Category Archives: Music Notes

My night with Babs and other recent events worth sharing

Hello Gorgeous!Barbra Streisand on tour at Barclays on Aug 11

That’s the theme of this post. Streisand fans will know it’s one of her famous lines from “Funny Girl.” I went to see her last week at the Barclays Center in her hometown.  She made her grand entrance (she doesn’t do anything small) in a black sparkly jumpsuit complete with black sheer batwings for effect. Her first words to the sold-out crowd?  “Hello Brooklyn!”

Barbra Streisand on tour at Barclays on Aug 11

Her voice is still like buttah

The doting audience of mostly septegenerians in their own fancy pantsuits and sweater sets (despite the steamy NYC weather)  howled and cheered.

I loved her show– part of a world tour for her new album, ” Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway” –and was thrilled to scratch seeing her live off my pop culture bucket list. She was everything I could have hoped for after following her career all these years.

Barbra Streisand on tour at Barclays on Aug 11

The show was organized, thoughtful, intimate and moving. The audience kvelled as she opened with “The Way We Were”– gently easing us through the misty water-color memories. She sang one hit song from each iconic album of every decade since the 60’s– and we all marveled at how many recognizable songs she has. And that was all before the 20 minute intermission. (Who has a real intermission at a concert anymore?)

Her second act was favorites from show tunes to ballads, many written by close friends and brilliant composers including Julie Stein, Marvin Hamlisch and Barry Gibb specifically tailored to Barbra’s unique sound.

Barbra Streisand on tour at Barclays on Aug 11

Here she’s pointing out how the record company photo shopped her nose to look thinner. She was not pleased!

Her voice is still strong and rich, and each song was interpreted with respect to the original, but new flare. The best part was how much she chatted between songs. She talked about the history of certain album covers, her iconic outfits and accessories, and those who helped and inspired her along the way.

She got political several times, proudly declaring her support for Hillary, which was met by mostly cheers from the crowd of devotees.

Barbra Streisand on tour at Barclays on Aug 11

She brought Jamie Foxx and Patrick Wilson onstage to sing separate duets from the new album, which was a fun surprise. Both sang with power and literally bowed down to Babs before exiting the stage.

It was like spending the evening with an old friend.

My father was a HUGE Barbra fan and her music was on the playlist of my childhood. Hearing all those songs again– still sounding so good– was like tonic for the heart. Nostalgic and sweet ….and isn’t that why music is so powerful?

In other news…. I have a nephew! I’m a first-time aunt to one Cooper George Lefferts.

Eli is a great cousin!

Isn’t he just the cutest?


I hold him and feed him and smell his soft mushy head. I sway him and tickle his feet and love him up, before turning him over to his very tired parents.

Hello gorgeous!

brooke and coop aug 2016

Aunthood rocks.

I’m still plugging away at my job. It’s been nearly six months and although it can be overwhelming and stressful, covering entertainment news is cool and the days go by very quickly.

And once in a while I get a perk… like interviewing a celeb I admire.

Paul Reiser stops by the AP

Actor/comedian Paul Reiser came in to talk about the anniversary of “Mad About You.” I gave him sun butter and rice cakes and he made me laugh a lot.

Blake Lively was smart, sweet and easy to interview.

Daveed Diggs at the AP


Hello Gorgeous!

brooke and daveed diggs

Shortly after he came in, actor/rapper Daveed Diggs won a Tony for his roles as Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in “Hamilton”

But now it’s time for a break. I’m leaving for Israel at the end of the week to celebrate Aden’s bar mitzvah with family in the Holy Land.

Will blog about that gorgeous place when I return!

Springsteen never gets old

Before Bruce began playing all 20 songs from The River last night, he told the sold-out crowd at The Garden, “I wanted to make a big record that felt like life.”

I never feel more alive than when I’m at a Springsteen show.

Bruce Springsteen River Tour at MSG 2016

This t-shirt is 30 years old! From my first Bruce show in 1985.

Part of it is the emotional storytelling he does in every song– with poetic, often haunting lyrics that stick in your mind for decades because they trigger memories and touch your soul.

The River was one of the first albums I owned and I listened to it over and over again, always finding new nuances. Bruce creates characters in a world where work is hard, love is tangled and uncertain, and freedom and dreams are what save us.

Bruce Springsteen River Tour at MSG 2016

Playing my River cassette tape on my Sony boom box,  I loved rock classics like “Hungry Heart,” “Sherry Darling,” and “Out on the Street.” (What teenager doesn’t want to belt out “When I’m out on the street. I talk the way I want to talk!”?)

I was thrilled by the 1980’s technological advancement that allowed me to listen to the same song on repeat as many times as I wanted. I went through a “Drive All Night” phase and must have played that song a thousand times, dreaming of whichever boy I liked, wishing anyone would ever love me like that.

