Monday, June 03, 2002

David Bowie Top Of The Pops Taping

For a number of years I was a paying member of BowieNet, the online David Bowie fan club. At the website, Bowie is known as "sailor." As a member of the fan club I sometimes had access to tickets for special events, like a taping of David Bowie on Top Of The Pops:

I have had terrible luck with contests in my life, and I rarely enter them.

I mean, contests are never interesting, like: "Win A Date With Rex Ray" or "A Shopping Spree With Iman, Paid For By Sailor" or "Win a Drink With Kelmar666" or "Take Home A New Daddy: TotalBlamBlam Is Yers For Keeps"; you know what I mean, right?!?!?! Contests are usually for a record I already own, or a ticket I will purchase anyhow, so I am not a big contests guy (I never win contests anyhow).

The first BowieNet contest I entered was last Summer in London to win tix for 'Darkness & Disgrace' at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. I had seen D&D with my wife earlier that year and met my first two BowieNetters (Susans and Blammo) and they had been very friendly and nice to us. I did not get my hopes up about winning these tickets (because I don't win contests) and I did not win D&D tickets (because I don't win contests), but I decided to attend anyhow because I liked the show and Blammo promised there would be a bevy of BowieNetters there I should meet. I had been a member of BowieNet for some time, but I was not a chatter or a poster, so I had never met any
of you. Mrs. Mac did not attend this showing of D&D; but, my life was changed that night. Seriously! I met a gang of crazy people, some of whom I count among my friends today.

When the taping of Top Of The Pops and its related contest for attendance were announced, I embraced my American-Irish-Catholic-Red Sox-fan fatalism, and convinced myself that I would never win a spot so I shouldn't even enter (I never win contests anyway). As the day bore on, I became more and more excited about the notion of attending the taping and I became keenly attuned
to the notion that I could not purchase a ticket for this event, I could ONLY attend by winning the contest (I never win contests).

So, I clicked the link and entered my name and waited and waited and waited and waited and I did not win. I was really sad. I had never in my life been disappointed by losing a contest (I never win contests) and I was embarrassed by the sorrow I was feeling about missing this event happening
somewhere near my home. I mean, this was humiliating! How could I be having such strong feelings of disappointment about missing a show or losing a contest (I never win contests anyhow)? This was too weird!

Wait a minute! I DID WIN! I received a Super Secret Info e-Mail instructing me to tell no one anything, or my Judy Garland club card would be retroactively expired, my Bowie CDs would be erased, the ink on my Roseland tix would disappear, my wife would leave me for Marc Anthony Thompson, and Buckingham Palace would burn. BUT I DIDN'T TELL ANYONE, REALLY, I DIDN'T: I had nothing to do with the fire at the palace, really!

I was a bit miffed that there were no dress code requirements on the email. Sadly, Americans rarely know how to dress for events and we need Europeans (and Brits, too) to guide us back onto the path of appropriate attire. So you want to wear jeans and t-shirts for a walk in the park or the such:
that's perfect! But most of us look really bad in jeans and t-shirts, and it is a poor choice of outfits for appearing on television (unless you are a strapping, handsome twenty-something who looks great in anything)! Really, guys: we need you to provide dress codes for BowieNet events, we haven't a clue how to dress!

I go to Queens to find airports and baseball games. Once I went to a demonstration in Queens: I marched in a big circle in a major intersection to protest the murder of a queen in Queens (it was a very sad story and the police had totally botched the investigation). Queens is not someplace I like to go, so I don't go there often. I had never heard of television studios in Queens.

Eeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwwwww: Queens! How would I get there? The phone calls with other BowieNetters began: Do I call the driver? Do we hire a car? Do we take a cab? Do we take the subway? UGH! Irrespective, we made it safe and sound.

My favorite part of the complex where the taping would take place is the plaque on the corner of the building declaring it The Diana Ross Building! Can you believe it? Now, Louis Armstrong lived in this part of Queens, why not name it the Louis Armstrong Building? I would love to know the story behind this dedication!

