Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Music Page 3 of 15

Connie plays 4 musical instruments and her daughter is a graduate of Belmont University in Nashville with a degree in Music Business and once worked for Taylor Swift. She may comment on concerts or reminisce on concerts of old.

The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville & Low Cut Connie, Redux

Earlier in the festivities I did a review of a wonderful new documentary called “The Bluebird,” which is a visit to the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee, which is (apparently) the subject of a television show starring Connie Britton. (I’ve never watched it).

I attended the Bluebird documentary, however, taking many pictures of the director and others on the stage of the Paramount in Austin, Texas, at SXSW on Thursday, March 14th at 6:30 p.m. (It showed again at the Lamar at 11:00 p.m. on Friday, March 15th).

Later on, I received a phone text message informing me that the daughter might be singing back-up for one of her singer/songwriter friends who was going to be appearing onstage at the Bluebird Cafe on their Monday songwriters’ night (featured heavily in the documentary). Lest you think this is unimportant, it launched the careers of both Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift and, although the daughter wasn’t certain she would have a role, I look forward to her ringside seat report of her friend’s performance.

I asked the daughter, who went to school in Nashville and lives there now, to send me a picture of the exterior, but when I went to press, somehow that picture (and a few others she sent) had disappeared, not to be found.

I’m still trying to figure out how to get a small bit of film sent me by the son of Low Cut Connie performing at Lucy’s Fried Chicken in Nashville on Saturday, March 16h, to post on my blog. The file sent me came through as IMG-5643.MOV (5.2 MB) but how does one get THAT to post? In place of it, I shall post the link of Adam Weiner (who is “Low Cut Connie”) appearing on Seth Meyer’s late night show and the 2 pictures of the Bluebird that I now have located.

I am posting the Low Cut Connie link because he and his band will be performing at The Rust Belt in East Moline (IL) on April 18th. I’ve been told that the Rust Belt is somewhere on 7th Street, but look it up and check  it out. (I’ll be in Mexico). I’m hoping that www.QuadCities.com will run a notification when it is closer.

I missed Low Cut Connie when he hit the Raccoon Motel in Davenport, but Craig wanted to be present here in Austin for his birthday celebration with son Scott and daughter Stacey at Lucy’s Fried Chicken. They got to hang with the band afterwards, as one of the guitarists was someone known to the Nashville daughter.

The van at Camp Sandy.

I was covering “Pet Semetary” with stars Jason Clarke, et. al., (that piece has also run previously), so I missed the hilarity (and the chicken) and the music, but I’m doing my best to drum up a record crowd for you, Low Cut Connie (i.e, Adam Weiner) if only because my name IS Connie. The picture to the left represents the van that Low Cut Connie was supposed to play in at Camp Sandy. INSIDE the van. You sit outside and watch the performances on the screens you see mounted on the exterior of the van.

I’m not thinking this would be optimal for an act that is Jerry Lee Lewis Redux times 100. However, I did drive out to catch him there (since I couldn’t be present at Lucy’s Fried Chicken on Saturday, March 16th). There were problems at Camp Sandy, but the Turtle Wax people have reached out and are sending me vats of Turtle Wax to East Moline. Thanks, Eden Zaslow of Zenogroup! That was not necessary. 

Low Cut Connie WAS present on the 16th and, if I can figure out how to post the 5.2MB piece of film sent me by my son, you will be able to see it here some time in the future.

Camp Sandy Shenanigans & Other Promotional Things at SXSW

I thought readers might enjoy seeing some photos from one of the promotional things that went on during SXSW in Austin, Texas.

This particular promotion was sent to me as Press and involved the sponsors (a local whiskey and Turtle Wax) being willing to send an Uber to pick me up in Austin and ferry me out to Camp Sandy, which, I can personally attest, is way-the-hell-and-gone out in the middle of Hill Country, but has a spectacular view.

Downtown Austin  (TX) mural.

A couple of the other shots were simply things that caught my eye as I was walking (for miles) around downtown Austin (it is, by actual mileage count, nearly 2 miles from the Conference Center to the Paramount theater).

But back to Camp Sandy. I RSVP-ed that I would come to hear “the band in the van.” The concept here is that the band is INSIDE a van and the listeners watch the band on screens mounted on the outside of the van. (Weird). Low Cut Connie was supposed to play, complete with a piano (“the first time a full-sized piano has been inside the van!” said the e-mail).

Note the small tan Prius on the right of this picture (mine) at Camp Sandy.

If you had a car, they would Turtle Wax your car for free, although this turned out to be incorrect.

I RSVP-ed and asked for specific parking and navigational directions and got nothing, but I had the address, so I set off in my trusty Prius (one of 5 in the family since 2002) and found this out-of-the-way place, high up in hill country with a spectacular view. I parked alongside the driveway in, which turned out to not be that smart a move, as someone driving a humongous tank-like vehicle pulled in and left their vehicle smack dab in the middle of the ONLY way in or out. (It took about 15 minutes to find out who had left the painted van blocking the only exit or entrance.) I only had one hour before I had to be standing on a Red Carpet somewhere, but Camp Sandy sounded interesting, if weird. And, of course, there was the matter of that promised free Turtle Wax.

Except that, when I showed up, it sounded like several cars were ahead of me in a “scheduled” fashion and, therefore, there would be no Turtle Wax for the Silver Fish (as I call my Texas Prius). That was okay, but when I learned that Low Cut Connie had also bailed, I did a quick tour of the premises and left.  That turned out to be quite difficult with the blocking van and, after the van moved, I could get no signal on my GPS and would have been totally lost. The organizer who greeted me said, “If you drive to the top of the hill, you’ll probably be able to get a signal.” (Yikes! Let’s hope so!)

Still, here are some “local color” shots of the venue and of downtown Austin, Texas, during SXSW.

Camp Sandy.

