Friday, July 24, 2015

Soap Box

Let me get on my soap box for a minute.

If you watch the news on TV, whether it be local or national, it seems like there's an awful lot of bad news. I mean run for the hills bad news. Now, don't get me wrong, this world can be a dangerous place but it seems like these days we hear about it all.the.time. I can't tell you how many people who have told me they don't watch the news because it depresses them.

Let me do an informal survey and ask you to raise your hand if you're in that boat.

Look at the hands.

There are people who get knocked down by Life, you don't plan it, it just happens. There are families that need a bit of help. People who fall through the cracks and need a helping hand to get them out of those cracks. People who need help to get to the right path.

The key word there is help.

There are stories like this all over the place.

Also stories about folks who help people less fortunate than them. People who help those of us who need help.

We should hear more about them.

There are people who get up every day and do good in this world. They do it not to get rich but because it's the right thing to do.

They put out a hand when you're drowning. They help make this a better place.

They can be folks at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or a food bank or a foundation or a center or a school or they can be the people next door. They can be black, white or brown. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that their hearts are in the right place.

We call our favorite athletes, heroes. These are heroes.

Do I sound pollyanna-ish?

Maybe.

But doing things like this sure helps a person sleep at night.

Ask those that help. They'll tell you.

I say tell us about the tough stuff BUT tell us about the other stuff, too. The hope, the goodness, the caring for our fellow man.

Tell us about that.

Now, I'll get off my soap box.






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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Few Things You Should Know About Me

I like knowing things.

I read all the time. Always have my nose buried in something. It used to be books but these days an iPad will work. I have an insatiable appetite for various magazines but I also read all kinds of newspapers everyday. The one I read the most? The New York Times.

I wasn't born in New York (that would be in San Antonio, Texas) but I consider myself a New Yorker. I lived there for over twenty years and that's the place I call home. I'm a Yankees fan, my twins wear Derek Jeter jerseys. My brother gives me a hard way to go since I went to junior high, high school, and college in Maryland. He thinks I should be an Orioles fan. I could say to let me know the next time the Os are in the World Series but instead I always remind him that I lived longer in New York than I did in Maryland.

I have a good memory.

Photographic almost. I'm terrible with names, I can forget one right after I've heard it but I can tell you what you were wearing, what we ate, where we were, what you said, on the day we met, 30 years ago.

I like trivia.

I always say I'm a vat of useless knowledge. I can tell you things about things that even I don't know why I know them. I know a little sumpin' sumpin' about gosh near everything. They say when you get older, there's so much stuff in your brain that it's hard to remember to get out of the rain. If that's true...

Let's hope I'm never caught in the rain.

I always was a pretty good athlete.

When I was younger I gravitated more towards baseball and basketball. Pitching, hitting, dribbling and shooting. Rebounding? Not so much. I could play football but football hurt. I'm a lover not a fighter. Plus they wanted to make me a lineman. I wanted to play running back.

I worked at a golf course when I was a teenager. It was there I learned to play golf. When I had my stroke my wife said," I bet you can't wait until you get back on the golf course." It was then I told her I didn't like playing golf before my stroke.

I like being a dad.

I have one daughter, a step-daughter, and twin sons. Can you say circus? I think you can. The boys are twelve. My friend Tony Mirante always says, "Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems." Griffin has been putting on his underwear backwards, for like forever. I always have to have him turn them around. Miles thinks donuts and video games are the bomb. They both forget to clean their room and to put on deodorant. And getting them to read during summer break? Let's just say it's not easy.

On to big kids, big problems...

Both my daughter and step-daughter have discovered boys. In turn, the guys have discovered them. Now when I was a boy, that wasn't an issue. Guess what? As a dad? It's an issue. Plus you find out the hard way what we practiced when we were younger. That is to pay no attention to parental advice.

We didn't.

It's different now that you're the parent.

Speaking of parents, my father, who I love to pieces, is 86 years old. His memory is not what it once was. And since I repeat everything, every time I tell him the same story, it's as if he's hearing it for the first time.

