Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Elton John, Joan Rivers & Cher sing: THE BITCH IS BACK

I was thinking, how do I honor my friend Joan Rivers on the blog?

First off, she was not a singer.

Second, she wasn't really my friend. I just felt like she was, which is part of a star's charisma. I met her several times, interviewed her for an hour, photographed her, worked with her for a charity, and even saw her on Broadway in the "Sally Marr" show (in which she played Lenny Bruce's mother).

But as much as Joan made you feel like you were her friend, no. If you mentioned my name, it wouldn't have instantly registered with her. That's because she did so, so very much in her life and her vast and powerful circle of true friends included Barbara Walters, Howard Stern and those types.

So how to at least mention this legendary lady here? Ah...

I remembered one musical moment, and a triumphant one: Joan Rivers singing (?) with Elton John and Cher.

Joan's career had many ups and downs (to put it mildly) but let's get on the roller coaster and set the Wayback Machine for 1986.

Joan had gotten her own talk show on Fox. It had become painfully obvious that Johnny Carson and his producers had absolutely NO intention of giving her "The Tonight Show" when he retired. The two most reliable substitute hosts knew it...David Brenner and Joan Rivers.

David got his own (short-lived) talk show, and Joan followed. The difference? Brenner asked Johnny if it would be all right. Johnny said yes. Joan? She wasn't sure if she had a deal. When she did, she had to sign instantly. When she called Johnny to let him know...he'd already heard about it and hung up on her in a paranoid rage. He was often cynical and suspicious, and had previously disposed of producers, directors and even wives...so instantly adding Joan to his backstabber list was no surprise.

Even so, Joan was heartbroken that she'd offended Johnny. She was preparing for a new TV show, and was under intense pressure, and much of it came from the negative publicity surrounding her "betrayal" of the great Carson. She kept apologizing in the press...hoping to reconcile with Carson...but when it obviously wasn't going to happen, she got pissed off and concentrated on creating the best debut show possible.

The night of the big "confrontation" (Joan Rivers' hour at 11pm vs Johnny's hour starting at 11:30pm) there was a big question: who'd dare take Joan's side in a "talk show war." Who'd risk NEVER being invited to EVER be on "The Tonight Show" again?

The answer, on the premiere show, was Elton John and Cher. The joyous highlight was when Elton belted out the bluntly obvious "Bitch is Back," with Joan sitting nearby. Despite having a less than melodious voice, she couldn't help but join in...and out came Cher, to add her own voice to the mix. It was a great, if short-lived triumph for Joan Rivers.

If you've ever wondered if Joan Rivers could sing…the answer here is an emphatic NO. Her voice in 1986 was already in permanent rasp. It was this rasp that ultimately did her in, when she arrived at the Yorkville Endoscopy clinic a few weeks ago for a vocal cord check-up. She suffered a heart attack that had her on life-support for a week, and the plug was pulled. Joan hadn't thought the procedure would have a freakish ending...her daughter was in California, and a stand-up gig was scheduled for the following night.

Back to 1986. Joan had delivered a message to Johnny: "I can BITCH I can BITCH…BETTER THAN YOU!" And yes, he got that message. Joan, as a guest host, had put up numbers equal to Carson. He had every reason to be concerned that a chatty, bitchy talk-show could be a serious rival.

Having three gay icons (not that there's anything wrong with that…) helped make Joan's debut a solid success in the ratings. Johnny of course masterfully countered, all that first week, with the biggest and most loyal stars he could find. There was even the rather incredible "visual joke" when superstar Michael Landon turned up. Landon said he wanted to show a scene from a new nature movie he was making. The clip rolled: there were scenes of placid forestry, and then someone in a canoe on a rolling stream…with the super-imposed words: "Up Rivers."

Joan's show disappeared after seven months. Ratings weren't bad, but amid the chaos, Fox executives kept dictating frantic orders. They blamed Joan's producer-husband Edgar, and Edgar tried to find a direction amid all the conflicting orders he was getting. They told Joan that he was incompetent and inexperienced and had to go. She said, "If he goes, I go." It was a bluff...but Fox let her go.

Edgar took the blame, sank into a depressed state, and the marriage suffered. He eventually killed himself. Joan managed to find her way back from all of it, including a business manager who ran her into near bankruptcy. She bounced back with renewed stand-up concerts, with books, and with a mail order jewelry line geared to her new audience, which was mostly housewives. Rather than be a cult item like Lenny Bruce or Woody Allen, Joan went for the higher profile...the celeb jokes, the "red carpet" gags, the solid one-liners aimed at catty-chatty housewives and gays. Yet, there was still enough going on that veteran Joan fans who appreciated iconoclastic, truthful comedy could watch and be amused...and that's why she was always welcome on Howard Stern's radio show...and eventually worked her way back to being a guest on Letterman and on Fallon's version of "The Tonight Show."

