Tiffany at 50: She’s Not Alone Now

I had the pleasure of seeing 80s’ pop icon Tiffany (Darwish) perform in Melbourne, Florida, at the Iron Oak Post on November 21st. Her performance gained national attention through outlets like TMZ because she said to the audience, “F-you, guys,” after struggling with her singing during the performance of her hit song “I Think We’re Alone Now.” She later apologized for her behavior in a recorded video, saying she had a panic attack because her voice was failing.

As someone present in the audience, I’d like to give my own firsthand account of that night and correct some misleading impressions made by TMZ reporting.

Iron Oak Post is a bar that’s split in half between a drinking area and a performance venue. The bar itself stretches between the two. It’s a small venue that holds concerts regularly. For a bit of context, Melbourne has about as many heavy metal bands as my current town, Merritt Island, has turtles, and let me tell you–that’s a lot. The opening act was a great local band, DL Serios, who that night had Michelle Jones on glowy electric violin (check out the DL Serios Facebook page for additional video).

I’d seen DL Serios before, and they rocked, hard, closing with a cover of Kiss’s “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N Roll” that blew my doors off. I think they played it better than Kiss. The night they opened for Tiffany, however, they were more subdued, with their lead guitarist on acoustic and their drummer on a stripped down set he was playing with his bare hands, slapping the drums. He still sounded so big I couldn’t tell until I looked hard at his equipment. Frontman Chris Long was on point, energetic, and engaging, as always. They played acoustic versions of many of the same songs I’d heard cranked up loud and electric in another performance. Michelle Jones, who performed with the orchestra for the Page/Plant No Quarter tour in the mid 90s, sat in because she likes to jam with the band, and she did. Jam.

When Tiffany came out, there were sound problems right off, including some squealing feedback and a lack of reverb. I’d seen Ektogasm in the same venue some time back, and they had sound problems then too. The bass guitar sounded louder than the lead guitar that night, for example, at least to me. After two or three songs, however, the sound problems seemed to get worked out, and Tiffany and her guitarist Mark Alberici, sitting next to her on acoustic guitar, started moving through a number of Tiffany’s songs from her most recent album, Pieces of Me. I wasn’t at all familiar with these songs, but I was impressed with the songwriting, which in that format sounded like very well put together singer-songwriter pieces.

She also spent some time talking about a charity she was sponsoring on her tour, the Give Foundation, dedicated to poverty relief. It was clear from a number of her comments that she was at the end of a long tour and some fatigue had been setting in. Near the end of the night, Michelle Jones joined Tiffany and her guitarist onstage, unrehearsed, for a nice jam at the end.

And now we get to the “incident.” I initially decided not to write about what happened, because why draw attention to it?

But once TMZ covered it, why not?

A friend of mine in attendance that night sent me her video footage of “the incident,” which you can also see in the TMZ links. My friend’s video is immediately below.

Of the three Tiffany videos I posted above (gotta slide right from the first to the second in the first embed), the first was at the end of the night, once Tiffany quit singing and her guitarist and Michelle took over. It’s frankly hard to believe they didn’t rehearse. The second video (yes, slide right) was from very early in the night, Tiffany’s popular version of the Beatles’ “I Saw [Him] Standing There” from her first album.

TMZ accurately reports that Tiffany’s voice started giving out at the end. She sounded hoarse and like she was losing breath, and she was self-conscious about her fatigue and the sound quality all night. But TMZ gets a few things wrong in these sentences:

Tiffany was onstage Sunday night in Melbourne, FL with her band, belting out a few tunes including her hugely successful “I Think We’re Alone Now.” You can hear Tiffany struggle with a few notes, but fans help her out — singing along word for word.

However, near the end of the song, Tiffany apparently hears or sees something she doesn’t like in the crowd … telling them, “F*** You!!!”

Let me respond line by line:

Tiffany was not “onstage with her band.” She was onstage only with her guitarist Mark Alberici on acoustic guitar until the end of the night, when Michelle Jones joined them onstage.

Tiffany did indeed “struggle with a few notes,” and fans did “help her out — singing along word for word.” If you watch the video, the audience sang along loudly for a few lines. Right before she got frustrated, the audience stopped singing along because she’d quit singing lyrics.

