Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Flanagan Wins 'Gerald's Game'

Although I’m sitting down to craft a proper review of the new Netflix film GERALD’S GAME, I suspect it may turn into a love letter to the film’s director, Mike Flanagan. We’ll see how it goes, but don’t say you weren’t forewarned.

GERALD’S GAME is based on the 1992 novel of the same name by Stephen King. In a nutshell, it’s the story of a married couple who—hoping to plug some of the widening crevices in their marriage—travel to their remote vacation cabin for a weekend of romance and reconnecting. Oh, and a sex game that leaves the wife handcuffed to a bed and the husband dead on the floor following an untimely heart attack. The book is one of King’s most underrated works—and this writer’s longtime personal favorite. It’s essentially a character study of the protagonist, Jessie Burlingame, and how a hopelessly desperate situation triggers a stress response that manifest in a cast of internal voices that include "Goody” (a somewhat Puritanical version of herself), an old college friend named Ruth Neary, and Nora Callighan, her former psychiatrist. Adding to the horror of her isolation and encroaching death, she seemingly hallucinates a deformed apparition whom she dubs “The Space Cowboy,” a manifestation of death that carries a fishing basket filled with jewelry and human bones, and experiences the bonus repulsion of a stray dog that wanders into the cabin and begins to devour her husband’s decomposing corpse.

The novels in King’s expansive canon of work fall primarily into three categories: the sprawling epic (i.e. The Stand, It, The Dark Tower); the small town visited by something evil (i.e. Salem’s Lot, Needful Things, Under the Dome, Desperation, THE TOMMYKNOCKERS); and character-focused psychological studies (i.e. Dolores Claiborne, Misery, The Shining, The Dark Half, Bag of Bones). Arguably, although everything is a subjective matter of preference, he excels in writing the latter. Like grieving widower Mike Noonan, or wrongfully accused domestic servant Dolores Claiborne, or aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance, GERALD’S handcuffed housewife Jessie is sent on a (largely) psychological journey that dovetails with the physical threats. It’s the character’s ultimate arrival on the other side of their psychological hauntings that will either save or destroy them in the end.

Anyone who’s ever read GERALD’S GAME was likely left with the same feeling as I was: This was a book that could never be adapted for film. Single setting,  single character—in her underwear—talking to voices in her head, sexual fetishes with trigger potential, incest (another trigger)—all  elements of the book that would appear to render this an un-filmable GAME.

Enter Mike Flanagan.

For the uninitiated, Flanagan is the writer, director, and editor of five feature films—all genre fare—including the well-received HUSH, OCULUS, and OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL. He’s also been tapped amidst much fanfare to write, direct, and (yes) edit the upcoming television series adaption of Shirley Jackson’s seminal THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE.  Even within this admittedly modest catalog, Flanagan has established himself as a filmmaker who wears his movie influences proudly on his sleeve while subverting those inspirations to create wholly unique films. In 2016’s HUSH, for example, he took his adoration of WAIT UNTIL DARK, the 1967 thriller in which a blind Audrey Hepburn evades—and ultimately does battle with—a trio of drug smugglers-turned-killers who’ve infiltrated her home, and explored how an alternate sensory deficit—this time deafness—would impact a similar narrative set-up.

He’s also proven himself as adept at rising to a challenge. Case in point: Taking on the task of crafting a sequel to OUIJA, an inferior 2014 studio horror movie that lacked everything a genre film should have—especially suspense. By opting for a period-piece prequel, Flanagan was able to pull off an unlikely feat; namely, creating a far superior film to the painfully bland original and giving the property a genuine franchise potential its predecessor couldn’t. He had Hollywood’s attention, and they were taking notes.

What sets Flanagan apart from his genre brethren is that he understands the difference between startling an audience and scaring them. It’s in this idea of establishing a pervasive sense of dread and tension that builds steadily without release in favor of stringing together sequences of jump scares that Flanagan has captured the admiration and adoration of increasing hard to impressive—and even harder to scare–horror loyalists.

