Sunday, May 29, 2011

Elizabeth Berkley: An Interview with a Goddess

Elizabeth Berkley did something quite rare with her career. After being viciously attacked in every which way possible for her performance in the legendary film Showgirls, Berkley kept on, taking on challenges roles on screen and on stage, and more recent, creating a forum for young women to discuss their everyday issues, thus, Ask Elizabeth was born. The forum became a website, then upon request, a book.
A lot of her pain from the reaction to the film Showgirls went into Ask Elizabeth, a book penned by Elizabeth with the aide of young girls talking about real issues. The pages are filled with stories and advice that is directed toward young women, but could easily assist in the lives of any gay man as well. Ask Elizabeth deals with bullies, body image, friends, family, drama (something gays know nothing about) and much more.

Showgirls may have taught us how to land a spot in Goddess, how to watch our figure (brown rice and vegetables), and the proper pronunciation of Versace (“Ver-sase” ), but the newest project of Berkley ’s teaches us how to survive in the real world. From Saved by the Bell to Ask Elizabeth, Berkley has, and always will be, a goddess.

Eric Chavez: First of all, I would love to congratulate you on the success of the book. It’s an amazing piece of work. I’m a male, but I can understand everything you discuss in your book, from bullies to body image. I think that the book, aside from a few things, could be for both sexes.

Elizabeth Berkley: Yeah, it’s funny because the teachers have told me that the boys have been reading it too in discussion groups at school, which is so cool to me that it’s opening up that dialogue.

EC: Definitely. Now in the book, you discuss how people have criticized you in the past, and how one time a journalist even called you a “failure.” When I read that, my heart just dropped! I couldn’t believe it!

EB: It was real! I’m being honest. I mean people say awful things. No one goes unscaved, we all go through things. We just can’t let people’s nasty words become our beliefs about ourselves, you know?

EC: You know what, though? Maybe without that past, there might not have been an Ask Elizabeth book or website.

EB: You’re probably right. I may not have had the same level of desire to be of service in this area. I think often times when people choose to be part of a charity; it’s usually because something is very personal.

EC: Now that the book’s out and a success, is there still a television show planned in conjunction to the book?

EB: There are some tv ideas now that I’m exploring that could be a really powerful platform. It would just have to be different from what I’m doing because no one will want to watch a two hour workshop! I can’t wait to show it to you and share it. My original intention was to help the girls in an interactive way to give them a form to feel safe enough to ask the questions that they might feel alone in. For a long time they were asking me to create a website, but it’s not a real meaningful connection, it’s just sound bites, and so the girls asked me to make a book. I was so excited, so that’s why I took 15 of the most asked questions to create the book.

EC: You know, It’s hard growing up, period. This book doesn’t have one single answer, but it deals with issues that no one else really is, and the thing about it, because you’re a celebrity, people might see you in a movie and be like, “I like her, so I’m going to check this out. “ But I was shocked to see some bloggers show some disrespect to the book when it was originally announced to come out because it contains the writings from these young girls.

EB: For people, Ask Elizabeth has been such a private journey between me and the girls and their schools, until people understand, well first of all, I don’t care about people like that anyway, because they were not informed on what Ask Elizabeth is. Ask Elizabeth is a community of voices, it’s not me standing on a podium telling people how to run their lives, it’s girls helping each other sharing their wisdom and advice and I create a space for them to do it. So, there couldn’t be an Ask Elizabeth without their voices, just like I have a column on Oprah's website where it’s moms asking question, but it’s me and the girls answering. It’s not a celeb-vanity project.

EC: I know! In so many ways you are going to help girls and boys so much in the future. I don’t even know why they would hate on that! Speaking of that, I’ve always admired you because after Showgirls, and all the criticism, the unfair criticism, mind you, you carried that film brilliantly and no one else could have! I’m waiting for another vehicle starring you. You made Showgirls work. I mean that’s why it’s a cult film. I mean people don’t just love it or like that movie, they adore it! And I’m one of them! You made that movie magical.

EB: Thank you so much! I really appreciate what you’re saying, thank you so much for acknowledging me like that; it’s really beautiful to hear that from you. It is funny; I mean if that movie was so bad, why didn’t it die on the movie shelf? Clearly, there was something to it. It’s one of the top MGM top selling videos of all time, and people are watching it. It’s a cult classic now! I’m really looking forward to taking what I have become to really sink my teeth into a really juicy role or a comedy, I love doing comedies. I’m ready to step into that really good kind of role that you’re talking about, so we’ll both be excited at that moment.

