Feel Again

Salty ocean air wafts across the empty veranda bar. Capping my pen and clasping my notebook shut, I take a satisfying slurp from my coconut-enshrined Mai Tai. Out on the deserted beach, seagulls dive-bomb the white sand to retrieve the afternoon’s discarded fish and chip morsels, as aquamarine waves lap the shore with hypnotic calm. The sky, once an endless, unfurled scroll of blue, is now ablaze with fiery gold.

Overhead speakers gently spill steel drum anonymity before fading into OneRepublic’s “Feel Again.” Smiling reflexively, I close my eyes, pivot towards the speakers, and sway merrily, allowing the song’s booming optimism to wash over me like a sonic baptism. When the song’s final notes die out, a voice breaks my reverie:

“Will you answer something for me?”

My eyes pop open to find another man has joined me. His 6’3 frame drips with sweat, and his messy, black mop of hair is drenched with seawater. His five o’clock shadow is flecked with grey. Gym tote straps crisscross his toned biceps, while blue board shorts conceal his bronzed legs. And though his inquiry sounds ominous, his shimmering jade eye pools display curiosity and kindness.

Despite this sexy stranger’s intrusion, I smile confidently and respond:

“Sure, what would you like to know?”

His first step toward me reduces the universe to the surrounding veranda; his next step freezes time. When his sandals strike the wood-planked floor a third time, my mystery man places his hand on my shoulder and sears my soul with a smoldering stare.

“Tell me why you love that song so much,” he commands.

I melt like a Popsicle.

Advertisements

I Thought You Knew

             Thumping Eurotrash gives way to thrumming rain as I stumble out of Neighbours nightclub at 3:30 a.m. My attempts at ordering an Uber are thwarted by the last remnants of tonight’s magic, which distort my vision just enough to keep my fat fingers from unlocking my phone. Pocketing the device in frustration, I steady myself against a wall—the club’s bass bouncing against my ass—while watching rain dance across the neon Safeway sign across the street. I’m about to flee before the first 4:00 a.m. Sidewalk Sale selections flood the Neighbours alley, but when I cock my head the other way, I spot a beautiful disaster.

             He’s just over six feet tall and on the right side of thirty. His boy-next-door gorgeousness is capped with perfect George Michael stubble. I watch his sculpted biceps burst from his Calvin Klein t-shirt as he takes a long drag from his cigarette, the rain slowly saturating his wavy sand dune hair. Essentially, he’s alone. When this angel of a man catches me staring, his flashbulb smile blinds me with seduction.

             Yeah, he’ll do.

             Emboldened by horniness, I saunter over and ask, “What is your name?”

             “Frederick,” he replies with a slight German accent, “but my friends call me Freddie for short.”

             “I’m sure they do,” I tease, a wicked glint in my eye.

             Freddie misses my cue by informing me he’s visiting from Vancouver. “I’m staying with a friend in Seattle,” he adds, exhaling another pillar of smoke into the cold night.

             “You’re really cute,” I venture.

             “So are you!” he says with a goofy grin.

             We stare into each other’s eyes before he looks away with a nervous chuckle. “Do you want to…” he starts.

             In one deft move, I slam his shoulders against the wall, causing him to drop his cigarette in surprise. His eyes scream with fear until I engulf his mouth with my own, hungrily thrashing his tongue to taste cigarette smoke and one too many Heinekens. He does not reciprocate, but he does not resist. When I break the kiss, he breathlessly finishes his inquiry:

             “…come back to my place?”

             “I thought you’d never ask.”

             Illusions of sneaking into Freddie’s friend’s place under the cover of darkness are shattered when the Uber drops us off at a raucous house party. Freddie senses my trepidation and assures me he has a quiet, private room upstairs. Unconvinced but impelled by salacity, we exit the car and he leads me into the den of sin.

             Inside, Freddie holds my hand as we navigate a labyrinth of cracked-out circuit queens. Their leering gazes stick to me like a hot summer’s day as we dodge their pathetic advances. The host notices our steady progression and gives Freddie a knowing nod as we reach the safety of the staircase. Leaving the depravity below us, we stagger up the stairs and into a guest bedroom.

             The room is cold and dark, though the blinds are parted, allowing the first indigo and periwinkle streaks of the oncoming dawn to illuminate our silhouettes. With the door closed, Freddie’s tongue intertwines with mine again like dueling serpents as he nudges me towards the bed. Driven by desire and taking slow careful steps backwards, I discard my clothes like forgotten inhibitions until I’m naked; Freddie follows suit. Then, with a gentle tug, I send us freefalling into an ocean of comforters.

             An ecstasy of fumbling ensues. Freddie’s body crashes upon my own as he smothers me with sloppy, beer-infused mouth-maulings, while blankets trap the drunken heat radiating off his body. Sweat seeps from our pores, lubricating our passions as we revel in shared carnality.

             After an eternity of foreplay, he’s ready to take his prize. He climbs atop me with blitzkrieg efficiency, pinning me beneath his majesty. Enslaved by lust, I’m ready to surrender. His Kielbasa slides between two warm buns…

             Sudden bright light neutralizes his advance. Confusion and frustration wash over me like a tsunami before an angry voice bellows:

             “You! Out! Now!”

             An impish Asian man with coiffed hair and bloodshot eyes is looming in the doorway, an accusatory finger directed at me.

             “Out! Now!” he repeats, exiting the room and slamming the door for effect.

             Embarrassed and chastised, I disentangle from Freddie to gather my underwear and pride from the floor. Sliding my leg into my jeans, I glance over at Freddie, who’s already enchanted by sleep’s seductive lullaby.

             “Who was that?” I ask.

             With eyes closed and his voice just above a whisper, he answers, “That’s my boyfriend. I thought you knew…”

Buried Truth

            Time machine, time machine, take me away, to foreign lands and long-forgotten days.

            3 January 2007; local time: 10:45 a.m.; Bellevue, Washington

            Frigid air freezes my lungs as I step out of my time machine onto an empty playground. Last night’s blizzard has washed the world in white. A thick blanket of clouds threatens to dump more snow from the heavens, so I button my winter coat snugly before enabling the time machine’s invisibility mode. I’ve lost my gloves, so I jam my icy hands into my pockets and trot across the street like a wobbly penguin until I’ve entered the Bellevue Heights parking lot.

            The townhome’s lot is a deserted graveyard of snow-covered cars. Slowing to a stroll, my sneakers shatter salt-weakened ice until I arrive safely on a shoveled walkway. Epic pillars of dirty, blackened snow line the lot’s perimeter like discarded dreams, leading me to my destination: townhome C101.

            I know the man inside, Wes. We’ve only met once before—a decade in my past—and he isn’t expecting me today, but I promised to return a favor to him. I only hope I’m not too late.

            A wreath lies on the ground next to his front door. Though the decoration has seen better days, the brass bells still jingle merrily when I give it a light kick. “Merry Christmas and happy New Year!” I imagine him saying each time he answered the door last month; I should be so lucky if he welcomes me so warmly. Bracing myself for the inevitable, I gently stomp my shoes to dislodge any accumulated ice, and then ring the doorbell.