Bruce Springsteen The River tour 2016 at MSG

I also connected with the ballads. The tragic emptiness of “The River,” the brutal dose of reality and family strife in “Independence Day,” and the desperate longing of “Fade Away,” all came back to me. I was back in my high school bedroom with the blue shag carpet and flowered sheets, earnestly singing every word.

Bruce Springsteen River Tour at MSG 2016

Bruce played every song with energy and heart, like he was rediscovering the lyrics for himself, with more life experience to change his lens.

You would never know the guy is 66 from the spark and endurance onstage. I’m sure he gears up for days for a show now. He clearly takes care of his body and must treat his voice with gingerly care.  It’s still strong and gravelly and sexy as shit.

What other sexagenarian jumps into a standing crowd backwards and bodysurfs across a room?

Bruce Springsteen The River tour 2016 at MSG

Wilson balked at the hefty ticket price but he loved the show too. We went with old friends, David and Dana, which made the night even sweeter. If you’ve been to a Bruce concert, you know he’s like the bartender at Cheers, bringing together the E Street Band and thousands of screaming fans in one place to have a beer, sing songs and tell old stories.

Bruce Springsteen The River tour 2016 at MSG

Never disappointing his devoted fans, he played for more than three hours straight, and after The River, treated us to two of my favs: “She’s the One,” and “Candy’s Room.”

Bruce Springsteen The River tour 2016 at MSG

Forever fascinated by their marriage. What’s it like to live with The Boss?

He also pulled out ” The Rising” before going into the classic encores and a fun ending with “Shout.” For a complete set list click here.

Bruce Springsteen The River tour 2016 at MSG

So yeah, it was a terrific night with Bruce and the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, love-making, earth-quaking, Viagra-taking, justifying, death-defying, legendary E Street Band!

Who knows how long they’ll be rocking the house?  Each show feels like a moment in history to savor.

Kanye West: creative genius or out of control egomaniac?

Sorry for the hiatus kids, I was in jolly old England for a week with Aden (at least one post on that loveliness to come.) While I was gone, my review came out on the new book, “Kanye West: God and Monster,” by Mark Beaumont.

While the book is not great– way too long and not well-written or edited– I was fascinated by Kanye and wanted to learn more. He’s surprising in many ways. Growing up with two college-educated parents who valued the arts and instilled a strong work ethic, he started rapping as a kid in Chicago and worked his ass off writing and performing whenever he could.

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He made his bones as a producer and was working in the big leagues by 19– showing up to meetings with record companies in a pink Polo shirt and a Louis Vuitton backpack– ready to negotiate. The 90’s hip hop world didn’t know what to make of him, but he refused to take no for an answer.

Once he broke into the music business, he worked obsessively on perfecting every record, surrounding himself with the best talent and open to all collaboration. As his star began to rise, his healthy ego became his downfall. His media meltdowns became legendary and made him a punchline.

But he just went back to work creating. His vision and influence extends well beyond music into producing and directing videos, fashion, and design. Kanye also changed the genre by writing more honestly about his life experiences and feelings, which opened the door for many new artists since. The book made me want to buy his albums.

While I wouldn’t recommend Kanye West: God and Monster— read why below, I don’t mince words– I hope a good writer gets access to Ye or he writes his own story. I’d buy that book for realz.

Anyone who’s glanced at a tabloid recently knows Kanye West as a flashy rapper married to reality TV star Kim Kardashian. But a new book, “Kanye West: God and Monster,” by Mark Beaumont (Ominibus Press) argues West’s talent and influence stretch well past the gossip headlines. 

Beaumont did his homework — there are eight pages of sources cited in the index– piecing together West’s story, using media interviews spanning more than a decade. But the only quotes in the book allegedly said by West and those in his circle are taken from outside reporting– not original interviews– so there are no revelations, and few new personal details. 
The book follows West’s life from childhood in Chicago, to his first shot in the music business, through to the present. The bulk of the content focuses on West’s creative process writing and producing, so it reads more like a music anthology than biography. 
The chapters are long and dense, each focusing on a particular album, explaining the origin and meaning of scores of song lyrics and musical hooks, and myriad collaborators. West has joined forces with dozens of rap and hip hop stars and the author names them all, making it challenging to keep up. While Beaumont is deft at analyzing West’s lyrics and relating them to the rapper’s life experiences, including so many examples becomes repetitive, tedious, and breaks the narrative’s flow. 
A consistent theme in the book is West’s perseverance and his refusal to accept rejection because his artistic convictions and belief in himself are so strong. Beaumont suggests that while West is a “god” in music now, he had a tough time breaking in.
He didn’t look or sound like other rappers in the late 1990’s, and came from a disciplined home with college-educated parents who valued academics, art and a strong work ethic. While most rappers were wearing tight shirts and baggy jeans slung low, West– a high-fashion fan– sported a loose pink Ralph Lauren shirt with the collar flipped up and a Louis Vuitton backpack.

kanye-west Rolling Stones cover
Beaumont builds a convincing case that West is a creative music genius, with an eye for fashion, video directing, and design. He’s also known among peers as one of the hardest working in show business. Rapping as a child, he hustled through adolescence and produced on a platinum record at just 19.   
The book examines his process– never writing down lyrics, constantly listening to music from all genres to find hooks, and putting them together with signature beats. West often burrows in hotels and makeshift studios for months with little sleep, barely stopping to eat, as he constantly rearranges songs up until a record release.

