A Christmas Without Miracles: The 1987 “Motown” Christmas Special

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I have this pet peeve… it’s a situation that usually occurs at a party or in a bar situation. Someplace with a jukebox or a DJ where the alcohol flows freely. An overplayed 60’s soul hit like Respect or Dock Of The Bay starts to play and some booze bag sloshes over and says “OH I LOVE MOTOWN! I love Aretha and James BROWN and the Shirelles and the Ronettes and OTIS and ALL the rest of the Motown acts.”

Honey. Sit down. Let me get you a glass of water. We need to talk.

While I appreciate your enthusiasm, let’s set the record straight: Sam Cooke. Otis Redding. James Brown. The Shirelles. The Ronettes. They are NOT Motown acts. Never were. And while Aretha Franklin is FROM Motown, aka Detroit, she was never ON Motown records.

Referring to every black artist who recorded soul music in the 60’s as a “Motown” singer is lazy, insulting and possibly a teensy bit racist. Kapeesh? With that said, perhaps I should cut people some slack. I know, we are all very busy and don’t pay a whole lot of attention to minutiae. And besides, sometimes the record labels themselves are a little guilty of causing confusion. Case in point: The 1987 Motown Merry Christmas special.

First, a little context: In 1984 the Motown 25 TV special was a blockbuster ratings success, Motown 25with all the former stars of the record label coming home to celebrate Motown’s 25th Anniversary and kiss the ring of founder Berry Gordy. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The 4 Tops, The Temptations, Martha Reeves, Mary Wells and many others made appearances. Lionel Richie reunited with the Commodores! Smokey Robinson reunited with the Miracles! Diana Ross reunited with the Supremes for a minute and half before Miss Ross allegedly pushed Mary Wilson out of her way! That last part was edited out of the broadcast…. but anyway… the real highlight of the show was the reunited Jackson 5, followed by Michael Jackson’s performance of Billie Jean, which introduced the moonwalk to the world and we were never the same again.

Fast forward three years – the Motown brand was still being milked for all it was worth, even if their current roster of artists were not exactly burning up the charts. I mean, even DeBarge had left the label by this point. But a nostalgic look back at Motown with a Christmas special seemed like a good idea, as most of the top Motown acts had released holiday LPs during the label’s heyday. In fact, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson & Miracles each released two Christmas LPs on the label. But… you do have to get the acts to come back and perform for a TV special, right?

Motown LP Supremes.jpegMotown LP swonderMotown LP MiraclesMotown LP TemptationsMotown LP jackson

For whatever reason (read: money) only the Temptations and Smokey Robinson are on hand for this star-studded Motown Christmas Spectacular, which was taped not in Detroit, but at the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood, California.

motown-merry-christmas-TV Guide 1987

The show aired December 14, 1987 on NBC, hosted by Philip Michael Thomas, the guy who wasn’t Don Johnson on the hit NBC-TV show Miami Vice. Interesting spot of trivia: Philip Michael ThomasThomas, notorious for his over-inflated ego, is credited with coining the acronym EGOT for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony wins, as he often crowed to interviewers that he would win one of each. As of 2018, he has never been nominated for any of them.

The show opens with our humble host reading a version of Twas The Night Before Christmas that name-checks some Motown artists, including Stevie Wonder, who is not there.

This segues into a performance by the 1987 version of The Temptations (which means no Eddie Kendricks or David Ruffin). They are wearing nightshirts and slippers as they Temptations White Christmasperform a doo wop version of White Christmas. Although the group had recorded the song as a ballad on their 1970 Christmas album, that version is scrapped in favor of the Drifters uptempo arrangement, originally released on Atlantic records in 1954. In any case, it’s a fun showcase for the deep bass voice of original member Melvin Franklin.

Pointer Sisters MJNext, The Pointer Sisters sing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, a track from the very first A Very Special Christmas album, which had just been released and is now considered a classic. Their performance is spirited, but once again a reminder: The Pointer Sisters have nothing to do with Motown, although a kid imitating Michael Jackson does makes an appearance.

