Monday, April 27, 2015

David Letterman

We're coming to an end of an era.

David Letterman is retiring.

Thank goodness for my DVR, so I can watch the last shows. It's hard for me to stay up late, but the DVR saves me. This way I can watch by daylight as opposed to moonlight and these shows are really worth watching. All kinds of people are coming on to pay their respects to him. Al Franken, excuse me, SENATOR Al Franken was on and you could tell he and David go way back. Back to the senator's Saturday Night Live days and even before. That was really good TV.

Alec Baldwin was a guest, he's been on a thousand times and he was great. Jerry Seinfeld was just on and I must have rewound it a zillion times, it was that good. He did his stand up comedy but get this, he did the exact same jokes he did the first time he was on Letterman. That was over thirty years ago.

Jerry sat down and after some back and forth, he mentioned that the one thing Dave hasn't done is be a guest on his own show. Jerry turned the tables and sat in Dave's seat and Dave sat in the guest seat. He then proceeded to ask Dave some questions. It was so much fun watching these two legends, friends, interact.  It was like we were eavesdropping.  I'm telling you it was heaven. And a hoot.

David Letterman changed late night television but don't take my word for it. Just ask Jimmy Fallon, Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, ask his replacement Stephen Colbert. They all will happily tell you he did.

By now everybody knows his story.

He's from Indiana and went to L.A. to do stand up. He was on The Tonight Show and killed. Johnny Carson loved him and David began filling in as host. He flourished coming on after The Tonight Show with his show called Late Night.  NBC let him run wild and he did things we never saw before. Cool things. He was in line to succeed Carson when...

Jay Leno got the show.

David was devastated.

And then CBS persuaded him to come host Late Show with David Letterman. 

And we who worked at CBS were thrilled.

I remember the night he started. No, I wasn't in the Ed Sullivan Theater with the audience and not because I didn't want to be there. David had a thing about not peppering the audience with, what he called, network types. He wanted the audience to be full of regular, everyday fans. That was the reason we were crowded into a restaurant next to the theater watching his debut on a tv. I say we, because it was those 'network types' and big wigs. And me. Watching him on the restaurant's television.

And that's how David Letterman began on CBS.

I didn't know David but I had a passing acquaintance with his bandleader, Paul Shaffer, from my rock and roll DJ days. He was a guest on one of my shows. And the fact that David once was a weatherman was not lost on this weatherman.

I was doing CBS This Morning then and David took his show on the road, one time to London of all places. That coincided with me doing the entertainment interviews, so off I went.

You'd think it would've been easy. It wasn't.

David had a reputation of, how do I put this, of not being the easiest person to talk to. Difficult is a good word.

He did his first London show, which I thought went very well, and met me upstairs in a room above their set. There I was with two camera crews raring to go.

First thing I said was, "Great show!"

David answered with an expletive about how bad it was. The one that starts, "Piece of..."

That's how it began.

We continued down that rainy road and the interview didn't get any better. Finally, he lit up a Cuban cigar and began to smoke it.

"Nice cigar."

"You think it looks juicy? Want one?"

I said, "Sure."

Anything to help move the interview to a better place. I took one from him, lit it, and proceeded to see three David Lettermans. It was that strong. I concentrated on the middle Dave and finished our chat. I went back to my hotel room thinking this was not my finest hour. And it wasn't.

The next time I talked to David was in New York, at an office in the Sullivan Theater. Because of my earlier experience, I knew, just knew, he wasn't going to be warm and cuddly. I was just waiting for him to verbally pop me one.

But he never did.

We did the interview and then he sat afterwards and talked about all kinds of things. David was charming. David was friendly. David was an entirely different person. As he left I did everything but promise to write.

There is an addendum to that story.

Bill Scheft is a long time writer for Letterman. He also did stand up comedy. I did stand up when he did. Rumor has it that he told David that, and because of that, David considered me in the same fraternity, the same club. That's why this time was different. Keep in mind no one told me that, but that's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Over time he's mellowed.