A near fatal car accident at the beginning of his career gave him renewed purpose and sparked more honesty in his writing. While most artists were singing about fast cars, guns and sex, West started writing reflective raps about peer pressure, materialism, racism, violence, and stereotypes.

The audience responded to his new vulnerability: he was selling records and wowing critics. Beaumont maintains this introspective writing style changed the game and opened the door for more sensitive artists like Drake, Kid Cudi, and Frank Ocean. 

But with success, came hubris and a lack of self-control. West began to draw negative attention by comparing himself to great musicians and cultural icons, like Michael Jackson, the Beatles, Steve Jobs, and Ghandi, and became famous for his public meltdowns. 
He was publicly vilified after effectively calling then President George Bush a racist on live TV, and again when interrupting Taylor Swift after winning her first MTV award insisting Beyonce should have won. The backlash sent him into exile, but the book doesn’t offer any new insight nor explain why West continued his monster ways in subsequent interviews, Twitter rants, and scuffles with paparazzi. 

Fans looking for scoop on West’s personal life will be disappointed. Many life events– messy breakups, his mother’s tragic death following plastic surgery, feuds with other musicians, his marriage to Kardashian and becoming a father — are glossed over. 
The book spotlights the music and West’s ambition and artistic influence. He has his own record label, produces and styles music videos, created a Nike sneaker, and has fashion lines in the works. His tour with hip hop magnate Jay-Z broke records and marked transcendence into the mainstream.
“They were outselling Rock and Roll giants, and had broken through cultural barriers to become accepted and loved far beyond their niche beginnings. They were pop culture figures dictating fashion, music and even changes in racial and social attitudes,” Beaumont writes.  
Beaumont’s writing style is bland, unlike his dynamic subject. West’s personal story, his fearlessness and tireless work ethic, and his talent and creativity will likely inspire readers. Beaumont hails West as innovative and riveting. Unfortunately, his book is not.

Are you a Kanye fan? Tell me in the comments.

U2 at MSG or How Bono and FOMO don’t mix

Monday, I decided to get last-minute tickets to see U2 at Madison Square Garden. They’re my favorite rock band (unless Bruce and the E Street Band count) and I’ve seen them live many times. I wanted to get tickets when they went on sale months ago– and even put an alarm in my phone– but on that day some domestic distraction prevented me from getting on the phone or computer at the right time and by the time I did, decent seats were sold out.

I was disappointed and mad at myself so I did what I often do (and wish I didn’t) I avoided the problem until too late, because it was too painful to deal.

U2 2015 tour poster

Then our own personal Ticketmaster– Wilson’s brother, Jon– got four free tickets in a box for a Saturday night two weeks ago. I was thrilled.

Until I realized it conflicted with my BlogHer plans. I couldn’t ditch my out-of- town guest and all the fun of BlogHerpalooza so I gave my ticket up and Wilson went with his cousin.

But you may remember that a few weeks ago, my sister-in-law got tickets an hour before the Taylor Swift concert, and got great seats. So I decided I would be fun and spontaneous and try to score tickets the day of the concert. I was already in the city for work and had to pass MSG to get to Penn Station for my train home so it seemed like a low-risk, high-excitment endeavor.

I solicited my friend, Karen, to go and she enthusiastically returned my text: “OMG that would be so much fun!” she replied encouragingly.

Buoyed by Karen’s whimsy and dreams of getting a wink from the Edge from my last-minute floor seat, I checked StubHub for tickets. The cheapest seats started at $180 and they were behind the stage. Not good.

Wilson told me the show featured a giant screen that ran the length of the venue so if we were behind the stage we would miss all the action and visuals. Although it was a Monday night and they were playing like 8 shows in NYC, there were barely any seats available and they ranged from $350-850. Each! 

I was feeling impulsive and crazy, but not that crazy.

I downloaded the StubHub app to my phone and began obsessively checking for seats. I went to the StubHub office in midtown, hoping I could charm someone there into state secrets on how to get last-minute seats that didn’t cost as much as a pair of Bono’s custom sunglasses.

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I looked at the MSG seating chart about 100x in 12 hours.

It’s really kind of insane how much you have to fork over to see live music these days. Like cuckoo.

But I digress.

So Karen and I show up at MSG and stand in a line for people without tickets hoping to get last-minute releases. We knew that line of at least 20 people was not bearing fruit, but that line is how scalpers know you are in need.

We surveyed the situation and were approached by at least three scalpers. The first had only three teeth and very dirty shoes– no joke– and seemed pissed off. We didn’t engage him.

