Tag Archives: RFK

Songs Of America

Simon and Garfunkel’s 1969 television special, Songs Of America, was not quite what original sponsor Bell telephone hoped it would be. The scene where trains carrying the bodies of assassinated leaders JFK, RFK and MLK were a bit much for them; ditto the look at “real America” that Paul and Artie wanted to discuss. The conglomerate wanted a concert. The artists wanted a message.

Bell pulled out. Alberto Culver stepped in, and after some haggling CBS aired the program once. It was stomped in the ratings by a Peggy Fleming ice skating special and never re-broadcast. Go figure.

The recently re-issued Bridge Over Troubled Water package includes the original special, plus a new documentary about the making of the film, and they are both fascinating. The documentary (The Harmony Game: The Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water) features Paul and Artie looking back at the times along with some of the critical participants in the film. I hadn’t even realized that comic actor Charles Grodin was the behind the project; he is interviewed along with musicians Hal Blaine and Joe Osborn and engineer Roy Halee, among others.

I mentioned that I have learned to appreciate well made documentaries, and this certainly qualifies. Beyond being an entertaining look at the making of one of the most seminal albums of its era, it’s also an opportunity for Paul and Art to re-evaluate their own history. Friends since childhood, their split seemed partially acrimonious, and perhaps it was. I couldn’t understand it at the time; it seemed like a terrible move for both. But one of Simon’s comments put it all into perspective. They were transitioning from the Everly Brothers – inseparable parts of a whole – into The Beatles, where each personality had its space. And like The Beatles, whatever rose no longer converged.

It was heartwarming to see Paul pay genuine tribute to Art’s majestic voice, while Art seems as ethereal and cosmic as ever. Seeing the members of The Wrecking Crew also reminded me that Simon followed that same path in his solo career when he surrounded himself with Steve Gadd, Richard Tee and other skilled New York session players; an East Coast equivalent of the old days.

Bridge Over Troubled Water remains as timeless and majestic as it was forty years ago. The reissue, combined with the films, is a must-own.

A steal at under fifteen bucks.

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorials, Film/TV, Music, Reviews

R.I.P. Ellie, Larry, Ted, Dominick…

I never intended R.I.P. to be a regular feature. Damned if life isn’t forcing my hand.

I’m not one who obsesses over calendars; I don’t have a list of who was born when and who died on any day, but I do have a couple of websites that are easily checked on occasion. The idea about the feature – and in fact the focus of some of the first columns – was to reminisce about artists who impacted my life greatly, like Rory Gallagher, Ronnie Lane and Frank Zappa. Being of a certain age, I sometimes take for granted that everyone is as familiar with these artists as I am, or at least has had the opportunity presented to them to be. Apparently nothing could be further from the truth.

And I guess because I did grow up following these artists and collecting their work, I shouldn’t be surprised that some of them are now leaving this mortal coil. Sure, we still lose too many too soon, but no one can say that Les Paul didn’t have a blue ticket ride on this Earth. But from my vantage point, late 60s is far from old age, and that’s when Larry Knechtel and Ellie Greenwich got the call.

Words plus music equals magic

Words plus music equals magic

Ellie Greenwich – where does one even start? As part of the Brill Building sound she – along with husband Jeff Barry –  gave us some of the greatest rock’n’roll songs ever written. Frankly, some of the bands you revere might not have been in your windshield without her. Hell, Brian Wilson admits that his entire being is merely a byproduct of “Be My Baby” (arguably the greatest pop song ever…and certainly in the upper echelon of anyone’s list). It’s sad that she doesn’t have the public recognition that some of the artists she helped make famous have. From The Ronnettes to The Ramones, from “Chapel Of Love” to “It’s My Party” to “I Can Hear Music”…Ellie Greenwich was rock royalty.

Larry Knechtel might not be a household name, but I’ll bet his handiwork is in your house. Own any albums by Simon & GarfunkelThe Beach Boys, The Doors or The Mamas & Papas? How about Elvis Presley’s famous ’68 special? Fan of Duane Eddy? You’ve at least heard of Bread, yes? Well, that’s musician extraordinaire Larry Knechtel on bass and/or keyboards; an intregal part of Phil Spector sessions that we now know as the Wall Of Sound as a member of the famous Wrecking Crew. Like Ellie, almost 70.

Of course I was saddened to hear about the passing of Ted Kennedy, although this is a date I thought I saw coming many times before. I don’t politicize in the Prescription, and certainly there are a thousand in-depth articles that you will be able to read about the man, so I won’t expound on his faults or his gifts. But for someone who grew up in the Kennedy Era, who cringed and wept and feared for our country when Jack, and later Bobby, were assassinated, this is truly the end of a political dynasty, at least at Camelot levels. Yes, children and grandchildren remain, and we may yet see another Kennedy aspire to the upper ranks of politics, but that will be a sequel, not another chapter.

