NAMES CAN NEVER HURT YOU – GARRY ARMSTRONG

A while back, Marilyn wrote a piece using the word chutzpah. This is a word I’ve always badly mangled when I try to say it. It’s just a word, what the heck? That was my take for many years until Robin Williams and Billy Crystal gave me a proper public whupping for butchering the pronunciation of chutzpah.  I don’t try to say it in public anymore. It’s a word. I respect it because it carries its own meanings and images.

These days, people often use words or phrases without understanding their origin or meaning. I hear political aspirants, celebrities, athletes and civic leaders say things that make me scratch my head and run back to my dictionary.  Words!  They can be powerful tools used correctly. They can be dangerous used in ignorance.

I grew up in a home full of books. Including dictionaries. Big ones and pocket dictionaries. My parents insisted on using proper language and crisp diction. Street slang guaranteed a head slap or a smack. My two brothers and I were warned about using prejudicial clichés. Since my head has never been properly wrapped, I’ve been guilty of violating those warnings because of my warped sense of humor.

Marilyn warns people that I have toys in the attic.True. And some of the toys are very old.

A friend and I were trading insults the other day. I snapped at him with, “That’s white of you”.  His smile said everything. Words!  You gotta know who, when, and where to use them.

Way back in olden times, I was 19-years-old and worked in a department Store in Hempstead, New York. I was the only non-Jew working in the children’s shoe department. I was waiting on a customer who drove me bonkers. I couldn’t take it anymore and told the parent he was a schmuck.

The manager quietly called me into the stockroom, explained what schmuck meant and asked me never to use it again — even if the customers were jerks. I think he was smiling although reprimanding me. It was a word I’d often heard used in friendly banter, but I didn’t know its origin or meaning. It was just a word. What was the big deal?  I was 19 and knew everything!  I used big words, “20-dollar” words to impress people. People often complimented me, saying I spoke very well. I didn’t understand the veiled insult behind many of those compliments.

After all, they were just words.

John Wayne, of all people, once commented on words and ethics.  It was movie dialogue but still reverberates a half century later. In the 1961 film, “The Comancheros,”  Texas Ranger “Big Jake” Cutter (John Wayne) is lecturing his younger sidekick, Monsieur Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman). Regret asks Big Jake to spin a lie to his superiors to alleviate a problem. Big Jake refuses. Regret doesn’t understand, saying they are just “words.”

Big Jake, with that iconic Wayne frown, says softly, “Just words??  Words, MON-soor, are what men live by. You musta had a poor upbringing.”  Regret looks puzzled, not fully grasping the ethical code of this rough and ready Texas Ranger.  It’s a sublime moment and perfect for the young 1960’s when youth was defying the older generation’s moral code.

I recalled the scene years later in an interview with John Wayne. He smiled, shaking his head because he was in the middle of on-going national dissent against the Vietnam War.  Wayne was one of the most visible and vocal “hawks” in the Vietnam controversy. He had been ridiculed by strident protesters at a Harvard University gathering earlier that day.

“Words, dammit,”  Wayne looked at me, angry and sad. “My words! No damn Hollywood script. I have as much right as those damn college kids.”  Wayne was fuming. The Hollywood legend collected himself as I redirected the conversation to my time as a Marine. I had enlisted in 1959, fired up by the “Sands of Iwo Jima.

“Words. Good words,” I said to Wayne who smiled broadly.

Today, words are often tossed around loosely on social media with little regard to truth or the repercussions of ill-advised words. We have a president who uses words without thought in a daily barrage of tweets. Our media is engaged in a daily war of words, ignoring crucial issues facing our nation and world. Those of us of a certain age shake our heads as we watch young people immersed in tweets rather than direct conversation with friends in the same room. Words have become an endangered species.

I remember the good old days when me and friends went face to face with verbal jousts like “Your Mother wears combat boots!”

Words!  I love’em.

AND THAT’S WHY I LOVED LUCY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I’ve got the blues. I need to perk up.

LUCILLE-BALL

Melancholy. Melancholy Serenade. Serenade of the Bells. The Bells of St. Mary. A silly word link game I play to lighten things. Suddenly, it reminds me of another time, an assignment more than three decades ago.

The assignment? To cover Lucille Ball’s arrival in Boston. The nation’s favorite red-head was visiting her daughter, Lucy Arnaz, who was opening in a pre-Broadway show.

It was pushing 9 pm, another long day. I had the end of summer blues.  Lucy finally arrived at Logan Airport, surrounded by her entourage and a gaggle of media.

I hung back, beckoning with my TV smile and waited for things to quiet down. I was looking down at my feet for a long moment when I heard the familiar voice. “What’s the matter, fella, long day?”, Lucille Ball inquired as I looked up, face to face with that very familiar face.

We smiled at each other. Real smiles. Not the phony ones. I didn’t realize it but Lucy had already cued my camera crew and things were rolling along. I’m not sure who was doing the interview.  Mostly we chatted about the “glamour” of TV, celebrity, long working days and Boston traffic.

I signaled the crew to shoot cut-aways, beating Lucy by a second. She winked. We shook hands and Lucy gave me an unexpected peck on the cheek … and another wink as she walked away with her entourage.

Lucy showFast forward to the next afternoon and the end of a formal news conference. Lucy seemed tired as she answered the last question about the enduring popularity of “I Love Lucy” reruns.

I was just staring and marveling at her patience. She caught the look on my face and gave me a wry smile. As the room emptied out, Lucy beckoned me to stay.

We waited until all the camera crews left. She offered me a scotch neat and thanked me for not asking any dumb questions during the news conference.

I asked if she’d gotten any sleep and she flashed that wry smile again along with a “so what’s the problem?” look. I muttered something about being burned out and a little blue because summer was fleeting. She laughed. A big hearty laugh. Her face lit up as she pinched my cheeks.

Lucy showed me some PR stills from her “I Love Lucy” days and sighed. I showed her a couple of my PR postcards and she guffawed. Another round of scotches neat.

Lucy talked quietly about how proud she was of her daughter. I just listened. She smiled as she realized I was really listening.

A PR aide interrupted and Lucy looked annoyed. We stood up. I reached out to shake her hands but she hugged me. She pinched my cheeks again and gave me that smile again as she walked away.

The blues just vanished. How about that!

ALMOST INTERVIEWING JIMMY STEWART – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Full disclosure upfront. I never met Jimmy Stewart. No interviews. No emails. No phone conversations. But I’ve got Jimmy Stewart in my brain, maybe because Stewart is TCM’s “Star of the month.” They’ve been airing most of the legendary star’s films from the ’30s through the ’80s. There was a masterful Stewart profile hosted by Stewart’s good friend, Johnny Carson. He made it feel like two buddies reminiscing about the best years of their lives.