EC: I once tweeted Cher, telling her she should do a movie with you! She never replied, but hopefully she saw that and has that in mind.

EB: I love her! I love her. That would be genius!

EC: Speaking of Showgirls, did you know there are people on Facebook who have created “Nomi Malone” profiles, and they quote your character in the film, or just take the character and run with it? It’s the funniest thing, they even have the Human Resources lady from the movie, that you have a one-minute interview with, she even has a Facebook page!

EB: (Laughs) I can’t wait to check it out.

EC: My next question is, for you, you’ve done so many amazing films and television shows, but if there were one movie or tv show in a time capsule to represent your talent the best for the future, what would it be?

EB: I think that I’m getting ready to do that one, I don’t there is one I would put in a time capsule yet. There are things I’m so proud of, but also, you know it’s so hard when you’re creative, I mean as a writer, yourself, when you see an article you wrote, there’s always something after the fact you wanna do better, or when you grow you can’t but look back and think “oh I wish I could do it again” but you can’t. So it’s hard for me to say that, because of my own personal growth, I wanna explore something new. I mean there moments I am proud of or experiences I take with me like working with Al Pacino or the great ladies of First Wives Club or working with Woody Allen. So those are amazing memories so me, but in terms of a full arch of a character, I am looking forward to that particular thing that makes me go “oh my god!” that represents what I can really do. I don’t think people have seen yet what I can really do. Only appetizers!

EC: I can’t wait for this film you’re talking about!

EB: I’m excited too! The last two years, this [book] has been my baby! It needed so much care and devotion. It was like being in labor for the past two years. Like this year I had to pass on a few things, including a Broadway show, to put this book out properly, which thankfully, I’m sure you’ve done your research because I can tell you’ve put a lot of care into this interview, I mean the fact that it’s number two on the New York Times Best Sellers List and the fact that it’s getting in the hands of all the girls who need it, and the meaningful connections I’m making in every city. I’m glad I’m able to be present for it, because it would have been sad to put it out in any other way.

EC: I hope that there is no critic that there that is bashing this book. I mean you deserve the critical acclaim. I mean this book is a beautiful thing, it isn’t trashy, you are out there helping these girls. It’s a positive thing.

EB: No! This has been received in such a beautiful way. It felt like a big hug! Even some of my guy friends have said, “oh my god, I need to be reminded of this.” It’s like we all have an adolescent girl in all of us. We’ve all been there. It’s just a lot of the issues are universal. And it’s the truth; I’m not pretending where everything is perfect and tied up in a pretty bow. There are times when we’re gonna have really great highs and lows, but what’s the choice what are we gonna do in those moments? Are we gonna be a victim, or are we gonna feel the feelings that have value and take action to change our situation, if we can.

Elizabeth Berkley's book "Ask Elizabeth" is currently on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

jLo Spices Things Up

Viva La Lopez! JLo brings the heat with “Papi,” her latest single from the upcoming Love?. With her third single from the still-yet-to-be-released album (fourth if you count “Louboutins”…fifth, if you count “Fresh Out The Oven”), Lopez has topped herself with this spicy dancefloor anthem produced by RedOne.

Much more than “Alejandro,” JLo’s new song is custom made for all those papi chulos out there. While most contemporary club songs are a bit too robotic, “Papi” has that sexy rhythm that just makes you wanna get all hot n’ sweaty n’ sexy on the dancefloor.

Combining the hot new sounds of the clubs with a little sweet Latin flavor – something reminiscent of 80s-era Gloria Estefan – “Papi” leaves the competition in flames, making the track RedOne’s brightest moment.

One more thing to thank Santa Maria for: no rent-a-rappers! JLo’s finally on her own and soon to be burning up the charts and the clubs with the sweltering sound of “Papi.” Along with the hit singles “On the Floor” and “I’m Into You,” plus the leaks “Invading My Mind,” “Everybody’s Girl” and “(What is) Love?,” Love? shows every sign of being the hottest album of the year. After years of being (unjustly) more top of the flops than top of the pops, JLo is back on top and on fiyah.

Wings of Faith

Samantha James may not be anywhere to be found on the Billboard 100 or mainstream radio, but she is by far the best new artist of the past few years. Mixing electronica, deep house, chill, pop, soul, and lounge music, James has sensually crafted the perfect musical recipe. You may have heard James’ “Rise,” which topped the dance charts a few years ago, or more recently, “Waves of Change” which Kaskade mixed into a dance floor anthem.

