IN REMEMBRANCE: 5-29-2011

GIL SCOTT-HERON, VOICE OF BLACK CULTURE

By

Published: May 28, 2011

 

Gil Scott-Heron, the poet and recording artist whose syncopated spoken style and mordant critiques of politics, racism and mass media in pieces like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” made him a notable voice of black protest culture in the 1970s and an important early influence on hip-hop, died on Friday at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 62 and had been a longtime resident of Harlem.

May 28, 2011

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

Gil Scott-Heron in his Harlem home in 2001.

His death was announced in a Twitter message on Friday night by his British publisher, Jamie Byng, and confirmed early Saturday by an American representative of his record label, XL. The cause was not immediately known, although The Associated Press reported that he had become ill after returning from a trip to Europe.

Mr. Scott-Heron often bristled at the suggestion that his work had prefigured rap. “I don’t know if I can take the blame for it,” he said in an interview last year with the music Web site The Daily Swarm. He preferred to call himself a “bluesologist,” drawing on the traditions of blues, jazz and Harlem renaissance poetics.

Yet, along with the work of the Last Poets, a group of black nationalist performance poets who emerged alongside him in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Mr. Scott-Heron established much of the attitude and the stylistic vocabulary that would characterize the socially conscious work of early rap groups like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions. And he has remained part of the DNA of hip-hop by being sampled by stars like Kanye West.

“You can go into Ginsberg and the Beat poets and Dylan, but Gil Scott-Heron is the manifestation of the modern word,” Chuck D, the leader of Public Enemy, told The New Yorker in 2010. “He and the Last Poets set the stage for everyone else.”

Mr. Scott-Heron’s career began with a literary rather than a musical bent. He was born in Chicago on April 1, 1949, and reared in Tennessee and New York. His mother was a librarian and an English teacher; his estranged father was a Jamaican soccer player.

In his early teens, Mr. Scott-Heron wrote detective stories, and his work as a writer won him a scholarship to the Fieldston School in the Bronx, where he was one of 5 black students in a class of 100. Following in the footsteps of Langston Hughes, he went to the historically black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, and he wrote his first novel at 19, a murder mystery called “The Vulture.” A book of verse, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox,” and a second novel, “The Nigger Factory,” soon followed.

Working with a college friend, Brian Jackson, Mr. Scott-Heron turned to music in search of a wider audience. His first album, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox,” was released in 1970 on Flying Dutchman, a small label, and included a live recitation of “Revolution” accompanied by conga and bongo drums. Another version of that piece, recorded with a full band including the jazz bassist Ron Carter, was released on Mr. Scott-Heron’s second album, “Pieces of a Man,” in 1971.

“Revolution” established Mr. Scott-Heron as a rising star of the black cultural left, and its cool, biting ridicule of a nation anesthetized by mass media has resonated with the socially disaffected of various stripes — campus activists, media theorists, coffeehouse poets — for four decades. With sharp, sardonic wit and a barrage of pop-culture references, he derided society’s dominating forces as well as the gullibly dominated:

The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theater and will not star Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.

The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.

The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.

The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, brother.

During the 1970s, Mr. Scott-Heron was seen as a prodigy with significant potential, although he never achieved more than cult popularity. He recorded 13 albums from 1970 to 1982, and was one of the first acts that the music executive Clive Davis signed after starting Arista Records in 1974. In 1979, Mr. Scott-Heron performed at Musicians United for Safe Energy’s “No Nukes” benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden, and in 1985, he appeared on the all-star anti-apartheid album “Sun City.”

But by the mid-1980s, Mr. Scott-Heron had begun to fade, and his recording output slowed to a trickle. In later years, he struggled publicly with addiction. Since 2001, Mr. Scott-Heron had been convicted twice for cocaine possession, and he served a sentence at Rikers Island in New York for parole violation.

Commentators sometimes used Mr. Scott-Heron’s plight as an example of the harshness of New York’s drug laws. Yet his friends were also horrified by his descent. In interviews Mr. Scott-Heron often dodged questions about drugs, but the writer of the New Yorker profile reported witnessing Mr. Scott-Heron’s crack smoking and being so troubled by his own ravaged physical appearance that he avoided mirrors. “Ten to 15 minutes of this, I don’t have pain,” Mr. Scott-Heron said in the article, as he lighted a glass crack pipe.

