ARETHA FRANKLIN (1942-2016): PART 1 — PERSONAL REMINISCES

Last 16th of August, a big music legend departed from this realm as Aretha Franklin finally succumbed to a lingering illness that her family finally disclosed as pancreatic cancer.  Like many people around the world, Aretha did loom large in my life, but how I got to encounter and relish her music was a journey in itself.  Let me explain…

As I’ve become awakened in my second year of high school and became obsessed with popular music, I learned about the legend of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.  I’ve read in various music magazines like Jingle chordbook magazine and Rolling Stone waxing rhapsodic about her vocal prowess and her legendary catalogue of songs.  But I personally have not listened to any of them in full, as she was not played on radio at the time and at most I saw a snipped of her smash hit “Respect” on TV.  The first full song I’ve ever heard from her was her 1985 comeback hit “Freeway of Love“, her first Top Ten hit in 11 years.  Admittedly it took a bit for me to enjoy her voice, but the song has an engaging groove that is also contemporary for its time.  She followed this up with a slew of mainstream hits, including duets with the likes of Eurythmics, Elton John, Whitney Houston, and most especially her international number one smash with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)“.

Still, I haven’t been able to listen to Aretha’s classic oeuvre, as they were not readily available in any of our local record stores at the time.  The first time I directly heard a 1960’s era Aretha song (unlike hearing it blasting incidentally on a TV show–more on that later) was during a stormy day in college when I was stranded and had to sleep over at the house of my dearest friend–who is the unrequited love of my life.  He lived in a house that was across the Ateneo campus so I knocked on his gate and explained that I was stranded and couldn’t go home so he took me in.  Before we turned in for the night, I checked on my friend’s 45 RPM vinyl singles rack and saw he has Aretha’s “The House that Jack Built“.  Since I still want to learn what all the fuss about Aretha was all about, I begged him to play the record and he obliged.   I liked what I heard then, but my friend was not that impressed, as his taste tends to lean more towards smooth jazz, jazz-pop, and oddly enough, Rick Springfield.  We only heard the A-side, without realizing the more popular hit (especially in these shores) was actually the B-side.  Wonder if he’ll be dismissiveof the other song, too.  Anyway, I like this song more and more in the subsequent years I listened to it, not merely because of the memories this song evokes, but because it recently dawned on me that the groove of this recording formed the basis of my all-time favorite Aretha song–more on that on the next part of my essay.

NOTE:  I wanted to post the Aretha recording from YouTube, but it seems there is a copyright claim by “Kayo Corporation: (whoever that is) that it cannot be shared or posted there–at least it seems Vimeo still allows it and so this amateur dance video set to the song would have to do…

As the early 1990s rolled in and I began to go to work, Aretha’s hitmaking streak trickled down.  I still collect casette tapes and CDs in earnest at the time and one day I landed upon Greenhills and discovered a bootleg double-casette tape of Aretha Franklin’s 30 Greatest Hits.  It was sold at a slight premium from regular casettes at the time (even if it was a bootleg) but I didn’t hesitate since I want to finally listen to all those legendary hits she had, and that purchase was worth it.  I finally got to hear her signature songs in all their glory, along with other gems like “I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You“, “Baby I Love You“, “Sweet Sweet Baby (Since You’ve Been Gone)“, “Call Me“, “Don’t Play That Song“, “Angel“, and the collection closer “I’m In Love” along with her staggering reinterpretations of the Beatles‘ “Eleanor Rigby” and Simon & Garfunkel‘s “Bridge Over Troubled Water“.  Needless to say, when I was able to afford a CD player I also bought the double CD later on and it was one of my favorites in my music collection.

Even if her peak hitmaking days were way behind her, you can almost always count on Aretha to deliver headline-worthy moments in her special appearances.  For instance, there was the 1998 Grammys when she subbed for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti and performed the aria “Nessun Dorma” from the opera Turandot

… and when she performed at Barack Obama‘s first inauguration with the patriotic hymn “America, My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and generating headlines for that elaborate hat she wore.

Like most of the greatest artists, as a person Aretha has character flaws, like her clashes with rivals like Dionne Warwick and Patti Labelle, amongst others, her occasional temperamental bouts, and lurid tales revealed by David Ritz in his unauthorized biography Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin but those tales seemed to enrich her legend instead of diminish it.  In her latter years she has had some health issues–though when alive Aretha preferred to keep it hidden, you do catch a hint that her weight loss is not a “healthy” weight loss but may indicate something serious.  Hearing stories in her final days that she dropped to a gaunt 86 pounds, it does make a lot of sense when it’s finally disclosed it was caused by pancreatic cancer, as we witnessed the late Patrick Swayze undergoing the same thing.  Anyway, I would like to believe she is finally free of her sufferings and is now enjoying an eternal reward in heaven, and her legend will live on forever.