We were herded into a green room to anticipate the show and meet each other. Every time I meet BowieNetters, I am pleasantly surprised! You lot are weirder than me; and that takes some doing! I am a fan of mental illness, as my BowieNet friends will tell you, and being part of this community is like being a drag queen trapped at Chanel! You guys are great!

After drinking water and nibbling chips (crisps) and following the smokers in and out of the building, we got a pep-talk and were eventually told to line-up (queue). You guys clearly did not attend Catholic school, because that was HARDLY a line!

After getting the obligatory lecture from the producer (who was from Suberland, spaceface) and a string of anti-royalist jokes (sorry mate, I didn't like the Mambo shirt), the band entered the set and the fun began.

I don't remember any of the songs or clothes or events or anything, I just wanted to type . . . Oh, wait, here's a list and some notes. Now I remember!

Sailor looked great in a brown three-piece Paul Smith number. Earl Slick was in his black uniform and black Cons and has anyone told him he looks better now that he ever has? Mark Plati wore his bandana and sunglasses (I am told he is a great guy). Cat Russell looked fab, smiles all the time, and has wonderful hair. Mike Garson sat behind the keyboards wearing sunglasses that only he could get away with (may I please repeat how happy I am that he is back in the band?) He has wonderful hair, too. Sterling Campbell was as cute and smiley as ever behind the drum kit. Gail Ann Dorsey (who supplanted Tina Weymouth as my fave girl bass player some time ago) looked stunning in a grey dress accessorized with a parachute harness. (Really!) And my fave new band member: Gerry Leonard looked all Irish and humble in standard spooky ghost attire replete with soft pointy shoes.

The show started with the 'single-schmingle-fingle' 'Slow Burn.' Who cares about singles anymore anyhow!?!?!?! And the band was very tight. I love the way Bowie sings this song. All soulful.

Charles' 'Cactus' was next followed by my new fave cut from Heathen, 'Gemini Spacecraft'! I suspect that the live performance of this song will take on a life of its own and morph over time, the way 'Hallo Spaceboy' seems to.

This first set ended with 'Everybody Says Hi.' The singer seemed to have most fun singing this song. The previous three numbers were really fun to watch, but the band was 'at work' during the performance. 'Hi' seemed more relaxed and sailor was more playful.

We had a break, and a bunch of reasonably attractive twenty-somethings who seemed to know little (if anything) about Bowie songs were moved to the front of the crowd.

I realize that the show is a production and there are decisions to make about presentation, but this seems totally backwards. Why put the pretty things in front for the oldies when they know little about the catalogue? Doesn't it make sense to put the know-nothings in front for the new stuff so there are bored, pretty, fresh faces for presentation of new material, and the old-timers up front for the old stuff? I dunno! They did little to obstruct my view, but it all seemed like a very odd and self-defeating exercise in production futility. What do I know? These guys are producing the BBC's top two rated telly shows and I hump computers for lawyers, so please take my observation with the grain of salt it so richly deserves.

Sailor returned in a tight green suit and pointy-toed shoes. (Was that suit comfortable, sailor? It didn't look comfortable. Loved the shoes!) The band played a brilliant version of 'Sound & Vision' and I am excited about the notion of hearing it performed this Summer. 'Ashes to Ashes' followed and I noticed that I was not the only one singing along. (The pretty young man installed in front of me was a bit aghast that I was singing. I don't know if it was because my voice was so bad or because I wasn't supposed to be singing along on a live set.) 'Fame' was wonderful! Halfway through the song, the monitor/power pack/homing device sailor was wearing on the back waistband of his trousers fell off. Sailor was fiddling with it and attempting to get it hooked back on his trousers during the song and eventually shoved it in his pocket with a smile like so many balls and jacks!

'Fame' was to be the final song of the TOTP tapings. However, the loss of a follow-spotlight and sailor's incident with his uncooperative electronic device required a review of the tapes to make certain the editors had enough footage with which to create a television performance.