Stewart, (center) with Amos on his right, and the B-52 crew moments after safely landing at Andersen. Before leaving Guam the next morning, Stewart again thanked Amos for his professionalism during the emergency and presented him with signed prints for each of the crewmen. (Courtesy Bob Amos)

The other night might have been my first (Yes!) viewing of 1954’s “The Glenn Miller Story.” Somehow, “The Miller Story” escaped me during those years when I went to the movies 3 or more times a week. I absolutely enjoyed the warmth and nostalgia of the movie in a way I rarely feel about contemporary films. I’ve been steadily humming “Moonlight Serenade” for the last two or three days.

Jimmy Stewart is stuck in my mind. I’m doing an interview with him — but it never really occurred. I’ve been digging through my mental folders and files for why I feel this link to Stewart. I’m aware of all his unforgettable film performances, from “Mr. Smith” to “Wonderful Life” to “Harvey.” And all those rugged 1950s and 1960s westerns — including “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

I couldn’t find that link.  It’s more than just the fan and movie maven thing going on.  What was it?

It hit me as I was cleaning my hearing aids. The answer!

During the late 1980s — maybe 1988 or 1989 — during Ronald Reagan’s second term in the White House, life was changing for me. Marilyn was back in my life after spending almost a decade in Israel. And I finally was able to wear the new, smaller hearing aids that are nearly invisible to onlookers.

I was elated!  No more of those ugly, big hearing aids. I was always sure people stared at them while I worked on local TV News. That was when I remembered — a conversation I had with a colleague. She was the station’s entertainment reporter and had noticed me talking to myself as I checked the audio of my tiny new hearing aids with a big smile on my face.

I was in the middle of covering a major trial that was getting international attention. I saw my image on network news shows. No hearing aids were visible. Oh, the vanity! I explained to my colleague what the tiny hearing aids meant to me. How I’d coped with a major hearing loss most of my life and the adjustments I had made to succeed in TV News.  She was genuinely surprised and smiled with an appreciative tap on my shoulder. We’d sat close to each other in the newsroom for months, talked about business and personal things — but I’d never mentioned my hearing loss.

That was also the summer Marilyn and I entertained actress Patricia Neal and legendary photographer Alfred Eisenstadt at our Martha’s Vineyard cottage, a rented place we shared with other TV news friends. Word of our friendship with Neal and Eisenstadt made the rounds in the local entertainment news world. I remember sharing stories with my entertainment reporter colleague. Sometimes name dropping can be a lot of fun … and this was one of those times.

“I met Jimmy Stewart at a Washington, D.C. cocktail party,” my colleague told me one afternoon. She had my complete attention.  “Poor Jimmy. He was struggling with his gigantic hearings aids.”

I listened with fascination. I didn’t know Jimmy Stewart needed hearing aids. It never showed in his movies or TV interviews. I listened closely for details on Stewart’s dilemma.

“Jimmy couldn’t hear what was being said at the party,” my colleague told me, “He kept looking at me awkwardly and fumbled with the conversation.”

I had an epiphany.  Jimmy Stewart fumbled with a conversation because he was trying to absorb and register what people were saying to him. The famous Jimmy Stewart verbal fumble was his way of coping with hearing problems. I probably smiled to myself as my colleague went on with her description of Jimmy Stewart’s cocktail party struggles. Fascination turned to compassion as I imagined myself in Stewart’s place, trying to filter our multiple conversations, loud music, and ambient background noise.

The Stewart story quickly faded out from my mind as I returned to my story and a pressing news deadline.

There was a letter on my desk a few days later. I was running late for the trial and was worried about getting a good seat so I could hear the lawyers and the judge,, so I didn’t get to it that day.

Trials were always a major headache for me. Years earlier, I’d taken my situation to myriad judges, court officers, and lawyers. I wanted everyone to know I was working with this handicap and wanted to be sure I got all their wise words accurately. They appreciated my candor and efforts were made to make sure I could get the information accurately and efficiently.  My best, most sincere face helped my cause. If you’ve heard this from me before, know it was the prologue for my relationship with Jimmy Stewart.

I finally opened the letter a day or two after it arrived. I was immediately suspicious. Phony, threatening, and suggestive letters are common for a TV news reporter. This one wasn’t in thick crayon or illegible ink scrawl, but I was still suspicious.


“Dear Garry,

I hope you don’t mind my assumption of friendship since we’ve never met. I deal with this business of celebrity all the time and it is presumptuous.”


I continued to read with skepticism until I realized this missive was from Jimmy Stewart. He went on to explain his cocktail party hearing problems, his encounter with my colleague who apparently talked about me and my hearing problems. Jimmy Stewart heard about this Garry Armstrong guy who was a success on Boston television news despite hearing problems. I blushed a little as I read Stewart’s account of my bravery. Most of the letter, however, dealt with Stewart’s details about his hearing aids, its components. He wanted my take on the efficiency of these new little hearing aids.

I put the letter in my desk, planning to take it home and show to Marilyn because I wasn’t good at holding on to such possessions in my professional life. My attention turned to the trial and my report for the six o’clock news.

Fast forward several hours, including my ritual, stop at the local bar before heading home — without the letter. Out of sight and mind.

I did manage to write Jimmy Stewart a few days later. I spent most of the letter talking about how I struggled with my hearing and the use of the aids. I must have appeared awfully vain, talking about overcoming my reluctance to wear hearing aids because I thought it was a stigma. My vanity was probably also obvious when I mentioned some of Stewart’s colleagues I’d met in my career.  I was young and lacked humility, telling Stewart about time I’d spent with Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Cagney, Gregory Peck, and other stars. I forgot to mention the other stars, like Albert DiSalvo, Whitey Bulger, and Tip O’Neil.

In retrospect, I can only wonder what Jimmy Stewart thought as he read this silly, name dropping letter from a young Boston reporter.

Another Stewart letter arrived several days later. No indication of displeasure in my letter. He asked lots of questions about my hearing aids, my interview tact, and how I handled myself in large crowds. There was a hint of getting together when he came east again.

The meeting never occurred. Perhaps that’s why I’m now having these dreams about the sit-down interview that might have been.

Me and Jimmy Stewart. It never happened, but it could have. It almost happened.

HOLLYWOOD, JACK WARNER, AND NAZIS – By GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was usually able to get candid comments from “old Hollywood” people because I didn’t ask the typical questions about favorite co-stars, celebrity perks, or favorite roles. I frequently shared my disdain for the “suits” in my business who tried to interfere with my work.

This attitude, along with being a minority,  got me some sympathetic responses from people who normally just gave standard sound bites. It also helped that I was a movie “maven,”  more knowledgable than many so-called ‘entertainment reporters’ famous for fluff questions.

