Monthly Archives: September 2016

“KING COBRA”— Trailer finally released

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“KING COBRA”

Trailer Finally Released

Amos Lassen

In October, IFC Films will release “King Cobra”, a film adaptation of the true crime novel “Cobra Killer” by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway. Directed by Justin Kelly, the film maps the rise and violent fall of porn company Cobra Video. 

“Based on a stranger-than-fiction true story, King Cobra is a deliciously dark, twisted plunge into the behind-the-scenes world of the pornography industry. It’s 2006, YouTube is in its infancy, and internet porn is still behind a paywall. Taking the stage name Brent Corrigan, a fresh-faced, wannabe adult video performer (Garrett Clayton) is molded into a star by Stephen (Christian Slater), a closeted gay porn mogul who runs the skin flick empire Cobra Video from his seemingly ordinary suburban home. But as Brent’s rise and demands for more money put him at odds with his boss, he also attracts the attention of a rival producer (James Franco) and his unstable lover (Keegan Allen) who will stop at nothing to squash Cobra Video and steal its number one star. Co-starring Alicia Silverstone and Molly Ringwald, King Cobra is part delirious, tabloid-shocker satire, part American tragedy.”

“THE TUBES: LIVE AT GERMAN TELEVISION: THE MUSIKLADEN 1891”— For the First Time on DVD

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“The Tubes – Live At German Television: The Musikladen Concert 1981”

For the First Time on DVD

Amos Lassen

Here is the “phantastic” concert of The Tubes as they present their album “Completion Backward Principle” in Germany in 1981. The concert was completely filmed and shows Fee Waybill, Roger Steen, Bill Spooner, Rick Anderson, Vince Welnick, Michael Cotton and Prairie Prince in top form. The concert is a show with many scenes lots of dancers.

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In April, 1981 Musikladen director Mike Leckebusch had the idea to have the Tubes do a live concert and so he offered the band (Fee Waybill, Bill Spooner, Roger Steen, Vince Welnick, The Prairie Prince, Rick Anderson and Michael Cotton) the chance to present their new album ‘The Completion Backward Principle’ live on TV. The band took the chance and added dancers and extras and the show was taped on April 24, 1981 when it went on stage and was broadcast some weeks later in several other countries aside from Germany. The album became the band’s most successful album and now we can see and enjoy the entire concert.

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In the early 70s, The Tubes were much more than just a band, they were an event. Their music was eclectic and drew on punk, progressive music, R & B, hard rock and independent musical styles. The band is from San Francisco and includes two guitarists Roger Steen and Bill Spooner that two keyboardists Vince Welnick and Michael Cotton, bassist Rick Anderson and drummer Prairie Prince and all of them are accomplished musicians of the time. The Tubes also had Fee Waybill, a true frontman and passionate singer who just also could fully develop his acting skills in the Tubes.

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Below is the track List:

Intro Part 1

Overture

A Matter of Pride

TV is King

Think About Me

Talk to Ya Later

Sports Fans

Amnesia

Mr. Hate

Promotion

Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman

Smoke

Mondo Bondage

Intro Part 2

Don’t Want to Wait Anymore

Power Tools

Business Dance

Don’t Slow Down

Sushi Girl

Tubes World Fair

Let’s Make Some Noise

Credits

“OTHER PEOPLE”— Living and Dying

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“Other People”

Living and Dying

Amos Lassen

Chris Kelly based his movie “Other People” on the time he spent living with his mother for several months as she was dying of cancer. His movie shows the awkwardness of having to care for a dying parent and this includes the forced closeness to one’s family and childhood home, how one responds when someone asks for an update and the banality of people who do not know what to say. Kelly who is one of the writers for Saturday Night Live, brings together the comedy and tragedy of what he went through as his mother was leaving this world.

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“Other People” is about David (Jesse Plemons), an aspiring comedy writer who’s just moved from New York City back to Sacramento to help care for his mother, Joanne (Molly Shannon). We see him attending a party at his parent’s house. Other guests at the party are broad suburban caricatures. We immediately feel David’s discomfort around these people.

