Thirty songs we were listening to in 2002
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Throughout the next however many months I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. I’m up to number eighty-four.
My apartment was burglarized around this time last year. I came home from my morning walk with my pups, Winston and Ringo, to find my bathrobe missing. Not the bathrobe I got from Saks Fifth Avenue in the 90s when exchanging the wallet my dad’s wife gave me for Hanukkah. There was nothing wrong with the wallet, but I don’t care for the unsightly protuberance a wallet presents in one’s trousers, so I amble sans billfold. A robe I could use, and the robe I selected was a very soft Calvin Klein polyester/rayon blend, made in Turkey, and the color of an Eastern Fence Lizard. It now serves as my principle robe, as the thief didn’t steal that one, nor did they take the bathrobe my brother bought for me at Universal Studios when visiting from New Jersey, where we grew up, shortly after I moved to Los Angeles in 2003. That is a white cotton robe with BATES MOTEL stitched in black letters on the left booby area. I leave that one in the guest bathroom. Should I ever have an overnight visitor of a non-romantic nature, I want them to feel like they’re in a four star lodging.
I never have guests stay over.
The thief stole the bathrobe I got from work on Spa Day. It’s a soft, comfy, white terrycloth robe with a patch that reads RHINO on the left booby area. Rhino Entertainment was the record company I was then working for, and is not to be confused with Spearmint Rhino, a strip club I’ve yet to work for. I’ve been on one date in the last 15 years, and when the person saw on my Facebook page that I worked at Rhino, he thought the strip club. One date.
On Spa Day, the Rhino (Entertainment) employees went to the Toluca Lake Tennis Club and luxuriated in massages, manicures, pedicures, facials, and bikini waxes, plus we enjoyed lunch, mandatory participation in a music trivia contest (guess whose team won!) and each of us was gifted a robe. On further reflection, scratch that part about the bikini wax. That was a different day. Spa Day was as great as it sounds. Back then Rhino did things for employees to make them feel motivated and valued and appreciated, things I didn’t feel by the time I left the company seven years later. Then I had a boss who, besides being dishonest and blaming others for his mistakes, would yell and cuss at me and other employees. You would’ve hoped the head of Legal would’ve told him about California laws regarding a hostile work environment, but he was the head of Legal, so no go. I didn’t take out my frustration and annoyance on my blameless Rhino robe, which I continued to use daily until the day of the crime.
My morning routine was to wake up at 6:45 AM, go into the bathroom where the robe hangs from a hook on the back of the door, don it while brushing my teeth and making my hair presentable enough should that be the day I meet Mr. Right while taking my dogs on their morning walk, hang the robe back on the hook after primping, throw on a shirt and pants and take said dogs on said walk.
Following our walk it’s breakfast; then my shower. It was after stepping out of the shower and reaching for my robe that I discovered it missing. Your first thought, and my first thought: perhaps I misplaced it. Believe me, I looked. I searched every millimeter of this apartment. The robe didn’t fall on the floor. I didn’t absentmindedly hang it in the closet or throw it in the laundry basket or toss it in the garbage pail or hurl it into the washing machine or fling it on my bed or roll it into a ball and cast it under my bed. The shit was stolen.
I live on the top floor of my building, at the end of the hallway. My morning dog walks last approximately 23 minutes. One needs a key to get into the building, and another key to operate the elevator. I’m skeptical that in that amount of time somebody could break into the building, get to our floor, select my unit for their crime, enter my unit, walk past things of value – a 72” flat screen TV, high end hi-fi equipment, my Talking Heads album art autographed by ALL FOUR MEMBERS! – turn the corner to my primary bedroom, enter and turn another corner to the hall where my primary bathroom is, enter the bathroom, close the bathroom door, see my Rhino robe and my Calvin Klein Eastern Fence Lizard-colored robe, grab the Rhino one, and make a hasty exit, closing and locking my door behind them. Now you’re saying “It was an inside job!” Believe me, I thought of that, too, but I have no roommates, other than Winston and Ringo. My landlord lives in the Bay Area and isn’t a morning person, so it’s unlikely he stole my bathrobe. As far as I know, nobody else has a key to my place. Perhaps, unbeknownst to me, my landlord had given one of my neighbors a key to his unit, in case an emergency arises while he is up north, say a busted water pipe flooding the place that I couldn’t tend to as I’d been murdered and neither Winston nor Ringo know how to operate my cell phone or landline to call 9-1-1 to get someone to come over to feed them. But there was no flood the day of this offense, and sure as I’m sitting here I wasn’t murdered, so why would this neighbor with a key come into my apartment while I was walking the dogs and take my robe? It could be like the 1944 movie Gaslight, where my neighbor is Charles Boyer and I’m Ingrid Bergman, and Charles is trying to make me think I’m insane as part of his plan to steal my jewelry. It’s a theory that doesn’t hold water, as I haven’t any jewelry, and if my neighbor’s plot is to steal any items of value I may have, why not just do that? Charles Boyer was married to Ingrid Bergman (in the movie), which is why his plan made sense. I’m not married to anyone, so the idea that a neighbor stole my robe merely to gaslight me is bonkers. The only explanation that makes sense is that my robe was taken by a ghost.