Tiffany did not say “F*** You!!!” The typography here implies she shouted angrily at the crowd. She didn’t. You can see in TMZ‘s own video and the video I provided above that she didn’t so much sound angry as maybe a bit annoyed. She sounds like she’s talking to an annoying friend at a party. And TMZ didn’t report everything she said. What she said was,

“F- you, guys. I’m gonna f-ing… [I can’t make out what else she says.] This is my hit.”

When she said it, she was looking straight into the audience, slightly to her right, so TMZ is right in saying that something in the audience set her off. But she was talking to someone specific, maybe a couple people up front laughing at her for her singing.

By that point it wasn’t so much a concert as drunken karaoke with the original performer.

And yes, TMZ also reports that “there’s been some speculation alcohol played a factor…” From my point of view, that’s not speculation. If you watch to about 13 seconds into my first video, you’ll see a barstool slightly behind and between Tiffany and her guitarist populated with the contents of a minibar. That pint glass she was drinking from, I have been told, wasn’t Guinness, as I thought at the time, but whiskey, so she started out with a good 4-5 fingers in there, and I was told that there was some pretty hard drinking backstage too.

Yep, Tiffany was a bit lit by the end of the night.

But the biggest thing TMZ got wrong was this: “her latest show in Florida struck a sour note between the singer and her fans.”

No. There was no “sour note between the singer and her fans.”

When she told the audience, “F- you, guys,” the crowd cheered. Just watch the videos. That was their highlight of the night.

Her guitarist Mark, by the way, was a great stage partner. When he thought she started going a little off the rails he’d try to reign her in, tugging at her sleeve, and I think he and Michelle Jones started jamming together at the end to get her away from the mic.

But did I tell you this was a heavy metal crowd? Did you know there’s a Jim Morrison house not far away?

What I saw, and what I think most of the crowd saw, was a great moment in rock and roll. Morrison died when I was just a kid, so I’ve never been to a Doors concert. But that night with Tiffany, or at least that moment, felt like one. Most of all, it was a moment of reality instead of polish. That’s what made it great to so many people there. Five seconds of her real feelings were more important to the crowd than 90 minutes of polished self-presentation. Without necessarily encouraging that behavior in the future, we love you for that, Tiffany.

It was the death of a vapid 16 year old singing fun pop songs and the birth of our next Janis Joplin. She has the material. She has the voice. Just don’t die on us like she did.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not knocking her 16 year old self. She was great when she was 16, 17, 18 years old for a teenager. She’s just better now.

What I saw was a 50 year old woman who has earned the right to be herself… being herself. It was Tiffany proving that one 50 year old version of herself is better than two 25 year old versions, even if they’re crammed into one body.

I don’t need to hear those 80s songs. I’d like to hear her sing “Honkey Tonk Woman” in the real voice she has today. Heck, that should be the title of her next album. I want to hear her next album, which she announced she’s delaying until 2022, and give her last album, Pieces of Me (2018), a good long listen, because the new music I heard that night was better than anything I heard from her in the 80s.

Miley Cyrus and Brittany killed their teen pop idol alter egos. Let Tiffany do so as well.

Tiffany is alive and well, and she proved it at Iron Oak Post that night.

Iggy without a Shirt

Buy any album with Iggy without a shirt. . .

I recently picked up a used copy of Iggy Pop’s 1982 album “Zombie Birdhouse” and, looking at the seated, shirtless Iggy on the cover, I was reminded of a general buying principle for Iggy Pop albums passed on to me by Michelle Pessaro, owner of Savvy Vinyl Records in Melbourne, FL: “Buy any album with Iggy without a shirt.” It carried with it the implied corollary, “Shirted Iggy albums suck.” This buying principle had been passed on to her by Chris, the owner of the former Vinyl Request Records, whose store Michelle inherited when he passed away in 2019. It was a great store, one that had the space to host live music, and it was a staging point for a lot of great bands around the Melbourne, FL, area. It also hosted some better known bands like Agnostic Front.

Needless to say, I had to test that theory. I had to test it because it seemed testable, because there is objective data available by which we can test the theory, and because I’d graded waaaay too many papers over the last three days and desperately needed to do something else.

So, I made a spreadsheet.