Redd Foxx Lola Falana

For the comedy portion of the program, Redd Foxx arrives onstage dressed as a pimped-out Santa Claus along with Marsha Warfield of NBC’s Night Court and Lola Falana of many a Las Vegas lounge. Redd performs a rap and the result is exactly what you would imagine a Redd Foxx rap might sound like. Then things get serious as they read a fake letter from an imaginary homeless child and Santa Foxx promises to find him on Christmas. So I guess the kid will have to fend for his imaginary self until then.

Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love deliver a medley of songs from the Phil Spector Darlene RonnieChristmas album, which, of course, was not a Motown production. Darlene sings a generous portion of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Just the previous Christmas, she had performed the song on David Letterman’s show for the first time, launching a tradition that would continue for the next 28 years.

I forgot to mention: as this is the 1980’s, there is a large gaggle of dancers present throughout the entire show. During this segment they are dressed primarily in gold mylar, gyrating around Ronnie and Darlene as they herd from one end of the stage to the other. One of the more prominent dancers is Michael Perea, a staple of 80’s music videos for many artists including Michael Jackson, Cher and especially Madonna, having appeared in her videos as well as on the Virgin Tour and Live Aid performance. In the mid-80’s, I wanted to BE Perea, shaking his tambourine to Dress You Up and Dancing On The Ceiling with Lionel Richie. I was sorry to learn recently that he died of AIDS complications in 1989.

michael-perea lionel Richiemichael-perea-1985michael Mykal Perea

Next up – another medley: Desiree Coleman, one of two artists appearing here (besides Smokey) that was actually signed to the Motown label at the time. Desiree sings Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Desiree ColemanShe is decked out in a tacky 80’s outfit full of sequins and linebacker shoulder pads. I mean… all the costumes in this show are hideously dated but this one is at the top of the very flammable acrylic heap.

Philip Michael Thomas is onstage with her but thankfully does not sing. Apropos of nothing, Desiree hits a Mariah Carey dog-whistle note at the end of her segment and Thomas leads her away. I’m not a fan.

Smokey sings a portion of a forgettable ballad before Natalie Cole comes in with her soulful rendition of Donny Hathaway’s This Christmas (Side note: do yourself a favor and check out Dave Holmes dissection of Patti LaBelle’s disastrous version of this song from the 1996 National Christmas Tree lighting. Really.)Natalie Smokey2

I remembered This Christmas as a highlight of the program, thinking that Smokey and Natalie had some real chemistry. Re-watching it now, I see that it’s all Natalie’s doing. SHE has chemistry. All we see is the back of Smokey’s head as she sings her way towards him. Together they segue into Give A Little Love On Christmas Day, and it sure does seem like someone’s gonna get a little love before Christmas day even gets here. Oh – Philip Michael Thomas and Desiree Coleman are still onstage too. Thankfully, Philip Michael Thomas still does not sing.

The Temptations are back with a very nice version of Silent Night, featuring the tight Temptations Silent Nightsoulful harmonies that are their trademark. They end their performance with a declaration: “Merry Christmas from the Motown Family…” as if they are here to represent the rest of the “family” who had to go visit the in-laws and just couldn’t make it this year.

After some more Redd Foxx shenanigans, Run DMC performs Christmas In Hollis, which was also on the A Very Special Christmas LP. For those who don’t know, Hollis is in Queens, New York, which is about as far from Detroit, Michigan as the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Stephanie Mills sings the R&B ballad When You Love Someone (It’s Christmas Every Day), a song that they twice mention was written by our very own Redd Foxx. What they don’t mention is that the song was recorded by former Motown artists Gladys Knight and The Pips, who are not here.Stephanie Mills2

It’s ironic that Mills appears on a Motown special for a couple of reasons: Not only was she never a Motown artist, but her greatest success was playing 13 year old Dorothy in The Wiz on Broadway, but when Motown produced the movie adaption, 34 year old Diana Ross was given the role.

Smokey and the Temptations are back again to sing The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire). This is fine. But where are the Miracles? Where are the 4 Tops? Gimme some Pips! My kingdom for a Marvelette!

Marsha Warfield

Marsha Warfield reappears dressed as a glittery bag lady as we head into the closing 8+ minute medley. Carrie McDowell is introduced. She is the only caucasian on the bill and the only other artist besides Desiree and Smokey signed to Motown at the time. Carrie McDowellThat said, she was dropped shortly after her debut LP tanked that same year. McDowell has the featured spot here… and this girl can SANG, that’s for sure, but…. this also means that all the other great singers behind her: Natalie Cole, Darlene Love, Pointer Sisters, etc. are given much shorter solos – some are reduced to a single line of a song. Poor Ronnie Spector has one duet line with Stephanie Mills.

