Here for It w/ R. Eric Thomas #133

Cats, concerts, calls

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?

This week: CATS. Trying to purge my Memory of Cats. Idris Elba in grey sweatpants! And euphemisms for having a little tinge of racial.

In one version of my personal San Junipero, I get to relive the first time I heard Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” over and over again forever. And then I get to relive the first time I saw Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” video over and over again forever. And then I get to relive the first time I saw Taron Killam’s re-creation of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” video over and over again forever. (Apparently, my personal cloud-based nirvana has a multiverse!) I’ve included both videos a little farther down so that we can all have a better day together.

Most of my opinions are loosely held and strongly defended but when it comes to music I am STAUNCH. S-T-A-U-N-C-H. Staunch. I have bold musical opinions and they are, fortunately, all correct. And one of those opinions is that “Call Your Girlfriend” is one of the most perfect songs ever created. It’s a masterpiece of spare storytelling, it creates a context that is both self-explanatory and prompts a myriad of questions. It’s also pitched perfectly—it’s assumes the beginning of a new relationship (yay!) but also predicates the end of a preexisting relationship (oh no!). There are people who say that Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” is told from the perspective of the titular girlfriend and I am willing to consider that there is a larger Robyn Musical Universe that we are just beginning to crack open.

It’s a melancholy midtempo bop about love which clang-clang-clangs all of my trolleys. I am definitely the person who used to blast Tracy Chapman’s “At This Point In My Life” in my college dorm room and follow it up with Basement Jaxx and then Bernadette Peters singing “Ordinary Song”, so what I’m saying is that she is complicated but hopeful and also likes to be sad! (These are also the lyrics to my unauthorized adaptation of “She Used to Be Mine”)

Ugh. I love it so much. Only thing better would be a full stage production of a musical called Call Your Girlfriend that was about this mysterious love triangle. Every single song in it would be “Call Your Girlfriend” with a different arrangement (like the Maya Rudolph/Emma Stone a capella with cups version!) It would win 17 Tonys and run for 24 years. Sold out in advance! Don’t try to get tickets, honey! You want a seat? Call your girlfriend, babe!

As you might have guessed, David and I went to see Robyn in Philadelphia this week. I am not necessarily a concert person. I don’t really like standing for four hours in a crowd, particularly since 1.5 of those hours are invariably spent waiting for the show to start. I am old and I like to sit. I prefer not to sweat! I don’t know this song! I am confused about the etiquette around personal space! However, I realized sometime in the winter that I desperately wanted experiences that would plunge me headfirst into the things that made me feel most alive. Live concerts are inconvenient because they involve other people but there is nothing else that makes me feel as invigorated besides live theater. I have a few exceptions to the “No Concerts at this time, please” rule: I will always see Beyoncé (solo; with her husband I take it case-by-case and I make no apologies about this); I will always see Audra McDonald; I will always see Cynthia Erivo; I will always see Patti LaBelle. No exceptions; no questions. Got a problem? Call your girlfriend, toots!

I’ve never been to a Robyn concert but when I saw it come up on Facebook I immediately knew that this was something I needed to do. A few weeks later, I saw Lizzo announce a show in Baltimore and similarly knew that I had to shake my ass to a flute. And then Leslie Odom, Jr. popped up (HE’S SO GOOD IN CONCERT), and David’s fave Josh Ritter, and suddenly we had a (literal) hot girl summer of live music laid in front of us. Yes, I am old and I like to sit but I also want to feel alive.

Robyn was, of course, phenomenal. She performed in the middle of a thunderstorm under cover at the Mann Center which, as far as mis-en-scene goes, is very impressive. One of the things I forgot about concerts is that when you go, you run into all of the people who like the same thing you do. I really miss Philly and our huge Philly community and so Robyn was also like a wedding reception where I just walked down rows of my best friends and we exchanged sweaty tank top hugs. (EVERYONE was wearing the best tank tops). 87.5% of all the queer people I know in person live in Philly and 99% of those people were at Robyn so this experience was very efficient. Before the show had even begun I’d had conversations with so many people who make my heart happy; I was alive before the beat dropped.