We soon understand that David’s complicated feelings about his home come partly from his homophobic father’s (Bradley Whitford) refusal to accept his sexuality. We also learn that David is generally uncomfortable around almost everyone except his mother, his friend, Gabe (John Early), and his ex-boyfriend, Paul (Zach Woods). He learns something very important from his mother’s death— the importance of connecting with “other people.” David is the focus of the film and everything is related from his point of view. We see that he is unable to connect to his sisters and because of that we see little of them.

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David came home when the television show he was working on in New York was cancelled and he had broken up with his boyfriend. When he gets there, he learns that his mother has decided not to continue chemotherapy treatment and is in a great deal of pain. He becomes very anxious about losing his mother especially because she supported him when he came out. That was ten years ago and his father has still not been able to accept this. This troubles David but he is also having a terrible time dealing with his mother’s certain death. After all, he thought, only other people lose their parents and he confided this to his friend Gabe.

David becomes sullen, closed and withdrawn setting him apart from other characters in the film. Those characters are there for the purpose of teaching David various lessons including becoming more confidant, putting himself out there, reconnecting with family. It is Molly Shannon, though, who is the film’s ace in the hole, as her beautifully natural performance is attuned to the wearying effects of chemo and the quiet struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy for the benefit of those around her. She’s also very funny in scenes that show Joanne navigating the awkwardness of interacting with people who know they may be seeing her for the last time.

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Dealing with death through humor tends to give aid to families and loved ones who are facing the most permanent aspect of our existence. It is a time when to cope is about struggling, communication with non mourners is very difficult and connection with others can be problematic. When he have humor, our minds are subverted and smiling and laughing lifts spirits and decreases stress. Sometimes it provides a source of strength when we need it most as we experience a situation in which we have no power. “Other People” successfully uses humor and laughter as stays against death. (Remember the cemetery scene in “Steel Magnolias”?).

Joanne herself uses humor as a survival mechanism. In a scene in a church, she clowns around while singing in the choir and provides her family with a surprising moment of release from their fears of losing her. But then switching moods, Joanne tells David that she used to worry about her children forgetting her but now she feels that when they look into the faces of their siblings, they will see traces of her (and what a beautiful thought that is).

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While Joanne begins to shut down and in hospice care, David’s pent-up frustration, anger, grief, and loss come rushing out of him in an incredible scene in a store where he has a melt-down while looking for laxatives. Jesse Plemons gives an incredible performance that shows us his vulnerability. Molly Shannon is superlative as his courageous and loving mother who never wanted to be anything in life but a good parent.

Trying to make light of cancer in movies is never easy and “Other People” falls into the trap of relying too much on negative stereotypes and this takes some attention away from the disease as it inflicts its own much more superficial pain.

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The movie starts when Joanna has just died and as her family lie around the house in a state of shock. We hear the phone ring and the answering machine picks up the call from an acquaintance who has called to ask in a very offhand way how Joanna is doing (as the caller is also trying to pick up Chinese takeaway food). The absurdity of the conversation immediately lightens the mood.

For the previous past year Joanne had been looked after by David who seems to be more obsessed with his own problems/happiness than that of his dying mother, even though we clearly see that loves her.  He cannot connect on any level with his two sisters who are genuinely fond of him, or with his homophobic father. There is a very strange subplot involving David and his gay friend Gabe plot strand that really doesn’t seem to fit the film. David and Gabe visit Gabe’s father who has adopted a precocious and outrageous gay-teenager who performs a whole drag routine one afternoon. (It’s truly bizarre). There is also David taking a quick trip back to New York that and having farewell sex with Paul, his ex, and this seems to be the nearest thing to happiness that David is capable of experiencing.

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“Other People” is a must-see film. It is exceptionally balanced and downright hilarious at times. It moves between light and dark, is truly crazy at times and heartbreaking at others.

“A Thin Bright Line” by Lucy Jane Bledsoe— The Cold War and a Love Story for All of Us

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Bledsoe, Lucy Jane. “A Thin Bright Line”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2015.