Lola finaleLola Falana has a very brief solo with some very odd stilted physical movements, which I always attributed to the severe multiple sclerosis flareup that plagued her at the time. But upon repeated viewing, she moves quite naturally when she steps back in line with the others. So I don’t know what that was about.

The cast sings approximately 15 seconds of every holiday song ever written. Phillip Michael Thomas is singing now but nobody gives him a mic. And then we’re done. Credits roll. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

In 2000, Diana Ross attempted to launch a Supremes reunion – the first time they would have performed together since the Motown 25 special. Unfortunately, very little money was offered to Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong and both declined to participate. In their place were installed Lynda Lawrence and Scherrie Payne (Freda’s sister), both members of the Supremes in the 1970’s – years after Ross had left. Fans didn’t buy it and the tour fizzled out quickly. As with this program, it was just another example of the Motown name being slapped on something and fans were expected to eat it up.

Of course, if we are talking about drunk people at a party, maybe they do fall for it. But some of us are bound to stand up and say… Honey, no. We need to talk.

Motown Merry Christmas TV guide

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Some Thanksgiving Treats For You

Happy Thanksgiving! I have arrived at your holiday feast bearing a cornucopia of tasty Turkey day treats, both bitter and sweet. Enjoy!

When it comes to holiday music, unfortunately Thanksgiving is lost in the long shadow of Christmas. There’s a severe lack of Thanksgiving songs, aren’t there? All we’ve got is Let’s Turkey Trot by Little Eva, and even then it is not really about Thanksgiving at all. The song’s title refers to the Turkey Trot, a dance step popular back in the early 1900’s.

Dimension DollsLet’s Turkey Trot was Eva Boyd’s third single, released in 1963 with the hopes of recapturing the #1 success of her debut platter, The Loco-Motion. Let’s Turkey Trot gave Little Eva a respectable showing on the charts, peaking at #20, although it should have been billed as Little Eva & The Cookies, as the backing group is as much a part of the success of the record as the lead. Group member Earl-Jean McCrea delivers solo lines echoing their own hits Chains & Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby, which also featured Little Eva on background vocals.

Here’s an abbreviated performance by Little Eva on Shindig in 1965. Darlene Love and the Blossoms stand in for the Cookies in what must be one of the proudest moments of their career. Gobble Diddle Dip!

 

The Dollyrots also covered this track in 2014. Besides using footage of Little Eva’s Shindig performance throughout the video, they also namecheck “Little Eva back in ’63”:

Want some Mashed Potatoes with your Turkey Trot? Here’s Dee Dee Sharp with her own ode to a Thanksgiving staple / dance move:

During the Thanksgiving episode of SNL in 1997, Lilith Fair stand-up comic Cinder Calhoun (a recurring character played by Ana Gasteyer) & singer Sara McLachlan paid a visit to Norm MacDonald and the Weekend Update desk, singing the Thanksgiving classic Basted In Blood. It would not be nearly as funny if they didn’t sing it so well.

https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/weekend-update-segment—cinder-and-sarah/n12937

On the darker side… one of the faux trailers from Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse is the hilariously spot-on Thanksgiving, directed by Eli Roth. It is entirely plausible that someone would have jumped on the bandwagon of grade-z holiday themed horror films that followed the success of Halloween. But this one is a fake. As of now. Who knows…. maybe Roth will film it one day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Madame Spivy’s Tarantella

Ladies and Gentleman, I’d like to reintroduce you to someone you should know (if you saw my earlier post about her): the late great Madame Spivy LaVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he was born Bertha Levine in Brooklyn.”

Spivy piano

 

Spivy owned a chic NYC piano bar called Spivy’s Roof, which was on the top floor of a building that still stands at the corner of Fifty-Seventh Street & Lexington Avenue. Notable performers through its 11 year existence included Mabel Mercer, Thelma Carpenter and Martha Raye as well as early performances by Liberace and Paul Lynde.