Until that day, I didn’t believe in ghosts. I’ve never believed in anything I couldn’t see – ghosts, UFOs, God. At first the thought of ghosts in my apartment frightened me, for it challenged beliefs I’ve held for decades. It would make me sound like a nutter to those who still held those beliefs, such as 68% of people reading this post. I also felt shame, for if I had known ghosts would be in my home, I’d have cleaned. I’m not the tidiest. There are dust bunnies in various corners. All around the apartment there are boxes I haven’t unpacked from my move three years ago. There’s the clutter of many things I know I have no use for – my sneakers with the completely worn-through soles, the mounted fish that “sings” “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” the feminine hygiene products I got in a gift bag at a charity fundraiser, but at the same time, something compels me to hold onto. That the ghost didn’t come in, look around, and say “Fuck this place; I’ll get a bathrobe at Saks” might be the most shocking part of this story.
After a couple of days, I accepted my cohabitation with spirits. More precisely, I welcomed it, as it explained a lot. Many things have gone missing over the years: numerous books; my stamp collection; my steel string guitar; my electric guitar and amp; my file folder of celebrity autographs, including beloved English chanteuse Kate Bush, legendary rapper and actor LL Cool J, and gifted pornographic thespian Lukas Ridgeston; the three dozen drinking glasses I purchased at Ikea; and my original vinyl LP issues of Prince’s Lovesexy, Michael Jackson’s Bad, The Cure’s Disintegration, and a Four Tops album that my older co-worker Richie gave me in 1993 so I may record it for him onto a cassette tape as he no longer had a turntable and for which I still carry guilt for never having done so and now I can’t anyway as the album has vanished, which is just as well as I have no idea where Richie lives now. I’m not saying ghosts stole all of these things. I think my parents tossed my stamp collection when we moved from my childhood home to my adolescent home, and I think my dad and his second wife discarded those guitars and amp and the missing books, assuming I forgot that they were storing those items for me as I moved about. I still have my nylon string acoustic guitar, with which I performed “Sabbath Prayer” from Fiddler on the Roof at my Bar Mitzvah. Though a non-believer was I, I went through all the good Jewish boy motions and at age 13 celebrated my bar mitzvah, the Jewish tradition marking one’s foray into adulthood. Rabbi Pinsky had no objections to my playing guitar in the temple, but Cantor Telpasi was very much opposed, and left that job soon after. One wonders what he would have thought five years later when, for my sister’s bat mitzvah, my parents hired as entertainment during the reception Mr. Jiggs, a trick-performing chimpanzee. Quipped my friend Kathy, “Today marks the day you transition from childhood into adulthood, and here to commemorate that milestone is a monkey riding a tricycle!” I don’t recall how we arrived at “Sabbath Prayer” being the song I sang. Teenage me was vehemently opposed to songs that reference a belief in an almighty being (John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” excepted, as I’m not make of wood), but what else would I sing at a bar mitzvah? “Afternoon Delight?”
Four years later I was cast in my high school production of Fiddler on the Roof as Motel the Tailor. In the show I didn’t have to sing “Sabbath Prayer,” thank G – , um, whatever, and I got to marry Tzeidel, played by Laura M., my best friend then and now, though at present we live on opposite coasts.
I haven’t taken out that guitar in a while. It sits in my closet (still there – I just checked) with my Sanyo version of a Sony Betamax and my baseball cap collection. I so seldom wear baseball caps – only on those bad hair days I experience once every six years. Wearing a baseball cap makes me look like 81-year-old Paul Simon, which is not the lewk I’m going for. I would be more than alright with a ghost making off with one or more of my baseball caps, just not the brown velour one with the patch that says “Funkadelic,” probably the first word that comes to mind when someone thinks about me.
