Category Archives: Obituaries
One time years ago, I was at a show at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, and Matt Besser was on stage, dressed like Pope Benedict XVI.
Besser wanted to riff on some jokes he probably had prepared about celebrities, and for some reason he pointed right at me and asked me to name a celebrity–he probably thought I was going to name a movie actor or tabloid fixture, like Lindsay Lohan.
But I have a problem with proper nouns, especially when I’m put on the spot, and I couldn’t form the name of Eddie Murphy or Selma Hayek or Tom Cruise… I had to reach deep down in my soul, and the only name I could think of that would bubble up to the surface was “Stan Freberg!”
You could see Besser struggling to do something with that. Clearly he knew who Freberg was, but the audience wouldn’t, and I kind of wrecked his whole bit.
Anyway, apparently Stan Freberg died yesterday. And it’s a shame, because he was a pioneer and a funny guy and a rebel during the 50s, something that should have been super easy but which few people outside of the Beats and the rockers manager to do.
And while I love rock ‘n’ roll, Stan Freberg was able to lampoon its own mumbling, monotonous excesses in a way that was ridiculously funny, precisely because he could replicate it so well on his comedy albums, with a gleeful mimicry not even Weird Al was capable of. There are so many good tracks by him, and this one, “Sh Boom,” is my fave. I heard it as an early teen, and even now, even in an obituary, it’s likely to make me giggle like a moron.
“Real monotonous now!”
Recently I’ve been unemployed, depressed, and prone to self-destructive bouts of television-watching gluttony. I’m ridiculously addicted to television, so much so that I try never to commit to starting a series on Netflix. Whether it’s fun entertainment that never quite suspends my disbelief (e.g. The Walking Dead) or simply bandwagon eye candy that slaps together a bunch of lame jokes into a flat-lined story arc underpinned by a solitary, suspiciously over-capable capstone character who numbs us with his ability to fret but then master every challenge put in front of him (e.g. Breaking Bad) I’m always too good at making excuses for why I need to commit to a show until the bitter end. To start watching TV is to neglect the rest of my life: I know I’m not going to get shit done until I plow through every episode back to back.
But with no job to take up my time, and a need to distract myself from my financial woes, cheaply, I figured, hey, now’s the time to catch up on Star Trek!
Like everybody my age or older, I’ve seen a lot of the original series’ reruns back in the day, and several episodes of Next Generation, when they actually aired in the 90s, plus an episode or three of Voyager and that shitty Ferengi-filled space station monstrosity. I’ve never felt a particular need to look back.
But as a 60s fanatic, I’m surprised at myself for not going back and re-absorbing the original series. I should have done this years ago. What seemed campy to me as a kid now seems … campy to me as an adult! Now, I can (only slightly ironically) get off on bizarrely lit sound stages and outrageous alien tunics in all their groovy glory. And actually, once you get past the first season’s “deus ex alienigenis” plot devices where everything is caused by mind-reading shape-shifters, the story lines get really compelling and gritty. And of course, the moment I decide to give the show its due, the best actor dies in real life.
It’s weird, because until I recently started watching Star Trek, I guess I’ve known quite a bit more about the personae of its actors than of its characters. We’ve all been laughing at William Shatner for decades, and he along with us for nearly that long. And in more recent years, George Takei has become perhaps even more famous: relishing his new life as an out-gay leader, leading the charge for civil rights and the end of bullying for queer youth, publicizing the need for reparations to victims of WWII Japanese-American internment, and hosting one of the funniest, and funnest, social media presences out there. And oh, there’s his appearance at Shatner’s roast …
But I never quite took a shine to Nimoy. Whereas the other folks in the Star Trek pantheon seemed bemused about their unique fame, and never took themselves too seriously, Nimoy always took a more somber, brooding approach to his fame. It’s like he was the Donnie Wahlberg of the group: sure, he might sing “Oh oh OH OH oh, oh oh OH OH,” but he doesn’t mean it!
But now in the wake of Leonard Nimoy’s death, I realize that, maybe, he’s the guy from the entire Star Trek series who’s the most like me. He’s talented, but confused. He’s lent his name to corny shows that he’s later avoided talking about, except via reference on The Simpsons. He’s made mistakes, like putting out a book called I Am Not Spock and then having to retract it later, after wide confusion, with a book called I Am Spock. And I kind of get the feeling that his whole “I’m so serious” thing was just a put-on all along, that he knew damned well he was working in media that were silly, and that the best thing to do about it was to simply put on the kind of straight face that made Andy Warhol such a lifelike Mona Lisa of his own.
