Open Mic

June 2011

How Clarence Clemons Helped Bruce Springsteen Make Rock 'n' Roll History

Chuck Ross Posted June 22, 2011 at 4:04 AM

The music my parents loved was big bands, jazz standards and Sinatra. As I tried to find my own identity I fell in love with other kinds of music, starting with blues shouters such as Big Joe Turner and Wynonie Harris.

At the same time, like most baby boomers, I liked rock ‘n' roll. What quickly struck me was a connection between the blues shouters I liked and the rock ‘n' roll of Little Richard and the other early rockers: the blasting wild riffs of those who played the tenor sax.

Many music historians credit 19-year-old Illinois Jacquet’s tenor sax solo on Lionel Hampton’s 1942 hit “Flying Home” as a milestone recording that first brought a lot of attention to how the tenor saxophone could rock like no other instrument.

And what I learned from so many of the recordings of the blues shouters is just how soulful the tenor sax was, that it could express the most joyful highs of life as well as the most sorrowful, tortured lows.

If you want to hear some great music, just click and check out some of these blues and early rock ‘n roll tracks featuring the likes of tenor sax players Hal Singer (who played on a lot of Wynonie Harris hits), Red Prysock, Joe Houston, Big Jay McNeely and Sam “The Man” Taylor.

For the most part, by the mid-fifties, the popularity and prevalence of the tenor sax in rock 'n' roll was diminishing.

Flash forward to this week 36 years ago, back in 1975. A photo shoot for the album cover of a record a rock ‘n' roll wannabe hoped would be his breakout. He was 25 years old, and already a cult sensation, but not a hugely popular one.

He had poured his heart and soul into this album, writing eight songs, each lasting in length from three minutes to nine and a half minutes. Unlike his previous albums, almost all the songs were much more accessible, both lyrically and musically. On the music side it was clear that he was influenced by Phil Spector’s wall of sound.

Another breakthrough of the album was the return of the tenor sax. Not only was it featured, front and center, on a number of the songs, but this tenor sax man was also a featured player in the band--and on the album cover.

The LP was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” with the great cover shot of Springsteen leaning on Clarence Clemons, who died much too young earlier this week at age 69, after suffering a stroke.

The album is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll records ever--back in 2003 Rolling Stone magazine listed it as the 18th best album in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

The contribution of Clemons to the success of that album alone, and to the success Springsteen has enjoyed over the years as a live performer, cannot be overstated. In another context I recall some time ago someone on the Web writing that without the tenor sax rock can roll, but can’t really rock.

I wholeheartedly agree, and Clemons’ playing on the “Born to Run” album is phenomenal. Check out this must-see version of “Jungleland” from a live performance in Jersey in 1978.

In his tribute to Clemons earlier this week, Jon Pareles, The New York Times’ estimable pop music critic, wrote, “[I]n a band that constantly proved itself on the road, from Asbury Park club gigs to its decades of headlining arenas, Mr. Clemons’ presence was always as significant as his sound. He was, in his resonantly matter-of-fact nickname, the Big Man, 6 feet 4 inches and built like the football player he might have been but for knee troubles. He was by far the E Street Band’s flashiest dresser, in eye-popping suits and broad-brimmed hats; Mr. Springsteen gleefully let himself be upstaged by a sideman he’d never place in the background. They were by all accounts dear friends, even soulmates; Mr. Clemons often described their relationship as nothing less than love (but of a nonsexual kind). Onstage, with thousands of spectators, Mr. Springsteen would bow at his feet or hold him in a close hug, presenting him as a muse, not an employee.”

Then there was that picture on the cover of “Born to Run,” Springsteen leaning on Clemons.

On the Springsteen fansite Backstreets.com this week, I found this interview with Erik Meola, who took the famous cover photo. This interview first appeared in the Syracuse Post-Standard:

“Meola said the photo mattered on several levels. In a basic way, it captured the love and fraternity between two musicians at the core of a seismic moment in rock and roll. Yet it also made a more profound statement, Meola said. He knows it was no accident that Springsteen chose Clemons, of all the members of the band, to be his companion on the cover of what they sensed would be an album of groundbreaking importance.