Sailor told a joke: "Dopey fucked a penguin!"

So, the band put their heads together to come up with a way to pass fifteen minutes. Sailor appeared with a list of songs and they decided they would perform a song they've been rehearsing but couldn't promise they would remember all the words, because it wasn't yet in the magic book. Then they burst into 'Absolute Beginners' for which sailor and Gail Anne sang a duet! It was beautiful. The band was very tight and the singers were beautiful together! This is ten times better than their 'Under Pressure' duets! Wait til you see this!

Another take of 'Slow Burn' was required and I saw no disappointed faces as we 'suffered' through another rendition of the schmingle-fingle-single.

When all was done, sailor told us to remain if we wanted things signed and stuff. He thanked us all and we pushed forward.

Is there a rock god so accessible, sincere, humble, and gracious as sailor? He was so nice to everybody, so warm and generous. We are very lucky.

Some of the band remained. Gail Ann signed my invitation. She is certainly a star cut from the same cloth as sailor: warm, accessible, friendly. I am not much of a star-fucker (maybe because they haven't offered and I rarely approach), so I have nominal personal contact with the famous. When I saw Gail Ann across the lobby of Carnegie Hall at Tibet and we made incidental eye-contact, I nodded, she nodded, we smiled. It was so nice and simple and friendly. When I met her briefly at the dinner that evening she was just charming! I am a big fan. Thank you, sailor, for bringing her into my life!

Upon leaving The Diana Ross Building, a group of us milled-about and I met more of you. Time passed and I realized I was doing something I'd never done: I would probably be on the sidewalk when 'elivs left the building'! This always seemed like such an intrusion to a star's personal time, that I never pursued doing this. Today, however, it just kind of happened. When he exited the building with Coco, he was all smiles and greetings. He was so nice to everyone. Shaking hands and accepting introductions, taking pictures and signing autographs.

Dick Mac & Sailor

Dick Mac & Sailor

Coco was really patient about the whole thing (God bless her to put up with all of us). Sailor, charming as ever, asked aloud for one particular member: 'Is Tess here? Where is Tess?' It was soooooooo nice!

I had a great day! I got in a car with a group and headed away from The Diana Ross Building and back towards the Empire State Building. Four of us had drinks, headed down to Bowery Ballroom and watched a Chocolate Genius show, found another pub, walked miles and miles of Manhattan, then called it a night.

See you next Tuesday!

Peace and love.

Monday, April 22, 2002

A Catholic Crisis Of Conscience

Over the past few years, the challenge of being a Catholic has been an extraordinary challenge for me. Criticism has been leveled against the Church (and rightly so) for their failure to properly address the problems of sexual abuse by clergy, and it has been difficult for me to explain to critics about why I have chosen to remain a Catholic.

At a very young age, I was radicalized by Catholicism. I learned it was my duty to speak out against injustice, assist the disenfranchised and to try to use my life's work to make the world a better place. I like to think of myself as a good Catholic.

I stopped participating in Catholic religious practices in the 1970s because I heartily disagreed with the Vatican's position on the rights of women, the vailidity of homosexual relationships, and birth control. I still disagree. When I returned to the church in the late 1980s, it was with the resolve that, as a Catholic it was my duty to speak-up within the Catholic community in a effort to effect change. I realized I could not change the Church as an outsider.

Today, my heart is heavy to the point of tears over an atrocity at St. Patrick's Cathedral yesterday. While filling-in for Cardinal Egan at yesterday's mass, Msgr. Eugene Clark used the pulpit to deliver a homily that blames the Church's current sex abuse problems on homosexuality.

As a Catholic I must speak up and say that I know pederasty and sexual abuse has nothing to do with homosexuality and I hope you know that, too. To blame homosexuals (an already disenfranchised segement of the population) for the scandal created by criminal neglect by Church autorities is wholly un-Christian, innacurate and sinful.


Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Rainforest Benefit 2002

I've not written a long email to a group of friends since returning from London. I had planned to write a report of our trip to Italy last September; but the crimes committed at the World Trade Center made my travelogue seem inappropriate. In a nutshell: We saw David in Firenze, shopped for shoes, handbags and gladrags in Milano, dined in Siena and loved every minute of our time in Tuscany.

Many times since moving back to Herald Square, I have thought about writing to you all about being back in New York, but everything came out seeming so trite; and my political analyses have infuriated so many of my friends that it's been difficult for me to find an agreeable way to talk about life. Even a report and/or review of attending the Tibet House Benefit was scrapped, because mentioning the Tibetan issue feels uncomfortable in these brave new times where supporting military attacks is progressive and speaking out against war is despised.

Well, last Saturday, Anne and I attended the 11th Annual Rainforest Benefit at Carnegie Hall. The Rainforest issue does not feel uncomfortable to discuss! Even us bad guys want to save the Rainforest.

I did not know beforehand that this annual benefit was the largest environmental fundraiser in history. Record-breaking. The fact that $275 gets you a seat in the Dress Circle and you need to spend ten grand to get to the orchestra explains why.

Elton John, Sting and James Taylor have done all eleven of these benefits.

Mrs. Mac is a fan of Sting and we take in at least one Sting performance each year. The last Sting show we saw was "The Road Of Kings" in Hyde Park, last Summer. It was at that show that my defenses were finally worn down and instead of insisting that Sting is (at best) dull, I have come to accept that every generation has a balladeer and Sting is a very good balladeer. That I think balladeers are uninteresting is tertiary.

I dreaded the notion of listening to Sting sing a bunch of ballads and a couple of Police songs, followed by James Taylor rehashing all that Sweet Baby crap (hate me if you will, but I still find it boring), and Elton John tearfully rendering Candle In The Wind and screeching through Bennie And The Jets. It just seemed like a serious waste of six hundred bucks!

Right through until 4:00 Saturday afternoon, I was wondering if there was some way I could get out of going. Deep down, I knew I would be unable to wiggle out of attendance, but I was fantasizing.

The event was titled "Give Me Love, Give Me Peace on Earth" and the first half of the show was a tribute to George Harrison.

The nice thing about seeing a show at Carnegie Hall is that the sound is spectacular and there really are NO bad seats. So, after we climbed to the Dress Circle (which in a less pretentious theatre would be called the First Balcony) and took our seats, I caught my breath and read the program.

Imagine my surprise when I read:

"Give Me Love, Give Me Peace on Earth"
Performances by:
James Taylor
Elton John
Anoushka Shankar
Jeff Beck
Han-na Chang
Rebekah Del Rio
Wynonna Judd
Patti Labelle
Smokey Robinson
Narada Michael Walden
Dr. Nina Simone

Wow! The orchestra was conducted by Walden on drums and included Hiram Bullock and Nile Rodgers on guitars, Nathan East on bass, Jim Horn, Andy Snitzer, Lew Soloff and Tom Malone on horns, Greg Philliganes on piano, Frank Martin on keyboards, Chris Plamaro on organ, Bashiri Johnson on percussion, and Janis Pandarvis, Cindy Meisel, Ada Dyer and Tabitha Fair as singers.

The show opened with the three boys (Sting, John, Taylor) performing "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)." The first thing I noticed was how friendly Elton John was being. Since announcing his membership in the Judy Garland Fan Club, he has gained the reputation of being a bit of a priss and a prick to work with. During this opening number, he made no noticeable attempt to be the center of attention or display any ill-temper. The three of them seemed to genuinely like one another and enjoy each other's company.

Ravi Shankar took the stage to talk about George Harrison's work for peace, harmony, and equity in the world. He told stories of teaching Harrison and working with the Beatles, and described the process of writing a new raga in Harrison's honour.