Jack L Warner, 1970. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The topic of Jack Warner came up this morning. Marilyn is reading his biography, a book called “We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Film” by Noah Isenberg. Do NOT buy the book, by the way. It’s written well — and completely wrong about pretty much everything.

Marilyn said the author apparently believes that Jack Warner was a man with a conscience who claimed to go the “extra mile,” slipping anti-Nazi stuff into Warner Brothers films in the late 1930s and early 1940s when it was “dangerous” to speak out against the Nazis.

Much of this country’s population was essentially isolationist.  Businessmen didn’t want to rock the boat,  including many Hollywood moguls more concerned about their overseas markets, especially Germany where American movies were big sellers. As always,  it was about money. Greed is forever with us.

So, here’s a list of a couple of Hollywood legends from Tinseltown’s golden years and their takes on Jack Warner and his “anti-Nazi” stance.

JAMES CAGNEY

Probably Warner Brothers’ most bankable star from 1930 to 1950. In a 1971 conversation with James Cagney (an informal afternoon chat on Martha’s Vineyard),  the star gave full credit to Warner Brothers for giving him his breakthrough roles. Cagney got his “Public Enemy” role when the director switched Cagney’s supporting role with the star,  favoring Cagney’s energy.  Despite his “gangster” popularity, Cagney had to fight the Warners for diversity in roles.

Cagney and his horses on Martha’s Vineyard.

In Hollywood back then it was not uncommon for big studios to keep a tight rein on their stars.

James Cagney with chickens

Cagney was still doing gangster films in 1939 as the Nazis flexed their muscles. In Hollywood, big and small studios were nervous about doing films that might jeopardize their lucrative overseas market. The inside word was: “Don’t antagonize the Nazis in your films.” After all, Germany was the largest market for American films.

There was a film waiting to be ‘greenlighted called “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” at Warner Brothers. The director, European expatriate Anatole Litvak, was eager to get started. The project sat for months. The behind-the-scenes arguments between the Brothers Warner could be heard throughout Hollywood. They were the butt of jokes, concern. and anxiety by other studios who wanted to tackle Nazi Germany on film. Someone had to be the first to do it.

Sam and Harry Warner were decidedly in favor of taking it to Adolph Hitler.  They held the keys to the studio’s financial and legal coffers.  Jack was the smiling front in Hollywood, dealing with actors, directors, and writers.  He was the public face. With his big, broad smile, pearly whites who some people likened to those of a great white shark, Jack was regularly bashed by actors and actresses as gross, a sexual predator, a philanderer, and a fraud — which was typical stuff for Hollywood suits.

When “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” came across his desk, Jack Warner blanched and balked. He didn’t want to touch it. The first-generation immigrant mogul didn’t want to risk losing his studio and power to Nazi pressure.  His brothers disagreed saying it was their duty to do the film.

Jack disagreed until a lackey suggested they could do it as a gangster film with underworld bad guys subbing for Nazis.  His brothers refused to do it that way. Jack started leaning on his stable of stars — James Cagney, George Raft, Paul Muni, Edward G. Robinson and others. They surely could pull off the film as a Tommy-gun melodrama.

No one wanted to do that film.

Jack Warner fumed! Meanwhile, Edward G. Robinson, widely admired in Hollywood as a Rennaissance Man of courage way beyond his screen image, lobbied for the film as an out and out warning against Nazism.  He even put up some of his personal earnings to back the script while agreeing to take on the lead role as a Federal Agent ferreting out Nazi spies in the U.S.

Edward G. Robinson

Jack Warner winced. Other prominent actors including George Sanders and Paul Lukas, encouraged by Robinson, agreed to join the film, playing unsympathetic Nazi spy roles. They didn’t care if it jeopardized their careers.  If “Eddie G.” was doing it, that was good enough for them.

Over Jack Warners’ private arguments, “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” was made in 1939.  Surprising many insiders, it was a box-office success and nominated for several Oscars.  During the Oscar Ceremony, Jack Warner leaped past the winner to embrace the award and give a big patriotic speech about the courage of fighting Nazis at a dire historic time.

Warner talked humbly about ‘tuning up’ the script to bash the Nazis without endangering the film.  Insiders just smiled.  The cast and crew of the film fumed silently. Thirty years later, James Cagney recalled Jack Warner’s antics. Cagney had a strange smile on his face as he talked about Jack Warner.

“The man had chutzpah,  I’ll give him that. He certainly gave me my chance. But, young fella, he was the epitome of a two-faced, hypocritical ‘suit’.  You think you have worked for bad guys?  Give yourself a few more years.

“Jack Warner took credit for everything he rejected. He loved getting awards. I remember attending award ceremonies. I had to do them.  Part of my job.  The VFW, DAR, Sons Of American Freedom. You name the award ceremony and Jack Warner was there, big teeth and phony smile, to accept the honor.

“He was always ‘umble.  Young fella, I had to hold my stomach and breath around the guy. He loved garlic bread and used to sit close to me.  I was his pet or so he thought.  Jack Warner a hero and anti-Nazi fighter?  No!  He was even a bigger problem when we did “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.  He didn’t want any strong anti-Nazi bias in the film. He said it was just a song and dance film,  nothing more.

“George M. Cohan was around one day and wanted to deck smilin’ Jack. Sorry to drift on about Jack Warner but even in my so call mellow years, the man still angers me.”

That’s an unfiltered remembrance of my conversation with James Cagney.  It was a wide-ranging talk that included his not so fond memories of Jack Warner — years after his final film for the studio.

CHARLTON HESTON

 In 6 or 7 meetings, ranging over a similar number of years, Charlton “Call me Chuck” Heston gave me wide-ranging inside looks at Hollywood. Once he talked about Edward G. Robinson who was one of “Chuck’s” heroes. They made “Soylent Green” together which turned out to be Robinson’s last film.  He died a short time after the film was completed.

The movie “Soylent Green”

Heston talked warmly about Robinson and his gentle “man of the world” presence.  Heston volunteered the information about “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” and Edward G. Robinson’s pivotal part in getting the movie made with its strong anti-Nazi message.

Heston relayed stories Robinson shared with him about Jack Warner.  They weren’t flattering. Heston had a few encounters with Warner as a young and rising Hollywood star.

I gave him a look and Heston just smiled, shaking his head.  No words needed.

RUTH DONNELLY

She was a contract player at Warners in the 1930s.  She usually played ditzy friends of lead actresses like Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins, Olivia DeHavilland, Barbara Stanwyck, and other stars.  Often Donnelly was paired with Eve Arden as a comedy foil in melodramas and romantic comedies.

