Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Richard Pryor

This is a picture of Richard Pryor and me.

What you don't see is when his face lit up when I came into his house.

I thought, "I can die now."

People forget how big, how important, he was. Back in the day if you wanted to be on TV there was Johnny Carson and that was pretty much it. Well, the Ed Sullivan Show way back when but let's talk about Carson.  You had to be clean as a whistle to get on the Tonight Show.

Richard Pryor changed that.

He made words you wouldn't say to your mother funny as all get out. Oh you still had to be clean to be on the Tonight Show but the times they were a changing.

Comedians began talking differently, more like everyday people, because of him.

In clubs, on cable, on things like Def Comedy Jam, things like Comedy Central. Folks like Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Kevin Hart, picked up on that. Keegan-Michael Key, of Key and Peele, as President Obama's Anger Translator, Luthor, reminded me of Richard.

Ask them, I'll bet they all genuflect to Mr. Pryor.

He also made being black funny as all get out.

His bit on going to Africa and seeing black people everywhere and finding out that they could @#%& up your luggage at the airport just like white people was priceless. And funny.

He was the first comedian that I went to a movie theater to see him do stand up. His Richard Pryor: Live On The Sunset Strip was on the big screen. I barely got out of there alive, I laughed so hard.

When I interviewed him he came out on one of those scooters. It was hard for him to get around. Richard had a lot of miles on his odometer and I don't mean just age.

He spoke freely onstage about his heart attack and about setting himself on fire freebasing. I laughed again when he told the story of waking up in the hospital with an intern waving away smoke coming off of him and saying, "Hey Rich. Can I have this last autograph?"

That's the mileage I'm talking about.

Did you know he helped write Blazing Saddles? Did you know he won five Grammy Awards? There's more.

Also keep in mind Richard Pryor paved the way for one of the biggest comedians ever.

Eddie Murphy.

Eddie was a rock star stand up. If you only know him as Doctor Doolittle, listen up. He tore this country up, all dressed in leather, with great jokes, a great presence, and great impersonations.

James Brown, anyone?

No Richard, no Eddie.

After Eddie had become hugely popular he cast the legend in his movie, Harlem Nights.

Sometimes when you see the older version of someone, you forget what they were when they were younger. Richard was mellower when we met but I remember him being this huge bonfire of talent. He was dangerous and I mean that in a good and funny way.

Watch 'Word Association' with Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live (It's on Youtube) and you'll see what I'm talking about.

The great Richard Pryor.

Rolling Stone named him the greatest stand up. Ever.

Jerry Seinfeld called him, "the Picasso of our profession."

When we were done I shook his hand and left knowing I had met Mount Everest.

Richard Pryor passed on December 10, 2005.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Harry Filkin

I was in Asbury Park last weekend.

It had been a while since I'd been there, actually since my radio days. As you can probably imagine there's a story behind why I was there and here goes...

I worked with a dear friend at CBS, her name is Annmarie Parr. She married another person I worked with, Reid Collins, so her full name actually is Annmarie Parr Collins. I know, I know, TMI, but for this story I use just her maiden name.

She and I hooked up on Facebook. Annmarie posted a video there that her brother Tom had shot of a song by a guy named Harry Filkin.

The song was "Angeline" and I thought it was very good so I shared it on my page. Her other brother, Mark, owns the record label that produced Harry's album, saw the share, and asked me if I would come and be the MC for the CD release.

The album, by the way, is very good.

And that's how I got to be in Asbury Park.

Harry is a legend on the Jersey Shore. We had one of his earlier bands, Cats on a Smooth Surface, on when my station WNEW-FM broadcast live from the Boardwalk.

Kids, the weekend was like a dream. A good one.

It started on Friday with me hanging out with Mark and his good friend, and now my friend, Tim Severson from San Diego. We shared deelish, fancy pizza.

There might have been some adult beverages involved.

And Harry stopped by.

