Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In Memoriam: Nickolas Ashford 1942-2011

Singer. Songwriter. One half of the duo Ashford & Simpson. As a songwriter: "Let's Go Get Stoned" "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" "Aint Nothing Like the Real Thing" "You're All I Need to Get By" "I'm Every Woman" As a singer: "Don't Cost You Nothin'" "It Seems to Hang On" "Found a Cure" "Solid".

"One of the guys in the park told me, he said, 'There's a place up in Harlem, where you can get something to eat at White Rock Baptist Church. I went up there and I got my things out of Port Authority. I put water on my jacket and on my suit, to get all the wrinkles out. They didn't know I was homeless when I was in the church, and I saw Valerie."

--Nickolas Ashford. In addition to being a songwriting (she wrote most of the music, while he wrote most of the lyrics) and performing duo, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson were married for 38 years.

If you need me call me
no matter where you are,
no matter how far (don't worry baby)
just call out my name.
I'll be there in a hurry
you don't have to worry
'Cause baby there
Ain't no mountain high enough
Ain't no valley low enough
Ain't no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you babe

--Performed by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Diana Ross also had a big hit with it a few years later.

I see your picture
Hanging on the wall
But it can't sing
Or come to me
When I call your name
I realize it's just
A picture in a frame
And I read your letters
When you're not here
They don't move me
They don't groove me
Like when I hear
Your sweet voice
Whispering in my ear
There ain't nothing
Like the real thing
There ain't nothing
Like the real thing

--Performed by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

When they come with there evilest thoughts i just listen whenever they talk
Jah is the light into my dark, he cut and tear my path
They fight without a cause tryin to make my life so hard
The king of kings and the lord of lords, give it all rewards
Cause I'm so solid as a rock they just can't stop me now
Even when they set up there traps they just can't stop me now
People will say this and that they just can't stop me now
Even when they set up road blocks they just can't stop me now

--Performed by Ashford & Simpson

(First, Jerry Leiber, now Nickolas Ashford. Not a good week for songwriters so far, huh?--KJ)

Monday, August 22, 2011

In Memoriam: Jerry Leiber 1933-2011

Songwriter. "Hound Dog" "Jailhouse Rock" "Yakety Yak" "Charlie Brown" "Stand By Me" "Love Potion No 9" "Spanish Harlem" "I'm a Woman" "Is That All There Is?"

"Jerry was an idea machine...For every situation, Jerry had 20 ideas. As would-be songwriters, our interest was in black music and black music only. We wanted to write songs for black voices. When Jerry sang, he sounded black, so that gave us an advantage . . . His verbal vocabulary was all over the place – black, Jewish, theatrical, comical. He would paint pictures with words."

--Mike Stoller, Leiber's longtime collaborator. Stoller mostly concentrated on the music, Leiber mostly the lyrics.

"I felt black...I was as far as I was concerned. And I wanted to be black for lots of reasons. They were better musicians, they were better athletes, they were not uptight about sex, and they knew how to enjoy life better than most people."

--Jerry Leiber With the exception of Elvis Presley, Peggy Lee, and a few others, Leiber and Stoller wrote mostly for black artists.

The sad sack was a sittin' on a block of stone
way over in the corner weepin' all alone.
The warden said, "Hey, buddy, don't you be no square.
If you can't find a partner use a wooden chair."
Let's rock Everybody, let's rock.
Everybody in the whole cell block
was dancin' to the Jailhouse Rock.

--Performed by Elvis Presley

I didn't know if it was day or night
I started kissin' everything in sight
But when I kissed a cop down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine
He broke my little bottle of Love Potion Number Nine

--Performed by the Clovers.

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

--Performed by Ben E. King

I know what you must be saying to yourselves.
If that's the way she feels about it why doesn't she just end it all?
Oh, no. Not me. I'm in no hurry for that final disappointment.
For I know just as well as I'm standing here talking to you,
when that final moment comes and I'm breathing my last breath, I'll be saying to myself,
Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

--Performed by Peggy Lee.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Archival Revival: Star Search

(originally posted on 4/04/2009)

Lately, I've been thinking quite a bit about Lindsay Lohan and Rich Little.

