Posts tagged “singer

Mrs. Hemingway

I’ve long thought Mary Chapin Carpenter (my favorite singer) should write a musical. In my dreams, she’d partner with someone like a Sondheim, though he’s probably too grumpy for her style. Aside from being a superb singer, she is also a singular storyteller/truthteller and poet, as this song amply illustrates. It’s about the breakup of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage, told from his wife’s point of view, with lines that are simply divine “the glassed-in cafe that held us like hothouse flowers.” Sigh… (I’d sing her praises longer, but she’s blocked me on Twitter, so there’s that…)

Mrs. Hemingway
– Mary Chapin Carpenter

We packed up our books and our dishes
Our dreams and your worsted wool suits
We sailed on the eighth of December
Farewell old Hudson River
Here comes the sea
And love was as new and as bright and as true
When I loved you and you loved me

Two steamer trunks in the carriage
Safe arrival we cabled back home
It was just a few days before Christmas
We filled our stockings with wishes
And walked for hours
Arm and arm through the rain, to the glassed-in cafe
That held us like hot house flowers

Living in Paris, in attics and garrets
Where the coal merchants climb every stair
The dance hall next door is filled with sailors and whores
And the music floats up through the air
There’s Sancerre and oysters, cathedrals and cloisters
And time with its unerring aim
For now we can say we were lucky most days
And throw a rose into the Seine

Love is the greatest deceiver
It hollows you out like a drum
And suddenly nothing is certain
As if all the clouds closed the curtains
And blocked the sun
And friends now are strangers in this city of dangers
As cold and as cruel as they come

Sometimes I look at old pictures
And smile at how happy we were
How easy it was to be hungry
It wasn’t for fame or for money
It was for love
Now my copper hair’s grey as the stone on the quay
In the city where magic was

Living in Paris, in attics and garrets
Where the coal merchants climb every stair
The dance hall next door is filled with sailors and whores
And the music floats up through the air
There’s Sancerre and oysters, and Notre Dame’s cloisters
And time with its unerring aim
And now we can say we were lucky most days
And throw a rose into the Seine
And now I can say I was lucky most days
And throw a rose into the Seine


Interview with Author of Out Gay Star Leslie Cheung’s Biography

Book Cover - Leslie Cheung - FinalA film and music superstar in his homeland of Hong Kong and throughout Asia, Leslie Cheung broke barriers as an out gay man, finding international success acting in such films as Farewell My Concubine and Happy Together. Acclaim, awards, and fans followed, which made it all the more shocking when, on April 1, 2003, Cheung lept from the 24th floor of a hotel room to his death. Nigel Collett’s extraordinarily detailed new biography provides a glimpse into Cheung’s path to stardom, his relationships and struggles, and the pitfalls of fame. The author of Firelight of a Different Colour: The Life and Times of Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, Collett kindly shared more with me about the man ranked as the favorite actor in the 100 years of Chinese cinema and whom CNN called the “Most Beautiful Man from Hong Kong Cinema.”

Kergan Edwards-Stout: Like many Americans, Leslie Cheung first appeared on my radar with his starring roles in Farewell My Concubine and Happy Together. You had a similar experience. What is your earliest recollection of him?

Nigel Collett: I watched Farewell My Concubine in ’97 and saw him then onscreen for the first time. Alas, I never met him or saw him in the flesh, though I was in Hong Kong the day he died, and drove by the Mandarin Hotel when the mountain of flowers was being gathered on the road side where he fell. As I discovered more about him, I came to see the story as a classic tragedy–a gay man brave enough to be himself in the brash entertainment world of this city, felled from a uniquely prominent position by a condition beyond his control.

Edwards-Stout: Long before making a splash in the U.S., Cheung was a huge star in Hong Kong and Asia. You write about how, for almost 30 years, he was at the forefront of the Asian art and music scene.

Collett: Leslie overcame a complete absence of education or training to establish himself first as a TV star, then as a film star and singer, by dint of his own talent and irrepressible self-confidence. He was in the forefront of all the major entertainment waves that turned Hong Kong into an independent cultural entity in the ‘80s and ‘90s and for many he came to encapsulate the city itself. His appeal was far wider, though, for his films and music reached out to Mainland China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and the great Chinese diaspora across the world. He is probably the biggest Hong Kong star worldwide ever.

Leslie CheugnEdwards-Stout: Like many struggling actors and singers, Cheung didn’t experience fame immediately. He had a great number of steps forward, only to face setbacks. What about his personality was instrumental in moving himself toward success?