Dare I say it? This spreadsheet is a glorious instance of Digital Humanities at work, one that quantified ratings of each Iggy Pop album on a 5 star scale and correlated those ratings with album cover features (shirted/non-shirted/other). I submit for your consideration The Table:

Results: average rating of shirted Iggy albums, 3.0. Average of shirtless Iggy albums, 3.4. The principle holds with a couple of early exceptions, such as Iggy Pop’s Bowie-produced solo albums from 1977, which have ratings of 5, and the late album Naughtie Little Doggie, which even a shirtless Iggy couldn’t save from sucking horribly.

Score distribution:

  • 9 shirtless albums: 7 of 9 shirtless albums are rated 4 or 5.
  • 8 shirted albums: 3 of 8 shirted albums are rated 4 or 5 while 5 of 8 shirted albums are rated 3 or below.

Bottom line: Chris was right!

This whole “project” leads me to think about record stores in general, and what makes a good record store good. At the risk of sounding cliché, a good record store loves the music, while a worse record store either doesn’t love it as much, doesn’t know how to love it properly, or just exists to take your money.

This difference is measurable and quantifiable from store to store. It is observable. I’m not just being sentimental. A store that loves the music loves its vinyl. If they’re selling you a piece of used vinyl above $10.00, it will have been checked for scratches, scuffs, and dirt and cleaned if necessary. It might be given a new inner sleeve, even if the original is still there. The record store can’t control what condition the vinyl, inner sleeve, and vinyl are in when the album arrives in the store, but it can control the condition it’s in when they sell it.

And sellers can also control their selling price. Ebay and Amazon selling prices for used vinyl are all over the place, and there is no quality control in check. Discogs.com is a better source for the real value of any given piece of used vinyl on the market. It will display the selling history of any used vinyl by specific edition and by condition, which has to be listed on the website following their guidelines, which list vinyl and covers in conditions from Mint (basically, new) to Poor. I’ve published two books on rock music and literature, and have two more under contract right now, and I’ve found Discogs.com to be an invaluable resource on the details of any specific release of almost any specific album.

I’ve bought some used vinyl in my lifetime, including over the last couple of years, and my go-to store is Savvy Vinyl Records because the owner takes care of her vinyl — she has a cleaning machine on her table next to the register — because she prices in the middle of Discogs listings, and because she stands by her product. If an album turns out to be in bad shape, she asks you to bring it back. If the album leans a bit on the expensive side, she’s probably listened to it before selling it. She has an extensive Discogs catalog of her own, by the way, so she’s a safe vendor to buy from online. Another great vendor is Gator Records on Instagram. I’ve never regretted a purchase from that vendor, and he cleans his vinyl before shipping it and puts his vinyl in new sleeves.

There are a number of good online vendors for new and specialty vinyl as well. Experience Vinyl has some interesting curated editions — for example, Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain in yellow and red swirl vinyl curated by Carlos Santana, selected by him and including his notes on the album, and it has recently begun expanding its catalog. Sound of Vinyl is great for colored vinyl reissues from popular bands and other specialty releases. Vinyl Me Please has some fantastic releases, but a very limited and somewhat expensive catalog at any given time. Look for Music on Vinyl rereleases from any store, or Back to Black, and of course some of the most interesting vinyl releases during any given year come out on Record Store Day. Look up the RSD website to see when this year’s RSD albums will drop and what they will be.

The best thing to do, however, is to find a small, independent seller that loves its vinyl and support it.

My Blakean Life

I have been lax in celebrating William Blake’s birthday, which passed by recently, on Nov. 28th. A Londoner almost all of his life, he was born in 1757 and died in 1827, just short of his 70th birthday. He’s best known for The Songs of Innocence and of Experience, and within that, the poem “The Tyger,” and also for an excerpt from his long poem Milton a Poem which was set to music by Hubert Parry in a piece called “Jerusalem” (And did those feet…), a composition used as a school song for many schools around the world also famously covered by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Selections from “Auguries of Innocence” are found in the Tomb Raider movies, his art in the Hannibal Lecter movies, and his poems are probably used for lyrics by contemporary musicians more than any other poet from any time. There are book-length lists of Blake poems set to music. 

I didn’t learn about Blake in school, however — I learned of him when I heard the song “William Blake,” which was written by Terry Scott Taylor for the band Daniel Amos on their Vox Humana album. Hearing that song was enough to get me to rush to — remember these? — a B. Dalton Bookseller, where I picked up a copy of the Viking Portable Blake. That started me on a journey that took me through graduate school, a dissertation, my first book, and then two Rock and Romanticism books. But it was all about music and literature from the beginning, not just the stuff they make you read in school, as it was for Blake himself, who originally sang many of those poems at dinner parties to his own original musical compositions. He was said to have a good singing voice, and scholars of music notated his compositions at the time, though those are lost to us now. Roy Starling was my first instructor in Romanticism, and he made Romantic poetry come alive for me, as he did all the literature he taught to all of his students at the college and high school levels. 

