Archives for September 2011

When Prince Met James Brown

Prince_James_Brown_JacksonIn 2007, I got to see Van Halen, newly reunited with David Lee Roth, at Madison Square Garden. To say I was excited for the show would be a massive understatement. Van Halen has been one of my favorite bands since about the time I started having favorite bands, so to see their (almost) original lineup 22 years later was, to say the least, very exciting. At the show it was apparent that my enthusiasm level probably rated on the low end of the scale for the audience as a whole; I remarked that I had never been to an arena rock show where the audience was so psyched to see the band. It was palpable.

That show was great, I had zero complaints about it, but the same week I returned with my wife to Madison Square Garden to see Stevie Wonder, where the crowd was WAY more psyched than the Van Halen crowd had been. From the moment Stevie took the stage with a 10-minute monologue about his reasons for giving the one-off concert (it was a tribute to his late mother), the crowd was ecstatic — through the medley of his dozens of classic hits, through his many long, hilarious stories, and reaching a peak when he duetted with Tony Bennett on a slowed down, balladized version of his 1968 hit “For Once In My Life.”

But the moment the crowd really, truly lost its mind — I remember my wife clutching my arm and jumping up and down like a little kid — was when Stevie started “Superstition” and, before the first verse, casually said, “I heard Prince is backstage. Prince, if you want to come jam with us, come on out.” Never, before or since, have I seen a concert audience wet itself like when Prince joined Stevie Wonder on stage, borrowed a guitar, and got ready to jam on “Superstition.”

But as he began to play, I got a weird case of deja vu, suddenly remembering a video that I had recently seen on YouTube: a clip from a 1983 James Brown show where James invites Michael Jackson, then at the peak of his “Thriller” ride, up onstage. Michael in turn persuades James to invite Prince, then between “1999” and “Purple Rain,” up onstage as well. It’s amazing and very interesting that footage exists of these three singular performers on stage at one time; but what makes this video a classic is the way Prince — now rightly recognized as one of the greatest performers of all time, completely humiliates himself.

Let’s watch together, shall we? 

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I Love Project Runway And I Don’t Care Who Knows It

I have never been the least bit interested in fashion. One look in my closet, or at my person, quickly confirms this. I like jeans and t-shirts and the occasional solid-colored button down. I own one (1) suit, and I bought it in 2004. I refuse to wear anything with any kind of brand name or logo on it, I have never spent more than $60 on any piece of clothing (other than winter coats, boots, and the suit), and I have been wearing the same kind of plain black and white sneakers since high school.

Nevertheless, I have somehow become addicted to Project Runway, the reality competition wherein aspiring fashion designers engage in themed challenges, only to be mericlessly critiqued by industry luminaries and the flawlessly preserved Heidi Klum. (I may have hit on this point before, but remember when models were really pretty? I miss that.) Most any heterosexual man caught out as having seen this show would blame their wife or girlfriend for making them watch it against their will; I am the same in that I would have never watched this show if my wife hadn’t introduced me to it, but unlike the majority of those heterosexual men, I feel no shame at all — I’m grateful to my wife for turning me on to this show. I love Project Runway, and I don’t care who knows it.

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Elvis Presley’s Greatest Album Has No Music On It

It’s odd, in a way, that I am so fascinated by the career of Elvis Presley, because apart from the Sun records singles that launched his career and maybe the first album he did for RCA, I’m not a big fan of his music. Nonetheless, I’ve read a few books about him, because I am a rock-star biography junkie — I even read one about the Grateful Dead, who I consider literally the worst band ever to get famous — and I find his story enormously interesting. The rise, the fall, everything in between — the path this guy followed from weaponized sex symbol to torpid caricature is just endlessly engrossing.

I particularly recommend the oral biography “Elvis and the Memphis Mafia,” written by three of his closest confidants. His exploits in the ’60s, when he was making movies more than music, are unbelievable. He got into some truly demented stuff — Scatter the pet chimpanzee comes to mind — and that era is woefully underexplored and could make a really, really great movie just on its own. But having said that, I have always had a morbid fixation on the ’70s era, when Elvis quit making crappy movies and returned to touring with a great enthusiasm that soon devolved into total boredom and self-hatred. This boredom was largely the result of an increasing, well-documented opiate addiction, but there were definitely other factors. Much has been written on this topic. Entire books have been written on it. But if you want to know how Elvis really felt about his lot in life, circa 1974 (which is the same time he started blowing up like Violet Beauregard), the best source of insight is the man himself.
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