 

 

Here is Paul Lynde talking about Spivy on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, April 30, 1976:

“I played another club – Spivy’s Roof. Do you remember Spivy’s? It was a penthouse club and it was very, very “in” when it was hot.  Well… I closed it. I closed Spivy’s. I really did. I was the last person to perform there and as I said it was up on top of the roof. And Spivy and I would be sitting back in the corner all alone and we’d hear the elevator and she’d say “Get your props, you’re on!” And I would get my props out… and it was just the elevator man… he was lonely and wanted to talk to us…. or the landlord trying to collect the rent.

“It was just incredible and you know Spivy… when we did have people, like on the weekend… I would announce her after I was through and she’d run in the john and lock herself in there until the club closed. She never would come on. She would as soon as the club closed … and Judy Garland and Martha Raye and Judy Holliday… they used to come in and Spivy would entertain all night long for them…. but she would not for the audience.

“Finally one night I went to work and the piano was down on the sidewalk under the canopy so I knew it was over.”

Spivy 7 gay LP copy

I previously posted her song The Alley Cat. Today we have The Tarantella – both such short recordings that they fit on the same side of a 78 record as part of her 1939 album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs. This is one of the few compositions credited solely to Spivy.

 

The Tarantella

Oh she did the tarantella with a colorful umbrella and in her hat, she wore a quill.
She dressed up like a fella in a suit of real bright yellow just to give the audience a thrill.
She would prance in her dance with the chance that her pants wouldn’t stand the strain. 
She would fall into splits til the folks lost their wits and cried “Again! Another refrain!”

Her coattails she would swish up and they said she shocked the bishop
But the bishop said “Oh no.”
She may be slightly vicious but her footwear is delicious, why it makes me shout “Bravo!”
I shall not leave this place until three times more at least she will 
Do the tarantella with that colorful umbrella and in her hat, that darling quill.

Oh she did the tarantella with a colorful umbrella and in her hat, she wore a quill.
She dressed up like a fella in a suit of real bright yellow just to give the audience a thrill.
She would prance in her dance with the chance that her pants wouldn’t stand the strain. 
She would fall into splits til the folks lost their wits and cried “Again! Another refrain!”

Her coattails she would swish up and they said she shocked the bishop
But the bishop said “Oh no.”
She may be slightly vicious but her footwear is delicious, why it makes me shout “Bravo!”
I shall not leave this place until three times more at least she will 
Do the tarantella with that colorful umbrella and in her hat, that goddamn quill.

________________________________________________________

That goddamn quill. It always surprises me to hear swearing on a 78 record. Even light swearing. It’s not as if she dropped an F-bomb. But we are so used to the sanitized Hollywood version of the 1930’s that it is easy to forget that curse words were not invented in the 1960’s. It’s not the last expletive that we will hear from Madame Spivy, as future posts will show…

Spivy Manchurian Candidate
No quill in her hat: Madame Spivy in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Your Halloween 60’s Girl Group Playlist

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It’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years since I put this Halloween show together for 60 Degrees, my weekly radio show focusing on “60’s chicks and girl groups – the hidden gems, cult favorites and unreleased obscurities of the decade.” The show ran for five years (2008-2013) on East Village Radio, a storefront internet radio station in New York City. This Halloween episode was originally broadcast on October 27, 2008 and aired every Halloween for the duration of the run. As with every episode, the songs were interspersed with vintage commercials, sound effects and movie clips.

Janie JonesIn this very special episode, we’ve got soul witches, rockabilly rabble-rousers, death discs, horror movie theme songs, science fiction sirens, girls driven to madness by love and more dead boyfriends than you can shake a broomstick at. Plus a whole lot more!

