Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Legends and lighting

by Denis Ferrara

“HOW COULD somebody who was reported near death for so many years not leave a will?  Perhaps Aretha Franklin never intended to die.  She had denied death’s imminence for years — her sheer will, combined with the best medical care, carried her over improbable odds.

“Franklin still expected to get off any deathbed and sing another show, finish another album ... Franklin wanted to live. Indeed, she believed God wanted her on Earth: Aretha Franklin. She once defined her singing as ‘me with my hand outstretched, hoping someone will take it.’  A lot of people took that hand and felt themselves raised up by it.” 

This comes toward the end of a massive, brilliant piece of writing in the October issue of Rolling Stone magazine, a tribute to Aretha Franklin, aptly and inevitably titled “The Queen,” by Mikal Gilmore.

It’s more than an elegy or tribute or a long, laudatory obit, it is a deeply felt biography of the legend.  I read every word and learned things I hadn’t known before.  (The article also inspired me to order  as many of Franklin’s early Columbia albums as I could find, get another copy of her classic “Amazing Grace” and also her last album “Aretha Sings the Great Diva Classics.”) If I ever wore a hat, I’d take it off to writer Gilmore.  As well as to David Browne, who also contributed an excellent piece, “Aretha’s Unstoppable Spirit: Inside Her Final Years.” 

It is still hard for me to believe I live in a world without the life force that was Aretha Franklin. Well, still is, actually.  We have that voice, eternally.
Also, on the magazine reading list. Three — no, FOUR cheers to David Edelstein’s profile on Jamie Lee Curtis in the Oct 1-14 issue of New York magazine.  Not only does writer Edelstein get to the heart of the fabled actress — soon to return in her signature “Halloween” role — he also brilliantly discusses the blood, guts, subtle terrors and psychological, generational progress of the horror genre, in general.  Great, incisive writing on all counts.  (There’s also a terrific five- page list of  “The 100 Scares that Changed the World” — from 1896’s “The Haunted Castle” to last year’s “Get Out.”) 
THIS ‘N THAT:  Catching up.  On Netflix, PBS’s “Civilizations,” an art (and history) series. Fascinating, smart, right up my alley and narrated by of all people Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan” himself. I don’t know if Schreiber has narrated anything before, but he’s sure got the voice for it.  I guess I never really noticed his voice.  It’s perfect for this kind of thing, mellow, modulated, with gentle, intelligent emphasis, here and there.  He’s just right for a Ken Burns series.  I don’t know if Schreiber knows anything about art, but he sure sounds like he does!
I never noticed his voice.
... JERRY O’ Connell’s “Carter” TV series which I caught On Demand.  He stars as a troubled Canadian television actor who plays a detective, leaves Hollywood after a scandal, goes home and — but of course — becomes a “real” detective. Yeah — not wildly imaginative but pretty entertaining and O’Connell is charming and has matured very attractively. Don’t know if  the show has been picked up after its ten initial episodes, but if the terrible “Private Eyes” with Jason Priestly (another old fave, who still looks good despite a grubby stubble that doesn’t quite conceal a fuller face) can be renewed, surely “Carter” can.  
... AGAIN, thanks to On Demand, I got into FX’s “Snowfall,” which I think is riveting — and this crime saga was nothing I thought I’d be interested in. The compelling John Singleton produced series has been renewed for a third season, with great performances from the entire cast, headed by Damson Idris, the young man who wants a better life by going down a bad road.  (It is set in the 1980’s, as the crack epidemic exploded.)    
... I JUST found out there is going to be a “Deadpool 3.”  No!  I loved the first one, which seemed to neatly and wittily crystallize all of Ryan Reynolds attributes of zesty, profane snark.  The second installment?  I don’t I think even smiled for the first 40 minutes — and barely for the rest.  I’d say forget it but I’m sure everybody’s being paid a fortune. And it made a fortune — like, $750 million.  Who am I to take money from these needy folks?
20th Century Fox
TWO weeks ago I lost my wallet.  No cash, which I keep sloppily jammed into the pockets of my jeans.  But one very rarely used credit card (I learned my hard, debt-filled lesson on cards many years ago.)  As well as a Medicare card, library card, another health related thing (don’t get old — not fun.)  And, the only piece of photo ID I had — a passport card.  It’s like a little reproduction of your passport pic, with the salient info.  I don’t drive.

So, I had to get another passport card.  My previous pics were nice — smiley and with my glasses.  But now you can’t smile much (“a neutral expression” is advised) and you can’t wear your glasses!  Years ago when I was vainer, I’d take them off if I went to a bar or something, but those days are long past.  I wear them always.  I look better with them on — younger.  They hide a multitude of sins.  I didn’t know the eyeglasses edict at first, and took a pic with specs — not so hot but what do you expect at almost 66 — with a neutral expression?   Sent it off with all the annoying paperwork. It was promptly sent back with a stern warning — take off those glasses! 

So, I went again, sans eyewear with no wide smile, no teeth, no good lighting. I saw the result. I headed straight for a nice local bar here in Hoboken and downed three screwdrivers, fast.  OMG.  It looks like a cross between a desperate mugshot and the finality of the morgue (more the latter.)  I can only hope I am never asked for photo ID.  As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t look a damn thing like me.  Of course it does, which only made me cover every mirror and window in the house with densely-woven black lace and insist on Blanche DuBois style pink shades.  (My guy has known me well enough not to question why I’ve affected a Southern accent and keep saying, “Ah don’t want reality, ah want magic!”) 
The trauma did remind me, oddly of when I first interviewed Jackie Bisset.  We met in a large, brightly lit room.  I arrived first and initially settled in facing the huge windows so that I’d catch the “fill light.” After 40, backlighting is not your friend.  But I thought that was ungallant, and switched.  She arrived looking spectacular and would have in any light. (Tables full of young men nearby were literally gawking and falling off their chairs. Miss Bisset sent them sly glances and then whispered, “They don’t know who I am.  I think that makes it even better!”)  We got along like a house afire and as the afternoon wore on, I told her how beautiful she was and how I’d “given” her the fill light because I — a lowly columnist, a grown man, and a mere mortal — was concerned about my own looks.  (We’d already gotten very personal.)  She laughed raucously and said something self-deprecating about how nothing could help her now.  But she added, “Next time, I face the light!”
Miss Bisset — a great beauty in any light.
POOR “Murphy Brown” — for the second Thursday in a row it has aired on particularly heavy, traumatic news days. Is anyone watching?  According to the ratings so far not too many are.  I tried the second episode, hoping for a break from heavy-handed political “humor.”  I was not spared.  This thing can’t last.
Of course, I don’t think I can last.  There is no respite, and I am repulsed by the power-play antics of both parties.   I will say this, that in the face of the over-animated, over-confident, over-sharing, over-dramatized performances of  Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon, CNN’s Anderson Cooper looks more every day like the very modern model of a major Edward R. Murrow. 

In fact, despite some of the people he chooses to interview — that means you, Michael Avenatti — Cooper seems so remarkably calm, well-informed and even-handed that I have now forgiven him Andy Cohen. 

Everybody is entitled to a fool as a friend.
Contact Denis here.