And that brings us to GERALD’S GAME, Flanagan’s reverent—if not entirely faithful—film adaptation of the unadaptable novel referenced earlier. In crafting the film treatment, Flanagan (with co-writer Jeff Howard) makes some interesting—and always logical—tweaks to King’s source material that pay off artistically without sacrificing its emotional center.

In terms of variances between book and film, college roomie Ruth and former shrink Nora from the novel are excised in favor of trimming the cast of internalized characters. It’s clear that what drives much of the escalating tension in Flanagan’s film version is the sense of claustrophobia inside the lake-house bedroom and the isolation in which Jessie finds herself trapped. Flanagan wisely choses to keep the people—even the imagined ones—to the bare minimum here, so he opts to limit Jessie’s internal dialogues to her titular husband and more assertive self, with her father and younger self filling in some blanks via memory flashbacks. Likewise, the book’s “Space Cowboy” is still a threatening presence; here, he’s reimagined slightly as a similarly misshapen “Moonlight Man.” In lesser hands, the whole affair could have come off as an overcrowded stage play or—worse—some cartoonish, second-rate episode of HERMAN’S HEAD; fortunately, Flanagan knows the occupancy limits in any given scene and knows where to seat his dinner guests around the table.

Flanagan also opts to make Jessie less complicit in her husband’s poorly-timed demise. In the novel, she’s triggered by his aggression as the rape fantasy begins to play out and kicks him in the chest, thus sparking the heart attack that leads to his fall off the bed and deathblow to the head. In the film version, prescription Viagra deals the fatal cardiac arrest. Besides the timeliness and greater plausibility a medication-caused arrest brings to this pivotal scene, it also makes Jessie a victim of her circumstances in the truest sense of the word and reinforces what a weak man Gerald really is at heart (no pun intended). Speaking of the titular character, those expecting a balding, pot-bellied Gerald may be surprised when Bruce Greenwood shows up in full-on DILF mode here, complete with sexy black boxer briefs. Objectification aside, Greenwood lends excellent support as the husband—menacing when alive, taunting when dead. He plays the character skillfully right up to the edge of that line separating sanity from insanity, sliding effortlessly between a desperate, arrogant man-child in the grips of a mid-life crisis and full-blown misogynistic psychopath with a decidedly dark side.

But make no mistake: The film belongs to Carla Gugino. She embodies just the right amount of vulnerability and strength to make Jessie authentic, her actions credible. Her powerhouse performance is compelling; it’s hard to tear your eyes away from the range of emotions she displays as the direness of her predicament becomes clear and she struggles between survival and surrender while skirting precariously close to the cliff of madness as the hours tick by.

Flanagan has outwitted the static premise of the source material with aplomb by seamlessly weaving together Jessie’s bedroom predicament with the more sensitive repressed childhood assault narrative. He ably compensates for what appears on the surface to be restrained physical motion with a narrative fluidity—a stellar achievement in pacing that should be applauded.  Even during extended monologues with and between the projections of Jessie’s overtaxed—nearly fractured—mind, Flanagan manages to ratchet up the tension, using them as vehicles to peel back layers of her past and her psyche. Flanagan uses well-paced, back-and-forth snippets of dialogue between the two manifestations of Jessie’s mind—with Greenwood representing the crippling self-doubt that has trapped her since her tragic loss of childhood innocence set against the backdrop of a solar eclipse years before and Gugino pulling double-duty as a stronger, more resilient version of herself that she’s clearly had to rely on to get her out of unsafe situations before—to personify her at-odds thought process. It’s an effective device that works admirably and without detracting from the physical horrors at hand.

Flanagan also demonstrates a clear affection and respect for his genre audience as evidenced by several well-placed Easter eggs sprinkled throughout GERALD’S GAME, lending to an “in-crowd” kind of feeling for those eagle-eyed fans while not excluding those who may not pick up on the myriad winks to other King works woven throughout the film or those who might miss the design similarity between the mirror in OCULUS and the Burlingame’s headboard or nightstand copy of the Maddie Young-penned MIDNIGHT MASS, a nod to his HUSH heroine.