But his interviewing skills have gotten better and better. People don't talk about that as much as I think they should. From President Obama to Bill O'Reilly to Paris Hilton. Smart, informative AND funny. You can tell I watch him all the time.

So now he leaves.

Seinfeld said, "This whole quitting idea is the stupidest thing I've ever heard." David agreed and then said, "It's my wife's fault." She wants him to spend more time with his family.

Still funny.

David Letterman is retiring.

A big fish is leaving the pond.







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Friday, April 24, 2015

Garth Brooks

There's a story behind this picture.

I was at Disney World for their 20th anniversary. Everyone was there, all the television shows, lots of stars and musical acts plus all kinds of luminaries. I was supposed to interview Patti LaBelle who was sick as a dog and had to bow out. So there I was with a hole to fill.

I said to the Disney PR guy, "Who else is here?" He began with,"Garth Brooks..." Before he could go any further, I said, "Stop right there, we'll do Garth." He then said, "His people have turned down every request we've gotten."

I've known Garth a long time. You will not find a nicer, more decent person. And talk about talent--he sings like an angel, writes great songs and performing live? You have to see it to believe it. He's that good. Am I gushing? His fans know I'm not. So I send the guy off with a, "Tell him it's for Mark McEwen." He looked at me like I was crazy as he left.

When he returned, he said this," This is exactly how it went...I told them, I know you've turned everyone down but I have to tell you about every request. This one comes from Mark McEwen." He said before he could even finish, they said,"We'll do it."

Even though he was worn down from the road and had to perform that evening, within the hour Garth showed up.

That's the kind of friend he is.

I met Garth right before his second album, No Fences. There was a bit of controversy because a couple of radio deejays had sweet talked and confused his mother into giving them a copy of the first single, his huge hit, "Friends in Low Places", before it was released by the record company. They did that so they could play it first, so they could have a scoop.  Now, moms are sacred ground as far as I'm concerned. I thought that was dirty pool and said so to Garth.

That was the beginning of our friendship.

He is the top selling solo artist of the 20th century and the only solo artist to have 6 albums top the 10 million sales mark. He's garnered a slew of awards...from the Country Music Association (or the CMA), from the Grammys, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, a truckload of People's Choice Awards and he was also awarded The NAACP Image Award.

One year he was at the CMA Awards, performing onstage. President George H.W. Bush was in the audience. At the end of the performance he said, "I've always loved my Georges. George Jones and George Strait." Then he realized what he'd done and said, "Sorry Mr. President!"

Everyone broke up.
   
At the height of his fame he retired. He wanted to spend more time at home with his young daughters, helping them by having their Dad around the house as they grew older. It's a song called, "Getting to Know You." He also had a brand new wife, country star, Trisha Yearwood, and not being on the road was a priority. He did some shows in Vegas, on the weekends, but he was pretty much a stay at home dad.

His daughters grew up and he's back on the road with a World Tour.

Two of his daughters are college age now and the third one is a senior in high school. He jokes they're happy to have him gone.
               
Today?

It seems like he's everywhere, TV, concerts, appearances. If he hasn't been near where you live, he's coming. He has a new album, Man Against Machine, and audiences are happy to hear the new stuff along with the huge songs they grew up with. It's great to see him so happy, so back.

At the end of the nineties he was named Artist of the Decade. To help celebrate that honor, Garth had rings made. He gave them to his Mom and Dad, his band, his crew and people from his record company.

Only three people outside of that circle got one--Jay Leno, Nancy O'Dell from Access Hollywood and me.

I wear mine everyday.

Because of the 'G' insignia people ask me if I went to the University of Georgia. Like a lion in the tall grass I wait for that question.

It gives me an opportunity to say, "Nooo, Garth Brooks gave me that ring..."

And then I get to tell the story.