            As expected, Wes doesn’t answer the door, necessitating Plan B: today is Wednesday (one of Wes’ split days off), which means that after breakfast but before lunch, he’ll start his laundry. His unit is blessed with an in-suite washer and dryer, tucked into a half-bathroom just beyond his ground floor living room. But the dryer is shoddy, spewing steam like a drunk dragon, so Wes always cracks the bathroom window to keep mold from forming on the walls. My suspicions are confirmed when I round the townhome’s backside and hear the dryer’s rickety groans escaping into the winter morning.

            A discreet check of my surroundings ensures I’m alone except for two men idling in a green Hyundai Sonata to my right. As they’re either waiting for a friend or finishing a drug deal, I pull my trusty fake cigarette from my coat pocket and nestle it between my lips whilst killing time by sifting through old emails on my phone. Despite our brief encounter, Wes and I volleyed emails back and forth every day for weeks, trading pleasantries and banal day-to-day stories, and occasionally discussing the mysterious forces bonding us together. But then the trail stops, goes cold, dies in its tracks. The timestamp on my last email to him reads, “11:14 a.m., January 3rd, 2007.” Half an hour from now.

            The guys in the Sonata finally reverse and pull out of the lot, leaving me to my crime. Tucking my fake cigarette back into my pocket, I scan my surroundings one last time before elevating onto my tiptoes to remove the protective screen on Wes’ window. Then with the grace and dexterity of a Romanian gymnast, I leap through the air and catch the window’s ledge. After using my elbow to nudge the window open, I hoist myself through. Though I crash land onto the bouncing dryer and side roll off with a full twist, I manage to stick the landing. Eat your heart out, Nadia Comaneci!

            Safely inside, I discard my soiled sneakers and sling my winter coat over the washing machine before peering out the laundry room’s open door. The living room lights are dimmed, and the fireplace awaits its resurrection as I step onto the pristine white carpet. The kitchen is similarly deserted, although a dripping bowl and coffee mug in the drying rack next to the sink suggest Wes ate breakfast recently. He must be upstairs now.

            Standing at the base of the stairwell, I strain my ears for sounds of life; the gentle hiss of a shower means he’s home. In a different context, bursting in on Wes while he’s naked would be a treat, but it’s hardly the reunion I’d planned today. Anyway, I’m racing against time, so I grasp the oak bannister and bound noiselessly up the carpeted steps, two at a time, until I’m outside the master bedroom. The door is ajar, so I peek inside to find the lights off and the shades drawn. I avoid the triangle of light that spills in from the open, adjoining bathroom door as I slide into the bedroom to hide behind his dresser.

            Wes has just finished showering. I watch as he dries his hair, arms, chest, and finally his legs, before wrapping a white towel around his waist. Stepping out of the shower, he walks towards the sink and fills it with hot water while wiping the mist from the mirror mounted above. Using a comb, he sweeps his thinning brown hair to the side—sans product—before applying foamy blue lathering gel to his face.

            Watching him shave is strangely erotic. He’s so methodic and precise, and though his glasses rest on the counter, his slow, steady swathes ensure he doesn’t nick his face once. Twice, when he dips the razor into the sink to swirl the blade clean, he grips the countertop and mutters something the steady drone of the bathroom’s fan drowns out. The third time he says it, I throw caution to the wind by leaning in for a better listen, and I can hear Wes chant:

            “You can do this, you can do this, you can do this…”

            Wes finishes shaving. After setting the razor next to his glasses and splashing cold water on his face, he grips the counter and stares solemnly into the sink whilst repeating his mantra of “you can do this, you can do this, you can do this…” His frustrated hand glides across his smooth face before reaching towards the back of his toilet. Hidden behind a stack of magazines is a handgun, which he cradles like a wounded animal. He stares at his reflection in the mirror while continuing his chant.

            Before he can properly grip the gun, I spring from behind the dresser and shout, “Don’t do it!”

            The commotion nearly causes Wes to drop the weapon. “Who are you? How did you get in here?” he asks after regaining his composure.

            “Wes, it’s me, Matt. Matt Craven,” I say while raising my hands to show I mean him no harm.

            He fumbles for his glasses while aiming the gun in my direction. He frowns once he gets a good look at me.

            “Matt Craven? Do I know you?”

            “Yes, we hooked up back in November.”

            A sparkle of recognition dances across his face, and he slowly lowers the gun to his side while continuing to examine me through squinted eyes.

            “Why do you look so…different?” he asks.

            “Wes, it’s me, I promise.”

            “You’re bigger than last time. And older, a lot older.”

            “Wes, I…”

            “Who are you?!” he demands, raising the gun towards me again.

            “It’s me, Matt! Please, just listen to me. I…”

            “What’s my favorite show?”

            “What?”

            “What’s my favorite show? Before we met in person, we emailed each other, and one of the things we talked about was our favorite TV shows. If you’re really who you say you are, you’ll know the answer.”

            Fuck!

            “Uh…is it Bones?”

            “Wrong!” Wes says, taking a menacing step towards me, the gun swinging wildly in my face. “Listen, I don’t know who you are, but you have five seconds to get out of my house before I…”

            “Wes,” I interrupt, “you were doing laundry the day I came over, back in November. It was a Wednesday, just like today. You told me you had to crack the laundry room window to keep mold from accumulating on the walls. Then you invited me onto the couch and you put some music on—the Beatles, an album you created of your fifty favorite Beatles songs—and I stumped you in music trivia by telling you Madonna had more #2 songs than Creedence Clearwater Revival. Then you touched my thigh and I froze.”

            The gun is still pointed at my face, but my words have stopped Wes in his tracks. Swallowing nervously, I soldier on:

            “You asked if I was OK, and I said yes, but I was trembling inside because I wasn’t out yet. You kissed me to alleviate my fear, and it was the most magical kiss I’d ever experienced. Afterwards, you took me upstairs into this bedroom, right here, and it was the first time I’d ever been happy I was gay.”

            My vision glistens as a groundswell of emotion threatens to dissolve me into tears, so even with a firearm pointed my way, I turn away to rub my eyes and mumble, “You made me tacos for dinner that night, and you forgot to put the cookies in the oven for dessert.”

            When I turn back to Wes, he’s awash with confusion as he attempts to reconcile my detailed retelling of our only encounter with the impossible man standing before him.

            “Wes, please. It’s really me,” I say, daring to reach for his hand.

            “I…believe you,” he says, lowering the gun once more. “But you look so different.”

            Any of his trust I’ve just gained, I’m about to lose with a ludicrous but truthful confession:

            “That’s because I’m…” I start, biting my lip, “…I’m…from your future.”

            “My future?”

            “Yes, I’m from the year 2018.”

            Wes starts to raise the gun in suspicion, but I beat him to the punch.

            “Wait! I can prove it! You’re going to get an email from me today at 11:14 a.m. I’m going to ask about your New Year, suggest we get together this weekend, and…oh…I’ll also…umm…” I’m afraid to admit the last detail, but it’s impossible to omit, so I roll my eyes and exhale loudly before adding, “I’ll also…ask to suck you off through your underwear.”

            My absurd admission makes Wes smile while my face flashes crimson. “Suck me off through my underwear? Why would you ask to do that?”

            “Listen, just check your computer in a few minutes, OK?” I say, attempting to steer the conversation back on track. “If you receive an email from me at 11:14, will you believe me?”

            “Against my better logic, I’ll have to. It’s too preposterous to make up.”

            “Great, I’ll wait for you downstairs.”