In a year that brought both a disappointingly lackluster King adaptation (THE DARK TOWER) and a runaway success (IT), GERALD’S GAME skews heavily toward the latter. Unlike the recent IT adaptation, in which elements of the epic had to be scaled down to the intimate, GERALD’S GAME needed to expand upon the intimate, opening scenes up to breathe—without losing the suffocating tension. It was a loftily ambitious high wire act to pull off, but Flanagan does it. He even scores points for his brave choice to remain faithful to King’s lopsided, narratively disjointed ending. Much of the criticism leveled at King’s novel-length works over the decades have zeroed in on their weak endings, so surely Flanagan would have been forgiven—maybe even lauded—for changing it up a bit here. But he proves himself a loyalist and manages to do as respectable a job with the intact ending as any director likely could. He explained the reasoning behind his choice in a recent interview with the website Bloody Disgusting:

“It was something when I read the book that I loved. I know it was polarizing with fans of the book, so the people that hated that epilogue in the book are going to hate it in the movie. I fully expect that [the epilogue is] going to be the lightning rod for people to be like ‘Oh I was so into it and then (groans) that ending.’ But that’s what happened in the book. There was never a time where it felt right to do the film without that ending, for better or worse.”

Owing more to King’s earlier—and equally claustrophobic—CUJO (complete with a female protagonist trapped in an isolated, confined space and racing against time, dehydration, and flesh-munching dog), Flanagan’s cinematic take on GERALD’S GAME streamlines the source material without cutting too close to the story’s bones. It’s a gripping psychological thrill ride anchored by Gugino’s riveting performance, strong support from Greenwood and E.T.’s Henry Thomas (as Jessie’s father), and enhanced by cinematographer Michael Fimognari’s exquisite interior shots that are alternatingly languid and frenetic and in perfect sync with Flanagan's pitch-perfect narrative pacing.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Brighton Girl Makes Good in Manhattan

Alison Moyet recently brought her OTHER world tour to New York City—a glorious sold-out gig at Irving Plaza, the venerable rock music venue. The show boasted nearly two dozen songs from the acclaimed songstress’s long and varied music career, hitting almost all her albums (poor RAINDANCING!) but emphasizing, of course, her two most recent forays into sophisticated electronica—this year’s OTHER and 2013’s THE MINUTES.

Her tour started a few nights earlier in Washington DC and included an ambitious 24-song setlist that Moyet apologetically promised on social media to whittle down. The New York crowd missed out on “Is This Love?” from her aforementioned second solo record and “The English U”—my favorite from the brilliant new album. Taking her place onstage after her spoken-word “April 10th” played, Moyet—flanked by musical director and keyboardist John Garden (who, interestingly, co-wrote the score for TALES OF THE CITY: THE MUSICAL, based on the books of the same name by Armistead Maupin) and backing vocalist and synth player/programmer Sean McGhee —announced her arrival with OTHER’s opener, “I Germinate.” By the time she got to the chorus and belted “I’m here, I germinate…” the capacity crowd was hers—clay in her capable hands.