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Monday, April 20, 2015

The Olympic Torch

I ran with the Olympic Torch.

It was in Japan for the Winter Olympics in Nagano. I had covered Winter Olympics before. Once in the Alps for the Albertville Games. Once in Lillehammer, Norway for, as they were known then, the Tonya Harding Olympics. But I never ran with the torch.

CBS had the viewing rights for the Games and because of that they got to pick a few people to run with the flame.

I was one of the lucky ones.

I was on CBS This Morning and our Executive Producer, Al Berman, brought me into his office one day and closed the door. We all knew the Games were coming. We all knew they were on our network, so when he started talking about them I began to relax.

Then he dropped the bomb.

"The network has given us an opportunity to have someone run with the torch and I want to have you run with it.  You'd be great," he continued. "We'll do a whole campaign around it and in Nagano, you'll run."

I was speechless.  I knew no one who had run with the torch. Still don't. I left his office a bit dazed.

The series was called, 'Mark, don't drop the torch.' I wasn't thinking about dropping it.

Until then.

Talk about your pressure.

They sent me to a sports complex in Manhattan called Chelsea Piers to work out and get prepared. At first, I went three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. As the time for the run got closer I included Saturday and Sunday.

What did I do?

Because I'd had an operation on my knee, I didn't want to jeopardize the run, so jogging was out of the picture. The exercise bike was not. I used to do 45 minutes on it, then switch to weights to keep the heart rate up.

I had an inventive personal trainer who would come up with all kinds of exercises. I shadow boxed with former middleweight contender turned fitness trainer, Michael Olajide. I also did Pilates and worked out with a rope contraption. Just seeing me on that was worth the price of admission.  I did an hour of exercise every time I went there and I went there for about six weeks.

Two weeks after it was over I was in Japan, in a classroom full of people, preparing for my run. I spoke not a word of Japanese and in turn the person who was prepping us, spoke not a word of English. I had a translator who helped me.

I  wore a running suit that had the Olympic rings on it, plus I had a laminated picture of my daughter, Maya, around my neck. She was two. I then went to a small town outside of Nagano thousands of miles from New York, my home.

At first the streets were empty but they quickly filled up. The Olympic Torch was coming. The townspeople were on the curb on either side of the street. It was like being in a hallway and the walls were people. It got busy. It got noisy.

And here it came.

The torch was being carried by a runner, just like you've seen on TV. When it arrived I bowed, put my torch next to theirs and the Olympic flame was transferred.

Then I was off.

I had to run slowly because there were kids in wheelchairs by my side. We started at a school for disabled children and I ran with them.

I was high fiving the people in the crowd. I then left the kids behind, began running across a bridge, and was told to run faster.  I found out later that the reason I was prodded is because there is a finite amount of propane in each torch. They don't want your flame to go out.

The distance I ran? About a mile. There was a truck in front of me the whole time with a camera crew filming me running. On the other side of the bridge was the next runner.

I bowed, she bowed, and put her torch next to mine. The transfer was made and she disappeared into the crowd.

When I was running I didn't have time to fully take in the moment. Watching her running away was when it hit me.

I just ran with the Olympic Torch.
The Olympics bring all of us, the whole world, together. They've been doing that since before I was born. The Olympic motto is Citius-Altius-Fortius. Faster, Higher, Stronger. Athletes train their whole lives for a moment in the sun and some of them are from countries I'll never ever see. To be a small part of that was overwhelming.

An epilogue.

I was in the stadium for the opening of the Nagano Winter Olympics. Japanese figure skater Midori Ito was the final runner and came in to a roar from the crowd. She was a former world champion and had taken the silver medal in Albertville. She went to the cauldron, put her torch to it, and the flame was lit.

The Games were officially open.

And I cried like a baby.

The flame had come a long way from Olympia, Greece. It was carried by thousands to be in Nagano.

I was one of them.




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Friday, April 17, 2015

Tiger Woods

"It's not what you achieve in life that's important, it's what you overcome."