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  1. Reparata & the Delrons – Panic
  2. Babs Tino – Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde
  3. Sparkle Moore – Skull & Crossbones
  4. Wanda Jackson – Riot In Cellblock 9
  5. Southern Culture On The Skids – Torture
  6. France Gall – Frankenstein
  7. The Crystals – Frankenstein Twist
  8. Hayley Mills – Jimmy Bean
  9. Claudine Clark – Walking Through A Cemetery
  10. The Sham-ettes – Hey There Big Bad Wolf

 

 

Part 2:c82209d7084a0308624f95dbe31eea5b

  1. Hayley Mills – Cranberry Bog
  2. The Shangri-La’s – Give Us Your Blessing
  3. The Satisfactions – Daddy You Just Gotta Let Him In
  4. The Goodees – Condition Red
  5. The Nu-Luvs – So Soft, So Warm (Dressed In Black)
  6. The Whyte Boots (Lori Burton) – Nightmare
  7. Glenda Collins – It’s Hard To Believe It
  8. Judy Garland – Purple People Eater
  9. The Kane Triplets – Theme From Mission Impossible
  10. Tracy – Strange Love
  11. Mikki Young – Who Killed Teddy Bear?
  12. Patti Seymour – The Silencer
  13. Josie Cotton – Maneaters (Get Off The Road)

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.xtube.com/video-watch/60-degrees-wi-brian-ferrari-halloween-girlgroups-pt-3-37900991

Part 3:60degrees1

  1. Janie Jones – Witches Brew
  2. Martha & The Vandellas – Mobile Lil The Dancing Witch
  3. Bettye Lavette – Witchcraft In The Air
  4. Erma Franklin – Abracadabra
  5. Dusty Springfield – Spooky
  6. Marie Applebee – The Boy Who Took My Heart (took my mind)
  7. The Love Chain – The Love Chain
  8. Peggy Lee – The Case of M.J.
  9. Janie Jones – Psycho
  10. The Martin Sisters – Mother Mother (I Feel Sick)
  11. Julie Budd – All’s Quiet On West 23rd St.
  12. Gayle Haness – Johnny Ander
  13. The Indigos – He’s Coming Home
  14. Bobbie Gentry – The Casket Vignette
  15. Cass Elliott – The Costume Ball
  16. Teacho & The Students – Chills & Fever
  17. Dusty Springfield – Haunted 

     

     

     

     

10 Forgotten Cher Moments

Comedian Frank DeCaro recently tweeted:  I’m convinced Cher gave us the Dancing Queen album so we could get through the Kavanaugh hearings.

I was intrigued with this album concept from the moment it was announced: Cher covering ABBA. Two great tastes that taste great together. I put it on my Christmas wish list. But after the album’s release last week, a wave of raves washed across my very gay Facebook newsfeed. So I purchased it and, I must say…. listening to this album makes me downright giddy. It’s the perfect antidote to 2018: Chicken soup for the ears, if you will.

10 Dancing queenDancing Queen scored an A- minus from Entertainment Weekly and is likely to debut atop the Billboard album charts later this week. Reminder: Cher is 72 years old. This is 20 years after the #1 success of Believe, which was considered to be an impossibly late career comeback at that time.

This seemed like a good time to have a look at some of the forgotten moments of Cher’s fifty-fucking-five year career.

Let’s face it – some things are not remembered because they are just not very good. But there will always be some uber-fan in the comments section that will argue that Cher has never had a bad moment, EVER and you can go to HELL if you disagree. Cher 70s

Also – some critical or commercial failures do fare better when viewed through the lens of time. So let’s not categorize the following examples as good or bad… just… worth a mention.

 

Like this outfit.

 

 

1 Bittersweet white light1) Bittersweet White Light (1973)– In certain circles, this LP is considered a camp classic. It’s up to you to decide if you belong in that camp. If you want to hear Cher tackle an Al Jolson medley and other American songbook standards while wading through a muddy, dated Sonny Bono production, look no further! Although her vocal rage had expanded since the 1960’s, she was still partially stuck in her honking Dylan-by-way-of-Sonny-style of singing. Compare her vocals here to anything she has recorded in the past two decades: Vocoder and pitch correction aside, her range now – vocally, stylistically, dramatically – is a world away from her own limitations 40+ years ago.

2) A Woman’s Story / Baby I Love You (1974) Cher reunited with producer Phil Spector for this single, which has never appeared on any Cher LP or compilation. The A-side was written by Spector with brother / sister duo Nino Tempo & April Stevens. Soft Cell’s Marc Almond covered this with a spot-on Cher imitation that few realized because the original was so obscure.