Another seemed sketchy and only talked out of the side of his mouth, while darting his eyes around, probably scanning for cops, who were lingering close by. We weren’t sure if we could get arrested for buying tickets from a scalper or if only the scalpers were at risk.

Did I mention Karen is a lawyer and very practical? Between that and my fear of making a bad choice that would put us out up to $500, we were not terrific scalper customers.

But we found one guy– let’s call him Joe Tickets, cuz that’s the name he gave me when I got his cell phone later– whom I trusted. He looked me in the eye, he was funny and he seemed to have a more honest face than the others. He said he would give us a ticket for one of us to go inside and find the seats to ensure they were legit. Then the other person would give him the cash for both tickets and get the other ticket. Seemed foolproof.

U2 MSG 2015

He had two tickets in a decent section for $250 each. $50 more than we wanted to pay, but it was now 8:10pm and the show was starting in 10 minutes so we began to feel desperate.

But that desperate feeling also made us doubt ourselves. We saw a couple buy the tickets from Joe and the husband disappeared while the wife waited outside for the call. She eventually wandered away so Joe’s tickets seemed to be the real thing (just like the U2 song.)

We hesitated….and just like that… the tickets were gone.  Joe whispered into several other dudes’ ears, but all the seats were taken and the music had already started.

So much for spontaneity.

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We walked into Penn Station (no place to lick your wounds) in a daze. We kind of couldn’t believe we really weren’t seeing U2. This isn’t how we pictured the story ending.

I attribute much of my initial excitement and subsequent disappointment to my acute case of FOMO (fear of missing out.) I get an idea in my head that I want to do something– it can be a pop culture event like this, or a party, or even a family activity– and I start to get anxious if I have a conflict and can’t make it happen.

I missed the “last” Grateful Dead shows in my home town a few weeks ago….U2 for BlogHer…I went to Taylor Swift and didn’t get to see The Wailers playing at Maplewoodstock….Wilson had only 4 tickets to the Met game and didn’t have enough tickets for me.

First world problems, I know. Woe is lucky me. But I can get my panties in a twist over missing stuff, and I cant figure out why. It happens with events, but also TV shows, movies, vacation spots. What personality defect does this reflect?

You know what doesn’t help my FOMO issues? Fucking Facebook.

FOMO graphic

As Karen and I sheepishly boarded our train home, we chatted a bit before checking our phones. I went onto Facebook to retrieve a message. As I scrolled through, I saw at least three friends posting photos from inside the show I was missing at that exact moment.

Photos, videos, and excited bursts of concert joy rattled and hummed on my feed. I hated them all.

We still hadn’t found what we’re looking for.

By the next day, the feelings of disappointment and regret had subsided and I realized that, of course, there will be other concerts. Karen and I had fun and impromptu dinner and drinks that never would have happened.

That’s the lesson I’m still striving to learn. To be present and satisfied with the moment I’m in. Cuz most of them are pretty great.

What gives you FOMO? Tell me in the comments.

Why I’m glad my 12-year-old son saw Taylor Swift live

Taylor Swift 1989 poster on

I can’t get the “Bad Blood” tune out of my head after seeing Taylor Swift live at MetLife Stadium last night. A lot of the show stuck with me today and I’m hoping will stick with my 9 and 12-year-old sons who also sang, danced and waved hands late into the night.

Aden asked for a ticket to the show for his 12th birthday in May so the grandparents contributed to the (very expensive) ticket fund. Eli got treated to the concert by his Aunt Beth and Uncle Jon for an early birthday (and Hanukkah, and probably 8th grade graduation– those tickets are $$$!) present.

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Some were surprised to hear my boys wanted to go because Swift’s fan base is largely girls. But I’m proud to say my boys are pretty evolved, and care more about good music and pop culture icons than stereotypes. Can’t imagine where they learned that.

There were not many boys in the audience, true. The sold out show was primarily tens of thousands of screaming, devoted girls and women. The age span went from 7 to 40-something, if you include the accompanying moms who seemed to like her as much as their daughters.

Taylor Swift 1989 concert at MetLife Stadium NJ on

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen concert fans go all out like this. There were thousands of girls dressed up– it was Justice meets Halloween.

Taylor Swift 1989 concert at MetLife Stadium NJ on

The girls seemed to be clumped in groups, marked by their own unique spin of Taylor-fashion: colored tutus, matching jerseys, giant sunglasses, light up jewelry, cut and beaded tank tops, and of course, Taylor concert t-shirts.

These girls were dressed as Grammys!

These girls were dressed as Grammys!

She’s gotta be making a fortune on merchandising. Even before the concert started they were sold out of most sizes.

Taylor Swift 1989 concert at MetLife Stadium NJ on

Oh and the signs—such creative, labor-intensive signs these girls brought.

Taylor Swift 1989 concert at MetLife Stadium NJ on

Giant letters that spelled out song titles, accessorized with LED lights to be seen in the dark, and hot pink poster boards with messages to their idol. Adorable!