Interior, Camp Sandy.

View from Camp Sandy.

Sponsor of Camp Sandy.

Patrons viewing “the van” at Camp Sandy.

Typical crowd around the block waiting for admission.

The van at Camp Sandy.

View from Camp Sandy, Austin, TX, SXSW.

“The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story” Premiering on Wednesday, March 13th at SXSW

“The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story”: in the good old days. (Photo used by permission of YouTube, Pilgrim Productions & Lance Bass Productions)

The Boy Ban Con: The Lou Pearlman Story is a You Tube Original documentary, presented by Pilgrim Media in conjunction with Lance Bass Productions.  It premieres at SXSW on Wednesday, March 13th, 2019 at 3 p.m. at the Paramount Theater.

Lance Bass is onscreen discussing Pearlman’s defrauding of the boy bands he formed, as is Bass’ mother and Justin Timberlake’s mother and several members of the boy bands N’Sync and The Back Street Boys, including A.J. McLean, Ashley Parker Angel, Chris Kirkpatrick, J.C. Chasez, Johnny Wright, Lynn Harless (Timberlake’s Mom), Aaron Carter, Nikki DeLoach and Diane Bass (Lance Bass’ Mom). Justin Timberlake does not appear in the film, except in old footage. Director Aaron Kunkel paints a picture of a very bright, but very dishonest man.

Pearlman used falsified Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, AIG and Lloyd’s of London documents to win investors’ confidence in his “Employee Investment Savings Account” program. He used fake financial statements created by the fictitious accounting firm Cohen and Siegel to secure bank loans for his Airship Enterprises, Ltd. (Essentially, an airline without any planes). Trans Continental Records followed. The Backstreet Boys became the best-selling boy band of all time, with record sales of 130 million, hitting gold, platinum, and diamond in 45 different countries. Pearlman  then repeated this formula almost exactly with the band *NSYNC, which sold over 70 million records globally.

Lou Pearlman is presented as a consummate ponzi scheme artist, with little emphasis in this documentary on the pedophile claims that came to light later, revealed in a Vanity Fair article, “Mad About the Boys” by Bryan Burrough (August 21, 2016.)

Pearlman died in prison 3 days before the article appeared, but he had denied such accusations of sexual impropriety in a 2014 Hollywood Reporter interview from prison. Pearlman’s death was caused by surgery to replace a heart valve, which he had undergone a week before his death. He developed an infection of the lining of the heart valve.

Defrauding people of over half a billion dollars through various schemes is what sent Pearlman to jail for 25 years, where he died at 62 on August 19, 2016. His tentative release date from prison would have been 2029.

The judge offered Pearlman one month off each year of his 25-year sentence for every million dollars recovered, but only $38 million dollars was ever recovered, most of it from the sale of Church Street Station, a historic train station in the heart of Orlando which Pearlman had purchased in 2002. That sale, alone, recouped $34 million.

Here, with Lance Bass shepherding this 99 minute project as Executive Producer and one of the principal talking heads exploring the Lou Pearlman phenomenon, the documentary is focused almost exclusively on how an overweight, relatively friendless man started two boy bands between 1993 and 2006. Other less successful bands followed.  (Pearlman even asked the Judge, after his sentencing, to allow him Internet access from prison so that he could continue to manage. The judge declined).

After viewing “Finding Neverland” the idea of a rich, powerful and/or famous man in a position to advance the career(s) of young talent(s), causing naïve and gullible young people to be victimized, is not difficult to believe. It has occurred many, many times. Hollywood coined the term “the casting couch” for the promises made to innocent young actresses.

Lou Pearlman had been custom-fitting airplanes for famous bands to travel and became aware of the tremendous amounts of money these artists were making. He immediately set his sights on forming such a band and becoming a promoter.

The way in which he got the seed money to be able to underwrite expenses for the venture is pure Lou Pearlman: he defrauded an insurance company of $3 million by insuring a blimp he bought for $10,000. Pearlman painted the blimp gold to be used as advertising for Jordache. McDonald’s was another signed advertiser.

When the blimp crashed, Lou had his seed money; he used it to audition a $3 million-dollar talent search and form the boy bands that were then supplanting the Seattle grunge scene as those bands (think Kurt Cobain in “Nirvana”) fell victim to their own successes.

The members of the Back Street Boys and NSync fell victim to Lou Pearlman presenting himself as a paternal father figure, but also insisting that he was “the sixth member of the band”( much like Billy Preston was once dubbed “the Fifth Beatle.”) In Lou’s case, this meant a monetary cut equivalent to the young men who were practicing their dance moves 16 hours a day, but also cuts as the producer, marketer, etc. Lou Pearlman was triple-dipping. Pearlman presented the boys with a lavish party house for them to “bond” in and paid for the recording studios and, also, for lavish meals in eateries like Lawries.

The climax of the film seems to come when all of the boys are invited to such a dinner and told to bring their parents. It is far into the group’s success; they are pulling down millions. An envelope appears on each boy’s plate. They can only dream of the riches they now will receive for their hard work, since the per diem allowance to date has only been $35 a day, plus their comped food and living expenses.

When the checks were for only $10,000, Lance Bass says he went home and tore his up.

Lawsuits ensued, with the boy bands finding out that the contract(s) they had signed were very very good for Lou Pearlman but very very bad for them.

Then Lou went a step further and ultimately defrauded investors in Trans Continental Airways of half a billion dollars, of which only $38 million was ever recovered. Over two hundred investors lost all of their money. Some are interviewed in the film. Most are elderly couples who could not afford to lose their only inheritance.

Lou’s sole childhood friend, Alan Gross, had been a model plane assembler as a hobby. Pearlman took one such plane, painted a logo on the side of the model, and held it up with his hand against a backdrop of mountains to make it appear that he had an airline, Trans Continental. He didn’t.