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The B-side is a cover of the Ronettes classic – Cher sang backing vocals on the 1963 original. Here, the song is slowed down to a snail’s pace while ramping up the bombast that you would expect from a Spector production. I won’t argue the pros and cons of this venture – some think it’s brilliant, while Ronnie Spector reports that John Lennon referred to it as proof that Phil had gone ‘round the bend.

 

 

3) Cherished (1977) – Cher’s last Snuff Garrett-produced LP continued in the storytelling style of their earlier #1 hits Dark Lady and Half Breed. But by 1977, both Cher and the pop music world had moved on. Like her other mid-70’s solo LPs, this album never charted and has never been released on CD. Cher reportedly owns the rights and has no plans to re-release them.

4 black rose4) Black Rose (1980) People forget that Cher is a rock chick at heart. She seems to have made peace with dance music now, but in 1980 she was bristling under the disco material she was recording for Casablanca records. Cher formed and fronted Black Rose, a punkish indie rock band with then boyfriend/guitarist Les Dudek. Casablanca released one LP – it was neither a critical or commercial success and closed out her tenure at the record label.

5) Cher & Meat Loaf: Dead Ringer For Love (1981): From Mr. Loaf’s follow up to the hugely successful Bat Out Of Hell LP. This duet was a moderate chart hit in other countries, but inexplicably not released as a single in the U.S. If you want to hear Cher take part in the trademark aural excesses of a Jim Steinman production, here it is.

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6) I Paralyze (1982) Continuing her early 80’s musical slump, this sole LP for Columbia records was a flop. New Wave Cher didn’t translate well to the current pop market. She then focused on her acting career for the next 5 years before resurfacing with 1987’s self-titled comeback LP. At the time it seemed like she had been gone for much longer, since her early 80’s material had all gone largely unnoticed. Here she is on American Bandstand:

 

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7) Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean (1982) – Robert Altman directed this low-budget movie version of the Broadway play, which he also directed with the same cast. Cher co-starred with Karen Black, Sandy Dennis and a young Kathy Bates. While not commercially successful, people did sit up and take notice of her acting chops. Surprisingly, the whole movie is on YouTube, but skip to 1.29 if you want to watch her character’s heartbreaking meltdown.

 

8 not.com.mercial.jpeg8) Not.com.mercial CD (1994/2000) – In 1994, Cher attended a songwriter’s workshop that garnered an album’s worth of songs that she had co-written. The resulting album was subsequently rejected by her record label as “Nice, but not commercial.” Cher held on to it for 6 years before releasing it with little fanfare via the internet during her post-Believe renaissance. At the time, she said “I think that the internet is a place that at least it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s life and if you want to go there you can go there and check it out, and if you don’t want to be bothered by it you don’t even have to know it’s in the universe” Reviews were generally favorable.

9 Walking in memphis9) Walking in Memphis (1995) – When the record company rejected Cher’s songwriter LP, she returned the following year with It’s A Man’s World, about which she told the Advocate “I don’t know. It’s kind of good. It doesn’t suck.” The standout track is her cover of Marc Cohn’s signature song. A modest success in Europe and the UK, it sank without a trace in the U.S. It should have been a hit, with a music video featuring Cher in Elvis drag. Cher liked the video so much, it was played in its entirety on the big screen during her live shows for years after. Take that, bitches.

10 Faithful10)  Faithful (1996) – Director Paul Mazursky’s final film – written by Chazz Palmienteri based on his stage play. This was the end of Cher’s A-list Hollywood film career – whether it was the cause or she purposely walked away is debatable. In any case, the film was a commercial failure – criticized for not translating well to the big screen. A charming LA Times review also said “she’s had so much cosmetic surgery, you can’t get through a single close-up without marveling at the cadaverous mask she has become.” Which… by the way… have you seen Palmienteri lately? But I digress: It’s a pretty good movie that is definitely worth revisiting.

 

BONUS: Don’t Come Crying To Me (1991/1999)

Originally recorded during the Heart Of Stone album sessions, the song was unreleased until 1999, when it was remixed and included in first pressings of If I Could Turn Back Time: Cher’s Greatest Hits. The song was later removed, at Cher’s request. In any case, it’s a favorite of mine.

Madame Spivy’s Alley Cat

Ladies and Gentleman, I’d like to introduce you to a long lost lady of song that you should know: the late great Madame Spivy LaVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I would add “…. if he was born Bertha Levine in Brooklyn.”

