Tag Archives: obituary

Video Fridays: R.I.P., Leonard Nimoy

mr-spockWow. I’m shocked by the passing this morning of Leonard Nimoy.

I’d gone years without watching any Star Trek: The Original Series, or any of the movies featuring the original cast, before I decided recently to do a series of Video Fridays posts on a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth, a lineup that included Star Trek, and I published my post on Star Trek just two weeks ago.

In preparation for writing that post, I watched many episodes of the TV show, reconnecting with what I loved so much about it. And then, this past week, I was home sick in bed for two days and binged on more Star Trek, including the movies.

That Leonard Nimoy should die today, frankly, creeps me out as much it saddens me.

I think it must be nearly impossible to grow up Jewish in the late 1960s, 70s, 80s, etc., and NOT know, with enormous pride, that the two main characters in Star Trek, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Nimoy), were played by Jewish actors.

Years later I learned that the Vulcan salute (seen in the photo above), was derived by Leonard Nimoy from a blessing bestowed by Rabbis, where the hands form an approximation of the Hebrew letter shin, shorthand for the Hebrew word Shaddai, one of numerous Hebrew names for God.

As an actor, I think the best compliment one could give would be that his portrayal of Mr. Spock was defining and masterful. While Gene Roddenberry may have dreamed up the character, Leonard Nimoy brought him to life and was always believable as that half-human-half-Vulcan caught between the competing aspects of his nature.

While I was very impressed by Zachary Quinto‘s performances as Spock in the recent reboots, Quinto’s was an act of imitation and Nimoy’s an act of creation.

I couldn’t pick just one video to accompany this obituary, and so I’ve included two. The first is perhaps the most moving scene from all of the TV episodes and movies, a scene that epitomizes Spock’s Vulcan logic, as well as his very human emotional bond to Captain Kirk. The second is a compilation of clips from the TV series that highlight Spock’s human-Vulcan conflict, often to comedic effect.

As my fellow Jews say, upon the death of a loved one, “May his memory be a blessing.”

Rest in peace, Leonard, and thanks so much for the many years of thought-provoking entertainment.

Live long, and prosper.

R.I.P. Joe Cocker

cockerwoodstockMan, it’s been a brutal December for rock & roll.

Joe Cocker, Iconic Rock Singer, Dead at 70

Even if The New York Times insists that the “celebrities die in threes” thing is a myth, I know I wasn’t alone in wondering who would be next, when music legends Bobby Keys and Ian McLagan died on two consecutive days earlier this month.

And, while it took a couple of weeks, it’s one of the creepiest things ever that the third to fall turned out to be Joe Cocker.

As I mentioned in my post mourning the loss of Keys:

…while most who do know and love his music associate him first and foremost with The Rolling Stones…I most closely associate Bobby Keys with his work on my all-time favorite live album, and the film for which it was the soundtrack, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen.

I even included a clip from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, featuring a gorgeous Bobby Keys solo.

And then, in my post honoring Ian McLagan, I listed the many musicians that McLagan played with, among them…Joe Cocker.

How strange is life and death, that these three — two of them 70-years old at the time of passing, the other 69, all of them major players in the glorious rock heyday of the 1960s and 1970s, and all three having made music together — should pass on within the span of three weeks?!

Well, what else can I say about Joe?

My cousin Richard gave me a vinyl copy of the 1970 release Mad Dogs & Englishmen, approximately 10 years after it came out, and I admit that I was slow to take to it. I didn’t recognize many of the songs, and I had yet to fall in love, as I decidedly am now, with the R&B and soul music that Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, et al. were clearly channeling at the time.

But, something led me to hold on to that record, and now, as I’ve said, it really is my undisputed, all-time favorite live album.

If I had to use one word to describe Joe Cocker’s greatness, I would use the word commitment, because, when you watch and listen to Joe perform, you see and hear a man committing himself to the music to the fullest extent possible, giving himself over to it completely, giving all of himself without reservation.

There’s no way to fake what he did, and it’s my personal opinion that if you don’t find the following at all stirring, if this 20-piece band, replete with full-blown choir, doesn’t course through you with the power of love, well then, you might want to check yourself for a pulse.

Rest in peace, Joe, and thank you, thank you, thank you for the many years of beautiful music!

Video Fridays: R.I.P. Ian McLagan

ian-mclaganREALLY tough week for rock & roll.

The day after we lost unsung legend Bobby Keys, which I wrote about on Tuesday, the sad news came that another unsung legend, Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan, had passed.

