Discover more from Frank Beacham's Journal
Gillian Welch - master of Appalachian, Americana and bluegrass music - is 56 years old today
Gillian Welch and partner, David Rawlings, in studio
Photo by David McClister
Gillian Welch is 56 years old today.
Welch performs with her musical partner, guitarist David Rawlings. Their sparse and dark musical style, combines elements of Appalachian music, Bluegrass and Americana.
Welch and Rawlings have released five critically acclaimed albums, and two under the name David Rawlings Machine. Their 1996 debut, Revival, and the 2001 release Time (The Revelator), were major folk albums.
Their 2003 album, Soul Journey, introduced electric guitar, drums and a more upbeat sound to their body of work. After a gap of eight years, they released their fifth studio album, The Harrow & The Harvest, in 2011, another acclaimed folk album.
Welch was an associate producer and performed on two songs of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. She has collaborated and recorded with Alison Krauss, Ryan Adams, Jay Farrar, Emmylou Harris, The Decemberists and Ani DiFranco.
Here, Welch and Rawlings perform “I’ll Fly Away.”
Annie Leibovitz on the Chrysler Building, 1991
Photo by John Loengard
Annie Leibovitz, photographer, is 74 years old today.
Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, Leibovitz is the third of six children. In high school, she became interested in various artistic endeavors, and began to write and play music. She attended the San Francisco Art Institute, where she studied painting.
For several years, she continued to develop her photography skills while working various jobs, including a stint on a kibbutz in Amir, Israel for several months in 1969. When Leibovitz returned to the United States in 1970, she started her career as staff photographer, working for the just launched Rolling Stone magazine.
In 1973, publisher Jann Wenner named Leibovitz chief photographer of Rolling Stone, a job she would hold for 10 years. She worked for the magazine until 1983, and her intimate photographs of celebrities helped define the Rolling Stone look.
Richard Avedon's portraits were an important influence on Leibovitz. She learned that you can work for magazines and still do your own personal work, which for her was the most important thing.
Photographers such as Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson influenced her during her time at the San Francisco Art Institute. "Their style of personal reportage — taken in a graphic way — was what we were taught to emulate."
On December 8, 1980, Leibovitz had a photo shoot with John Lennon for Rolling Stone, promising him that he would make the cover. She had initially tried to get a picture with just Lennon alone, which is what Rolling Stone wanted, but Lennon insisted that both he and Yoko Ono be on the cover.
Leibovitz then tried to re-create something like the kissing scene from the Double Fantasy album cover, a picture that she loved. She had John remove his clothes and curl up next to Yoko.
Leibovitz recalls, "What is interesting is she said she'd take her top off and I said, 'Leave everything on' — not really preconceiving the picture at all.
Then he curled up next to her and it was very, very strong. You couldn't help but feel that he was cold and he looked like he was clinging on to her. I think it was amazing to look at the first Polaroid and they were both excited.
John said, “‘You've captured our relationship exactly. Promise me it'll be on the cover.' I looked him in the eye and we shook on it."
Leibovitz was the last person to professionally photograph Lennon — he was shot and killed five hours later.
In the 1980s, Leibovitz's new style of lighting and use of bold colors and poses got her a position with Vanity Fair magazine. She photographed celebrities for an international advertising campaign for American Express, winning her a Clio award in 1987.
In 1991, Leibovitz mounted an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. She was the second living portraitist and first woman to show there. She had also been made Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government.
Also in 1991, Leibovitz emulated Margaret Bourke-White's feat, when she mounted one of the eagle gargoyles on the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building in Manhattan, where she photographed the dancer, David Parsons, cavorting on another eagle gargoyle.
Noted Life photographer and picture editor, John Loengard, made a gripping photo of Leibovitz at the climax of her danger. Loengard was photographing Leibovitz for the New York Times that day.
Leibovitz had a close romantic relationship with noted writer and essayist, Susan Sontag. They met in 1989, when both had already established notability in their careers. Leibovitz has suggested that Sontag mentored her and constructively criticized her work.
After Sontag's death in 2004, Newsweek published an article about Leibovitz that made reference to her decade-plus relationship with Sontag, stating that "The two first met in the late '80s, when Leibovitz photographed her for a book jacket. They never lived together, though they each had an apartment within view of the other's."
Don McLean, whose song popularized the expression "The Day the Music Died” in American Pie, is 78 years old today.
