We here at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger . . . would like to take this opportunity to mark the 93rd birthday of Michelangelo Antonioni, the director of Gente de Po, Cronoca di un amore, Le Amiche, and probably best known and best loved of all, Chung Kuo: Cina.
In six decades of masterful Cinema, uneven bouts with the zeitgeist, and extraordinary resillience, it gives any cinephile with a constant heart great relief and even a rare assurance to know that, where so many of his co-conspirators in the construction of our mutual obsession and dream life have fallen, he remains. And if his work no longer commands our ardor as it once did, he at least inspires the multitudes by the persistence of his will to forge ahead through the winter of his art; staring down mortality, if only for a time.
The Goons (Decca e.p., 1957)
I just had to post both sides of this fun e.p. cover, possibly my favourite eBay purchase ever (and as a bonus, it actually came with a record). The art is by Rex Morston, but obviously inspired by Spike Milligan's famous doodles, and nicely decontstructs the nature of album covers by playing with the placement of the catalogue number, printing the song titles upside down, and providing useless information about how not to damage the record (a frequent addition to album covers in the '50s and early '60s) on the back.
The record's fun too. No Yuletide would be complete without I'm Walking Backwards For Christmas.
Don Adams (1923-2005)
Before I ever saw a James Bond movie, I was well-versed in the cliches of secret agent skullduggery by the '60s TV classic Get Smart, starring comic Don Adams and with brilliant behind the scenes work by co-creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. But Adams did the heavy lifting in front of the camera, with a razor sharp sense of timing to pull off every "Would you believe...?" and "Sorry about that, Chief."
Adams was also a gifted impressionist, and is equally remembered for his cartoon voice work (I spent a healthy chunk of my childhood trying to ape Tennessee Tuxedo), but it was Agent 86 that followed him through his career, getting dusted off every decade or so for another attempt to recreate the magic of the original.
So his death this week from a respiratory illness comes as sad news, although learning that he was the only survivor of his Marine platoon on Guadalcanal, and that he was a frequent guest at the Playboy Mansion, makes one realize he's already been to heaven and hell.
For more on Adams remarkable life and career, check out the obituary written by son-in-law and talented character actor Jim Beaver.
Willie Hutch, 1946-2005
Although Isaac Hayes' Theme From 'Shaft' and Curtis Mayfield's Superfly are the most immediately known sounds of the '70s blaxploitation school, Motown jack-of-all-trades Willie Hutch further cemented the genre with his soundtracks for Foxy Brown and The Mack. Those records are of another time and place now, but they still have more spirit and life than anything Diddy could cut and paste together.
From the Associated Press obituary:
*Legendary R&B singer/songwriter Willie Hutch, the Motown veteran who co-wrote "I'll Be There" for the Jackson 5, has died at his home in Dallas, Texas, reports WREG-TV Memphis. He was 59. The cause of death has not yet been released.
Born Willie McKinley Hutchinson in 1946 in Los Angeles, Hutch grew up in Dallas, where his debut single "Love Has Put Me Down" was released in the early sixties. After putting out his first album in 1964, the artist went on to work with a number of artists as a writer and producer.
In 1970, producer Hal Davis called Hutch at the 11th hour to write a song for a backing track he had produced for the Jackson 5. The Michael Jackson-led group reportedly went into the studio the next day to record Hutch's words on the track, which turned out to be one of the group's biggest hits, "I'll Be There."
Hutch went on to write and/or produce solo albums for Jackson, as well as Smokey Robinson, The Fifth Dimension, The Miracles, The Main Ingredient ("California My Way"), Junior Walker, Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye, among others.
He also wrote the entire soundtrack for Pam Grier's 1970s blaxploitation masterpiece, "Foxy Brown" and worked on the soundtrack to "The Mack," including the song, "Brother's Gonna Work It Out." Hutch even penned a song for the 2005 John Singleton-produced film, "Hustle and Flow."
Robert Wise, the director of The Sound of Music and Mystery in Mexico, died today at the age of 91.
Here are three obituaries:
The New York Times
The Associated Press
Reuters News Service
Anyone looking for a cinephile treatment of this subject needs to get a life.
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown (1924-2005)
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was one of a kind. A Texas bluesman raised near the Louisiana border, he fully believed there was only two kinds of music: good and bad. He played music with equal doses of blues, Cajun, country, western swing, big band, and whatever else took his fancy. He could play guitar, fiddle, and pretty much anything else with strings on it, and was gleefully knocking down musical divisions long before the term "roots music" ever left anyone's lips.
I had the great fortune of spending an afternoon with Brown, talking about his early days playing around the South, the musicians he loved and those he couldn't stand (I made the mistake of mentioning Rufus Thomas, who I'd only recently heard for the first time) and his love of making music of any kind. Brown had a hit out of the gate on Peacock Records with Okie Dokie Stomp, but never rose to the same ranks as the likes of Muddy Waters or B.B. King, maybe because his sound was never regarded as being as "pure" as some blues legends, but by the same token, his records never got boring. Track down his shared LP with Roy Clark (it's called, simply, Makin' Music) for an example of his open mind and open heart. Years later I talked to Clark and he said it was the most fun he ever had in a studio.
Sadly, Brown's death came in the wake of his house's destruction by Hurricane Katrina, you can read more in this BBC obituary, but maybe news of his passing will lead more to the music of this wiry, wily master musician.