The concert was well-paced and her expansive (and expanding) catalog well-represented with newer material from OTHER and THE MINUTES seamlessly interspersed amongst electronic arrangements of older material, like “All Cried Out” and “Love Resurrection” (from ALF); “Wishing You Were Here” and “This House” (from HOODOO); “Getting Into Something” (from ESSEX); “Ski” (from HOMETIME); “The Man in the Wings” (from THE TURN); and no less than five Yazoo tracks—“Only You”, “Nobody’s Diary”, Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)“, “Don’t Go”, and “Situation.”
There were moments of delightful banter with the engaged, adoring crowd—most notably when a well-intentioned heckler (with an obvious death wish) shouted out the title to her first—and biggest—US hit, “Invisible.” Anyone who’s followed the singer’s career knows she doesn’t—and won’t—sing the tune, citing no more connection to the song’s lyrics or the “man-done-me-wrong” genre of songs that appealed to her younger self. And while the heckler was rebuked with the polite good humor that’s characteristic of the decidedly more refined British, no one else in the crowd mistook Moyet’s kindness in that moment as a weakness (even in the presence of beauty).
One of the most endearingly admirable qualities of Alison Moyet, the artist, is her sense of professional responsibility to the audience. She conveys genuine love and the utmost respect for her fans—and when something in her vocal or the accompanying sound is off, she’ll unceremoniously stop and start over. This perfectionism was in evidence during the Irving Plaza gig during three false starts, which she good-humoredly dismissed with an apologetic shrug and a do-over. Humor is her weapon and it’s disarmingly effective.
To pinpoint personal highlights would be akin to naming a favorite child; the entire concert was a highlight in and of itself. But, if pressed, I’d likely cite Moyet’s flawless performances of “Changeling” (from THE MINUTES) and “Beautiful Gun” and “Alive” (from OTHER) as such. But the evening’s best—and most unexpectedly poignant moment—came during the introductory remarks to her gorgeous musical nod to the LGBT community, “The Rarest Birds.” There is a moment during an anecdote she shares that left the audience gobsmacked—so much so that you can actually hear an audible gasp from the crowd. Rather than dilute the expressiveness of the moment, hear for yourself in video footage shot by another concertgoer:

Since she’s embarked upon a world tour to promote the new album, it seems only fitting to say a few words about that while you’re here and held captive by my words. Not to put too fine a point on it, OTHER is nothing short of an artistic masterpiece—musically, vocally, and lyrically. Like all good artists do, Moyet has grown in her musical craftsmanship with each successive album, and she proves herself to be brilliant poet and lyricist on this gorgeous ten-track collection. OTHER—her ninth studio album—is both an intimate and intricate musical experience, managing to capture myriad shades and tones germane to the human experience in a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of words and musical textures.
This is her second collaboration with producer Guy Sigsworth, who has produced for Bj√∂rk, Alanis Morrissette, Madonna, and Britney Spears, among others. They first joined forces on 2013’s THE MINUTES, which became Moyet’s highest-charting album in the UK since 1987’s RAINDANCING, and—arguably—changed the game for her. Her partnership with Sigsworth has given her creative license to ascend higher as both a vocalist and a songwriter and bridges the gap between the electronic music diva of thirty-plus years ago and the self-assured middle-age artiste of today. Both albums have been creative investments between the two—with both paying handsome dividends.
OTHER finds Moyet set against a similarly sweeping, cinematic electronic landscape that made THE MINUTES such a delightful surprise, an actual return to roots cleverly masquerading as a seeming musical departure. The lyrics are awash in rich word tapestries of luxuriant linguistic textures and syntactical patterns. Even the gutsy inclusion of the spoken-word track “April 10th” works and will leave you hankering for an album of spoken-word poetry. The album is lean at just over 41 minutes of music spread over ten tracks, but it’s quality over quantity here with zero filler and each song relevant and integral to Moyet’s larger thematic framework of otherness.
Anyone who knows me also knows that Moyet is the musical equivalent of my Jamie Lee Curtis fandom and that I worship at the feet of her temple with equal fervor. In other words, I’m obsessed. No, not in that Kathy Bates-meets-Jimmy Caan kind of way—more in the realm of a deep desire to sit down with her for a proper chat over tea, maybe watch a few episodes of DOWNTON ABBEY together. At least that’s how it goes in my head. I’ve chronicled my adoration of her music and previous concert experiences elsewhere, so I’ll leave you with the links embedded herein should you get the itch to see what all the fuss is about.
The last time I crossed paths with the great Moyet, we were both decidedly larger girls; I have a lovely photo to prove it. In the ensuing years, as I lost 105 pounds a few years back, then regained some, and then re-lost just over fifty recently, so too did Moyet shed some serious heft. I’ve long dreamt of a photo do-over, and placing our former glorious selves alongside our smaller, more self-assured selves. Once again, my beloved Alf did not disappoint. Following the conclusion of the Irving Plaza show, while Moyet was being surprised with a visit from Modest Management head Richard Griffiths (who must have been pleased as fucking punch at the thunderous reception his client received that night), a few of us more persistent folk waited outside the stage door. After about an hour, a congenial gentleman named Tim came out and said that Alison would be along shortly, advising us that she was in voice-conservation mode and that she’d only sign one item per person (for those who brought memorabilia along).
I waited, ready with my iPhone open to the photo of us, circa 2008. When the moment came and she arrived to enthusiastic adoration from the twenty or so fans gathered, I patiently waited my turn as she was warmly greeted, signed the items placed in front of her, and cheerily posed for photos. Some artists who’ve achieved a similar level of celebrity phone this part in—they’re there, but they’re on autopilot. Not Moyet. She was engaged with each and every person who thrust himself in front of her, clearly recognizing and acknowledging longtime fans whom she’d obviously met on numerous occasions outside countless theater doors.
Then came my turn. I quickly told her that I wasn’t going to ask her to sign anything and that she didn’t have to speak; I’d happily do all the talking. I’m sure that bit came out like a rambled bit of rushed inarticulateness but Alison smiled warmly, not one to disprove my theory about the infinite superiority of British manners. As I continued to prattle on about how our weight loss journeys converged and how hers informed and inspired mine—at least in part—and I blabbered on about a photo, Moyet uttered the words that nearly stopped my heart: “You’re Vince, right?”
I literally fought back the tears. Alison-oh-my-God-Moyet, she of the incomparable voice and venerable talent known the world over, recognized me. She either has an exceptional memory (which she seems to negate on her own lovely tour-travel blog) or she pays attention when blubbering former fatty fans like me tweet twaddle at her. Either way, I was thrilled, touched beyond measure. She happily granted me the coveted photo retake and gave me one of the kindest, most genuine hugs I’ve ever gotten. As we embraced, I told her that I loved her, thanked her for an unforgettable show, and gushed about how brilliant the new album was. Then it was over, and this lovely, funny, self-deprecating woman was on to the next gushing fan, exhibiting the same graciousness and genuine appreciation.
And then it struck me, full-barrel in the chest, and I’m reminded of the liner notes from THE MINUTES:

