Hope you can help.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Hope you can help.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
1917 - 2008
One of my first cars was a 1975 Ford Fairlane station wagon. Top of the line with built-in 8-Track Player, which loved to eat tapes as quickly as I would put them in. By the end of the run of the car, before it was mysteriously stolen, I only had three tapes which worked. The Village People's Macho Man, The Soundtrack to A Star Is Born (Striesand) and The Greatest Hits of Jo Stafford. Of the three tapes Jo Stafford got the most continuous play. I drove people nuts with repeated playings of Shrimp Boats Are a Comin'.
Cars came and went along with audio formats, but I've still kept my deep love for the voice of Jo Stafford. If I had to choose my third favorite Female singer it would have to be Jo. I'm sad to say, last weekend, at the age of 91, she passed away. Now it seems only Margaret Whiting and Doris Day are all that is left of the big band singers. Jo, like Doris, stopped singing in the mid-70's. When asked why she stopped recording she said: " For the same reason that Lana Turner is not posing in a bathing suit anymore. People get old, and vocal cords get old... I don't mean I couldn't sing, but there's no way it could be as good." Being one of the most prolific singers of the 40's and 50's she left behind a huge library of music.
When I listen to Peggy Lee I feel the emotion of the song, Streisand, the force of nature, but Jo is vocal perfection.
I just read a story about her that said that her music could not be played in mental institutions because her lack of vibrato sent the patients into fits. I don't know the medical reason for that happening, but her lack of vibrato and low tone made my mother nuts. She'd call her the old fog horn. Jo started singing in high school as as one of the original Pied Pipers, who later toured with Tommy Dorsey. During the 40's she was best known for her romantic ballads that were tainted with a feeling of loneliness. She struck a cord with World War Two soldiers being consistently named the number one requested singer, touring with the USO for the duration of the war. Hence her nickname GI JO. It was during the Korean War that she had what would could be called her theme song, "You Belong To Me". Besides million selling singles she was, like Sinatra, the first to record albums that followed a consistent theme; They are some of the most enduring albums ever recorded. The groundbreaking and iconic American Folk Songs is breathtaking in it's beauty and ability to make simple melodies into grand emotional statements. Her Ballad of the Blues album is also a must have.
Jo Stafford always seemed to me just to be a down to earth, fun person. More than any other singer, I bet she would have been wonderful to spend an afternoon chatting with.
Her sense of humor about herself and her music is clearly seen in her Jonathan and Darlene Edwards albums. If you don't know about them, they are hilarious. It started as a joke on their friends.
During parties they were inevitably asked to perform. So Paul Weston would go to the piano and play but just slightly off pitch. Jo would join him for 'Stardust' singing off key. They did this at a record convention when one of the executives at Columbia said you've got to record this. They did four albums of songs as these characters, keeping their identifies secret for several years. One of these albums actually won a Grammy as best comedy album. They are brilliant, and as Jo said in an interview the hardest things she's ever sung.
I was sad when I heard she passed away last week, but at 91 she had lived a good long life. As she said in a recent interview: When I think of my life, I think I'm probably on of the luckiest people to come down the pike. To spend your life doing what you like, boy, it's a gift and I appreciate it to no end. I had a great life.
Thanks for the music.
To hear and download a mix of my favorite Jo Stafford songs click HERE or go to the player below.
Jo on What's My Line!
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
These last couple of weeks have been so very hectic. On top of the weather being unbearably hot, my mind has been focused on the Orchid Show. I did want to give everyone some updates and odds and ends about things that have been going on these last few weeks.
The Orchid Show: So the show was fun and my performance was a success. As I said I was doing a mash-up of the Amy Winehouse song "Rehab" and "Drinking Again" reworked into a Sinatra-esqe saloon song. My friend Paul's arrangement was steller, but regardless, I didn't know how it would go over; I mean music has changed so much and so few songs are steeped into the general conscienceness. In the 70's there wasn't a person who didn't know "You Light Up My Life". Love it or hate it, you knew it. I did the song at the sound tech and I thought it sounded good, but Brigid was afraid it was too slow for the place where it was in the show. However, she caveatted it with "It's very pretty." After much hemming and hawing, she said, "We may move you in the line-up..." I was expecting her to say, "We are moving you to the garbage can..." So any confidence I had in what I was going to do was gone.