COMING UP:  MY TOP 12 FAVORITES

ANTHONY BOURDAIN (1956 – 2018)

Early last June, two days after the 4th anniversary of my brother’s death, the world was rocked with the news of the death of Anthony Bourdain, renowned chef, writer, and TV travel and food personality.  Being an avid viewer of food shows, including food-oriented travel shows as of late, I was affected by this news.

I first learned of this guy via reading on my favorite magazine, Entertainment Weekly the news of a new sitcom, Kitchen Confidential being launched based on the memoirs of this guy, starring a then up-and-coming actor named Bradley Cooper.  Even then and up to now, sitcoms set in a professional kitchen flop–the only hit shows featuring chefs or cooks that I know of that worked were The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Muppet ShowThree’s Company, and Friends but none of those sitcoms centered around a restaurant kitchen but outside of it.

Then, a few years later, around 2007-2008, my cable subscription started offering the Asian Food Channel or AFC and one of its key shows then was A Cook’s Tour, which originally aired in the US between 2002-2003 at the Food Network*.  I was hooked at the way Anthony was such a great story teller integrating the story of the places he visits with the cuisines they offer.  If I had the time and resources, I would probably want to travel around the world and enjoy the cuisines of the world like him, though I won’t really rough it out at the rustic place like he does, though I’m aware to experience anything authentic about a place, that’s what you need to do.

*In our shores, we only receiving Food Network as a channel about 2010–before we only get to see Food Network programs at the then-Lifestyle Channel, which has recently been rebranded as Metro Channel.

As it was later revealed, he clashed with the executives at the Food Network and ended his show after two seasons.  A few years later in 2005, he launched essentially the same show but it’s now titled No Reservations, then aired on the Travel Channel in the US.  In our shores, this program is aired on TLC, a channel affiliated with the Discovery Networks.  I got to see this show about almost as simultaneously as his original show on AFC, but I do notice the episodes on this show was fresher and with better production values.  And of course, when news came that he is going to do a show on the Philippines, I got very excited, and needless to say, was very pleased with the resulting episode.  Repeat after me:  “Best… pig… ever.”

The company behind the Food Network, Scripps Networks, had steadily been encroaching and acquiring ownership of the Travel Channel, so at the end of 2012, Anthony decided to end No Reservations and struck a deal with CNN to produce his show, now known as Parts Unknown.  I think the key evolution  between No Reservations and this show is a heavier emphasis on the history and background of the place, and the cuisine about 10% less at the forefront.  Still his incisive, cantankerous wit and eloquence and his unvarnished, honest approach made each episode a delight to watch.

On top of these core travel/food adventure programs, he also did a couple of other shows that I also tuned in.  First, there is The Layover where Anthony talks about what to do and where to go when you have a 48-hour layover in a city.  Usually it’s about the best restaurants or eateries to go to, but sometimes it could be about trips to other establishments, like the strip club trip he took with Food Network personality Alton Brown in Atlanta, below:

With another TV cook I adore, Nigella Lawson, Anthony also served as executive producer and judge in a reality cooking competition show called The Taste.  Think a mix of Masterchef and Top Chef then combine that with the blind judging concept of the singing competition show The Vocie  and you get this show.  Both Anthony and Nigella were in the US version that aired on ABC and lasted three seasons, and a British version on Channel 4 tat lasted one series.  I was rooting for this show to succeed and it’s generally a good show, but sadly it didn’t really catch on and lasted longer.

There is one common hallmark that one viewer could observe watching any of Anthony’s flagship programs:  it’s never just about the food.  Every episode showcases the history and cultural aspects of the places Anthony visited, and Anthony’s knack for narrative integrated these strands to weave such a rich, compelling tapestry.  I do my best in my reviews to employ these elements in my pageant reviews, but admittedly I am nowhere near the way Anthony does it in his shows..

Anthony’s unapologetically outspoken and no-holds-barred approach has endeared him to many people (including myself) while some might find him cantankerous and pricklyfor the same reasons.  He made me recall a former officemate of mine who has the same no-holds-barred outspoken personality and was infamous for some clashes with some resolver groups in our office, but gets away with it because he’s often correct.  Main targets of Anthony’s ire are big personalities hosting shows on the Food Netwrk, like Paula Deen and Guy Fieri–he feels people like these make people settle for mediocrity instead of seeking the highest quality in food.

Targetgs of ire: Paula Deen and Guy Fieri.

He doesn’t hate everything on the Food Network, though… though he has some mean barbs about chef Emeril Lagasse‘s TV shows then, he has since expressed respect at the chef’s skills.  He also has begrudging respect for my favorite food show host, Barefoot Contessa’Ina Garten, noting that she knows how to cook everything correctly, but he sometimes find her world a tad “creepy”.

