Miles of Thoughts…

  • Ah here we go, again.  I love this!
  • Announcer at Start: You’ll get the 40th Anniversary sparkly finisher metal at the end.
  • Get your mind wrapped around running for the next four hours Matt.
  • It’s raining, great.
  • I hope my legs don’t cramp.
  • I hope my hamstring and calf strains don’t impact my running.
  • Head. In. Game. Matt.
  • MUST. GET. SPARKLY. METAL.

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  • Hills already?
  • I’m hot.
  • 4 miles down!
  • The rain is letting up, nice.
  • I wonder what it would be like to be in the Marines?
  • Oh, look at those Marines!
  • Hey Boys!
  • That guy is crazy running with no shoes on.
  • Overheard: This is my 92nd marathon.  I want to run 8 more in the next year to make Marine Corps my 100th.  I’m 64 years old. Holy S*** that guy is my hero!  My body could not do 92 marathons.  I think this is my last one.
  • I wonder what it would have been like to grow up in the 50s when my parents did, like Leave It To Beaver?
  • 7 miles down, ugh, 19.2 miles to go.
  • A dude running in crocks, one red, one blue.  Crazy!
  • Pizza, I want pizza.
  • Oh, and cookies too!
  • 40th Anniversary race–it’s cool this race started in 1976 the year I was born and I’m running the 40th race.
  • I still remember the day I came home from school in September 1994 and got my acceptance letter to Michigan State! I read it twice.
  • My legs hurt.
  • Is this over yet?
  • Cupcakes!

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  • So it’s “Oorah”, not “Oprah.”  Huh?
  • Overheard: This is my 107th marathon. There was barely anything to that guy, skin and bones and he wobbled to the right.
  • Remember that 1983 Olivia Newton John concert on HBO with Magic, Suddenly, Physical, Make a Move On Me and Xanadu? Man, I used to love performing that around the house in my mom’s knee-high winter boots!

  • I used to hate running in high school, now I do it for fun.
  • Is this almost over?
  • I’m not running another marathon.
  • Oh hey, Paul, the guy who retired and I took his position at my high school. (We ran 9 miles together).
  • Paul: If I say I’m running another one of these, slap me. ME TOO!  Hit me right across the face.
  • Man, the 60s, what would it have been like to grow up in the 60s? All those changes?
  • Kurt! Jeremy! Love you guys!!!
  • I can’t wait to have a drink!
  • My legs don’t hurt as bad as I thought they would today. This is a pretty good race.
  • Oh hey Washington Monument!

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  • That guy is running with prosthetic legs. You go guy!
  • That 1990 American Music Awards opening with Paula Abdul singing “The Way That You Love Me”.

  • Remember Martika “Toy Soldiers”?
  • Oh hey Lincoln Memorial!
  • Go Green! Go White! Spartan fans along the way.
  • “Go Matty” some random stranger I’ve now seen twice.
  • Pizza!
  • I need a break!
  • “All at once I’m drifting down a lonely stream, holding on to memories, hurts me, more than you know, oooo, hurts me more than is shows, all at once, all at once…..”  Whitney Houston “All At Once” in concert 1994.
  • I have such a great life!
  • I wonder if I try really hard could I learn the “If” dance?

  • 18 miles down, feeling pretty decent around the Capitol.
  • Yay!  Michele and Jason cheering!!!  Hey!
  • I can’t wait to have a drink!  Did I think that already?
  • What would it have been like if I had been out in college?
  • The Jefferson Memorial.  My favorite memorial.
  • Oh hey Washington Monument again.
  • Run Forest, Run!

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  • 20 miles down, I want to be f***ing done!
  • This is my last marathon.  Why do I like this?
  • I’m going to retire, “like Cher”.
  • My legs hurt.
  • Is this over?
  • The sun is out!
  • Cookies.  Pizza.
  • Remember the 1987 American Music Awards when Whitney won 5 awards?!?

  • Oh hey Spartan fans again, Go Green! Go White!
  • Isn’t it wonderful the Supreme Court ruled in favor of equal marriage rights for all?!!
  • I’m tired.
  • I am only running half marathons from now on.
  • Miles 12, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, I’m not doing this again.
  • 23 miles down, my IT band is starting to act up.  Make it to the end!!
  • My legs hurt, why do I continue to sign up for these things?