And in later life, Nimoy moved to another art form, photography, where he was actually kind of good–and yet also needlessly pervy. And I respect that. Whenever I think of Leonard Nimoy, I don’t think about Spock first, or even his amazing work on the Golden Throats series. I think of his images of Shekhina, the female form of God, which he put out in a gorgeous book of black and white photos in the last years of his life.
Sure, it’s a good idea, even deliciously sacred and sacrilegious at the same time, to take a Jewish concept of the female side of God and then put it to life in gorgeous, nipply photography. And yet, in another way, you can tell there’s something more to these photos, something personal here that seems to go beyond the intimacy of nudity and into the realm of voyeuristic, dirty-old-man stuff.
And yet, in another way of looking at things, I don’t care … I just love these photos, right or wrong, and I don’t care what that says about Leonard Nimoy, or about myself. As my own personal fond farewell, here are some of my favorite of the Shekhina photos. Live long and prosper, old friend. I hope when you get to heaven, God’s waiting for you, and she looks like this.
P.S. Lest you think Nimoy was only interested in photographing lithe, model-type women, he also did many photos of beautiful women with larger frames, and gorgeous S-curves.
I’d feel his work was a bit less problematic if he did more photos of men, but for a man with a lot of artistic problems, he’s one of the best.
I don’t remember where the party was, because I was drunk, though I know it was around Valentine’s Day, 2013. And I don’t remember her exact words.
But she was livid. One moment I was trying to find a way to clean cigarette ash out of my Dixie cup, and the next I suddenly had a short, swarthy, very angry young woman up and close to my personal space, her eyes shooting daggers at me from three inches away. She emailed me about her POEMS! And I had not RESPONDED or asked her to READ at my monthly LIT EVENT. Who did I THINK I WAS?
Of course, I hadn’t really rejected her. I didn’t even know who she was. What people often don’t understand is that, because I am the L.A. RECORD guy, I get ridiculous amounts of emails, because every band and PR person from high to low is going to email me every week about some new release or tour or Tumblr feed. It’s too much to handle even if that was my full time job, which it’s not. Also, I’m just kind of crazy. I have memory problems. I have problems committing to more things than I have time for. I have weeks of wild energy levels where I do eight things at once, followed by weeks when I don’t even have the energy to log out of one email account to check the other.
And that’s another problem: somehow out in internet land, I have six or seven email addresses. I’ve checked since then, and I never got her original message. So I think Sally must have sent it to firstname.lastname@example.org, or another such email address which is advertised heavily on the L.A. RECORD site but doesn’t actually work at all.
And yes, the angry, jilted poet at the party was none other than Sally Boozar. Almost immediately, I realized I had seen her before. She’d been at an early A Rrose in a Prose. There was even a photo of her on my blog (taken by Lina Lecaro)…
For some reason, I thought she was Adam Shenkman’s girlfriend and had just tagged along because he had been upset with me for not booking him (“just some guy’s girlfriend…” what a very sexist thought to appear in what I I thought was my very feminist noggin!). Nay! Sally had gone stag to the Hedgehog Coffee Shop with the purpose of impressing me as a poet so that she could read at A Rrose in a Prose. At the end of that event, as we cleaned up the chairs, she must have talked to me, gotten my email, and then contacted me, all of which my craziness (or, perhaps, the booze) had managed to strangle in the back alley of my personal memory lane.
Now, at the party, she needed to know why I had rejected her. I needed to answer. She wasn’t going to walk away until she GOT some kind of answer.
Perhaps I should have told her to go fuck off, and to respect my personal space? That I don’t negotiate with terrorists?
But I felt for her. She had a lot of passion, and bordered on madness. And we all go a little mad sometimes. And she was a poet. And we are a desperate bunch. I understood her hunger.
Somehow, I talked her down. And after the party, I gave Sally my very best email address, and I bid her to contact me. And almost immediately, she did, sending more poems and a few essays. They were raw but interesting, especially an “automatic writing” experiment she had done. When March came around, I had a sudden opening in my event, and I sent Sally an asking if she wanted to read.