It’s uncanny that these two amazing musicians should leave us at the same time, given their similar career arcs. Both Bobby and Mac played supporting roles for many, many rock & roll greats, a veritable Who’s Who, I listed Bobby’s credits on Tuesday, and Mac’s are just as impressive, including a shared longtime collaboration with The Rolling Stones: Small Faces, Faces, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor, Pete Townshend, Chuck Berry, Jackson Browne, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, Melissa Etheridge, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Westerberg, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, Lucinda Williams, etc.

Of all his work, however, I’m deeply partial to Faces, whose classic lineup included Mac, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Lane, Ron Wood, and Kenny Jones. They only produced four albums, from 1969 to 1973, but in that brief time, before Rod Stewart became a cheesy pop star, their music was soulful, gritty, raw, and powerful.

Lucky for us, there are 40 minutes of live Faces goodness available on YouTube, and I present it here in honor of Ian McLagan, featuring, at about the 29:20 mark, Mac’s amazing Wurlitzer electric piano work on the classic Stay With Me.

Thanks for all of the wonderful music, Mac! You’ll be missed!

R.I.P. Bobby Keys

bobbykeysOh boy. This is a tough loss. Saxophonist extraordinaire Bobby Keys, dead at 70.

If you believe in the magic of rock & roll, which I devoutly do, it isn’t in the individual. I’ve played in bands with A-team players all around. But unless they can play together, it doesn’t do any good. And you can take guys who may not stand on their own up against a bunch of individuals they might be compared to, but you put ’em together, man, and they are unique unto themselves in a way that no one else can touch…That’s part of the music that I come from, cause I can’t read music…That’s not where I come from musically. I come strictly from feeling, and that feeling comes from rock & roll.

~Bobby Keys

That, right there, absolutely nails the essence of rock & roll’s magic; its accessibility, where the door is always open to anyone willing to spill blood, sweat, and tears, where even a bunch of musical misfits can make beautiful music together.

If you’re reading this and don’t really know who Bobby Keys was, first, I’d be sad for you, second, by way of explanation, I’d describe Bobby as an unsung rock & roll legend.

And, while most who do know and love his music associate him first and foremost with The Rolling Stones, for good reason — he recorded and performed with them off and on for over 40 years — the list of musical artists he collaborated with is like a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame roll call: Bobby Vee, Buddy Holly, Dion, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, all four Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Donovan, Eric Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie, Harry Nilsson, Faces, The Who, Humble Pie, Dr. John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Warren Zevon, etc.

That said, I most closely associate Bobby Keys with his work on my all-time favorite live album, and the film for which it was the soundtrack, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen. It’s a testament to his greatness that he stood out the way he did in that massive, and massively talented, 20-member band. (If you aren’t familiar with Mad Dogs & Englishmen, run, don’t walk, watch the movie and listen to the album!)

In that spirit, since just one video would not be tribute enough, I’ll start off with a clip from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, and I’ll end with a Stones classic.

Thanks for all the great music, Bobby! You’ll be missed!

R.I.P., Ray Manzarek

ray-manzarekOvershadowed, understandably, by the news Monday of the massive tornado in Oklahoma, was the passing, at the age of 74, of Ray Manzarek, legendary keyboardist for The Doors.

I’ve not been the biggest Doors fan over the years, but every time I do hear their music, whether by choice or by accident, I do have a predictable thought that I REALLY like them and wonder why I don’t listen to them more often.

Anyway, Manzarek, in my opinion, was the key ingredient to the band’s sound. Bucking all convention, The Doors did not have a bass player, and so Manzarek performed double duty, playing bass lines with his left hand on one small keyboard and swirling organ arpeggios on another keyboard with his right hand. Guitarist Robbie Krieger and drummer John Densmore were certainly distinctive to some degree or another, but when I think of Doors music I first and foremost think of Ray Manzarek’s work.

For an accompanying video, I’ve chosen one of my personal favorite Doors songs, When The Music’s Over.

Thanks, Ray, for all of the great music!

Video Fridays: R.I.P., Allan “Sidney Freedman” Arbus

allan-arbusI’m late getting to this, but I’m sad that I’m posting my second obituary in one week.

Following my post on Monday on the loss of Richie Havens, I heard the very next day of the death of actor Allan Arbus, at the age of 95, mostly known for his role as the psychiatrist, Dr. Sidney Freedman, on the TV show M*A*S*H.

(In a creepy example of the urban myth that celebrities die in groups of three, since I started writing this, I’ve learned of the death of country music legend George Jones at the age of 81. I may or may not be able to post an obit for George later today.)