The Cold War and a Love Story For All of Us

Amos Lassen

Just last week I found my review of “The Big Bang Symphony” by Lucy Bledsoe and I remembered how impressed I was with in when I read it almost seven years ago and I also wondered why I had not heard from her in that period. Before I had time to check if I had missed something, I received a package from the University of Wisconsin Press (the first academic press for whom I wrote reviews) with a copy of Bledsoe’s new book, “A Thin Bright Line”. Naturally I pushed everything aside and sat down to read. And what a read it is!

Lucybelle Bledsoe (the author’s aunt and namesake) died when Lucy Bledsoe was just six but she knew that her aunt had left the family and its farm in Arkansas and moved to New York City and found a place in Greenwich Village. She also knew that aunt was something of an intellectual, that she never married and that her life ended when she died in a fire in 1966. There was something about a companion named Vera but not much else so Lucy Bledsoe decided to investigate her aunt’s life and what she learned is what this book is all about. What we get is a tribute to Aunt Lucybelle and a look at what went on the LGBT community of the 50s and 60s when things were so very different.

We meet Lucybelle at the height of a rough time in American history— the Cold War. Lucybelle gets a chance at a job that is all anyone could want. However (did you ever notice that there always seems to be a “however”?), the job was not without risks and those have to do with her personal life as her skills as an editor and her scientific knowledge were considered excellent. Lucybelle had a tough decision in her front of her and ultimately decided to walk away from a relationship that was becoming more difficult every day and began to work with a scientist who was extracting the first ever polar ice cores. (I did not know what they are either).

Lucybelle found the ice to have a calming effect on her but she was also embarking on a new relationship that if discovered could cost her all she had worked for. As we read this we find ourselves confronting the Cold War, issues of civil rights and gay life as it was. This is an amazing story told by an amazing storyteller and writer. The fact that it is true makes it all the more amazing. The fact that Lucybelle is so concerned about the truth shows what kind of person we reading about. I found it fascinating that we read about climate history at a time when not many were thinking about it and that it is related to polar ice cores really gave me something to think about especially since my temple is not working on the climate as a major ecological issue.

In looking at the decade of the 60s, we see that it has something in common with those already mentioned ice cores. The 60s was a time when the layers of the years that came before begin to rise to the top just as ice cores are made up of layers that contain perhaps the entire history of the world as we know it. In either the ice cores or the 60s, we know that to get to understand them we must see what is within and as we see, our perceptions change. What a wonderful metaphor we have here. Author Bledsoe leads us into understanding what we see in those layers and she gives us a world when being gay was something to be hidden. Lucybelle nonetheless had an interesting life with having been able to meet some of the icons of the time. Even though she had to be secretive about her work at a secret Cold War military research center, she was able to meet people who mattered and was able to have romances with women in all walks of life from actors to librarians. Bledsoe shows us that Lucybelle, when not at work, lived in a lesbian world and she learned how to navigate it. She saw happy and successful lesbian relationships and she saw those who cheated on their spouses and those who could not be trusted. Lucybelle would go out and drink with the guys and go home to her female lover. Eventually she met the aforementioned Vera and writer Bledsoe does a beautiful job of writing about the two women and, in effect, creating the relationship they shared simply because there was so little known about it.

I always tell my young friends who are coming in terms with themselves as gay that they should never forget that all of us stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and each generation adds something to our history. Vera and Lucybelle lived at a time when the world would not allow them to share an intimate relationship regardless of how much love they shared. It is so important to know that today when so many of the barriers are down. Today we have a great deal to be happy about and to celebrate but we must also remember those who died unable to do so and who were forced into loving and living in secret. Lucybelle had one such story and we owe Lucy Bledsoe a great deal for allowing us to share that secret. Knowing about such relationships makes what we have today seem more precious and valuable and we can never take our history for granted. We also must remember that it is love and our courage and willingness to stand up for what we believe to be right is what has made us who we are today. By uniting fact and fiction, Lucy Bledsoe uncovers that love and a dark period in our history and makes both sing.

 

 

“Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula” by David J. Skal— The Man and Psychosexuality

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Skal, David J. “Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula”, Liveright, 2016.

