George Harrison’s ‘Any Road’

George Harrison died fifteen years ago today.

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For nearly a decade before his death, George Harrison had been working slowly on a new solo album while dealing with a cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatments, a remission, and then, a new cancer and its eventual metastasization. He was also stabbed 40 times in a house invasion about two years before his death.

So George Harrison’s late 1990s was a period in which the “material world,” as he once called the here and now, appeared to be a genuinely unpleasant place, one that no longer wanted him around, but he retained a sharp wit about it anyway. Asked about his attacker, Harrison said that he “clearly wasn’t auditioning for the Traveling Wilburys.” (The attacker suffered from untreated schizophrenia and was found not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity.)

Working on his music through all of this, Harrison finished enough tracks to have a rough cut of a full album, but he finally ran into the ultimate deadline when cancer was found in his brain and he was given weeks to live. He wrote out instructions for his son, Dhani, and musical collaborator, Jeff Lynne, and they produced his final work, the farewell album Brainwashed, which they released a year after his death, in 2002.
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Peter Cook: An Appreciation

John Cleese has said that for him it often took hours of “grinding” work to write several minutes of comedy, but that Peter Cook could write three minutes of top-quality material in just over three minutes. It appeared to come to him that easily early in his career.

But Cook did work hard. As a writer and performer, Cook worked hard at avoiding politeness for politeness’ sake if a laugh was available instead. When the Prime Minister of England, Harold Macmillan, wanted to attend a performance of the hot new West End show, Beyond the Fringe, either no one told him that one part of the show was the performance of a monologue by Peter Cook as Macmillan and that Cook made Macmillan sound like a sluggish dolt, or it was expected that Cook would simply skip that section of the performance in deference to the nation’s leader. He didn’t.

In the monologue, Cook’s Prime Minister Macmillan reports on a visit with President Kennedy: “We talked of many things, including Great Britain’s position in the world as some kind of honest broker. I agreed with him when he said no nation could be more honest, and he agreed with me when I said no nation could be broker.”
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No Cheating

I wanted the ultimate magic kit when I was a kid, but as with so many things in life, disappointment lay in the fact that the magic kits grew more complex, more “magical,” only with higher prices.

Each of them included a “magic wand,” which was just a wooden dowel painted black, or, in the more expensive kits, painted black with a white tip, because a white tip equals classy. The photo of the kid on the magic box with the white tipped wand often showed the kid in tails and with a top hat. (I am sure that because of kids like me, or because of just me, the toy companies needed to add the disclaimer, “Hat and tails not in package.”)
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Elvis Costello’s ‘The Last Year of My Youth’

Elvis Costello is 62 today. It might be obvious to anyone who visits these pages that I am something of an amateurish fan of his work. He is touring America (near me) this fall with a concert based on his 1982 album, Imperial Bedroom. This column first appeared in May:

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The phrase must have been much on Elvis Costello’s mind the summer of 2014: he was going to perform a set of solo shows at Carnegie Hall in June and he had even titled the shows “The Last Year of My Youth.” But he did not have a song with that title.

He did have a song that addressed aging, the folly and wonder of being middle-aged, a song called “45” that he debuted on The Tonight Show in the 1990s and then performed on his 2002 album, When I Was Cruel. He was around that age at that time and found for himself a wealth of metaphors to being 45, from the end of World War II in 1945 (“bells are chiming in victory”), to 45 RPM records and what rock singles meant when he was young: “Bass and treble heal every hurt.” One reviewer, also in his mid 40s, wrote that “45” hit him so hard at the time, “I was shaking at the end” of the song. When I hit 45, I understood this thought about the song and I also understood the song; I also found that I understood the song better than I had the day before, when I was still 44.

The summer of 2014, Costello was turning 60, because math happens, and that phrase—”the last year of my youth”—must have been much on his mind.
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Everyday Masks

I am a self-conscious actor, yet I sometimes work at it half-heartedly. Now and again. Half-hearted and hesitant—I blush easily, which makes radio the perfect venue for the experiment (and if you write for that type of character, a blushing, stammering sort, I’m your man).
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Lindsey Webster at Opus 40

Lindsay Webster is a young jazz singer who is inspiring music writers to stretch for metaphors (“If Carole King and Sade had a kid, she would be Lindsey Webster“) and earned some major awards: in February, she joined Sade as the only performer to land a vocal-driven song atop Billboard magazine’s Smooth Jazz Songs chart. (Most tracks on that chart are instrumentals.)

The song. Fool Me Once,” is indeed terrific; even more terrific is the fact that the singer, who is from Woodstock, NY, shot portions of her music video for it at Opus 40, one of my favorite places on this planet.

Even better, she is performing at Opus 40 tomorrow, Saturday, July 2, at 5:00 p.m. Here are the ticket details: Lindsey Webster at Opus 40.
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A Perfect Day

“You’re going to reap just what you sow.”

“Um, excuse me?”

“You’re going to reap just what you sow.” And he says it three more times.

After deftly sketching some snapshots of a perfect day—a walk in the park, a moment in a zoo, me and you—the speaker/relentless monotone voice in Lou Reed’s song of that same name leaves us with that pushy, inexplicable, and echoing last line.
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Meeting Spalding Gray

“I began to realize I was acting as though the world were going to end and this was helping lead to its destruction. The only positve act would be to leave a record. To leave a chronicle of feelings, acts, reflections, something outside of me, something that might be useful in the unexpected future.”—Spalding Gray, 1970, The Journals of Spalding Gray

Two friends and I started a theater company in the summer of 1990. Perhaps you have not heard about it; it was kind of a not-at-all-big deal in Poughkeepsie, New York, for almost two entire weeks. Call it ten days.

Our endeavor yielded one sell-out summer night’s performance in the open-air back porch of a bar, a bad review in our local daily newspaper, yet one more (mostly unattended) performance, and a bunch of t-shirts. With grad school beckoning we shut it down, and with time and many residences I lost our newspaper clippings and even eventually forgot the name of the “company” we had started.

My one t-shirt wound up in Spalding Gray’s hands. Spalding Gray was born 75 years ago today, which prompted this recollection of one of my more awkward moments with celebrity.
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