“A Slight Case of Murder” starring Ruth Donnelly

Donnelly was on the Warners lot when “Confessions of A Nazi Spy” was in production. She remembered, in a 1970 interview,  how Jack Warner used to interrupt scenes being shot. This is a big NO-NO unless you held the money for the film. Warner, Donnelly recalled, was boorish and intimidating. He tried to bully writers on the “Confessions” film, demanding they change their scripts and then feigning ignorance when asked by Anatole Litvak, the director if it was true.  Warner even tried to get the writers fired for the controversy he created.

Ruth Donnelly smiled when I asked what she would say to Jack Warner in 1970. She didn’t have to answer the question. The smile was enough.


Also see: What Charlie Chaplin Got Right

HELLO IN THERE:JOHN PRINE – RICH PASCHALL

A John Prine Memory, by Rich Paschall

John Prine (Photo Credit: Ron Baker)

When John Prine was growing up in Maywood, Illinois, a suburb along the west side of Chicago, he helped a friend with a newspaper route. “…and I delivered to a Baptist old peoples home where we’d have to go room-to-room.”  That experience stayed with him and inspired him to write the song “Hello In There.”  It appeared on his debut album in 1971.

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”

John performed around Chicago at a number of clubs in the late 1960s. He was one of many singer-songwriters here in that era. His debut album was well received and he was nominated for a Grammy as Best New Artist in 1972. “I don’t think I’ve done a show without singing ‘Hello in There’,” John stated in the liner notes to ‘Great Days”, an anthology album put out in 1993.

So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”

John Prine died on April 7th. He had been stricken with COVID-19. He was 73. He won two Grammy Awards in his career and was also presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020. His song, “Hello In There” has been covered by numerous artists.

One of the artists to frequently sing John’s song was Joan Baez. If you have plenty of Kleenex handy, you may wish to see her tribute to John recorded from her kitchen when he was hospitalized. She had covered the song on her 1975 album, “Diamonds and Rust.”

“I like songs that are clean and don’t have much fat on them — every line is direct, and all people can relate to it. That’s what I try to do.” – John Prine

See Also: “The Music Of John Prine,” by Marilyn Armstrong, SERENDIPITY, April 8, 2020.
SOURCES: “Joan Baez Dedicates ‘Hello in There’ to John Prine,” by Angie Martoccio, rollingstone.com March 30, 2020.
John Prine Was The Master Of Lyrical Economy,” by Morgan Enos, Grammys, grammy.com April 8, 2020.
John Prine (album),” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, en.wikipedia.org
John Prine,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, en.wikipedia.org

CELEBRATING WW3 SINCE WE WON’T HAVE TIME LATER – Marilyn Armstrong

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO NATIONAL BROTHERHOOD WEEK? LET’S START CELEBRATING WORLD WAR THREE TODAY SINCE WE WON ‘T HAVE TIME, LATER.


Way back in the dark ages, the third week in February (an otherwise dreary and neglected month) was designated National Brotherhood Week. As designated special weeks go, it was never a big hit with the general public. In the 1980s, it disappeared. Probably because it failed to sell greeting cards which is probably the point of such created events.

brotherhoodweek-624x446

The National Conference for Christians and Jews (NCCJ) came up with the idea of National Brotherhood Week in 1934. Given the current political climate, maybe we can agree more brotherhood year-round would be an improvement. Sadly, we no longer have even that one, measly week.

February is Black History Month these days. Movie channels run films featuring non-white stars.

The guy who took it seriously — even way back in the old days — was Tom Lehrer. He taught math at Hahvid (Harvard, if you aren’t from around here). He didn’t write a lot of songs since he, till his dying day (which hasn’t occurred yet — he’s alive and living in California), thought of himself as a math teacher who wrote silly songs rather than as an entertainer.

Despite this unfair self-assessment, I’ve always felt Tom got this particular holiday dead to rights. Ya’ think?

He got a lot of stuff right. Check him out on YouTube. He only wrote about 50 songs and most of them are posted in some video or other. Me? I own the CDs.

And because the news has been so … fraught … I thought I’d add a couple  more shockingly relevant songs.

My, how times have not really changed — except we really do have colored TV pretty much everywhere! Facebook and Twitter too.

JOHNNY CASH AND NINE INCH NAILS – RICH PASCHALL

Covering Hurt, by Rich Paschall

You probably know what it means to “cover” a song. That’s when one artist records, or “covers,” the work of another artist. Sometimes the later version becomes a bigger hit than the original.  Such was the case when white artists were “Covering R&B Music” and getting all of the radio airplay. If you have been following this space, you probably have noticed we have covered this topic often. (Pun intended.)

You may have been “Disturbed” to learn that a heavy metal group covered the classic “Sound of Silence.” You may have wondered “Who Covered Who” when we talked about the folk-pop hit “Both Sides Now.” You knew Rick Astley was “Never Gonna Give You Up,” but could you imagine another singer offering the same thing? If you are up “After Midnight,” you may be singing the Eric Clapton song, but did you know he was actually covering another artist’s work? We have presented many cover songs with the question, “Who Sang It Best?”

Johnny Cash

When you think of country-rock legend Johnny Cash, you probably do not think of him as a cover artist. He was a prolific singer-songwriter and penned some classic hits like “I Walk The Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Man in Black” and “Flesh and Blood.” He also wrote songs with his wife, June Carter Cash. She wrote “Ring of Fire” with Merle Kilgore which became one of Johnny’s biggest hits. Of course, he also performed a number of songs written by others.  He recorded an astounding 97 albums, several were posthumous releases.

Late in life Cash had a resurgence in his career when he teamed up with legendary record producer Rick Rubin. As co-founder of Def Jam Records, Rubin was not exactly known for working with country stars. In fact, he produced some of the early hip hop artists, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Run DMC, and others. He also worked with heavy metal acts like Slayer, Metallica, AC/DC and a list of famous hard rock bands

For his American Recordings label, Rubin produced an album for Johnny Cash, released in 1994, that included six cover songs as well as some new material Rubin solicited. How did Rubin team up with Cash?

In 1992, Rubin saw Cash at a Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary concert and felt that Cash was still a great artist who had been pushed aside by the industry. Cash was understandably skeptical of someone who had worked in very different musical genres, but Rubin promised Cash creative control. “I would like you to do whatever feels right for you.” So Cash went back to the way he performed in the early years, just Johnny and a guitar. The record was simply called “American Recordings.”

The album was a critical success and revitalized the career of one of Country Western’s greatest stars. This lead to another album with Rubin producing in 1996, then another and another. In 2002, American IV: The Man Comes Around was a double LP consisting of mostly cover songs, and a surprising selection at that. It included country, traditional (Danny Boy, Streets of Laredo), pop, and the “industrial rock” hit by Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt.”

Cash did not know what to make of the Nine Inch Nails recording so Rubin sent him the lyrics. “Just read the lyrics. If you like the lyrics, then we’ll find a way to do it that will suit you.” Cash read it. He got it.