Groucho used to say, "I tell the truth and people break up." Joan did the same thing, whether it was "Mick Jagger has child-bearing lips!" or "Liz Taylor has more chins than a Chinese phone book." If anything, despite the "Fashion Police" tv show (which she said was more of a loss leader...the real money being in her jewelry business, which needed her star power for sales), Joan remained controversial to the end. In fact in her last year, she was in the tabloids for daring to joke about a wide variety of hot-button topics. When she died, various pro-Palestinians took to the "comments" section of crap newspaper websites to bellow about "karma."

I'll tell you this: "karma" is dying rich and wealthy at 81, after a hugely successful documentary, a brilliantly successful cable stand-up special, and two best-selling books (added to ten previous ones). She was hot as ever, which made her sudden death front page news. She went out without feeling a thing. That's karma? What's the "karma" of some 4 year-old kid in Gaza who got killed because his stupid parents sided with Hamas terrorists and allowed him to be in the same building as the cowardly leaders who thought they'd be safe if they hid among ordinary citizens? Karma? "Oh grow up..." PS, Joan was also attacked by the ADL, the Jewish "Anti-Defamation League," because she did some tasteless Holocaust jokes, too. Joan was "an equal opportunity offender." PS, although she never ever apologized for jokes, or for a failed ad-lib (which was what the Palestinian quote was), she did make sure to let people know that the deaths of innocent people aren't funny...no matter what religion or race they are.

There were other female stand-ups before Joan Rivers. Moms Mabley, Phyllis Diller and Jean Carroll were all talented ladies...but Joan is the real pioneer. From being a female Woody Allen with witty self-deprecation and oddball one-liners, to turning into a female Lenny Bruce/Don Rickles, to ultimately being 100% unique Joan Rivers...she had a passion, drive and dedication to her art that was an inspiration for every female comic who followed, and probably some men, too. Because at the core of what Joan Rivers was about, was the truth. That's what makes the great comics great. They are bold enough to tell truths and get those shock laughs of recognition. Joan was hot-wired to write jokes, buy jokes, memorize jokes, and work harder at 81 than she did at 31...endless interviews, concerts, jewelry promotions, "red carpet" events and those "cameras all over the place" reality shows that documented her unique personality. No, unlike Rickles, Joan was rarely given the benefit of "it's only an act." People believed she meant every insult and was a meanie. But anyone who ever worked with her would tell you, she was a lady. She was polite, concerned, and very easy to work with. Unlike Rickles, Rivers never ended a show with a sappy "just kidding" benediction. "Oh grow up" was more her style. She was a realist! She was a gem. She was one of a kind. I didn't watch her reality shows, frankly, or pay attention to the "who are you wearing" red carpet shit, but I sure watched her whenever she was on a talk show, and enjoyed her books, too. To suddenly realize there would be no more...was a deep, sad shock.

Joan's funeral was on a beautiful day, perfect sky, pleasant temperature. The "karma" clowns had to be disappointed that it wasn't rainy. It was just about the best weather possible to make you feel alive. The event was star-studded and loaded with both laughter and tears. She could've had a few more prime years, but at 81, she even joked on stage that she could keel over at any time. The heart attack may have been inevitable. She died at peace. Let's wish peace for the world...and not toss around stupid shit about "karma," and about differences among idiots who live in a corrupt sandbox in the Middle East with the sun toasting their brains.

At 81, Joan Rivers was as current as any comedian, as funny as any comedian, and more compelling than most talk show hosts and reality show personalities. She was vibrant. Sarah Silverman said her heart was "torn in half," because Joan wasn't done. But what Joan Rivers did for over 50 years...she done good. She was amazing. But even a force of nature must go silent sometime. Not here, though. Here, you can enjoy Elton John singing "The Bitch is Batch," and you surely will recognize when Joan Rivers adds her voice to the mix...and when Cher arrives to make it one weird threesome.

Howard Stern gave the eulogy on Sunday. He did a great job, and opened with one of Joan's favorite "vagina jokes." But today he said something that I felt, too: "I'm really, really, really rocked by her death. It was a very upsetting time when I'd heard that she died."

Elton John, Joan Rivers and Cher The Bitch is Back


I've always liked Gene Simmons. He's a piece of work. Like Joan Rivers or Howard Stern, in a way, he's made being opinionated amusing. Not funny, but at least amusing. OK, also annoying, but what do you expect, he's a rock star, not a comedian or a talk show host.

While I never paid much attention to his "reality show," or the music of KISS, I did sit down and talk with him for about an hour once, and I still remember it fondly. Much of the time we just talked about our mutual love of old horror movies. I also did see KISS in concert, in their prime (with the original members) and even if I wasn't a big fan of the music, the show was definitely spectacular. Yeah, even the blood spitting. And Gene did the tongue bit wayyyyy before Viley Virus.