Ultimately, Lou Pearlman died in disgrace at age 62 on August 19, 2016.

“Mr. Jimmy” Is the Recreation of Guitarist Jimmy Page; Playing Soon at SXSW

Jimmy Sakurai, a Japanese guitarist and devoted fan of Jimmy Page of “Led Zeppelin,” has spent 35 years of his life emulating Jimmy Page as Mr. Jimmy. He might be called Jimmy Page’s Number One fan.

A close second (Number Two fan?) might be the Director of the 110 minute documentary “Mr. Jimmy,” Peter Michael Dowd. Director Dowd and I spoke on March 4th, nine days before SXSW in Austin, where the film will screen on opening night (March 8th).

For 35 years, Akio “Mr. Jimmy” Sakurai has dedicated his life to honoring the music of Jimmy Page. He honed his skills playing in Tokyo clubs for more than two decades, before moving to America and performing his faithful Led Zeppelin “revival” concerts across the United States.

Peter Michael Dowd became aware of Mr. Jimmy through YouTube videos and shared with me, “I am just a life-long Led Zeppelin fan, since the age of fifteen.” He shared memories of riding to school when “Whole Lotta’ Love” came on the radio (released Oct. 22, 1969). “I just really appreciated the wonder of Led Zeppelin. Then, I stumbled upon a video of Mr. Jimmy playing and he wore an obscure outfit that I remember from having seen Led Zeppelin at Network Festival on August 4, 1979. It was just the most banal look, but I recognized that it was exactly what Jimmy Page wore at that concert and that got me investigating.”

Dowd—whose mother Paula executive produced the documentary—made four trips to Japan to do the film. He had never been to Japan before stumbling upon Mr. Jimmy, via YouTube. “I found it so fascinating in Japan,” he said. “If you walk into a 7/11 in Tokyo, it’s run with military precision.” We agreed that the Japanese dedication to precision was a key factor in Mr. Jimmy’s fanatical obsession with Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin. As Dowd put it, “It’s a pure, beautiful expression of love.” He added, “In Japan it’s all about the details. That’s how the Japanese will beat the British and the United States.”

The climax of the documentary is when Mr. Jimmy is playing in Tokyo and the real Jimmy Page comes to his show, which Dowd captured on film. Mr. Jimmy (Sakurai) played for 2 hours that night and said, “The fact that he saw me play. I never thought that day would come. Sometimes I think, ‘Wow! That really happened. It moves me deeply inside.’”

Jimmy Page had heard that Jimmy Sakurai was going to be joining the tribute band “Led Zepagain” and more-or-less gave him a thumbs up that night. The Japanese version of the virtuoso guitarist also had the opportunity to ask the genuine article if it was “okay” to call himself Mr. Jimmy and play exactly like his idol. Dowd and I agreed that it was typical of the Japanese way of life and respect. As another of Jimmy’s friends says in the film, “We understand Jimmy’s obsession. It’s very Japanese. It’s a rebirth of the original. It’s his life’s work.”

After growing up in Tokamahi, Japan and moving to Tokyo, Jimmy Sakurai (Mr. Jimmy) watched his father draw intricate komono designs. In Tokyo, Mr. Jimmy had a day job selling kimonos, and, later, selling musical instruments. Mr. Jimmy’s obsession with “getting it right” is depicted in the documentary and may have led to his eventual break from “Led Zepagain” after 2 years and 250 shows together.

Today Jimmy Sakurai is the guitarist for “Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening” but also maintains his own band “Mr. Jimmy,” which recreates specific concerts and eras of Led Zeppelin’s live history in every regard — costumes, lighting, live arrangements, and improvisation. Mr. Jimmy describes his excitement at being asked to join the band fronted by the son of Led Zeppelin original drummer John Bonham. Sakurai also maintains his own band from his Tokyo days.

The Mr. Jimmy band assembles the top Zeppelin tribute masters; the current line-up includes “Jimmy” Sakurai on lead guitar, August Young (of the Aviators) on vocals, Cody Tarbell (Slow Season) on drums, and “John Paul Joel” on bass & keys.

As one of the featured friends in the film says of Mr. Jimmy, “Jimmy Sakurai’s job is to make the audience think they’re watching Jimmy Page.  Ultimately, he’s going for something that doesn’t have an answer, because the answer would be to become Jimmy Page himself.”

Documentary director and actor Peter Michael Dowd won the World Shorts competition in Little Rock for his documentary “The King of Size,” which also played at the New Orleans Film Festival. He has appeared as an actor in the film “The Beautiful Life,” 2012, and was previously the curator of film at the Museum of the Moving Image and Film Programmer at the George Eastman House.

“Mr. Jimmy” screens at SXSW on March 8th, 11th and 14th. Jimmy Sakurai will play at the Dirty Dog Bar on March 13th from midnight until ten minutes to 2 a.m.

Amy Schumer’s “I Feel Pretty” Sets Off Controversy

OK…So, I went to see Amy Schumer’s new movie “I Feel Pretty” (and received a button that says “I Feel Pretty Awesome,” which I wore all day).I liked it—the button AND the movie.

There, I’ve said it. I liked it.

I thought it was insightful and funny and I liked lines like, “I met this baby the other day that was wack as hell.” [You can see the meeting with said baby in the clip I just posted of the movie trailer]. The trailer contains the best parts of the film, and, no, it isn’t a laugh-out-loud funny movie, because Amy is trying to make the point that (to quote a line from the movie):  “This line/movie is for every girl who is ready to believe in herself.” Or, “I think a lot of people are all confused about themselves…You doubt yourself over and over. What if we didn’t care about how we looked?” 