“ ‘Clarence was black and Bruce was white, and when they started playing together it was at a moment when that just didn’t happen that much,’ Meola said. ‘Some of it is subliminal; the album was all black and white, and the cover was black and white, and they were dressed in black and white. Many people loved the way they played off each other onstage, and I think Clarence opened up a whole other way, a little like Jackie Robinson was with baseball: It just cleared the air out. And I don’t think that’s emphasized enough.

“ ‘The way I look at it, what’s monumental to me, is the camaraderie and friendship. I was lucky to get that photograph, I’m just glad I was there and I’d give anything for Clarence still to be alive.’ ”

Wouldn’t we all.

As Springsteen himself said upon hearing of Clemons’ death, “He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.” #

clarence clemons bruce springsteen.jpg

CBS's Nina Tassler, Film Star Annette Bening Among Honorees at Women in Film Gala

Hillary Atkin Posted June 20, 2011 at 7:12 AM

It was a momentous night for CBS as several of its luminaries took center stage Thursday, June 16, at the Women in Film 2011 Crystal + Lucy Awards in Beverly Hills.

Hosted by Melissa McCarthy of the network’s hit show "Mike & Molly," the gala event honored CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler with the prestigious Lucy Award and "How I Met Your Mother" director Pamela Fryman with the Dorothy Arzner Directors Award.

They shared the spotlight with three other honorees: Annette Bening was presented with the Crystal Award, Katie Holmes received the MaxMara Face of the Future Award and Reed Morano took home the Kodak Vision Award.

The memories of trailblazing women in the entertainment industry were never far from hand as the entire evening was dedicated to producer Laura Ziskin. Ziskin created the television fundraiser "Stand Up to Cancer" in response to her own diagnosis, produced the Academy Awards telecasts in 2002 and 2007 and was producing the latest “Spider-Man” film, her fourth, when she died of breast cancer June 12.

The legendary Elizabeth Taylor was bestowed posthumously with Women in Film's Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award, which was accepted by her granddaughter Naomi Wilding. "She was an inspiration in using her celebrity to champion a cause," Wilding said in lauding Taylor for her groundbreaking work in raising awareness and funds for AIDS research.

The Lucy Award for Excellence in Television was first handed out in 1994--joining its sister, the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film, which was instituted in 1977. It is named after Lucille Ball and is presented in conjunction with her estate to those whose creative works follow in the footsteps of Ball’s extraordinary accomplishments, particularly in enhancing the perception of women through the medium of television.

Tassler was named president of CBS Entertainment in September 2004, and has been on a roll ever since. Reporting to president and CEO Les Moonves, she never fails to give him credit for the Eye’s success, and her acceptance speech was no exception.

"I stand here as a representative of the gifted women I'm thrilled to work with every day," said Tassler. "We've shared it all, from births to bar mitzvahs." She talked about her upbringing, marching with her parents against the Vietnam War, and taking to heart their admonition to make a difference. Tassler, who oversees the network’s entertainment program for prime time, late-night and daytime as well as program development for all genres, concluded by urging women to continue to tell stories and reach for the stars.

Under Tassler’s leadership, CBS was the top-rated broadcast network in the 2009-2010 season, the seventh time in the last eight seasons that it was the most-watched network. She was responsible for introducing its comedies "How I Met Your Mother" and "The Big Bang Theory" and expanding the network’s top-ranked Monday comedy lineup with a second night of laughers on Thursday.

She also added successful new dramas to the CBS lineup, including "Criminal Minds," "The Mentalist" and last season's top two new series, "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "The Good Wife," along with the reality series "Undercover Boss," which became last season's No. 1 new program. Tassler joined CBS in 1997 as vice president of drama for CBS Productions before serving as SVP of drama development at CBS Entertainment from 1998-2003.

As the director and executive producer of "How I Met Your Mother," Pamela Fryman has guided the multi-camera show for six seasons. Cast member and recent Tony Awards host Neil Patrick Harris presented her with the directors award, introducing her as the "greatest person ever" and relating her generosity to the cast and crew.