Recently, in Esquire Magazine of all places, Gene proclaimed rock as DEAD. And it is. In a way, it's just as dead as classical music or country music or rap. It's just worn out. It's hard to come up with anything new. It's a genre that has seen its better days. When was the last great innovation in rock? New Wave? That was a long time ago.

One of the main reasons Gene considers rock dead...is that you can't make a living from it. And THAT is something nobody thought back in the New Wave days, or any time before the Internet and Google. And piracy.

I've written about this way too often to even bother now, and it's taken a long time for the average idiot to understand it...but like climate change, no reasonable person can possibly deny the destructive power of piracy. When this blog started, there were plenty of assholes with silly names, most of them referencing demons and death, who didn't think they were demons, or that they were causing the death of rock and roll by throwing every album onto blogs and into forums.

While this blog restricted the "freebies" to out of print stuff that wasn't coming back, or one or two tracks that could help and artist reegain the spotlight, others were convinced...because they were ignorant...that piracy, to the extent of a daily upload of entire discographies or the latest albums, was GOOD. After all, they were getting "nice" comments for it and could now consider themselves "stars" equal to disc jockeys, rock writers, and even the rock stars they were stealing from.

The pirates had no knowledge of the music business...because they never were IN the rock world as a journalist or a performer. All they knew is they were getting attention. So they figured yes, get the music free, and...uh, er, um, you "support" your artist by, er...uh...maybe buying a T-SHIRT! Oooh, that's the new paradigm! "If you like the music, buy it." It's an option. Like, go into the restaurant, order a meal, eat it, and "if you liked it, pay the check. Your option." You could tell the world you were a "seniormole" and you subscribed to "Spotify." So everything is all right! "Isn't it pretty to think so..."

Gene? Oh, GENE...here's a segment from the interview...

Yeah, wicked, wicked Gene Simmons. Like Prince, and Metallica and some others...he's had the NERVE to complain about the Assange Demon Blogfather Douchebag Zinfucks out there. Unfortunately, despite winning a lot of battles, and neutralizing a lot of dickheads, the copyright owners have lost the war. The record stores are gone. The idea of buying music is now absurd. People also have way too many other options, like "fapping" to pix of Viley Virus "twerking." There's Netflix streaming, and video "gaming" and social media. And, frankly, not that much new music of any type that is as compelling as what we already have on our shelves or hard drives.

For new bands and singer/songwriters it's "pay to play" out there. Few are learning how to really perform. Few are even learning how to play or sing, relying on electronic tricks and computer programs. Fewer can write a coherent lyric. There's no guidance from managers or record labels, and just a vast wasteland of eMusic sites and streaming radio sites and YouTube fails...where most artists get lost, and deserve to get lost.

Gene was right about piracy, and partially right about rock. Rock isn't dead, it's just in some zombie state. It's in a nursing home. Sometimes a new performer or group emerges from the narcoleptic haze and for a while, people say "Hey, how about that K.T. Tunstall...how about Keane..." before saying, "that last album...not so good." And none of the albums were bought.

But in the literal sense, rock isn't dead. After all, some version of Kiss is still going out on stage, and once in a while there's a new album, just because create people can't stop themselves even if they're barely breaking even.

Let's just say...Rock is ill, folks!

And below? No piracy of KISS here. Piracy is not purely evil or always wrong. A lot of times piracy is a convenient way to get something out there when it's buried in contract disputes or coated in apathy. Sometimes giving away music CAN and DOES encourage someone to buy an album or go see a newly discovered star. It just doesn't happen very often. Below...the obscure Barry Mann tune "Too Many Mondays" as performed by Gene in his first band, "Wicked Lester."

It would be so easy to say this song is NOT an example of lively, thriving rock...or the sign of a record label or manager putting a lot of thought into a band's direction. So let's just say it's only rock and roll. And you might like it.

Wicked Lester Too Many Mondays


She was known as EunB (sorta the way "Scary Spice" Melanie B is known as MelB). Whether Ladies' Code could be considered yet another K-Pop variation on the Spice Girls I'll leave to musical scholars.

EunB, aka Eun-Bi Go, was killed in a car accident on a slippery road on September 3rd. A few others in the band were also in the vehicle, but have survived. As did the driver who did his best to navigate under poor conditions and a sudden blow-out of a rear tire.

Just 21 years old, and looking more like 18, Eun-Bi Go was darn cute, which is a trait of so many K-pop girls. And here in the Land of the Ill, it's still difficult to forget the passing of another great "Eun." That's the Eun and only actress and singer, Eun-Ju Lee.

The song below is probably their biggest hit, "So Wonderful." Aside from being annoyingly catchy after a minute or two of its repetition, the visuals chosen for it are pretty stunning. On YouTube, the official video has a mild, weird "story line" about a guy taking his lifelike sex doll out of its package and setting it up for romance.