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  • Oh hey that stranger who has been cheering me on, thank you again!
  • Cocktails! Cocktails!
  • Pizza!
  • My boyfriend!  Kurt!  He’s running with me in his rain boots and gear and with a backpack of my post-race stuff!  I love you!
  • Oh, he’s playing Britney “Work Bitch” on his phone, “You can do this Matty T, you can do this!!!”
  • Kurt is still running with me!
  • I love my life.
  • I’m almost done!
  • Vodka.  Bourbon!
  • “Cause once you know what love is, you’ll never let it end.”  Whitney “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”
  • I can get under 4 hours!  I can!!!
  • Mile 24 f***ing be over!
  • “Go Matty!”  That stranger one last time!
  • Oh hey fake “marines” in no shirt and really short green shorts.  hey hey!
  • Diva Chant: Whitney!-Britney!-BeYONce-MaRIah-MaDONna-Janet!
  • Mile 25 I’m so close.  I can do this in under 4 (tears, choking up).
  • Mile 26!!!
  • Crowds. People. My head is fuzzy.  My eyes are blurry.
  • Are you f***ing kidding me with this steep hill at 26?
  • You aren’t kidding with this hill.
  • I can do this!

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  • Mile 26.2!  Haul Ass!  YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!  OORAH! OORAH! OORAH!
  • “Can you take me high enough.  Can you fly me over(fly me over) yesterday!” Damn Yankees-Not sure why?
  • I’m done.  I’m done! 3:59:27!!!

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I pushed through there at the end thanks to my boyfriend running with me and playing Britney and Whitney on his phone.  I’m a lucky guy that he loves me so much. Overall, the race went well for someone who was injured and slow throughout the training season. It was wonderful to run the streets of DC and Virginia. That last 0.2 was a bitch, the hardest finish I’ve ever experienced. That is when the mind takes over, your gut kicks in, you run as hard as you can on legs that have been running for 26.2 miles and you finish and all is right in the world!!

  • Ok, maybe I’ll do another one!

There you go, 26.2 miles of thoughts. I don’t know if I’ll ever run another marathon. If I don’t, I think I’m good. If I do, it will surely be a joy….to finish. What I know for sure is that running has taught me physical discipline. Running marathons has taught me that the human body is a machine and it can outlast. Running marathons is mental too and the strength it takes to finish is surely powered by the mind. I have seen so many miles of asphalt as I try to remind myself to “look up” and I’ve seen miles and miles of beautiful sites, smiles, and scenery.  Who knows if I’ll run another marathon, but I surely will keep on running because running brings me joy, pride, and these kick ass toned legs.  Wham!

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Is That Carly Rae?….A Late 80s History Lesson

Ahhhh, the late 80s and pop music, there isn’t much that brings greater joy for me to think about than those days. Life was easy back then. I ranged in age from 10-13. 1986-1989 were the years that some of our pop divas made huge marks on popular music and me. The American Music Awards held in January 1987 saw Whitney, Janet, and Madonna all take home awards AND they were all there to accept.

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All of these late 80s music memories came rushing back recently when I was sitting at my desk pretty much jamming to the new Carly Rae Jepsen album, Emotion, and a student of mine entered my office, sat down, and said, “Is that Carly Rae?”

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“Why yes it is,” I responded. We proceeded to briefly talk about the hot lead single, Run Away With Me and why it isn’t a bigger hit. This song opens with a sax solo straight out of 1987 and a steamy fire escape set video staring Richard Marx. But what ensued, much to my delight and probably much to the dismay of my student, was a late 80s diva history.

First and foremost, The Queen of Pop, Whitney’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me). It is pop perfection. What I didn’t tell my student in our history lesson was how I used to act it out leaning up against the house like Whitney did when she had the leather jacket on and leopard print scarf in her hair. IWDWS is quintessential late 80s. The horns, the pop beats, the bright colors in the video, the make-up on Whitney. It all goes down in history as one of my favorite songs and definitely a late 80s favorite. It is interesting to note that IWDWS was written by the same duo who wrote How Will I Know, which was originally intended for Janet Jackson, but helped cement Whitney as a pop icon in the making. The duo of George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, of the group Boy Meets Girl fame (another favorite song of mine, Waiting For A Star To Fall) wrote both pop hits for Whitney and actually intended Waiting For A Star To Fall for her but Arista declined so they made a hit out of the song. Whitney received song writing credits for coming up with the ending, “Don’t you wanna dance, say you wanna dance, don’t you wanna dance (dance)”.  She won Best Pop Female Vocal at the 30th Annual Grammy Awards for I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).