 It was like seeing an old friend. We talked about everything. Writing songs, musical heroes, being a dad. Everything. You know how you look up and an hour has flown by? It was like that.
L-R...Hamilton (Tom's son), Mark Parr, Tom Parr, Annmarie Parr,
Tim (Mark's friend), Karen (Harry's wife) and me.

Later that night, after seeing Harry in a small Jersey club, I got to bed at, like, 12:30. When you're twenty five? No problem. When you're my age? Big problem.

I woke up stiff and...old.

That day we walked on the actual Boardwalk, had dinner, and went to the Wonder Bar for the big soiree. The place was packed. Mark spoke first, then me. I thanked everyone for coming, talked a bit about my days at NEW and then introduced Harry.

He and his band were great.

Harry played the album and various covers he has played for years. As the saying goes, "the joint was jumping." He finished by playing a song I love, "Second Chance."

It's on Youtube, check it out.
Two Marks and a Harry

The night was glorious. Tonic for these troops.

It's been a long time since I was in a club.

It's been a long time since I heard live music in a club.

It's been a long time since I heard live music this good in a club.

Thank you Harry.

Afterwards I went back to my hotel room and climbed into bed. The next morning, with shades on, I limped to the airport to begin the journey home.

With a new favorite CD and a new friend.

And a smile on my face.


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Thursday, May 18, 2017


I hate exercise.

Well, I don't actually hate it hate it.

After it's over I'm happy I did it, but before? I can think of a million reasons not to do it. Maybe two million reasons. The key is to ignore those voices in your head and do it anyway. The bennees far outweigh the voices.

Exercising makes me think of Richard Simmons. He got more people off the couch and moving.

Sweating to the oldies.

I interviewed Richard once. So nice, so sweet. The best smelling person ever. In the make up chair he would break into song whenever. You'd say hello and he would sing to you.

"Good morning Richard." He started singing to me, "Your eyes, your smile..." It was great.

Later that day I was hailing a cab on Fifth Avenue and a white limo went by. The back window slowly came down and Richard shyly smiled and waved. What could I do but wave back?

True story.

May is Stroke Awareness Month and I can't stress the importance of moving, of exercise. I go to the gym just about every day and as much as it is a pain, try to eat healthy whenever I can.

The name of the game is to be here as long as you can and things like the above help you to do just that.

It's funny, Florida is full of retirees. It's one of the reasons I point to for getting great care after my stroke. Hospitals everywhere do great work on that subject but being in a place with an older population, I think, helped me tremendously.

I saw a grandmother walking this morning and I thought, "Good for you."

Exercise, even just walking, is like putting money in the good health bank.

In other news...

Derek Jeter's number was retired by the Yankees and I'm more than fine with that.

I wasn't even a Yankees fan at first.

At ten years old the first team I played for was called the Cardinals so I became a Cardinal fan. Then we moved to Maryland and it was hard not to be an Orioles fan what with Frank Robinson, Brooks, Boog, Jim Palmer, and let's not forget Earl Weaver.

When I first came to New York I rooted for the Mets.  Then along came Derek. And Mariano. And Tippy. And hip, hip, Jorge. And Joe Torre. They won so many World Series and in spite of everything, I found myself a huge Yankees guy.

I have always thought Derek was classy, talented, and what I would want my sons to be like when they get older. My cousin, David, bought them some Derek Jeter tees. They had Jeter on the back of them along with his number, 2.

My twins wore them until they fell apart.

Their dad may have had something to do with it.

I'm not the first to say this but Derek Jeter's baseball career with the Yankees is a highlight reel. I never saw Ruth or DiMaggio or The Mick play but I saw Derek. And never once did I feel cheated.

Some memories...

His 3000th hit being a home run. That Catch he made, head over heels, going into the stands face first. Derek came out of that one with blood all over the place. And the ball.

The flip to the catcher at home plate to get an out against the Oakland A's. I saw that game on TV and my first thought, like many people, was, "Jeter's a shortstop. What's he doing there?" His last at bat at Yankee Stadium being a walk off base hit.

So they retired his number and ESPN broadcast the ceremony.  It was great and I might have misted up during the whole thing.