Anyway, I mentioned once before that I practically grew up on M*A*S*H. In fact, it was such a central experience for me, as well as for many of the people I knew, including my best friends, who would talk about it constantly, reciting our favorite lines, analyzing it’s ups and downs, that it is not unsurprising to me at all that Allan Arbus’ passing would inspire more than just a brief note about how I used to enjoy him on television.

(If you aren’t a TV geek who enjoys exploring the themes of a show, if you are someone who simply likes entertainment, that’s cool, but you might want to skip ahead below, to the video part of this Video Fridays installment, a montage of clips of Allan Arbus from various M*A*S*H episodes.)


Now, the fascinating thing here, for me, is that Allan Arbus and his character, Sidney Freedman, actually represent the epicenter of an aspect of M*A*S*H that divided its fans into two opposing camps:

  1. Those who preferred the earlier seasons of the show, when comedy far outweighed drama, and when the comedy was, as I would argue, of a more sophisticated style.
  2. Those who loved the evolution of the show from mostly comedy toward increasing amounts of drama, and despite the shift in comedic style.

You see, although Arbus only appeared in 12 of the 251 episodes of M*A*S*H, and although his earliest appearances were in Season 2, when the show was still firmly mostly-comedy, I contend that the very fact that Sidney Freedman became a recurring character is symbolic of the evolution of the series towards drama.
Gradually, the show became less and less about the farcical absurdities of war, in the style of, say Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 — the style, incidentally, of the original source material, the novel by Richard Hooker and the film by Robert Altman — and more and more about the emotional, dramatic, traumatic and tragic nature of war.

That said, a convincing argument could be made that, once you delve into the ugliness of war, as would, let’s say, a psychiatrist, digging through the horrible toll it takes on humans and humanity, that it necessarily gets harder and harder to make light of it. A sitcom about war, then, could eventually become shallow or even insulting to those who have faught in, been injured by, or have lossed loved ones to war.

And, nothing underscores Sidney Freedman’s central role in this evolution than his central role in the very last episode of the series, 1983’s Goodbye, Farwell and Amen, M*A*S*H‘s swan song, the show’s last statement on the subject of war, which centered on therapy sessions between Sidney and Alan Alda‘s Hawkeye Pierce, who had suffered a nervous breakdown over a traumatic experience involving a mother who silenced her baby, thereby suffocating and killing it, in order to protect Hawkeye and the other passengers on a bus that was under enemy fire.

Drama indeed. Nothing funny about that.

Now, I should make it clear that, despite my preference for the earlier seasons, I do appreciate the significant achievement of keeping the show on the air for 11 seasons, while maintaining a huge audience and mostly positive reviews. After all, I kept watching and never missed an episode.

Truthfully, my beef with the show wasn’t really with the trend toward drama-over-comedy. Rather, as mentioned above, I found the comedy that did remain to be lacking in sophistication, too often heavily laden with silly puns, slapstick arguments and personality clashes.

Whatever you make of this analysis, regardless of which camp you reside in, I think we can all agree that Allan Arbus was wonderful as Dr. Sidney Freedman. As Alan Alda said, quoted in the Los Angeles Times Arbus obituary, “He was so authentic in the role it was hard to believe that he wasn’t that person.”

R.I.P., Allan Arbus. Thanks for the memories.

R.I.P., Richie Havens

richie_havensHeavy, heavy, oh heavy, sigh.

I’ve just heard the very sad news that one of my all-time favorite musicians, singer-songwriter and master interpreter of popular song, Richie Havens, has passed at the age of 72.

Even sadder, I don’t have the time today to properly honor Richie, and so I’ll have to settle for reposting something I did back in July 2011.

Richie, thank you SO much for all of the beautiful music, your beautiful heart, and your beautiful voice.


Originally posted July 1, 2011.

This morning, on Facebook, a friend posted a clip of Richie Havens performing his famous cover of George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun, I was reminded of how much I love Richie, and I realized that I hadn’t listened to him in far too long.

Richie is a beautiful musician in so many ways: his complex rhythm strumming style, his use of open tunings and thumb-wrapping, his soulful voice, a voice like no other I’ve ever heard, and he may very well be the best cover song artist ever.

And as much as I enjoyed the version of Here Comes The Sun, I went in search on YouTube for a clip for this week’s Video Fridays installment, a clip of my favorite Havens song, Follow, but sadly I couldn’t find a live performance.

I then found an amazing older clip of Richie doing a medley of Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey, and Bob Dylan’s Just Like A Woman, that is totally worth watching, but there’s a painful missing bit in the bridge of the latter.

So, I settled on a different version of Just Like A Woman, this one from the 1993 concert celebrating Dylan’s 30-year anniversary as a recording artist.