Revisiting Bette Midler’s Thighs and Whispers (1979)

I was recently perusing an old issue of Blueboy magazine (as one does) when I found an in-depth review of Bette Midler’s 1979 LP Thighs and Whispers. Single-monikered reviewer Dallas certainly had strong feelings about the album. The review is quite a roller coaster ride, describing different aspects of the LP as “a knock-out”, “third-rate disco,” “disco at its finest,” “gives the impression that she has no taste,” “borders on genius,” and many breathless adjectives of adulation and despair.

Bette had been going full steam throughout the late 70’s. This was her third studio LP released in three years, plus the live double album Live At Last, a concert special on HBO, and her TV special Ol Red Hair Is Back, which won Bette her first Emmy award.

I should probably take Dallas’s advice to smoke a joint and listen to the song “Hurricane” again, because unfortunately my weed-free opinion is that the track is utterly forgettable.

Bette spoke about Thighs and Whispers during a 2021 interview with Jim Farber in Parade Magazine. Reflecting on her career, she admitted that she had recorded “some stinkers.” Of the song “Married Men,” she joked; “Please, God, shoot me now!”

Bette Midler sings “Married Men” on the SNL 4th season finale, (5/26/79). Among her backup singers were Katie Sagal and Luther Vandross.

She also mentioned the song “My Knight In Black Leather,” saying “Save me! That was the label saying, ‘You have to record this.’”

Bette has been using “My Knight In Black Leather” as a punchline for decades – not just in interviews but also during her live shows. Reflecting on her career back in 1987, she told an interviewer that she had no regrets:

“I’d do it all over again, just as I did.”

“What about ‘My Knight In Black Leather?'”

“Well,” she said, “that’s the exception. That’s one thing I don’t think I would do again.”

Bette and her Harlettes (Linda Hart, Paulette McWilliams and Franny Eisenberg) performed “My Knight In Black Leather” on the German television show Musikladen (10/18/79)

In defense of the song: it was not supposed to be taken seriously. Should it have been a single? Probably not, but they were trying to get a hit record by tapping into that “Village People *wink-wink, nudge-nudge* we-know-it’s-gay-but-Middle-America-doesn’t” disco energy.

Mister D, head of the BootlegBetty fansite is fond of the LP: “…great album, great cover, great orchestrations, and one cut, ‘Cradle Days’ which I thought is probably her greatest vocals on an album.”  


Thighs and Whispers was considered a commercial failure, but ultimately, it was water under the bridge. The film The Rose was released the following month, earning Bette a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination. The accompanying soundtrack LP (for those keeping track, that’s 6 albums released in three years) placed her firmly in rock and roll territory. It should be noted that one of the highlights of The Rose – the song “Stay With Me” – was written by Jerry Ragavoy, composer of… “My Knight in Black Leather.”

With an eye towards the 1980’s and the rise of New Wave music, Bette told an interviewer “I think I should jump on every musical bandwagon and really drive people mad, just irritate them to shit so they say ‘She’s such a cow – she’ll jump on any musical bandwagon.’ Why not? I’ll bleach my hair and rip my clothes. I think it’s fun. I’m getting silly in my old age.” This would have to wait 4 years until her next studio album: 1983’s No Frills.

On October 8, 2016, Bette was the special guest at a Forest Hills Stadium show called Nile Rogers’ FOLD (Freak Out Let’s Dance) Festival – a show also featuring his group Chic, The Village People and Earth, Wind, and Fire. Given the theme, I thought Bette might dust off a song from her disco period – 1976’s Strangers In The Night, perhaps. But she didn’t. Her set consisted of her classics: “Friends,” “Do You Want To Dance,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Her final song was a nice surprise: “Route 66,” which she said she had never sung before and had just learned the day before.

This issue of Blueboy also features a full page ad for Elton John’s foray into disco,Victim of Love, which was released the same month as Thighs and Whispers. The album is widely considered to be the low point of his career.

You Know The B-52’s Song “Roam” Is About Butt Sex, Right?

The B-52’s are currently in the midst of their first farewell tour. It seems like a good time to revisit this blog post from the summer of 2018:

A couple of months ago, the internet burst into flames when Bunny Wailer, songwriter of “The Electric Slide”, confirmed rumors that the song is indeed about a vibrator. (It’s electric!).

