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Taylor Dayne and Terri Nunn fully deserve the blowback after NYE concert at Mar-a-Lago

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Taylor Dayne (image via Instagram)

2020 is finally over, but any hope that a new year might bring a general lowering of the anger level in American public life had already been dashed long before the clock chimed midnight on January 1.

We knew better, of course; even if the country wasn’t still consumed in virulent debate over political ideologies and an election drama that feels like an assault on our very Constitution, there’s that whole Covid thing – or, more to the point, the fact that the pandemic is surging into an ever-deepening crisis even as an alarming number of Americans continue to deny, dispute, dismiss and defy public health guidelines without concern or regard for the danger to fellow citizens who might be infected as a result.

New Year’s Eve, of course, brought that festering cultural boil to a head, as the pull of tradition combined with “quarantine fatigue” to lure thousands of Americans to “super-spreader” events all across the country – and even some outside of it, like the instantly infamous White Party in Nuevo Vallarta, where a disappointingly large contingent of circuit partiers proved, in the eyes of many, that stereotypes about narcissistic gays who only care about sex and drugs are truer than the community would wish to believe.

While it’s regrettable that so many members of the LGBTQ population are willing to risk spreading disease just so they can dance in their underwear, at least these people (or most of them) are private individuals, who can pretend to themselves that their choices have no influence over anyone else. But there’s a special kind of betrayal involved when allies in the public eye – especially allies whose fame and success have been greatly bolstered by LGBTQ support – choose to participate in, and thereby endorse, similarly irresponsible events, particularly when they do it in the company of the kind of political Covid-deniers who are also known for their anti-LGBTQ agendas.

Those were exactly the kind of people who were in attendance on New Year’s Eve at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach resort, where a crowded and mask-less party provided an employment opportunity for a whole string of “where are they now?” musicians willing to perform at a celebration that marked not just the holiday, but Donald Trump Jr’s 43rd birthday. Most of the lineup, which included such enduring-yet-long-irrelevant luminaries as Vanilla Ice and Mike Love of the Beach Boys, was unsurprising; but among the evening’s entertainment were also Taylor Dayne and Berlin’s Terri Nunn, two singers for whom the embrace of the gay community was instrumental in catapulting them to whatever stardom they once held – and their participation did not slip by without notice from their LGBTQ fans, who took to social media in droves to express their disappointment and outrage in no uncertain terms.

In a day and age when “cancel culture” has become an inescapable fact of life, it’s hard to imagine that anyone, let alone a celebrity, would be clueless enough not to understand the ramifications of choosing to perform for a crowd of virus deniers who are also serial homophobes. Yet, in their after-the-fact attempts at “damage control” when angry fans called them out for their tone deafness, both singers have latched onto exactly that excuse; worse still, in “apologizing” for their tone deaf decisions, they have even claimed ignorance of the fact those decisions might have even been problematic.

In a tweet that has since been deleted, former not-quite-superstar Dayne offered a not-quite-defense for her actions, writing, “I’m saddened by all this. I have a 30 year careers [sic] … [and] many diverse friendship[s] … I try to stay non political and non judgmental and not preach… I sing from my heart purely…. I wish for all to be who they need to be and find their way.” 

Among the hundreds of respondents who were quick to point out that Dayne being “saddened” was irrelevent as an answer to the criticisms being levied at her was author and memoirist Josh Sabarra, who responded, “You’ve no reps who suggested that this may alienate fans?”

“And saying ‘but I have friends who are diverse’ is perhaps the most offensive answer,” he continued. “Not to mention, attending a large, maskless event in these times is a slap to those doing their part to keep others safe.”

“I’m trying to protect my elderly parents while you’re being irresponsible,” said another commenter. “Decisions have consequences and she made a poor decision to play in a super spreader event.”

A third cut straight to the chase by saying, “If you’re singing for anti-LGBTQ people, maybe you need to rethink your life choices.” Yet another went further down that path, telling the 58-year-old has-been pop footnote, “Hope it was worth it. You betrayed us. Good luck booking Pride events after this!”

