Wednesday, January 14, 2015

One Year Later... A New Life In Virginia

In “The Book of Questions,” there’s a query that goes like this: “Which would you prefer: a wild, turbulent life filled with joy, sorrow, passion & adventure, intoxicating successes and stunning setbacks—or a happy, secure, predictable life without such wide swings of fortune and mood?”

It’s a question that has remained in my mind’s eye since I discovered the book in 1987. Ultimately, when I moved to New York City in 1995 for my dream job at Billboard magazine, I experienced the former. Life was crazy cool: so many highs amid a career that allowed me to prove my moxie as a writer in a forum that mattered—and apparently made a difference to the many artists I supported.

Among my roles there, my calling card was Singles Reviews Editor. I was the geeky pop guy that championed acts that seldom garnered kudos from the mainstream press. From Celine Dion and Jim Brickman to those 90s’ pop boom acts (‘N Sync, BSB, Jessica Simpson, 98 Degrees, Christina Aguilera, BBMak, Hanson), I became the de facto champion of “great melodies.”

I also had the opportunity (and the real estate) to amp newbie artists that deserved press from the industry’s “music Bible.” I recognized the power that BB’s team of veteran journalists possessed in an era when the mag still mattered—and man oh man, was it paid forward—through a lifetime’s worth of awesome memories (not to mention a robust Starfucker wall of grab & grin photos).

In 2009, when Nielsen was looking to sell the company, the recession presented an ideal excuse to excise Billboard’s veteran writers and lean up its bottom line. One by one, the talented scribes were laid off. March 25 was my D-Day. I was called in, fired—and yet had two interviews scheduled for the afternoon: a video
interview for billboard.com with Ashely Tisdale and a phoner with Lionel Richie.

Buck up, baby! I walked around Billboard’s East Village neighborhood for an hour after getting canned, shared the news with my work besties Kristina, Christa & Donna, whimpered a bit, and then put it aside to get on with business.

After the Lionel interview, I got an email from the label’s publicist that went something like this: “I don’t know what just happened, but Lionel said he had one of the best interviews of his career with you. Obviously, you got him—and he surely got you.” Well, then, a fitting finale.

The point of all this is to define life since then… and the details matter, because life was profoundly different in the years following. Suddenly, I was a “freelance journalist.” I know meeself: Give me an assignment and a deadline and I’ll deliver. I’m the ultimate minion. As a self-starter, um, not so much. I’m a fine writer but unfortunately, a less enterprising entrepreneur.

Thankfully, the U.S. Census came to my rescue. For nine months in 2010, I had the time of my life working with wickedly smart folks and learning to love my Brooklyn in a brand new way. I was there long enough to gambol through snowdrifts and then trod the streets with a summer flop sweat. Indelible. I also met Suzanne, a lifer friend.

In 2013, I finished renovating my Brooklyn Heights apartment. It took more than a decade and suddenly, I was… listless. Meanwhile, I tossed my own 50th birthday party the year before and recognized that… the times are a’changing.

Folks move on, lives change and friendships fade. Not to mention that NYC was no longer my bounty: no more wining & dining, free concerts, countless glamorous events or… most important… a concrete reason to be in the most expensive city in the nation. It didn’t help that my 10-year relationship came to a rather disastrous end in 2011.

And so: What the hell am I doing here?


In the summer of 2013, I began fantasizing about a new chapter. I sniffed out Las Vegas, Austin, San Diego, parts of Florida… I wanted warmth (the endless New York winters were exhausting) and space and a car and the ability to stretch out both arms without smacking a wall (in my 950 square foot apartment). I wanted my doggies Abby & Spencer to be able to RUN.

When I came to Hampton Roads that fall with life-long pal Trix in tow—staying with 20-year friends Bill & Mary—I was only “exploring” the area. I never expected to FIND MY FOREVER HOME. On September 13, 2013, I walked into this house in Norfolk and said: “I want to die here.”

On January 15, 2014, I began to LIVE here. That was one year ago today. And this is where I return to “The Book of Questions.” Highs and lows, indeed. First, this house is ridiculous… a 4,000sf mid-century modern “estate” that has maintained its aesthetic since it was built in 1962 (the year of my birth!). I am madly in love.