Taylor Swift 1989 concert at MetLife Stadium NJ on

Taylor gave the love right back. She opened with “Welcome to New York,” which made the crowd go wild…

Taylor Swift 1989 concert at MetLife Stadium NJ on

… and sang many hits from 1989 and some favorites from past albums, including an acoustic version of “You Belong to Me” and a slowed down version of “Love Story.

Although I don’t have girls, I was a girl once and remember listening to my favorite songs over and over to memorize every word. I remember belting out lyrics into my hairbrush and making up dances. We may be living in a digital age of disengagement but loving music in that way hasn’t changed a bit.

The fans sang every word all night long and with such passion and gusto, you couldn’t help getting swept up in the moment.

As expected, there were at least 7 or 8 costume changes– all accentuating her impossibly long legs and svelte figure. I loved all the costumes– the black leather badass rock star getup for “Bad Blood” was my fav– and although she doesn’t do choreographed dance much, she has perfected the hair flip, runway strut, and over-the-shoulder flirty look.

Taylor Swift 1989 concert at MetLife Stadium NJ on

Everyone got a white plastic bracelet when they entered the stadium, which had special lights inside that lit up on command. It was so cool when they changed colors according to the song, or the floor seats lit up a different color than the stands. When it got dark, she said “lift up your lights so I can see every one of you!” and the whole stadium lit up like the Rockefeller tree.

Taylor seemed extra jazzed about the crowd Saturday night and promised special guests. Friday night she brought out a bunch of gorgeous models, Lena Dunham, and the Women’s U.S. Soccer team. Saturday night, more gorgeous models (I would name them but didn’t really know who they were besides Gigi Hadid,) and the actress who plays “Crazy Eyes” in Orange in the New Black Uzo Aduba (random!)

We also got a bonus song that made the girls crazy when Nick Jonas came out and sang “Jealous” with Taylor.

Taylor Swift 1989 concert MetLife Stadium NJ on

Beth and Eli. It was his first concert ever!

She talked a lot about friendship– there were also videos between songs with her gaggle of gal pals, who all seem famous. Love the positive, relatable themes about being a good, supportive friend, but her circle seems extremely unattainable!

What I love about Taylor is that she really appreciates the fans and seems to take in the significance of the moment. At one point, she said she spaced out for a second because she was looking around and soaking up the feeling of 60,000 people traveling from all over to spend their Saturday night singing all the words to her songs.

Taylor Swift 1989 concert MetLife Stadium NJ on

She talked a lot during the show and I loved her message of empowerment and inclusion. She reached out to those who may be going through a hard time, overwhelmed by life’s choices and feeling left out sometimes. Don’t let anyone hurt you and or make you feel bad about yourself, she warned.

You be you.

Taylor has an enormous platform and she’s using it for good. I wish I’d had someone like her to idolize when I was growing up and feeling awkward and insecure, when I was fighting with my girlfriends, and didn’t understand boys. I loved Madonna, but back then she wasn’t exactly about loving yourself for who you are.

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Cool fireworks show during the “Shake it Off” finale

That’s why I’m so happy my boys were there to hear her words and feel the girl power in the stadium. Taylor’s message is as important for them to hear as the females– maybe even more so.

Taylor Swift 1989 concert MetLife Stadium NJ on

That girl oozes with poise and talent. She can sing, write, connect with fans and hold the attention of thousands, But what I loved most was the joy she exudes onstage. When you watch someone successful and truly happy in their element, it makes everyone feel like anything is possible.


Barry Manilow still has the pipes

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Last week I took a trip back to my childhood, listening to Barry Manilow croon his classics live in concert, and you know what? He sounded great.

I have a friend who’s a big time Fanilow and got tickets to see Barry at the Prudential Center in Newark on his “One Last Time” tour. She was kind enough to offer me a ticket, knowing I would soak up the nostalgia and kitsch more than most.

It was quite a night.

The average age of the sold-out crowd was definitely north of 50, mostly giddy, coiffed ladies — many wearing nightclub attire and high wedged shoes– clutching plastic cups of Chardonnay in one hand and taking selfies with the other.

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Barry hands out glow sticks when you walk in to wave during old favorites.

My friend doesn’t mess around, so we sat in the 15th row at center stage– maybe the closest I’ve ever been to a concert performer. But being close gave me an unfiltered view of Barry’s face, which was a bit shocking.

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He’s clearly had a lot of work done…like a combination of Joan Rivers puff, and Liberace’s pull.

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This before and after says it all….

His hair is kind of early 90’s spiky on top and long in back….and can’t all be his own. But the guy is in amazing shape, still tall and lean and can wear a suit.

And did I mention he still sounds amazing? He opened with It’s a Miracle and soon went into Somewhere in the Night and Can’t Smile Without You. His voice is strong and he sings with the same heart and feeling he always had on oldies like Even Now and Mandy.  You probably forgot how many hit songs he had — too many to name. (For full song list, click here.)