Collett: Leslie had huge belief in himself. In his early days, no one thought he could sing, and no one taught him to act. He had huge dedication and patience in getting what he did exactly as he wanted it to be. He was humble enough to learn from other stars and to credit them when he did, but he was never a follower. He was always seeking to take his art to the next level, to be cutting edge. He had no typical role or single type of music. His career was a flowing pattern of development and change.

Edwards-Stout: Cheung was friendly with Danny Chan, a fellow entertainer and Hong Kong star, but eventually their friendship ended. What brought them together, and what drove them apart?

Collett: Leslie and Danny were brought together by a gay star of an earlier generation, the highly flamboyant Roman Tam. They were both gay, both unattached, and though they weren’t each other’s types, they were looking for fun. They burned the midnight oil together. It was showbiz that broke them apart. Danny’s singing career took off first, and he was at the start a classier act on screen. Leslie had to play second fiddle, and didn’t enjoy that. It was Danny, though, who caused the breach. He could see Leslie was by far the better actor and resented him. After the breach, there’s no sign Danny minded much, but Leslie did.

Edwards-Stout: Cheung first found international recognition through his starring role in John Woo’s film, A Better Tomorrow, and later with Farewell My Concubine. How did Cheung deal with this increased level of notoriety?

Collett: Leslie was always conflicted about his fame. Stardom and success was what he sought, but he did not like the shallow lifestyle and perpetual hounding by the media which it brought. He wanted to treat people honestly and live what most would have felt was almost a simple life, but he couldn’t. He hated the way the media lied about him and hounded him about his sexual orientation. It drove him to Canada to escape and be himself, but he couldn’t shake off the need to achieve, to be a star. It was one of the conflicts, I guess, that came together in the clinical depression which eventually killed him.

Edwards-Stout: You write extensively about Cheung’s success in music, with which many Americans may not be familiar…

Collett: Leslie started out wanting only to be a singer, but he couldn’t sing. Audiences taunted him with having a ‘chicken’ thin voice and booed him off stage. It took him years of training and working on his voice before he could turn his belief in his voice into reality. When he did, he found the sweetest, silkiest Cantonese singing voice of his generation. He could be really raucous and loud, too; some of his early numbers were more like western sixties rock than anything of the time, but he got them dancing in the aisles at all his shows

leslie daffyEdwards-Stout: While initially, in his early days of stardom, Cheung publicly dated women, you detail his life as a gay man. Eventually, he came out as openly gay, which is rare for any celebrity, let alone in his cultural environment. In sketching out Cheung’s early days, you note that nothing about his story foretold the fame he would eventually achieve. But what led to his strength in living as an openly gay star?

Collett: I think it was the same huge belief in himself that made him a successful performer and allowed him to come out in public, something no other major Hong Kong star had done and which none would do again till 2013. His coming out was helped by the megastar status he had achieved. Before he reached his pinnacle, he had to be as discreet as most. By the time he was back in Hong Kong in the ‘90s, he was virtually unassailable. Even them he wrapped himself in a cloud of uncertainty which only gradually dissipated. Many young gay men today accuse him of timidity, but I think that is totally unfair. For his day, he was the bravest man in Hong Kong’s entertainment world. At the end of his life, he had given Hong Kong the message that it didn’t matter whether you loved a man or a woman, as long as you loved. That was revolutionary back then.

Edwards-Stout: Cheung took a huge leap, starring in the gay-themed Happy Together, which he knew would likely lead to being asked about his sexuality.

Collett: Leslie’s acceptance of an openly gay, and in fact a very sluttish, role in Happy Together was, I think, timed deliberately. He was in the process of drawing back the veil about himself. Hong Kong was gradually changing, opening up a little. It was time, he thought, to push the envelope. Wong Kar Wai’s art house films were as safe a way to do this as any. He was expected to be outrageous, off beat. In the event, the film had no adverse effect on Leslie or his career at all, rather it helped establish his position as an actor internationally.

Edwards-Stout: Cheung found happiness in his relationship with Daffy Tong, his childhood friend and later lover, who survived him in death. What made their relationship work?

Collett: Daffy was the rock on which Leslie stood. His mercurial talent needed a stable base from which to flourish. Daffy put up with it all, never let him down, never betrayed him, was always there to go back to. More than this, Daffy was a highly talented man, a financial expert who could manage their joint lives and relieve Leslie of all their worries. Daffy, too, was an elegant, very attractive man. They were opposites that made a whole.

Edwards-Stout: Battling depression, Cheung eventually took his own life. In your view, was this a result of years spent living in the closet, mental health issues, career challenges…?