An article on the Aazios site quoted him as saying that he wrote the song after a girlfriend told him she didn’t need him because she had a toy she nicknamed the “electric slide”. The story went viral.

Singer Marcia Griffiths was not happy about it. “I don’t sing about vibrators,” she said. “I sing to teach, educate and uplift.”

“Why not both?” I say.

ALT whynot both

Huffpost, which initially reposted the Aazios story, then printed an update that it was not true… noting, apropos of nothing, that Aazios is “an online source of LGBTQ news and entertainment” – as if that had anything to do with Bunny Wailer, the vibrator, or the validity of the story.

Snopehas labeled the story FALSE with a quote from Bunny Wailer that reads like a statement prepared by a lawyer to protect a client from litigation: “At no time have I ever lent credence to a rumor that the song was inspired by anything other than Eddie Grant’s Electric Avenue. To state otherwise is a falsehood and offends my legacy, the legacy of singer Marcia Griffiths, and tarnishes the reputation of a song beloved by millions of fans the world over.”

The problem is… Wailer wrote the song in the 1970’s, years before Eddie Grant’s 1982 hit. The song was dusted off and reworked to ride the “Electric” coattails of that hit record. Thirty-five years later, it is still a dance floor staple at a certain caliber of venue. It is understandable that someone who still makes money off of this record does not want to suddenly admit that their cash cow is about a dildo.

electric slide

Bottom line: It is or it isn’t. Either way, you now have a topic of conversation to slur loudly over your 9th cocktail while your mom and Karen from finance are knocking into each other on the dance floor. 

So… now can we talk about The B-52’s 1989 hit song “Roam“? You know it’s about butt sex, right?

b52s wildplanet

Of course, nobody is going to step up and confirm this now. The B-52’s still make a nice living touring the world performing “Roam” along with party classics like “Rock Lobster and “Love ShackOne song they haven’t performed in years is “Dirty Back Road,” a track from their 1980 Wild Planet LP. Co-written by a guy named Robert Waldrop with band member Ricky Wilson, it’s not that much of a stretch to figure out what this little ditty is about:

Wreckless driving / Like a sports car / God I want you / Like a fuel engine / Energized line / Like a road / You ride me / Like a road / You ride me / Foot on the peddle / Feet in the air / Sand in my hair / Don’t look back / Don’t look behind you / Reckless drivin’ on / Dirty back road

Pretty obvious, right? Well… of course not, according to YouTube comments. People will argue about anything. I know, I know. Never read the comments.

b52s dirty back roadb52s-dirty-back-road-1980

Now lets move on to “Roam“: The song’s lyrics are credited again to Robert Waldrop, with music written by the surviving members of the band. Ricky Wilson had passed away from AIDS complications in 1985 during the recording of the Bouncing Off The Satellites LP. After taking a few years off, the band came back in 1989 with the LP Cosmic Thing, which would be the biggest commercial success of their career. The singles “Love Shack” and “Roam” topped the charts around the world, garnered the band their first two Grammy nominations and still get regular airplay today.

b52s cosmic thingb52s roam

When did I realize that “Roam” was about butt sex? I couldn’t say. I just always knew. I saw Robert Waldrop’s name in the cassette booklet, read the lyrics to “Roam and thought “Look at that. He cleaned up his ‘Dirty Back Road.” Well, not completely – the second line has them “dancing down those dirty and dusty trails.” It may not be as blatant, but it’s there.

The phrase “Take it hip to hip rock it through the wilderness” is repeated about a dozen times throughout the song.

The chorus: Roam if you want to / Roam around the world / Without wings without wheels / Roam around the world / Without anything but the love we feel… 

And then there’s this verse:

Hit the air-strip to the sunset Ride the arrow to the target / Take it hip to hip rock it through the wilderness / Around the world the trip begins with a kiss 

(at this point in the video, a banana goes through a hole in a bagel)Roam

I would like to make it clear that I do not make these pronouncements as some sort of slander. Believe me, I am a big fan of butt sex and partake as often as possible.