            Downstairs, I plop onto the same white sofa Wes seduced me on over a decade before.

            It’s comfier than I remember, though I barely notice since I’m furiously scrolling through my emails to confirm I sent him a message at 11:14 a.m. today. Once I’ve double and triple checked the email’s timestamp, I slouch into the cushion’s warm embrace and let my mind wander.

            Wes will believe me. I know it sounds crazy—me coming back in time from his future—and I wouldn’t believe it, either, but like he said, it’s too preposterous to have made all this up. Maybe he’ll even make me those cookies he forgot last time.

            “I believe you,” Wes says from behind me, his sudden appearance jolting me into an upright position. He’s thrown on a pair of grey sweats and a plain white t-shirt, and his dried hair has taken on a warm glow. “I got an email from you at 11:14 a.m. exactly, asking about my New Year and whether I’d let you suck me off through my underwear.”

            A weak smile is all I can conjure.

            “So…what’s the future like?” Wes asks as he circles the sofa to enter the living room. He freezes a half second while staring at the empty space on the sofa next to me, before settling into an arm chair instead.

            “Well, umm…” I start while racking my brain for tidbits I’m allowed to divulge. “Oh! The Beatles finally released their music to iTunes. Now everybody can listen to them on their iPods!”

            “I’m thinking of getting a Zune, instead.”

            I reflexively grimace. “Stick with an iPod.”

            “But I thought…”

            “Trust me on this one.”

            “OK. What else can you tell me?”

            “I’m not really supposed to talk about the future…”

            “OK,” Wes says as he slides back into his seat. He changes tact by adding, “It looks like you work out in the future, though.”

            He catches my funny look. “Your arms, they’re huge now. You’re more muscular than when I first met you.”

            “Oh, yes, thank you. I started working out shortly after meeting you. I’ve been going ever since.”

            “And you’ve added highlights to your hair.”

            “A splash of color goes a long way with all this black,” I say while resisting the urge to flash a cheeky grin.

            Wes smiles but then frowns. “But…why?” he asks.

            “Why what?”

            “Why did you come back? Why are you here?”

            Placing my hands atop my head, I close my eyes and steel myself for the task at hand. “Because,” I say, opening my eyes to meet his inquisitive gaze, “I made a promise to return a favor to you,” I confess.

            “A favor? What favor?”

            “Let’s start from the beginning. After you…well, after what you were going to do upstairs just now…your ex-wife emailed me.”

            “Carrie emailed you?

            “Yes. She had access to your email account and was notifying all your contacts about your passing. But when she read my last message to you, she saw my sexual suggestion and realized we were lovers.”

            Wes stands, horrified. “Oh my god, you told her I’m gay?! She doesn’t know yet! None of my family know yet!”

            “Don’t worry, I kept your secret safe.”

            “What happened?”

            “I didn’t respond at all. It wasn’t right for me to out you like that, especially after you’d just passed away.”

            Wes is still agitated, so I continue.

            “I never talked to your ex. Like I said, it wasn’t my place to tell your secrets. Carrie didn’t email me anymore after that.”

            Wes slides back into his seat, still upset but noticeably calmer. He looks like he could hug me or punch me, I can’t tell.

            “Well thank god you didn’t tell her!” Wes exclaims, crossing his ankles angrily.

            “Wait, it gets worse…”

            “How could it possibly get worse?”

            “A few days later, your mom called me.”

            “Oh my god!” Wes’ mouth drops in horror as he collapses backward into the seat, hands shielding his eyes. “How did she even get your number?”

            “She went through all your contacts and was notifying everybody of your passing. She didn’t know who I was, or my relation to you.”

            “You didn’t tell her, did you?”

            “No! Of course not! When she asked how we knew each other, I made up some story about working in the ski shop your son hangs out at.”

            “So, she doesn’t know I’m gay, right?”

            “She doesn’t know you’re gay, Wes,” I say, bitterly, “but partway through that call, she broke down and cried her heart out to me, telling me how much she missed her son.”

            The image of his mother in tears instantly chastises Wes into silence.

            “Her voice ached with love,” I add. “And do you know what it’s like to have to lie to a mother like that? Her soul longed for answers, but I couldn’t tell her the truth because it would break her heart.”

            “Matt…I’m sorry, I didn’t know…”

            “Fuck your apologies, Wes! That phone call was the worst moment of my entire life! I had to lie to a grieving parent!”

            Hot tears spring from the corners of my eyes, but I’ll be damned if they stop my rampage.

            “You left me behind without answers, clues, or even a goodbye! And I couldn’t tell a single soul what happened because I wasn’t out yet, but your death tore me apart! I was never the same after your suicide.”

            And with that, all my tears fall. Too angry to hide my shame, I stare my tormentor down through muddled vision as he moves to the couch to sit beside me. I want to push him away—to keep him from harming me ever again—but I allow him to gently cradle me in his arms as I cry the lonely tears of an abandoned boy who never got his answer.

            When my sobbing finally subsides, Wes breaks our embrace to look me in the eye.

            “Matt, I’m so sorry for what I put you through. I didn’t know my death would hurt you so much. I’m a coward for killing myself. I…I can’t admit to myself that I’m gay.”

            Suddenly, it’s my turn to comfort a sobbing bundle of fragility.

            “I know,” I say while gently rocking Wes in my arms and wiping a stray tear from my eye, “but I realized something that day.”

            “What was that?” Wes asks without looking up.

            “I wanted to hate you for killing yourself, and I did…but how could I condemn a man for not accepting his sexuality when I hadn’t accepted my own?”

            Wes nods solemnly but says nothing.

            “I wasn’t out when we met, but after your death, I knew something had to change. I didn’t want to end up like you, carrying a dark secret that poisoned my heart and mind. So after your passing, I promised myself I’d come out, to everybody. I’d always been paralyzed by fear, but now it was a life or death matter. And I chose to live.”

            Another tsunami of tears is surging through my ducts, but I blink them away.

            “I told my roommates I was gay. Then I told my mom. Then all my friends,” I say proudly.

            “And what happened afterward?” Wes asks, his lip quivering.

            “I finally started living. And I never, ever, regretted it.”

            This admission reduces Wes to tears again. As I gently caress his back, I confide:

            “I know this is all fucked up, but if it wasn’t for you, I don’t think I’d have ever come out. You gave me that last, necessary push that finally allowed me to love myself.”

            “I didn’t realize the impact I had on your life,” Wes manages between sobs. “We only hung out that one time.”

            “I know our time together was brief, but I’ll never forget how you changed my entire life. You saved me, Wes. And now I’m here to save you.”

            Wes pulls away and studies me curiously. “Save me? Save me how?”

            “By showing you that coming out is the first step towards an exciting, fulfilling, and wonderful life. I’m living proof of that.”

            Wes’ eyes shimmer as he fights back more tears.

            “I must’ve really meant something to you for you to come back, huh?” he asks with a nervous laugh.

            “You meant the world to me,” I admit.

            “Thank you,” he says, trapping me in a bear hug, “for everything. But I don’t know where to start. Who do I tell first? How do I tell them? What if they’re upset with me?”

            “We’ll take it one step at a time. I’ll show you the way,” I promise.

            Wes breaks out of our hug with jarring seriousness. “Take me to the future, show me the life I’ll lead.”

            “I…I can’t, it breaks too many rules,” I say. “I’m not even supposed to tell people I’m a time traveler.”