I was surprised at how many words I still knew after all these years. My parents were huge Barry fans when I was growing up and we had all his albums (remember albums?!)  I remember my dad listening to him on his giant headphones as he putzed around the house, singing his lyrics loudly, off-key, but with conviction! Barry songs were always easy to belt out.

What cracked me up — and made me cringe a little, frankly– were all the women shrieking at him like he was Justin Bieber. During Weekend in New England, he sang “when will our eyes meet, when can I touch you,?” and those ladies went nuts.

“WE LOVE YOU BARRY!!!!” they shouted. He stopped in the middle of the song, and said with a smile “Even at 71, I still got it!”

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This lady got pulled up on stage and was hanging on for dear life as the crowd squealed with envy.

I prefer to think of him as an aging icon, and not any kind of sex symbol. But I was clearly in the minority, so — at the risk of being attacked by thousands of horny Fanilows–  I stifled my giggles and kept singing.

Manilow is a consummate performer. Still polished, charming, and grateful to his fans. Although this concert was more Vegas than rock and roll, hearing those old songs in a crowd that knew every word gave me the same nostalgic feeling I had when I saw Billy Joel last year.

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The encore was Copacabana, complete with strobe lights, falling streamers and a giant disco ball.

I’m always skeptical when artists say they’re performing “One Last Time“… and when you sound that good and you can still get tens of thousands of people to show up and scream your name, why would you ever stop?

Pop culture potpourri

Yeah, I saw all your Facebook photo posts of your fabulous white beaches in Aruba and gorgeous views from the ski lift in Vermont. I was happy for you, really I was.

But one of the great things about staying home for the holiday break was a chance to catch up on all the TV, movies, and other crap I’ve meant to get to but never seem to have the time.

There’s an overwhelming amount of media to ingest, and much of pop culture popularity now is through word of mouth buzz, so thought I’d share some of the stuff I’m digging at the moment.

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Serial    I can’t explain why listening to almost 12 hours of one woman talking about a 15-year-old murder case is fascinating but it is! We were driving to Boston for New Year’s and I plugged the podcast into the car stereo. My kids groaned as soon as the top 40 stopped, but within 20 minutes, all 5 of us were entranced.

by the way graphic on carpool

– By the Way, In conversation    I’ve raved about actor/comedian Jeff Garlin’s podcast before but then it went silent while he was shooting The Goldbergs. But he’s back baby, and better than ever. It’s not an interview show, it’s literally just 2 people onstage before a lucky live audience– chatting about anything from pilates to bad movie endings. He gets the best guests, but I’ll listen to any episode–even unfamiliar names — because it’s always entertaining. Who loves Garlin most? Brady, who’s getting some nice long walks.

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–The Imitation Game   This movie is a fascinating piece of little known history, and an interesting character study of Alan Turing– an odd codebreaker who helped end World War II.  Wilson and I give it two thumbs up for a riveting story and excellent acting. I know ladies swoon for Benedict Cucumberpatch but I don’t quite get it. I preferred to admire the flawless skin and effortless style of Kiera Knightly. Without giving too much away, there’s also a powerful social/cultural statement about the lack of human rights at that time that resonates today.

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–Boyhood    There’s been a lot of hype surrounding this movie but I liked it and appreciated the creativity, foresight, and endurance required to make such an innovative film. As the mom of three boys, it was interesting to see their common behaviors and attitudes, but this boy’s parents’ divorce was central to the story and will likely speak volumes to single parents and blended families. The characters were appropriately gray– not all good or bad– and showed growth as they lived with the choices they made. It’s a quiet movie though. Half the time I was stressed while watching, expecting a big dramatic turn of events, but it never came. I’d like to see it again, knowing the outcome, and appreciating the pop culture references and details. It’s groundbreaking in film history, and significant in modern culture.

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–Boardwalk Empire    I don’t know many people who watched this HBO series that ended last fall, and that’s a crime. We finally finished the last season and put it in our top 10 best dramas of all time. Each episode– exec produced by Martin Scorsese– was like a mini movie. The cinematography, art direction, costumes, and attention to historic detail was flawless and the writing was brilliant. Every season had its own intensity, and featured mafia legends including Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano and Arnold Rothstein.  Season 3 with Bobby Cannavale as the psycho mobster Gyp Rosetti was one of the sickest characters I’ve ever seen on TV.  I’m telling you, watch it. Or I’ll break your legs.

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–Parenthood     If you stuck with it through all six seasons as we have, it was well worth it. It’s been called “appointment crying” and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten through an episode with a dry eye, because creator Jason Katims and his excellent writers know how to yank at those heartstrings like he’s playing a bass. It got a little soapy in the last couple seasons, but the characters are complicated, the acting is excellent (shoutout to Ray Ramano, who knew?) and the stories are often relatable. Episode 11 was especially great as they started to revisit the past and wrap up the series in a subtle but powerful way. I’m eager to see how they end it. Even if you gave up a few seasons ago, I’d recommend watching the last two episodes. But be sure to bring a hanky.