I was reminded of the experience of going to see Beyoncé in Philly, where the subways are filled with black women dressed up in sequined outfits and queer people doing the most and maybe one or two people who are just trying to get home and we get to see a community that exists largely in data sets on Spotify streams live and in person and ready to be transformed by Bey kicking water into our faces during “Freedom.” (This counts as baptism.) I guess it’s pretty common for most concerts, but I don’t have it that much and it astounds me every time. My taste in music is correct and wide-ranging, but it is also fairly middle of the road (and that road’s name is The Broadway), but I forget that while music can be personal and take you deep inside your melancholy midtempo heartbeat, it can also create a community out of thin air.

During a break in Robyn’s set, I ran down to the concessions stand and stood in line in the rain to get drinks for David and myself. The woman behind me struck up a conversation and we talked for the entire 15 minutes that we were waiting and it was phenomenal. I never have good conversations in line (and, as you may recall from last week, I am concerned that that is my fault) but we never ran out of things to talk about. At one point, I asked her what she did for work and then I immediately corrected myself and said, “No, what makes you happy?” Like I’m Marianne Williamson or something. Call your girlfriend you are so on. But it worked! We bonded over rock climbing! (I started indoor rock climbing by the way!) The power of Robyn!

Maybe my San Junipero is a summer concert for an artist with a large following among women and post-30 queer people (no offense Jarrod and Jackson!) (but under a cover and on a day with low humidity. And with seats. I mean, honestly. Let’s be realistic.)

As promised, here’s Robyn & Taron! LET’S LIVE!

Also, I could probably write about the joy on Maya and Emma’s faces in this video forever. But we have other business to get to. Maybe next time, girlfriend!

This week, soooo there’s a lot of Cats content. Plus, Trump’s light sprinkling of racism. Also, a Diana Ross concert! But first:

The Five Stages of Dealing with the 'Cats' Trailer

The star-studded, digitally furred first glimpse of the conceptually bewildering film dropped. Directly on me. We all knew it would be a lot. I mean, it's Taylor Swift and Jennifer Hudson as cats singing on extra large furniture. We're not exactly talking mumblecore here. But the two minutes and twenty-three seconds of trailer that we were given are, without hyperbole, some of the most deeply disturbing images ever put on screen. Midsommar could never. Hereditary found dead in a ditch.


I Have So Many Felines About the 'Cats: A Look Inside' Video

I was keeping it together somewhat until Idris Elba showed up in grey sweatpants with his 20,000 leagues deep voice. Have I frozen every frame to study it closely? Yes, because I am a journalist. THEN as if I weren't already wrecked, he starts dancing with Taylor Swift! And they are selling it! Moulin Rouge found on life support!


Have You Been Tinged By a Racial? Handy Euphemisms for These Racially Flecked Times

Happy Monday and welcome to part 423,982 of the national conversation about race! I mean, the national racially-tinged conversation! So sorry. It is not about race and it is certainly not about r*cism. It just has a whiff of racial, an amuse bouche of color sauce on a tiny demitasse spoon. After the president tweeted incendiary, racially flecked things at three congresswomen of color, the international press descended upon en masse. Their goal? To figure out how to describe something we all can see but some refuse to say because there is nothing more impolite than calling someone a racist. Not even racism itself is more impolite than calling someone a racist. Can you imagine? As Dr. King wrote in his letter from the Birmingham jail, "Do things seem a little racially sprinkled here lately? No offense."


From 2014…

I got started in online hyperbolic “journalishm” freelancing concert reviews for Philly Mag. My first was Diana Ross at the Mann Center and it’s still pretty cute! Let’s revisit!

Diana Ross Served Extravagant Costume and Perfect Voice at the Mann Center Last Night

Is there a more exhilarating sound to a concert-goer’s ears than Diana Ross wailing the opening notes to her signature hit “I’m Coming Out” from somewhere far off-stage? The 1980 hit and unofficial gay anthem has been a staple at Ross’s concerts since its debut, most frequently serving as her opener as she races through the audience, futzing with her always-gargantuan wrap, and singing. It’s a gambit that perfectly encapsulates the legendary performer’s appeal—it is both extravagant and intimate, the gesture of a true diva who still wants to be close to her fans.


On Comments!

So! I figured out that I can’t actually enable comments for free subscriptions :-( BUT I can start an open thread that anyone can comment on with anything they want. So, I’ll do that and see how it goes. It’ll show up in your mailbox right after this and I’ll also go back and link it HERE right after this sends.

Random Thing from the Internet

I’ve been thinking a lot about the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Guinan talks about the Nexus.

Call your girlfriend, toots,