The Dorothy Arzner Directors Award she accepted was named for the first female member of the DGA. In her speech, Fryman recalled starting out as a production assistant getting sandwiches for actor John Davidson and thinking that things didn't get much better than that.

The evening started off with McCarthy serenading Annette Bening and doing a funny spiel thanking Tassler for hiring her in a rap that also gave shout-outs to Holmes, Fryman and Morano.

Holmes’ career started off in television before she moved into motion pictures, and then she became even better known as the wife of Tom Cruise. She's making her mark again in TV, including a recent role as Jacqueline Kennedy in the miniseries "The Kennedys." She’ll next be seen in the thriller "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," opposite Guy Pearce, and the film comedy "Jack and Jill" with Adam Sandler and Al Pacino.

In accepting the Face of the Future Award from the Italian design house MaxMara, which dressed many of the women for the show, Holmes thanked a team whose commitment to work and family has inspired her, including her husband.

Cinematographer Reed Morano has been shooting documentaries, features, television series, commercials and music videos for the past 14 years, including the acclaimed film "Frozen River," which was nominated for two Academy Awards and seven Independent Spirit Awards. She is currently in preproduction on several features shooting this year.

In her acceptance speech, she cited several past winners of the Kodak Vision Award as inspirations to her, which include Joan Churchill, Mandy Walker, Petra Korner and Cynthia Pusheck.

The incomparable Annette Bening, who last wowed filmgoers and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with her role as Nic in “The Kids Are All Right,” was the evening’s final honoree, taking the stage to a standing ovation after an introduction from Martin Sheen, who joked that it was difficult not being the president anymore.

"I feel like I'm entering a new phase and finding real internal freedom reflected in my work now," Bening said, referring to a stellar career that includes "Bugsy," "An American President,” "American Beauty" and “Being Julia,” for which she also won a Golden Globe Award. Many people may not realize that one of her first acting jobs was a bit part in the 1980s hit series "Miami Vice."

It being a Women in Film event, Bening said it was only appropriate that she thank her main man in film, husband Warren Beatty, who beamed his approval from the audience.

Oh Oprah: What Do We Do When People We Like Say Crazy, Kooky Things? Such as Your Remarks About O.J. Simpson

Chuck Ross Posted June 16, 2011 at 11:41 PM

It’s rare that, as a reporter, I cringe when a top executive or major talent says something at a public event I’m covering.

But that’s what happened yesterday (Thursday, June 16, 2011) when I was covering Oprah Winfrey being interviewed by Paula Zahn at the NCTA Cable Show in Chicago.

In case you missed it, Oprah said, “I have a dream of O.J. Simpson confessing to me. And I will make that happen. I want the interview on the condition that you are ready, Mr. Simpson.”

Zahn then commented to Oprah that she sets some lofty goals for herself. To which Oprah replied, “You know, I don’t even think that that’s that lofty. Here’s why I don’t think that’s that lofty. The other day I was cleaning out drawers, preparing for the move West, and I ran across a little baby picture of myself. And I hadn’t seen that picture of myself in a long time. Because as you know, I grew up as a poor Negro child, so we only had six photographs. (laughter in the audience)

“Now, I have at my house a make-up room where, when I first started in the business I started doing covers for magazines—I actually stopped doing that in 1995. I’ve walked through there a thousand times and have not paid any attention to those covers on the walls. I happened to be walking [through there] right after I had seen that baby picture—literally—and I had a moment. And the moment was ‘how did that happen? I’m sitting on a wooden porch in a shotgun house in Mississippi, and how did that happen that that baby girl ends up in this life?’ So I think the fact that that baby girl, from a shotgun house in Mississippi, can end up with the OWN network, makes O.J. Simpson possible.”

The crowd at the cable show then broke into thunderous applause.

I thought to myself, well, there’s the lead for the news story I need to write about this Oprah interview.

I also thought to myself, “Oh, Oprah. You clearly believe this, and who among us would bet against you with your track record, but are you next going to be advising Harold Camping on when the world will end?”