I should know to trust my instincts, I knew it was going to be good; It was a huge hit. Brigid introduced me saying that I sang like Sinatra but she had told me to sing some modern songs. The curtains opened and I was leaning against the grand piano, dressed in my tux with a whiskey on the rocks in my hand and when I sang "They tried to make me go to rehab..." the place went wild. Then it got really quiet during the Drinking Again, which made me nervous but I thought maybe they are actually listening. I hit a high C at the end of the song and the applause was thunderous. I couldn't get off the stage fast enough... I love playing at those big shows and being in the spotlight, but damn it's hard work. The next day I felt like I had been in a car accident. I'm sure it's the last one I'll ever do; imitating Sinatra is fun and I do it well, but it's completely a been there, done that thing for me.
Oh, my father, sister and brother-in-law, came to the show. My sister told me that he was really excited to come because he wanted to see the "Blue Man Group". Bless his heart. Although it was out of their element I think they really enjoyed it. The only time I noticed any tension was when Tom Wolf, a writer, got up and did a piece that was anti-Bush I could see my brother-in-law frowning. And my father thought there was too much music and asked me when the ventriloquist was going to come on. Bless his heart
I'm trying to get a video of my performance, but it might have been an ephemera moment.
I love Milwaukee and I had a few days off last month so my friend Gary and I decided to go 'explore Milwaukee'. I had just purchased a Magellan GPS system. Wow. I don't know how I've survived this long in my life without one. I'm always getting hopelessly lost, in life, and when I drive. This is what people must have felt like when they first introduced telephones. I'm amazed that it knows just when I'm supposed to turn, the names of the streets and where I can get gas. If they could only make one of these for life decisions. "Bing!" "It's time you looked for a new job". "Bing!" "Another glass of wine is not a good idea." "Bing!" "Clean your car".
We had renamed the GPS Maggie because it has a woman's voice, which sounds slight pissed off when you don't follow her directions. Her voice saying "Re-calculating route." is pretty harsh. Some of the highlights of Milwaukee that we went to were the fantastic Milwaukee Art Museum. If you haven't gone, it's worth the trip, if only to see the amazing structure that looks like a bow of a ship.
We had a drink at the Phister in their lobby where a bored pianist played the hits of Porter and Gershwin. But it was just beautiful. I love Milwaukee, they never remodel anything. And I mean that in a good way. The lobby looked like it hadn't changed in 75 years. From there we did a few tours of the local bars. The highlight was going to Gene and Marcy's Holler House. Gene died a few years ago, but 82 year old Marcy is going strong. She was sitting by herself watching the Brewers baseball game, and was a little aghast we didn't know it was taped from that afternoon. They love their sports up there. The main reason we wanted to go to the Holler House, besides the ceiling that was struin with bras, is that it holds the oldest active bowling alley in the country. The bowling alley was celebrating it's 100 anniversary that fall. Marcy was just a doll. Gary asked her why the bras were all over the ceiling. She said "About 50 years ago a bunch of the regulars were getting toasted one night and one of the ladies took off her top and bra and threw it on the ceiling. Then everyone else did the same... Soon we were all drunk and naked." Those must have been the days. Marcy was kind enough to show us the bowling alley although it was officially closed. "Can't have bowling in the summer because you need pin setters and the boys would pass out from being in the back of the alley from the heat." Bless her heart. The gay bars we went to afterwards paled in comparison.
We also stopped off at the Pabst Mansion, which was one of the best house tours I'd been on. Great tour guides who seemed to know every minutia about the place. And then on to the Ambassador for lunch at the Deco Hotel, recently remodeled. I'm ready to move there.
Pet Angst. Recap on my cat. I continue to deal with Dinah my cat who is biting me more than ever. I've tried playing with her more, but that just seem to agitate her to attack me. Another cat isn't the answer. I've a slight cat allergy and I can handle one cat, but not two. In fact, last week, by accident Dinah scratched my stomach really badly with her back claws. The next day my skin felt like it was sunburned and started to break out in hives. I went out to dinner and felt like I had bugs crawling all over me. I stopped at Walgreens and bought some Wal-adryl. Despite having a couple glasses of wine with dinner I took two of the pills and went to bed. There was a huge storm that night that nearly flooded the city; I was told that the thunder and lightening were biblical. I wouldn't know I slept right through it.