Collett: There must have been things that sparked off the depression which killed Leslie, but we don’t really know what. It had to be something to do with his career, perhaps the attacks he’d received in his last world tour concerts, or his personal life, conflicted thoughts about his mother, maybe. Once it took hold, the depression was both physically and mentally debilitating, humiliating to a man who had always put such store by his abilities, looks and relationship with his public. It destroyed his life to such an extent that it was better to abandon all he loved and die rather than carry on. That point of blackness is inconceivable to anyone who has not gone through such mental pain. The effect of mental illness is still a taboo subject in Hong Kong, and Chinese society generally. Leslie’s life will help those families struggling with depression to know it can affect anyone, that it is just a medical condition, and that you have to get help.

Edwards-Stout: In life and death, Cheung has amassed a devoted following of fans. What do they gravitate to, and what legacy has he left them?

Collett: Leslie’s fans came to him through their love of his music and his performances on the screen, both large and small, but they stayed with him, and even now, over 11 years after his death, they stay with him because of his warmth, simplicity and humbleness of character. Leslie valued people for who they were, no matter how great or small their place in the world. He was kind, genuine, and generous. He touched each of the fans he came in contact with, and they love him still.

Nigel Collett’s Firelight of a Different Colour: The Life and Times of Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing can be found at Amazon and other fine booksellers. Originally posted on KerganEdwards-Stout.com.


Garrett Miller: Chasing His Dreams with Eyes Wide

Garrett Eyes Wide iTunes CoverGarrett Miller’s Rated G Radio is burning up the airwaves every weeknight, covering the latest in news, entertainment, and culture, culminating in a Friday night dance party. In addition, he’ll be joining Lance Bass for a day as co-host of Dirty Pop on Sirius XM OutQ 109 on Tuesday, February 18th from 3:00-5:00 PST. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Miller when my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, was released, and meeting him later in person, I was struck by the drive he’s shown in ensuring his dreams come to fruition. Not only is he active with his radio show, but Garrett is also a singer, with a new song, “Eyes Wide”, and accompanying EP. Just a year ago, however, he had none of these  and was on a completely different life path. Graciously, Garrett agreed to chat about his radio show, singing career, and what led him to change course at this point in his life.

Kergan Edwards-Stout: Garrett, thanks so much for making time to catch up. We first met when you interviewed me for your Rated G Radio, and it’s fun to be on the other side of the interview for a change! (more…)


“Miss Broadway Dork” Revealed As Swan

Musical theater lovers, rejoice!  Show business has a new star, and you won’t have to fork over a month’s rent paying Broadway-style ticket prices to see her.  Not only can you watch her from the comfort of your very own home, but she performs from her very own home, with living room or bedroom as the only set-piece.  Forget the fancy scenery; for this actress, the backdrop may be just her bed, a few show posters, or maybe even a sheet, hung up behind her to help with sound.

The scenery, though, doesn’t really matter, once you hear “the voice.”  Since 2007, Alex Heinen has been building a name for herself with a YouTube channel, where she goes by the user name “Miss Broadway Dork.”  With more than 2 million video views, Heinen is followed by a host of eager subscribers, who highly anticipate her musical theater gems.  And they can be quite vocal, freely expressing their feelings in the comment section.

Alex HeinenSome fans can’t quite believe that Heinen’s exquisite voice comes out of–well–Heinen.  While all videos on her channel posted after 10/12/07 are sung live, prior to that, Heinen would often post videos of herself lip-syncing to a prerecorded tape of her own voice, leading some to speculate that Heinen wasn’t actually singing the songs.  This suspicion was compounded, in part, by her physical appearance.  No frills when it comes to style, Heinen rarely puts on costumes or makeup to perform; she just pushes the record button.  Having struggled with weight issues, Heinen’s physical appearance varies in the videos, and commenters have thrown jabs about her looks, assuming (falsely) that someone who appears as she does could not possibly sing the way that she does.

Heinen pushes aside such bullying, affirming that her passion lies not in the fame, but in the performing.  For this “Broadway Dork,” the pleasure lies in creating one’s own stamp on a role, and diving into artistic challenges.  Currently residing in central Illinois, Heinen received her B.A. in Theatre from Hampshire College, and recently took time to share with me more about her passion, theater, and her potential next steps.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:  Thanks so much for agreeing to chat!  Like many, I stumbled upon your YouTube channel one day, and was immediately impressed. 

Alex Heinen:  Thank you so much!

Edwards-Stout:  What inspired you to start your channel?

Heinen:  I think it was simply that I love singing.  I grew up doing a lot of musical theater in high school, but I got very nervous when it came to singing in public.  I had a bad case of stage fright, which led to what I call “goat girl” voice, where my vibrato gets really fast.  I thought it might be a good challenge to put myself out there on the internet and see if it helped my nerves.  And I guess it did!