I guess Oprah imagines the buildup to the moment when she gets O.J. to tearfully admit that he brutally killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, and then ask for forgiveness. Oprah will tear up, as will her live audience and millions watching at home. Those murders, by the way, happened 17 years ago this past Sunday, June 12.

For Oprah to think that Simpson would confess to her is screwy. Kooky. I just don’t think Simpson would actually confess. Yes, he participated in the “If I Did It” book in which he (and a ghost writer) told how, hypothetically, he would have done the double murders, but I just don’t see him confessing to actually doing them at this point in his life. Sorry, Oprah, it ain’t gonna happen.

The fact that she’d even share with us her fantasy that this might actually occur reminds me of something the late writer Jerzy Kosinski once said.

He claimed that he and his wife were supposed to be at the house of actress Sharon Tate the night the pregnant Tate and three friends were viciously stabbed to death by the Charles Manson gang. Kosinski and his wife had either missed the plane or the plane had been canceled or delayed, I don’t recall. In any event, they were not there that night. But the interesting point about this story is what Kosinski thought would have happened if he had been there that night. He said he thought he would have been able to talk the killers out of killing everyone.

Another instance of just plain kooky thinking.

Oprah, you’re an incredibly talented, hard-working person. That talent and hard work, primarily, is what allowed that little baby girl to become the great success she has become. And I’m sure you had a few breaks and some luck along the way. And, I know that you believe God is looking out for you as well.

But none of that is going to get O.J. Simpson to confess to you. It’s not only a “lofty” goal, it’s not a rational one.

It defies reason and logic.

Why, it would be as if a congressman, in this day and age, would send unsolicited tweets to women containing pictures of his manhood—in various stages of dress and undress—then lie about sending them, then confessing that he did send them, but insisting he wouldn’t resign, only to end up resigning soon thereafter.

Patently absurd.#

A Modest Proposal for Today's Not So Modest Politicans: Have Them Sign the 'Bad Form' Form

Chuck Ross Posted June 8, 2011 at 6:58 AM

Enough is enough. We’re done. Really. We are over our public officials—invariably men—behaving badly. And then, to compound the error of their ways, they don’t go quietly into the night like most of us want them to go.

Put simply, it’s just bad form.

So, clearly, what we need is for all of our male elected officials, regardless of whether they hold community, city, state or national office, to sign a “bad form” form upon taking their post.

Here’s what the standard “bad form” form would say:

This is to acknowledge that Men are indeed from Mars. And if I should fall off the map of the universe and indicate that I’m actually from Pluto, I shall hereby resign.

As a married public official, I hereby freely admit, under no coercion whatsoever, that I will most likely engage in some behavior during my term of office that many of my constituents, as well as the general public, will find off-putting, if not disgusting or reprehensible.

This behavior will be of a sexual nature. It will consist, at the least, of inappropriate conversations, sexting and pictures that will be lewd and salacious. It may go further, and include a child—or two—born out of wedlock.

The fact that I will engage in this behavior is none of anyone’s concern. And, in fact, while I am engaging in this behavior I will be publicly decrying anyone else engaging in this behavior.

However, if I get caught, I will resign my office immediately. My first instinct, of course, will be to hold a press conference and deny everything, at the same time attacking the media. I may still do that, but if TMZ posts any evidence that I have indeed exhibited any behavior whatsoever that may be thought of as “bad form,” as defined by this “bad form” form, I must resign.

By signing this form I hereby agree not to challenge in court any aspect of this form, but I do have the right to appeal to a mediation committee consisting of Roseanne Barr, Rosie O’Donnell and any relative, living or dead, of Eve Arden. If a majority of this committee—hereby known as Those Who Crack Wise—finds that I have indeed met the criteria of the “bad form” form, I will resign my office immediately. They shall decide my fate by voting whether the evidence indicates that I’m a pig or not.

All right. That should do it.