Nine Inch Nails songwriter and lead singer Trent Reznor was not exactly enthusiastic about the idea of Cash doing his song but thought it probably would not happen anyway. When he received the recording, he was not impressed. “It didn’t sound bad, it just sounded something wrong, it sounded alien,” Reznor said.

Enter movie director Mark Romanek. He had previously produced a number of famous artists’ videos and was looking for a chance to make a Cash video. “I begged Rick Rubin to let me shoot something to that track,” Romanek told Dave Urbanski, author of a January 2003 biography of Cash. Johnny Cash was not really interested. He was old and sick did not want to stay in Tennessee where it was wintertime and cold. Romanek knew it was a race against time. He was given a small amount of time in which to work.

They used the long-shuttered House Of Cash museum, a former home, to film the video. The place was in a stay of decay. While Romanek did not have any intention of splicing in other footage, they found a complete library of Johnny Cash films at the home and added some cuts of a younger Cash.

When Reznor received the video, his mind was changed. “Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow.” He had written the song at a dark and desperate time in his life, and it carried a very personal meaning for him. “[Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning – different, but every bit as pure.”

For comparison, we offer the Nine Inch Nails version. We won’t ask who sang it best.

Rubin and Romanek talked about the making of the video in the following cut. Some music heavyweights offer up their comments as well.

Sources: “Why Did Johnny Cash Cover Hurt?”  radioX, radio.co.uk, 26 February 2020.
Hurt (Nine Inch Nails Song)” en.wikipedia.org
The story behind Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’, still the saddest music video of all time,” by Christopher Hooton, Independent, independent.co.uk, 6 October 2015.
Johnny Cash: “Hurt”, The Story Behind The Video,” by Paul Goodman, spinditty.com, 17 February 2020.

ME AND DUKE WAYNE – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

I liked him so much I named a dog after him. Now that is appreciation.

Our Arizona vacation is a trip back in time to some of my favorite western movies and TV shows. The cactus covered fields and surrounding mountains evoke memories, especially of John Wayne-John Ford classics.

The locales around Phoenix are similar to areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made some of their iconic films. In the aftermath of two vacations in Arizona, there were requests for my oft-told story about meeting Duke Wayne. If you’ve heard it before, head for the nearest saloon, Pilgrim.

Forty-three winters ago, as I reckon, it was John Wayne versus the anti-Vietnam War crowd at Harvard and surrounding areas of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sunset reflected on the Superstition Mountains

Duke was cheered and jeered as he sat atop an armored “half-track” which moved slowly through the crowd as light snow fell. Some dissidents lobbed snowballs at Wayne as they shouted in derision. The Duke smiled and waved.

At one point, everything stopped as the legendary star hopped out to shake hands amid a flurry of snowballs. It was a bad situation for a reporter attempting an interview.

Me in Arizona

I remember calling in a few favors. Somehow, Duke and his entourage slipped into an empty theater. Long moments — to me, it was an eternity — followed as I waited alone on stage. Suddenly, the stage lit up. I froze.

“Hello, Garry!” Duke Wayne boomed in a friendly voice as he ambled in that familiar gait across the stage and greeted me. My TV persona kicked in as I shook hands with my hero, beaming with a happy smile.

I was oblivious to the cameras and time. Later, I would learn that it was a pretty fair interview with me swapping stories with Wayne including some anecdotes about my stint in the Marine Corps. Apparently, that impressed the Duke. He laughed when I recalled how I’d upset several drill instructors during basic training with my irreverent behavior.

72-GAR-Sunset-Phoenix-01062015_239

The interview apparently ran long because a press agent finally had to pry Duke loose to resume his “march” to Harvard.

During a formal, group interview at Harvard, Wayne singled me out as “his pal and former Gyrene”. I remember basking in the glow of that moment as other reporters glared at me. Later, as the gathering dispersed, Wayne approached me and said, “Good to see ya again, Gyrene”.

I offered what must’ve been a broad, idiotic smile and said, “Good to see YOU again, Duke.” I could see, over my shoulders, my crew smirking and laughing. It didn’t matter to me. Back in the newsroom, I walked around repeatedly asking people if they knew who shook my hand that day. Finally, someone told me to throw some cold water in my face and get on with my job.

Prickly and then some!

They didn’t get it. I had spent “private” time with the Duke. With Hondo, Sgt. Stryker, Ethan Edwards, Capt. Nathan Brittles, and Rooster Cogburn … among others. Damn, I had swapped stories with the man who really shot Liberty Valance.

Sadly, there were no personal pictures from that memorable day. No autograph. I’d always felt uneasy about asking celebrities for these signatures and autographed pictures. Not asking did open the door for more candid conversations and some unforgettable social afternoons and evenings with Hollywood legends, royalty, presidents, sports heroes, wise guys, godfathers.

Even Mother Theresa who singled me out from a crowd, chastising me about news coverage. I never figured that one out.

Topping all those memorable days and nights was my afternoon with the Duke. Back here in Arizona, where the Duke galloped through so many westerns, I think maybe … mebbe … I can top that encounter in the future.

That’ll be the day!

IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR – RICH PASCHALL

She Wants More, More, More, by Rich Paschall


Perhaps that’s the Rebel Yell you hear in the midnight hour when the music picks up and the time to dance is at hand.  I had been wondering what to suggest as my top Midnight songs but the Midnight Memories kicked in and It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.  I observed that Midnight’s Another Day and the Top 10 list was revealed.  While you may think of many Midnight songs in The Shadows, I will be your Midnight Cowboy and give you my Top 10.

I go out walkin’ after midnight
Out in the moonlight
Just like we used to do

10. I’m A Midnight Mover, Bobby Womack.  Whether you hear the Womack version or Wilson Pickett’s growl infused version, you will think they are channeling James Brown.  Both recorded the song and it is a rhythm and blues special either way you go.  They have co-writing credit for the hit.

9.  Walkin’ After Midnight, Patsy Cline.  The country classic was originally offered by the writers to pop singer Kay Starr, but her record label rejected it.  Reportedly, Cline was not immediately impressed with the song but ended up with a mega-hit in 1957.

8.  Midnight Blue, Melissa Manchester.  This was the first song on which Manchester collaborated with famed songwriter Carole Bayer Sager. The 1973 composition was pitched to a producer for Dionne Warwick and later Manchester pitched it to Dusty Springfield who turned it down.  In 1975 it was the first single off Manchester’s first album for Arista records.

7.  Midnight Confessions, The Grass Roots.  The biggest hit for the band was released in 1968.  Recorded with a large group of studio musicians, reports are that the group did not actually play on the record but only did the vocals.  They did perform it live themselves.  I played in a band for a few years that performed this song regularly.