That image seemed to contrast tragically with Mr. Scott-Heron’s legacy as someone who had once so trenchantly mocked the psychology of addiction. “You keep sayin’ kick it, quit it, kick it quit it!” he said in his 1971 song “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.” “God, did you ever try to turn your sick soul inside out so that the world could watch you die?”

Complete information about Mr. Scott-Heron’s survivors was not immediately available, but Mr. Byng, his publisher, said that they included a half-brother, Denis Scott-Heron; a son, Rumal; and two daughters, Gia Scott-Heron and Che Newton. Mr. Byng added that Mr. Scott-Heron had recently been working on voluminous memoirs, parts of which he hoped to publish soon.

Despite Mr. Scott-Heron’s public problems, he remained an admired figure in music, and he made occasional concert appearances and was sought after as a collaborator. Last year, XL released “I’m New Here,” his first album of new material in 16 years, which was produced by Richard Russell, a British record producer who met Mr. Scott-Heron at Rikers Island in 2006 after writing him a letter.

Reviews for the album inevitably called Mr. Scott-Heron the “godfather of rap,” but he made it clear he had different tastes.

“It’s something that’s aimed at the kids,” he once said. “I have kids, so I listen to it. But I would not say it’s aimed at me. I listen to the jazz station.”

SOURCE

Gil Scott-Heron.

What a way with words, and what a way with getting to the point past all the bull, mendacity, and beating-around-the-bush morass.

Mr. Scott-Heron’s famous “Revolution” poem still stands today as a testament to challenging the medocrity that has become the norm in America, as well as stating that real revolution waits for no one.

The revolution will not be televised simply because it will not be televised.

The revolution will be live, and when it comes, it will catch everyone by surprise.

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
bbout a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

Mr. Sott-Heron was more than just one song. he was a man of beautiful lyrics and songs that were sublime—songs that stand the tests of time:

He will be sorely missed.

Rest in peace, Mr. Scott-Heron.

Rest in peace.

*****************************************************************************

JEFF CONWAY, ACTOR IN ‘TAXI’ AND ‘GREASE’

By

Published: May 27, 2011

 

Jeff Conaway, the personable actor who won television fame on the sitcom “Taxi” and movie success in the musical “Grease” three decades ago and who later publicly struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, died on Friday in Los Angeles. He was 60.

May 28, 2011

ABC, via Photofest

Jeff Conaway, left, with Tony Danza in the television sitcom, “Taxi.”

 

May 28, 2011

Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

Jeff Conaway in Los Angeles in 2009.

He died of complications of pneumonia at Encino Tarzana Medical Center after being taken off life support on Thursday, a talent representative, Phil Brock, said.

Mr. Conaway was found unconscious at his home in the Encino section of the city on May 11 and was kept in a coma medically without ever regaining consciousness, Mr. Brock said. He said Mr. Conaway had been struggling with back problems and treating himself with painkillers while in weakened health.

Mr. Conaway’s addictions to alcohol and drugs were well known because of his appearances in 2008 on the reality series “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew,” starring Drew Pinsky. Mr. Conaway often appeared high and belligerent on the show. He had agreed to participate against the wishes of his agents, Mr. Brock said.

Mr. Conaway said numerous back surgeries were responsible for his addiction to painkillers. In early 2010 he had a serious fall that left him with a brain hemorrhage, a broken hip and a fractured neck.

Mr. Conaway spoke openly of his problems in 2008 when he appeared on Howard Stern’s radio show and told the host, “I’ve tried to commit suicide 21 times.” Asked about his methods, he replied, “Mostly it’s been with pills.”

In late February and early March, Mr. Conaway and his girlfriend of seven years, Victoria Spinoza, a singer who records as Vikki Lizzi, filed temporary restraining orders against each other, trading accusations of theft and physical violence.

Mr. Conaway had continued to work in films and television in recent years, but his career had plummeted since his greatest popularity, in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

The film version of “Grease,” starring a rebellious John Travolta (as Danny Zuko) and a wholesome Olivia Newton-John (Sandy) as improbable 1950s high school sweethearts, opened in June 1978, with Mr. Conaway in the supporting role of Kenickie, Mr. Travolta’s bad-boy sidekick. The tough-talking but vulnerable Kenickie goes through his own trauma, believing that his girlfriend, Rydell High’s bad girl Rizzo (Stockard Channing), may be pregnant.