Begrudging respect: Emeril Lagasse and Ina Garten

Anthony has been married twice, but his last relationship was with Italian actress Asia Argento, and when Asia disclosed that she was raped by Harvey Weinstein, Anthony made the headlines for the last time when he was alive when he stood by his girlfriend’s testimony.  Asia is currently embroiled in a scandal involving an affair with an underaged 17-year-old boy after Anthony’s death, and for many people that damages her credibility as one of Harvey’s victims and her standing in the #MeToo Movement, but just because one committed a shenanigan doesn’t mean that you dismiss an offensive act committed against her.,

Standing by his girl: Asia Argento vs Harvey Weinsteain

Anthony’s death has triggered conversations about mental health and most especially depression.  I am very familiar with this, for many reasons:  My late brother who succumbed to it, I have family members who are currently in this state because of current circumstances, and I myself am dealing with this.  If you noticed how sometimes my full-fledged reviews are delayed or never materialized (along with this long-overdue writeup that I was planning to post two months ago), it is because I either am paralyzed by this, or my energy is sapped prioritizing other things in life that I couldn’t find the energy to attend to this even with my intention of doing this.  With pressures on the personal health front, the family front, the workplace front, and yes, even the political/society front, I have moments when I think when any of these situations take a bad turn I might take a drastic, dreaded action.  Right now I’m able to cope but everyday I wonder about how long I can hang on.  It’s now a daily, conscious choice for me to decide to carry on and get on with my life.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

MEN UNIVERSE MODEL 2018: IMPRESSIONS (CONCLUSION)

Let’s now discuss the guys who at least got noticed even if they didn’t make the final cut, starting with the guys who got shortlisted in the Best Body competition.  :

COCOS ISLAND – Chris Murillo.  Facewise, I prefer the guy carrying the main COSTA RICA banner, but I have to concede this guy possessed a tighter, more defined bod that gave him an edge over his “standard” counterpart.

GALAPAGOS ISLAND – Jose Miguel Mancero.  His height and lean, defined, and rippled physique, his shortlist in this competition was justified and this made him outperform his “standard” counterpart from ECUADOR.  I prefer him with facial scruff but well he probably took a hint that this pageant doesn’t quite favor that look so in later photos he shaved it off.  But then he made a blunder by wearing a headband–and he ended up with unflattering comparisons to Ben Stiller‘s Derek Zoolander character.  Memo to future contestants:  headbands and bandanas are a no-no.

Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander

GIBRALTAR – Antonius Magnnus.  Born Antonin Irodia, I thought he was another one with an inside track to the semifinals.  But the judges’ and organizers’ bias against facial hair may have put him at a disadvantage.

SWITZERLAND – Mike de Groote.  He was very handsome and another one I thought would be a major contender for the finals, but apparently the judges and organizers has only very few slots for bearded contenders.

One guy came close to winning the Best Body competiton, making the Top 3:

ARGENTINA – Leo Tejada.  He has the bronzed complexion and beefily buffed physique to be worthy of being in the Top Three in the best Body competition.  So why he fell short of making the Top 12 overall?  As much as his face reminds me a lot of American actor/host Mario Lopez, those type of features are not deemed handsome or distinctive enough for the Dominican judges.

Mario Lopez

Two non-finalists got special awards during the finals night, and they are:

PERU – Jean Claude de Silva.  In most photographs, he registers as sloppy and unkempt, but his deep-set eyes and rippled physique could not be denied.  He probably registers better onstage as he won the Best Catwalk special award.

FRANCE – Lalou Silayeb.  Based from his name, he probably is of North African origin. He does have a swarthy handsomeness about him that he’s worthy of winning Mister Photogenic.  I think he only missed making the Top 12 by a very small margin.

Mr. Photogenic posing at the beach with parrots

This batch is such loaded with meaty powerhouses that several combinations that would generate a satisfying mix.  What mix the Dominican judges decided to go for are relatively clean-cut men with something relatively distinctive about them that they are not generally that familiar with, and based on the choice of winner, they were also in the mood to break the mold.

CHILE – Daniel Basualto.  He also made the Top Three in the Best Body competition and though he has the same dusky brown vibe like Argentina, his slightly handsomer face helped him secure a Top 12 finish.

CZECH REPUBLIC – Petr Koukal.  His scruffy features and Caucasian handsomeness does have its appeal, but there is a side of me that wants to favor the likes of GIBRALTAR or SWITZERLAND over him, but I’m not mad at his inclusion.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Edisson Manuel Tineo.  Since this country runs the show, it’s obvious there is always going to be a slot reserved for the home entry, and well, his placement is fully justified as he has the charisma and the perfectly built physique to justify belonging here.