6.  Midnight Rider, The Allman Brothers.  The song first appeared on the Allman Brothers 1970 album, Idlewild South, and was released as a single in March 1971 without much success.  Composer Gregg Allman released it as a solo effort in 1973 and broke the top 20.  Versions by other artists have also found some success.

5.  Midnight Rambler, The Rolling Stones.  Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was released in 1969.  Mick provided lead vocals, of course, and harmonica, while Keith Richards recorded all of the various guitars heard on the original recording.  The song continues to appear in Stones’ concert and was recently on the playlist for the historic performance in Havana.  Here they play for just a million and a half people in Rio, the largest concert ever held.

4.  Midnight at the Oasis, Maria Muldaur.  Released in February of 1974 the song is certainly the best-known effort by Muldaur.  The soft-rock hit with its sexy lyric was made even more popular by the tease in her unique voice.  I absolutely loved this song at the time, still do.

3.  Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight, and the Pips.  The song was written and recorded by Jim Weatherly as Midnight Plane to Houston.  It was then passed on to Cissy Houston who recorded it as Midnight Train to Georgia.  Then Weatherly’s publisher passed it on to Gladys Knight and the Pips.  They won a performance Grammy with it.  Here the Pips are really workin’ it!

2.  Midnight Special, Johnny Rivers.  Creedence Clearwater Revival had a hit with the song, but it is hard for me to hear a CCR song and not think about the lead singer, John Fogerty.  Apparently, there is no arena big enough for his ego.  The Johnny Rivers version was used as the intro to the Midnight Special television programs featuring musical performances.  In my time zone, the train came through right on time, and Wolfman Jack was the conductor.  This performance is from Hullabaloo.

Eric Clapton

1. After Midnight, J.J. Cale or Eric Clapton.  Cale wrote the song and recorded it in 1966.  When Clapton covered it in 1970, Cale did not know about it until it was a hit on the radio.  At the time, he was broke and grateful for the song’s success.  He subsequently included it in a 1972 album.  Since they both have great versions out there, the only fair thing to do is show them playing it together, Cale on vocals.

To hear any of these Midnight songs, just click on the song title above.

THE NBA REACH – RICH PASCHALL

Kobe Bean Bryant

There probably is no need to explain to you who Kobe Bryant was. You probably knew before the tragic helicopter accident last Sunday that took his life and that of 8 others, including his 13-year-old daughter. Even if you did not follow the NBA or the Los Angeles Lakers, you likely knew his name. He is the 4th all-time leading scorer in NBA history.

He played 20 seasons with the same team. He was an 18-time all-star and had 5 championship rings. He had two Olympic gold medals. He won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, Dear Basketball, in 2018.  His accomplishments will now be a thing of a great legend. He was only 41 years old.

Kobe Bryant

On Sunday I was on Facebook when I noticed on my newsfeed that my friend in France had posted an article about the death of Kobe Bryant from SPORT24.LEFIGARO.FR. “This can not be true,” I thought. “It must be a hoax or something.”

More notices started popping up. Some were from well known and reputable sources. I finally went to the Los Angeles outlet of one of the major networks and watched for a while. It was clear the anchors at the news desk were unsure what to say. They brought in their sports reporter to say something, anything that made sense. It was hard to speak.

How did my friends in France know this before I did? I was online and even stopped on my news page before hitting social media. Of course, social media was all a-buzz before long. It was the trending story and had quickly traveled around the world. The next day my French buddy wrote to me on Messenger, “I heard Kobe passed away. It’s sad.”

On Sunday night the annual Grammy Awards were held at the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. The pre-show, red carpet events included words of condolence for the Bryant family. The opening honored Kobe and many of the artists mentioned him. LA was shaken by the news that they had lost one of their most famous residents.

My friend from France was a big basketball fan. He worked in Chicago for a year and has a Bulls jersey, of course. His older brother had worked in Los Angeles and was a Lakers fan. In fact, he had been to many games while working in LA. Both friends appreciated the play of Kobe Bryant. Basketball is big in France, as well as many places in the world. Superstars like Bryant are iconic heroes to many people. NBA popularity is almost universal.

On my many visits to France, my friend and I often spent evenings in front of the television watching NBA basketball replays. On the weekends, my friends might stay up late to watch an afternoon game at night their time. It did not bother me that the commentary was in French. I knew the games well enough and if something really interesting was said, my friend would translate. NBA was big and Bryant was bigger, particularly for the younger generations. You were likely to see a lot of Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Tony Parker jerseys and t-shirts around town.

The NBA reach extends beyond Europe and in fact, can be seen around the globe. The marketing is fierce and Kobe had long been one of the premier faces of the NBA. I am sure his passing was trending on social media everywhere it is allowed.

In St. Petersburg, Russia I have a young friend. He “likes” two sports teams on Facebook. One is the Los Angeles Lakers. He wrote to me on Skype the next morning his time. It was still Sunday night here. “G** damn, Rich. Kobe is dead. I just can’t believe.” I was still up so I wrote back about how sad it was.  “I wanna cry, I was grown on this man, on his games. I remember how I woke up at 4-5am to watch NBA games.”

That is how it was for many around the world. They would get up early or stay up late to watch Kobe and NBA games live. Some would have to settle for replays, but the games were everywhere. And everyone around the world who was a basketball fan knew Kobe.

All week the talk on ESPN radio and various sports radio and television programs included segments on Kobe and what he meant to the game. Many athletes shared how Kobe had inspired them. Some told of personal interactions with the NBA star. Highlights of his play were often seen. Talking and sharing was a way to move through the tragic news.

This month the NBA All-Star game will come to Chicago and the night will be filled with tributes. It will be hard for some of the players to go on. Later in the year, Bryant will go into the Basketball Hall of Fame posthumously. It will be yet another emotional day.

If you have traveled outside the US and have friends in many countries, you are aware of the reach of the NBA. You know how the players, especially those of great skill, have reached hero status,  for young and older fans alike. This tragic passing of Bryant has brought tears to Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris and Strasbourg, St. Petersburg and many places even farther away from here. Such is the reach of Bryant and the NBA.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! – Rich Paschall

The Rest of Your Life

Windmill of your mind

The new year is about to begin and it is time to ask the important question:

What are you doing the rest of your life
North and South and 
East and West of your life
I have only one request of your life

All the seasons and the times of your days
Are the nickels and the dimes of your days
Let the reasons and the rhymes of your days

Through all of my life
Summer, winter, spring and fall of my life
All I ever will recall of my life
Is all my life with you

The song was nominated for an Academy Award for the 1969 film The Happy Ending.  Michael Dees sang the song and it is featured above.  It lost out to Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.