A couple of missing things, like disc two of my Strangers With Candy Season One DVD box, were removed from my home by a guy I met on MySpace. He was 22 and told me that he just came out as gay to his parents and they kicked him out of the house, so I offered him my guest room to use while he looked for a more permanent situation. Just two weeks in I realized his folks didn’t kick him out because he’s gay, but because he’s disrespectful of others’ possessions, like their Strangers With Candy Season One disc two DVD, which he brought to a friend’s home. I wanted to steal something of his in return, but I thought better of that when I rifled through his belongings when he wasn’t home and found nothing worth taking. I told him he needs to go.
I blame the missing drinking glasses and signed celebrity photos on the movers I hired to transport my belongings from my West Hollywood condo to my current home. I saw the glasses and glossies just days before the move, and never again. The appropriated glasses I could live without, as I can always sip my beverages from a saucer, but what are the odds I’ll again meet Kate Bush, Lukas Ridgeston or Karen Carpenter?
On a ghost I’m pinning the missing Rhino bathrobe and the missing original vinyl LP editions of the Prince, Michael Jackson, The Cure, and The Four Tops albums. Where was this ghost going with the robe and dance records? A party at the Playboy Mansion? Is it the ghost of Hugh Hefner invading my space? What would Hugh Hefner’s ghost want with me? Maybe he didn’t know the previous tenants, known heterosexuals, had moved. If I had a missing pipe I may believe it was Hugh, but I don’t own a pipe. I have only two items that constitute smoking paraphernalia. One is a white cigarette lighter with a green leaf on one side and the legend “Get Stoned” on the other side, a gift from a co-worker who was unaware that I don’t and never have smoked the marijuana. How do I come across at work that a co-worker would think of that as a gift for me? The other is a bong, a gift from my then boyfriend, Dr. Leon, who knew I didn’t and never have smoked the marijuana. Nor did he. He gave me this bong not knowing that’s what it was. I also didn’t know what it was. He thought it an amusing sculpture of a man with a Lukas Ridgeston-esque body part and a hole in his head. I thought it was an unusual vase. It wasn’t until my sister visited one day and asked me “Why do you have a bong?” that we learned. I don’t know how she knew what it was, but she likes The Grateful Dead, so draw your own conclusions.
It’s not just the missing items that proves the existence of spirits in my living quarters; it’s also the noises. When I’m in my home office I often hear quarrelling through the wall. My office is in the far corner of the domicile – two outside walls and two walls adjacent to elsewhere in my residence. No vents that connect to other cribs. Whose arguments am I hearing? Ghosts, obviously! I can’t make out what they’re arguing about, though I imagine it concerns what to filch next or moving to a place inhabited by a human who vacuums more often than every leap year. In my primary bedroom, noises come from the ceiling fan vent. I’m not speaking of the fan’s whirr. When the fan is off, squeaking sounds emanate. Not the cry of mice or squirrels or a tricycle-riding chimpanzee hiding from the Jewish community while jostling for a good view of my naked manliness as I take my shower. It’s a ghost in the ceiling, casing the bathroom to later steal my bathrobe, and hanging around post-thievery because they’re horny and like what they see.
A couple of weeks after the larceny I heard a loud clanging coming from the stairwell next to my unit. I was sure it was the ghost raising a ruckus, pissed-off that I was home and thus foiling their plans to pilfer my original vinyl issue of Madonna’s Like A Prayer. What’s that you say? Perhaps it was someone cleaning the handrail? On a Sunday? For hours on end? I suppose it could have been a cleaning person (sure, Jan!), but I wasn’t about to open the door to look. Between the pandemic and Trumpism and the police helicopters constantly overhead in this neighborhood, sometimes announcing through the world’s largest bullhorn “Everyone stay inside!”, my nerves are frayed. I couldn’t handle seeing what I was sure was a vexed ghost wearing my bathrobe.
If that ghost could get his temper under control, he could be boyfriend material. (I’m assuming the ghost is a he, as using another man’s robe seems like something a guy would do. A guy or an obsessed ex-girlfriend who can’t move on and accept that you now play for a different team. Eventually you have to block her number on your phone because the hysterical midnight calls got to be too much. You didn’t want to take out a no contact order but she left you with no other options. You haven’t seen her since Judge Gregory Harrison, no relation to the Falcon Crest actor, granted the order and you like to think she wouldn’t violate the no contact order now that she’s crossed over into the other side, so the ghost must be a he.) He likes Prince. He likes Michael Jackson. He likes watching me shower. That’s enough for me to date someone. I’ve been picky all my life up to this point, and what has it gotten me? I need to expand my potential dating pool to include the non-living.