            “Oh. OK. I understand,” Wes says. He quickly changes the subject, but his dejected face grips my heart and won’t let go.

            “What if…” I interrupt, “what if I take you back a few months in time, instead? We were supposed to have Thanksgiving dinner together, but we were both busy, remember? We could finally share that meal together.”

            “I’d love that!” Wes says with a grin.

            “Are you ready now?” I ask. “It’s lunchtime; we can go today, if you want.”

            “I…I’m not ready yet. There’s too many thoughts and emotions swirling inside me, and I need to sort them out first.”

            “No worries,” I assure him. “Take your time.”

            “Can you come back tomorrow, same time? I think I’ll be ready then.”

            “Sure,” I say as I stand to leave. Wes mirrors my action and waits while I fetch my coat and shoes from the laundry room. After my laces are tightened and my coat is buttoned, I turn to give Wes one last hug, but he beats me to it, wrapping both arms around me so tightly my fingers start tingling.

           “Thank you, Matt, for saving me. I never would’ve guessed you’d mature into such a loving and caring man,” he says.

            “No, thank you,” I say, “for giving me the life I always wanted to live.”

            Wes finally releases me to wipe away a tear underneath his glasses.

            “I’m going to call my mother right now, to tell her I love her. But I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says, smiling.

            “Tomorrow,” I repeat. “Your whole life is about to change, Wes.”

            “Goodbye, Matt,” he says before gentling closing the door.

 

            4 January 2007; local time: 11:54 a.m.; Bellevue, Washington

            A light dusting of snow falls from the heavens when I step out of the time machine again, though I barely notice. I’m brimming with joy as I dart across the road and back into the parking lot. Not only did I save a man’s life, but I’ve allowed him to finally live out all the impossible hopes and dreams he never realized. I’m practically bursting with glee when I ring the doorbell to Wes’ townhome.

            He doesn’t answer. Maybe he’s in the shower, or maybe he ran to the store. Confident he’ll hear me this time, I ring the doorbell a second time, but still, nothing. The laundry room window isn’t open, so I pace under his awning and count to five hundred to kill time while he finishes his shower or errand. However, my confidence crashes as my mental counter slowly ticks upward. When I reach five hundred, I dejectedly ring the doorbell twice and pound the door thrice, but the door remains unanswered.

            Where could he be?

            “Hey, is your name Matt?” a voice behind me asks.

            An old man with a shovel is standing on the sidewalk. His grey hair is tucked into the ear flaps of his hunting cap, and his warm breath continuously mists his cold eyeglasses into uselessness.

            “Yeah, I’m Matt. Have we met before?”

            “No, we haven’t, but I’m the property manager here.”

            “Oh. I’m here to see my friend Wes. Do you know where he’s at?”

            “I’m afraid you won’t find him here,” the old man says.

            “Do you know when he’ll be back?”

            “I’m sorry to tell you this, kid, but Wes…” the old man falters.

            “Wes what?”

            “Wes…took his own life last night.”

            My knees buckle, and my heart implodes. But he, but he… “But he…”

            “He wanted me to give you this,” the old man says, as he walks towards me and pulls an envelope from his inside jacket pocket and thrusts it into my shaking hand.

            “I didn’t mean to be nosy, but he dated the front of the envelope with last night’s date. You’re probably the last person he thought of before…”

            The old man trails offs. The cold crisp air, which felt so invigorating a moment earlier, is suddenly suffocating. I can’t speak or move. The old man eventually turns and heads back towards his office without a word.

            I can’t remember if I waited a minute or a lifetime under Wes’ awning before a voice inside me screamed: Run! Run away from this place, and don’t ever come back! My feet move on their own, dashing across the parking lot. A car almost flattens me when I run out into the street, and the driver honks his horn and shouts an obscenity, but I can’t hear him. I’m running back to my time machine as fast as my legs will carry me, as cold snow and hot teardrops quietly fall all around me.

 

            3 January 2019; local time: 1:13 p.m.; Seattle, Washington

            I’ve reached today—the twelfth anniversary of Wes’ passing—the old-fashioned way, without time traveling. Unable to summon the strength to open his parting gift to me, I kept the envelope tucked away in a filing cabinet at home. But today I’m nervously twirling the envelope in my hands while watching snow-covered cars meander outside my window.

            “You can do this, you can do this, you can do this…” I say to myself.

            In one swift motion, I dig my index finger into the corner of the envelope and tear a jagged cut across the top to reveal a letter inside. Blue ink greets me as I smooth out the tri-folded paper and settle in for heartbreak.

            Matt:

            You grew up into such a caring and compassionate man, and I’m honored that you came back to save me. I can’t come out, though, because that’s not who I want to be. I know you’ll think I’m a coward, but I’d risk losing my job, my son, and my entire world if I lived as a gay man. More importantly, you’d never find the magic spark to lead your own life if I came out. You deserve to be happy, the way I don’t know how, so I’m sacrificing myself for you, the way it was always supposed to be. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, and that you continue living the life I was too ashamed to lead. I’ll save you a seat at that great big Thanksgiving meal up in the sky.

      I love you, and thank you for everything,

                                            Wes

Tom Petty’s Five Best Music Videos

On October 1st, 2017, heartland rock singer, Tom Petty, went into cardiac arrest, prompting a slew of media outlets to proclaim he’d flown to that great big stadium in the sky. While initial reports of his passing proved premature, Petty’s death was officially confirmed later that evening, igniting a groundswell of goodwill towards the legendary front man.

Petty and his band, The Heartbreakers, rose to prominence in the late ‘70s, thanks to their third LP, Damn the Torpedoes. The album contained rock staples, “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee,” sold over three million copies, and kickstarted an impressive run of hits that ran through the ’80s and into the early ’90s.

51C+xz7xdPL
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers third album, Damn the Torpedoes, spent seven weeks at #2, stuck behind Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

In tandem with the band’s sustained success, Petty struck commercial gold when he went solo on 1989’s Full Moon Fever, and again with super-group, The Traveling Wilburys.

But for a certain generation of music fans, he’s best remembered for his music videos. Though not an obvious MTV superstar like Madonna or Michael Jackson, Petty was an early champion of the format, transitioning from rock star to video god with ease, and eventually winning the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard in 1994.

To celebrate his legacy, here’s a look back at five of Petty’s most iconic music videos.

Don’t Come Around Here No More: This Alice in Wonderland inspired video is frequently cited on all-time “best of” lists, and for good reason. Co-written by the Eurthymics’ Dave Stewart (who cameos in the video as the hookah-smoking Caterpillar), the song’s booming psychedelia perfectly matched Alice’s madcap adventure, with Petty expertly cast as the Mad Hatter. The minor (and ridiculous) controversy involving a scene where Petty and the band eat a cake version of Alice proved inconsequential, as the video scooped up Best Special Effects at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards.

 

Running Down a Dream: Based on Little Nemo in Slumberland comics, this animated music video found Petty on the run, as he slid down staircases and dodged cliff-eating clowns in surreal, nightmarish scenes. The video’s frenetic pace complemented the song’s windows-down/radio-up vibe in a fun, irreverent, and perfectly Petty way.