It's a match made in heaven.

One last thing.

I've known my wife for forty years. She still makes me bite my knuckle. When I met her it was the old Tom Sawyer/Becky Thatcher thing. Still is. Bless her for putting up with me. That Tom Petty song, the one that starts, "She's a good girl, loves her Mama, loves Jesus, and America, too..." always reminds me of her.

She is a good girl. Loves her Mother. Great mom, great wife.

And those are a few things you should know about me.




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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Whitney Houston

It was The 36th Grammy Awards.




The big winner that year, who won three Grammys including Record of the Year and Album of the Year, was Whitney Houston. The album Grammy was for the soundtrack of The Bodyguard, the smash movie she starred in, but the fuel for all the wins was the huge song behind it "I Will Always Love You."

That year they were held at Radio City Music Hall and I was backstage talking to winners and losers, trying to get the biggest stars I could for my piece the next morning. And there was Whitney leaving after her wins.

 I was determined to talk with her.

Her husband, Bobby Brown, her personal assistant Robyn Crawford, plus four refrigerator sized security men. And Whitney. Slowly moving towards the exit.

I'd never met her but I had met Bobby.

It was back in the 80s. He'd tasted fame with New Edition and really became huge with his second solo album, Don't Be Cruel. Its first single, "My Prerogative," was on every radio, the video seemed to play every hour on MTV. He came on our show on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. He spoke eloquently about Dr. King, said the kinds of things you wouldn't expect Bobby Brown to say.

Since I knew him I said, "Could Whitney come back to talk with me?"

He replied, "It's up to her."

The scrum kept moving towards the exit.

"Whitney, could you talk with me for a second?"

"It's up to Robin."

Kept moving.

"Robin?"

"Up to Whitney."

Still moving.

Whitney finally said the line that changed everything. "It's so hot in here."

"We have air conditioning in our booth."

She looked at me and said, "Okay."

I led her gently back to my CBS area, all the time feeling like I was holding lightning in my hand. While we were setting up, I told her Aretha Franklin had just been there and was happy she'd won.

"Aunt Re-Re?" Whitney asked.

Aunt Re-Re.

I knew we had to be fast so I asked her what winning that night meant to her. She answered and as I began my second question, I felt someone from her team poke me in the back. I knew that poke. It meant time is up. When that happens you can do one of two things. You can either ignore it and continue, because hey, you've got Whitney Houston, and she's a huge get.

And you'll never talk to her again.

Or, you can wrap it up and be thankful that she stopped by and hope her team remembers how professional and accommodating you were. How you wound down the interview when they said to wind it down.

I chose option number two.

As they were leaving I thanked Bobby, I thanked Robyn, and I especially thanked Whitney.

The next morning I was able to not only promote my piece on The Grammys but with Whitney, as well.

The last time I saw her was six years later, again at The Grammys.

They were held in Los Angeles this time. Whitney won the Best Female R & B Vocal Performance for "It's Not Right But It's Okay." She also performed on the show.

Although Carlos Santana was the big winner that night (he won a boatload of awards for his album Supernatural), Whitney Houston was still Whitney Houston. I asked her earlier if she would come back and talk to me later. She said, "Sure," smiled, and blew me a kiss.

All the press was in an area backstage. The big boys were there--CNN, Today, Good Morning America, Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight and us. Whitney came to talk to me as promised and the air started crackling because a huge star was on board. She had on a pink dress that included a pink stole.
Am I the only person who had never seen a pink stole?

It was hugs and air kisses between us as she sat down.

I said, "How's it feel to win another one of those guys?"

Whitney responded, "Great, simply great. It never, ever gets old."

"And singing in front of that audience?"

She smiled shyly.

"You always want to impress that bunch."

We talked a bit more, then she got up, more hugs, and she was gone. And every other reporter was not very happy because she spoke only to me.

Oh well, that's life.

I've always held her in a special place in my heart. She was supremely talented, yes, but she was also a special person.

Throughout her struggles, I always expected her to mount a comeback and show us all that the joke was on us.