The Man and Psychosexuality

Amos Lassen

David J. Skal brings us a new biography of Bram Stoker, the man who wrote “Dracula” and we see that the book came out of the psychosexual contours of late Victorian society.

“Dracula” was published in 1897 and has had a long and fascinating life. David J. Skal shares the inner world and strange genius of its writer who gave us an “undying cultural icon” and at the same he takes us to an age in history when death was not a metaphor for anything and was a constant threat as a character that would never die. Skal has based his biography on newly discovered documents and his own detective skills. We find that he challenges much of our accepted wisdom about Dracula, Stoker, and the late Victorian age. Stoker lived at a time of great anxiety as the Victorian Age drew to a close. He investigates Stoker’s “transgendered imagination” as is seen in Stoker’s unpublished, sexually ambiguous poetry and his passionate youthful correspondence with Walt Whitman and it has been printed in full here for the very first time.

Stoker was born in 1847, the same year that Ireland experienced the potato famine swept. As a boy, he was inexplicably paralyzed and during his early years, there were many medical mysteries and horrors including “cholera and typhus, frantic bloodletting, mesmeric quack cures, and the gnawing obsession with “bad blood”” that we read so much about in “Dracula”. He became known because of “Dracula” yet he was also quite a prolific writer, critic, and theater producer.

Stoker spend a lifetime spent wrestling with the greatest questions of an era during a time that was filled with disease, competing attitudes toward sex and gender, and scientific innovation that brought about paranoia and crises of faith.

Replete with 16 pages of color and 80 black-and-white illustrations, the introduction to the book is by Christopher Bram who brought us the wonderful “Eminent Outlaws”. We see very clearly here that there is a very “strong probability that it [“Dracula”] meant far less to Bram Stoker than it has come to mean to us.”

 

“The Pundit of Coolidge Corner”— Searching for Love and Acceptance

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Blum, Sandor. “The Pundit of Coolidge Corner”, Archway Publishing, 2016.

Searching for Love and Acceptance

Amos Lassen

Andrew Miller, a young man from Kansas arrives in Coolidge Corner, a suburb of Boston and something of a village that grew out of the big city bordering it. His aunt had warned him that Bostonians are not welcoming people from the “other world” (every place that is not Boston) but this does not change his hopes of finding what he is looking for. Andrew knows that he needs a change and really hopes that he will find it in his new home and/or perhaps through his job at the public library.

He is a man of many talents and just as many problems. He finds a place to live in a boarding house and begins life in Brookline, Massachusetts. Like everyone else, he has adventures and misadventures and he questions whether he will ever find the love and acceptance that he so barely longs for.

Blum has created quite a cast of interesting characters, many of whom seem to still be hanging around Coolidge Corner, that section of Brookline filled with quaint shops and even quainter people. Andrew is determined to find change among them. The people he meets are people we know and many readers will find themselves in the pages of this book. Sometimes, we have to work hard, like Andrew, to find the good in people and this can take time.

I found myself relating to so much in this book especially since like Andrew, I came to the Boston area and to Brookline with the hopes of finding what Andrew was looking for. There is a bit of irony here in that I came to Coolidge Corner, not from Kansas but from ArKANSAS. Having lived in the buckle of the Bible Belt, I was, also like Andrew, apprehensive of the people I met and very badly wanted to find the good that I did not have the luck of finding until then. Andrew has limits that had been placed on him by his own life experiences and because he is so determined to find “good” people, he tends to be quick to assume that those that he meets are “good” people and are worthy of his friendship even though they come across as shallow, at times.

This is a quick read but it is also a read that, even in its brevity, has something to say. I admire Sandor Blum’s way of saying that which needs to be said.

 

 

“THEO WHO LIVED”— An Inside Look at Terror

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“Theo Who Lived”

An Inside Look at Terror

Amos Lassen

David Schisgall’s documentary “Theo Who Lived” is the story of American journalist Theo Padnos, who was kidnapped in Syria and held by the Nusra Front (the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda)  for twenty-two months.