“They were not years. They did not make us laugh always. We were not perpetually safe in love or thankful. Ours were not wads of hours tied up in a playful huddle. Never a summer eternal neither a winter we could skate upon. They were minutes. We have the minutes.”

Alison was right. Life really is all about the brilliant little minutes—not necessarily very dramatic or specific—suspended in years. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Horrors of the 'Unspeakable' Variety

It's here. It's queer. And it's unspeakable.

In advance of the October 31st release of Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire (Evil Jester Press, 2017), the new spiffy trailer from the fine folks at Circle of Seven Productions.

Desire – the feeling that accompanies an unsatisfied state.

What happens when human desire twists…bends…warps…mutates?

What happens when that desire is fed…or even starved?

In this sequel to the Bram Stoker Award®-winning anthology, Editor Vince Liaguno assembles a literary pantheon from the LGBT and horror communities to explore the dark underbelly of desire.

From unrequited love and repressed lust to consuming grief and the unquenchable thirst of addiction…from unfathomable sexual undergrounds to unspeakable perversions creeping into everyday suburbia, these abominations of desire will leave you gasping for breath and your taste for terror satiated.

Contributors include: Gemma Files, Laird Barron, Stephen Graham Jones, Lee Thomas, Helen Marshall, David Nickle, Lisa Morton, Norman Prentiss, Greg Herren, Tom Cardamone, Erastes, Marshall Moore, Evan J. Peterson, Chad Helder, Brad Hodson, Michael Hacker, R.B. Payne, Martel Sardina, and Martin Rose.