The only time I saw Shankar perform was at Boston Garden during the 1974 George Harrison tour. Shankar was remarkable and I looked forward to seeing him again. Sadly, his advanced age prevents him from performing, so his daughter Anoushka played the piece. She was as good as her father (maybe better, certainly more energetic than I remember him).

Elton John then explained that he was going to sing the song that all songwriters wish they wrote themselves. "Hmmm," I thought to myself. "He's going to sing 'Tears Of A Clown,' that's odd." He then sang "Something." I was mistaken. Still, I'm certain that it's "Tears Of A Clown" that all songwriters envy!

Sometime in the late 1980s, or so, I saw Nina Simone perform at Boston Symphony Hall. She was remarkable. I have always been a fan. Tonight, no preconceived ideas about Simone mattered and I could not be prepared for what happened next. The Boys escorted the elderly Dr. Simone to a grand piano and she sang "Here Comes The Sun." I was floored. I cried like a little girl, worse, like a little boy. She was absolutely POWERFUL. She was helped off-stage with the promise that she would be back for the second half.

Jeff Beck then joined Sting on stage and they performed an average of an average song: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Jeff Beck is an amazing guitarist, but he seemed unrehearsed, or the mixing was bad. Sting sang as Sting sings and I am not any more impressed by the song this night than I had been (or not been) in the past.

Taylor then joined Sting onstage and explained how happy he was when he learned that Harrison had written "If I Needed Someone," because it meant he could sing it tonight. They pulled up a couple of barstools and acoustic guitars, started to perform and I found the bar thank you. Here was the performance I feared. Can you spell dull?

The bar was full and their rendition of the song was long. The crowd settled, and speeches began.

Finally, cellist Han-Na Chang performed a piece that was unfamiliar to me. She was remarkable and the music was beautiful!

Rebekah Del Rio then sang a Spanish version Roy Orbison's "Crying" ("Llorando"). It was beautiful. Not sure of the Harrison connection here. Were they in the Traveling Wilburys together? Maybe that's the connection.

The first half wrapped up with Sting and Taylor singing a very subdued "My Sweet Lord." They were joined by Wynonna Judd, Anoushka Shankar, Rebekah Del Rio, the New York Children's Choir and a throng of representatives of indigenous people who receive assistance from the foundation. The song started rocking. Nice.

Having visited the bar, I knew to make a quick break from our seat to get in line for the intermission. We were second in line and had drinks and candy in no time. After making some calls to tell people about the line-up, we took our seats for Part 2.

Sly & The Family Stone's "Dance to the Music" by Patti Labelle, The Boys, Lulu and Rebekah Del Rio opened the second half.

Elton John and Lulu then sang "River Deep, Mountain High" with Elton singing the 'girl part' splendidly.

John left the stage and Lulu sang "To Sir, With Love"! Yep! She sang it. Right there on the stage in front of me was Lulu, looking fantastic, singing one of the best songs of all time! I really couldn't believe it. Still can't really. I saw Lulu sing "To Sir With Love." Live. In person. At Carnegie Hall. Wow! Cool!

Sting returned to the stage alone and sang "King of the Road," Roger Miller's sixties hit! I was impressed. Unlike some of the other songs, he had rehearsed this enough to carry it off admirable. What fun! It was a sing-along at this point. Who could shut-up? Prior to "King Of The Road," I had settled for moving my lips to these songs of my childhood, but during this song, you could hear voices throughout the hall singing along.

At some point (maybe at this point), Elton John announced that this was the part of the show where everything sunk really low and he sang "Then He Kissed Me"! Irrespective of what I think of his catalogue over the last two decades, the man IS an entertainer. Tonight he was humble, self-deprecating, amusing and fun! And who taught him to dance? He can dance!

I know that James Taylor adores American R&B music. He talks about it, he has covered some famous songs. He gets genuinely excited about it. Taylor is a survivor, like so many of his peers. He has gone through the wringer and come out the other side a little worse for the wear, but alive. However, does survivorship provide carte blanche? Taylor's rendition of "On Broadway" was listenable only because of the four girls singing back-up.