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–Into the Woods soundtrack   This was my dad’s favorite Broadway show of all time and we saw it with Bernadette Peters back in the day, so I was thrilled to see it was coming to the big screen. I haven’t even seen the movie yet (soon!) but am loving the music. Sondheim is the most clever theatrical rapper there is. The lyrics are beautiful and poetic, and the bigger message about life in and out of the woods is timeless. (Cinderella: “How can you know who you are til you know what you want, which I don’t?)  As Eli told me– he’s my one kid who loves show tunes as much as I do–  the story is about what happens following “Happy ever after.”  Careful what you wish for!

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–Real Housewives of Beverly Hills    Sooo much better this season! They got rid of the two creepy weirdos from last year and scored the goofy, fun, candid Lisa Rinna and her pal, soap opera actress Eileen Davidson. The houses. parties, and shopping sprees are still outrageous, the hair and makeup completely over the top, and the cat fights extra scratchy. Sure, Yolanda is out of touch with reality, but somehow she’s still endearing and a good mom. Brandi is trashy and so clearly in need of therapy it’s like watching a tall white Cadillac Escalade with blinged out wheels crash in slow motion.  Great TV.

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–The Affair    A lot of fellow TV junkies are raving about this show but Wilson and I thought it was mediocre. The concept is compelling– a story of an affair of two married people, culminating in a murder mystery, told from his and her points of view. But some of the writing was lame and the way they bopped around the Hamptons and Brooklyn when they should have been hiding in hotel rooms was bonkers and unrealistic. Oh but did I mention Joshua Jackson is unbelievably hot?? I don’t care how good The Wire was, I can’t imagine a world where one would choose the overcompensating greasy curls and weak character of Dominic West over Jackson, the brooding cowboy. I will say that the last 3 episodes were great and hooked us in for next season.

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–Trivia Crack     Jacob introduced me to this app on my phone and it’s an addictive diversion when on-line at Trader Joe’s or commuting home. You answer questions in several different categories in less than 30 seconds, and can play against friends. The questions aren’t that hard (yet) so it’s a nice little ego boost and feels like a better use of brain juice than say, scrolling Facebook.

Are any of these sucking up your time? What are your latest pop culture obsessions? Tell me in the comments.

You’ll find FOUND an original theater experience

Wilson and I recently saw an off-Broadway play at the Atlantic Theater Company called, Found, which we found fresh, original and innovative. It made us laugh… and think.

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It’s a musical and tough to explain, but stay with me. For those of you who cringe when you hear the overture of a razzmatazz show (Annie, Pippen, Chicago)  or a dramatic score (Les Miz, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked) this is a musical that will speak to you. (For the record I love most musicals with the exception of Cats.)

Because it’s not traditional lyrics and music. The star of the story is notes written by real people, cleverly pieced together to create a narrative about a 20-something dude searching for purpose and finding it in the powerful and random words of strangers.

Found’s website describes the show this way:

Found was created from scores of surprising and eccentric discarded notes and letters that have been “found” in the real world by every-day people. Inspired by actual events, the show follows Davy who, along with his two best friends, is lost and broke. When he finds a strangely revealing note on his windshield meant for someone else, it sparks an outlandish idea that finds him and his compatriots on a wild, comedic journey. This raucous and insightful new musical tells a story of ambition, betrayal and loyalty while celebrating the weirdness in all of us.

It’s a true story about a guy who started collecting random notes he and others found on the street or anywhere public. His collection turned into a career as he started the magazine “Found” to showcase the wacky, tragic, angry, and often hilarious things people say to each other.

The set is covered in reproductions of actual notes found all over the world, sent to Davy for the magazine. When a character is speaking (or sometimes singing) the words of a specific note, it’s projected onto the set to emphasize the message.

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You can’t believe the things people say to each other.

We laughed a lot. Like deep belly laughs that extend into giggles. As you may know, people are freakin’ nuts. But seeing their words play out in front of you, weaved into stories with catchy tunes, is a unique theater experience.

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I loved it, but don’t just listen to me. The Times gave it a great review and the NY Post called it “the best date-night show of the season.”

It’s playing for a few more weeks, unless it gets a shot at moving to Broadway. I hope it does, as the show– and the words of the people– deserve a larger audience.


Billy Joel at MSG: the nostalgia’s worth the ticket price

We were all in the mood for a melody… and Billy Joel delivered.

Some friends offered us last-minute tickets to see the Piano Man a few weeks ago, and it happened to be Wilson and my wedding anniversary so nostalgic live music with close friends was a perfect way to celebrate.

I had wanted to see Billy since he embarked upon his Madison Square Garden residency of sorts, and many friends had raved about the concert. I’d seen him once in college, outside Boston and knew he was a terrific live performer.

I grew up on Billy Joel. I’m pretty sure I know every word to his 1977 album The Stranger, probably most of 1978’s 52nd Street, and years of hits after that.

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He had a presence on every mix tape I made in the 80’s and 90’s. I love his music because it’s classic rock and roll, and his songs tell stories with vivid characters. I’ll always crank a Billy Joel tune on the radio, because it inevitably brings me back to the past.