As soon as I hit Hampton Roads, I got busy: I’ve gutted two bathrooms, replaced all windows & sliding doors, installed a new HVAC system, ran a gas line, filled in a huge but sadly decrepit concrete pool… oh, and painted the front door red. That was among my only DIYs (I’ve learned over so many years to depend on the experts; I can’t cut a straight line with scissors).

I’ve worked the land, growing tomatoes, planting bulbs and harvesting sunflowers, I observe geese, seagulls, raccoons, squirrels, so many birds… and have witnessed sunrises & sunsets that foster a physical reaction that’s so warm & fuzzy you’d think I was experiencing my first kiss. Oh, yeah, and there’s that, too. I’ve even reignited that pitifully lacking aspect of my life (here in lil’ ole Norfolk). I've met new friends… and lost 25 pounds. (I’m particularly fond of the latter.)

Over the past year, there have also been challenges (here come the lows). Losing my beloved Schnauzers Abby & Spencer within three months, in August and October—with different illnesses—is the most difficult life event I have ever dealt with. I cannot understand it. My heart is still broken and I continue to cry.

In addition, when you’re 50, it’s not so easy to connect with newbies. And god knows when you work from home, it’s pretty much impossible to connect (duh). I’ve worked to put myself out there (I could do better, but couldn't we all?)—and there are a handful of wondrous new friends—but everybody has their established lives. I get it.

The good thing is that I am a writer. Is there any career that is more solitary? I think fellow journos will understand this: We are the ultimate extroverted introverts. Writing is wholly solitary. All of my life, that has been joyful. It’s just me and my beautiful words. We get along fine. And so… if I occasionally feel isolated in my new life here in Virginia, I step back and say to myself (not out loud… I haven’t reached that point yet)… “Damn, Chuck, you entertain the hell out of yourself.” So I guess we’re... uh... I’m happy enough. I happen to enjoy my own company immensely.

In all, ONE YEAR LATER, I am filled with joy each day to wake up with the sun rising through my bedroom window (drapes? hell, no!). Over coffee every morning (in the winter months), I open my iPhone weather App and compare Norfolk & NYC and utter a big “heeee.” Blissful weather!

Getting in a car on a whim and going anywhere… wheee!! Freedom! Taking a road trip to the Eastern Shore or Williamsburg… wowsah! Sniffing around Walmart, Dollar General, Big Lots, Dollar Tree and gargantuan grocery stores and paying next to nothing compared with $$$ in NYC... rah rah!! Even though I left NYC, I still live like a "depression baby."

And I have family here: my beloved Francie, and Mary & Bill, and that handful of new friends that I adore (more to come in 2015? I’m a fun guy, right?). My parents are now a 4-hour drive away.

Yes, I am fortunate to have this crazy cool home that I dig, indulge and truly treasure as a blessing. It's just plain fun. I know this is the kind of place that will "never be done," which, to me, is a beautiful thing. God knows I love a project. And right alongside, I am still in the midst of the grand evergoing project known as life. This still feels like a new beginning, with all hope for so much good to come. *

"Now my story has been told, time for the future to unfold..."—Junior Turner

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Taylor Top 40 for 2014!



What a stellar year! In 2014, pop melodies returned in full force, at long last. I actually listened to the radio for the first time in a decade (having a car again was a major contributing force, mind you) and I packed my playlists with quirky, cool uptempo POP songs.

For the Ariana Grande haters, the girl can deliver live. Her a-capella version of “Love Me Harder” removes all doubt… and she’s damn adorable. I’m a major follower. So there!

2014 SUPERLATIVES!
Top Female Vocalist: Ariana Grande (2 top 10 songs)
Runner-Up Female Vocalist: Taylor Swift (2 top 20 songs)
Top Male Vocalist: Junior Turner (second consecutive year)
Runner-Up Male Vocalist: Richard Marx
Best New Artist: Ariana Grande
Album of the Year: “Water and A Flame,” Celine Dion

AND THEN SOME…
* Worst Songs of 2014: “Anaconda,” Nicki Minaj & “All About the Bass,” Meghan Trainor
* Please just go away: Beyonce, Iggy Azalea, Lorde
* Fallen from grace (It's all about the melodies, not your celebrity): Lady Gaga, Madonna
* The acclaimed act I just don’t get: Sam Smith
* Album of the Year: No such thing in 2014. Come back, Adele!
* Hottest Act of 2014: Nick Jonas (mercy, I thought Joe was the sexy one)
* Discovery: Thank god for Shazam. I first heard 2014 hits from Shawn Colvin & Paramore while shopping at Home Depot!
 * The Billboard 2014 Hot 100 and the Taylor Top 40 share 5 songs: "Shake It Off," "Bang Bang," "Story of My Life," "Habits (Stay High)" and "Boom Clap."

