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Extraordinary 'Camp'

The musical flick was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and more recently, it was the “Best Feature” at the Provincetown International Film Festival.

Movie musicals enjoy cyclical popularity among mainstream audiences, including the recent hits "Chicago" and "Moulin Rouge."

Now the original soundtrack from "Camp” features music written by Academy Award nominee Lynn Ahrens ("Ragtime") and Academy Award winner Michael Gore ("Fame"), as well as tracks from Oasis, The Replacements, The Rolling Stones, Todd Rundgren and Burt Bacharach.

The album also includes the track "The Ladies Who Lunch," by Broadway’s legendary composer Stephen Sondheim, whose many credits include the original lyrics for "West Side Story" in 1957 and Madonna’s "Dick Tracey" in 1990.

In the album's liner notes, film director Todd Graff carefully explains the relevance of the music in “Camp.”

"The film is filled with dialogue scenes of first love, first hate and everything in between, but whether dealing with body issues, sexual confusion, or the simple exhilaration of getting up on stage performing, the deepest emotion experienced by the characters in 'Camp' find their most vital expression in song," Graff writes.

The songs on the album fall in two categories. The first seven songs appear in the movie and are performed by cast members. The remaining six tracks are atmospheric rock and pop tunes by Oasis, The Wonder Stuff and others.

Impressive is the ensemble's raw vocal talent. All of the inexperienced singers and actors are in their late teens and early 20s, but they demonstrate incredible fervor with their polished performances on this soundtrack.

A good example is Alana Allen’s performance of Sondheim's "The Ladies Who Lunch" in which she showcases an incredible sense of theatrical timing.

Pretty-boy Daniel Letterle has a knack for emotional delivery that is unusual for a singer his age. He showcases his talent on the tear-jerking love balled "I Sing For You" and the soul-stirring cover of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses."

No wonder Lou Perlman, founder of the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, already approached Letterle about a career as a recording artist.

Songbird Tiffany Taylor graciously croons the gospel ballad "Here's Where I Stand" with its inspiring message of acceptance and tolerance.

The film's grand finale "The Want Of A Nail" captures the movie’s overall theme. The song is an outburst of positive vibes and celebration of hard-won self esteem that is performed gloriously by the entire cast.

The record also features mid-dle-of-the-road rock tunes by British rock band Oasis, Snow Patrol, The Replacements and a Chicago-esque ballad by Warren Wiebe. These songs are sharp contrast to the playful cheer of the earlier singers.

Linda Cohen, musical producer for "Camp," should have considered including more original songs by the movie’s breakout artists. This would have done more justice to their talent and surely satisfy new fans.

As a bonus, the soundtrack comes as an enhanced CD package that includes the film trailer, cast photos and bios as well as behind-the-scenes footage.

"Camp" is ultimately about overcoming adversity and finding acceptance regardless of your sexuality or passion in life. Like recent television hits "American Idol" and "Fame," "Camp" and its music demonstrate that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things if they put their heart, mind — but most of all their voice — to it.

August 26, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (32)

DJ Wendy Hunt Retires From The Circuit

DJ Wendy Hunt has had enough of circuit parties. After playing the circuit for more than 20 years, she said she is tired of the drugs, greed, reckless competition and infighting on the organized party scene.

Recently, Hunt boldly announced her retirement from the circuit. In a press release, she also noted that she recently battled breast cancer and feels she no longer has the energy or tolerance needed to compete in the circuit world.

“I don’t want to be associated with circuit parties anymore,” Hunt said. “Things have gotten out of control. I will only consider playing the circuit if it is for a good cause.”

The 51-year-old lesbian started her disc jockey career more than 25 years ago, and today is one of the most celebrated gay female DJs on the circuit scene.

A resident of Provincetown, Mass., Hunt got her start at Boston’s “1270” and “Metro” (now “Avalon”) in the early ’70s.

“It was very basic at that time,” she recalls. “I replaced the jukebox at ‘1270.’ There was no digital music or sophisticated remix equipment. I started out with records and 45-inch singles.”

Hunt experimented with funk and disco, and made the transition to club music in the mid ’80s. She rapidly climbed the DJ ladder with her signature spinning style that includes upbeat vocal grooves and a fusion of different dance genres.