 

Into the Great Wide Open: Although the song wasn’t a hit (it limped to #92 in the charts), the six-and-a-half-minute video was a treat. The song’s cautionary lyrics were brought to life thanks to Johnny Depp as Eddie Rebel and Faye Dunaway as his cougar-ish Svengali, plus cameos from Matt LeBlanc, Chynna Phillips, and err…Terence Trent D’Arby. But the real fun was spotting the various parts Petty played: narrator, tattoo artist, roadie, reporter. The video was nominated for Best Male Video in 1992 (losing to Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”) and for Best Video That Should’ve Won a Moonman in 2009 (losing to Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”).

 

Mary Jane’s Last Dance: Recorded for Petty’s first Greatest Hits collection, this somber, faux-drug-promoting rock ballad was showcased by its lush, sapphire-tinged video, with Petty playing a morgue assistant enamored by a beautiful corpse (Kim Basinger). The video walks a fine line between creepy (dressing Basinger in a wedding gown and seating her at a dinner table) and cool (the candle-lit, Great Expectations-inspired slow dance), and won Petty Best Male Video at the 1994 VMAs.

 

You Don’t Know How It Feels: Petty’s last top forty single is best remembered for its distinct harmonica solo and a censored lyric about rolling joints. But it was the music video—shot in one continuous take—that shined brightest, with Petty in performance mode as he slowly revolved around a microphone. The deceptively-simple, medium close-up focus blurred the ensuing chaos (a bank robbery, circus performances, a wrecking ball smashing through a couple’s bedroom) behind him, creating instantly memorable imagery that scored Petty his second consecutive Best Male Video trophy.

Kygo Reaches for the Stars

Norwegian, tropical house DJ, Kygo, has released his Stargazing EP, which collects previous singles, “It Ain’t Me” (featuring Selena Gomez) and “First Time” (featuring Ellie Goulding), plus his remix of U2’s brand new single, “You’re the Best Thing About Me.” Rounding out the EP are two new songs, “Stargazing” and “This Town”; the latter is an adequate but forgettable ballad about escaping the trappings of small town life, but the former is a beautiful, shooting star of a single.

8d4d7b6c3607f23b87a7d423143ad3c8.476x476x1
The artwork to Kygo’s new EP

“Stargazing” starts deceptively as a plain ballad, with up-and-coming singer-songwriter, Justin Jesso, supplying crystal clear vocals about star-crossed love (“And I will still be here, stargazing / I’ll still look up, look up / look up for love”). But when the chorus hits, the song explodes into a supernova marriage of shimmering piano and Jesso’s impassioned, digitally-stuttered voice. It tugs at the heartstrings, allowing “Stargazing” to shine brighter than the sun.

QhvGfduW
Justin Jesso provides the stunning vocal on Kygo’s new single, “Stargazing”

A heartbreaking music video—centering around a child’s quest to build a rocket to find his deceased father in the stars—further supplements the song’s evocative vibe.

EPs function as stop-gaps to sustain interest while an artist plots their next move. But with another excellent single in tow, Kygo’s Stargazing twinkles magnificently on its own.

A Stadium Full of Dreams

On Saturday, September 23rd, 2017, Coldplay’s marathon A Head Full of Dreams Tour finally hit Seattle. It was a triumphant return for the band who—as lead singer, Chris Martin, pointed out mid-set—played their first U.S. show in Seattle, back in 2001. While they headlined the tiny Showbox theater on that year’s Parachutes Tour, they’ve since graduated to the gargantuan CenturyLink Field.

AHFOD1000
Coldplay are touring in support of seventh album, A Head Full of Dreams

Despite being over a hundred shows into their tour, Coldplay delivered an exhilarating, explosive, energetic performance. After entering the outdoor stadium to “O Mio Babbino Caro” (a century-old Italian aria), CenturyLink was suddenly awash with vibrant Xyloband colors, as fireworks and confetti explosions punctuated opening song, “A Head Full of Dreams.” The free Xyloband bracelet—an accessory the band first utilized on 2012’s Mylo Xyloto Tour—played a pivotal role throughout the show, illuminating the stadium in stunning rainbow diodes.

maxresdefault (1)
The Xyloband decorates stadiums with colors

Similarly, the band shot enough fireworks into the clear Seattle night sky to give the Beijing Olympics a run for their money. Pyrotechnics, lasers, kaleidoscopic screen visuals, and giant bouncy balls that floated across the crowd further ensured even the most casual Coldplay fan remained visually stimulated.

Furthermore, Martin was a charismatic front man, sprinting, diving, and twirling across stage like a kid in a candy store. Indulging locals is a time-worn concert tradition, but Coldplay’s love of grunge meant Martin’s 12th Man references felt genuine (he even played a few bars of “Black Hole Sun” in homage to local hero, Chris Cornell). He stopped “Charlie Brown” mid-song to have the audience tuck their cell phones away, and he apologized when the audience request song was once again “Us Against the World.”

And in a hilariously unscripted moment, Martin bashed a tooth against his microphone before asking if there was a dentist in the house. This excellent between-song banter was the perfect lubricant to keep the well-oiled Coldplay machine running smoothly.

Of course, a band is only as strong as their songs, and Coldplay delivered a swath of aces across three separate stages. Naturally, the setlist skewed heavily towards the tour’s namesake LP (including “Hymn For the Weekend” and “Adventure of a Lifetime”), but the band played at least one song off each of their seven albums. And they didn’t skimp on hits, either: Coldplay classics like “Yellow,” “Paradise,” “Clocks,” and “Viva La Vida” were dispatched from the main A stage, while slower fare (“Magic,” “In My Place”) were saved for the B and C-stages.

Of course, their long, storied career meant many of their gems (“Speed of Sound,” “Violet Hill”) weren’t performed, but the two-hour, twenty-plus-song setlist kept everyone satisfied. By the time the band closed with euphoric, penultimate closing song, “Up&Up,” Coldplay had successfully reminded Seattle why they’re currently the biggest band in the world.

NOTE: The fan videos were found on YouTube; they are not mine.

Father’s Day

            Time machine, time machine, take me away, to foreign lands and long-forgotten days.

 

            17 June 2018; local time: 12:12 p.m.; Seattle, USA

 

            A glance in my time machine’s mirror ensures my hair is perfectly buzzed and my jawline sports the small shaving nick that hallmarked my late 20s. Satisfied with my appearance, I twist the date dial back to 2013.

            “Don’t do it,” a woman’s voice warns. Looking up from the console and peering out the windshield, I find a tiny figure blocking my time machine. A hooded Castleton-green cloak obscures her face, with a single strand of silver hair peeking out to betray her age. We’ve met once before. She’s either my savior or the devil herself, I can’t decide.

            “How did you find me again?” I ask through the intercom, returning my attention back to the console, but keeping a watchful eye on her.

            “It’s Father’s Day. I knew what you’d be up to,” she says.

            “Well, if you wanted to stop me, you wouldn’t have given me this time machine, would you?” I say while inputting the destination coordinates into the console’s touch screen.

            “You can’t go back to see your father. You’d break too many rules and alter too many timelines.”

            “I’ll settle up later,” I reply with a dismissive sneer whilst straightening the picture of my dad in his Washington Air National Guard uniform I keep taped to my console.

            “You can’t save him, you know…”

            “You don’t get it, do you?” I snap, facing the old woman. “I’m not going back in time, hoping I’ll save him. I’m going back in time, hoping he’ll save me…”

            The old woman says nothing as we silently dare the other to flinch. Convinced she wields neither the power nor the intention to stop me, I take my seat and fasten my seatbelt as the time machine’s engines hum to life.