And maybe this was my mistake… but I didn’t just tell her to read. I gave her tips on HOW to read. You see, I had now been doing A Rrose in a Prose for a while, and I kept seeing really good writers of words, on the page, not be able to translate that into an interesting aural experience. Here was Sally, someone who had a lot of emotion in real life and in her writing, but there was a shyness about her, too. I guess I thought it would be a waste if she was to get up and mumble.
So I sent her an email that went a little somethin’ like this:
If you’d like to come down and read 1-2 of your poems, I’d like to have you. My only requirement is that you must promise me you’ll read them with a LOT of emotion (anger, rage, sadness, confusion) and a LOT of dynamics (quiet, volume, moving your arms around, shaking, stomping, pointing/staring at people in the audience, turning inward, etc). It’s your choice what exactly to do, but I think if you approach the reading with the same intensity of emotion you expressed to me the other night at that party, and then you really EXTERNALIZE that emotion, it will captivate the audience.
I guess I thought I was being helpful?
Sally’s response was blunt:
People telling me how to do my poetry makes it worse destroys everything about what it is thanks for that.
So, unfortunately, this all went down at around 7:30 a.m. in the morning on a Sunday… not a good time for me! I got mad back at her, and I rescinded the invite, and she told me off again. And Sally did not show up to perform at my “bullshit” event.
But then Sally reached out to me, about half a year later. And I was glad of it. I was slated to read at an event at Vlad the Retailer, and she appeared, there, almost as if out of the woodwork. And she was very apologetic. She said she’d been going through an emotional time back in March, and that she really liked my event and liked L.A. RECORD. In fact, she’d like to intern for L.A. RECORD if we had the capacity.
And I really loved this. I may look like a fine piece of punk rock attitude with a debonair psychedelic glam flair (okay, no, that’s just the fantasy me, but you get the idea), but deep down, I’m kind of a hippie. I believe in situational ethics and free love and understanding and forgiveness and that we’re all one, and I HATED having someone like Sally, with her energy and potential, at odds with me. Fast as lightning, despite the fact that technically, she had no writing history with me, I forwarded her info to L.A. RECORD and I prepared to have her appear at some vague Rrose in a Prose event in the near future.
But it never came to pass. Somehow the email chain we had started with L.A. RECORD never completed itself, and she never did write anything for us. And she never came back to read at A Rrose in a Prose.
And she never will. Not, anyway, in the format I would like, with those words and that anger and that joy of bringing her knowledge of culture and her personal experience of life’s fullness. In writing this piece, I discovered her LiveJournal, and some of the essays and diary entries there show a person deeply in love with life, even if it’s in the role of someone demanding things: to be accepted, to have clarity, to end the war in Afghanistan! There were a lot of demands, and a lot of condemnations. This was a person who did NOT like to play by anyone else’s rules.
And that goes for me too, and for my insistence on how she should perform at my event. Sally, I’m sorry. If I had known that my performance notes would be insulting, that they would be the barrier preventing you from joining me that day, then I would never have given them to you. It might just haunt me forever.
BUT I STILL HAVE YOUR POEMS, Sally. I couldn’t help give you peace, but maybe, just maybe, I can help you gain a little bit of immortality—which may not be of any use to you you right now, I dunno, but which will hopefully help those who remain. A part of you remains with us.
For those who joined Daniel Austin Warren and I on Sunday for A Rrose in a Prose, this is the piece of Sally’s I read. Sally, I hope I read it (and I hope I laid it out here) in a way you would have liked. And if not, I hope your righteous, beautiful anger is strong enough to bring you back to confront me at another party very soon.
So many friends have passed in recent years, months, days… and here’s another one to add to the sad, cold pile.
Truth be told, William Mitchell was not a close friend of mine. I didn’t know him that well, and he might not have been able to pick me out of a crowd at all.
Yet there are some people you can just tell make the world a better place by being in it. William was that kind of person. In hearing of his passing, I couldn’t help but think to 2008, when another friend of our extended bohemian community, Gina Marx, had gone missing. Many thought she had taken her own life, or come to a violent end. And it was William Mitchell who did the legwork to actually find her, and to let us know she was okay.
Somehow it seems even more tragic that a person who would do so much to help assure us Gina was living would opt out of life on his own. It’s cold comfort, but apparently William was a poet. It’s not really immortality, but maybe we can remember him by his words? The best we can do is try.