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In 2012, journalist Theo Padnos entered Syria to report on the country’s civil war but was kidnapped by Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria soon after his arrival. He speaks Arabic fluently this causing him to be thought of as working for the CIA. He suffered brutal torture for months as he went to interrogation sessions. Because he was so much at home in the language of his captors, he eventually found a personal engagement with those that held him prisoner. Interestingly enough, this plus his openness, allowed him to become, by the time of his release, twenty-two months later, a confidante of Al-Qaeda’s top commander in Syria.

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In this documentary, Theo Padnos returns to the to the Middle East and as he retraces the physical and emotional steps of his journey, shares his memories. He shows us what went on in his mind as he created a fantasy world that he used as means of mental escape. He was forced to deal with betrayal among others who were imprisoned with him, forced unlikely friendships, and tried to escape but was unable to do so. His personal resilience is what shines here alongside of the grace he exhibited in dealing with his situation. He lived staring into the face of hate and unlike other journalists from the west was able to survive and be released.

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The film will open at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in NYC on October 7 and at the Laemmle Monica Film Center in LA on October 21.

“The Sea is Quiet Tonight: A Memoir” by Michael H. Ward— How It Was

the-sea-is-quiet-tonightWard, Michael H. “The Sea Is Quiet Tonight: A Memoir”, Querelle Press, 2016.

How It Was

Amos Lassen

The AIDS epidemic was an important event in LGBT history and it is quite difficult for those who lived through it to revisit that period. I was fortunate enough to have been living out of the country during that time so my knowledge of what went on here, in most cases, comes from what I have heard and read. I did come back to the States during the summer of 1989 for a visit and discovered that almost every gay person I had known before I left America in the 60s was gone. I, then, made it my personal odyssey to find out all I could about AIDS and as depressing it was to read and hear about, I felt it was my responsibility to do so. Lately, we have not had a great deal of literature written about AIDS and that could be because the memories are so painful. However, we need to remember so that those who died from this terrible disease have a place in history and remain in our hearts.

I recently received a lovely letter from a man named Michael Ward who had gotten my address from a friend whose books I reviewed. Ward told me that he had written a memoir about the early years of the AIDS epidemic; a time when so little was known and very few who were diagnosed survived. He asked me to review his book and, of course, I jumped at the chance (especially after the nice flattery he gave me in his note). I knew that reading and reviewing, “The Sea is Quiet Tonight” would be a cleansing experience for me as it has always bothered me that I lived through the epidemic while so many that I knew did not (I think many of us suffer with survivor’s guilt). What Michael did not know then is that both his publisher and his publicist are friends of mine and the book in all probability would have eventually landed on my desk.

Because of my own experiences, I am seldom able to get through an AIDS memoir with dry eyes and that was certainly the case here. Of course, not everyone will be affected as I was.

Writer Ward writes in great detail about his then partner, Mark Halberstadt as he declined and died. This is not easy reading but it is important reading and as tragic as what we read here is, it is also a way of honoring those we lost to this terrible disease. It is also a look at the past before we had medication to help those carrying AIDS and even before we really knew what it was. Sometimes we forget that being diagnosed with AIDS was a death sentence. Sometimes we also forget that the AIDS epidemic was about people; people in relationships and what happens when one half of the relationship is dying or gone.

Now that I make my home in Boston, I find that I have a responsibility to myself to learn the history of the LGBT community here and the AIDS epidemic is certainly a part of that history. Ward takes us back and realistically tells us about how AIDS affected Boston and from a more personal point of view how he dealt with the loss of his partner. Mark Halberstadt and Michael Ward fell in love at the very beginning of the AIDS epidemic in 1981. It is so important to note here that when the world was still learning about the disease, Michael and Mark were already dealing with it. They did not know much and they were afraid. AIDS broke their hearts and destroyed what they had together. Let me emphasize that this is a book that is as much about the love and the passion that Mike and Mark shared. They not only shared their love but also their love for sailing and their friends.

The early days of the disease were terrible, not only because there was so little knowledge of what was happening but also because there was nowhere to turn and find answers since there were only questions and no answers. For Michael Ward, this was a personal battle in which there were no weapons. AIDS was about so much more than life and death. An entire community was affected by the epidemic and while this book is about Michael Ward and Mark Halberstadt, it is also about all of us who lived through this period and whose lives have not only been affected but changed in many, many ways.