That's a famous saying and it was repeated by Tiger Woods.

Some well known stats...He's won 79 PGA Tour events, 14 Majors, won what seems like a bazillion dollars and many think he is the greatest golfer of all time.

I know I do.

Tiger played in the most recent Masters and I think played very well. There are folks who disagree and that's okay. I disagree with them. 

I'll bet that quote resonates with Tiger because he's been awful for awhile. Bad back, short game woes, injuries... When I heard he was going to play in the most prestigious tournament there is, my first reaction was, "Uh oh."

He's been that bad.

But hold on now.

Tiger played well, he didn't win, but played well. He could have played poorly. But didn't. Let's look at that 'he didn't win' thing. Did you actually think he would? He had not played for like, forever, and not played well for even longer. See, he set the bar so high when he was TIGER that coming in first, even when he hadn't played at all, is what people have come to expect from him. So when he finished 17th, there was a lot of pooh-poohing going on. "He's through, he's washed up, he's old," blah, blah, blah.

 I beg to differ.

People have lined up in droves to declare the end of Tiger Woods. Just one thing, they didn't tell him.
Tiger went home and worked, and worked, and worked...

Back to the Masters.

First of all, did you see the gallery? It was packed. And that's because Tiger made people who weren't normally golf fans pay attention. Golf became important because of him. Second, Tiger needs to work on his driving but all in all his game was pretty good.

Ask most people to name a golfer. Now ask them to name two. They might know Phil Mickelson. Might. They might know Jack Nicklaus. Maybe Arnold Palmer.

I'm just saying.

Back to that quote.

"It's not what you achieve in life that's important, it's what you overcome."

I saved that night he hit the fire hydrant, got divorced, and had his life turned upside down, for the end. You know the line, "He who is without sin..." There isn't one among us who doesn't wish they could change something they did. Not one. I bet Tiger wishes he could. Forgiveness is something that we are taught from the beginning. I forgive him. If you don't, I get that. Don't watch. Tell your kids, your grandkids, whatever you want.

I'll tell mine I saw the greatest who ever played.

By the way, Jordan Spieth won the 2015 Masters by four strokes and won wire to wire.

Great person, great golfer.

But a smaller story, a foot note as it were, was the return of Tiger Woods.

Watch this story unfold.



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Friday, April 10, 2015

Stevie Wonder

I knew of Stevie long before I met him.

He was 'Little Stevie Wonder' at first. One of the stars of Motown. Along with The Supremes. The Jackson 5. Smoky Robinson and the Miracles. The Four Tops. And let's not forget The Temptations.

That's tall grass.

Stevie stayed right with them.

He had a number of hits as a young artist..."Uptight (Everything's Alright)", "I Was Made to Love Her", "For Once in My Life", and "Signed, Sealed Delivered (I'm Yours)", to name a few.

I asked him, "What song changed your career?" The answer might surprise you.

"My Cherie Amour."

"Why?"

"I wrote it for a girl named Marsha." He was 16 at the time. Then he and Marsha broke up. "So I changed it," Stevie said, "from "Oh My Marsha" to "My Cherie Amour."

Because of that song people began to look at him differently.

He changed. He grew up, and began to write and record different songs like "Superstition", "You Haven't Done Nothin'" and "Higher Ground".

Songs with lines like, "Why must my color black make me a lesser man?" resonated in the soul of this young black man.

It's hard to stress just how important Stevie was to me. Stevie was important to everybody.

I can still remember him blasting from stereo speakers out of dorm room windows. It seemed like he was everywhere.

I asked him, "Why did you bring social issues into your music?"

"I did that because I felt that God blessed me with an opportunity to express myself not from just an African American point of view but from a humankind point of view."

Read that again.

Then tell me what artist today says things like that.

He added, "I think we have far more in common with each other than those who would like to divide us, would have us believe."