I don't know what to do with her. I'm constantly on edge waiting for the next pounce. And she's so non-cozy. I'd really miss not having her around, but I'm just annoyed all the time. Can you get a divorce from your cat?
Odds and Ends.
I was walking on Saturday through my local Walgreens carrying my Alka-Seltzer when this booming voice from one of the women who work there yelled, "ZIP IT UP". I looked and my fly was wide open. Thankfully, nothing had snuck out, but I was mortified.'
I watched a documentary about the closing of Chasen's Restaurant called Off the Menu. It focuses on the last few weeks of their operation with interviews with the longtime staff. The restaurant closed for a bunch of reasons, mainly no one was going anymore. In the 90's people wanted lite fare not steaks and chili. They would have thrived in the Atkin's Diet years. The family decided to sell the place to developers to make it into a mall. It was like tearing down a huge piece of Hollywood history. It's a must see. Brother: My brother is doing better, but he's feeling worse, which is a good thing. The first round of stem cels didn't take; as I wrote a few months ago. However, with the second bag they seem to be working as he's getting terrible hives, dehydration, and foul smelling diarrhea. But that's what's supposed to happen. The doctors are extremely hopeful. He called me excitedly a couple weeks ago to tell me they gave him a bag of my blood platelets which were also filtered from my system. He told me a priest came in and blessed the bag. I said, "I'm surprised it didn't burst into flames." Comcast: Another reason my blog has been slowing down is I didn't have Internet cable for over a week! I don't know how I survived. I actually read part of a book! I hate relying on utility companies for things as precarious as the Internet. I had a service call on Tuesday and I took off of work and they never showed up. This and watching X-Files all afternoon made me nearly lose my mind. On Friday morning they fixed it, telling me that a cord was loose and I could have pushed it in myself. I was mortified. But then after they left my bandwidth was down to nearly the speed of a dial-up. I'm usually a pretty calm person, but I just fill with rage whenever I have to talk to those Comcast people reading from their manuals. Someone needs to start a utilities hotline to talk people down after one of these calls. When they didn't show up on Tuesday after waiting and waiting and watching X-Files all afternoon, I called and started to get really annoyed with the Comcast guy on the other end of the phone. Then after yelling about how I wasted my whole day waiting and waiting and watching X-Files I stopped and said, "I'm sorry, it's not your fault. I shouldn't have yelled. And I'm also sorry you have to work at such an awful company!"
I'm down to the last season of "power cycling' through The X-Files. I'd never seen it when it originally aired, so I thought I should see what all the fuss is about. I really liked the first few seasons, but season eight was downright painful to get through. Now you might ask, "Why not stop watching it...?" I can't. I'm doomed. I'm such a completist. If I start I have to finish and I knew the commitment I was making with this when I went in. Nine seasons! It's bad when I was involuntarily yelling, "who cares" during key dramatic scenes.
Peace and Waterfalls!
logo from The Top Ramen Playground
Monday, July 14, 2008
Milly’s Orchid Show is celebrating its 21st anniversary this Saturday. Anyone who lived in Chicago in the late 80’s and early 90’s will remember it as the hottest ticket in town. A Post-Modern Ed Sullivan Show, where audiences could see everything from second rate magicians to cutting edge musicians, and knock your socks off performance art. It was the show that everyone wanted to be in and somehow I stumbled into becoming one of its regular performers.
The show was the brainchild of Brigid Murphy. Performance art in the 80’s was so super serious that she wanted to bring some fun back to the stage, and Chicago was bursting with this varied array of talent in the late 80’s. She invented a country character called Milly Mae Smithy, a poor man's Loretta Lynn, who would host a variety show. The evenings were a mishmash of musicians, monologists, and assorted novelty acts. Some of the more famous alumni of the show are David Sedaris, who would read his journal entries, cartoonist Lynda Barry, who after reading a story would inevitable stick her full fist in her mouth, and Blue_Men_Group, who were always show stoppers.