Praise for Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet (Dark Scribe Press, 2008)

“There are plenty of those to be found in Liaguno and Helder’s collection of 23 tales of queer faeries, psychopaths, ghosts of tormented lovers and hapless victims. What impresses me is the sheer literacy of these stories. There are no cheap shocks or Stephen King-like pop culture regurgitations here; only nasty things that bump and shudder the bed as you read.” – Out In Print

“It was inevitable that the narrowing portals of the publishing industry—in this case, the horror side—would yield a bevy of small presses geared at bringing new fear fiction to readers increasingly starved for quality. While books from such outfits can be a bit of a gamble, there is much to praise in Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet, a sharp, new gay-themed anthology. The 24 entries comprise a sophisticated collection of topnotch tales of terror, most of which could appear in any fright anthology without qualification, and suggest the maturing of ‘gay horror’ into a viable and solid genre indeed.”  – Fangoria Magazine

Friday, July 28, 2017

Why Is Understanding Mandatory?

Over the last few days—against my own better judgment—I've engaged others on a few friends' Facebook timelines on the subject of Trump's transgender ban earlier this week. To say that some of the responses I've gotten are disheartening is an understatement. So much fear (which leads to hatred) of that which we don't understand.

When cornered by logic, some of these respondents went radio silent, others lashed out with that underlying transphobia you knew was there the whole time bubbling under the surface. Some finally acquiesced in frustration to just "not getting the whole thing." And here's the thing: Why do we have to understand something to exhibit kindness and human decency?
I'll readily admit that I don't understand every facet of transgenderism. That's largely because I am not transgender and have therefore not experienced what it feels like to have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from my biologically assigned sex. I likely don't always get the preferred idioms correct or readily identify with every nuance of the transgender experience. But I try to learn by interacting with trans men and women, by reading more on the subject, by listening to the experiences of others. And still I don't understand every aspect of someone who is transgender.

But I don't have to. I can still choose—and make no mistake, it *is* a choice—to be compassionate and kind and to consider the totality of the individual with no judgement or malice. If I feel uncomfortable with some aspect of someone's gender identity or expression, that discomfort is mine and mine alone. It's based on some deep-seeded bias within me and has nothing to do with the other person. I try to push myself through that discomfort or aspect I don't understand and try to expand my try to figure out the reasons and origins of that discomfort. What I don't do is make a trans man or woman feel less than because of any shortcoming of mine. That's cowardly and morally wrong.
All human beings deserve to be loved and to be able to express love. They deserve to be treated with kindness and respect— what we've come to know as basic human decency. I may never know or fully understand what it feels like to be born into the wrong body, but I can treat people who do with empathy and compassion. It takes nothing away from me to do so. I subscribe to the philosophy of inclusive humanism, which embraces the idea that all human beings matter and deserve equal respect and dignity, regardless of geographical region, age, achievement, ability, appearance, ethnicity, religious beliefs, nonreligious beliefs, sex, sexual orientation, or gender.

This is not rocket science, folks. People are different. Some of those differences will be easy to understand and accept; others may prove more difficult based on our biases and preconceptions. Work through them...or at least try to. There are no pitfalls to doing so and an expanded world and worldview are among the many benefits.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Remembering Laura Branigan

Today, I am grateful for the life and career of the late Laura Branigan.

In the late 1970s, several years after attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, Branigan got her first break—touring Europe as a backing vocalist for Canadian singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen. Although she signed as a solo artist with Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of Atlantic Records, in 1979, her first album—SILVER DREAMS—went unreleased despite the first single making a blip on the BILLBOARD dance chart. With music fans tiring of disco and the second British invasion not yet landing ashore in America, Branigan’s booming four-octave voice actually worked against her during those early days at Atlantic, with the label’s A&R folks scrambling to position her as a pop singer. When her nine-track debut album—uninspiringly titled BRANIGAN—was finally released in 1982, the singer’s elusive breakout success would finally come by way of a reworked cover of an Italian love song, “Gloria.” That song would eventually go on to be certified platinum and spend a then-record 36 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number two and landing Branigan her first and only Grammy nomination as a solo artist. For better or for worse, “Gloria” would become the singer’s signature hit.