First, Lindsay Lohan. A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across an article about her on The Huffington Post that was actually a link to some gossip site. It seems Ms. Lohan had just had a lover's quarrel with her girlfriend, one Samantha Ronson, and was seen standing outside a nightclub screaming "The bitch left without me!"

OK, that's about as salacious as this post is going to get. Remember, Rich Little's coming up. He's anything but salacious.

To be honest, that Huffington article was just salacious enough that I had to read it twice. I swear I had no idea until right then that Ronson was Lohan's girlfriend. In fact, I had never even heard of Ronson. But here's the real scary part:

I wasn't entirely sure I knew who Lindsay Lohan was!

I mean, I had heard the name before. A couple of years (or perhaps months) back, when Britney Spears and Paris Hilton were getting in all sorts of trouble, Lohan was often lumped in with them, usually as an afterthought. It was often something along the lines of: "Britney and Paris were driving drunk and naked through the streets of LA, swearing at the top of their lungs and making fun of chess nerds. Oh, by the way, Lohan was seen the same night upchucking into an open manhole!"

Like I said, she was an afterthought.

Not anymore. I read the Huffington article/link twice, and there was no mention of either Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, thus forcing me to finally confront a question I had long avoided--who is Lindsay Lohan?

I asked an acquaintance, who promptly answered my question with a question:


I answered her question to my question with yet another question:

"Well, why should I?"

Finally, she gave a straight answer.


"Well, if she's famous, how come I'm not exactly sure who she is?"

"Have you tried to find out who she is?"

"Other than this conversation...no."


You have to make the effort.

So I googled Lindsay Lohan and here's what I found out. She's a model, actress, and pop singer. In the last ten years, she rose to stardom in such Disney remakes as The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday.

How could I not know that? The answer lies with Rich Little.

About a year ago I caught Little on David Letterman. He was the very last guest. Not even that if you define "guest" as one who sits down and talks to Dave. Little just did his stand-up routine, as if he was some unknown getting his big chance on a nationally televised program. It was really kind of a comedown for Little, who was quite famous in his day. Famous mostly for imitating other people quite famous in their day. And my day. By that I mean I recognized every person he imitated. Had I gone into a coma in 1980 and emerged sometime after 2005, I still would have recognized every person he imitated. He did Jimmy Stewart, Richard M. Nixon, Carol Channing, Truman Capote, George Burns, Jack Benny, Paul Lynde, Archie Bunker, Ronald Reagan, Walter Cronkite, and...Howard Cosell. Howard Cosell? Man, I hadn't thought about Howard Cosell in years! He also was quite famous in his day, but unlike old movie or music stars, there was little chance of an old sportscaster being rediscovered by a whole new generation. Unless that whole new generation happened to catch Rich Little on David Letterman.

Whatever the generation of Dave's studio audience that night, Rich Little's routine did get a lot of laughs. As soon as it was over, a surprisingly pleased Letterman (he does have a reputation as a cynic, you know) walked over, shook Little's hand, and asked, "So, what you been doing with yourself?"

I was less concerned with what Rich Little had been doing with himself lately, and more curious as to why he didn't imitate anyone who had become well known after 1980. According to Wikipedia, Little's about 71. So, maybe he's just an old coot stuck in the past. But why that past? And, at any rate, he was 42 at the beginning of the 1980s, and 52 by decade's end, and not even eligible for Social Security by the millennium's end, so I didn't think senility was the answer. And remember, the studio audience, most of whom looked younger than 71, got all of the jokes.

I picked up the remote and started channel surfing.

Cowabunga! I had my answer!

You couldn't channel surf before 1980. Well, you could, but it would have been a pretty small wave. Just the three networks, public broadcasting, and UHF. Then, in the 1980s, came cable, and, in the 1990s, the Internet.

Now, I want you to remember what my acquaintance said: You have to make the effort. Not before 1980. In that three network era, finding out who was famous required no effort at all. You had the luxury of total passivity. The burden lay entirely with the famous person. That's why he or she had to hire publicists, press agents, personal managers, media spokesmen and the like. The non-famous just had to sit back in front of the tube and absorb it all, even if they didn't particularly want to.

Here's an example. I have never seen a single episode of Kojak. Yet, by 1976, when I was 14, I somehow knew that it starred a bald-headed actor named Telly Savalas who sucked lollipops and asked, "Who loves ya, baby?" Now, I didn't seek that information out. But, by some peculiar cathode ray osmosis, I just knew.