The Yankees retired Derek Jeter's number.

I saved the best for last.

Next stop?  Hall of Fame.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

My Sweet Sister Leslie


Good word.

It felt surreal hearing about the death of my older sister and traveling thousands of miles to bury her and help put that whole nightmare in order.

Remember the name Wenatchee, Washington. Look it up, that's where she lived and that's where she gave voice lessons. It's one of those 'you can't get there from here' places but it's beautiful and has some of the best people you will find anywhere.

Sometimes when people die you can see that train coming and when it happens it's not a surprise. This? A major surprise. Leslie had gone in for an unexpected surgery, and although every surgery is something to pay attention to, this was supposed to be, if not routine, pretty basic.

It went from she's out of surgery to she's gone likethat.

And that's how I found myself on a jet to L.A., then to Seattle where I hooked up with my dear younger sister, Karen, in the airport. She had flown in from Maryland. We rented a car and drove through the mountains for three hours to get to Leslie's house.

I told you it was out of the way.

That ride alternated from crying our eyes out to laughing over memories that we shared.

Speaking of memories, here are a few that rolled around in my head...

Leslie one day being just a teenager and then seemingly overnight turning into this glorious soprano.

Singing in Russia and teaching Muscovites to say (in a New York accent) "Cawfee Regular."

Seeing a picture of her in Time magazine when she performed in Phillip Glass' Einstein on the Beach. It was at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music. You think I showed that to everybody?
Leslie at my wedding.
She found Matthew Broderick watching the rehearsal
from his hotel room.

Leslie singing "Longer" by Dan Fogelberg at my wedding and having all the people there in the palm of her hand. At the end of the song she took it upstairs to a range I can only write about. Beautiful. Afterwards I told her how great that ending was and she said with a smile, "Well you know what they say, if you have the money notes you have to hit them."

Leslie going to Washington D.C. to be on the mall for Barack Obama's first Inauguration in that huge crowd. She wasn't in the best of health but she said, "I have to go. I wouldn't miss this for the world."

Another story I've told a lot...Leslie put together a benefit for the Wenatchee Valley Symphony. Dad and I were the out of town muscle as we flew across the country to be part of it. Dad sang and I was the emcee. A good haul for them was a thousand dollars. We raised north of fourteen thousand that night.

At the end the audience turned as one and clapped up to her box. I'd never seen that before I've never seen that since.

Just a few things on my mind as we pulled up to her home.

Her best friend, Nadine, was there with her husband Rick. After unpacking, laughing and crying, we decided to go to dinner. Here began the wonderfulness. One of her friends left us a gift card so we wouldn't have to spend our money to eat.
My sister Karen, Nadine and her husband Rick.

We experienced things like that the whole time we were there.

People telling us over and over how dear Leslie was and how important she was to their life. How she brought out things in their voice they never knew they had. What a shining star she was to the community.

I remember the doorbell ringing and an eleven year old girl at the door inquiring, "What's going to happen to Leslie's house?" Then telling us the plan was to have her take voice lessons at thirteen.

That won't happen now.

We also experienced the usual...the reading of the will, the funeral home, the house that was now so empty without my older sister.

Nadine was the executor of her estate and Karen and I numbly went through our paces with her.

That Tuesday evening we had a party, a celebration for Leslie, and here they came. Before I tell you about that, one more story.

Earlier that day we went to the UPS store to ship a few things home. It was two boxes. At the store a woman, Samantha, after getting my address and hearing about Leslie, asked me when she had passed. I told her the previous Thursday. And then she said, "This is on us." What? They shipped my things home free of charge.

Waterworks, people, waterworks.

So kind.

That evening the house was full of people who'd been touched by Leslie. It was a wonderful gathering. Great food, great wine. At one point I raised my glass for a toast to her and everyone raised theirs.

One young man told Karen he'd driven four hours to be there.

Four hours?

He said simply, "She changed my life."

The next morning we got up early and left for the airport. We caught our flights for the long trek eastward.

I cried all the way home.


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