The premise is that, when Amy hits her head, she suddenly sees herself as perfect. She no longer has the crippling insecurities that beset her prior to being hit in the head. It takes another blow to her skull to turn her back into insecure Amy. One of the lines spoken to her boyfriend in the film (Ethan, well played by Rory Scovel) is: “She is awesome. She is the complete package. Your girl can handle herself in a knife fight!” Or, as Ethan says to Renee, “You know who you are and you don’t care how the world sees you.”

The movie  makes a plea for “The strength and wisdom to say ‘I’m better than all that. We are real women.”

Why is she being pilloried on social media for making such undeniably positive statements? The answer seems to be that some think she is too pretty to be saying these things? Is that it?  Amy is too pretty to make a statement that benefits all women everywhere? (Sheesh) Get over your bad selves, nit-pickers. And, to the newly-wed Amy: YOU GO, GIRL!

I couldn’t help but empathize with what she must be thinking and feeling as people hurl brick-bats at her for articulating the undeniable truth that most of us are insecure in some way and that it can often become almost a debilitating disease, if it inhibits us too much or prevents us from becoming our true, authentic, best selves. The film also gets the point across that TOO MUCH confidence is, well, too much.

That is probably what the uproar is all about: mid-movie Amy briefly becomes a jerk to her friends (played by Aidy Bryant of SNL as Vivian and Busy Philipps as Jane) and we want to LIKE Amy and empathize with her. If she’s confident and thinks she’s great and is enjoying herself, well, we can’t have THAT now, can we? How dare she!?

If you watch the trailer (above), you’ll see the funniest parts of the movie, complete with Amy’s attempt to win a bikini contest (she doesn’t), but, mainly, you’ll see her becoming a jerk as she gives in to her uber confident inner self,  confidence which was triggered by a fall from a Soul Cycle bike that dumped her on her head.  I’m thinking that her in-your-face confidence was just too much for some females to stomach. Be reassured: she doesn’t STAY a jerk.

Girls always seem to accept other girls, or women other women, only if they are sweet and malleable and supportive and “nice,” as my husband euphemistically terms it. It still isn’t acceptable in society to be sassy and funny and irreverent, if you’re female. You still get labeled as “a bitch” if you display any of those characteristics, even though Amy Schumer rose to fame because of  the irreverent salacious humor of her stand-up act (and, yes, I HAVE seen her act, “live”). [It can’t be the men who are complaining and giving the film a thumbs down on YouTube, can it?]

I thought the opening sequence where she is participating in a Soul Cycle class with model-thin women and her bike seat gives away and she experiences a jarring blow to her vagina was note-perfect. She hobbles out with her pants torn and in pain. Have none of you (females) who are giving it a thumbs down on YouTube never experienced the crushing pain of falling onto the metal part of a boy’s bike? No? [Okay, then. It must be just me.]

I’ve also been involved in exercise classes where it was quite obvious I did not belong. My favorite story is the one where, somehow, I ended up LEADING the class and had NO idea where I was to “lead” them. It was a lot like the scene in “Animal House” where the marching band marches into a brick wall. I also remembered my husband once commenting  that I was only equipped to compete in the Olympics in the “400 yard roll” or some such joke. (He WAS kidding, but his humor was lost on me at the time.)

I actually wrote several humorous essays about exercise classes I have known and published them in “Laughing through Life, so if you want to hear all about the types of things that befall Amy in her class, but happened, IRL, to me, you can order a copy on Amazon.

But that’s not the point.

The point of the movie as written and directed by Abby Kohn (“2009’s “He’s Just Not That In To You”) and Marc Silverstein (husband of *BusyPhilipps,”How To Be Single”) to me, was that Amy wants each and every one of us who is female to feel comfortable in our own skins. So what if we have too much junk in the trunk? Forgetaboutit. So what if we are not rail-thin?  Move on. Get over it! Be confident.

BUT, and this is important, do NOT lose good friends because you become an insufferable ego-maniac.

Other good things about the movie:

Michael Andrews selected the music (“This Girl Is On Fire” for one) and it is great. Michelle Williams plays the daughter of a cosmetics icon who has a very soft voice like Jackie Kennedy’s (okay, you’re too young to remember how Jackie’s voice was very soft and not forceful at all, and Marilyn Monroe’s was the same way, so just work with me here) and, therefore, has a hard time being taken seriously. She also is involved in some serious sibling rivalry with her handsome brother, Grant LeClair (Tom Hopper), who comes on to Amy at one point (Amy remains true to Ethan, so why did the haters not note THAT?)

Many critics praised the appearance of Lauren Hutton as Gramma LeClaire (Lily LeClaire) in “I Feel Pretty,” who founded the cosmetics company, which is attempting to turn out an affordable cosmetics line suitable for sale in Target stores.

Lauren appears as a retired model, which she really is. She made her film debut in 1968 in “Paper Lion” and still works as a model, apparently because she is still reed-thin.

Lauren definitely has been out in the sun too much for too long and she has done nothing to diminish the age-related wrinkles caused by too much sun exposure. I actually looked up her age, after the film, since I was hoping she was older than me. She was…but not by that much.

For someone who is listed as 74 (birthday: Nov. 17, 1943) she is thin, but, aside from that, she might consider whether the path she wants to take is the one taken by Jane Fonda, or the one taken by others, which doesn’t have to mean plastic surgery, but does mean trying to diminish age-related deterioration. Yes, I know. This is in direct opposition to the message of the movie, but the message of the movie for a young woman is quite different than for a “mature” (don’t say “old”) woman: society has not moved forward enough to accept prune-like visages that could have remained recognizable if the owner of the face had taken the slightest precautions.

To me, since we are only given one face, it is irresponsible not to at least try to keep it looking halfway decent. While that also applies to our bodies, I agree with Amy that a woman in today’s society ought to NOT have to be reed-thin to be considered attractive. We women have to bear children and cook and clean and, usually, also work,and genetics will get you every time, so not all of us will remain emaciated in our golden years. Lauren is reed-thin, so she gets to keep modeling. She looks like hell, facially, but nevermind that, as long as she is thin.