When I learned she was gone, I had to stop what I was doing and just sit down. I had never been affected like that by an artist.

Not like that.

The once in a lifetime shooting star, Whitney Houston.

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

David

His name is David McEwen but I always call him Cousin David because, well, he's my cousin.

David with my sister Karen
He's also my brother.

Let me explain.

I've know David a long time. He's told me more than once that my father, his Uncle Alfred, always treated him special when he would come visit him in Jackson, Mississippi. Special is always special but when you're a kid it's extra special. That paid off for me when I would come visit. See, I had glasses, spoke 'proper' (that's how my mom and dad raised me) and was in a prime position for all the boys in Jackson to beat me up.

David, who was the toughest of the tough, said, "I don't think so." The guys, who were afraid of David, left his cousin alone. And made his cousin a happy man.

David joined the Air Force, was stationed in Spain, and settled in his beloved Denver when he got out.  He married Sweet Connie
and is the father of three girls-Kim, Meg, and Dari. I, in the meantime, was taking care of business, in radio and television.

It was then that our friendship really blossomed.

He had moved to California, had his own computer company,  and I was coming to LA all the time because I covered Entertainment for CBS.

Man, we had some times.

He'd come pick me up in his F-150 truck at my hotel and we would ride around for hours singing to songs on the radio.

He'd take me to his home for barbecues and just hanging with the family. I remember his grandson, Brandon, sitting in his high chair during one of those BBQs. He had a rib in his hand and a glass of Kool-Aid. He looked at me, laughed, and put the rib first in his Kool-Aid and then in his mouth.

In turn, I would take him with me on interviews.

David told Jim Carrey that he taught his grandkid to spit. The delight on Jim's face was something to see and his laugh was something to hear.

He has a picture of him with the great Richard Pryor. That was a wonderful day.

We sat with Whoopi while she took a break between interviews. Just Whoopi, David and me, talking.

Through it all he listened to my troubles, gave me great advice, and changed from my cousin to my brother.

I can't tell you how many things in my life are the way they are because of his wisdom.

He had a heart attack. I was there. I had a stroke. He was there.

As you can tell from that last sentence, we're older now. Still tight as ticks.

We spend hours on the phone, giggling like my kids, and talking about all kinds of things. Politics, history, comedy, Stephen King, you name it. We watch sporting events together. LeBron in the NBA finals. Me rooting for him, David politely rooting for Golden State, thank you very much. He did live in California.

If Tiger is on teevee, we're watching him and discussing that, and don't get him talking about boxing. He knows that sport inside and out.

And David is still giving me great advice. Smartest guy I know.

We end our phone conversations the same way every time.

"I love you."

David McEwen.

My cousin.

My brother.


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Snapshots

So, I'm on the red carpet for the Academy Awards and I hear a voice say, "Hi Mark."
I turn and it's Mariah Carey.

"Hi Mariah."

Let's go back a few months...

I was in a recording studio with a camera crew getting set to interview Mariah. This would be the first time I would ever meet her and didn't know quite what to expect. There were rumors that she was tough to talk to, rumors that she was a diva. I'm here to tell you, they were all wrong. She couldn't have been more accommodating, couldn't have been nicer.

Cut ahead to that red carpet and hugs were in order. That's right, I hugged Mariah Carey.

A sweet person. A great hugger. And an underrated writer. Go back and listen to her. A lot of those songs? She wrote.

Before CBS, I was a rock and roll deejay. I worked in a number of cities and the first station I worked at in New York was WAPP.
We had an album we put out called Homegrown that featured local talent. The band that won that first contest was called Bon Jovi with a song called "Runaway."A record company heard that song and signed them to a contract and the rest, as they say, is history.

Jon Bon Jovi never forgot.

I was at a Prince concert years later at Madison Square Garden and Jon walked by, stopped, and came back to shake my hand and to talk to me. We talked about the concert, his tour, and once again he thanked me for having a hand in helping him.

Made me feel very special.

One last thing.

One year Jon was at the MTV Awards, and he and his guitarist Ritchie Sambora did an acoustic version of their song"Wanted Dead or Alive." THAT performance gave us MTV Unplugged.