Subsequent releases proved the singer more than a one-hit wonder. As European synthpop took hold of the decade, more Top 40 hits came with “Solitaire”, “Self Control”, “Spanish Eddie”, and “Shattered Glass.” Unfortunately, Branigan’s career was marked by material that rarely rose to the caliber of her magnificent voice, with a few notable exceptions like “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” (penned by pre-fame Michael Bolton), “Cry Wolf” (which was later covered by Stevie Nicks), and her emotionally raw take on Jennifer Rush’s juggernaut ballad “The Power of Love” (predating Celine Dion’s worldwide smash).

Following the release of her final album, 1993’s OVER MY HEART, Branigan went on hiatus from the music industry to care for her ailing husband, Larry Kruteck, who would eventually die of colon cancer in 1996. Her career never recovered from either the heartbreak of losing her husband or the hiatus, during which grunge became the music du jour and poor management further derailed her career. She was contractually obligated to Atlantic to deliver two new tracks for the 13-track greatest hits compilation THE BEST OF BRANIGAN (1995), and she chose covers of former Lone Justice frontwoman Maria McKee’s “Show Me Heaven” (which had been an international smash from the DAYS OF THUNDER soundtrack) and a high-energy cover of Donna Summer’s disco nugget “Dim All the Lights.” Aided by a fun, drag queen-infused video, the latter would go on to become a moderate Billboard Top 40 Dance hit.

Her prospects for a comeback dimmed again in 2001 when a ten-foot fall from a ladder she was using to hang wisteria outside her lakeside home in Westchester County, New York, resulted in two broken femurs that necessitated rods and pins in both legs and months of intensive physical therapy. Branigan was again dipping her toe back into music with a few newly-recorded tracks—including a dance remake of ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All” and a haunting cover of the late Eva Cassidy’s “I Know You By Heart”—when she died in her asleep at the Long Island home she shared with her Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother in August of 2004. She was only 52 at the time of her untimely passing, which was attributed to an undiagnosed ventricular brain aneurysm. Her ashes were scattered over the Long Island Sound.

Despite her modest catalog, Branigan has remained one of my all-time favorite female vocalists, largely based on my experiences seeing her perform live. She was truly an artist whose recordings did her extraordinary voice little justice. Between the years of 1984 and 2002, I had the great pleasure of seeing her sixteen times in concert, each time marveling at what a true vocal powerhouse she was. Adding to those musical experiences, I often had the tremendous thrill of meeting her after the show for autographs and photos.

Branigan also holds a special place in my heart for kickstarting my mid(ish)-life writing career. Following her tragic passing, I had the surreal experience of attending two estate auctions out in Westhampton Beach, both commissioned by her family. At the end of both auctions, I was fortunate to have acquired Branigan’s original marriage certificate, her personal wedding album and invitation, original proof sheets of unpublished photos of the singer, and never used photos from the shoot for her SELF CONTROL album cover, among other mementos. But even with these cherished pieces of the late singer, my heart was broken; this was the first celebrity to whom I had an attachment who had passed away. So, as many writers do, I channeled my grief into a tribute article that editor Steve Cyrkin was kind enough to buy and publish in his magazine, AUTOGRAPH COLLECTOR, a small, specialty-niche publication for enthusiasts of the titular hobby with a respectable national circulation. That led to a lengthy professional association with the magazine and a considerable collection of articles and interviews with celebrities like Meg Tilly, Terri Nunn of Berlin, Martha Davis of The Motels, BAYWATCH actor Michael Bergin, Johnathon Schaech, FALCON CREST’s Jamie Rose, and too many others to count. That gig gave me the confidence to pen my first novel, then edit my first anthology, and the rest—as they say—is history.

Today, on what would have been Branigan’s 65th birthday, I’m left with fond memories of a gracious woman who loved her fans and always took the time to tell them so, a modest musical legacy that only hinted at the talent beneath the glossy productions, and bittersweet thoughts of “what if…”. Most of all, I’m left with deep gratitude that Branigan chose to share her singular voice with the world and that her recordings will ensure that that voice will never be forgotten.