That, to me, was the message for we “mature” types and, yes, that was a contradiction of the first magnitude, which I blame(d) on the age difference between the character Amy is playing (Renee Bennett) and the one that Lauren Hutton is playing (Lily LeClaire).

And probably something that the writers never considered, either, since the male writer (Marc Silverstein) is also the husband of Busy Philipps, [whois supposed to be getting a talk show this fall] and Abby Kohn might have tried  for Jane Fonda for the Lauren Hutton role—or any other mature actress who has not thrown caution to the winds and abandoned her face to extensive sun damage.

 

 

“Sammy Davis,Jr.: I’ve Gotta’ Be Me” with Director Sam Pollard at the 53rd International Chicago Film Festival


Director Sam Pollard brought his hugely entertaining documentary “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta’ Be Me” to the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival and spoke about the fascinating subject of this film.

A host of celebrities, ranging from Whoopie Goldberg to Billy Crystal to Sidney Poitier testify to the man who was “showbusiness from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.”
Sammy Davis, Jr., won his first talent show at the age of three (He sang, “I’ll be glad when you’re dead, you rascal you.”) and performed with the Will Mastin Trio comprised of his father and uncle.

Until he was 45 years old, long past the life span of the trio, his earnings were split three ways amongst the members of the trio. Sammy was born to a Catholic mother and a Baptist father at 2632 140th St. and 8th Ave in Harlem, but converted to Judaism. He never went to school and, much like Michael Jackson, never had a real childhood.

Sammy’s big break-through as a singer was the song “Hey There” and stars like Eddie Cantor and Jerry Lewis (who is interviewed shortly before Lewis’ recent death) helped advise him. He lost his left eye in a 1954 car accident that was rumored to have been Mafia-inspired. It took him two years just to re-learn how to pour a glass of water, but he came back to performing as good as before. And when he was good, he was very, very good, singing, dancing, acting and doing impressions of white actors (a breakthrough for the times).

THE GOOD

The film clips in this bio-pic (written by Laurence Maslon) are truly enjoyable and take you back to the days of the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. Those days began to fade in 1964 and the personal snub that Sammy felt when JFK excluded him from his Inaugural Ball (primarily because of Davis’ marriage to May Britt, a white Swedish beauty) hurt Sammy to the core. He is quoted as saying, “”Nobody’s gonna’ get inside any more. I can’t afford that luxury.”

When Harry Belafonte wanted Sammy to come to Selma for the civil rights march, he was appearing in “Golden Boy” on Broadway and told Belafonte his absence would close the play. Harry bought the house to get Sammy to come to Selma. Despite Davis’ efforts, he was often not accepted by the black community, who often considered him a sell-out and an Uncle Tom.

Sammy was the epitome of extravagance. He was ostentatious and larger than life, saying, “I have no desire to be the boy next door.” He is quoted as saying, “If I’m not going first class, the boat ain’t leaving the dock.” He was also the first black man to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House.

THE BAD

The stories told of Sammy’s abuse when serving in the Army are truly heartbreaking. Even when he appeared in “Golden Boy” with Paula Wayne ( Arthur Penn directed), rednecks said, of Paula, “She’s the one who kissed the N—-.”

His only Number One Hit was “The Candyman” from the “Willy Wonka” movie and Sammy thought it was a terrible song. He also supported causes when they were not fashionable, supporting Richard Nixon for President and making trips to Vietnam when the tide of public sentiment had turned against the war. (“It’s not cool to be in support of the war.”) He became an anachronism in his own time

Stories like the one about a patron at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas complaining that Sammy was swimming in the swimming pool, which caused them to drain the pool were horrifying. The only place he felt safe was onstage, as he fought the odds his whole life (and usually won).

When he contracted throat cancer, he did not have surgery for fear he would never be able to sing again, but had radiation. He died on May 16, 1990, in his Beverly Hills home with third wife Altovise by his side.

None of the children from his marriage with May Britt, nor May Britt herself appeared in the documentary. Pollard shared that he hired a crew and a studio and flew to Nashville to interview Sammy’s daughter Tracey, but she did not show up on the appointed day. His children seem to have been lost to him, as “everything was about Sammy.” (His marriage to May Britt ended in 1964).

VERDICT

Documentary about the life of Sammy Davis, Jr., played at the 53rd International Chicago Film Festival with Director Sam Pollard in attendance.


This is a great documentary about a fantastically talented legend. Director Sam Pollard said, “We’re all complicated. He was larger than life and a public figure. I’m always drawn to the complexity
. If you’re going to do a documentary about someone as phenomenally talented as Sammy, you look for the dark edges.” Pollard said he had read the autobiography “Yes, I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr.” (by Sammy and Jane and Burt Boyar) when he was 15. He noted that Sammy “had trouble being alone” and that they were “very fortunate that we had access to all the audio tapes from his autobiography.”

As Whoopie Goldberg and Billy Crystal say in the documentary, “I don’t know if we’ll ever see that much talent in one person again.”
Crystal likened him to a comet passing by the Earth.

Many black performers who appeared at his 60th anniversary in show business testimonial on February 4, 1990 (just 3 months before his death), such as Michael Jackson and Geoffrey Hines, saluted him, saying, “Thanks to you, there’s a door we all walked through.”

The scenes of Davis tap-dancing with Hines literally days before his death from throat cancer demonstrate that he was one of a kind; he actually made Hines (tap dancing co-star of “White Nights” with Mikhail Baryshnikov) look clumsy by comparison.

Bob Seger: Still Rocking (in Moline, IL) at 72

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIocthkeiBM&feature=youtu.be

Rock musician Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band took the stage at the Civic Center in Moline, Illinois on Saturday night, August 26th, 2017, for the second show on his just-launched tour (Tulsa was first).

