Archive for the 'Memory Lane' Category

Levi Stubbs 1936-2008

I really don’t mean to turn my blog into the obits page.  Really, I don’t.  They say that famous deaths “come in threes.”  If so, this one is number two.  Levi Stubbs, the golden-voiced baritone who led the Four Tops to Motown glory from the 60’s to the 80’s has died at the age of 72.

The list of Four Tops hits is legion:  “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” Standing in the Shadows of Love, “Bernadette,” “Still Water (Love)”, and “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got.”  Stubbs did lead vocals on each one of those listed above, and there were numerous other Four Tops hits in which Stubbs did not do lead vocals.

I think, though, that my favorite work by Levi Stubbs was without The Four Tops.  He provided the voice of Audrey II, the man-eating plant who called himself “The Mean, Green Mother from Outer Space” in the 1988 film Little Shop of Horrors.

If you missed this sleeper starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia with classic bit parts and cameos from Christopher (“Count Rugen”) Guest, John Candy, Jim Belushi, and most deliciously, a scene in which Steve Martin plays a leather-wearing sadistic dentist, and Bill Murray portrays his masochistic patient.  At last, we learn the answer to the ancient joke set-up “A sadist and a masochist meet on the street….”  See for yourself:

But I digress.  Even though Levi Stubbs was a natural baritone, most of the Four Tops songs he performed were written in the higher tenor range.  Little Shop of Horrors allowed him to be at his bari- best.  I’ll let you cogitate on that as I bow out to Audrey II.

Three of the Four Tops are gone now, as is Stubbs’ superstar first cousin, Motown and R&B legend Jackie Wilson (“Higher and Higher”).  The Nightshift has gotten even sweeter in sound now.  Rest well, Levi.  Well done.

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Edie Adams 1927-2008

It was a bittersweet moment when I read yesterday of the passing of singer/actress/Muriel cigar spokeswoman Edie Adams at the age of 81.  Even though I never met the lady (and she was that), I always found her admirable (even envied her somewhat) and I felt genuine sorrow for the world who has lost one of the most beautiful voices attached to one of the most beautiful women who ever lived.  If you haven’t been fortunate enough to hear this jewel sing one of the most romantic songs ever written, feast your eyes and ears upon this:

Still, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of relief amid the sadness.  Behind that demure smile and soft voice was a lifetime of tragedy.  Edie married the love of her life, the innovative and well ahead of his time comedian Ernie Kovacs in 1954 and bore him a daughter, Mia, in 1959.  Even though Edie had graduated from Julliard and aspired to become an opera singer, she got her break with Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (a 1950’s era American Idol).  That’s where she was noticed by Kovacs, who invited her to audition for his own show.  The rest, as they say, is history as far as their relationship is involved.  Although their marriage was happy, it was not without more than its share of problems–most having to do with the impulsive, albeit brilliant Kovacs.

When Kovacs died in early 1962 in a one-car crash in the wee hours of a Los Angeles morning, he left Edie with over $500,000 in debts (mostly from gambling and impulse buying), and ugly legal imbroglios with his first wife (over the custody of their two daughters) and the IRS.

A pantheon of Hollywood stars, including Frank Sinatra, Jack Lemmon, Dean Martin, and Milton Berle (from whose house Kovacs was returning when his car–for reasons that were never conclusively determined–crashed) immediately organized a TV special to raise money to settle Kovacs’ debts and provide for his daughters.  Edie said “No, I can take care of my own children.”

And she did–doing unceasing show business work for over a year, and appearing sporadically after that.  Groucho Marx, in introducing Adams during a Las Vegas gig, summed it up beautifully:  “There are some things Edie won’t do, but nothing she can’t do.”

Wherever and however she could, she paid tribute to Kovacs.  She happily pitched Muriel cigars in remembrance of Ernie’s signature stogie (even though during his lifetime, he pitched rival Dutch Masters cigars).  She not only repaid Ernie’s debts, she won the bitter custody suit for Ernie’s daughters from a previous marriage, and spent the rest of her life buying the rights to the numerous TV shows and specials Ernie created over the years.  Because Kovacs was so far ahead of his time, his series were many, but short-lived.  Still, once Edie had  collected Ernie’s shows, she repackaged them for rebroadcast and for home enjoyment so that future generations could experience the comic genius that was Ernie Kovacs.

Sadly, Edie’s life after Ernie was not idyllic.  She married twice more, but never for long.  Her daughter Mia, like her father, died tragically in an automobile accident in 1982.  Edie is survived only by her son from her second marriage, her younger stepdaughter by her marriage to Ernie Kovacs, and one grandchild, the child of Ernie’s oldest daughter (who died of chronic ill health in 2001).  Still, she always carried herself with charm and with grace, and with beauty that not only dwelt on the outside,  but radiated from within.  Rest in peace, Edie, reunited with the love of your life and your daughter.  You think they have gorilla masks in heaven?