For those who may have forgotten (or never cared), Dayne has been vocal in the past about her gratitude to the LGBTQ fans that helped to buoy her career. In 2015, she gushed in an Advocate interview about watching the community grow into “families” over her years of performances at Pride events, and in 2017 she joined a number of other celebrities who contributed “Love Letters” to Billboard Magazine in honor of Pride. Apparently, the chance to earn a paycheck in Florida was a bigger priority than her supposed love for her gay fans.

For her part, Nunn – whose 80s hits with Berlin included “Sex,” “The Metro,” and “Take My Breath Away” – seemed to be willing to take on full responsibility for her actions and offered an actual apology instead of just trying to paint herself as a victim.

Terri Nunn (image via Instagram)

“I am truly sorry I performed at Mar-a-Lago and would not have done so if I’d known what I learned while I was there,” Nunn wrote in a statement she posted on Berlin’s Facebook page. “My goal in performing was not to support a political party. I see now that that’s not the way it appeared and I am apologetic for that as well.”

She might have stopped there, but she went on to offer some excuses that, to put it bluntly, called either her sincerity or her grasp of reality into question. “The contract stated it was a small Covid-safe event for the members of Mar-a-Lago,” she added. “Unfortunately it was not Covid-safe anywhere in Florida. I had no idea masks and social distancing were not required. I thought I was current on all Covid news everywhere, but clearly I was not. I was shocked by Florida and Mar-a-Lago’s lack of regard for the pandemic, and if I’d known I would never have gone. Once I fulfilled my contractual obligation, I left the event as quickly as I could. It is a mistake I regret. I took a Covid 19 test yesterday and tested negative.”

As the quote goes, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

As many disillusioned fans were quick to point out, Florida’s obstinate refusal to do anything to control the spread of Covid has been an oft-repeated theme in the headlines since almost the very beginning of the pandemic, so claims that she was unaware cannot help but strike most reasonable observers as disingenuous. It’s also worth noting that she left the event AFTER making sure she had done what she needed in order to get paid.

To underscore Nunn’s sole culpability for choosing to perform at the Mar-a-Lago super-spreader bash, her Berlin bandmate and cofounder, David Diamond, had previously posted to his own Twitter account to clear up any confusion that he might have been involved.

“A number of news outlets have reported that ‘Berlin’ played Mar-a-Lago for NYE,” Diamond wrote. “I want to make clear that I was not at this show, nor did I ever plan to attend. I spent the evening at my home in Truckee.”

It might seem harsh to lambast these two once-beloved musicians – or any of the many other celebrities who have made similar missteps – over an error in judgment. But these are not normal circumstances. The Covid crisis continues to devastate America, and the world, rendering literally millions of people vulnerable not only to severe sickness and death but to the economic devastation being ravaged by months of ongoing shutdowns; LGBTQ rights have been under assault for the last four years by a political faction that is, at the time of this writing, still actively trying to subvert the United States Constitution in order to keep its tenuous grip on power despite receiving a resounding repudiation from a majority of the American people. To pretend that it’s even possible to be apolitical when choosing who we align ourselves with, or that it’s “business as usual” when we decide to contract ourselves to people who support irresponsible and harmful policies, is delusional thinking at its most insidious, and we as a society can no longer give out passes to those who are willing to set aside ethical considerations in order to make a profit. We must struggle for unity – but not if it is based on a tacit understanding that we will look the other way when matters of personal gain are on the table. In truth, that is probably the one thing we must not be tempted to do; it might be an easier path, but it will only take us in an endless circle through an ever-worsening landscape of conflict and chaos.

It’s true that both Dayne and Nunn will continue to have fans and supporters; their music will keep getting played, and appreciated, and deservedly so – though they might have some difficulty securing new gigs for the foreseeable future.

Even so, their songs will now, forevermore, be colored by this defining moment in their careers, and we will never again be able to listen to them without feeling a twinge of distaste – like the one we experience when watching a movie by Roman Polanski or a performance by Kevin Spacey. The talent is unmistakable, the work worthy of praise, but the artist is irredeemably tainted.

More than the temporary discomfort of backlash from their fans, that is the true cost of Dayne’s and Nunn’s decision to perform at Mar-a-Lago. For their sakes, I hope whatever boost they may have gotten from it, whether to their egos or their bank accounts, was worth it.

