For the Music Aficionado
Let’s Talk Chicks, Man
Before they were more famous as thorns in George Bush and Tobey Keith’s sides, The Dixie Chicks were country’s crossover divas. Shame their politics overshadowed their music. Hopefully their first comprehensive retrospective reminds people of their talent instead of their political tempers. The Essential Dixie Chicks (30 songs for $14.99, a steal on iTunes) covers the canon while also reminding listeners of such overlooked album gems as “Silent House,” “Truth No. 2,” and the rousing “White Trash Wedding.” Available everywhere music is sold.
Where’s a Time Warp When You Need One?
If you’ve yet to receive your AARP subscription offer in the mail, this will surely make you feel your age: Rocky Horror is 35 years old. So it’s pretty much certain that if you have the DVD or, even sadder, the VHS, you might be in the market for The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Blu-ray. Restored picture, deleted scenes, and all the copious extras, yada yada yada. But it’s the Rocky-oke sing-along bonus that makes this the sweetest fishnet stocking stuffer around, which you’ll need to wipe that terrible Glee tribute out of everyone’s aging eardrums. Sale price $18.49 from amazon.com.
Hit a High Note
HGO should change its name to SRO. With barely a month of the opera season under their bravura belt, Houston Grand Opera has stunned buffs and novices alike with remarkable performances. A mesmerizing Madame Butterfly sold so many tickets the house was forced to add three more performances, also sellouts—and this is opera we’re talking about, a rare feat in this art form and, frankly, in this economy. They followed up with a furious version of the visceral, challenging Peter Grimes. Their next buzz show? An opera based on the Oscar-winning film Dead Man Walking, with a libretto by lauded playwright Terrance McNally and an emotionally wrenching, elegant score by Jake Haggie. The brilliant, passionate HGO maestro Patrick Summers conducts, just as he did when the emotional stunner premiered in San Francisco 10 years ago. Put a pair of tickets in a box under the tree this holiday season. It might not seem very heavy when your intended picks up the package, but this one will be an impressively weighty gift indeed. For tickets, visit houstongrandopera.org.
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For the Oenophile
Meet Your Match
After suffering the extended summer (92 degrees in October? Seriously?), it’s high time to put away the light and crisp pinot grigios and enjoy the indulgent riches of a complex, heady cabernet sauvignon and all its wondrous weight. Nothing against pinots, but that grape’s for pussies. Knowing your way around a cabernet is like deadlifting 330 pounds at the gym. People look and take note: you know what you’re doing. Show off your vineyard acumen with a gift of Match Cabernet. A good $20 cheaper than usual suspects such as Stag’s Leap or Silver Oak, this red is equally impressive for less. 2004 is the finest year, with two options. There’s the Baconbrook, which is tight, with spicy currant, herb, sage, and mineral notes of modest depth and perfect proportion that ends with raw rustic tannins. The Butterdragon Hill unveils ripe, fleshy red cherry and berry flavors. A good $20 less than either Silver or Stag, the stunning and seductive wines of Match offer a worthy opponent to the more expensive stars on most lists. Available at Spec’s and at matchvineyards.com.
Somewhere Harry Potter Is Jealous (or Drunk)
Is it simply tortuous to endure the 20 minutes of breathing a wine requires? For those of you alcoholics—er, oenophiles—who believe that’s an eternity, there is the glittering and surprisingly functional Wine Wand by Philip Stein. A marvel of either engineering or magic, this slender silver stick, topped with a sparkling crystal containing four smaller crystals inside its sleek glass chamber, offers your recently released Côtes du Rhône the necessary breath of life that enhances the layers of fragrance and flavor. Presto! The wine is ready for you to now give proper mouth-to-glass resuscitation. $325 at I.W. Marks and philipstein.com.