Things quickly picked up when Patti LaBelle sang "Lady Marmalade." What more could I ask from Patti Labelle? Well, she could have sung "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman," but that is really pushing it, I think.

The opening notes of "Tracks of My Tears" are distinctive to me. I think it is one of THE songs of the sixties (I know you are mostly appalled that I have no Beatles songs on my list of best songs of the sixties, but ya gotta admit, Motown was much more fun to dance to). When those chords were played on a blackened stage, I got goose bumps. When the lyrics started, a baby-spot caught Smokey Robinson slowly strolling from stage right. He looked great! I think he tied Lulu for the They-Are-How-Old-?-And-They-Can-Wear-That-And-Look-So-Good Award. When Tracks ended, The Boys joined Robinson onstage dressed in sequined jackets (more O'Jays than Miracles) and sang back-up for a medley of Robinson-penned tunes. John stole the show (again without being over-bearing, mean or offensive) when he suddenly donned a string of pearls over his simple black outfit and sang the Mother part of "Shop Around"! Later, John had Robinson giggling and the crowd roaring when he took over on "My Guy"! Splendid! The medley was: "My Girl," "Oooh Baby Baby," "Shop Around," "Really Got a Hold of Me," and "My Guy." Pretty amazing!

Wynonna Judd took the stage and meekly asked how anyone could follow THAT! She did a remarkable job! I never knew she had that voice. The song she was to sing was not announced, I could not put my finger on it. It certainly sounded like a Dusty Springfield song and Judd's rendition of it made it sound like a Dusty Springfield song; but, then it sounded like a Dionne Warwick song. STOP! You're both right! Judd's version of "Anyone Who Had A Heart" was beautiful.

Next, she was joined by Sting and they performed "You've Lost That Loving Feeling." Sting got down on his knees at the appropriate point of the song and sang to Judd who looked to the audience and begged: "Someone get a picture of this, please." The photo is somewhere on Yahoo.

James Taylor then tried to sing "Working in a Coal Mine."

After a long moment, Sting told the story of Stevie Wonder writing the song "Superstition" for Jeff Beck. When Berry Gordy heard the song, he insisted it not be given to a British rock star, because it was hit material. The rest is history. This night, Sting and LaBelle sang while Jeff Beck played the song written for him thirty years ago.

Labelle left the stage and Jeff Beck roared into the opening chords of "Purple Haze." Sting did his very best trying to sing this psychedelic anthem. It would have been best as an instrumental. I don't think Sting knew the words.

Rebekah Del Rio followed with a wonderful version of "La Bamba" with The Boys and all the rest.

The stage emptied and Dr. Simone was escorted back to perform Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas" (Do Not Leave Me). Next she banged out, and I mean really banged, out an old Jazz number that I thought was "Everyday I Have The Blues," but others say was "Baby Don’t Care." Irrespective, it was grand!

Patti LaBelle walked Dr. Simone to a chair front and center and talked about how important Simone has been to American music and to her personally. The two of them began an a capella rendition of "O! Happy Day!" and were eventually joined by the orchestra and entire cast. Simone rose to her feet a couple of times to swing to the music. The audience was on their feet! It was another remarkable site!

And I guess that's it!

Reza was waiting for us on 57th Street. We were ensconced in the back seat just as the rain started. The ride home took us through Times Square which gets brighter, more high-tech, busier and cleaner by the hour, and will never cease to amaze me. If you haven't seen Times Square at night in the past few years, add it to your list! We were home and changed out of our evening clothes by 10:45!

(BTW, the Tibet House benefit was a concert at Carnegie Hall by Philip Glass, David Bowie, Ray Davies, Chocolate Genius, Kronos Quartet, Patti Smith and others, back in February. Brilliant!)

(PS: Please let me know if you want to be removed from these group mailings.)

Peace and love,