But she has brushed aside attempts by others to categorize what she does.

“I play dance music. Don’t try to categorize me as a house DJ, a techno DJ or something like that,” Hunt says. “I play it all, and people enjoy it.”

IN THE LATE ’80s, Hunt decided to branch out and not commit to one single city or club residency. She began playing the big parties in Miami, Washington D.C., Detroit and elsewhere.

This was when she really began helping create the circuit concept, a dance extravaganza for gays to benefit AIDS charities.

“In the beginning, it was all about having fun, dancing and raising money,” explains Hunt. “When big money came in, everything changed. Circuit parties are not what they used to be.”

Today, Hunt lamented, every party is a circuit party. “It has gotten away from the whole point of having these parties, and that bothers me,” she says.

Hunt primarily decided to leave the circuit for its lack of support of the gay community.

“I guess it is my conscience speaking,” she says. “I felt I was not doing the right thing. It is important that we do have a conscience and do raise money in the gay community — especially now, with a Republican government that does not provide the support that so many causes need.”

Hunt said “greed” has taken over the party scene, fueled by party promoters who want to make a quick buck.

“Many people involved in the circuit are making money hand over fist with these parties, but don’t give any money back to the community,” she claims. “And the people attending the parties seem to care more about their drugs and their favorite songs instead of caring about the true spirit of the circuit.”

Hunt’s retirement also is a symbolic protest against the excessive use of drugs among gay partygoers.

“It seems as if the circuit has become a safe haven for drug use,” she explains. “If you’re gonna play Russian roulette with a drug, do it in the safety of your home, don’t take it out on the dance floor.”

Hunt hopes other DJs will follow her lead and speak out about this problem.

“Call me ‘old school,’ but my experience has taught me a lot,” she says. “I feel that this is the right thing to do and, perhaps, my move might change things.”

Hunt is planning to move to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in the fall and start new projects. But she does not plan to completely walk away from spinning when her services are needed.

“Once a DJ, always a DJ,” she says. “You can never hang up the headphones.”

August 20, 2003 in Interviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

Revenge of the Mousketeers

Two Disney starlets are reunited. Justin Timberlake has teamed with fellow pop star Christina Aguilera on their “Stripped/Justified” summer tour.

The tour is not the first collaboration for Timberlake and Aguilera. They previously worked together as Mouseketeers on Disney’s “The Mickey Mouse Club” in the early ’90s. The show has been a fertile breeding ground for the recent teen pop movement, including Disney veterans Britney Spears and some of Timberlake’s fellow *NSYNC members, who are planning to reunite with him for future albums.

The time has come for Timberlake and Aguilera, both 22, to shed their saccharine Disney images. Both want to prove to critics that they have grown up beyond their pop tarty peers and show audiences what really is on their minds as young adults.

Timberlake’s mature and buff appearance on Rolling Stone’s January cover made him an instant sex symbol, giving both teenage girls and gay guys plenty to drool over. Despite his mainstream appeal, the singer has often shown appreciation for his gay following in the media.

In a recent interview with NEXT Magazine, the Tennessee native puts the hype surrounding his persona in perspective. He says, “Music is music; it’s the universal language. And whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, you know, whatever, you like what you like. And I’m flattered by anybody who likes my sound.”

Fellow mouseketter Aguilera burst onto the scene in 2000 with the catchy “Genie In A Bottle.” After her tame debut album, Aguilera showed her edgier side on her sophomore effort “Stripped.”

Produced by lesbian Linda Perry, Aguilera exhibited a bombastic mix of rock and pop while wearing outfits that often showed more skin than style.

Despite her faulty fashion record, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) honored the singer for including gay and transgender images in her “Beautiful” music video earlier this year.

At a recent show in Atlanta, the singers did not share the stage simultaneously, but instead followed each other with Aguilera opening the show.

Set in a virtual strip joint, Aguilera kicks off with a rocky version of “Dirty,” a pompous spectacle that does very little to show off the singer’s vocal abilities. She dances, squirms and rolls over the stage accompanied by her troupe of dancers.

After a brief intermission, Timberlake greeted a cheering audience by jumping on the stage wearing all-white street gear. He kicked off his portion of the show with “Rock Your Body,” which sent the crowd into a frenzy.