Thank you Jon.

The late Joan Rivers had her own talk show. Before I get to that, Joan was once the center square on Hollywood Squares. A fledgeling weatherman was on that show and Joan, who was a big star, was very kind to him. That weatherman has always been deeply grateful.

On to her show with a story I mentioned before...

I was a guest along with the great Aretha Franklin. Joan tried to hook us up. Although Aretha and I were good friends, that hooking us up thing went by like a summer rainstorm and never happened. I've never been turned down so graciously.

More Aretha...

It was January in Washington and I was covering Clinton's first Inauguration for 48 Hours. It was cold...January, right?  I was coming around the corner of the Lincoln Memorial when I thought I heard Aretha singing.

Turns out I was right.

There she was in a mink coat, clutching her handbag singing, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T, (she saw me) Hi Mark, find out what it means to me."

Needless to say, later on, she was a highlight of the celebration.

Last but not least Laurence Fishburne.

One day I was standing at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 57th Street waiting for the light to change.
A guy on a moter scooter, with a helmet, goes by and says, "Hey Mark."

Laurence Fishburne.

Next time I saw him was on the show, to talk about a movie he wrote, directed, and starred in called Once in a Life. I say, "Before we talk about that do you remember the last time we saw each other?"

"No."

I tell him the story and he laughed. "I remember now!" He continued, "It's easier to get around the city that way. And by the time people recognize me, I'm gone... Ciao!"

Sometimes you just have to say Ciao.






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Thursday, July 2, 2015

David Bowie

My BFF, Tony Colter, first turned me on to David Bowie.
I must have been seventeen or so and Tony's ears were ahead of mine. He drove a red Volkswagen station wagon and had David blasting from the speakers. That was in the days of eight tracks and big Afros. And Ziggy Stardust.

Facts you might know...real name David Jones. Changed it because there was a famous Davy Jones already. In the Monkees. So influential...there was a time that it seemed all the English bands had singers that sounded eerily like him. He was also the first major star to sell his song catalog for millions. Smart.

I first met David on CBS This Morning. He was a guest and I was all excited that I was going to interview THE David Bowie.
He was there to help promote a book, Blimey!, that covered the history of the London art world. During our interview I mentioned that while Madonna got a lot of press for her different looks, he was the guy who invented different personas. It seemed like every time you looked up, David was somebody different. Alladin Sane and The Thin White Duke were just two.

He very politely thanked me on the air.
And me? I darn near fainted.

The next time I saw him was on a flight to L.A. on Christmas Eve 1995. My daughter Maya, who is twenty now, was a baby then.
David was newly married to Iman, the super model and super nice person. I knew her and brought Maya over and after she cooed over her she said, "Show her to David. Maybe he'll get some ideas!"

Well, they have a daughter now and I guess I'm the guy you should be thanking for that.

Last story...

As you know, I did Live By Request on A & E and David was the star of one of those shows.

The way it worked was there was a studio audience of about two hundred people with millions more watching on the tube. People would call in, David would talk to them, and play their memories.

Very cool.

In the audience that night were Tony, my sister and brother, Karen and Kirk, and my wife, Denise.

Big Time Bowie fans, all.

During commercial breaks there was down time and each of the artists we did handled that time differently. Phil Collins played Motown songs, Elton John sang bawdy limericks.  David just stood there quietly while his makeup artist touched him up.

And then it happened.

From the audience a woman shouted, "David, I love you!" Everybody laughed including David. When the crowd died down, he said with a twinkle in his eye, "You don't love me, you just admire me from a distance!" The audience erupted again.

The show continued, he was great, the band was great and afterwards I took my entourage backstage to meet Mr. Bowie.

On the ride home, I was still so pumped, and we excitedly talked about the evening. I said, "Can you believe that woman shouting out that she loved David?" They all turned to my wife and said, "SHE did it!"
"I couldn't help myself," Denise said sheepishly.

I was aghast and proud at the same time.

True story.

David Bowie.

A true original.

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