JUST THE LICKS, BABY (J. Geils, R.I.P.)

Though, he was invariably overshadowed by an electrifying front man, Peter Wolf, and an aptly named harp wizard ,”Magic Dick” Salwtiz, it was guitarist John Warren Geils, Jr.’s’ name which graced the marquee whenever history’s most successful bar band played the tiniest local dive or the most cavernous faraway arena, a high-wire act no one else managed quite so well.

Despite a background in jazz, Geils was, thankfully, from the Steve Cropper school, prizing economy over virtuosity. Over all the decades and all the miles,no citizen blessed with taste was ever heard to complain….If you never did it before, take this occasion to listen to the guitar parts and learn why., somewhere tonight…

…there’s a party starting.

HIGHER GROUND (Joni Sledge, R.I.P.)

On the passing of Joni Sledge of Sister Sledge, here’s a link to a nice interview she and her sister Debbie did a few years back It’s a good, if brief, insight into one of the major themes of this blog: the relationship between singers (especially female singers) and “svengali” producers (in this case Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards) in the studio. (As an aside, this does not include any discussion of the wrangling that went on over the lyrics to “He’s the Greatest Dancer” which the sisters originally objected to because it made them seem like “loose” women. Goodness, how far we’ve traveled from so many things which can no longer be imagined.)

…and here’s a nice moment in the spotlight for Joni (her sister Kathy, then 19, was the lead singer on “We Are Family,” one of the greatest vocals ever recorded–see below), ably filling in for Dionne Warwick.

and, lest I be remiss…

 

SON OF THE BEACH….LATE NIGHT DEDICATION (Richard Hatch, R.I.P.)

Cross categorizing here so I can manage a tribute to Richard Hatch and start a new category as well. And why I never thought of Late Night Dedications before now is just one of those mysteries that is destined to haunt the universe down to the last days….Meanwhile.

Way back when, I liked Richard Hatch (shown at the right) in The Streets of San Francisco and the original Battlestar Galactica. But his one really remarkable performance–and his relevance to this blog–was his Jan Berry in the TV movie Deadman’s Curve which I saw when it originally aired in 1978 and never forgot. So far as I know, the movie is only available on YouTube or through various bootleg sites. That’s too bad, because Hatch nailed his fellow So Cal native to a tee and the movie caught a bit of the casual sixties’ hedonism which was intrinsic in the surf-n-car scene Jan and Dean exemplified which has rarely, if ever, been portrayed as affectionately elsewhere.

The movie is hard to see, but all you really need to know about Hatch’s performance (matched by a wonderfully callow turn from Bruce Davison as Dean Torrence) is that he caught what there was to catch about the spirit that created this, which can now be dedicated to his own ghost, as well as Jan Berry’s…and whoever that kid was who wanted to race all the way to you know where:

…And, no, I have no idea why the movie was called Deadman’s Curve instead of Dead Man’s Curve. That’s another mystery for the ages.

THE DRUMMER THE GODFATHER MEANT WHEN HE SAID GIVE THE DRUMMER SOME (Clyde Stubblefield, R.I.P.)

If “copyright” meant anything, Clyde Stubblefield, who left James Brown’s band in the early seventies and, despite steady work when he wanted it, never had another high profile gig until he went to the place where all wrongs are righted this weekend, would have died richer than Bill Gates. His drum solos were literally the foundation stone of rap and hip-hop’s sampled “breaks”–not just of hundreds of actual songs, but the idea itself. They don’t need me to speak for them. They can speak for themselves, just like they’ve been doing, in some groove or other, for half a century and counting.

 

YOU DO WANT TO DANCE, DON’T YA? (Bobby Freeman, R.I.P.)

Any time? Any time at all? Anywhere? Anywhere at all…

….Including heaven tonight..

THE GIRL RIGHT NEXT DOOR (Mary Tyler Moore, R.I.P.)

She had the same job in the sixties and seventies that Ginger Rogers had in the thirties and forties and Jennifer Aniston (who will be the last) had in the nineties and yesterday.

The job description was simple: Dancer’s grace, improbable cheekbones, trouper. Must be able to hang with the kooks without becoming one. Must be able to represent the normals without forgetting you belong to us, improbabilities and all.

Of the thousands who applied, only a handful–mostly children of Show Biz–managed to grab a moment.

Only those three were able to make a career of it.

And, of those, our Mary may have had the hardest job, if only because we asked her to represent “normalcy” at the moment when the concept was shifting at light speed from the old paradigm to the new.

The new paradigm is no paradigm at all. Normalcy is the new tyranny. But that isn’t her fault. We couldn’t have asked for better representation.

Of course, like any woman who resolves too many contradictions without seeming to sweat, she was deemed “difficult.” Any good looking female who makes it look easy while holding that much power over our imaginations is bound to get a reputation. (Ginger was a puppet, Jen a lightweight. It’s always something). Personally I never cared. If being difficult was what it took for her to be what she was, then it was worth every bottle of Pepto every producer in Hollywood ever poured down his throat.

