Friday, February 27, 2009


On Wednesday, I turned 29. That means it's birthday week, and although the actual day already passed, the party train rolls ever forward. Tonight L and I are going to see "The 39 Steps" on Broadway, and then tomorrow is poker night with a bunch of friends and my brother-in-law.

So far 29 is feeling pretty good. I like the oddness of it, the irregularity, the sharpness. 29 seems to be more about anticipating 30 than reflecting the end of the 20s. And the 20s, for all of their wild freedom and unexpected mistakes and dawning awareness, are maybe starting to feel a little ragged. Not that I'm in a rush to hit 30 and then begin the slide into fatherhood, mortgages, and relaxed-fit pants. But I do feel like I am entering a new phase of life somehow, a phase where I want a bigger apartment and where I get really excited by having new ties to wear to work. Although, before I write myself completely off, I will also note that I spent 90 minutes of my birthday at hip hop, where we were bouncing around to house music and warming up to "Rump Shaker," a song that moved me as deeply and undeniably at 13 as it does now at 29.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Concert review: Ne-Yo!

Last night L and I ventured forth to Radio City to catch the big Ne-Yo concert, featuring opening acts Jazmine Sullivan and Musiq Soulchild. Given my recent lapse into middle age, I was exhausted by 7 pm on Sunday night, and not really excited to head into midtown to see a concert, but let me tell you, dear reader, that this concert was the shit.

It's hard to avoid comparisons to the John Legend show we saw a few weeks ago, so here's the breakdown. This show had tons of energy, the crowd was whooping and clapping the whole time, Ne-Yo had more charisma in his jauntily-cocked hat than earnest ol' John Legend tried to wring out of every song, and the crowd itself was demographically less diverse: mostly well-dressed black people, a surprising number of Asians, and very few white people. Like, a lot of people went to see "Madea Goes To Jail" on Saturday (which I totally want to see) and then made it to the Ne-Yo show on Sunday.

I went to this show thinking I was a moderate Ne-Yo fan, but sitting there in the upper mezzanine, singing out loud so the three fun black girls to my left would know that I am down, I realized that I really love his music. It just has this polish and sense of fullness and completion that I love. His lyrics are simple but insightful, and you can't beat the production. His voice is high but not reedy, but a little further up than I can sing comfortably, unless I decide that I really need to break my larynx with some Ne-Yo emotion. Hearing all of his songs in one fell swoop gave me a huge appreciation for his body of work.

The other amazing thing: Mary J. Blige was at the show, sitting in the third row! I spent a lot of the concert watching the back of her big round blonde hairdo, seeing how she was enjoying the show. "Look, Mary J. is rocking out! She's really into 'Closer'!" Or: "Does Mary J. like this song? He better keep her happy."

Ne-Yo had four dancers, two guys and two girls, and they were excellent. He moved with an almost robotic precision, and his moves were a little flashier and more dramatic than your typical hip hop, but it fit his classic aesthetic. The girls did some sexy grinding all over the place, and they even had this Janet Jackson bit, where they did some awesome moves with scarves straight from her "Alright" video in 1989. I was surprised that I knew that, but I did.

Ne-Yo's stage was pretty basic; a staircase near his band, and a light wall behind him. For one of his more treacly songs he had dry ice blasting on stage from the wings, where it tumbled off the stage and into the VIP seating. "I hope Mary J. doesn't mind all that dry ice," I worried. "I don't feel like she would be into that." It was up around her shoulders at that point.

The main thing about this show was that the energy never lagged. The songs moved quickly, no endless interludes, no uninteresting solos by the bassist, and plenty of good patter. Ne-Yo was calling out individual women in the audience, complementing their outfits or their weaves, and he passed out roses to a few lucky audience members. I didn't get one, but L didn't either. Also, he sang a quick medley of the hit songs he's written for other people ("Irreplaceable," "Take a Bow," "Let Me Love You," "Spotlight,") and I liked them more after hearing his takes.