Friday, June 6, 2014

One Week From Today: Appearance on ABC News' '20/20'

One week from tonight, I'm scheduled to appear on ABC News' primetime news magazine "20/20," in a segment about lip-syncing. Always bad, ever acceptable? Hope youse can tune in: 10p Eastern. *

People Magazine: Celine Cozies With David

A picture's worth a thousand songs... Now this is a diva picola, if I've ever seen one! Go, girl!

From Robin Leach's ever-fab Las Vegas Sun column:

It was Celine Dion’s own crazy idea for a stunt photograph, and it turned out to be a first. All four of the superstars performing at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace — Shania Twain, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Celine — agreed to a unique photo shoot that next week in People magazine. 

“I don’t like to do things that are easy,” 46-year-old Canadian songbird Celine told the weekly celebrity publication. It was a coup to have all four pose for the photos. Celine was hauled 11 feet into the air to pose in the arms of the hotel’s replica of the Michelangelo masterpiece of the statue of David. 

The original ideas for the shoot didn’t get Celine excited, and she came up with her own “dream” of winding up in David’s arms. The magazine photographers loved her idea and said, “Let’s do it.” Afterward, Celine told People’s Mark Gray: “I don’t know if anyone else went into David’s arms, but, if I am the first, I am very honored.” Turns out she was the first... *

Meanwhile, a wondrous collection of still shots from Celine & NeYo's "Incredible" video (courtesy of Facebook's Celine Dionn).

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

At (Long) Last: Celine Dion Releases Video Clip For Neo Duet 'Incredible'

I'll never understand why it took six months to release a music video for Celine Dion's duet "Incredible" (with Neo) from album "Love Me Back To Life." For god's sake, word broke in January that the pair was filming the clip. And astonishly, even after it made its long-awaited debut on ABC's "Good Morning America," it's still not on YouTube. Grrrrr!

In fact, at this point, it appears that all momentum has been sapped from the project... at least in the States. Shame, shame, shame on Sony. THIS should have been the second single, following the title track... instead of the tepid "Somebody Loves Somebody."

The video itself is vaguely amusing, with waaaaay too much superfluous footage from secondary players. Aside from Celine and Neo giving it their all on an NYC rooftop, about the only intriguing footage is of a giraffe walking down city streets. Really? This is the best we got after six months?

I was truly hoping that this would be the track to restore Celine to the mainstream Top 40, with Neo's assistance. It's a mighty fine track and a should-be single. Fortunately, views on social media now count toward the Billboard Hot 100... so if Sony doesn't have the gumption to make a proper push, maybe... just maybe... the public's might will make a difference.

And yet here we are in 2014... as the latest, greatest non-talent Iggy Azalea rules the Hot 100 with the decidedly low-octane "Fancy." Oh, mercy, what a world, what a world!

UPDATE... At last, posted publicly...

Monday, June 2, 2014

June 2014: The Hottest Global Magazine Covers!

The grand return of The Smoking Nun's take on the hottest, most beautiful and alluring magazine covers from around the world for June 2014. Best of the Best: "Out" mag's cover of Matt Bomer. Wowsah! Starting with those blue eyes...
And then some... Hugh Jackman on three global covers of Men's Health...
And then some more... The best of the rest...
And the dubious WORST magazine covers of the month...

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Brendan Apollo Signs With Young Swaggazar Entertainment

Edited from PRLog: New York City-based recording artist Brendan Apollo has signed a multi-million dollar, five-year deal with Young Swaggazar Entertainment (YSE) in collaboration
with Industrial Motion Pictures (IMP).

Apollo's new single "Apollo Rising," is available on iTunes as the launch track from his debut EP "Clouds," to be released June 9. The music video for "Apollo Rising"—featuring the artist performing in a Nigerian village—is available on YouTube and premiered at Hyde Bellagio in Las Vegas. Apollo wrote and co-produced the songs on "Clouds."

"Apollo's music hits the bulls-eye of radio-friendly, hit-worthy pop fare, packed with sing-along hooks and full-bodied production," wrote Chuck Taylor, reporter, columnist, and former senior editor at Billboard magazine.