She did such a good job of being difficult that, before all was said and done, she was one of the handful to ever be part of the DNA of two iconic television shows, one of which carried her name, and had a host of Emmys, a Tony, an Oscar nomination and most everything else we could throw at her. If we didn’t throw anything at her for her portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln in Gore Vidal’s Lincoln–which was probably the finest performance of her career, so good that, just be existing, it kept Sally Field’s turn in the more recent Spielberg movie from ever lifting off–it was probably because not enough of us could make the shift in our minds.

Not that I imagine too many people ever thought she was “really” Laura Petrie or Mary Richards, in the way that we thought James Garner just might be Bret Maverick or Jim Rockford. But that only made her more improbable, not a whit less valuable. Actors, after all, the iconic ones at least, have the reverse job of most who seek space in our heads, including other actors. We’re forced to measure their value separately. For them, it is not the being, but the doing that matters. It’s the doing that matters–to us and to them–even in those rare instances where we dare to suppose their being and doing are one and the same.

It wasn’t finally important for Mary Tyler Moore to be Mary Richards, any more than it was for James Garner to be Jim Rockford. It was only important for them to do.

And the vital thing for those of us in the cheap seats–be it Broadway balcony, metroplex cushion, or the recliner in the den–was to be allowed to eradicate the distance in our minds for that time that they chose to represent us.

No one represented us more, or longer, or better, when, not so very long ago, there was an “us.”

TOUCHING THE SKY (Steve Wright, R.I.P.)

Steve Wright was the bass player for the Greg Kihn Band, the only one of the fine power pop bands on the famous cult label, Beserkley, to ever really achieve any mainstream success. I confess I was never as close a follower of the Beserkely sound or scene as I should have been. I’m not really sure why, because I always liked what I heard of it. Just not world enough and time I guess.

I was, however, intrigued by this statement from Kihn on the occasion of Wright’s recent death following a heart attack:

“We traveled the miles together, made the videos, cut the records, rehearsed the band, played the gigs, and all the while we thought we were invincible.”

That was enough to lead me to this version of my favorite Beserkley record, one of many Kihn and Wright wrote together…from one of those nights when invincibility comes in the form of blowing your fine recorded version of your best song away.

Baby, that was rock and roll.

THE LIGHTS GO DOWN (Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Richard Adams, R.I.P.)

The best line anyone will write about Carrie Fisher is in Sheila O’Malley’s lovely tribute at Roger Ebert’s site: “It’s rare to have your father leave your mother for Elizabeth Taylor.”

Fame’s a beast, an especially hungry one if you didn’t ask for it. Star Wars, which must have seemed like a job of work when she signed on, probably derailed any chance she had at fulfilling herself as herself and the performances she gave in Shampoo, When Harry Met Sally, Hannah and Her Sisters, hint at who that might have been, as surely as the biting wit in Postcards From the Edge provides the best glimpse into who she became instead–who she probably had to become to survive.

Her death in proximity to George Michael’s is one of those instructive coincidences. Two fine people  made–and then unmade–by late boomer excess. The kind that kills you at 50, 60, instead of 27.

On the rise, though, they each left a mark beyond mere fame: Fisher was one of the earliest to speak and write openly about addiction, star-childness, bipolarity. According to reports that have circulated here and there over the years, she also kept Alec Guinness engaged on the sets of the only Star Wars movies that will matter in the end (and will matter, in part, because Guinness, under her influence, didn’t totally phone them in). In light of her becoming a legendary script doctor and best selling novelist, rumors will always persist that one reason those early movies are the only ones that have life–that matter as anything more than a cash register–is because she was there to deliver the best lines, uncredited, especially to her own character. Given the quality of dialogue George Lucas has tended to write when left on his own, those rumors will never die.

Michael was one of the few white artists to cross over to the R&B charts in the rock and roll era proper–to take full advantage of the space Elvis had opened up in the fifties. He beat “Blurred Lines” to the punch by thirty years and he did it with better records, many of which he wrote and produced himself. And, for better or worse, there’s no boy in “boy band” without him to provide the template.

All Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, did was whip up an entire universe–and a beautiful, enchanting novel–out of stories he invented to amuse his young daughters. Years later he revealed that the stories had been shaped by his experience–and those of his unit–in Operation Market Garden, the WWII expedition that culminated in the Allied failure at the bridge at Arnhem, which inspired the poet-journalist Cornelius Ryan to give the phrase “A Bridge Too Far” to the English language.

The epic adventure of the rabbits, the Star Wars universe, the rise of the boy band.

Turns out they all had one thing in common and it was the single element you would bet against being the key to such artificial worlds: Travel to whatever faraway land you can find or imagine and it’s the people who matter after all.

Just like Paul Simon said in the song he wrote about the one who was his wife for a while:

CULTURE WARS….

It’s worth remembering that they are insidious, endlessly nuanced, never ending and, yes, wars.

Latest Example:  The New York Times Magazine lists the Notable Deaths of 2016. On a roster headed by Janet Reno that includes Frank Sinatra, Jr., Kimbo Slice, Miss Cleo and Peddles the Bear, the two significant omissions are Merle Haggard and Arnold Palmer. You know, the Working Class Heroes. I don’t know who, if anybody, those two would have voted for had they lived to see Nov. 8, 2016. But I know who their fan bases voted for. So do the editors at The New York Times Magazine.

Sometimes there’s only one way to react to these people.