Michael Jackson’s Bad came out in 1987. Prince’s Lovesexy came out in 1988. I came out in 1989, the same year Madonna released Like A Prayer, though I’m not sure how much cause and effect was at play there. It was early in my music biz career, having started at MJ’s record company in ’85. My future looked bright. At that time, there was no COVID. Donald Trump was merely a local punchline to those of us in Manhattan. Michael Jackson was alive. Prince was alive. I was ambitious, ready and eager to advance up the corporate ladder to be a top music biz executive. I’d meet Soloflex model Scott Madsen and we’d wed and live together forever in a seven-bedroom house just outside Manhattan with a dedicated music media room that I wouldn’t allow Scott in unaccompanied.
My life is now two-thirds over, statistically-speaking, and I’m missing more than a few vinyl albums and a bathrobe. I have the lost Prince and Michael Jackson and The Cure and The Four Tops albums on CD, and I can always listen to them via the music streaming service of my choosing, but still, I’m bothered by the missing record albums. It’s not because they’re vinyl and therefore sound “warmer,” to use the overused description hipsters who started collecting vinyl recently use. It’s not because of the material value of original issues. It’s the attachment I have to many objects of my life that remind me of a time when I was optimistic and my future felt long and wide open.
The feeling of something missing infuses Madonna’s Like A Prayer album. In her case, it’s her mother. Madonna was only five years old when her mother passed away at age 30, the age Madonna was when she released Like A Prayer. That loss, and her subsequent feelings of loneliness despite having five siblings, informs Madonna’s work on this record.
Prior to Like A Prayer, her last studio album was 1986’s True Blue, my #97 album. After that album ran its course she released three singles – “Who’s That Girl,” “Causing a Commotion” and “Spotlight” (a promo-only single), my three least favorite of Madonna’s top 40 pop hits ever. Until those hit, Madonna, along with Prince and Michael Jackson, was my favorite music act of the 80s. I still change the station whenever “Who’s That Girl” or “Causing a Commotion” come on the radio. Luckily, nobody remembers “Spotlight” besides me, a guy named Matthew with whom I’m Facebook friends, and maybe Madonna. In 1988 I concluded Madonna was over.
I was very wrong. On Like A Prayer, Madonna’s songs touch on the death of her mother, religion, her strained relationship with her father, the unraveling of her marriage, and friends who succumbed to AIDS. It’s serious, yet fun, and ambitious, and risky. On Like A Prayer, Madonna, who has a writing credit on all of its songs, transformed from pop superstar to artist, and she did so while maintaining her hold on the charts. The album’s classic self-empowerment anthem “Express Yourself” went top ten around the world, and inspired a chapter in the book I wrote about the value of diversity to corporations, a book I swear will be published within the next year, so help me Non-Existent One. The album’s third single, “Cherish,” also charted high around the world.
However, it’s the title song, the record’s first single, that is the album’s centerpiece and my favorite Madonna song of all-time. Opening with a guitar lick rumored to be played by Prince –
I interrupt that thought to tell you that the only song on the album where Prince has a credit, for co-writing and co-producing with Madonna, is “Love Song.” It’s a slow song. A slow song! Madonna and Prince team up and instead of giving us the club banger we’d all die for, they gave us a ballad. It’s a decent track, but it’s not the first thing a ghost would steal. Far superior to “Spotlight,” though.
– followed by a church organ. Then a dance beat kicks in and by the time Madonna sings “Let the choir sing,” I’m in ecstasy. Heaven on the dance floor. Transcendence. There’s an obvious spiritual aspect to the song and elsewhere on the album – it’s called Like A Prayer and it’s by someone named Madonna duh! I had to let go of my ignoring songs not by John Denver that reference God and prayer ‘cause this song takes me there. There may be another layer of meaning. It wasn’t until the year of our Lord 2022 that I learned the lyric “I’m down on my knees, I want to take you there” is a double entendre. Never occurred to me, but that’s not the other type of meaning of which I speak. There are probably Catholic references that go over my head.
I’m a little jealous of those who buy into religion, as being a non-believer adds to the feeling of belonging that is missing from my life. Believers gather on Friday nights or Saturday mornings or Sunday mornings to worship together or harass those who don’t, while atheists don’t have a community space where they gather regularly to blaspheme. Maybe believing in ghosts is my dipping a toe into the water of spirituality. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m agnostic. I’m an open-minded atheist.
There’s more Madonna, and Prince and Michael Jackson, to come on this list, and more things that will undoubtedly go missing.
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