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My student of course had heard of Whitney, but really only knew her in reference to the recent tragic loss of Bobbi Kristina and the song I Will Always Love You. I couldn’t help myself but to show her a bit of the video and expound upon her the importance of knowing Whitney Houston and I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me). Honestly, when students happen into my office and let’s say Whitney is playing, I try to make sure they know who she is and why she is important, for real.

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The second song that really defines the late 80s for me, and if we are keeping to the three top divas of the time, is Madonna’s Open Your Heart. I have heard that Madonna is performing this song on her current Rebel Heart Tour, which makes me happy. There were very few things that my parents forbid my brother and I to do, to watch or to listen to, but Madonna, especially Papa Don’t Preach was on that short list. Somehow Open Your Heart was not on that list and I remember over and over watching that video on MTV. My dad owned a fedora, though it was more of a beach hat, I wore that and danced like Madonna and the little boy all over my house. I do remember thinking less about Madonna’s spiky bustier leotard and way more about how I thought that boy was cute. Remember I was all of 11 at the time. Another thing I never noticed then, or didn’t think about, is that in the opening of the peep show there are two sailors sitting arm and arm together.  Madonna pushing the limits of equality even in 1988!! When Madonna would hang her head way back over the chair and slide off that black wig to reveal her short blonde cut, I died every time!  Still do! Finally, when the boy and Madonna dance shoulder to shoulder at the end of the video, I was so jealous and would fantasize that that was me dancing with Madonna, for real! What a fantastic, fantastic late 80s song that had such a big impact on me and my love of music. It truly is, maybe besides Borderline the first Madonna song that I absolutely loved, oh and Material Girl too. But anyway, it really set a tone for the type of music I would gravitate toward throughout my life. “Open your heart with the key. One is such a lonely number.” Yup, longing, loving, schmaltzy, can’t live without him songs. All of that, and a gay reference in 1988, Way to go Madonna!

Finishing up three of my defining late 80s diva pop hits history, The Pleasure Principle by Janet, “Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.”

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This was a 1987 hit and seventh single from her Control album which was a pretty big success for Janet, but nothing like her next two albums would prove to be. The Pleasure Principle was Janet’s first real dance video that I remember. It reminded me so much of Ren McCormick in Footloose dancing in the grain elevator. Don’t get me started on the importance of that movie in my life. HA! Anyway, TPP as you can now imagine, was acted out, many, many times in my basement and in my garage as I would try to recreate Janet’s passion. I’m not much of a technical dancer, so I would go more for the passionate hand to forehead move and throwing my body up against the wall. Oh and the taking off of the jean jacket and swinging that about. That was good too. I loved the part where she danced in front of the wood slats with light shining through and in front of the mirrors. This was a perfect dance hit.

So getting back to the late 80s pop history for my student. It really only included the Whitney portion, but brought back many memories of these other two hits as well. I’m sure my student was thankful for the lesson. We then talked about Carly Rae and her super cool pop album that really should be a much bigger hit.

Stop! Stop right now what you are doing and go listen to these songs from Carly Rae Jepsen’s album Emotion.

Run Away With Me

                                                                             Boy Problems

                           Favourite Colour                   

                                                                                                      Making the Most of the Night

Lets Get Lost

                                                                  Your Type

                                         All That

                                                                                                             LA Hallucinations

                                                                                I Really Like You

Seriously, listen to this album now! It is just as good, if not BETTER than Swizzle’s 1989, also a great pop album, but CRJ can ACTUALLY hold a tune!

I don’t remember where I read or heard this recently, online or NPR, but whatever it was, it said that after the age of 33 we really don’t choose to listen to music that is much different than the music we have always listened to. Thinking about this idea, it really is true for me. I don’t listen to much new music and if I do it really is pop stuff, like Carly Rae’s new album. My music interests and the artists I most listen to now are those from the late 80s and early 90s, for the most part. These were all pivotal influences on my life, especially my life in music. Dick Clark famously said, “Music is the storybook of our lives.” What a true statement. When you think about it, music can take you back to good times, sad times, happy times, bitter times, fun times, really the storybook of our lives. Go enjoy some music from your past and take a walk down memory lane, then listen to Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen!

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