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Music & Concerts

“I know it can be hard to wake up to something so unreal-” Raue rocks LA

Feeling as though the venue was the Whisky a Go Go of the punk rock scene, the nostalgia found within Raue’s performance permeated the room

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Raue performs at the BlackRose in Los Angeles (Photo by Noah Christiansen)

LOS ANGELES – The phenomenon of teenage angst is one met with general discomfort and chaos: the phase that ‘isn’t just a phase’, the transition to adulthood, and worst of all… growing pains.

Yet, as the sound traveled through LA’s BlackRose, audience members embraced the feeling and passion of teenagedom as the two musicians on stage performed. In a culture where the space between childhood and adulthood is dissipating, the feeling of Raue’s sound is nostalgic. 

The Urban Dictionary defines Raue as a German colloquialism referring to strength of character, which this dynamic duo of teenaged musicians clearly display in their music and performance.

Raue (pronounced roo-ay), a band based in Santa Cruz, California is composed of two members: singer/guitarist Paige Raue Kalenian and drummer Jax Huckle – both of whom differ from the conventional teen we see today.

Raue performs at the BlackRose in Los Angeles (Photo by Noah Christiansen)

Kalenian released her first highly anticipated eponymous album titled Raue in 2021. The album contained themes of somberness, loneliness, and deja vu. Huckle joined the band a few months later where they collectively released the band’s first EP titled Erase and Rewind this year; the EP contained similar themes as the first album (albeit with more maturity and experimentation).

The BlackRose’s stated mission to provide a platform for all artists to perform their craft, highlighting all art forms including music, dance, visual arts, musical theater, burlesque, and beyond – well suited the performance.

Feeling as though the venue was the Whisky a Go Go of the punk rock scene, the nostalgia found within Raue’s performance permeated the room through the various aesthetics: Black sport coats riddled with pins in patches, floppy dyed hair, and skinny ties hung loose. Unlike typical teenage style today, the members of Raue dress as if they are a punk rock band in the 90’s.

Raue performs at the BlackRose in Los Angeles (Photo by Noah Christiansen)

In a cathartic homage to the sound of Nirvana, Green Day, and Alanis Morsette, audience members saw energy unlike any other performance. Kalenian defines Raue’s sound as “90’s grunge punk rock.”

It was obvious from the start what this band was, but when they covered My Hero by the Foo Fighters, it was clear that these teens had a rich music upbringing. Yet, it was difficult to truly label this band. Kalenian calls it a “Paradox of Ineffability” – a language that comes close to defining a sound, but not quite encapsulating all of what the sound has to offer.

The LA Blade had the pleasure to interview Raue after their performance. The band members took the Blade into a quiet, dimly lit patio in the back of the BlackRose. Quite the opposite space in comparison to where the performance took place.

After a discussion about the perks of touring from place to place to perform music, Kelenian described what Raue’s purpose is in the music industry.

“Our message is to spread love unconditionally,” Kalenian explained. It would be an understatement to call this band inclusive as inclusivity feels all too general. In fact, Raue’s sound queers the space that its in – not queer solely in the aspect of sexuality, gender, or identity, but in the sense of transformation. A true political praxis that manifests a radical queerness that seeks to envelop spaces with kindness, love, and difference.

Raue performs at the BlackRose in Los Angeles (Photo by Noah Christiansen)

Kalenian isn’t the only member of Raue who feels this way – Huckle also opened up with his discussion of the pertinent aspects of vulnerability both on and off stage. “I feel like it’s a matter of showing the crowd that you’re vulnerable,” he says, “that’s the first step to having the crowd open up.” He’s not wrong. In the beginning, the crowd was stiff. At a usual concert venue, audience participation is always optional. But, when Kalenian jumps off stage with her guitar, just feet away from the audience, it’s impossible to not move with the music. “She’s all around,” Huckle says, “She likes meeting everybody.” 

With deep messages in the music, there is a sense of closeness between the band and the audience. As Kalenian instructs the audience members to sing the chorus to a song with themes of loneliness, people have a sense of relationality to the music. I mean, who can’t relate to these lyrics: “Sitting here by myself and I feel lonely / Does that mean anything to you?” 