We arrived at the concert in time to catch Jazmine Sullivan's last song, her hit "Need U Bad," which I like ok. She had a good arrangement and was really wailing it out, on her knees in the center of the stage having a "down on my knees/begging you please" Jodeci moment, with her backup singers keeping time for her.

I was really into Musiq's first two albums, but I kind of lost track of his career in the last couple years. To me he is part of that male R&B team that I love and live by: him, Eric Benet, D'Angelo, R. Kelly, and others. His voice is rich and he sings in the church R&B tradition I can only appreciate from a distance. He was having a great time on stage, singing and dancing and skipping around, rocking out in his three-piece suit in front his all-female band. Although I must note that I didn't like the sounds his background singers made, and one of them really did look like Star Jones.

I'm listening to Ne-Yo as I write this, and I had a really long day today, feeling worried and insecure at work, having a hell of a workout at the gym and a long cold walk home, and now my wife is in bed and I'm sitting here typing, winding down my day and my thoughts, but I find myself getting hyped up again, just thinking about this show. It was so damn good. My ears were ringing and my voice was scratchy as we filed out of Radio City. Ne-Yo and his colleagues had us clapping and singing and snapping for a night -- and if it's good enough for Mary J. Blige, you know it's good enough for me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The good ship Vodka Tonic

In addition to what I was thinking about the other night, I wanted to remember some of the great things from this weekend. I saw my first manatees. I ate about a pound of shrimp along with a beautiful cold river of Coronas. More key lime pie than recommended, and so much grouper (which is a kind of fish) that when my sister telephoned and asked for me, my grandfather said, "Ol' Grouper's still asleep!" because my nickname now is Grouper.

Also, when we started discussing boat names, here is what three of us came up with: My grandfather would name his boat Vodka Tonic; I would name my boat The Rusty L; and L would name her boat Leaky M.

Monday, February 16, 2009


"Old age is hell," my grandmother said. There were ghosts with us this weekend in Florida. We talked about my Aunt Evvy, who recently passed away, and another close relative of my grandparents who underwent an unexpected heart operation this week.

"No one's ever beaten it, so what can you do," my grandfather said. They talked about losing people you love and have lived with for decades, how it feels to be at an age when your close family members and friends are succumbing to their years. How it feels to live inside an old body, when certain words or names are just beyond the tip of the tongue and when each trip on the stairs demands a firm grip on the barrister. L and I would jog up the stairs into the condo: "you're just showin off," she would say.

And they said, "you'll get there one day," and for a moment I couldn't wait to be elderly, to understand. And then I thought of what must happen to reach that point: the children to be born, the careers to rise and fall, the mistakes and the wounds and the triumphs and the thousands of moments I would not dare give up. How many evenings of late-summer light, how many Christmases, how many kisses and tears and cheap or genuine or inexplicable laughs. I felt ashamed for wishing to skip so far ahead. And I felt chastened by the lack of any kind of guarantee of making it to that far place down the road. How lucky to walk these steps with them, and to have a good woman beside me as we peer down our own path, unknowable and unseen.

I feel really complicated right now, like I don't know if my heart is bursting or breaking.

Monday, February 09, 2009


Ok, it's been a while. I've had a lot of blog-related guilt over the last week and a half, but in my defense last week was extremely busy. It was also horrible, work-wise, but maybe now things are returning to something like normal.

So here are a couple of things. Last Thursday we went to see John Legend at Radio City, and he was great. I forgot how beautiful Radio City is; the great golden archway over the stage, the art deco contours, and the grandeur of the lobby. I love the idea that that great cavernous space is carved into just another innocuous midtown building. We had such a great time that we got tickets to go see Ne-Yo at Radio City in a couple weeks -- I am really excited.

On Thursday morning we're going to Naples to see my grandparents for a long weekend of fun in the sun (...and dinners at 5:30). This is our third time; the first two can be revisited here and here.

The last thing is that I've noticed some new graffiti around the neighborhood, on utility boxes on light posts and scrawled on the subway: "Papa Loves Baby." I don't know who Papa is, or Baby, but I know that I kind of like it.