As I read “The Sea is Quiet Tonight”, I soon realized that the characters that are part of this story are people that I know. This brings in the personal side of the story and we know that AIDS not only affected our community but the relatives and families of members of our community.

Michael and Mark are our main characters but for me they also become symbols of that terrible time. We meet both Michael’s and Mark’s parents and we read how their lives were changed as well as how so many individuals found themselves coping during this time. I think, and this is my opinion, that many think they know the story of what went on when in reality they know only parts of the story. Michael Ward fills in what we need to know. Everyone who has lost someone to AIDS has a theory and while some of those might be similar and alike, the fact is that the personal story is different in every case. It is easy to forget that a relationship is based on compromise but do we understand what happens when one half of the relationship cannot be part of a compromise because he is dying? This is what we really see here. Ward shows us the true meaning of love and friendship. More important than that is we see what being an adult and human really means.

The book arrived today and I must tell you that I sat down immediately to read it, determined to finish it before the presidential debate began. What I am writing here is based upon my first reading and I feel certain that you can see how the book played on my emotions. Now I know that this might sound like a depressing read but it is human, witty and funny at times and it is beautiful all the way through. The mood of this country changed with AIDS and as people we have changed. Because of that, we have achieved the freedoms that we have. It has been a terrible price to pay and we have to thank Michael Ward for reminding us of how it was. I am going to post this review now but I feel certain that I will revisit it again and write even more. I really want to get the word out so that everyone can be looking for this when it is published on November 1.

One last comment—in the beautiful forward by Mitchell Katz, MD and director of the Department of Health Services, County of Los Angeles, California, he says in his first sentence what I have been trying to say this entire review. “Love and death. For a generation of gay men, love and death were inextricably intertwined. To love in the age of AIDS, was to mourn”.

 

“I REALLY LIKE YOU”— Casual Sex & Love

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“I Really Like You”

Casual Sex & Love

Amos Lassen

The short film has screened all around the world, including at the BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival, the Inside/Out Toronto Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.

“Michael runs a diner frequented by people looking for casual sex. Loveless, he swoons over the most recent visitor, Brandt. When Brandt reveals he’s not interested in love, Michael takes the rejection poorly to say the least.”

Things take a bit of a violent turn if Michael doesn’t get the emotional affirmation he craves.

“JUSTIN HAWARD: LIVE IN CONCERT AT THE CAPITOL THEATER”— A Solo Concert

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“Justin Hayward: Live in Concert at the Capitol Theatre”

A Solo Concert

Amos Lassen

Justin Hayward is the legendary voice of The Moody Blues and here gives one of the most compelling performances of his career, playing a mixture of classics and deep cuts, before a captive audience during a stop on his 2014 solo tour. His rich voice and haunting sound has made him a musical icon. He is joined by guitarist Mike Dawes and Moody Blues \vocalist and keyboardist Julie Ragins. The concert DVD was directed by award winning filmmaker/composer David Minasian.

All of Hayward’s signature Moody Blues hits are here and this DVD features selections from Hayward’s most recent studio album and his solo hit “Forever Autumn” from 1978’s “War of the Worlds” project. Haward gives us his latest song that he wrote with

unveiling of his latest song, an epic composition co- Minasian. The studio recording has been transformed into an epic 8-minute music video. Below is the track listing:

 

  1. Tuesday Afternoon
  2. It’s Up To You/Lovely To See You
  3. In Your Blue Eyes
  4. The Western Sky
  5. You Can Never Go Home
  6. Watching And Waiting 
  7. I Dreamed Last Night
  8. One Day, Someday
  9. The Eastern Sun
  10. December Snow
  11. What You Resist Persists
  12. Your Wildest Dreams
  13. Forever Autumn
  14. Question
  15. Nights In White Satin
  16. I Know You’re Out There Somewhere
  17. Blue Guitar (Bonus)
  18. Who Are You Now (Bonus)

Includes Bonus Music Video: The Wind of Heaven