The clip above shows off more of the band, in general, but the entire show was jam-packed with hits, from “Against the Wind,” “Rock & Roll Music,” “Like A Rock,” “Why Don’t You Stay?” to “Hollywood Nights.”

It was a predominantly middle-aged crowd that turned out to see and hear the rocker from Detroit and the place was as crowded as I’ve ever seen it. The downtown parking ramps were all full and we had to walk about a mile to even find a place to park.

It was a great show and very poignant when Seger sang the lyrics, “I’m older now, but still running against the wind.”

Cold Play on July 23, 2016, at Soldier Field

My birthday fell on a Saturday this year (July 23rd). I checked out the acts in town and Chris Martin’s Cold Play would be appearing across the street at Soldier Field.

Weather at concert-time.

Weather at concert-time.

Originally scheduled for 8 p.m., an e-mail moved the concert’s time up to 7 p.m. but, at 7 p.m., it was pouring down rain.

I went out on my balcony at 8:30 p.m. and I could see people in the stands at Soldier Field. “We’ve got to walk over there and see if the concert is starting!” My husband was less than thrilled, as he barely knows Cold Play. (I had seen them two times during “I Heart Radio” shows in Las Vegas).

I convinced him that going to a Cold Play concert was a bit like giving your 5-year-old a microphone, because Chris Martin falls down a lot while performing, which, in itself, is entertaining. Then, too, there was that half-time performance at the Super Bowl, but that was hardly a selling point for my Big Bright Idea after Beyonce and Bruno Mars upstaged the band.

However, there was still “If I Ruled the World,” “Paradise” and the 60 Minutes interview. I bought the cheapest seats the highest up ($50) and we were set. Until it rained.

DSCN1638But, now, at 8:30 p.m., the heavens parted as if on cue and we were back on! LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

As we entered, we were issued something that looked like a white plastic FitBit. It would turn out to be a bracelet-like device that was timed to light up in certain colors throughout the stadium at certain times during the show, which was a great effect! My generation only had cigarette lighters. Not the same.

DSCN1638As the oldest people the highest up in the stadium (35 flights of stairs, said my FitBit later), we stood throughout the concert, for 90 minutes. Until it rained. Again.

Lasers. Fireworks both inside and outside (at Navy Pier) of the stadium. Chris Martin falling down a lot.

DSCN1666When 90 minutes had elapsed, with Martin on his back inside the circle seen in my picture (which rotated and was a stage in the middle of Soldier Field), he was told that the stadium had to be evacuated. Martin seemed genuinely disappointed, saying, “I’ve never been in this position before (this after telling us they had just played their 40th show on the tour)! We’d like to play more for you, but they are telling me you have to leave the stadium, so this might be our last song.”

And it was.

DSCN1626Chris Martin did tell us we were the most enthusiastic and hardiest group they had played to, but I’ll bet he says that to ALL the girls! Nevermind. Despite the 35 floors and the standing and getting soaked (“I’m as wet as I’ve ever been in my life!”) which was worse for the spouse than for me, as I had saved an old Blue Man Group poncho and was wearing it, it was a great concert and a great way to celebrate my birthday.

“Soundbreaking” @ SXSW: Painting with Music in 8-part PBS Documentary Special

Over 10 years ago, famed record producer George Martin, who is often referred to as “the 5th Beatle,” used his considerable influence to start the ball rolling on a series of interviews with famous record producers and musicians.

 
Martin’s influence led to an 8-series PBS piece that will air in mid-November, entitled: “Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music.” It premiered at South by Southwest and documentary producer Julia Marchesi was with the film to explain its genesis. Marchesi told the audience at the Alamo Drafthouse (Slaughter Lane) on St. Patrick’s Day that some of the interviews were done as long ago as 2006. This is clear when we see the legendary Johnny Cash, B.B. King, and Martin, himself, all now gone.

 
Among the record producers who discuss their role in making music are Brian Eno, Jimmy Iovine (U2), Quincy Jones, Don Was, Jimmy Jam (Janet Jackson), Paul Epworth (Tom Petty), Rick Rubin (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash), Darryl McDaniels (Run DMC), Tricky Steward (Rihanna, Beyonce), Martin himself, and a host of others, plus some of the artists associated with these world class producers.

 
“When it comes to making a hit record, one of the biggest mysteries is the role of the producer,” the movie tells us, and 150 famous folk dive into that mystery, giving us a peek at producers of yesteryear like Mitch Miller (Tony Bennett) and Sam Phillips, the legendary owner/producer of Sun Records in Memphis.

 
Phillips is heard to say of his work with Elvis Presley, “The next thing I knew, Elvis cut loose on ‘That’s All Right, Mama.’ If I couldn’t make it with this, I could never make it on anything!” The legendary B. B. King is seen commenting on the raw black sound that Phillips was intent on recording for the world. “The essence of Sun Records was to get these artists to display their God-given talent…For Sam (Phillips), it was about pulling whatever they had inside out.”

 
Tom Petty relates how producer Paul Epworth helped shape “Free Falling,” even contributing the title of the song and says, “That’s the whole point of having someone sitting in the booth.”

 
George Martin relates how, when he first met the Beatles, they had been turned down by every other recording studio. He was older than the Fab Four and thought they had charisma. Says Martin, “When I first met them, they knew nothing about the studio. George had not even played rock and roll.” All agree that Martin added himself into the picture, inserting instrumentation suggestions and other improvements because he was “older and wiser.” Martin relates how Paul McCartney brought him the melody for “Yesterday,” which he said he had heard in his head. McCartney’s question was whether he had unconsciously picked it up from another artist, but Martin assured him it was a new song. Martin also suggested they needed to put strings on “Yesterday.” This initially frightened McCartney, who associated strings with classical music, which he was frightened of, feeling he was out of his depth. When Paul brought Martin “Eleanor Rigby” and Martin suggested the lush instrumentation that was the first time the band had not played on their records. Early in their recording career, it took them only 12 hours to cut their first albums, which were comprised, essentially, of the songs they played onstage. Says Questlove: “It was just so smart. George Martin obviously knew his stuff. He knew how to put it on a Beatles record. It’s a very different art than performing live. His influence was so mighty.”