The singer’s solo repertoire is slim, so most of his set is filled with the bulk of his chart-topping solo debut “Justified” plus some *NSYNC hits such as “Gone” and “Girlfriend.”

Timberlake attempts to create a show that is not just visually compelling with dance and light-effects. His band also features a full horn section and gospel background vocalists to bring his hip-hop infused pop hits to life.

The use of rich instrumental arrangements has a downfall, however. The crooner often lacks vocal strengths and gets overpowered by the orchestration. This is painfully obvious during a chaotic performance of “Cry Me A River.”

Despite the concert’s flaws, it is the enthusiasm and vigor of these two young performers that make this a worthwhile evening of carefree entertainment.

August 18, 2003 in Music Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad "NEWS" for Prince

THIS WEEK, THE EVER-ELUSIVE Prince is back with the release of the instrumental “N.E.W.S,” an acronym that refers to the album’s four 14-minute songs “North,” “East,” “West,” and “South.”

Once a member of pop culture’s elite, Prince has struggled to remain in the public eye and to stay relevant. After his success in the ’80s, the artist underwent a series of bizarre image transformations and public quarrels with his record label, creating a disconnect between his artistic instincts and commercial viability.

In recent years, Prince has chosen to unveil some of his new music exclusively on his NPGmusiclub.com Web site before making it available for purchase in record stores.

His latest effort features Prince on guitar and Fender Rhodes on electric piano, keyboards and percussion. He is joined by Renato Neto on piano and synthesizers, Rhonda Smith on bass, John Blackwell on drums and Eric Leeds on saxophone.

The songs are a departure from the artist’s previous funk rock. Instead, the album’s atmospheric jazz improvisations invoke memories of Prince’s longtime idols John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.

The record’s studio jamming and improvising shows off fine musical ability with Smith’s deep bass jolting and Blackwell’s climatic drum play. However, “N.E.W.S.” does not provide the sizzle we have come to expect and hope for from Prince.

The exception is a two-minute section of “East,” which lays out a playful groove that features a Middle Eastern ambience that includes powerful, fragmented guitar riffs.

Despite Prince’s successful record of experimentation, this record’s tame jazz grooves are simplistic and could easily be produced by any studio band warming up for the real thing. The artist once more does not show listeners much originality, again raising the question about his lack of direction.

NPG Records, 2003 (July 29)

August 4, 2003 in Music Reviews | Permalink | Comments (2)

A Hard Habit to Break

EQUALLY CHARISMATIC AS PRINCE during his heyday is Perry Farrell, the flamboyant and bisexual lead singer of hard rock band Jane’s Addiction. After their formal split in 1991, the group is making a comeback this summer with the release of their album “Strays.”

The quartet is also taking the reunion on the road, visiting more than 20 cities during their Lollapalooza tour (a brainchild of Farrell’s), which stops at the Nissan Pavilion tonight.

The group features almost its entire original lineup of Farrell, drummer Stephen Perkins, guitarist Dave Navarro and new addition Chris Chaney on base.

Jane’s Addiction’s style can be defined as alternative rock with an eclectic lining. The group gladly combines heavy metal rock with punk, folk and a genuine sense of introspective drama. This approach resulted in memorable epic balladry on their breakthrough album “Ritual de lo Habitual” in 1990.

The band’s pure-bred rock spirit and urban chic appearance made them a popular pick from fraternity dorm rooms to fashion runway shows in Paris and Milan.

“Strays” is an adrenaline-powered extravaganza that takes listeners back to their glory days of the early ’90s. Navarro’s screaming guitar crescendos and Farrell’s enigmatic vocals create an uninhibited, sonic whirlwind that is equally energizing and liberating.

Lyrically, the rock fashionistas have matured and emphasize cheer above complex reflection. Songs such as “Just Because,” explain the group’s current mantra, when Farrell sings, “When was the last time, you did anything just because.”

The album’s fierce rock orchestration often restrains the songs’ finer lyrical meaning, prioritizing sound over substance. However, in an age of teenage pseudo punk and tedious radio rock, Jane’s Addiction demonstrates how musicians can still take charge and rock out with true sentiment.

Jane’s Addiction
Capitol Records, 2003

August 3, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0)