Although the singer gets a lot of attention naturally, there is no doubt that the eclectic personality was shown through the drummer’s performance. With the waving of drumsticks like a magical baton constructing the audience that is the orchestra, the character of Huckle was brought to life among the loud drum licks. When asked about the meaning of punk rock, Huckle responded by saying, “All punk rock has a deep message. Even if it’s loud and messy – it’s human expression.”

When the show was coming to an end, Kalenian turned around to show the crowd what was on the back of her coat: the words “I LOVE YOU!” with a picture of a screaming cat underneath the letters.

Raue performs at the BlackRose in Los Angeles
(Photo by Noah Christiansen)

As Raue makes their way to release more music and continue to perform across the states, it is no question that this band mixes the ubiquitous flare of teenage angst into their sound – not something to be criticized, but to be embraced.

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Music & Concerts

Bryan Ruby, Out baseball player & Out Country Music star: 2 icons in 1

“Music has always been a safe refuge for me. It has become a second passion of mine and it’s sort of almost taking over”

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Bryan Ruby (Photo by Kristen Lucas)

NASHVILLE – We know the theme: “Be your authentic self.”  Many trail blazers in different genres embody it. They stand up, and publicly declare themselves to be unique, real and visible. They awaken the public to the fact that human diversity is the norm and embracing it is not only a badge for them, but offers everyone who observes them a chance at a similar freedom. Most trailblazers pick a single lane in which to challenge misconceptions. 

Bryan Ruby has done it in two, neither of which have appeared to be very LGBTQ friendly until now. Not only has he broken the barrier of being the only out gay baseball player in any professional league, but he has also just launched a new single as an out gay professional country music singer/songwriter.

His image on his music releases is sultry, sexy and thirsty. For baseball, his long brown locks are tucked back and his pumped muscles outline his baseball uniform. In either case, he is beautiful, not just for who he is, but because of what he represents, and his generosity to make it available to boys who cannot see anyone like themselves in the world today.  

He remembers coming to terms with his sexuality. “It was scary. Growing up I played baseball since I was 6 or 7 years old. My dad was the ballplayer. He was a pitcher and is a current baseball coach and I was that kid who had that little tee ball bat, throwing in the driveway at home and played for years. Before I knew anything about sexuality, I was a ballplayer.  At 14 or 15, the guys on my team started talking about girls and pressure came in. Oh, you’re a jock. ‘Where’s the girlfriend?’ type thing.”  

“Not being able to look around and see somebody who was gay, that was like me was really kind of crushing. They say, if you can see it, you can be it. What happens when you’re that kid, and you have that dream, but you can’t see anybody like you?”

Instead of his passion for other guys, he focused on the passion for the sport. He loved travelling, being transported as a pro-ball player to places like South America. He remembers the thrill of a stadium there where the whole town had shown up, and the stadium was filled, and the wild and enthusiastic response when he hit a double in front of this crowd of strangers. “I love this, I am a baseball player,” he confirmed to himself.

Bryan busted past the paradigm that if a pro-ball player comes out that he won’t play pro ball ever again. Coming out took “a weight off his shoulders” and he played better than ever.  He got offers after he came out from three leagues, more than he had any year previously. He launched the Proud to be in Baseball organization, which is paving the way for gay kids to play safely and proudly. They have something Bryan did not. They CAN see someone who is gay, like them. They can see Bryan. They can see their future, one where they do not have to pretend to be someone else.

After he came out, it took the assurances of his teammates for him to understand the depths of his safety.  He was dating his boyfriend Max, but never had Max to a game. Max had not seen him play, nor had he ever sat in the designated “Wives and girlfriends” section. That changed one day when Bryan was confronted by his team. They were having a big party for the playoffs and asked if Bryan would be attending.  He said that he would be. They looked him straight in the eye and said, “We just want you to know, that if you are going to be there, your boyfriend sure as hell better be there with you by your side.” Home run.

Recently, Media outlets turned to him as a spokesperson when controversy hit the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. The Rays were holding their 16th annual Pride Night and had given their players a rainbow themed insignia to wear. 

Team insignias are not optional. Several team members refused the LGBTQ laced insignias, however. Usually refusing to wear the designated insignia is an insubordinate stance for a player to take and comes with fines from the team organization.  No repercussions happened in this case however. The players claimed religious beliefs as justification and the team allowed their behavior.  