And it wasn't just TV stars. The small screen was also informed by the big screen. Or vice-versa. That's how I knew, at a very tender age, that some guy with cotton in his mouth named Marlon Brando played a bad guy named Godfather who wanted to make people offers they couldn't refuse. It's not from sneaking into an R-rated movie at the age of 11 that I knew all that. The film's trailers were on TV, and, more important, everyone from Fred Travelina to Frank Gorshin to, well, Rich Little, imitated the guy (It was a few years later that I found out about the other Marlon Brando, the young guy in a motorcycle jacket or torn T-shirt who coulda' been a contender while screaming for Stella.)

You even knew, again without particularly wanting or needing to, about public figures outside of entertainment. The President, obviously. But how about Henry Kissinger? Why is it exactly that he is, or was, a more famous Secretary of State than either Dean Rusk, who served under LBJ, or Cyrus Vance, who served under Jimmy Carter? Well, I suppose you could say, "Henry Kissinger was the architect of the policy of rapprochement with China blah, blah, blah...", but I think his real claim to fame was his weird accent, mimicked by everyone from Robin Williams to John Belushi to, well, Rich Little.

But that's now all in the past. With hundreds of networks and web sites and whatever it is people Twitter on, the burden has shifted from the Lindsay Lohans of the world to us, the non-famous. We no longer have the luxury of being passive. We have to make the effort.

Hmm. Maybe I should hire a publicist.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Quips and Quotations (AA+ Edition)

By the way, the ratings agency is Standard & Poor's. Who's going to listen to a company whose name translates to Average & Below Average?

--Jon Stewart

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Did I Ask Your Opinion?

According to my site meter, somebody from howtogetridofstomachfat has checked out this blog.

I like to think of them as love handles.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Archival Revival: Torched Song

(Originally posted on 5/19/2009)

I recently paid a visit to my rock star friend, Spit Blitzkrieg. His butler answered the door, and told me Spit would be right down. As I waited, I could hear laughter and shouting and screams of ecstasy emanating from somewhere in his 96-room mansion. I wondered if maybe I wasn't interrupting something, then I realised there was always laughter and shouting and screams of ecstasy emanating from his mansion, summer cottage, hotel room, limo, tour bus, even his tent on that one camping trip to Yellowstone Park. So that made me feel more at ease. At least it did until I saw Spit stagger down a long flight of stairs. I was shocked at his appearance. He looked tired, worn, pale, undernourished, and disheveled. That's not what shocked me. In fact, all that was usually to the good. Especially when immediately preceded by laughter and shouting and screams of ecstasy. No, what shocked me was his expression. He looked sad, heartbroken even.

"Uh, hey, Spit," I said. "Long time no see."

"Hey, Kirk." He replied, glumly.

"Anything wrong?"

"I'm sad, heartbroken even."

"What happened?"

"My girl dumped me"

"Which one?"

"You know. The love of my life."

"Oh," I replied, trying to remember who exactly that was again.

Spit then let out a long sigh.

"Spit," I said, hoping to make him feel better. "Maybe you could channel your heartbreak into your art."

"Oh, I have. In fact, I've written a song. Want to hear it?"


Spit plugged in his Fender Stratocaster, and proceeded to perform his lyrical lament about a love lost.

She was everything to me
She was all that I could see
She was in my every thought
In my every dream
We were such a duo
We were such a team

But when another came along
She decided I'm all wrong
And she cast me right aside
Like a shell left from the tide

Now I sit in front of my TV
Thinking, woe, woe is me
And guzzle down the booze
As I watch the evening news

Brian William's warning
About the spread of nukes
This country's got 'em
That country's got 'em
And so soon will the Third World kooks

And it was then I had my epiphany
This could be Earth's final symphony
So I'm...

Prayin' for a nuclear war
One with lots of blood and gore
Hopin' for the end of the world
To take my mind off of you, girl

I know it'll mean the deaths
Of a billion innocent souls
But what do I give a damn
When my aching heart is filled with holes?

And with that, Spit Blitzkrieg wiped a tear from his eye, put down his Fender Stratocaster, excused himself, and disappeared to somewhere inside his 96-room mansion, where there still could be heard laughter and shouting and screams of ecstasy.