 

 

The film moved on to the influence of Phil Spector and his “wall of sound.” We hear “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers and see him working with Tina Turner on “River Deep, Mountain High.” In order to get the lush sound, Phil would hire 2 or 3 times the musicians. Says Roger Waters of “Pink Floyd,” “One violin sounds like shit. Even 8 is crappy. Double the musicians.” Although Spector would frequently require 29 or 30 takes on a song, he often would return to the third or fourth take to use on the record. “He abused the technology, the musicians, to get the sound.”

 

 

DIY musicians like Joni Mitchell (she had it put in her contract that she would not have to use a producer), Sly of “Sly and the Family Stone”, and Tom Scholz of “Boston” were discussed. Said Questlove, “You couldn’t think of anyone telling Sly what to do in the studio. On his 5th album, ‘It’s A Family Affair,’ he played all the instruments and sang all the parts. He was a huge musical innovator back in 1971, setting the gold standard for funky music.” Scholz actually made the record and then formed the band, getting Brad Delp to sing the lead vocals.

 
The influence of “Pet Sounds” and “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is discussed, and the rappers like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg are included.

 
The big conclusion in the second installment of the 8-part series is that, although Les Paul invented it, the multi-tracking possible with computers has forged music that can be made in one’s basement with a computer. Gradually, with multi-tracking, songs came to be made that were no longer just a simplistic recording of the group singing. “Magnetic tape just changed music completely.”

 

 

Martin reappeared later in the narrative to say that when the Beatles quit touring, they were better able to focus on recording in the studio. The music they made early on was pretty basic, but it evolved when they had more time in the studio and they were “over that basic phase by 1966 making music that could not exist outside a record. The Beatles revolutionized the way records were made. The rule book was out the window.” He reveals that the Beatles always looked for other sounds on their records, sounds discovered by making loops and speeding them up or slowing them down. For the recording of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” John Lennon wanted to sound like the Dalai Lama, chanting from a mountain top. The revolving speaker was created for this purpose and it kicks in on the record about one and one-half minutes in. Martin called it, “A prophecy of pop music in one song—sampling, scratching. We were creating a new kind of music, fantasy stuff.” When the Beatles recorded “A Day in the Life” they created an album that was like a theatrical construction. It opened a Pandora’s Box for everyone. You have to throw your musical imagination into it.”

 
Among the other artist we hear from are Annie Lennox (“the Eurythmics”), Elton John, who says there was “an explosion of creativity in the 60s to mid 70s that I don’t think will ever be matched again,” Patrick Carney of “The Black Keys,” Beck, Bon Iver (who created his music on a Mac 0S9 with ProTools, and St. Vincent. My daughter’s favorite band, “Radiohead” are also featured.
Said Producer Julia Marchesi, “Because of George Martin’s influence we were able to get 116 interviews that cover voice and recording vocals; electrification; sampling; evolution of musical formats and, as George Martin termed it, “Painting with sound.”

 
Marchesi described the 8-part series as “a huge undertaking” and said the initial meetings were very contentious, with each producer fighting for the inclusion of a different artist.

It promises to be a musical feast for viewers in mid-November on PBS.

SXSW: Tony Robbins, Self-Help Guru, Profiled for Netflix

Tony Robbins

 

Surprise!

Imagine my surprise when a documentary at SXSW that I thought was entitled “The Incomparable Rose Hartman,” about a famous female photographer who catalogued Studio 54 in its heyfrday (70 minutes) turned out to be “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru,”documentary from Director Joe Beringer for Netflix.

 

About the Film

The film follows self-help guru and author Robbins (name at birth: Anthony J. Mahavoric) through 6 days of his intensive and expensive self-help sessions entitled “Date with Destiny.” With 2500 people from 71 countries in the large ballroom, all having paid roughly $5000 a head for the 6 days, doing the math led me to a figure of $1,250,000 for the take on this event. Indeed, Wikipedia estimates Tony Robbins made $30 million in 2007. Pretty good for someone who never went to college and once worked as a janitor.
Having come to see a film that was only supposed to be 10 minutes longer than an hour, I found the nearly 2 hour film very long. The last (6th) day could have been omitted entirely, as far as I’m concerned, as it left me thinking of Don Draper at the end of “Mad Men,” while the preceding 5 sessions were more like Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” (for which Cruise won the Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.) That film role was written specifically for Cruise by Anderson and modeled on a different self-help guru who advised people how to get dates.

 

Robbins would be the first to acknowledge that he “planned” himself into his overpaid career as a motivational guru, speaker and author. It’s a little bit like the old saying, “You don’t plan to fail; you fail to plan.”

 

Robbins did not fail to plan and he claims that taking care of an abusive, pill-dependent mother turned him into what he termed “a practical psychologist.” (Wikipedia says that his mom chased him out of the house with a knife when he was 17 and he never went back.) Today, Robbins the motivational speaker says, in the film, “If she had been the mother that I wanted, I would not be the man I am.” He also says, “Most of us are so busy living life that we don’t have time to design a life, and you’re going to wake up in 10 years and say, ‘Where did it go?’”
Tony is asked, at one point, by the director, what his own “breakthrough” moment in his life was, and he dodges the question as skillfully as any politician, while giving props to a high school forensic speech teacher in his sophomore year at Glendora High School, Mr. Cobb. Apparently, Mr. Cobb launched young Tony into a speech competition, telling him, “You’re not a speaker; you’re a communicator” and Tony’s stellar performance in the category of Persuasive Oratory led him, ultimately, to some work with neuro-linguistic programming, as well as skydiving, board breaking and firewalking to help those attending his seminars break through barriers (and, no doubt, be entertaining while doing that.) He also studied Ericksonian hypnosis.