When asked by the media what he thought, Bryan replied, “We get one night at the ballpark to be ourselves all year, and it just was an indication that a lot of people still believe that we just don’t belong there and that we are not welcome and, even on Pride Night, we’re still second-class citizens.”

For that, he received both praises, and a ton of hate mail. “I was inundated, pretty vile stuff.” 

The most poignant feedback was from a single communication, however. “I got a message from a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. An emotional message. It was one of their players who tracked down my number texted me after Pride night. There are people like me in the sport. There is one hidden on the Tampa Bay Rays team, afraid to speak up. It gives me purpose for the Proud to Be in Baseball organization. We can connect with other players who have nowhere else to go. Teams will do Pride events which is nice but in terms of the actual stuff that helps the players, it is uncharted territory.”

Bryan Ruby (Photo courtesy of Ruby)

Country music is also uncharted territory for most LGBTQ people. Not only is country music not a typical environment for gay men, but it is also not one usually associated with baseball players either. Bryan observed, “It does kind of go counter to the macho type of mold that we are sort of expected to have as male team sport athletes. Whether it’s baseball or football or hockey, but music has always been a safe refuge for me. If I have a tough game if I don’t play well, I just put my headphones in listen to music and chill out and that has always been there. It has become a second passion of mine and it’s sort of almost taking over.”

Taken over it has. He has written numerous country songs that have hit various country charts including iTunes Top Country. He won Season 7 of the talent-search competition Nashville Rising Song.

He just released his first single, a rocking country anthem destined to be a hot dance and chart hit, Left Field.

 Left Field infuses the listener with a beat that dares you to try not stomping on the dancefloor. It is an inspiration to be your real self and allow your best life to emanate from “left field.” Bryan’s voice reverberates classically country with a deep sexy lower register.

Bryan Ruby (Photo by Stasi Photography)

The proceeds from the sale of the single go 100% to the Proud to Be in Baseball organization. “After I came out, I didn’t come out just to get attention in the media. I asked myself what can we actually do to help younger people like me who don’t think they can be themselves?   They shouldn’t have to get to the point that I’m at and feel like they’re the only ones that exist which is totally, totally not true. Whether they’re in Nashville or they’re in Laramie Wyoming or they’re in Venezuela or whatever. No kid should have to feel like there are no adult versions of them and that they’re alone playing their sport in the world,” Bryan emphasizes.

In the United States, our ballplayers are our heroes. Our country western singers are our consciences.

With Bryan Ruby, gay kids now have one of each.

*********************

In the House & at the Mic: Singer Bryan Ruby, First Out Pro-Baseball Player

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Music & Concerts

CMA bans display of ‘Confederate’ flag at major music festival, CMA Fest 

The CMA stated that its goal was to embrace a safe and inclusive environment for fans of Country Music and the artists who will be performing

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Graphic by CMA Fest

NASHVILLE – The Country Music Association has joined other organizations in banning the so-called “Confederate flag” from being openly displayed at its upcoming CMA Fest this upcoming week.

The four-day festival, which runs from June 9-12, is based in Nashville and billed as one of the largest country music gatherings in the world. Although the CMA Fest event rules published in April when the music festival was first announced, in the light of recent events the CMA wasted to ensure that attendees were well versed in the policy that “Confederate flag imagery of any kind” are prohibited items for the 2022 event.

The CMA in a release stated that its goal was to embrace a safe and inclusive environment for fans of Country Music and the artists who will be performing.

“This year’s CMA Fest is our first major fan-facing event in nearly three years. We have always had policies in place that protect the safety of our fans and ban discrimination, but we felt it was important to further refine our language to explicitly outline what will and will not be tolerated,” said a statement from the Country Music Association.

The statement continued, “In line with our first CMA Fest lineup announcement in early April, our event policy was published on our website, which states any behavior that causes one of our attendees to fear for their personal safety will not be tolerated, and that is inclusive of any displays of the Confederate flag.”

This ban by the CMA is in line with other music festivals around the nation which have also banned display of the “Confederate flag” and follows a ban by NASCAR in June of 2020 which read; “The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.” 

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