Before the Orchid Show, my singing career consisted of getting drunk at parties and singing Frank Sinatra songs anywhere that there was an available space with an echo. One night I had a party where I made all the guests perform (ala the Dick Van Dyke Show’s living room parties). It was really an excuse for me to do my Sinatra sound-a-like thing. One of my friends Jill, was an opera singer. She told me that she had just performed in this crazy show at Medusa’s. She said, “You should audition for it.” I met Brigid one winter afternoon at The Red Lion and I sang the alphabet like Sinatra. I believe I directly stole that bit from Fred Travalina who did it on the Tonight Show.
I was told to come to the next show and try out during the 'open mike' section of the show. Being 20-something and full of vim and vigor I just jumped into the performance pool feet first. My first song was an version of Bohemian Rhapsody putting emphasis on the ‘Put a gun up to her head, pulled the trigger “BANG” she’s dead.” It was a hit and I was asked back. By the third time I was did the monthly show I was considered a regular. My shtick was to sing some popular culture song but ‘belt’ it out like I was singing “Come Fly With Me”. Over the years I sang “The Theme to the Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “The Theme to the Patty Duke Show”, “Freebird” “Viva Las Vegas” all in the Lounge style. I guess this was cutting edge because there is a guy in L.A. called Richard Cheese who has made a complete career out of doing this.
The Patty Duke Show Theme
After only my third time in the show, Linda Barry suggested to a writer at Interview Magazine that she should talk to me. I was interviewed, then sent to photographer, who must have been important because in his studio were photos he'd done of Mayor Daley, Michael Jordan and Dolly Parton; Before I knew it I was all over the country in "The" 'Interview Magazine' . Talk about being unprepared for success. This started out as a joke and suddenly I had morning radio programs from all over the country call me up to sing on the air. Most amazingly, I got a call from John Peel's producer in England and she asked for my press kit and said they wanted to fly me to London to be on the show. I said I would get it to her in a couple of days; knowing full well that I didn't even know what goes in a press kit. After putting together probably the world's worst demo tape and head shot; I got a nasty phone message saying that they were mislead by the article and that I would not be asked on the show. (click photo to read article)As the years went by the show became more and more popular, moving to the thousand seat venue, Park West, going on tour to New York, and finally getting an offer to become a Fox Network show. Things were “Movin’ on Up”; then the Fox offer fell through when the executive who was working on the show decided to hire a stripper to come to a board meeting for the network president’s birthday. He was fired and the show’s plans were canned and then Brigid was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The next few years were dedicated to Brigid getting well, and for a while the Orchid Show became just a distant memory of the Chicago theatre scene. After Brigid recovered. (She is now cancer free.) There were periodic revivals of the show when she had the time between projects. The last one I was in was ten years ago, when I was first starting up Bric-a-Brac. Per my usual I sang a medley of Doris Day’s Secret Love and The Captain and Tennille’s Muskrat Love.
Now this Saturday is the 21st anniversary show. Crap! I’m excited and scared to death. My pal Paul, who is the pianist for the Joffery Ballet, wrote an amazing arrangement of a the Amy Winehouse song “Rehab” which we’ve blended with Sinatra’s standard Drinking Again. So I’m hopeful that I live up to my past goofy performances. To add stress upon stress my father and sister are coming. My father has only seen me sing once before when Bric-a-Brac played at an event called Rummagepalooza, a rummage sale/band show. My mother and father seemed much more interested in shopping than listening to me. This afternoon I got a call from my father. He told me my mother said she wants to come to the show too. I told my father it would be impossible, that the theatre isn’t really wheelchair friendly, and that she doesn’t like to be away from home more than an hour. It’s sweet she wants to come. My father said, “I told her that we should have gone years ago when we were healthy.” I still don’t know how I’m going to explain to my 86 year old father why I’m singing “Rehab”.
Anyway… if you want to see me sing, circa 1987-style, come to the Park West this Saturday, July 19th.
Tickets available HERE.
Some articles about the show: HERE, HERE and HERE