            “So kindly step aside and let me spend Father’s Day with my dad!”

            The old woman bows slightly and steps to the side before disappearing in a blinding flash of light as the time machine takes off.

 

            3 August 2013; local time: 3:47 p.m.; Alabama, USA

           

            Sweltering Alabama heat and oppressive summer humidity slam into me as I step out of the time machine into an empty field. Though I’m just a ten-minute walk from my parents’ place, I’ll be drenched in sweat upon arrival. I forgot to bring one of my trusty fans, and I know better than to prance around the Bible Belt with a parasol, so I’m forced to brave the elements on my own. Locking the time machine and enabling its invisibility mode for ninety minutes, I march towards home.

            As predicted, I’m soaked when I enter my parents’ cul-de-sac. My t-shirt clings to my chest with sticky perspiration, while my neck trickles sweat beads down my back like runaway teardrops. I take shelter in the shade of a towering basketball hoop besides my parents’ driveway, only to find the normally boisterous neighborhood devoid of life. Where are the bike-riding children, the barking dogs, the steady purr of lawn mowers? The heat has driven everyone inside except for an old Asian man I’ve never seen before. He adjusts his floppy sun hat and waves at me when he mistakes my brow-wiping for a salutation. I smile weakly at his confusion before turning my attention to the dried yellow grass in front of my parents’ home. Mom is normally so attentive to the lawn, overwatering it with unfailing love every day, but Dad’s diagnosis has halted her horticulture handiwork. Sadly, the grass isn’t the only thing that will perish in this August heat.

            The grass crunches under my feet as I cut through the withered lawn to ring the doorbell to my parents’ home. Mom’s van isn’t in the driveway because she’s picking up my brother from the airport, and I’m banking on Dad being too weak to have ridden along.

            When no one answers, I ring the doorbell again. Dad opens the door for both sinner and saint, so this denial of his eldest son is strange. I hope he’s not asleep, though a cursory glance towards the window reveals nothing since the shades are drawn shut. When I ring the doorbell a third time, nervous sweat intermingles with the drying perspiration still stuck to my body.

            Finally, ice-cool air-conditioning strikes my face, and I’m greeted by a corpse.

            I’d seen Dad three months prior, and while he looked sickly then, his current emaciation renders me speechless. His glasses magnify his sunken, cloudy eyes. Liver spots decorate his bald dome. And he’s reduced to just a third of his normal weight. Cancer has hollowed him into nothing more than a bag of bones. I don’t recognize this ghost of a man, and I almost turn and run.

            “Well howdy, fella!” he says in the slight Southern drawl that signifies this truly is my father.

            “Hi, Dad!” I manage to choke out.

            “I wasn’t expecting you! Mom is picking Nathan up from the airport right now. Come in, you look like you’re roasting out there!”

            Crossing the threshold into the cool house is a breath of fresh air, as a crisp breeze finally halts my perspiration. Dad shambles his way towards the sofa like a narcoleptic zombie, and I’m suddenly ashamed at inconveniencing him.

            “Here, let me help you,” I offer.

            Too proud to accept my assistance, he rejects my offer with a disgusted wave of his hand, continuing to shuffle his way towards the couch in agonizing slow motion. Gripping the arm of the sofa, he lowers himself into a seated position, grimacing the entire time, before finally settling horizontally under one of the enormous faux-fur blankets he brought back from one of his many work trips to Korea.

            “That’s why it took so long to answer the door,” he says with a chuckle.

            “No worries,” I say, kicking off my sneakers and sliding into the navy blue La-Z-Boy recliner my parents have owned my entire life. “What’s that on the TV?” I ask, nodding my head towards the flat screen television mounted on the wall. “A bunch of horses?”

            The Man from Snowy River,” Dad replies.

            “Ah, your favorite film! I’ll watch it with you for a while, if you want.”

            “Nah, it’s just a DVD. Let’s visit for a bit.” Dad attempts to sit up to reach the remote on the coffee table, but I beat him to it. A click of a button and the horses on screen vaporize into a black void.

            “I thought you were in Vancouver,” he says as we both settle back into position.

            I am. I’m power-napping right now, but soon I’ll be on the dance floor, rolling my tits off while chasing sexy strangers who won’t want me.

            “I’m headed there soon,” I lie. “I’m actually flying out in a few hours.”

            “Oh, that’s too bad. You’re just going to miss Mom.”

            “Yeah, listen, about that…you can’t tell Mom I’m here, OK?”

            “Why not?”

            Because Mom is sharp as a tack. She’ll have already seen my Vancouver Pride Facebook posts, and she’ll wonder how I made it to Alabama so quickly. Unable to reconcile the disparity, she’ll look me over, wondering out loud why I look heavier, why I have so many more grey hairs, why I look so much older since my last visit. She’ll start asking too many questions I won’t—or can’t—answer. It’s best to circumvent her entirely. That’s why I bought my brother’s plane ticket; I needed a full-proof plan to get Mom out of the house, and I knew her kind heart couldn’t resist picking Nathan up from the airport.

            “She knows I’m strapped for cash right now, and she’d hit the roof if she knew I charged another flight to my credit card,” I half lie. “She doesn’t even know I bought Nathan’s ticket.”

            Dad’s eyebrows scrunch as he considers my explanation. He can’t conjure a lie to save his life, but he can be trusted with a secret, so I appeal to his sentimentality.

            “Please, just don’t tell her I stopped by. It was really important for Nathan and me to see you one last time, and I don’t need Mom worrying about me with everything else she’s juggling right now. Promise me you won’t tell her, OK?” I plead.

            Dad finally smiles. “Cross my heart and hope to die,” he jokes. Though I glower at his off-color humor, I’m secretly grateful cancer hasn’t stole his spirit.

            “Do you need money?” he asks.

            “What? No, no, I’ll be fine. I’ll work some overtime next month. I’m just glad to be here with you right now.”

            “Well, I’m glad you’re here, too,” he says with a grin. Fuck! I’m already fighting back tears, and I’ve only just sat down!

            Before I can ask how he’s feeling, Dad descends into a vicious coughing fit. Concerned, I leap from the recliner, ready to act, but as I’m unsure how to respond, I fidget like a nervous chicken until Dad makes a drinking motion. My socks glide across the hardwood kitchen floors as I rummage through the cupboards for a cup. I find one of Dad’s old mugs, the bottom stained and cracked from a lifetime of black coffee—no cream, no sugar—and fill with it with cold water from the refrigerator spout. The storm has largely passed when I return, though he drinks the water in careful, deliberate sips in between a few stray coughs.

            “Thank you,” he wheezes, clutching his chest with his free hand. “That’s been happening a lot lately.”

            “Does it hurt?” I ask. I immediately regret letting the words slip from my mouth, but he takes it in stride.

            “Not too much, but the doctor says I need to be careful. Coughing that hard can crack my ribs.”

            “Look at you, finally listening to doctors’ orders!” I tease, trying to lighten the mood as I ease back into the recliner.

            “I don’t have much choice,” he replies, squashing my attempt before it got off the ground.