Three months later, “Taxi,” a sitcom about a group of New York cabdrivers, had its premiere on ABC. The show’s ensemble cast included Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito, Andy Kaufman, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd and Marilu Henner. Mr. Conaway’s character, Bobby Wheeler, was a vain and handsome aspiring actor who never seemed to get a break in his show business career.

In an admiring review of the show in 1979, John J. O’Connor, writing in The New York Times, described a scene in which Bobby had accidentally let his friend Tony’s two pet fish die. “I guess it was just their time,” Bobby tells Tony desperately, adding that maybe the deaths were “one of those murder-suicide things.”

The series lasted five seasons, but Mr. Conaway left after the fourth. In 1989, he explained his reason for the departure to The Toronto Star: “In ‘Taxi,’ I kept doing the same scene for three years. I was underused.”

Jeffrey Charles William Michael Conaway was born on Oct. 5, 1950, in New York City. His parents, a struggling actress and an advertising man, divorced when he was a boy, and he divided his time between his mother’s apartment in Flushing, Queens, and his maternal grandparents’ home in South Carolina.

He began acting as a child and made his Broadway debut when he was 10 in a small part in “All the Way Home,” a well-received adaptation of James Agee’s novel “A Death in the Family,” starring Colleen Dewhurst, Arthur Hill and Lillian Gish.

Growing up, he modeled, appeared in commercials and played in a rock band. He spent a year at the North Carolina School of the Arts, then transferred to New York University. But because of a job offer, he never graduated.

That job was in the original Broadway production of “Grease,” which opened in 1972. He understudied several roles but was never cast as Kenickie, the role that made him famous in the film version. Instead, he eventually took over the role of Danny, the romantic lead.

A few years after “Taxi,” Mr. Conaway returned to Broadway in a new musical, “The News,” in which he played the editor of a big-city tabloid. But the reviews were negative, and the show closed after three nights. He continued to appear in films and did television again, most successfully in the 1990s science fiction series “Babylon 5.”

His last film work was as the voice-over narrator in two fantasy dramas, “Dante’s Inferno Documented” and “Dante’s Purgatorio Documented,” both in postproduction. His final screen appearance was in the film “Dark Games,” a thriller scheduled to be released this summer.

Mr. Conaway married and divorced three times. After an early marriage that lasted less than a year, he married Rona Newton-John, the sister of his “Grease” co-star, in 1980. They divorced in 1985. His third wife was Keri Young, from 1990 until their divorce in the early 2000s.

His survivors include two sisters, Michelle and Carla, and a stepson, Emerson Newton-John, a racecar driver.

When Mickey Rourke, after fighting his own battles with addiction, earned an Oscar nomination for his performance in “The Wrestler” two years ago, an interviewer asked Mr. Conaway what he thought about Mr. Rourke’s comeback.

“Hollywood can be a very stinging town,” Mr. Conaway said on a video posted by Hollywood.TV on YouTube. “They say it’s a forgiving business. It’s not that forgiving.”

SOURCE

**********************************************************************

JOSEPH BROOKS, MAKER OF JINGLES, SONGS, AND FILMS

By

Published: May 23, 2011

 

Before his life had tumbled into scandal and ended over the weekend in suicide at the age of 73, Joseph Brooks had carved out a glittering, idiosyncratic career as author of some of advertising’s most famous jingles, as a maker of movies and musicals and as the composer of a huge hit, “You Light Up My Life.”

May 24, 2011

Associated Press

Joseph Brooks in 1978 with his songwriting Oscar.

Mr. Brooks’s death came after he was charged in 2009 with luring 13 women to Manhattan to audition for movie roles, then drugging and sexually assaulting them. He had not yet been tried, but he faced 25 years in prison if convicted. A son, Nicholas, is awaiting trial on charges that he strangled his girlfriend last December.

Mr. Brooks, who had been hobbled by a stroke in 2008, was found dead in his Upper East Side apartment on Sunday. The police said his head was wrapped in a plastic bag connected to a tube from a helium tank and that he had left a three-page note. The city medical examiners have ruled the death a suicide.

Joseph Brooks had lived life in superlatives. He cranked out jingle after jingle, many of which still rattle in the nation’s collective head. Thank Mr. Brooks for “You’ve got a lot to live, and Pepsi’s got a lot to give.” At one point in the 1970s, he said, he had 150 commercials on the air. He told The Washington Post in 1977 that he figured more people in the United States listened to his music than that of any other composer.