Spivy cover2In the 1930’s, the former Ms. Levine entertained as a singer/pianist in the back room at Tony’s, a Fifty-Second Street speakeasy and celebrity hot spot. In 1939, the New York Times wrote that “Spivy’s material, witty, acid, and tragicomic, is better than most of the essays one hears about town, and her delivery is that of a sophisticated artist on her own grounds. She knows the value of surprise in punching a line, she uses understatement unerringly, and her piano accompaniment is superb.”

Spivy opened her own chic piano bar, Spivy’s Roof, in the summer of 1940 on the top floor of a building at the corner of Fifty-Seventh Street & Lexington Avenue. Notable performers through its 11 year existence included Mabel Mercer, Thelma Carpenter and Martha Raye as well as early performances by Liberace and Paul Lynde. Spivy’s Roof makes an appearance in the seminal book Gay New York and pops up in several memoirs and biographies of performers, artists and notable society personalities of that era.

Spivy's Roof

Writer Ignacio Schwartz fondly recalls visits to Spivy’s Roof when he was a Holden Caulfield-esque 16 year old boarding school student seeking adventure in New York. The whole article is worth a read, but here’s an excerpt:

She was a plump lady (one writer said that she was “squat like a bulldog.”) She wore her hair in a tight pompadour with a white streak down the middle. She would place a tall glass of what was probably chilled gin on the piano before her. During her time on stage, she would drain a couple, but her singing — her low, throaty voice — would always be perfect.

The one (song) I remember best of all is The Alley Cat. I cannot for the life of me remember more than a couple of lines of Hamlet that I was taught in that Prussian military school. I still have trouble remembering which novels were written by the Brontë sisters and the ones that came from the pen of Jane Austen. But to this day I can recite most of the words of The Alley Cat, along with the intonations, the riffs (and the pauses for laughs) exactly as it has been tricked away in my memory-bag for the last fifty years.

Spivy Alley Cat copy

 

The Alley Cat, which Spivy co-wrote with Jill Rainsford, was a staple from her live show and recorded for her 78 album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs (1939).

Here’s a video that I put together with lyrics included:

 

 

The Alley Cat

On the 14th floor of a walk-up flat, I used to keep an alley cat.
Each night I’d walk him down the stair, and waited while he got the air.
He grew up fast and developed a yen, no sooner was he in than he was out again.
I hated to spoil his fun, but I knew what must be done.

So I called the cat and he staggered home, with a ragged ear and a broken dome
But I knew he felt like hell that day, so I spoke to him this way:
Is it worth it? For that momentary something to yowl around til neighbors call the cops?
Is it worth it? For that momentary something to have nine hundred kittens call you “Pop”?

You’ve been an awful wild cat – you should welcome a vacation.
Just to sit around and brood and think about your operation.
I’ll give you one more night out to complete your education
Then the sheltered life is good enough for you.

I took him to the vet and had his profile bobbed, and when he sat down he said, ‘Hell, I’ve been robbed!’
He went out that night but came right home to bed, and the look on his face was a scream as he said:
“Well, you’ve done it. Now the operation’s over, I’ll never be the same, it seems so strange, but you’ve done it.
Now the operation’s over, no longer will I take chances with the mange.

I had so many wives, I didn’t know where I was at.
But since my change of scenery all the girl cats holler ‘Scat!’
I pass them by and hear them cry; ‘There goes that pansy cat.’
But the sheltered life is good enough for me.”

Spivy 7gay copy

Spivy recorded approximately 15 of her most popular songs. Some she co-wrote with Rainsford, others with lyricist John LaTouche. None of these recordings – originally issued on 78 record albums between 1939-1949 – were ever reissued in any format. I am slowly uploading them to youtube and will dole them out along with other Spivy tidbits in the near future.

In the meantime, if you are so inclined, check out the Queer Music Heritage website , which has a lot of information on Spivy, although the site is rather antiquated and some browsers won’t support it…. If you choose to heed the “unsecure site” warnings and avoid it… then the sheltered life is good enough for you.