For the Reader
In Plain Sight
Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture is the companion to the first major museum exhibition in American history to focus on lesbian and gay art and culture. This catalog is as elegant as it is comprehensive, covering seminal heavies such as O’Keefe, Warhol, and Jasper Johns (the heartbreaking work of the usually joyous Keith Haring, the tragic, evocative “Unfinished” is worth the cover price alone). Hide/Seek ups the artistic ante with its inclusion of LGBT writers, musicians, and even architects—including Gertrude Stein, Ma Rainey, and Philip Johnson. The book is a forceful statement to the persistence of gay artistry in our time. Some may not be officially “out,” but their presence is powerfully felt nonetheless.$45, available everywhere from Smithsonian Books (smithsonianstore.com).
Star of Wonder
Rebel Without a Cause co-star Sal Mineo was destined for stardom. Unfortunately, his stumbled career and violent death made Mineo a more likely candidate for a Frances Farmer-esque biopic. The youngest Best Supporting Actor nominee in history, Mineo was ultimately undone by a stage mother turned micro-manager, rumored S&M obsessions, and a brutal stabbing that the national press had a gay-baiting field day with. Such a sordid Hollywood tale makes Michael Gregg Michaud’s Sal Mineo: A Biography a worthy gift selection for the tragedy-obsessed reader on your gift list. $15.95, available everywhere from Crown Publishing.
Strand & Deliver
Local author Denise Alexander has just come out with Galveston’s Historic Downtown and Strand District which, despite its clunky title, is actually an impressive little book filled with vintage images of the island jewel dating as far back as the 1870s. Sales will benefit the Galveston Historical Foundation and its mission to preserve and revitalize the architectural, cultural, and maritime heritage of our seaside sister. Swing by Custom House (512 20th Street in Galveston) on December 11 from 1 to 3 p.m. and get the gift signed by the author. $21.99 at arcadiapublishing.com.
Remember when Mark Wahlberg was known as Marky Mark and a Calvin Klein underwear ad was scandalous? (Neither do we.) See just how far male underwear marketing has come with Brief Encounters, edited by male fashion maven Jason Salzenstein. Featuring star photographers like Rick Day and Justin Monroe, this lush and lusty look-back features some of the most visually striking skivvies campaigns ever captured, turning simple undies ads into high art. Hanes might make you feel good all under, but not nearly as good as these pics will make you feel all over. Sale price $32.11 at amazon.com.
For the Foodie
The Best Buzz without Booze
A fine cheese is swoonworthy. Whether you get weak at the knees for luscious Camembert, or sigh when an aromatic Stilton is served, there’s always room on your cheese plate for another marvelous milk. Barely Buzzed by the Beehive Cheese Co. may be the most deliriously intoxicating cheddar you’ve ever tasted. Full-bodied, with a nutty flavor and oh-so-smooth texture, Barely Buzzed is rubbed with a mix of South American, Central American, and Indonesian coffee beans and French Superior Lavender. This strange fusion of seemingly disparate flavors gives this cheese a taste so multilayered and complex, your head will spin. Order from beehivecheese.com. Also available at Spec’s, though we discovered this buzzy gem at the sublimely cozy Sonoma Wine Bar.
Give a Toast that Doesn’t Embarrass
Holiday toasts are second only to the catastrophe that is breakfast toast. Can’t do anything about the prior, but we certainly can assist in the latter, with the Breville Toaster Oven. The Breville is an 1800-watt convection toaster featuring Element IQ, which puts power where you need it most. For each of the nine pre-set programs, including toast, bagel, bake, roast, broil, pizza, cookies, reheat, and warm, it delivers the right power at the right time, and—get this—when adjusted to taste, it even remembers how you like your brioche browned. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any easier? There’s a big button on it that reads toast and, yes, it makes perfect toast every time. No more hitting the button after your English muffin isn’t crunchy enough, and then being forced to rush through the house so you don’t set off the smoke alarms. $195, available at Sur La Table.
For the Perpetually Tardy
They’ll Be on Time Now
You know who they are. The ones who are so fashionably late they’re practically next year’s runway look. The Women’s Concerto by Movado should get ’em to show up on time. This watch, with a stainless-steel case with diamonds, a white mother-of-pearl dial with discreet minute index, stainless-steel link bracelet with Swiss quartz movement, is a stunner, managing to be both butch and femme at the same time. $1,995 at movado.com, or fine jewelers everywhere.