Her new song, “Wings of Faith” makes for one of the most infectious charity songs ever, and all proceeds will go towards the aid of Japan. One reason this track is so luscious is because it avoids the cheesy, insincere trap so many charity songs dive down deep into. “Wings of Faith” consists of a blissfully beautiful dance beat that drips over the artist’s smooth vocals.

If you enjoy this track, make sure to check out Rise and Subconscious, two of the best electronica/chill/pop albums ever produced, if only because James, unlike other dance artists, actually has a, gasp, bassline in her music!

Forever Your Girl

One of pop’s biggest mysteries ever has to be why Paula Abdul didn’t take advantage of her American Idol success and release more music during her time on the show. Sure, there were the crazy cool singles, “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow” and “I’m Just Here For the Music,” but the woman had nearly a decade and no album? There was a time when Ms. Abdul gave the likes of Madonna and Janet Jackson a run for their money, but after 1995′s floptastic Head Over Heels, Abdul seemed a bit knocked out and gave up on music.

Now on iTunes, Paula Abdul’s collaboration with Shine 2009, “So Free” is actually quite an interesting dance track with a bit of a retro feel – it wouldn’t have been out of place on her 90s albums. A funky house track with a touch of acid jazz, “So Free” has more rhythm than most “dance” tracks out there now. It’s refreshing to listen to something that doesn’t sound like it was produced for robots on the dancefloor. The bad thing is that it is more a Shine 2009 song than a Paula Abdul one, but when she sings, she shines.

The question still remains: will Abdul ever release another album? It’s been nearly 16 years since her last proper LP, and fans are still waiting. Abdul herself is rather cold heartedly vague when asked about a possible LP album in the future. Obviously, Paula still has it, and for now “So Free” proves that Abdul will straight up be forever your girl.

Richfield's Reign

It takes quite a woman to be on the throne for 30 years, but Miss Richfield 1981 has reigned supreme all this time and has lived to tell about it. In her show “30 Years on the Throne,” Miss Richfield takes a journey back through her life, celebrating her reign as the top beauty of the tiny Minnesota town, where “butter is a spice and gravy is a beverage” as she says. Miss Richfield 1981 plays one night only this Saturday, April 30 at 14th Street Playhouse.

Former journalist and Minnesota native Russ King is the creator and star of Miss Richfield 1981. Since the creation of the show, King’s success has taken over theaters, cabarets and television. If you haven’t seen “her” on stage, you may have caught her on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Today Show, TLC’s Cake Boss and Weekends with Samantha Brown on The Travel Channel.

Now Miss R’s critically acclaimed show makes its way to Atlanta for one appearance. With her fabulous mix of off the wall humor and Midwestern charm, her reign is destined to continue well into the next decade.

Sweetest Taboos

Sade has shown through the years she is more than a smooth operator and more than a soldier of love: she is a seductress. She’s seduced us again with The Ultimate Collection.

Sade’s latest greatest hits collection covers (and uncovers) it all. From the love-making epics (“No Ordinary Love”), to the seductive dance tracks (“Smooth Operator”) and the romantic escapades (“Paradise”). There are the sappy sweet songs (“By Your Side”), the euphoric energies (“Sweetest Taboo”), plus some hidden gems (“Bullet Proof Soul”). The Ultimate Collection proves to be two discs to fulfill almost every desire.

But there are a few gems left off, like the super smooth “Somebody Broke My Heart,” the sweet ditty “Whan Am I Gonna Make A Living” and the bass-heavy “Turn My Back On You.” Even being a 2-disc set, this compilation cannot even begin to touch on the titillating tracks that fill up Sade’s six studio LPs.

But back to the songs that did make the cut. “Love is Found” is Sade’s first time making music not for for making love, but for full on, passionate, sweaty sex. On the other side, “I Would Have Never Guessed” makes for the perfect music to hold on to each other as the rain falls in the distance. “Still in Love With You” doesn’t quite hit the spot like the other two, but any Sade song is too sexy to skip.

But what would have been perfect would be lounge/chill remixes of Sade’s greatest hits. Instead we get a dated mix of “By Your Side” by The Neptunes and a bland remix of “The Moon and the Sky” featuring Jay-Z. While a bit of an anti-climax, a few drab remixes don’t diminish the heat the rest of the collection brings.