 

 

Don Herron’s Tub Shots, Part II

What a difference a week makes! It has only been 10 days since my original blog piece about Don Herron’s Tub Shots was posted to coincide with the opening of the Daniel Cooney Fine Art  exhibit. The article was then re-posted on Queerclick, while Out magazine posted their own piece about the gallery exhibit, as did numerous art photography websites and blogs. Each time I do a Google search, I find more information about Don Herron and his series of photos, which had very little internet presence up to this point.

Village Voice 1980 trio

The digital skeleton of the Village Voice even resurrected their feature from April, 1980. This is curious, considering a) The paper had been declared officially dead two weeks ago, and b) One of the subjects in their 23 photo spread sued for invasion of privacy when it was published the first time, claiming that the model release form was forged.

Paula SequeiraFred Brown tub 1978Phoebe Legere tub 1988

Some alternate pics have surfaced of the two most ubiquitous Tub Shots featuring Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe:

Keith Haring alt shotRobert Mapplethorpe alt3Robert Mapplethorpe alt tub shot

Daniel Cooney Fine Art posted several Instagram photos from the September 13th exhibit opening with original subjects standing next to their photos.

Left to right: Charles Busch, Agosto Machado and Michael Musto:

A Charles Buschagosto-machado-tub-2017.jpgA Musto tub 2017

Here’s a little more info about some of the other luminaries featured in Tub Shots :Bob Opel Tub 1978

 

Robert Opel (1939-1979) was a conceptual artist, Advocate photographer and gay rights activist who achieved notoriety when he streaked through the 1974 Oscar Ceremony. He launched the first openly gay art gallery in San Francisco, where he was murdered in 1979. He is the subject of Uncle Bob, a 2011 documentary directed by his nephew Robert Oppel.

 

 

 

Mink Sole tub 1978

 

 

Actress Mink Stole is one of John Waters’ Dreamlanders and has appeared in all his films, most notably as Connie Marble in Polyester, Taffy in Female Trouble and Dottie Hinkle in Serial Mom. She also played Aunt Helen in all of the Eating Out films.

 

 

 

Cookie Mueller bathtub 1978

 

 

Cookie Mueller (1949-1989) was another John Waters Dreamlander who appeared many of his films, including Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living – her Tub Shot includes the poster for the latter. She also penned a column for The East Village Eye  and half a dozen books.

 

Victor Hugo (1942-1993) was a Venezuelan artist, window dresser and nightlife personality. Hugo designed window displays for his partner Halston‘s Madison Avenue store. He later became one of Andy Warhol’s assistants at The Factory where he worked on the oxidation paintings. As a model, he also appeared in Warhol’s Torso and Sex Parts series.

02-victor-hugo-2Victor-Hugo-artist-vfront_GAYLETTER

As the different subjects recount how they got involved in the project, a thread emerges: Robert Mapplethorpe brought in Felice Picano, who in turn suggested Victor Hugo and George Stavrinos, who then connected Mel Odom. (Read part 1 of this post for more on them)

PPeter Berlin Tub2eter Berlin‘s statement about Don Herron and his Tub Shots is exactly what you would expect from the legendary narcissist:

“He may have approached me for sex and then asked to take my photo. I have no recollection of him or the photo shoot.
At the time, I never cared for photos taken by other photographers, not even Mapplethorpe’s photos of me. I realized how critical I was looking at my image, so I probably would have seen this photo and not liked it. Looking at the photo now, I don’t mind it. It’s not a typical Peter Berlin photo that I would have taken of myself. I like everything but the dick and my expression in the face. But I have no recollection at all of him or this shoot.”

The Daniel Cooney Fine Art exhibit with 65 of these photos at their gallery in New York City runs from September 13 until November 3, 2018. Contact the gallery for reservations via phone at 212-255-8158, via email dan@danielcooneyfineart.com or give them a visit at 508-526 West 26th St., #9C, NY NY.

Ethyl Eichelberger Tub2 1982Elke Rastede Tub 1982Matthias Mohr tub 1982

Belle deJour tub 1979Tom Nichols tub 1980Ellen Stewart 1993

Don Herron

 

Congratulations to the late Mr. Herron on this recent rediscovery of his work. As artist Adam Donaldson Powell posted in the comments of Part 1: “…he deserves due credit now. His other paintings and silk screen art were even more impressive than Tub Shots. I would love to see that work praised online as well.” We shall see…