The less I say about this, the better, but it is true: while I am on the books for another 60 days, I am effectively no longer working for Jazzed.com or its parent company, eHarmony.com. It’s nothing to do with me personally, and I don’t feel a grudge; it’s been nearly 12 years for me at eHarmony, and it was time to move on, for everybody. A lot of people are in my same shoes today. We will survive, and so will eHarmony.
So don’t cry for me, Argentina… but do go check out my many articles about love, loss, and luvvin’ at the Jazzed blog. They’re worth reading, and I’ll miss writing them.
Banjo picker and bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs passed away today in Nashville.
Scruggs’ son Gary said his father passed away Wednesday morning at a Nashville, Tenn., hospital. Gary Scruggs said his father died of natural causes.
He was a titan in his field, an innovator, and it was a supreme pleasure to interview Mr. Scruggs and his son Gary many years ago, as one of my first assignments for L.A. RECORD. He will be missed.
Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton was found dead today. He was only 60.
Though all obituaries about him will start by mentioning his work with the Stooges, including mine, I think perhaps he’d prefer to be remembered for some of his work without Iggy Pop. So here it is, a track from his mid-seventies hard rock band, the New Order:
It’s a shame to think I’ll never get to see him play live. I loved him in the super group Wylde Ratttz from the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, and I think his avant-noise band Destroy All Monsters sounds pretty rad, too, if I can ever get my hands on a fucking copy of their collected recordings.
Beverly Garland died this week. The press remembers her mostly for her television work, and as a Roger Corman B-movie actress.
I remember her as both! Who can forget Swamp Diamonds on Mystery Science Theater 3000?
And let’s not be hasty and forget Gunslinger!
The singer of the Four Tops died Friday at the age of 72.
I think for years, I eshewed the music of the Four Tops because of this man’s voice. I preferred the refreshing sweetness of Curtis Mayfield in the Impressions, and the horny bleating of Smokey Robinson with the Miracles, to Stubbs’s rough, manly shouting (not to mention Holland-Dozier-Holland’s plinky choral building blocks that the songs were composed of). It somehow all seemed trite and bullying.
Only now that I’m older do I realize that the Four Tops did a rare feat, combining the classy (okay, sometimes simply chintzy) sophistication of Motown with the raw, more greasy R&B that they had been a part of for a decade before joining the Motown ranks. And Levi Stubbs was a big part of that, lending a voice of pain but also one of connection to the slick sounds that threatened to wash over him in each song, but which he always beat back. It’s a really original sound, and it is elegant. And though never delicate, it now feels strong and sophisticated to my aural palate.
Of course, you can hardly blame a punk rocker from the sticks (me!) for missing the greatness of a band consistently overplayed on oldies radio his entire life. So let me send off Stubbs with a song you may not have heard played this weekend on K-Earth:
One of the best actors in filmic history died today. Paul Newman, the other guy from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the guy whose star shone so brightly that even Tom Cruise looked like Oscar material when standing beside him, finally lost a battle with cancer.
You’ve got to give credit to Paul Newman not just for his good-natured humanitarianism and his un-Hollywood-like work ethic, but also just for his sheer acting ability. This man, who couldn’t help but be pretty damned good-looking even into his later life, rarely played the smartest guy or the dumbest, the best or the most evil, but generally excelled at roles where the character’s brains, emotions, sensitivity and needs all duke it out for which will have mastery over that character’s soul.
And let’s not forget his ability to bring levity to tragedy, and stoicism to comedy. Newman’s best role of all time, in my opinion, has to be the comedy that out slaps, out swears, and outlaughs all other blue collar comedies–Slapshot!
If you haven’t seen this film, do yourself a favor and just rent it and put it on. From frame one, this is a classic. My Uncle Buddy, my great-uncle and the quintessential black sheep of the family, gave this to me on video when I was about 12 and told me he saw this movie at a time in his life “when I just needed a good laugh.” The dialogue, which seems so rough-and-tumble and quintessentially masculine, was actually written by one Nancy Dowd, a criminally under-utilized writer who also went on to do Ladies and Gentlemen… the Fabulous Stains!
But I digress. Even at 83, Paul Newman made me in a way proud to be an American, and the world misses him. My girlfriend and I bought our doggy a can of Newman’s Own organic dog food in his honor.
P.S. Yes, I know Newman’s Own isn’t vegan, but I haven’t yet worked that out with the dog and the missus. At least the money goes to pet charities. And Fido won’t contract Mad Cow Disease.
P.P.S. I wonder if Paul, in his dying breath, thought to himself “What a Way to Go!”