I can almost hear the ghost of Pat Morita protesting, "Sex dolls? That's Japanese. South Koreans don't do that schtick!" But it seems like they do.

Your version is the live one...with some appropriate squeals of joy from both sexes in the audience.

In concert, Ladies' Code minced around the stage, struck Lolita poses, lightly touched their lady areas as they synchronized their strutting, and in general did their best to make their female fans believe in GIRL POWER. The male fans? Oh, these girls could break hearts and arouse groins.

EunB was adorable in the girly-girl outfits she wore, and was quite fetching in a variety of wigs and hair colors. It's always a sobering reality when such a mindless accident happens. She was bubbling with life and energy…and the bubble literally burst. What can one even say about the whim of fate that took her?

Despite this tragedy, the innocent sweetness of Ladies' Code shines through in the existing concert videos, and in the music itself. It will take time, but just as sometimes we can watch The Rolling Stones on the Sullivan show, and not dwell on Brian Jones being dead...we'll be able to watch EunB with her group, and think of her as forever young.

EUN-BI GO and her group.... So Wonderful

Jenny Darren - New York someday...and "California Dreaming"

When someone makes an album as good as "Queen of Fools," you want more...and you keep an ear cocked for any word on the great artist who made it.

In the grit-obscured light of smokey clubs where the bluesy-ladies rasp, sigh and cry, you look for another Elkie Brooks, Genya Ravan or Jenny Darren. You don't usually find one that comes close. What you really want is the original. Unfortunately, though the originals survive, in all three cases, they're doing small or very local gigs, or some charity event nowhere where you are. And given the difficulty of making money off music...they aren't prone to release many albums, even a "download" only.

Darren has spent a lot of her time doing other things, including teaching. I don't know that even when she does a show, she's going to surprise the crowd by belting out the old knockout numbers like "Lay Me Like a Lady" or "Use What You Got" or "Heartbreaker."

Jenny fans are waiting for that album with "Song for New York" on it. It's been promised for quite a while now. Meanwhile...below is "California Dreaming," a live version she did in some small club not long ago. It's that venerable, immortally peculiar call-and-response number made famous by The Mamas and the pervy Papas.

It somehow blends religious confusion ("I pretend to pray") an eerie sense of mortality and season change, and the stupid idea that California is the place to be (no, and it's not Seattle or Portland, either). I have no idea what "Song for New York" sounds like. If Jenny's been in New York over the summer, she's noted that climate change produced a cooler than usual summer, including a premature change of some leaves turning brown. And the sky, gray.

Fall is approaching, and the inevitable discontent of a winter's day. Console yourself that it wouldn't really be better if you were in L.A.

Hopefully "Song for New York" (single or album) will be available one day via Jenny's self-named dot.com. Check there for news on her music and her latest gigs. Jenny Darren California Dreaming

Chi Coltrane's great…Yesterday Today and Forever

Yesterday she was hot, then she cooled down, then she spent about 20 years in a kind of Snow White-sleep, and then she returned to the road to tomorrow. She is forever.

She's Chi Coltrane.

In the 70's there was nothing like the sweet soul shouting of Chi Coltrane when she pounded the keyboard and howled about "Thunder and Lightning." I tell you…it wasn't frightening. Not when she looked so hot. After her Columbia run ended, she was sort of forgotten. Her excellent "Road to Tomorrow" album didn't bring back "Yesterday" or make her one of the today stars, but she made a few more albums. There was some great stuff on "Silk and Steel" and the other Europe-only releases…and then she fell victim to a weird ailment that just sapped her energy. (There's a lot of it about).

"I had a disorder that is quite common among rock stars, because we do so many television interviews and then go right to the concert hall, and we don't get much sleep...it's not good quality sleep...and we have what they used to call "burn out." I know Cher had the same thing, too, and Randy Newman had it. But a lot of women get it, even more than men. Even every-day women get it; it's a lack of a certain hormone. Conventional doctors right away want to put you on thyroid medicine. A went to this doctor and she told me what it was. She said "Take this supplement for a year..." and now I'm fantastic. I don't feel like 20 years went by because I was sleeping most of the time. I feel great." With the right diet and holistics and attitude, she's re-emerged and over the past five years has put out a new album, a DVD concert, and performed some very successful (100,000 viewers) shows in Europe.

Her show isn't just the old stuff. One of the daring newer tracks is "Yesterday Today and Forever," which you'll hear below via a 2009 live TV broadcast overseas. It's just her and her piano in a studio, and that's enough. She ain't afraid of the high notes. In concert she does have a full band. She likes to joke with reporters. Explaining her 20 years out of the spotlight, she says: "I was waiting for my musicians to get out of prison. We needed money for a new album so they robbed a bank."

Chi Coltrane Yesterday…Today…and Forever