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January 2016 Archives

January 18, 2016

Mr. Bowie and Mr. Rickman

The new year of 2016 began, as most years do, with a sad necrology in its first two weeks:the distinguished stage and screen actor Brian Bedford, the brilliant poet C.D. Wright, the beloved "Grizzly Adams" star Dan Haggerty.

Most of the public mourning, however, was directed at two men who died within three days of each other, at the same premature age.

Others are far better equipped than I to assess the impact of David Bowie on music and popular culture. But you don't have to be a rock critic to appreciate Bowie's daring, panache, and resilience as he reinvented himself countless times, yet always remained completely, recognizably himself. Eulogies from various sources, as well as numerous clips from interviews, attest to Bowie's keen intelligence and self-deprecating sense of humor. The release of his final album, "Black Star," just two days before his death attest to his determination and courage. But it was his music that made him important, and David Bowie changed our aural landscape in a way few other rock musicians have. And there are not many among the succeeding generations of rock musicians who don't owe an enormous debt to David Bowie.

Bowie seemed as if he would always be among us, So did Alan Rickman, a star character actor whose sepulchral voice and ravenlike presence made him unique and unforgettable. Rickman was the natural heir of James Mason in portraying elegant villains, as he proved beyond doubt in "Die Hard," "Sweeney Todd," and "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." (The mantle now passes to Ralph Fiennes, Rickman's "Harry Potter" co-star, and to Benedict Cumberbatch.) Like the aforementioned actors, Rickman also was a persuasive good guy, as he showed in "Sense and Sensibility" and "Truly, Madly, Deeply." My own favorite Rickman performances, however, were those in which he played equivocal, ironic characters, basically good but with obvious flaws and a generally disenchanted view of life. There were many such characters in Rickman's filmography: the long-married man wistfully considering an affair in "Love, Actually;" the actor forever typecast as an alien in "Galaxy Quest;" the wine seller trying to drum up business by hosting a California-vs.-France tasting in "Bottle Shock." For succeeding generations of filmgoers, of course, he will always be Severus Snape, whose angry and sinister demeanor was inextricable from his romantic, heroic heart.

There are many testimonials, from Rickman's co-stars and others, about his kind heart, generous spirit and thoughtful, philosophical approach to life. It seems impossible to imagine that he is no longer among us; that is the supreme accolade for any performer.

January 24, 2016

Glenn Frey

It's one of the legendary stories of the rock era. Jackson Browne came to his friend Glenn Frey for help with the second verse of a new song. All Browne could come up with was, "Well I'm a-standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona." Frey added this:

Well I'm a-standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,
And such a fine sight to see;
It's a girl, my Lord
In a flatbed Ford,
Slowin' down to take a look at me.

The resulting song, "Take It Easy," was a work of country-rock genius. Browne made an excellent recording of it, but it was Frey--singing lead with the Eagles, that contentious band of equals--who made the classic version, and achieved immortality because of it.

Glenn Frey died a week ago at 67, suffering from so many illnesses that it was anyone's guess which one would kill him first. The documentary "History of the Eagles"--readily available on Netflix--helps explain how Frey became a physical wreck at such a young age. "It was the Seventies," Frey says at one point. "Drugs were everywhere." Along with the Hotel California lifestyle came an increasingly toxic atmosphere among the bandmates that guaranteed the band's ultimate breakup. The Eagles became something of a cautionary tale about what can happen to a band and its members.

Nevertheless, there are few bands in rock history that had as many memorable songs as The Eagles, and Frey--along with Don Henley--was the driving force of The Eagles. I know that whenever I hear "Take It Easy," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Take It to the Limit," "Lyin' Eyes," "Desperado," or any of a dozen other songs, I have to stop whatever I'm doing and listen. The documentary tells us a lot about Frey's early influences growing up in Detroit, the atomic effect of his first Beatles concert (including a girl falling backward into his arms), and the incredibly rich Southern California music scene of the Sixties and Seventies, where Frey came of age and found his voice.

Frey also had a strong solo career, and an acting career that encompassed "Miami Vice" and the too-little-remembered "Wiseguy." But it is his association with The Eagles that will ensure Frey remains a household name.

January 31, 2016

Abe Vigoda

As with Mark Twain, most of the reports of Abe Vigoda's death were greatly exaggerated, starting with a People Magazine story in 1982 that referred to him as "the late Abe Vigoda." On Jan. 26, alas, the report of Vigoda's death was true. Tall and lanky with the face of a dyspeptic bloodhound, Vigoda had two claims to fame as an actor: as Sal Tessio, the treacherous Corleone family underboss in "The Godfather," and as Phil Fish, the perpetually disenchanted member of Barney Miller's detective squad. Unfortunately, his "Barney Miller" spinoff series, "Fish," was a flop, and many of his credits on the Internet Movie Database consist of things such as "Death Car on the Freeway." But he was always a welcome presence, as his many self-deprecating appearances on David Letterman and Conan O'Brien's shows demonstrated. He had impeccable comic timing, and he could take a joke. It was always a joy to see him, and it is sad that we shall see him no more.

About January 2016

This page contains all entries posted to MDM in January 2016. They are listed from oldest to newest.

November 2015 is the previous archive.

February 2016 is the next archive.

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