Now don't think that kind of music was all he wrote 'cause that's not true. When Stevie wrote a love song ("Knocks Me Off My Feet") you knew a love song had been written. When a heart was broken ("Rocket Love") he wrote about it achingly and eloquently. And songs like "I Wish" and "Boogie on Reggae Woman" are groove perfections. 

And there are more.

Much more.

Stevie Wonder was the first musical artist who made me think while I was shaking a tail feather.

One last thing, I've met more women named Aisha than you could shake a stick at. All of them named that because of the song he wrote for his daughter. ("Isn't She Lovely?")

Stevie talked about how one of his signature songs, if not the signature song, "Living for the City"  was written.

"I wrote that on a Saturday in New York," he told me. He said it was inspired by The Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City".  Stevie continued, "Not the lyrics but the sounds of the city in that song." Horns honking, cars driving by, city life.

That made it into his song.

I saw him perform it at Carnegie Hall. It was at the Rainforest Foundation concert.

Sting was there.

Elton was there.

The Boss was there.

James Taylor was there.

But the star of the evening was Stevie Wonder. The roar that the crowd made when he played the recognizable open to that song? As the commercial goes...priceless.

He's won a bunch of Grammys plus he has a Lifetime Achievement Award. He's won an Academy Award for Best Song and been inducted into the Rock and Roll and Songwriters halls of fame. Stevie has had lots of number one hits and sold over a 100 million records.

Yep, Stevie Wonder is very special.

We're lucky to be alive when he is alive.


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Monday, April 6, 2015

Joni Mitchell

In college, all the guys wanted to date her, all the women wanted to be her. The college I went to was the University of Maryland. The person? Joni Mitchell.

I've liked Joni for a long, long, time. The journey began for me back in high school. A young lady named Karen was in one of my classes. I thought she was beautiful and wonderful and wonderful and beautiful, and all I wanted was for her to feel the same gaga way towards me as I felt towards her.

She liked Joni.

I'd never heard of her.

Karen brought Joni's album Blue to school to share with me. I took it home and to show her how hip I was, I brought her an album by the group Bread. That went over like a lead balloon. Karen left for other pastures shortly thereafter.

Joni stayed.

In college, the artists that all my friends seemed to listen to were Stevie Wonder, the Grateful Dead, Little Feat and Joni. It was the early 70's. College was an oasis from the outside world and listening to Joni seemed to fit right in.

Plus she was good.

Real good.

One time I went to see her in concert at the Merriweather Post Pavillion with my college roommate, Tim, and a bunch of people who loved her as well. Merriweather is an outdoor venue and we sat on the lawn and had two tickets for inside where people sat in real seats. Two of us would run in, sit down, watch her do a couple of songs, and run back out to give the tickets to the next two in line.

Tim and I had our turn and in we went. We sat there mesmerized and watched her perform. When Joni stopped between songs to tune her guitar, Tim yelled out, "Joni, you're beautiful!" The audience laughed. When it quieted down she said, "Thank you."

Tim turned to me and said, "She talked to me."

Years later I talked to her for CBS. It was in a house up in the hills of Bel Air. The crew was set up and the cameras were in place. When she came downstairs Joni had an elegant tea cup in her hand. It held sake. "This," she said, "helps me with that," pointing to the cameras.

She did the whole interview with a guitar on her lap and I thought, "oh please, oh please, play it."

She did.

Joni accompanied herself and sang one of her songs, "Just Like This Train." I was transfixed. There's a line in it that goes, "Watching your hairline recede, my vain darling..." I told Joni, when she sang that line I stood tall.

I did a show on A&E called Live By Request and this time we were featuring Phil Collins. During rehearsal I was sitting with David Crosby as he was scheduled to sing a song with Phil. We chatted casually, I knew David. And he knew Joni. Very well. They're great friends, they go back to the 60's. I said her name and he mentioned they were on the phone one night. They talk a lot. Then he says Joni brought up music critics and how they don't speak of her in the same breath as Bob Dylan. He says this grates on her and then he says, "I've heard this argument a million times so I hung up on her."