But if they’re really late, as in they don’t even get there on the right day, you might want to consider something even more dramatic, but with a considerably less dramatic price point. The Butterfly Project Calendar, for example. But just because the calendar isn’t as expensive as a Movado doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the portent. The Butterfly Project was created by the Holocaust Museum Houston to memorialize the 1.5 million children murdered during the Holocaust, and all proceeds help support the museum. $9.24, available at HMH, 5401 Caroline St., or hmh.org.
For the Couch Potato
Spartacus: Blood and Sand. That’s four words. Here are four more: Hot gladiators, Lucy Lawless. ’Nuff said. $29.99 at amazon.com, or at retailers everywhere.
For those on your list who missed it at the multiplex, now’s your chance to have them wake up and smell the awesome. Inception is coming to DVD and Blu-ray just in time for the holidays. The twisty, elegant, jawdropping crime thriller about a team of dream thieves who ransack people’s sleep state raked in more than $750 million at the box office this year. For stunning visual effects alone, this movie’s a fantastic gift. (And, yes, by visual effects we’re specifically referring to Tom Hardy.) $25.95, available December 7, at various retailers.
For the Ultimate Couch Potato
Man, What an Ottoman!
Sometimes you just can’t bring yourself to get off the couch and make those few steps to the bed. Well, pomme de terre de sofa, you’re in luck with the amazing Ottobed. That tuffet where you rest your feet? Now it magically turns into a place to rest your entire body, the discreet piece of furniture folding out into a surprisingly comfortable bed with your choice of fabulous custom fabrics. Prices vary. Available at The Frog at Home.
For the Gamers
Auditions, equity cards, agents, publicists, fans, Tonys. Now you too can experience this and more with Be a Broadway Star. The charming and cheeky board game, created by Tony-nominated producer Ken Davenport, plays like a greasepaint Monopoly, if the geography was limited to the Great White Way. The game is sure to be a hit with all the Patti LuPone wannabes on your list. Our only quibble is there’s no square where Hugh Jackman calls you out for your cell phone interrupting his performance. $35 at beabroadwaystar.com.
For those on your list more interested in bloodbath than Broadway, there is the latest installment of the mega-franchise hit, Halo. For those old queens who wouldn’t know a plasma grenade from your granny panties, Halo: Reach is the epic sci-fi shoot-’em-up that drops you on the frontlines of a war between the human race and the big, nasty interstellar threat called the Covenant, who, like all alien races not dreamed up by Steven Spielberg, simply want to eighty-six mankind. Halo’s like all war games where you get to blow stuff up, shoot enemies in the head, and, basically, revel in all things military. But instead of being stuck in an Afghan market or Iraqi dustbowl, you get to play in breathtaking alien vistas and creepy alien spacecraft, all the while accompanied by one of the most lush symphonies ever scored. Like the previous incarnations, Reach ramps up the gameplay with new bells and whistles and, the best game innovation of the year…jet packs! $59.95, available at various locations.
For the Size Queen
Hail to the Kyng
Condom dynasty Trojan caused quite a stir when they debuted the Magnum. What initially seemed like a punchline for late-night talk show hosts everywhere quickly became an in-demand bedroom essential. Turns out there were a lot more men of measure who were frustrated by the safe-sex scene than anyone knew. Well, rival prophylactic company LifeStyles is not taking this lying down anymore, waging an all-out size war with their own KYNG Condom, a bold, ballsy challenger to the Magnum throne. Anyone on your gift list deserving of this present? If so, please call 713… $12.99, available at Walgreen’s.
And for the Other Queens
No s–t. There is an actual Marilyn Monroe coloring book—Color Me Marilyn: Classic Hollywood Moments. Who exactly is the market for this? All the little homosexuals on your list? The lovely old gay grandfather at the nursing home? Is this the strangest crayon-waster ever created? Or is it…the best gag gift ever! $9.32 at amazon.com.
Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.