            Chastised, I sit in silence as he soothes his throat with the cold water. I watch him drink as I reach into a glass candy dish on the coffee table. Pulling out a mini-Reese’s peanut butter cup—Dad’s favorite—I carefully unwrap it, ensuring peanut butter and chocolate flecks don’t rain onto the carpet. I offer him one, but he shakes his head as I pop the candy in my mouth.

            “So, do you have a boyfriend yet?” he suddenly asks.

            I nearly choke on the peanut butter cup. I could always talk to Mom about my boy problems, but my dating life was a taboo subject with Dad. Being a conservative Baptist, he refused to acknowledge or discuss my sexuality until my last visit when I blurted out, “Thank you for always loving me, even though I’m gay,” in our final conversation. He admitted then that he didn’t understand my sexual orientation, but that his love for me remained unchanged. Accordingly, this inquiry is another unexpected olive branch he’s extended my way.

            “I wish,” I say, rolling my eyes and swallowing the candy. “There’s one guy I love, but I don’t think he’s right for me.”

            “Why not?” Dad asks, genuinely interested.

            “I don’t think he loves me back,” I admit.

            “Then he’s not the right guy for you, Son. You deserve to be with somebody who loves you, unconditionally, like your mom and I love you.”

            “Thank you,” I mumble. I never thought I’d see the day when Dad would be doling out boyfriend advice to me.

            “You’re a smart young man, and I’m so proud of you. Any guy would be lucky to have you.”

            My face flushes crimson with shame. I don’t feel like such a proud son, knowing I’m partying my ass off in Vancouver while my dad’s dying. Furthermore, despite harboring a lifelong, secret desire to discuss my romantic flings with my dad, I’m going to liquify into an ocean of tears if I don’t immediately change topics.

            “Hey, do you remember walking with me to take out the garbage when I was five years old?” I ask.

            A sparkle of confusion gleams in his eye at my obvious change of tact, but it vanishes as he furrows his brow to conjure the correct memory.

            “I know you remember,” I encourage. “It was when we used to live in that tiny apartment. Nathan and I were friends with Austin, the kid next door…”

            “I’m sorry, I don’t…”

            “…and that giant tree near the trash bins terrified me. When it swayed in the wind, it looked a hundred feet tall, and I was always afraid it would reach out and carry me into the night.”

            “Oh! The place on Holly Drive!”

            “Yes! On Holly Drive!” We both smile at his recognition.

            “What brought that up?”

            “It’s one of my favorite memories of you. Of us together, actually.”

            Dad smiles. “Why is that?” he asks.

            “Because it was the first time I needed a hero. Whenever we took out the trash, you always held my hand and told me everything would be alright, even when I was sure that scary tree would steal me away forever. You were my very first hero, Dad.”

            “Aww, thank you. But you were always such a good, independent kid. You didn’t need anybody to save you.”

            “I did, Dad. I did then…”

            I stop and clench my eyes shut, tapping into emergency reservoirs of willpower to keep from bawling like a baby. Convinced I’ve temporarily halted the flood, I reopen my eyes and finish: “…and I do now.”

            Dad and I long since discarded the warm-fuzzy aspect of our relationship, so this unbridled display of emotion is unbecoming, but I’ll be damned if I don’t ride it out.

            “You were always the best dad in the world. I hope you know that. I wasn’t always the best at telling you or letting you know, but I always thought the world of you,” I gush.

            My dad is surprised but touched. “I’ve always been so proud of you!” He reaches his hand towards me, and I scoot forward to warmly accept him. Crouched in this half-standing position, I spot his King James Bible lurking from the bottom of the small book stand behind him. I have an idea.

            “Can I read the Bible to you?” I ask.

            He looks up, confused. When I was a child, the Bible was my bedtime story. Dad came into my room with his enormous, leather-bound book, and he’d read me the stories of Moses, Samson, and Jesus Christ while I sat in wide-eyed wonder. I always asked a billion questions, and my father patiently answered each one until it was time to sleep. Listening to him talk about the Bible became a religion unto itself. But sadly, Dad knows I haven’t been to church or cracked open a Bible in nearly a decade.

            “Sure, Son,” he finally says, disguising his puzzlement.

            I gently brush past my father to pick up his ancient Bible. The brown cover is frayed and tattered, with a coffee stain splotching the upper righthand corner. Unsure of which story to read, I flip through the timeworn pages, admiring the countless highlighted passages and handwritten notes in the margin. When I reach the book of Matthew, a tiny picture acting as a bookmark makes me pause. It’s a dinosaur, drawn in blue ink. It’s crude and unpolished, something a kindergartener would proudly present to their father on Father’s Day.

            “You kept this?” I ask, holding my drawing up.

            Dad squints, then beams when he recognizes the image.

            “Of course! I kept all your Father’s Day presents. Even that horrible ceramic mug you made for me in middle school,” he says with a cough/laugh.

            “I can’t believe you still have this,” I say, more to myself than to him.

            “Where was it at?” Dad asks.

            “Huh?”

            “The bookmark. Which book was it in?”

            “Matthew.”

            “OK, start there.”

            Still pleasantly surprised he kept my earliest Father’s Day present, I regain my composure and settle on Matthew, chapter one:

            “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:            

            Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…”

            I continue reading the Bible to him, occasionally peering over the book to catch him wrapped in his blanket, smiling at me. I lose myself in Christ’s genealogy, and I only just make it into Jesus’ ministry in Galilee when Dad’s snoring interrupts me. Having just read the Bible—and knowing my father’s fate—I can’t help but think of heaven. Dad will surely ascend, but what about me? I’ve run so far from home that they might not let me come back. If that’s the case, today’s the last time I’ll ever see him again.

            The dam finally breaks and the tears fall.

            Sobbing silently into my hands so as not to wake my father, I realize the old woman was right: I can’t save him. No matter how many times I come back to this moment, he’s still going to wither and die on that couch. Reduced to a child, I curse God, fate, and time itself for this cruel trick. Why have a time machine if I can’t go back and save the ones I love?

            I could cry for an eternity, but Mom’s imminent return disallows such luxuries. Holding the dinosaur drawing carefully between my fingertips, I flip to Revelations and place the bookmark on the Bible’s last page, but it looks out of place.

            “No, that’s not right,” I whisper, before flipping to Genesis and placing the dinosaur there.

            “This is just the beginning,” I say against my Dad’s snores. Placing the Bible on the coffee table and kissing him gently on the forehead, I add, “I promise to see you again.”

            I open the front door and whisper “I love you” to my dad before running out into the shimmering afternoon heat.

           

            18 June 2018; local time: 09:23 a.m.; Seattle, USA

 

            After my phone resynchs to 2018, I scroll through texts my mom sent until I find one dated August 6th, 2013. It still reads, “He’s gone.” My visit changed nothing. Though I’m hit with a pang of guilt, I’m also relieved my presence failed to alter history, because it means I can go back and visit him again. Instead of wallowing in misery, I can spend every Father’s Day with him. He might not have a future, but he has a past, and if I’m there for enough Christmases I skipped out on, birthdays I missed, and cancer diagnoses I should’ve been there for, maybe one day—someday far in my future but buried deep in his past—I’ll finally believe him when he looks me in the eye and tells me he’s so proud I’m his son.