I chose Blake because I wanted a subject of study that I could attend to for twenty years without getting bored, and he has not disappointed. In addition to my own writing about Blake, I was also privileged to work with Michael Phillips on three occasions for Blake printmaking demonstrations, one of these resulting in an exhibit at Rollins College and another in an exhibit curated by Lee Fearnside that consisted of contemporary artists inspired by Blake alongside Phillips’s own reproductions of Blake’s work through his reproduction of his printmaking methods. 

And Blake has informed and inspired my own creative work — following in his footsteps I’m working on my own reworking of Milton’s Paradise Lost as a steampunk western as well as assorted collections of my own poetry. We will see where it all leads, but I remain grateful for what Blake has meant to me.

I should end this with Blake’s own words… 

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.

Rock and Romanticism on RCRR

Many thanks to the website Romantic Circles Reviews and Receptions for inviting me to guest post to their blog about my Rock and Romanticism titles, and many thanks to Suzanne Barnett for inviting me to do so.

Bohemian Rhapsody, A Review

Bohemian Rhapsody is a great biopic about the history of Queen from Freddie Mercury’s first encounter with the band (then known as Smile) to the Live Aid concert in 1985, largely focused on Freddie Mercury.

It had the flaws that most biopics share — it’s not tightly plotted — but it strived to be an honest (though not necessarily always factual) portrait of Freddie Mercury. It didn’t downplay his bisexuality or partying, or how much of a jerk he could be with his fellow band members and other people he loved, but instead tried to get us to understand Mercury through the lens of his relationships.

His primary relationships were with a long time lover Mary Austin, whom he always called “the love of my life,” his fellow band members, his parents, and Paul Prenter and Jim Hutton, with whom he was involved at different times. So you see his flaws, and you see why the people around him loved him, but you don’t see the media stereotype of Freddie Mercury — which is what I think some people wanted to see.

Small parts of the film were cinematic kitsch, like a tour sequence in which the names of cities are formed in bright letters out of Mercury’s different performance postures, and a montage of different very negative reviewer comments about “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The former wasn’t necessary: I think a montage of concert performances would have been enough. The music always carries the day in the film. But the appearance of kitsch should be forgivable in a film about Queen, who could always elevate it to art while indulging in it. The latter, however, was still enjoyable, as “Bohemian Rhapsody” is arguably one of the three to five most important songs of the 70s and their signature song, so these negative reviews deserve the short attention they get.

I probably took more pleasure in seeing arguments with record producers about singles and arguments the band had with each other during recording than I should, but I think the band members who produced the film — Brian May and Roger Taylor had producer credit, and Jim Beach, the band manager, has writing credit — wanted to depict those tensions as part of the band’s creative energy. I think it worked.

Rami Malek was impressive. I’d only seen him before in the series Mr. Robot, and if you’ve seen that series, you couldn’t imagine two more completely different characters. One is a deeply introverted computer geek who suffers from multiple personality disorder, and the other is Freddie Mercury. I now see Malek as up there with Heath Ledger and Johnny Depp in range of characters. Performances overall were very good, and it’s worth seeing for no other reason than the fun and energy of the music, which is I think the film’s real star. The film is as in love with Queen’s music as anyone could hope.

Incidentally, the film is also a great tribute to Live Aid, the 1985 concert for Africa relief. It begins and ends with the Live Aid concert. Retrospectively, and because of this film, I think the Live Aid concert was the last great swan song for major acts from the 60s and 70s from Dylan to punk. The 70s ended in 1985 at that concert. In terms of the band’s history, ending the film with Live Aid omits the last six years of the band’s life with Freddie Mercury, which covered the last three albums released during Mercury’s lifetime and what would have been a heartrending presentation of Mercury succumbing to AIDS-related pneumonia. So the film is an incomplete portrait in terms of the band’s history, but I think a good portrait of a group of personalities creating music together and a great celebration of the music itself and the larger than life personality who made it come alive for so many of us.

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