Enough to Make a Grown Man Cry

We got home late last night–almost 11:00, and my day started at 5:30 this morning.  That’s the price of having a daughter who is a competitive swimmer.  I get up to get her up and to the pool at 6:20 in the morning–long before the sun gets its lazy butt in the sky.  Needless to say, all the caffeine I dare to ingest has not alleviated the fog in my brain enough to concentrate on job searching.   Therefore, I went to surf the Web, and that’s where my heart broke.

It’s said that there are only three occasions when it is OK for a grown man to cry in front of other men.  One is when watching Gary Cooper in the role of Lou Gehrig making his “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech in the movie Pride of the Yankees.

Another is when Billy Dee Williams as Gale Sayers dedicates his George S. Halas Courage Award to dying teammate Brian Piccolo in the original 1971 TV movie Brian’s Song.

I never remember the third, but room should be made for viewing the damage caused to the Lone Star Flight Museum on Galveston Island by Hurricane Ike.  Click on the name of the museum above to read on the home page about the damage.  Scroll down to click on the links to the photos.  Pay special attention to the last offering:  the “36 Hours after Ike Photo Gallery.”  If this doesn’t break your heart, go to your nearest cardiologist.  He’ll be very interested to meet someone who functions without one.  You’ll redefine “life” itself.

On a purely selfish note, thank God the B-25 was spared and is safely ensconced, along with the B-17, at the Commemorative Air Force’s museum in Midland, TX.  All other airworthy artifacts were removed to safety as well, and are being generously housed until such time as the LSFM can reopen.

I blogged about our too-short visit there back in June.  See, my daddy was a radar operator in PBJ’s (the Marine name for the B-25) back in WWII, when radar “didn’t exist.”  I got a couple of detail shots of the PBJ, but spent most of my digital storage on a MiG-21 not too far away.  I guess my own service memories distracted me.  I at least thank God I got to see it before Ike came a-callin’.  Something is better than nothing.

Folks, I know full well how the economy sucks right now.  I’m jobless and broke.  Still, not everyone is.  The LSFM wants and intends to reopen, but they admit that it is possible that the chasm between income and damages may become too great to sustain it long enough to repair, replace, and retool (it’s not just a place to display vintage warcraft, they actively restore them as well) themselves.  Then the rest of the island has to be ready not only to sustain itself, but tourists as well.  That’s a tall bill, Sports Fans.  Can anyone help with the tab?  I know everyone and his brother is begging for relief of some form or another now.  Still, it is a poor testament to the sacrifice of the Greatest Generation if we let the Lone Star Flight Museum die.  We just can’t let it happen.

Where Were You When…

After being political two days in a row, and getting so serious yesterday, I decided to back off a bit for the weekend.  Last week, a bunch of us on The Daily Kitten’s Chat Room got to talking about where we were during pivotal events in recent history.  I admittedly went overboard (and I cut out quite a bit before posting, even!), but I thought I would repost recent history through my eyes, along with a few additions that come as a perq of having one’s own blog.  Someday, I may even go into even more detail, but again, they are Tales for Another Day!

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JFK Assassination: I don’t remember–too busy floating about in my mother’s womb (I was born 3 mos. later). Interesting side note, though–my uncle was living in Manhattan in the early 60’s with a successful career as an award-winning architect (which he later abandoned to travel the world playing piano). He remembered vividly seeing bumper stickers everywhere that read “Eliminate the KKK: Jack, Bobby, and Teddy.” Those bumper stickers disappeared very suddenly after November 1963.

Malcolm X: busy being 11 mos.

MLK/RFK: busy being 4.

Apollo 11 Landing: THAT I remember! I was 5 1/2, and since it was summer and there was no school, we kids were allowed to stay up late to see Neil Armstrong take his first step. We had our color console set in the living room, but since the video from the moon was black and white anyway, Dad set up in my bedroom the little b/w portable set we had bought for our camping trip the month before. I remember it was about 10:30 at night when Armstrong finally appeared–two hours past my bedtime. I was sleepy, but aware that this was important, and I have never forgotten it.

Elvis’ death: For me, it was “Yeah, he died, in an embarrassing manner, but that was my mom’s music–big deal.” Turned out it WAS a big deal. Little did I know.

The overthrow of the Shah: This affected our community greatly. The US Navy’s Supply Corps School is in my hometown of Athens, GA (for a brief time longer; they are handing it over to UGa to create a medical school in 2010), and we had a lot of Navy families relocated there after being very hurriedly removed from Iran. There were also a lot of Iranian refugees who came to our town, including one family that had a son who became my hubby’s best friend in college. Too many stories about that time to post all at once.