America’s Original Idol Returns

Hard to believe, but it’s been fifteen years since Kelly Clarkson won the first season of American Idol, back in 2002. She rocketed to stardom when coronation single, “A Moment Like This” reached #1, but it wasn’t until 2004’s Max-Martin-penned “Since U Been Gone” that Clarkson became a chart mainstay, allowing parent album, Breakaway, to dominate pop radio for nearly two years. The album’s success legitimatized Clarkson’s career, as well as American Idol’s ability to nurture genuine talent.

Fast forward to 2017. American Idol has been put out to pasture after years of diminishing returns (although a premature reboot airs in 2018), with The Voice now reigning as television’s preeminent vocal talent competition. Despite these changes, Clarkson remains a national treasure. Now married and with four additional studio albums under her belt (plus a Christmas album, a remix collection, and a successful greatest hits package), Clarkson has completed her American Idol contract.

91rzqu2aYcL._SL1500_
Clarkson celebrated ten years in the biz with 2012’s Greatest Hits–Chapter One

Having jumped ship from RCA to Atlantic Records, she’s ready to start the next chapter in her storied career with seventh album, Meaning of Life. To launch the new LP, Clarkson has blessed us with not one, but TWO lead singles: “Love So Soft” and “Move You.”

“Love So Soft” is the sexier of the two singles, as it combines trap and soul for a stomping banger that splits the difference between DJ Snake’s “Get Low” and vintage Amy Winehouse. While it lacks the same immediate rush as previous high watermarks like “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” handclaps, soaring backing vocals, and sultry horns compliment Clarkson’s crystal-clear notes, allowing the song to swagger with confidence. It’s a quirky, brilliant lead single.

Meanwhile, “Move You” is aimed at traditionalists who’ll find her other single too sonically adventurous. While Clarkson’s vocal remains restrained in “Love So Soft,” she lets loose in this ballad, as she compares love to “a sunrise on a mountain,” and “the thrill of Christmas morning”. The lyrics are occasionally corny (is love really “like a symphony at sundown, in the middle of July”?), but the conviction of Clarkson’s commanding voice keeps this from descending into schmaltz; expect this to soundtrack weddings well into 2018.

Notably, each of Clarkson’s six studio albums have spun off at least one top ten single. With the expert one-two opening punch of “Love So Soft,” and “Move You,” Clarkson looks to keep her streak alive, and to once again remind us why she’s still our OG Idol.

George Michael’s Sexy “Fantasy”

Eight months after his untimely death on Christmas Day, George Michael returns with a posthumous new single…sort of. To promote an upcoming reissue of Michael’s early ‘90s opus, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, a remake of obscure B-side, “Fantasy,” has just been released.

R-3532175-1334152616.jpeg
A deluxe reissue of Michael’s 1990 album, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, will be released on October 20th.

“Fantasy” is an odd candidate for a remake. Tacked onto his mission-statement-of-a-single, “Freedom ’90,” the glorified jam session found Michael crooning “if you ain’t got time for me / I’ll find another fantasy” against five minutes of wailing trumpets. The tune was serviceable but unspectacular, and was (rightly) reduced to a mere footnote in Michael’s storied career.

1f0d9e5359c249b9dbf5035fdebb1004
The artwork to the “Freedom ’90” single, on which “Fantasy” first appeared

Enter Nile Rodgers. The legendary producer—whose five-decade-plus career encompasses everyone from David Bowie to Daft Punk—reduced “Fantasy” to its barest essentials, slashing a minute and a half from the running time, and stripping away the horns to thrust Michael’s blue-eyed-soul vocals to the forefront. Best of all, Rodgers infused the track with a sexy, bouncing groove that dares the listener to not tap their toes. The result brilliantly updates Michael’s classic sound for 2017.

Because of the original’s obscurity, the “Fantasy” remake will unfortunately preach only to the converted. But Rodgers has more than done his job, transforming an average B-side into an ass-shaking delight. George Michael would be proud.

The Power of Britney: I Wanna Go

Britney Spears is no ordinary musician. Though the racy, Catholic school girl-themed video to debut single, “…Baby One More Time” suggested she was a sexy flash-in-the-pan, a combination of seamless reinventions, tabloid-selling headlines, and a Phoenix-like resurrection from the deepest depths of personal despair have transformed her initial fifteen minutes of fame into fifteen-plus years in the biz. Her very essence enables Britney to hold hypnotic sway over a swath of gay men (myself included) who worship the ground she walks on.

britney-spears-mtv-vma-awar_loqe4e
Britney cemented her comeback with three wins at the 2008 Video Music Awards

Of course, Britney would not be the unimpeachable pop princess she is today without an impressive catalogue of hits. Whether she’s confessing doe-eyed love to her boyfriend in 1999’s “Born to Make You Happy,”

or baiting the paparazzi in 2008’s “Piece of Me,”

there’s a Britney jam for every mood and moment. The pervasiveness of these hits means her songs come intrinsically bound with memories unique to each listener; to the faithful, Britney jams aren’t just songs, they’re mission statements, callings, and/or life lessons.

This series will explore the memories and lessons I’ve attached to Britney’s music, starting with how “I Wanna Go” delivered me from hell.

2:00 a.m. Sunday morning, Vancouver Pride, 2013. After dancing for hours to DJ Grind’s “happy house” music at the main Saturday party, my circuit-queen boyfriend and I defected to an after hours club. Queueing in the grimy, claustrophobic lobby, we were blissfully unaware of the rabbit hole we were about to descend. Instead, eager to dance, we paid the outrageous cover fee and stepped through the ominous black entrance.

Inside, it was hot as hell, and twice as debauched. Within minutes, the sweltering temperature sucked a gallon of sweat from my body, while horny men—hidden in the shadows and lost in the throes of animal lust—fucked on the dance floor. Circling the chaos, we observed limitless depravities: tweaked-out twinks snorted coke, a friend fell into a K-hole, some guy literally shit his pants. Unimpressed with such antics, my seasoned boyfriend suggested navigating through the crowd to find our friends. I was terrified. With the seriousness of a saint, I looked him in the eye and instructed him to not let go of my hand for any reason.

Punishing, vocal-less industrial music sound-tracked our voyage. Devoid of melody, the songs’ abrasive, jagged sounds echoed through the club like ricocheting metal; it sounded more like a factory than a dance club. We managed to find our friends in the sea of sin, but the party favors started short-circuiting my brain: one friend’s face glowed with neon green zig-zags, while another friend morphed into a werewolf right before my eyes. Telling myself these were merely hallucinations, I forced myself to sway to the music’s brutal beats. My friends and I muscled our way through two hours of hot, sticky drudgery, but having partied the night before, we were exhausted and on the verge of collapse…

…And then the DJ dropped “I Wanna Go”.

After hours of hard, sadistic tunes, Britney’s third Femme Fatale single was the ray of sunshine we craved. The effect was sweeping and immediate: couples stopped fucking, junkies tucked their drugs away, and my friend came out of his K-hole, allowing the dance floor to explode in unison. While my dance floor brethren’s depths of depravity had previously frightened me, we were now suddenly united under the track’s bouncy groove. My friends and I danced and twirled with renewed vigor, casually intermingling with strangers we’d maintained a healthy distance from before. Even the stifling heat seemed to briefly dissipate. Somehow, in this crazy carnal hellhole, Britney managed to merge the disparate dance floor factions into three-and-a-half glorious moments of unbridled harmony. We left shortly thereafter, Britney having once again saved the day and our souls.