Of course I’ve come up with this plan a little too late for it to apply to Rep. Anthony Weiner, but I figure he’ll be toast sooner than later. His Tiger blood has practically all leaked out and his suits no longer seem to have that polished Sheen they once had…#

Pushing the Envelope at the MTV Movie Awards

Hillary Atkin Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:37 AM

It’s an awards show that always tries to push the envelope, whether it’s having Sacha Baron Cohen fly across the audience and swoop down, bare bottomed, on Eminem or an unexpected girl-on-girl kiss, like the one between Sandra Bullock and Scarlett Johansson last year on the MTV Movie Awards telecast.
This year's edition tore the envelope wide open early on, when Justin Timberlake grabbed Mila Kunis’ breasts and she in turn groped his crotch and held on as they presented the award for Best Male Performance. "It was a shameless reference to my penis," Timberlake said as Robert Pattinson rose to accept the award.
As host Jason Sudeikis predicted in his opening monologue, MTV did in fact stand for "More Twilight Victories."
Pattinson spent nearly as much time on stage as he did in his seat, co-presenting the Generation Award to Reese Witherspoon as her co-star in "Water for Elephants," introducing a preview of the next “Twilight” movie, "Breaking Dawn," and with last year's installment of the vampire saga, “Eclipse,” taking the popcorn trophies for Best Movie, Best Fight and Best Kiss--between him and co-star Kristen Stewart, who took home the Best Female Performance prize.
As the audience screamed for the couple to kiss again, Pattinson pulled a crowd-pleasing surprise--running into the audience and showing his support for Team Jacob as he smooched competitor and fellow heartthrob Taylor Lautner.
Credit Adrien Brody passionately lip-smashing Halle Berry on the Academy Awards eight years ago for starting the kudocast smooching trend, which, although it has become entirely predictable--whether opposite sex or same sex-- shows no signs of abating.
Produced by reality king Mark Burnett, the telecast had a few low points--the "Fast Five" sketch warning against texting while illegal street racing fell flat, as did the lack of a mention of the writer of the Best Movie Line "I want to get chocolate-wasted" from “Grown Ups”--but there were lots of highlights, many of them raunchy, including:
--The show open, which featured Sudeikis hunting for Lautner after Justin Bartha convinced them to go for drinks the night before the awards, and making its way through a spoof of "The Hangover," with clips from "Black Swan," "127 Hours," "The Social Network" and, of course, "Twilight" integrated along the way.
--Jim Carrey appearing in a chroma key green suit with images of two dogs fornicating to introduce the Foo Fighters, who gave a bang-up performance of "Walk," featured in the film “Thor.”
--Justin Bieber showing up to claim the trophy for best jaw-dropping moment from his concert film “Never Say Never.”
--Pattinson telling co-star Bryce Dallas Howard about their fight, "I ripped your head off, and now you're pregnant."
--Reese Witherspoon saying she was trying to make it cool again to be a good girl and that you don’t have to have a reality show or a sex tape to make it in Hollywood.
--Pattinson revealing that he was cut out of the film "Vanity Fair" as Witherspoon’s son and that it was her fault, but saying he “blanked” her as her lover in "Water for Elephants," concluding that "it's not always bad to have sexual chemistry with your mother."
--Some of Sudeikis’ jokes about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s illegitimate kids (although not the one involving Maria Shriver) and parts of his turn at the piano singing movie theme songs he wrote.
--The fluorescent green “laser boners” that came up and went down again as the award for Best Kiss was presented.
--Gary Busey’s stage entrance in a Lady Gaga-like clear plastic bubble to present Best Movie.
With “Eclipse” taking home five of the 12 viewer-voted-upon prizes, it’s up to the wizards of the final installment of “Harry Potter” next year to knock the vampires and werewolves off their thrones. It’ll be a fight to the finish.

MSO Cablevision Speaking Out of Both Sides of Its Mouth: It Wants What It Won't Give

Arthur Sando Posted June 6, 2011 at 7:08 AM

[Editor's Note: This commentary first appeared on Jeff Grimshaw's The TV News, which can be found at www.thetvnews.tv, and we appreciate Jeff letting us reprint it.]

Cablevision Systems raised some eyebrows last week with its filing in the FCC’s proceeding on retransmission consent reform.

In the past year, the big cable operator has been involved in some of the industry’s most high-profile retrans battles, with both Fox and ABC programming blacked out for a while during negotiations.