The murder of John Lennon: I didn’t even like the Beatles until I got into high school. I was a sophomore when Lennon got shot, but what got everyone talking was the fact that the shooter (Mark David Chapman) was a friend of the older brother of one of my classmates, and had been a frequent houseguest when my classmate lived in Atlanta. My friend was freaked–he never thought Chapman was the type to do something like that.

The Reagan Shooting: I will always remember that day as if it were yesterday. My favorite class that year was 11th grade American History, because of the irreverent way my teacher, Mr. Bosquet, presented the material (I have always tried to teach like he did, because the irreverence made routine stuff memorable). The lecture that day had been on the election of 1840–Gen. William Henry Harrison had gained fame as an Indian fighter and the enmity of one particular shaman, who, according to Mr. B, had placed a curse on Harrison. The shaman said Harrison would die in office, and so would every other president elected in a year ending in “0.” If you know your American History, you know that Gen. Harrison had the shortest term of any president, dying of pneumonia contracted on a cold and rainy Inauguration Day 31 days after taking office. Lincoln, of course, was elected in 1860; Garfield in 1880; McKinley in 1900; Harding in 1920; F.D. Roosevelt in 1940; and Kennedy in 1960–all died in office (only Harding and Roosevelt of natural causes).

That very afternoon, I came home to learn of the attempt on President Reagan’s life. There wasn’t an empty seat in Mr. Bosquet’s classroom the next day–in fact, no one was even tardy: we ALL wanted to know what he had to say about the shooting of (as he pronounced it) “Ronnie Ray-gun.” He came in and said simply “Guess the ol’ shaman is losing his touch.”

The Challenger Disaster: I was in the Air Force’s Intel School at what used to be Lowry AFB outside of Denver when this happened. That week was our final exam–a 5-day war game we had to successfully run. We were in a building that was so secure that broadcast signals could neither enter nor leave the building, save the lobby, which was about the size of a 2-seater public restroom. The war game scenario took place in Communist Yugoslavia, and throughout the exercise we would get updated “intel” unexpectedly that would affect the battle plans we would recommend to the brass. Suddenly, someone burst into the room and said “The Shuttle’s blown up!” Our first reaction? “OK, let’s see how that affects what’s going on in Ljubljana.” It took us a good 10 minutes to realize that this was real-world stuff going on, then everyone abandoned the game and crowded into the lobby to see the only TV–a 13″ portable on the guard’s desk. There must have been at least 100 people jammed into that lobby, but no one jostled or complained.

The Marcos Exile:  I was stationed on Hickam AFB when former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Imelda (she of the shoes) and their entourage fled Manila and stayed at Hickam for a month back in February, 1986.  Apparently, they could own half the planet, but couldn’t buy a decent set of luggage because all the news footage showed everyone hauling stuff packed in Pampers boxes out of the military cargo plane.

All of us enlisted barracks-rats were upset because the large-screen TV’s in the Enlisted Mess were appropriated for use by the Marcos’ and because off-base pizza parlors were not permitted to deliver there due to heightened security that did not allow people without a military ID on base.  Much as we grumbled, though, we all knew that the folks living in Officers’ Country were having it worse–much worse.  Those living near the home where the Marcos’ stayed were not even allowed to be on the other side of the street from their own homes!  Needless to say, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the Marcos’ got their own private residence a month later.

9/11: The hardest day teaching I ever had. I taught 2nd grade in Florida at a Christian School that ranged from K3-8th. My own children were in 8th, 4th, and Kindergarten. I was on break when I was told about the plane crashing into the WTC, and thought about the B-25 crash into the Empire State Building in 1945. I imagined this Cessna with an inexperienced pilot. It turned out the whole Middle School was watching in the history classroom. I went more as an opportunity to spend a few minutes with my oldest–I still didn’t fathom the enormity of what was happening until I saw it on TV. There were no classes for the MS that day–they just watched. We elementary teachers, though, were told not to let the kids know what happened. About 1/4 of my class got picked up by anxious parents before lunch–enough to make the rest suspicious, but not so suspicious that a quick, flip, non-informative reply couldn’t satisfy them. Pretending to act normal on the most abnormal day of my life was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I pulled it off.

All the rest of that week, I made it a point to step outside as often as possible to view the sky and observe the absence of aircraft.  My house in Clearwater, FL was underneath the approach of the small municipal airport about a mile away, and was also under the flight paths to/from Tampa’s, Orlando’s, and Miami’s airports and MacDill AFB.  The sky was always lousy with contrails and the sounds of freedom and commerce.  To see only clouds and hear only birds was eerie.  I never wanted to forget that.