Some notable quotes from the six-day seminar:

  • “Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and under-estimate what they can do in decades.”
    “I constructed this Tony Robbins guy.” (*Fact: Tony’s mother’s 3rd husband’s last name was Robbins and he adopted young Tony to give him that surname.)
  • “Everyone needs something to move forward to, to move towards.
  • “Date with Destiny is a place that you go to discover who you are and what you are about at this time in your life.”
  • “Words have the power to pierce the pattern” (used to explain why he seems overly fond of the “F” word.)
  • “Life is happening FOR us, not TO us.”
  • “The whole thing is a dance.”
  • “What’s prevented you from having the life you deserve?” (This after some scenes of meetings with staff, where they discussed the mix of variety/entertainment/energy/engagement and “people with red flags.”

 

Dramatic Interactions

In any group this size, says Tony to staff, there are going to be about 12 who are suicidal. He assigns various staffers to support those identified through their writing(s) on questionnaires as potentially suicidal. One young person had attempted suicide only 2 days prior. It is also these writings, handed in during the sessions, that guide much of the next day’s “interactions,” as dramatic situations take precedence over the ordinary.
For instance, one 26-year-old young attractive woman named Dawn, who was abused sexually as a member of a cult called Children of God. We hear Dawn’s sad story of sexual abuse of her entire family unit. She broke free, but now feels that she is not strong enough to provide emotional support to every other family member, all of whom she describes as depressed. We later learn that she has pawned all her belongings to get the $4,995 fee for the seminar, but it pays off when $100,000 is donated to Dawn to help others like herself. (She is now writing a book). Dawn also scores private sessions with Chloe Madonna, whom Tony touts as a great therapist, and 3 friends (male) whom she selects from among the mesmerized audience who agree to contact her monthly for 6 months.

 

One woman is made to call her boyfriend up on the phone and break up with him while everyone listens. (We are told later that this attractive forty-ish brunette had reconciled with her boyfriend after the class’ conclusion). I got the distinct impression that, if asked questions off camera, this woman might have been resentful of what Tony Robbins demanded of her. She did not seem to like the fact that he was “warm and fuzzy” to others he counseled, but not towards her.
The director asks “Are you ever concerned about giving the wrong advice?” This better-looking version of Dr. Phil says, “Depth is what people are missing. And when you take people deep, it’s riveting because it’s so rare.”
There was another encounter with a suicidal young man who seemed to be foreign-born. By the end of the tearful encounter, he is crowd surfing with a goofy look of happiness on his face as all his new friends support him. And a lot of the “therapy” of the moment seems to come from making those participating feel that they are surrounded by loving fellow humans, (whether or not they ever see these people again.)

The Music

Music is skillfully used to work the crowd into a certain mood prior to Tony’s arrival onstage, and music is used during his interactions (“Tiny Dancer” was playing in the background at one point). Translators are working with headsets to interpret Tony’s gems of wisdom into 6 different languages. Here’s one such truth: “You’re a miracle to everyone in this room. (Big hug here) With you, it stops. Pure love. You’re incredible. There’s no way I would feel like this unless I had felt emotions of my own that are similar. You take all the power back today.” (This to the Christian Soldier girl, Dawn).

Young People

I was struck by the fact that, for this documentary, which will be shown on Netflix, all the highlighted people were relatively young, well-dressed and attractive. There were no dowdy middle-aged women or overweight balding men being counseled about their difficulty adjusting to retirement (or some such). Everyone was beautiful, just like the sit coms on TV. And Tony, himself, is a handsome physical specimen. He grew 10 inches in high school (due to a tumor on his pituitary gland) and is an imposing physical presence, with perfect white teeth and a huge smile. He has been married 2 times and has paid judgments of $650,900 to Wade Cook for copyright infringement and plagiarism, [according to Wikipedia], and also was forced to pay $221,260 to the FTC, but he has also won at least one libel suit for a much smaller amount.

 

At one point, all the adult participants are shown making posters for Day 6 (the final day) and they are required to sit in a yoga Lotus position, palms upturned, chanting OM and thinking about 3 things they are grateful for at that last meeting while Tony says things like, “Take the greatest gift home—who you’ve become. You’ve been on a journey, not a trip. You were the concert…Heal the boy and the man will appear.” He talks about the “birth of new values, of a new life” and says the primary question is, “what you focus on in your mission statement.” (These were the posters all the participants were busily drawing prior to Day 6.)

Here At The End

Meanwhile, we learn that Tony’s staff of approximately 50 people are telling him how late he is running (2 hours, at one point) and he is selecting different strategies to employ in his final delivery of material (second wife Pearl “Sage,” married in 2001, is an acupuncturist, among other things.)
Tony Robbins’ TED talk in 2007 is the sixth most-watched TED talk, according to Wikipedia. He played himself in the 2000 movie “Shallow Hal,” as the guru hypnotizing Jack Black so that Jack Black could see the inner beauty of Gwyneth Paltrow’s obese female lead. Interesting, inasmuch as nobody in THIS documentary Is allowed that flaw. On Season 3, episode 22 of “Family Guy,” Tony Robbins was lampooned and a non-human character shown on TV screens in “Men In Black” is Robbins.
Tony Robbins.jpg He currently assists Oprah with a Lifeclass on her OWN network and is going to be the co-owner of a Los Angeles soccer league with Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm and Peter Guber in 2017.
Film editor for this Netflix documentary was Cy Christiansen. To Mr. Christiansen, I’d say, “Day 6 dragged.”

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