The lyrics were by the prolific team of Marilyn and Alan Bergman.  Music was by Michel Legrand.  In 1973 Legrand won a Grammy for the Musical Arrangement of the song for the vocal by Sarah Vaughan, second above.

Remember Playboy After Dark?  Legrand performed his composition with Hugh Hefner and other stars looking on.  Of the three above, who performed it best?

The More-or-Less Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post – Reblog – Earth Abides Project

Christmas 2019


Here’s the annual re-post of a story of the close connections between George R. Stewart and Jimmy Stewart, and between the mythical town of Bedford Falls and the real town of Indiana, Pennsylvania, the boyhood home of both Stewarts.

It’s A Wonderful Story


This is the time of year when most of us watch the classic Christmas movies. A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sims, Miracle on 34th Street, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, (An almost unknown gem, produced in Canada, starring Denholm Elliot); and It’s a Wonderful Life. The local theater in Arroyo Grande, California, owned by a man who loves movies, shows one of those classics each Christmas. The admission is a can of food or a toy, to be donated to those in need – in the spirit of the movie.

To see such a film on the big screen, surrounded by local neighbors of all ages – to see how the children love the film – it is a reminder of what we’ve lost. Today we watch movies on TV, often alone, and usually less intently than in a movie theater. Yet at a showing of Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street the audience clapped and cheered when the judge decided that, yes, Kris Kringle was indeed Santa Claus. How long since you’ve experienced that?

For many people It’s a Wonderful Life is the Christmas movie. So those who are George R. Stewart fans will be interested in the connection between that classic film and GRS.

George R. Stewart spent his boyhood in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived. His maternal grandfather, Andrew Wilson, planned to be a teacher and even helped found a school nearby (it would become the prestigious Kiski School). But he couldn’t earn enough to support his family so he went into the mercantile business. He had a hand in a hardware store there, owned by another Stewart. That Stewart’s son was James Stewart, also born and raised in Indiana.

George and Jimmy looked alike. With all the similarities in family history, geography, and physiology, you’d expect they were related. But they shared only one possible distant relative. And they lived in different worlds, in Indiana.

The George Stewarts went to the middle-class Presbyterian church on the flats; Jimmy Stewart and his parents to the upper-class Presbyterian church on the hill. GRS went to a public high school out west, Jimmy to a prestigious private school in the east. Their paths apparently never crossed. 12-year-old GRS and his family left Indiana for California in 1905, the year James Stewart was born. Out west, nothing in their interests or their work brought them together.

Still, the lives paralleled in remarkable ways. GRS and his family moved to Pasadena; he went to Princeton; and after marriage moved his family to Berkeley, California. Jimmy went to Princeton, then moved to Pasadena; and spent his life in Southern California. GRS wrote books, two of which were filmed. Jimmy made films, like that grand Christmas classic we all love. GRS worked at the Disney studios for a time, an advisor to Walt himself. Jimmy worked at many studios, creating characters and stories that touched the hearts of millions. Ironically, GRS did not like the media, and apparently did not attend movies often, if at all.

Even though their paths never crossed, during the Christmas season we should remember there is one thing they shared: The experience of life in a small American town in the early 20th century. Like a trip to Disneyland, a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life enfolds us in such a place. For a time, we walk the streets and meet the people of the town and the time where both boys grew up.

Here’s a passage from the biography of Stewart, about Indiana, Pennsylvania as Bedford Falls:

George R. Stewart’s boyhood town was so archetypically American that it could pass for George Bailey’s “Bedford Falls” in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. In fact, the town was “Bedford Falls” – at least for the movie’s male star. Indiana, Pennsylvania, was also the boyhood home of James Stewart, “George Bailey” in Capra’s film. Although the movie’s “Bedford Falls” was built on a studio backlot in the San Fernando Valley, Jimmy Stewart said that when he walked onto the set for the first time he almost expected to hear the bells of his home church in Indiana.

Although the film’s Producer/Director, Frank Capra, is said to have modeled his mythical town on the upstate New York town of Seneca Falls, for Jimmy Stewart Indiana, Pennsylvania, where he and George R. Stewart grew up, was the place he had in his heart as he brought George Bailey to life.

Each year, Indiana holds an It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, with a parade, hot chocolate, tree lighting, and continuous showings of the film at the Jimmy Stewart Museum. It’s a winter festival so the people lining the streets in their warm clothing bring life to a snow-bound town like the movie brings life to the streets of the movie set town.

As you watch Capra’s great film this Christmas, keep in mind that GRS celebrated his Christmases in a town which for another Stewart, Jimmy, was the model for iconic, Bedford Falls.

Merry Christmas to all.

PS. A Christmas gift, for 2019 readers – a link to the radio interview with “Tommy Bailey,” one of the Bailey children growing up in Bedford Falls, setting for It’s a Wonderful Life.

Original material:

The EARTH ABIDES Project: A site for George R. Stewart, Author of the classic EARTH ABIDES

HAPPY BIRTHDAY OLE BLUE EYES – GARRY ARMSTRONG

It’s Frank Sinatra’s 104th birthday. Somewhere, Sinatra and his pals are smiling and ordering another round of the good stuff.

I recall another Sinatra birthday celebration. 1962. It was a very good year. ’62 was the year JFK met with a group of young reporters and told us we were making history. I’m not sure we understood.

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY: SINATRA, FRANK, 1953

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY: FRANK SINATRA, 1953

It was the year a bumbling team, the New York Mets, made their début as National League baseball returned to Gotham led by ringmaster, Casey Stengel.

It was the same year in which my Mom received a phone call from someone named Jilly. She was perplexed. That didn’t happen often.

“Garry”, Mom yelled, “Some strange man named Jilly is on the phone for you. Is he one of those drinking people I told you to stay away from”? I gave Mom an insolent look and curtly told her Jilly Rizzo was a confidante of Frank Sinatra. Mom gave me a look that indicated disbelief and anger. Payback later, I quietly concluded.

“Kid, is that you?”, Jilly croaked as I picked up the phone. “Geez, Your mom’s a pistol! No disrespect, Kid.” Jilly Rizzo, a nightclub confidante to Frank Sinatra and an “A” roster of celebrities, was apologizing to me about my Mom. I beamed inwardly.

Rizzo went on to explain “Frank” wanted me to join him and a few friends for a small party. I blurted out a thank you and got details.

For those who didn’t read an earlier story, I had met Frank Sinatra a few weeks earlier. It was a chance encounter during an interview I had done with Jilly Rizzo for our college radio station. For some reason, Sinatra liked what he heard and saw and we had a long conversation over drinks after the Rizzo interview. Sinatra even asked pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Hank Henry to give us the table.

Go figure!

FrankSinatra9

We had chatted about personal stuff. I shared the difficulties of my hearing loss and ensuing diction problems. That apparently opened the door for Sinatra to talk about his own diction problems and his concentration on crisp phrasing of lyrics.