Edwards-Stout:  In a big way!  You don’t seem nervous at all…  Where did your love for musical theater come from? (more…)


Out Indie Artist Matt Gold Learns He Must “Drown” Before He Can “Swim”

Matt GoldIn the not-so-distant past, gay musicians hid in the closet or played coy about their sexuality, but today’s artists are an entirely different breed.  For up and coming singer-songwriter Matt Gold, being gay may be a given, but is simply one more piece to his overall puzzle.  For Gold, inspiration is found in key moments from his life’s journey; they tell of growing up in a small town as an only child, of being adopted, the search for identity, and the experience of being abandoned, due to being gay.

Such themes and more are explored in Gold’s debut album, Drown Before You Swim.  Tellingly, in its CD format, the album is broken into two discs, “Drown” and “Swim,” balancing his darker and lighter elements within.  Gold recently took time to share more about his life, art, and the passions that fuel him.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:  Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, Matt.  To begin, as your songwriting is so tied to your piano, how did you first come to play it?

Matt Gold:  Originally, I wanted to play the saxophone, but my mother was concerned that it could affect my mouth, especially as I needed braces.  So instruments in your mouth were out!  I tried the bass drum, bells, xylophone, and finally settled on the piano–but only took a month’s worth of lessons before I quit.

What made you quit?

I was really frustrated at my inability to learn it as quickly as I wanted, but, more importantly, I realized that improvisation was really my style.  I love taking music out of the expected and making it my own.  I played piano in church for a long time, and those are very structured, by nature.  But with hymns and ballads, particularly, you can do so much more than what is written on the page.

Was religion important to you, or was playing in church just what was expected? (more…)


Artist Spotlight: Actor/Singer Michael Vaccaro

Having first cast Michael Vaccaro in a play 20 years ago, in which he was riveting, I’m pleased that our friendship has survived the many years since.  Michael has gone on to build up indie cred by starring in such movies as Todd Verow’s Deleted Scenes and the upcoming The Endless Possibility of Sky.  His roots, though, are in theater, and he has performed in countless shows, both in New York and Los Angeles.  He won a MAC award for Outstanding Musical Comedy Performer, and his first CD, Archangel, was a big success.  Now he is back with a second CD, Wait for Him, which was inspired by his husband, Antonio Vaccaro, who passed away in 2009.

Q & A: Michael Vaccaro

Congratulations on your new CD, Wait for Him.  What led you to make it?

As you know, my husband, Antonio, died in December 2009 at 38 years old. After about a year of grieving, it seemed that people were tired of me talking about him, but I wasn’t ready to stop. So, I had to find some creative way to funnel all those emotions into something tangible. A book, maybe? A screenplay?

Then I realized I could sing songs about him, for him, inspired by him, and as a memorial to him. Having this CD means that I have something to give to people, and then they get to experience him, too. I get to share him, and I don’t have to be the only person responsible for keeping his memory alive. He becomes bigger than just my memory of him.

The CD is a testament to how much we loved each other, and what a huge and important part of my life he was and continues to be.  My hope is that maybe people can be inspired by the idea that a great love like the one we shared is still possible. And, hopefully, I’ve created something beautiful out of tragedy.

Tell me about the title of the album.

In 2004, I found a poem called “Wait for Him.” It was so beautiful that I printed it out and kept it in my wallet, but I never knew the name of the author. On my first date with Antonio, in 2009, he mentioned that he liked poetry, and I pulled the poem out of my wallet, gave it to him, and told him it was my favorite poem. He took the small, crumbled up bit of paper, read the poem, looked up at me and said, “I wrote this.” I was instantly in love. (more…)


And Now, the Very Lovely and Talented–

Sometimes, in life, you meet someone and  just know there is something special about them.

At the time I first met Angela Carole Brown, some 20 years ago, she had this really cute bob, and her sparkle and throaty laugh were immediately intoxicating.  She was working as a waitress, picking up a paycheck like the rest of us, and I would soon be her co-worker.  What I didn’t know at the time, though, was how extremely talented and diverse she is.

In those days, everyone I knew was working some entertainment angle, so when I heard that Angie would be singing at a club, I wasn’t altogether surprised.  It was L.A., after all.  But as we were sat and she was ushered to the stage, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

She had full command of the audience, and her song selection was impeccable.  Her voice can be both full-bodied and strong, then turn on a dime, becoming incredibly intimate.

While she made her mark singing standards and jazz in L.A. clubs, she also fronts Orchestre Surréal, is an accomplished artist, and published novelist.  There isn’t much she can’t do, and my hope for her is that she find an even wider platform for her art. (more…)