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I remember hearing my dad blaring “Big Shot” in our apartment, as he planted on our balcony or cleaned the tropical fish tank. I often blasted my cassette tape version of “My Life” at top volume on the boom box in my room just to piss my parents off.

If you remember life before MP3 players, Billy Joel in concert is — as comedian Jeff Garlin would say– a big bowl of joy.

May 9th happens to be Joel’s birthday so we got some bonus cameos at the concert. The first was Howard Stern who told the audience how much he loved Billy, not just for his talent but for his generosity because he was donating all the proceeds of that night’s show to the North Shore Animal League, a charity near to the hearts of Stern and his wife, Beth.

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The always delightful Jimmy Fallon brought his barbershop quartet onstage to serenade Joel with “Lions Sleeps Tonight” and a rousing version of “Happy Birthday.

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“I’m supposed to retire at this age… or at least not have the name ‘Billy!'” Joel joked.

It’s pretty impressive to be commanding a stage for two solid hours at 65, but he’s no Springsteen. He was clearly sweaty and winded, and that’s after mostly sitting at the piano all night. But he worked hard and he’s entitled to be tired! I hope I have that energy at 65.

He played everything you’d want to hear. It felt like all 18,000-plus people in the audience knew every word to most songs, which always elevates a concert from a performance to an emotional experience.

The crowd went particularly nuts during Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, Movin’ Out, and Piano Man.  I’m a sucker for a man in uniform, so when members of the NYPD and NYFD came out during Goodnight Saigon, goosebumps were abundant.

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Billy Joel will be at MSG once a month from now through December.  I loved the show so much, I’d see it again in a heartbeat, but the ticket price is definitely a deterrent. While the face value of the tickets starts at $150, decent seats are a minimum of $300 and seats on the floor range from $700-$1300.

But who knows how many more chances you’ll have to relive your youth and see a master at work, having the time of his life. Joel said several times during the show that he loved his job. One of the benefits of growing old with your music idols is seeing them mellow and really appreciate their fans.

Our group of friends belted out the lyrics, danced in the aisles, and tangled our arms as we swayed to every tune.  It’s funny how seeing someone old made me feel so young.

What music takes you back? Tell me in the comments.

From Jagger to Jay Z: new book gives readers backstage pass to music history

You don’t have to be a die-hard or wonky music fan to enjoy rock journalist, Lisa Robinson’s new book, There Goes Gravity. If you love music, or ever fantasized about what it would be like backstage, hanging out with your favorite rock star, you’ll live vicariously through Robinson’s 45 years covering rock royalty up close, and often very personal.

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The book is a career memoir– not a personal one– so all the juicy details– from groupies on the road with the Stones to Lady Gaga’s private home life– are about the artists. Robinson started writing in 1969, touring with the Stones and Zeppelin, and has interviewed every big name in the business while writing for several music magazines, the New York Post, and now as the music editor for Vanity Fair.

She was a central figure in the punk rock scene in both New York and London, claiming she got The Clash and Elvis Costello their first record deals after hearing them live.

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The book has only 10 chapters, honing in on only a dozen or so major stars who Robinson thinks have been the most influential. She shares fascinating interviews with artists including Keith Richards, David Bowie, George Harrison, Patti Smith, and Eminem. In many ways, she’s telling the story of American culture through music.

Here’s an excerpt from my review:

Even the most media-wary artists come to trust Robinson because she’s more fan than a critic, able to keep secrets, and industry savvy. One of the few journalists to sit down with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, she offers fascinating quotes, but her rose-colored glasses are off when describing their reclusive, self-centered life in New York.

Robinson has a knack for getting subjects to share revealing personality traits that speak volumes. After interviewing Michael Jackson several times in his rise to stardom, she notices he has two voices: one high and soft for the public, another normal and commanding for his inner circle.

When she asks U2’s Bono how he handles home life after being on tour, he answers candidly. “In a very, very, very deep place I’m secure. And on the surface, secure. But somewhere in there, I need 20,000 screaming people a night to feel normal.” Tracing the evolution of U2, Robinson shows how, despite talent and good intentions, a band can lose its way in the tornado of success. In the group’s ’90s “Popmart” phase, they let celebrity and philanthropy get in the way of the music.

Robinson writes affectionately about most rockers but does get in a few jabs. She describes Lady Gaga as a gifted singer and musician who’s connected to her audience, unlike Madonna, whom Robinson calls driven, humorless and lacking passion.


You can read more of the review here.

Robinson wrote the cover story for last November’s Vanity Fair on the media-wary Jay Z, whom she called “the new Chairman of the Board.”


In this modern era of publicists and celebrity overexposure, her stories seem even more extraordinary because they came from a simpler time when covering rock was about the music, not the image.

Robinson is a terrific writer whose access and insight make There Goes Gravity a great read. It’s sure to be a staple in many beach bags this summer.