Another huge loss. Prince is dead at 57. He was one-of-a-kind and had what George Frazier used to croon about—he had duende, that special combination of charisma, talent, looks, style and magic.
Back in 1997, Mark Jacobson wrote in Esquire, that Prince “dominated the eighties music scene as Louis Armstrong did that of the twenties, as Charlie Parker did that of the forties. Eloquently exploiting his gender/race dichotomies with a horny sincerity that made him the legitimate successor to such crossover gods as Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix, the Artist was indisputably the Man.”
I was never a huge fan myself but liked more than enough of his music and certainly admired his genius—“horny sincerity” is about perfect.
The Hip Hop universe has awoken to some more tragic news this morning; Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg“The Five-Foot Assassin” and “The Funky Diabetic” , a founding member and literal cornerstone of the world renowned Golden Age of Hip Hop era group A Tribe Called Quest, apparently succumbed to the very disease he had made a favored appellation of and in recent years had struggled with. As of this writing, no official announcement has been made yet, but news sources had independently confirmed his passing, first noted on Twitter by legendary DJ Chuck Chillout.
I cannot for the life of me run down the details of his life at this point; having been a huge fan from the beginning and A Tribe Called Quest being on the itinerary of my musical young adulthood, it’s just mind-numbing to have lost someone critical too soon by anyone’s measure. Not to mention, we are losing so many dearly-held artists from so many areas in music these days that I can honestly say that I was shocked to hear about this, but that shock was quickly replaced by that very numbness that such an event would often inspire days later when you’ve had time to process the entirety of a person’s life, impact and death while you compare feelings and moments with friends and fellow fans. If there is PTSD for music, I must be in the throes of it, and it’s not something I would wish on anyone.
Nevertheless, instead of a eulogy culled from multiple news items, I present a link to an article from Vulture.com that was published last November in which Phife runs down his five favorite songs of A Tribe Called Quest; one from each album they made together. Perhaps at a later date I will revisit the idea of discussing the band’s impact on Hip Hop and music as well, as they are certainly worthy. Meanhwile, Rise In Power, Malik Taylor.
Lastly, the title is borrowed from this track I came across while thinking of what to write. Listening to it again, I finally broke away from the numbness I implied earlier and had a moment with my inner self. We all can relate to that moment because we all have someone or something that touches that button one last time before they go on their journey, leaving something for us to think about; what was, what could have been. I just don’t know.
The time has come to say goodbye to a New York treasure, a man who embodied the well-traveled and experienced New Yorker of old, the one who seemingly knew every nook and cranny of the city and who occupied them and touched everyone he encountered with a bit of grump, a bit of wit and a bit of sage advice to keep them moving from one corner to the next throughout the day. And Preparation H. That’s the impression I always got when looking at his face. How it just carried a whole lot of everything behind it, processed it and gave you back a little piece of New York.
Born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrant parents, began a long and notable acting career as a teenager, appeared on Broadway quite a few times, including in one of my personal favorite plays (Marat/Sade, which I also acted in while in college), landed the role of a lifetime in an open call in L.A., made an even bigger impression a few years later with a role he’s become synonymous with, and lived life as sort of the unofficial ambassador of Fiorello LaGuardia’s New York, by his very presence able to link that era with the Wagners and Lindseys and Beames and Koches that followed.
By the time Michael Bloomberg ascended to the throne, we looked back at all of this and remembered fondly the ugliness that New Yorkers endured to this point like a rich man who had climbed out of Hell’s Kitchen to dominate the skylines, and in the back of our minds we always wanted to know how Abe Vigoda was doing, and when you get home you’d go and look for that Timex you still have for some strange reason. Everyone was doing it.
David Bowie was the first singer I was ever mad for. This was during his Serious Moonlight Tour. Man, I’ll never forget my grandfather agreeing to take my younger brother and me to see Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and then wanting to leave in the middle (we stayed).
Bowie died yesterday. A sad moment but also a wonderful one–let’s celebrate, shall we?
“I was out at [anthropologist] Margaret Mead’s school and was teaching some little kids how to play instantly. I asked the question, ‘How many kids would like to play music and have fun?’ And all the little kids raised up their hands. And I asked, ‘Well, how do you do that?’ And one little girl said, ‘You just apply your feelings to sound.’ And I said, ‘Come and show me.’ When she went to the piano to do it, she tried to show me, but she had forgotten about what she said. So I tried to show her why all of a sudden all her attention span had to go to another level, and after that she went ahead and did it. But she was right: If you apply your feelings to sound, regardless of what instrument you have, you’ll probably make good music.”–Ornette Coleman.
I was in my Bronx apartment on the morning of September 11, 2001. I watched on TV like the rest of the country. Eventually, I don’t recall if it was later that day or the following day, or the day after that, I got on the subway and went as far south as I could go–14th Street. I felt the need to get closer. I couldn’t go further downtown so I turned around and walked up 8th Avenue. As I passed the bus terminal at 40th Street I saw Joe Franklin talking on a pay phone. He was alone, a pregnant briefcase resting between his feet. I had been in a daze and the sight of Franklin snapped me out of it for a moment. It was comforting to see him.
“Hey, Joe Franklin” I said to nobody in particular and kept walking. Franklin, a New York fixture for many of us, died the other day. He was 88.
“It is a community activity. You need all nine people helping one another. I love bunt plays. I love the idea of the bunt. I love the idea of the sacrifice. Even the word is good. Giving yourself up for the good of the whole. That’s Jeremiah. That’s thousands of years of wisdom. You find your own good in the good of the whole. You find your own individual fulfillment in the success of the community — the Bible tried to do that and didn’t teach you. Baseball did.”–Mario Cuomo
Not long ago I looked through some old stuff and found a Mondale/Ferrero bumper sticker. I was in 8th grade when they ran and lost. I kept the sticker. Four years later I campaigned for Dukakis who also got his ass kicked. These were the years when it seemed like there’d never be a Democrat in the White House again, a time when our Governor Mario Cuomo seemed like our best hope, an improbable hope. The second coming of Adlai Stevenson. I remember a friend of mine was obsessed with Cuomo; had posters of the man on his bedroom wall.
On Saturday mornings, Tom’s restaurant in Brooklyn is so popular that people line up outside just to be served old-fashioned diner cuisine like chocolate egg creams and all manner of pancakes. It’s been that way for years, and until the owner, Gus Vlahavas, died this month at 76, the patrons’ patience was rewarded with the free coffee, cookies, sausage bits and orange slices he handed out while they waited.
Mr. Vlahavas started working at Tom’s, which opened as an ice-cream parlor under a different name in 1936, when he was 9 years old. He stayed for more than 60 years, lovingly molding it into a homey Brooklyn family institution before retiring in 2009.
He died of respiratory complications on Nov. 4 at Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan, his daughter, Beth Vlahavas, said.
Changelessness was the stock in trade at Tom’s, right down to the décor, including a half-dozen American flags and bright plastic flowers on the tables. It has had only one address since it was opened by Mr. Vlahavas’s paternal grandfather: 782 Washington Avenue.