In a related passing, Dominick Dunne was also familiar with loss – his daughter’s murder resulted in a career pivot that saw this social observer become a watchdog for justice, albeit from a sideline seat. Perhaps his wealth and celebrity standing gave him a pulpit others would never have gotten, but in a society where Nancy Grace is taken seriously I prefer to think of his endeavors as an attempt to hold the famous accountable for their actions. At least his motivation was not as blatantly myopic as that of the former prosecutor.

I Can Hear Music...and thanks to these musicians, I want to.

I Can Hear Music...and thanks to these musicians, I want to.

I should mention that although I was aware of Knetchel’s passing the day it occured, I did not want to make it the headline of the day. I figured I’d drop a relevant post-script into another piece during the week as a way of paying my respects. However, when the number of famous names passing in but a few short days skyrocketed and I decided to air another obituary, I certainly did not want to omit him. Please know he is not an afterthought; I have great respect for his work.

But keeping up with the bad news has been daunting. We’re not quite two-thirds of the way through 2009 and already the losses have been staggering. Many of us have suffered our own personal losses as well.

If nothing else, this week is another reminder that life is short and unpredictable. No grudge is worth keeping. No warm feelings toward someone are worth hiding. No card or letter or email or call is worth putting off. Don’t procrastinate. Because you can’t take your love and warmth and appreciation with you…you must share it.

Peace.

Ellie Greenwich website.

Larry Knechtel website

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorials, Features and Interviews

Re-Opening Channel D

The Last of the Magnificent Seven

The Last of the Magnificent Seven

When I was young, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a smash hit. Boys wanted to be like Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin; suave and cool secret agents who could dazzle the ladies and get the best of the bad guys (or was that the  other way around?) Girls just wanted Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, the handsome actors who portrayed those gadget-touting hipsters. It was one of many important lessons I’d learn over the years about women and how they think. But it was also an opportunity to discover Robert Vaughn, who has led a fascinating life far beyond his accomplishments as a television and film star.

Vaughn’s book A Fortunate Life is more of a memoir than an autobiography; he does not dwell on his childhood and adolescence for chapters on end nor does he make his hit television show the focus of his book. In fact, Vaughn takes us through a series of events and relationships as a confidante where the focus is seeing through his eyes rather than looking at him. It’s a subtle but clever move that makes for a vastly entertaining read (I devoured it in one sitting) aided by the fact that Vaughn is one of the most intelligent and erudite actors on the planet. Being witty as hell doesn’t hurt, either.

The book came out late last year and I finally made time to get a copy this weekend; for some reason I felt compelled to do so immediately. As a child of the times, I admit I enjoyed reading anecdotes about his contemporaries like James Coburn and Steve McQueen, but I was spellbound by his recollections of the political climate. Vaughn was the first actor to speak out publicly against the Vietnam War, and was an activist who ran the gamut from stumping for candidates to debating William F Buckley on hostile ground (no small feat, Buckley regularly ate opponents for breakfast). 

His close relationship with Robert F. Kennedy and the subsequent tragedy brought back vivid memories for me, having lived through the times.  After JFK and Martin Luther King were felled by assassins, many felt RFK was the last hope for America, and his Presidential campaign radiated even more fervor, optimism and hope that Obama brought to the 2008 election. When he was gunned down after the California primary, the youth of America was numb. Vaughn has very strong opinions about what really happened that night.

I mentioned that Vaughn is whip-smart. Few know that his Doctoral thesis was written about Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare era in Hollywood, and later published under the title Only Victims. I read the book last year while reseaching the Hollywood Blacklist, as it’s considered one of the definitive works on the subject and is a staple at many law schools. Vaughn is thorough but never condescending, a trait echoed in his new book as well.

Vaughn has always been a “working actor”, which loosely translated means he’s got a few stinkers on his resume over the years. Television was exploding when he was breaking into the business, and like many actors of his generation he cut his teeth playing guest roles on dozens of shows. He has a short-lived series prior to UNCLE called The Lieutenant and most recently has come full circle playing a con artist in the British series Hustle. But he’s also etched several landmark film performances into history, from The Magnificent Seven to Bullitt to The Bridge at Remagen. I just grabbed the DVD of The Young Philadelphians so I can watch it tonight; a young Vaughn was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Hugh Griffith from Ben Hur) playing opposite Paul Newman.

I’ve read a few interviews with Robert Vaughn over the years and he seems like a charming, witty and intelligent man. That’s what you’ll think, too, when you read this book. Enjoy!

Still the coolest dude in the room at 76 years young

Still the coolest dude in the room at 76 years young

A recent BBC interview to promote the book.

Robert Vaughn’s filmography at IMDB.com

Get your Man From U.N.C.L.E. fix with the complete DVD set and a book about the series.

Also check out Hustle The Avengers meets Oceans 11

man from uncle

Leave a comment

Filed under Film/TV, Reviews