A singer-songwriter, McLean made the 1971 album, American Pie, containing the renowned songs, "American Pie" and "Vincent.”
McLean’s family left Italy and settled in Port Chester, New York, at the end of the 19th century. As a teenager, McLean became interested in folk music, particularly the Weavers' 1955 recording, At Carnegie Hall.
Childhood asthma meant that McLean missed long periods of school, particularly music lessons. Although he slipped back in his studies, his love of music was allowed to flourish. He often performed shows for family and friends.
By 16, he had bought his first guitar (a Harmony acoustic archtop with a sunburst finish) and begun making contacts in the music business, becoming friends with the folk singer, Erik Darling, a latter-day member of the Weavers.
McLean recorded his first studio sessions (with singer Lisa Kindred) while still in prep school. He graduated from Iona Preparatory School in 1963, and briefly attended Villanova University, dropping out after four months. While at Villanova, he became friends with singer/songwriter, Jim Croce.
After leaving Villanova, McLean became associated with folk music agent, Harold Leventhal, and for the next six years performed at venues and events including the Bitter End and the Gaslight Cafe in New York, the Newport Folk Festival, the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. and the Troubadour in Los Angeles.
Concurrently, McLean attended night school at Iona College and received a bachelor's degree in business administration in 1968. He turned down a scholarship to Columbia University Graduate School in favor of becoming resident singer at Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York.
In 1968, with the help of a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, McLean began reaching a wider public, with visits to towns up and down the Hudson River. He learned the art of performing from his friend and mentor, Pete Seeger.
McLean accompanied Seeger on his Clearwater boat trip up the Hudson River in 1969 to raise awareness about environmental pollution in the river. During this time, McLean wrote songs that would appear on his first album.
McLean co-edited the book, Songs and Sketches of the First Clearwater Crew, with sketches by Thomas B. Allen for which Pete Seeger wrote the foreword. Seeger and McLean sang "Shenandoah" on the 1974 Clearwater album.
McLean recorded his first album, Tapestry, in 1969 in Berkeley, California during the student riots. After being rejected by 34 labels, the album was released by Mediarts and attracted good reviews but little notice outside the folk community.
McLean's major break came when Mediarts was taken over by United Artists Records. This secured major label promotion for his second album, American Pie. The album spawned two #1 hits in the title song and "Vincent.” American Pie's success made McLean an international star and piqued interest in his first album, which charted more than two years after its initial release.
McLean's magnum opus, "American Pie," is a sprawling, impressionistic ballad inspired partly by the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. The song popularized the expression, "The Day the Music Died," in reference to this event.
Bob Dearborn, a disc jockey at WCFL, unraveled the lyrics and first published his interpretation on January 7, 1972, eight days before the song reached #1 nationally. Numerous other interpretations, which together largely converged on Dearborn's interpretation, quickly followed. McLean declined to say anything definitive about the lyrics until 1978.
Since then McLean has stated that the lyrics are also somewhat autobiographical and present an abstract story of his life from the mid-1950s until the time he wrote the song in the late 1960s. The song was recorded on May 26, 1971 and a month later received its first radio airplay on New York’s WNEW-FM and WPLJ-FM to mark the closing of The Fillmore East, a famous New York concert hall.
"American Pie" reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard magazine charts for four weeks in 1972, and remains McLean's most successful single release. With a running time of 8:36, it is also the longest song to reach #1.
Here, Don McClean performs “American Pie.”
Photo by Frank W. Ockenfels III
Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner — better known as Sting — is 72 years old today.
Sting is a musician, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, activist, actor and philanthropist. Prior to starting his solo career, he was the principal songwriter, lead singer and bassist for the The Police.
Sting has varied his musical style throughout his career, incorporating distinct elements of jazz, reggae, classical, New Age and worldbeat into his music.
While young, Sting performed in jazz bands on evenings, weekends and during breaks from college and from teaching. He played with local jazz bands such as the Phoenix Jazzmen, the Newcastle Big Band and Last Exit.
Sting got his nickname after he performed wearing a black and yellow sweater with hooped stripes while onstage with the Phoenix Jazzmen. Bandleader Gordon Solomon thought that the sweater made him look like a bee, which prompted the nickname, "Sting.”