Apollo started writing original music as a teenager growing up in Illinois. He continued to pursue his dream and moved to New York City in 2008. "We are thrilled to be working with such a talented artist whose soulful sound promises to appeal to music lovers around the world," said Brian Mehling, M.D., CEO of IMP.

For information, visit Industrial Motion Pictures.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Soulful Sustenance: Junior Turner Releases 'Tonight's The Night'

My fave new artist of 2013, U.K.-based Junior Turner, follows up my No. 2 song of 1Q 2014 with "Tonight's the Night," to be officially released in late June. I'm thrilled to say that Brother Junior and I connected via Skype last week for a late-night warm & fuzzy conversation, after many months of my unbridled love and support for his limitless talent.

Witnessing the progression of onetime U.K. pub & club singer/songwriter Junior Turner’s career is the sonic equivalent of watching TV’s “Masterpiece Theatre.” Over the last four years, he has released one consummate pop creation after another.

Previous single “Save Me”—an emotive, potent and ever so universal shout-out for help—was awarded the 2014 Indie Music Channel Award in the States for Best Pop Song, alongside a second nomination for he-said-she-said duet “Loveblind,” with Jess Wood. Both are among a collective of should-be hits on full-length release “Under Scrutiny.”

Turner’s latest single “Tonight’s the Night” bears witness to his momentous versatility, with a loving nod to old-school soul, complete with bleating horns, groovy guitars and knee-slapping percussion. As ever, the midtempo track is commandeered by Junior’s radiant warmth as a vocalist—which here, conjures ever-frequent comparisons to Robbie Williams, alongside so much soul that you’d swear our hero has rubbed shoulders with The Four Tops or The Drifters (with background accompaniment from frequent partner Jess Wood).

Turner has garnered award-winning success, global radio play and plenty of press for his musical wares. It’s time he was recognized as a talent that deserves critical mass recognition. Come on, it’s takes just one listen to “get it.” Yep, “Tonight’s the Night” that we can all cozy up to Junior’s wondrous world of musical masterpieces.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Coming June 13: A Talking Head Appearance On ABC-TV's '20/20'

Several weeks ago, I was contacted by an ABC-TV producer named Sunny(!) for the network's long-running news show "20/20." She had eyed me in a segment on lip-syncing for Moscow-based news channel RT's "The Truthseeker," which I interviewed for in November 2013, via Skype. After a lengthy pre-interview
(so that Sunny could vet if I knew what the hell I was talking about), she returned to me several days later to invite me to appear as a talking head on the show. However, there was a caveat: Where can we do this?
She asked if I might be willing to fly to New York or Los Angeles to film the interview. Ironic, eh? As much as I wanted to be included in the show, I fussed that with contractors in my home pretty much every day—and doggies to find care for—it would be difficult. "Could you possibly send a crew to my home in Norfolk, Va.?"

After a couple weeks of back and forth, the good news came: ABC was willing to fly down the segment's producer, Joe Rhee, and have a camera/lighting crew drive down from D.C. Score!

On Tuesday, May 27, all arrived at 11 a.m., scoped out the house and decided to film in the living room, using the grand piano as a backdrop. The interview lasted a good hour... and I enjoyed immensely. Hopefully, I delivered a couple money quotes that will actually appear in the episode. The show's overall theme is "faking it," including a segment on job candidates that lie on their resumes. The finale is supposed to be the lip-syncing topic.

Tentative air date is Friday, June 13. ABC-TV's "20/20" at 10 p.m. Below is the RT "Truthseekers" news segment I appeared on in November. The show has a global audience of 630 million viewers. (I appear around the 8-minute mark.)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

'Rubber Duck' Makes A Splash At Chrysler Museum of Art

Norfolk's recently renovated Chrysler Museum of Art celebrated its reopening with a splash, showcasing the second U.S. appearance of Florentijin Hofman's "Rubber Duck" in the museum's Hague during the week leading up to Memorial Day. The duck has previously appeared in London's Thames River and Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor.

The inflatable duckie offers 40 feet of giddy delight, and just makes you... smile. I saw "RD" on the Sunday before Memorial Day, joining hundreds of onlookers, admiring a piece of art that requires little interpretation, just giggles. To my surprise, I heard one cranky woman at the display complain, "I'm disappointed. I thought it would be bigger." All I could think is, "Seriously, lady? Well, duck you!" *