After the conversation was interrupted, Sinatra promised we’d get together again. I thought he was just being polite to an aspiring reporter. I was wrong!

Back at Jilly’s Nightclub again, I was greeted by Sinatra pal, Hank Henry who, without hesitation, handed me a double scotch neat and led me into a backroom. There were about a dozen people gathered around a large table. I blinked twice because I recognized almost everyone.

Dino, Sammy, Joey, Richard Conte, Joey Heatherton and radio icons like William B. Williams among others. There was a big birthday cake in the middle of food and booze on the table. The cake frosting was topped by a Sinatra figurine. The classic Frank Sinatra with raincoat slung over his shoulder. I just stared.

sinatra at mic

“Something wrong with the booze, kid?”, Sinatra asked, grinning as we shook hands. I nodded no and took a long slug of the scotch. Good stuff!! Sinatra beamed and led me over to the table introducing me as a friend. There were nods and smiles all around.

Across the room, the music began. Big band stuff. Instrumentals no vocals. It sounded like Tommy Dorsey. There were lots of jokes about Sinatra, his hair (it was very thin and receding), his affection for “renegade” talent and taunts that Eli Wallach was looking for him. By then, it was well-known that Sinatra had gotten his legendary “Maggio” role in “From Here To Eternity” with a little “help” even though Columbia Pictures had originally wanted Wallach for the role that earned Sinatra an Oscar and kick-started his comeback.

At some point, Sinatra pulled me aside and said he wanted me at his party because he liked my style. I was confused. Sinatra smiled and explained he wanted a young person around to remind him of his own youth and personal struggles. He said he’d appreciated that I didn’t try to get a scoop in our first meeting.

There was more chat about dealing with adversity, about how media was changing and the challenges he faced to stay relevant. I just nodded. He asked how things were going for me. I told him about my meeting with JFK and he grinned.

Pictured: Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra in a scene from FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, 1953.

Pictured: Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra in a scene from FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, 1953.

We talked about movies a bit. I mentioned I hadn’t seen “The Kissing Bandit”, a well-known Sinatra clunker. We shared our love of westerns. I started doing lines from “The Magnificent Seven” and he laughed. He told me about working with Steve McQueen in “Never So Few”. I did little bits of scene-stealing shtick as he discussed McQueen. Laughter all around as others listened in.

dean-martin-say-daiv-jr-frank-sinatra-456-021411

Sinatra finally was serenaded by Dino, Sammy, and the others with a raucous version of “Happy Birthday” laced with profanities.

I just sat smiling, sipping my scotch and not believing I was in the middle of all this. Later, as I got ready to leave, Sinatra approached with two more drinks and smiled, “Cheers, Kid!”.

They were still laughing and singing as I walked out.

TEN YEARS ONE NIGHT – Rich Paschall

An Idol on Tour, by Rich Paschall

It has been ten years since Kris Allen won American Idol. Despite a strong showing throughout, the win was considered quite an upset. Adam Lambert was expected to be the winner. Lambert had impressed the judges and received a lot of publicity for his flamboyant style. Nevertheless, Allen walked away with the award.

Just as previous contestants were contracted to do, Kris went out on an American Idol tour with other contestants. He made numerous personal appearances and recorded an album. His single “Live Like We’re Dying” climbed the charts and has been his biggest hit. His first album was self-titled. It included 9 songs that were written or co-written by Allen.

Kris Allen

In the years since Allen has recorded several albums, one of which (of course) is a Christmas album. This Christmas effort included five original tunes. including “Mommy, Is There More Than Just One Santa Claus?”

He has also engaged in any number of philanthropic and charitable ventures. He never achieved the overwhelming success that some of the Idol winners and runners-up have achieved, but he remains active and is a strong live performer.

This fall he has been out on his “10 Years 1 Night” Tour. His Chicago stop was at City Winery. I had mentioned this venue before when I saw another former American Idol star, runner up on season seven, David Archuleta. It was the Postcards In The Sky Tour that brought David to Chicago earlier in the year.

City Winery, a performance venue.

City Winery is a unique stop with a restaurant, wine bar, and concert venue. The entertainment room is more of a cabaret-style. It seats 300. Most of the tables are small, but large enough for your wine, or whatever, and a plate of food. Some arrive early for food and drink, while others show up just for the show. Some of the partons seem to sample quite a bit of whatever the winery is serving. This makes them feel like the performance is an interactive experience. Fortunately, Allen knew how to deal with this in good humor.

The two-hour show included a number of Idol reminiscences. One included the week when the performers were asked to do a disco hit. Allen was born after the disco era. He did not grow up hearing this type of music and was unsure what to do. Of course, the show provides suggestions and often steers contestants toward songs. Allen picked the hit from the disco queen, Donna Summer, “She Works Hard For The Money.” Since he really did not know that style of music, the song ended up with a more soulful treatment than it was given before.

In addition to performing this one for us, he reached back for other songs as well. The purpose of the night was to give us Idol memories along with others. The stories were entertaining and the songs were presented with a good dose of energy. It was just Kris and his guitar, plus an occasional assist from an electronic gadget that can provide percussion or repeat measures of music. Allen deftly worked the gadget with one foot as he performed. This added a fuller sound to a handful of songs. The diversity made for a better experience.

Not all performers have entertaining stories or even try to tell any. Kris sprinkled in some personal memories. The 34-year-old gushed about his wife, his high school sweetheart he has known half his life. He talked about winning over her parents after he was the winner of American Idol. That’s when they thought he could actually make a living at music.

Kris Allen in Chicago

He also got the crowd involved in singing along on a couple of songs. At one point he taught different parts to three different sections of the room. While this trick doesn’t always work for performers, the blend actually came out quite nicely in the end. Perhaps my opinion of that was shaded by the French wine.

Near the end of the show, Allen delivered his big hit. As you might expect the song was well received. He mentioned that he is aware there is a Tim McGraw song with the same title, but this one is his own.  You could hear many in the crowd singing along with the chorus:

We only got 86,400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell them that we love them
While we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we’re dying

At the end of the show, Allen went around the front of the stage, shaking hands, and having pictures taken. At least one person got a selfie with Kris. Since I was close to the stage anyway, I moved up to the edge and shook his hand. He said something like, “Thanks for coming,” which he said to many. I guess I should have said, “Thanks for the good show.”

Then, it was time to use the Uber app on my phone.


Sources:

Kris Allen, en.wikipedia.org

City Winery enters a crowded music and restaurant market, by Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune, July 26, 2012.

Kris Allen Somethin’ About Christmas, discogs.com

Kris Allen Lyrics, Live Like We’re Dying, azlyrics.com