INDIA – Amit Mehra.  There are only two Asians in this year’s batch (though more were expected but ended up as no-shows) and both turned out to be major standouts.  This guy combined Bollywood charisma and beefy buffness to make a major splash, like making the Best Body shortlist.  I even thought he’ll perhaps outdo our own representative.  It’s a crowded field even at the Top 12 level so I have a feeling he missed the Final Six by a small sliver.

MARGARITA ISLAND – Jesus Abraham Urdaneta.  Looking at his lanky frame and less-defined musculature, I wondered why he edged out the likes of similarly lean guys like PUERTO RICO, who I would’ve placed in his place.  But then I also notice he stands out in aspects of the competion where more clothing is needed, like in national costume and formal wear.  I have to note that his national costume is a more conventional Venezuelan outfit, and with him brandishing the flag, you would initially presume he’s the “official” Venezuelan rep instead of the one carrying the alternative banner.  With that kind of presence, he won the Mister E,legance special award.

UKRAINE – Rony Vaca Smolyaev.  The “Vaca” part of his name hints he has Latin lineage, and you get hints of that in his features.  Those striking features and his lean, rippled physique made him a major standout.  With a crowded quality field, he probably only fell short of the Top Six by very little.

The Top Six are a diverse bunch, and that is probably what the judges were going for, and we are all the richer for it.

5TH RUNNER-UP:  PHILIPPINES  – Samuele Carenzi.  The initial cynic in me first assumed he made it this far as a reward for the social media surge he brought in to this enterprise.  But it turns out he also earned his placement as his lean and rippled frame is indeed what the judges tend to prefer, and there is the handsomeness.  Interview may also be a big clincher as if you observe his and his fellow contestants’ social media posts, he has an impish playfulness that probably made him endearing with organizers and judges.  Now, a fan filmed an almost complete coverage of the pageant final–the one with the most extant footage somehow cut off the final Q&A when it was his turn to speak.  I don’t know how well he spoke on final night–anyone with alternate footagew with the complete Q&A?

4TH RUNNER-UP:  NETHERLANDS – Brad Zee.  His most distinctive feature is the elaborate tattoos on his body’s right side.  He also has a buffness and a handsomeness to make a standout impression.

3RD RUNNER-UP:  TUNISIA – Jason Brj.  He tends to hang out with FRANCE and if you don’t know which countries those two represent, you would assume this guy represented France and the other guy Tunisia.  He possesses these classic clean-cut European features and a clean-shaven superbly buffed physique.  In some ways, he evokes the vibe of Mister Universe Model 2010 Tarik Kaljanac of Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Mister Universe Model 2010 Tarik Kaljanac from Bosnia & Herzegovina

2ND RUNNER-UP:  VENEZUELA – Jaime Antonio Betancourt.  He has that classic Latino clean-cut appeal that made him make a major impression and hence he went this far.

Before I proceed further, a special note about the Final Two:  these two are runners-up for the Dino Nicolina award.  It’s obvious what they’re packing in their swimsuit photos, but unlike ECUADOR, they made people pay more attention to their other intrinsic qualities, and that is what the judges and organizers probably appreciated.

Dino Nicolina Award runners-up: Uruguay (Santiago Gasanol) and Curacaco (Anthony Clarinda)

1ST RUNNER-UP:  URUGUAY – Sebastian Gasañol.  Watching the final Q&A, I was impresseed with this guy’s very confident delivery (even if I don’t really understand Spanish) that I realize he might be considered a “complete package”, and that even if he’s bearded, his buffed physique (winner of Best Body) and his strong communication skills helped made judges overcome their resistance towards scruffy, bearded faces like his.  He can take daring photos, but it has to be noted he knows how to keep it tasteful.  For instance, for the fantasy costume shoot, he sported an outfit with a provocative loincloth that seems to be held together only by a skimpy, barely visibile string.  It is reminiscent of the carnival costume worn Mister Ocean Argentina 2017, Javier Palermo and it made me fantasize maybe these two guys should go for a carnival dance-off.

What’s holding up that loincloth?

MEN UNIVERSE MODEL 2018:  CURACAO – Anthony Clarinda.  He made history as the first black winner of this contest.  He also won Best National Costume with his lizerd-themed carnival outfit–the clincher was those elaborate wings on his complete ensemble.  I’m not sure if based on the Q&A he made a better speech than URUGUAY, but I did hear a louder, roaring response from the crowd after he answered.  Plus, clinching the deal was he delivered flash with his glittery brocade suit while still maintaining the elegance.

In a highly competitive contest filled with such heady, highly appealing and desirable contenders, it’s nice that for this year the judges chose a winner that doesn’t fit the mold of their previous choices, yet also celebrating diversity with their Top Six choices.  Now, let’s see if more swarthy types will make inroads in subsequent editions–they need better appreciate than they had gotten, you know.  Congratulations to all the winners!

JUST ME!

JOSEPH