The Columbia disaster:  We had plans that day, but I don’t remember what–perhaps it was an afternoon session swim meet.  I seem to recall that it was Gasparilla weekend in Tampa–there was always a meet then.  Anyway, I was at home preparing while Hubby went to gas up his truck.  He came back enraged.  He had gone to the Chevron Station not too far away–it always had the cheapest gas in the area.  He had his radio on while filling up and heard the news.  He went inside the station to ask about some STP or something like that, and the man of middle-eastern descent who either owned or ran the station (he was someone in charge) asked Hubby how he was today.  Hubby replied “Not good; I just heard the Columbia blew up on re-entry.”  The SOB behind the counter said nothing, but GRINNED from ear to ear!  Hubby turned around and left, because he knew if he stayed one second longer, he’d be going to jail–at the very least on assault charges.   We never went to that station again, and rarely go to Chevrons at all.

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So tell me, where were you?  What sticks out in your mind about the events that have shaped our lives and our world?  Also, how do you like the silhouette photo of Linus and the dear, departed Lucy (his sister) for my new banner?  I’d like to know.

One day here; the next day, gone.

I started a new assignment today–another campus had an immediate need for a certified teacher, and I was the person in the district best able to fill it. I really only got about 4 hours notice of the switch; having received the news at lunchtime on the Friday before last week’s Spring Break. I barely got time to get a briefing from my new principal and figure out how to arrange the furniture in my room before the end of the day.

Spring break was completely consumed with flooring. I spent the time laying a laminate floor in my kitchen. Note: if you ever want to lay laminate, YOU MUST LET IT SIT IN THE BOXES IN YOUR HOUSE FOR 48-96 HOURS BEFORE STARTING YOUR PROJECT!!!!!! The”good people” at Lowe’s just happened to mention that as an aside as I was loading my car last Monday morning–great. That nixed Monday and Tuesday for working. What was supposed to be five sanely-paced days turned into two frenetic ones scrambling to get the floor laid before Thursday night! Then came everyone being off for Good Friday–and everyone wanted to play, including the cattle–who decided that this was the time to play “hide and seek” on the neighbors’ property. So there is still finishing work to do and God knows when it will be done. I feel like the Little Red Hen here–“if it is to be, it is up to me.” If I ever blog about wanting to replace flooring, remind me what a pain it is to do it! My knees are just beginning to recover, and I wore pads on them the whole time!

My little pity party I had going this morning was shattered, though, by learning through office chatter of the unexpected death of a colleague from my old campus during Spring Break. She was just a couple of years older than I–her youngest child was the same age as my middle one. She began working on my old campus this year as an aide, but I had gotten to know what a great lady she was because of what a great kid her son is. In a small rural town with multi-generational poverty, her son is a beacon of hope–smart, athletic, respectful, resourceful, fun loving but industrious–in short, a walking testament to good upbringing. I pray that he can keep his focus during this unimaginably horrific time. I so hope he can continue to honor his mother by fulfilling the promise he has shown so far. It is way too easy in this day and age to “fall into the crab bucket” of spiraling standards, especially when you’re still a teenager and you lose your anchor.

This is the second time this school year (and the third time in 15 months) that I have mourned the loss of the parent of an outstanding student–two due to illness (this one sudden, the other chronic) and the other in a tragic accident. In each case I have known the parent to be loving, caring, and giving 110% to raise an enriched child in an impoverished corner of the world. None of them were wealthy, only one of them was considered “a pillar of the community,” but all three were heroes in my book.

What’s even scarier is how my friend died. Right now, they believe it was meningitis. We’re still waiting for confirmation. I last saw her two weeks ago tomorrow. As always, she greeted me and goodbyed me with a big hug. Those hugs have meant so much to me. Some time ago, when some subversive elements were trying to brand me as a “racist” among members of her ethnic community, my friend made it a point to give me a huge hug in front of everyone every chance she got. She publicly stood by me when it would have been so easy to be silent. I owe her so much, and now she’s gone. The last time I saw her, she was right as rain, and now she’s gone. I’m still in shock.

Yes, I know how virulent and contagious meningitis is. I have communicated with the school nurse. The incubation period is 10-14 days. I have not felt ill at all since I had a flu relapse a month ago, so I hope that means I am not ill. I also know that it is possible for someone who is not ill to be a carrier. That means I will watch my family very closely the next two weeks. At least my daughter got the meningococcal vaccine. If it was bacterial meningitis, she’s protected. My sons and husband, I will watch very carefully.

My friend, you are sorely missed. Rest with the angels, and we’ll keep your memory alive down here.


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