Wait, you hung up on JONI MITCHELL?

And then he says she called back and continued that line of conversation and, "I hung up on her again." 

 I couldn't fathom ever doing that. David just smiled, shrugged as if to say,"What can you do?" He leaned back and our chat continued...

The next time I saw Joni was at The Grammys.  She won two of them that evening for her album Turbulent Indigo. It was crazy backstage.

Through it all I heard a shout, "Hey Mark!"

It was her.

Over the years I can't tell you how many times a song from Joni saved me. I bet if you ask fans of her's they'll tell you the same thing. She has admirers everywhere from Prince to Robert Plant to Melissa Ethridge to the guy next door. 

My favorite Joni album is Blue, no, For the Roses, no, Court and Spark, no, Hejira, no....

When I first heard she had been rushed to the hospital after she was found unconscious, I froze, lost in thought.

She's 71, as you know, and you also know the old saying, 'if you have your health...'

I'm glad to hear that Joni is getting better and better.

The world is a better place with her in it.




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Thursday, April 2, 2015

On The Road Again

I used to travel to all kinds of places for CBS This Morning and broadcast my weather from there.
From cities to small towns to spring training.

One of my first trips was to Macon, Georgia. The Cherry Blossom Festival. They were happy we were there and I was glad to see Macon on CBS' dime.

The morning of the telecast was a beehive of activity. My producer, Kevin Coffey, was on the phone with New York coordinating the whole thing. There were wires everywhere, camera crews ready, and locations picked. The guests were made up and mic'ed up. We were good to go.

The first guest was the wife of the chairman of the festival. Beforehand she was nervous. To put it mildly.

Actually she was a wreck.

"I'm so nervous," she said.

 "Don't worry."

"I'm so nervous," she repeated.

"It's just a conversation," I said.

"But I'm so nervous!"

"Well then, be nervous," I thought. She disappeared. There were 15 minutes to go before we went on air.

The show began and right before they threw to me she showed up and announced, "I've been in the car drinking Bloody Marys."

"WHAT?!!!"

"And now let's go to our Mark McEwen, who's doing the weather from Macon, Georgia, and their Cherry Blossom Festival."

No matter what I asked her, the answer was, "Whee!" After the segment was over somebody said to me, "You had a real live one there!"

If they only knew.

I spent a lot of time on the road and learned things I didn't know I would learn.

For example...I did a segment with the Commissioner of Agriculture at the North Carolina State Fair. Found out that North Carolina is third in America in pickle production. Didn't know that.

I was in Hancock, Michigan. which is in the U.P. or Upper Peninsula of that state. If you know your geography, Michigan has it's lower part. That gives us Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Ann Arbor. The upper part, just to the north of Wisconsin, is where Hancock is located. It's the second snowiest city in the country. It's named after John Hancock whose signature is on the Declaration of Independence.

But that's not the nugget.

Hancock is home to a lot of people of Finnish descent. Finland. They told me over and over that America pronounces a certain Finnish word wrong.

The word is sauna.

Everywhere I went they made sure to tell me so I could tell you. The correct way to say it is like sour. Sow-na. We say it saw-na.

So now you know.

Later I toured baseball spring training camps.

What better way to help the country forget snow, ice, and winter, than to show them green grass, shorts, and sunshine? I went to Tampa (spring home of the Yankees), Bradenton (home of the Pirates), Ft. Myers ( home of the Royals), and Port St. Lucie (home of the Mets), among others.

One time in West Palm Beach (home of the Braves) I actually pitched to first baseman Sid Bream live on national TV. The first pitch I threw, he swung at and...missed. How cool is that?

The second pitch?

He hit it so hard I could swear the ball had flames on it as it went out.

We're still waiting for it to come down.

Ahh, life on the road....




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