November 22, 1932 to November 11, 2016
I don’t know that much about Robert Vaughn’s career, but I do know that when I was a kid, he played Napoleon Solo on the 60’s TV show Man from U.N.C.L.E. which was then one of the coolest shows on T.V.At the time, as a young boy, I may have been torn between deciding on a career as a mad scientist or as an international spy. Without a doubt, Vaughn’s portrayal of Napoleon Solo helped tip my decision toward the latter.
November 11, 1927 to November 15th, 2016
I also don’t know that much about Mose’s Allison and I don’t even have any personal anecdotes. I do know that he was a pioneer in the sense that he kept doing what he was doing and didn’t follow popular trends and while his music tended towards blues he remained satisfyingly uncategorizable. He recorded at least 39 albums and influenced many other musicians including Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, and Pete Townshend.
QWEN IFILL I really only knew Qwen Ifill from her days on PBS. Starting soon after the 2000 presidential election, it was a bit of a religion in our household to turn on PBS on Friday nights promptly at 8:00 to watch the Ifill moderated Washington Week. It was simply the best recap and discussion of the week’s news. Even though we had small children at that time, it was quiet time in our house. Or at least it was a sort of quiet time for me.
What I loved about Ifill was her ability to read the news like it was something objective, without the need to put her own spin on it. This was in contrast to so much of the news that was either hyping the hype or even taking sides or quibbling about facts. To her credit, Qwen was able to report and discuss the news matter of factly. And while it would seem that “matter of factness”, would the easiest and most natural approach, it was seemingly lost on the majority of newscasters. Because she could give you the news and nothing but the news, I held Qwen with great respect if not sacrosanct among all newscasters.
LEON RUSSELL I probably best knew Leon Russell back in the day when I was a teenager and had a pre-recorded cassette tape of his that I’d listen to in my car. I haven’t listened to this tape since, but the songs Stranger in a Strange Land and I’ve Got to Get Back to the Island still resonate with me.
Leon was an excellent band leader who led the bands backing Delaney and Bonnie and perhaps more famously for Joe Cocker on his Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. He was important to the fusion of rock music which consistently drew on many older styles and for his part Leon brought some New Orleans jazz and piano into everything he did.
As a songwriter, Leon gave us Superstar which was covered by Rita Coolidge for Cocker’s Mad Dogs tour and many others. Superstar is probably most remembered for the version done by the Carpenters who had a huge hit with it. Leon also gave us This Masquerade which has almost become a jazz standard and won a grammy for George Benson.
Leon Russell was on my list of performers I wanted to see before they died. He had recently performed quite near me but sadly I missed it. Luckily for us all, the music lives on.
Long ago and oh so far away,
I fell in love with you before the second show.
Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear,
But you’re not really here,
It’s just the radio.
As if he foresaw that he would not be able to tolerate a Trump presidency and had already decided not to move back to his native Canada, Leonard Cohen died in his sleep on November 7th, 2016, a day before the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He was 82.
Leonard was truly one of my most important musical heroes. I was introduced to him in 1972 and my teenage spirit was immediately drawn to the existential angst and incense of teenage melancholy embodied in his songs. But moreover, it was his poetry that drew me in. I must have learned at least 40 of his songs on the guitar and I can still recite the lyrics for most of them from memory.
And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind,
You find he did not leave you very much,
not even laughter.
Like any dealer he was watching for a
card that was so high and wild,
He’d never need to deal another.
He was just some Joseph looking for a manger.
He was just some Joseph looking for a manger.
– Leonard Cohen, The Stranger Song from the Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1967
I was lucky enough to see Leonard at Carnegie Hall in 1989 which was his first concert in more than 20 years. Since he had been absent from any scene for so long, at the time, it was a bit of struggle to find people who even knew who Cohen was. But for fans, the Carnegie concert was a long awaited event. And an unusual crowd of fans donned their respective regalia as a mixture of 40 and 50 somethings in tuxedos and 20 somethings in punker gear gathered as one as if to both stand to bear witness as well has to pay tribute. Leonard performed a year later at Madison Square Garden and I also attended that show. It decent show in it’s own right, but not the spectacle that was the Carnegie Hall performance.
What Leonard lacked in the way of hit songs, he made up for with a very loyal fan base. Joe Cocker and Judy Collins did covers of Cohen’s song Bird on a Wire in the 70’s. And Ms. Collins was also probably the most prolific artist in the interpretation of Leonard’s work. But for the most part, much of Cohen’s work was not widely performed or played. But still he influenced many. A tribute album called I’m Your Fan released in the early 90’s contained songs from a veritable who’s who of journeyman performers and alt-rock headliners.
Leonard’s music often found it’s way to film and his songs turned up in the soundtracks of over 50 films. McCabe and Mrs. Miller, 1971 uses three early songs, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers uses three of Cohen’s mid-career songs. But his cinematic breakthrough, so to speak, came in the form of a movie about a green ogre named Shrek which contained the song Hallelujah which went on to became Cohen’s best known and most loved song.
Cohen became much more active after 2001 when he released a new album Ten New Songs. And he subesequently began to perform regularly. Rumor had it that this resurgence was because his business partner had absconded with all of his money. But whatever the reason, Cohen’s late in life burst of activity has resulted in the public’s gain and his greater recognition as an artist. In the final four years of this life, he released three albums, including Old Ideas which became number one in many countries and placed number three on Billboards top 200. His final album, You Want It Darker, was released three weeks before his death.
So, goodbye Leonard. You will be missed. We will do our best to keep the poetry alive in your physical absence. And your music will certainly live on.