He wrote the song “You Light Up My Life” for the 1977 movie of the same name, which he produced, wrote, directed and scored. The song won him an Oscar, a Grammy and a 10-week run as composer of the No. 1 song in America, sung by Debby Boone. (Kasey Cisyk sang it in the movie.) The movie made $40 million on an investment of less than $1 million, despite being almost universally panned. (Many commentators have since pointed out that a central plot twist was the heroine’s one-night stand with a director.)

In his next movie, “If Ever I See You Again,” Mr. Brooks did everything he did for the first, and also starred. The hero, as written by Mr. Brooks, was a brilliant Madison Avenue music man.

His chutzpah became the stuff of legend. After every major studio and distributor turned down “You Light Up My Life,” Mr. Brooks paid for previews in several cities and spent $150,000 of his own money on ads. Columbia finally took the bait.

In 2005, after critics attacked his only Broadway show, “In My Life,” Mr. Brooks spent $1.5 million for ads saying the critics were wrong. A characteristic touch was taking a criticism by Ben Brantley of The New York Times, “jaw-dropping whimsy run amok,” and treating it as a compliment.

Mr. Brooks’s penchant for the large gesture was vividly evinced in “Invitation to the Wedding” (1983), which he directed and scored, and in which his wife at the time, the former Susan Paul, acted. Mr. Brooks hired John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson to star, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to play his music. The movie flopped.

Writers groped for ways to describe the majesty of the young Mr. Brooks’s self-regard. Grace Lichtenstein, writing in The Times in 1977, said, “Joe Brooks may be a relatively unknown director in motion pictures, but in the field of egotism he’s the most promising heavyweight contender since Sylvester Stallone.”

The Globe and Mail of Toronto noted Mr. Brooks’s eagerness to depict his own life, “perfections and all.”

Joseph Brooks was born on March 11, 1938, in Manhattan and grew up in Lawrence, N.J. He claimed to have marched up to a piano at 3 and played. “It wasn’t something that someone would say, ‘Hey, that’s the best thing I ever heard,’ but I was picking out tunes,” he said in an interview with The Times in 1982. “My grandmother called it an act of God.”

When he was 5 or so, around the time of his parents’ divorce, he developed a severe stutter and began to write plays. “I could put the words that were in my head into my characters’ mouths so they could be these intelligent, often very funny people,” he said.

Mr. Brooks led services at his synagogue at 12 and grew bored with five different colleges, including Juilliard, never graduating from any. He failed as a professional singer and drifted into the ad business, where he chose to think of his music as “50-second hits.” He moonlighted writing the scores for movies like “The Lords of Flatbush” (1974).

Mr. Brooks was making piles of money in the ad business from clients including Geritol, Dr Pepper, American Airlines and Dial soap. His drive to make jingles more evocative — using Ray Charles to sing about Maxwell House coffee, for example — earned him the Clio, a top industry award, 21 times.

He began “You Light Up My Life” by putting up $250,000 himself and raising $550,000 from others. He composed the song even as the movie was being shot.

Mr. Brooks had been married four times and was single at his death. In addition to his son Nicholas, he is survived by two other children.

As he wandered between unpredictable movie and stage projects — including a 1989 musical in London based on the 1926 Fritz Lang film, “Metropolis” — Mr. Brooks repeatedly returned to a favorite subject: himself. And he kept finding novel approaches. In his 2005 Broadway production, God sings the words to two of Mr. Brooks’s most successful jingles, those for Dr Pepper and Volkswagen.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 25, 2011

An obituary on Tuesday about the songwriter and filmmaker Joseph Brooks misstated Mr. Brooks’s role in the production of the movie “Eddie and the Cruisers.” He was a producer and musical adviser; he did not write the score, which was written by John Cafferty. (This error also appeared in an article about Mr. Brooks on June 24, 2009.) The obituary also misstated Mr. Brooks’s birthday in 1938. It was March 11, not May 11. And it misspelled the surname of the woman who is heard singing Mr. Brooks’s composition “You Light Up My Life” in the movie of the same name. She was Kacey Cisyk, not Cicyk.

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1 Comment

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One response to “IN REMEMBRANCE: 5-29-2011

  1. I think it’s sad how much respect he gets when he dies. I notice that about a lot of song writers. I have never heard of this guy until he dies and everyone is talking about him. Not saying he doesn’t deserve it. Just saying he always should have had this much respect.

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