In the 1985 documentary, Bring on the Night, he was addressed by a journalist as "Gordon,” and replied: "My children call me Sting. My mother calls me Sting. Who is this Gordon character?"
Here, Sting performs in the video “Desert Rose.”
Rex Reed and Frank Beacham at a dinner party in New York City
Photo by Jim Gavin
Rex Reed is 85 years old today.
Reed is a film critic and former co-host of the syndicated television show, At the Movies. Until earlier this year, he wrote the column "On the Town with Rex Reed" for The New York Observer.
Reed was born in Fort Worth, Texas. He has acted occasionally, such as in the movie version of Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge.
Reed appears in the 2009 documentary, For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, explaining how important film critics were in the 1970s, and complaining about the proliferation of unqualified critical voices on the Internet.
Prior to his current job as film critic for The New York Observer, Reed was a film critic for Vogue, GQ, The New York Times and Women's Wear Daily. For thirteen years, he was an arts critic for the New York Daily News, and for five years was the film critic for the New York Post.
He is a member of New York Film Critics Circle and, because his reviews appear on the Internet, he is a member of New York Film Critics Online.
He is the author of eight books, four of which were best-selling profiles of celebrities: Do You Sleep in the Nude?, Conversations in the Raw, People Are Crazy Here and Valentines & Vitriol.
In the sixties and throughout the seventies, Reed was one of the highest-paid and most in-demand writers of celebrity profiles. His writing style is considered an exemplary example of The New Journalism and his profile of the aging Ava Gardner was included and praised in Tom Wolfe's anthology, The New Journalism.
"I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it."
— Groucho Marx
Groucho Marx was born 134 years ago today.
A comedian, film and television star, Marx was known as a master of quick wit and widely considered one of the best comedians of the modern era. His rapid-fire, often impromptu delivery of innuendo-laden patter earned him many admirers and imitators.
He made 13 feature films with his siblings, the Marx Brothers, of whom he was the third-born. He also had a successful solo career, most notably as the host of the radio and television game show, You Bet Your Life.
His distinctive appearance, carried over from his days in vaudeville, included quirks such as a stooped posture, glasses, cigar and a thick greasepaint mustache and eyebrows.
These exaggerated features resulted in the creation of one of the world's most ubiquitous and recognizable novelty disguises, known as "Groucho glasses,” a one-piece mask consisting of horn-rimmed glasses, large plastic nose, bushy eyebrows and mustache.
Marx died at age 86 on August 19, 1977.
Graham Greene pours a drink, 1954
Photo by Kurt Hutton
Graham Greene was born 119 years ago today.
A writer, playwright and literary critic, Greene’s works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world.
Greene was noted for his ability to combine serious literary acclaim with widespread popularity.
Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a Roman Catholic novelist rather than as a novelist who happened to be Catholic, Catholic religious themes are at the root of much of his writing, especially the four major Catholic novels: Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair.
Several works such as The Confidential Agent, The Third Man, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana and The Human Factor also show an avid interest in the workings of international politics and espionage.
Greene suffered from bipolar disorder, which had a profound effect on his writing and personal life.
In a letter to his wife, Vivien, he said he had "a character profoundly antagonistic to ordinary domestic life," and that "unfortunately, the disease is also one's material."
William Golding described Greene as "the ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century man's consciousness and anxiety."
Greene died in 1991 at age 86 in Switzerland.
Chubby Wise, bluegrass fiddler, was born 108 years ago today.
Wise began playing fiddle at age 15, working locally in the Jacksonville area. He joined the Jubilee Hillbillies in 1938, then began playing with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in 1942, including dates at the Grand Ole Opry.
Wise worked with Monroe through 1948, then played with Clyde Moody in 1948-49. He also played with the York Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs and Connie B. Gay.
In 1954, Wise became a member of Hank Snow's Rainbow Ranch Boys, again appearing at the Grand Ole Opry. He remained with the group until 1970. He also worked as a session musician with Mac Wiseman and Red Allen.
Wise returned to Florida in 1984 and went into semi-retirement, though he continued to tour and record occasionally, such as with the Bass Mountain Boys in 1992.
Wise died on January 6, 1996 at age 81.
Wise joined producers Randall Franks and Alan Autry for the TV series, In the Heat of the Night, cast recording, “Christmas Time’s A Comin.’”
Lazy Day, Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village
Photo by Frank Beacham