At the end of the night, nobody can deny the sensual pleasures Sade has given her audience through the years. Her voice, her music, her words – they all ooze with the tingling sexuality that has driven the world crazy by giving us the sweetest taboos.

Sade will be performing her greatest hits this summer on her “Soldier of Love World Tour,” which hits Atlanta July 12 and 13, because one night is never enough.

Collective Enchantment

In the words, the vocals, the production of LB Collective’s latest effort Waiting for Enchantment, there lies a bit of a step back in time when female singer-songwriters reigned supreme. It wasn’t too long ago that the likes of Paula Cole, Sarah McLachlan, Fiona Apple, and many others ruled the charts with their mix of talents in front of the mic and behind the scenes. It was around the time of Britney Spear’s debut that those singers began to be not-so-en-vogue with mainstream radio.

Now, it seems that Laura Benjamin and company have decided to bring that sound back, with a little facelift for modern times. Along with confessional, introspective lyrics, organic beats and intimate vocals, the thing that puts this group apart from other acts are Laura’s unique vocals.

Waiting for Enchantment doesn’t wait long to kick things off. Album opener “Something Different” shows the singer pondering on the subject of love over an easy-breezy soulful beat that let’s the listener that whatever the outcome of love may be, it’s gonna be alright.

It feels as if Natalie Merchant was in the studio during the recording of “I Got Nothin.’” That isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but in a way kind of makes the listener want to listen to a record by the 10,000 Maniacs.

“Waiting,” a track that is LB Collective at their most rock/pop, actually would not be such a bad idea for single consideration. With a strong melodic hook and sing-a-long vocals, the track may be not the best on the album, but is definitely the most radio friendly.

One of the most flavored song of the album is “A Reason,” which grinds to a blues/rock/country groove. Benjamin seems her most confident on the track, and with reason, it, more than any other recording she’s done, allows the singer to get loose.

“Tabula Rasa” has a dark, haunting feeling that evokes the feelings of the vocalist (and her listeners) down a road of jazz-touched rock/pop road that sounds like a mix of Paula Cole and Shawn Colvin. The artist slows things down a bit for the somber “Losing You,” a piano-ballad that shows Benjamin at her most intimate.

Short, with only six songs, Waiting for Enchantment does tend to make the listener want more from the group, never a bad thing! It will be interesting to see what else Laura Benjamin and her musical family will come up next, but until then, fans will be waiting.

Brilliant Art

After years of being compared to other “Art Wave” artists such as Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party, Art Brut have taken the genre to the next level. They’ve done so by creating an album more explosive and vibrate than any artist in their genre has ever done before. Brilliant! Tragic! proves to be the group’s most diverse and colorful record, making Art Brut vs. Satan pale in comparison, and judging by the response from that record, that is no small feat.

Lead singer Eddie Argos has described this album by comparing it to “dramedies.” That is what the album title derives its name from: its mixture of some seriousness and depth, yet with the slice of comedy that differentiates this band from all the others. To match the brilliance (and tragedy) of the record, the band brought in cartoonist Jamie McKlevie to design the album cover. If it doesn’t represent the title of the record, nothing can.

The comic relief may come from titles of the tracks such as “I Am the Psychic” and “Axel Rose,” but don’t be fooled, the band members’ talents make this album nothing to laugh at. “I Am the Psychic” may not prove that Art Brut has the powers of Miss Cleo (but then again, who does?,) but it does stand to show that the group can make some damn fine music. Even at under three minutes long, the song needs to have a future of being a single.

The band can definitely make you laugh and dance, especially the highlight “Lost Weekend.” The energy from tracks like it, such as “Clever Clever Jazz” and “Axel Rose,” definitely rock the house. Slower songs like “Sealand” and “Bad Comedian” may not be quite as infectious as the rest, but even so, the personality comes through.

Whether or not the listener sees this record as brilliant (they may see it as tragic, making the title even more genius – it allows for press reviews to have a field day with it), the mixture of humor and talent in the record come across as fierce as one of the electric guitar riffs. It’s tempting to compare Eddie Argos to John Lennon (very tempting) when it comes to lyrically relevancy and irrelevancy, so I will. True, Art Brut aren’t The Beatles, but they won the battle against Satan, and now with Brilliant! Tragic!, they have won the battle against a tragic ending of their art.