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My Journey with Bob and Michael


I recently found myself ensconced in a cozy room at the newly opened Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, Florida. I don't gamble, and I'm not a rocker, but I was intrigued by the brand's recent expansion, including the opening its sister property, the Guitar Hotel on Florida's east coast. As a travel writer, I have the luxury of putting on other people's shoes and exploring vacation experiences outside of my purview. I also have the misfortune of occasionally getting sick on the road, which is what happened the morning after I arrived at Tampa.


Flu shot be damned, a night of cold sweats, congestion and a throbbing headache (not made any better by the ding of more than 4,500 slot machines) forced me into seclusion. My colleagues spent the day at the cabana indulging in frozen cocktails and binging on chicken tenders, but the thought of leaving the room felt daunting. I had read that the property offers The Sound of Your Stay, complimentary amenity packages that celebrate the Hard Rock life. So I popped decongestant pills and few other drugs, ordered a Crossley turntable, and went down memory lane. In the spirit of Jimi Hendrix, I may have been tripping.


Journey: Greatest Hits

First up was the double album released in 1988. I’m a fair-weather Journey fan — it’s mostly the ballads that still tug at my pre-adolescent heartstrings. A middle school friend taught me the opening chords to "Don't Stop Believin," and to this day, it's the only song I can play on the piano.


The real clincher, though, is “Faithfully,” Steve Perry’s wailing rendition of keyboardist Jonathan Cain’s spiritual homage to faith and family is one of the great power ballads of the 20th century.


Of course, I didn’t hear it that way. I had been futilely pining away for Kelly Morton for months before we were positioned across from one another at a high-level game of spin-the-bottle. I never had "French-kissed" a girl, and when the bottle landed on Kelly and me, I went for it. With “Faithfully” blaring in the background, she retracted from my advances as if I was a fork-tongued snake. That wasn’t the end of our relationship. She agreed to “go with me” (a preliminary form of dating before anyone had a driver’s license to go anywhere) but only in secret. Our clandestine relationship lasted just a few short weeks, far less than “Faithfully”’s position on the Billboard Top 100.

Michael Jackson: Thriller The premiere of Michael Jackson’s 14-minute music video was the music event of 1983. And you can be sure that I was huddled in front of the tube TV eagerly awaiting its broadcast. At once terrifying, and — yes — thrilling, the John Landis-directed “short film” (as Jackson preferred to call it) was a game-changer for the music industry. Budgeted at $1.2 million, it pushed the boundaries of the music industry’s visual storytelling. But I just wanted parachute pants. Jackson and breakdancers had popularized the nylon trousers, fitted with zippers and other flashy details. I pleaded with my mother for a pair.


“Absolutely not,” she said flatly. “You'll look like a gravedigger."


A gravedigger? Was that a Thriller reference? Had my mom watched the video long after I had gone to sleep and seen Jackson's hallowed cheeks as he strutted through the now-famous choreography? I didn't know any parachute pants-wearing grave diggers, but no amount of begging would change her mind. The chance of me getting parachute pants was as dead as the collection of hip-popping ghoulish creatures in Jackson's video.

The Essential Bob Dylan I never listened to Bob Dylan growing up. Music wasn't a big part of our house dynamic. We had a stereo system, an eight-track player, and eventually cassettes and CDs, but our limited library was comprised mostly of jazz greats like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. My parents were also fans of Steve and Eydie (Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé). Look no further than Gormé’s album The Great American Songbook, featuring songs by Harold Arlen, Rodgers and Hart, and George and Ira Gershwin for a master class in vocal phrasing.


But Dylan’s folksy impact can’t be discounted, and in my Mucinex, Advil and bite of Xanax haze, the legendary singer-songwriter came to life. I found comfort and vocal synergy in his gravely baritone. I could easily sing along with “Blowin ‘in the Wind” and “Make You Feel My Love,” my head hanging low in that beautiful walk-in shower with snot dripping from my face.


“The song can be anything to anybody,” said Dylan in a 1962 interview. “It's critical and it's hard, this litany of questions about what's wrong with the world, OK, so if you're inclined, you know, to damn the establishment and the prevailing authority, there's your song. If you're of a more positive nature, well, this song provides an answer, too, or it hits — it leans toward an answer. `The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.'"

I sat on the shower floor, steam billowing around me, and hacked at the memory of auditioning for the first national tour of Rent. My decade-long attempt at an acting career had been peppered with ups (and mostly) downs, but none was as ill-fitting than me pretending to be a grungy East Village squatter. My audition song, Fastball’s short-lived hit “Out of My Head,” didn't even render a glance from the casting director, though I thought I was perfect for the role of Mark Cohen, the nebbish filmmaker. If only I had considered the Bob Dylan songbook!


Fastball’s lyrics, now a couple of decades old, foreshadowed a career shift that would find me hazily medicated on a shower floor of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino:


Sometimes I feel like I'm drunk behind the wheel the wheel of possibility

However it may roll, give it a spin See if you can somehow factor in You know there's always more than one way to say exactly what you mean to say.


I guess I knew I was meant to be a writer before becoming one. Journey, Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan be damned.

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MATTHEW

Matthew Wexler is a nationally recognized lifestyle editor and writer. His work has appeared in more than 20 publications and online media outlets including Passport, Hemispheres, ShermansTravel, TDF Stages, Dramatics, Hamptons Magazine, Travel Weekly, Wine Enthusiast, and more. 

 

Matthew has appeared as a speaker at The New York Times Travel Show, Travel Gay Canada LGBT Tourism Conference, and is a regular panelist at The National Publicity Summit. He currently serves as Senior Editor for EDGE Media Network and editor and chief critic of Passport Magazine's culture platform, TheBroadway Blog.

 

Matthew is a member of the New York Travel Writers Association, The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, The American Theatre Critics Association, The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, and a fellowship recipient from the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Critics Institute.

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© 2019 Matthew Wexler