At the same time, Cablevision continues to staunchly oppose a la carte pricing, which would allow customers to buy only the channels they want, without having to purchase a bundle of channels, some of which they don’t want.

So it’s interesting to note that one of Cablevision’s proposals to the FCC is that distributors should not be forced to carry cable channels owned by broadcasters, just in order to be able to carry the broadcast network itself.

In other words, Cablevision thinks it’s unfair for them to have to buy a particular Fox-owned cable network, which may have little interest to its customers, in order to be able to provide what it calls “must-see” TV, like "American Idol" or the NFL, on the Fox Network. In essence, Cablevision wants the FCC to rule that a distributor should be able to buy only the networks it wants to carry … a la carte.

Cablevision does make a valid point when it says that forcing distributors to buy networks they don’t want winds up costing subscribers more money, because the costs get passed on.

But that begs the question: If Cablevision seeks the right to buy only the networks it chooses to carry, then why shouldn’t its customers have the right to buy only the networks they choose to watch?

In light of the FCC filing, I emailed Cablevision to ask if they’ve changed their stance on offering a la carte pricing, but have received no reply.

So here’s the rub. Cablevision will probably get some short-term PR benefit from coming up with a proposal that appears to be consumer-friendly, but by arguing in favor of a la carte purchasing, they’re likely to have a long-term PR challenge trying to justify to their customers why such a great idea for the goose is such a lousy idea for the gander.

Meredith Vieira, Anne Thompson, Chelsea Handler Among Honorees at 36th Annual Gracie Awards

Hillary Atkin Posted June 3, 2011 at 5:50 AM

The late comedienne Gracie Allen would have been proud. The 36th annual edition of the awards bearing her name, the Gracies, went off without a hitch--and with a lot of laughter, appreciation and applause along the way.

Hosted by Patricia Heaton and presented by the Alliance for Women in Media and title sponsor Dove, the Gracies honor exceptional programming and individual contributions of those who create portrayals of women in all forms of media, including radio, broadcast television, cable and new media. The awards program also encourages the realistic and multifaceted portrayal of women in entertainment, news, features and other programs.

This year's gala dinner ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel started off with a bang as the outstanding anchor statuette was awarded by actor Zachary Levi to outgoing “Today” show host Meredith Vieira. Taking the stage in a flowing red gown, Vieira used the occasion to thank and say goodbye to a list of her colleagues at the top-rated NBC morning newscast.

Among the other honorees who took home Gracie Awards: NBC news correspondent Anne Thompson for outstanding reporter; Chelsea Handler for outstanding talk show, "Chelsea Lately"; Amber Lyons for outstanding investigative program, "Sold on Craigslist"; Shonda Rimes for outstanding drama, "Private Practice"; Joan Lunden for outstanding talk show, "Taking Care with Joan Lunden"; and Yvette Nicole Brown for outstanding performance in a supporting comedy role for “Community.”

Handler, whose latest book is topping bestseller lists, joked onstage that she was honored to be awarded anything and then closed by saying, "Men, your time is over."

Julie McCarthy, who had just won a Peabody Award for her work in Pakistan for NPR, talked about the importance of telling complex stories in accepting her Gracie.

“Access Hollywood” weekend co-anchor and correspondent Shaun Robinson was honored with the 2011 Dove Real Beauty Award, created to honor an individual who best embodies and expresses the “substance and spirit” of real beauty through her life and career.

The prestigious Gracies Tribute Award for 2011 was presented to Emmy Award-winning journalist and bestselling author Linda Ellerbee by former CNN anchor Aaron Brown. She was recognized for her unparalleled career defined by intelligent journalism, innovative television programming and inspirational messaging.

Other presenters included ESPN's Erin Andrews, ice skating icon Peggy Fleming, Holly Robinson Peete, Kim Delaney, Brenda Strong, Morgan Fairchild, Dennis Swanson, Christy Turlington Burns, Scott Herman and Maria Menounos.
The Gracies will air on the Hallmark Movie Channel on Aug. 8, 2011.