In posting this piece, I realize that there are people who will get annoyed or upset that their favorite B-52’s hit is all about taking a ride on the Hershey highway, but really… if you think this is shocking or not possibly true then you never really understood the band and/or their sense of humor in the first place. People who only know them from Top 40 radio might not remember that they were/are a predominantly gay party bandThey were messysubversive and more than just a little punk. Fun punk. 

If a clueless fan does not know that, it is akin to saying that you love John Waters because of the films Hairspray and Cry Baby, but have never seen Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble.

Polyester

Like many other bands before or since, the B-52’s started out edgy and moved towards mainstream pop as their career progressed. While their current tour does pull heavily from their first two LPs, their bread and butter is still playing the hit songs. They are a business  not so much a band as a corporation like their contemporaries the Go-Go’s and Blondie.

Even if the B-52’s issued a statement today that Roam” never was or is about getting popped in the pooper, the motivation would not be to tell the truth, but rather to protect their own livelihoodCase in point: The Village People, Inc. When faced with anti-gay protests for a gig in Jamaica back in 1998their representative had the balls to issue a statement declaring that there was nothing gay about them. The fucking Village People, people. I would like to think that the B-52’s are still way too cool to ever do such a thing.

So… I just thought you ought to know. Roam” is about takin’ it up the ass. Something to think about when you hear it wafting over the airwaves at the supermarket or when you are in line at the bankI am not going to debate the evidence. It is what it is. I think it’s a hoot – it makes me chuckle whenever I hear it. But if you feel a strong opposition to the theory… may I invite you to hit the airstrip… and teach yourself the Electric Slide. Boogie woogie woogie.

B52s loveshack.gif

UPDATE: Since this was piece was first posted in August, 2018, an expanded 30th Anniversary edition of the Cosmic Thing LP was released. The band did a considerable amount of press, reflecting on the songs and recording process. Not surprisingly, nobody mentioned that “Roam” is about butt sex.

“‘Roam‘ has many meanings, but it’s a beautiful song about death,” Cindy Wilson told Classic Pop magazine in 2019. “It’s about when your spirit leaves your body and you can just roam.”

Well, yes. Some would describe it like that.

Costello Presley and 80’s Gay Porn Guilty Pleasures

Amy Sedaris is the queen of Instagram – her offbeat posts highlight the weirdly funny and/or oddly sweet. I am just one of her million+ followers. If you need a daily pick-me-up – and who doesn’t at this point? – check out her feed.

A couple of months ago, she posted this:

This clip has more than 300k views, 23,436 likes and 897 comments…. but apparently I’m the only one who doesn’t just click the heart, post “LOL” and move on. No. I’m the gay porn nerd spewing info that the general population really does not give a shit about, pointing out that it’s Eric Manchester & Billy London admiring Dean Chasson’s talents in Head Of The Class (1988). Music by Costello Presley!

The comment garnered no “likes” or “responses” – it just dissipated into the air like a public fart as crickets chirped in the distance. Whoooo cares?

Taking my killjoy vibe to the next level, I would also like to point out that the blond, Billy London, was brutally murdered and dismembered in Hollywood back in 1990. He is sometimes referred to as the gay “Black Dahlia.” Circus of Books filmmaker Rachel Mason is currently working on a documentary looking into the unsolved crime.

I know I’m not the only one interested in finding out more about these videos. Amy Sedaris reposted this clip from Instagram user @homomacabre, whose followers also care about the minutia. His posts highlight the kitsch of old gay porn, with acting thinner than the flimsy sets, not to mention the tacky period clothes and hairstyles. And then there’s the music of Costello Presley.

I wanted to do a blog post about the mysterious synth-pop wizard who scored several dozen gay porn films in the 80’s and early 90’s, but have not successfully uncovered any info about him, including his true identity. I am not alone in my appreciation of Costello Presley: There are multiple soundcloud files and a reddit post with a filmography of approximately 40 titles that feature his music. A porn-adjacent friend of mine does not remember his real name, but assures me that Mr. Presley has left the building.

In 2017, synth band Parralox did a faithful cover of Costello Presley’s “Animal Reaction” from William Higgins’ Class of ’69.

In addition to Head of the Class, another Scott Masters/Catalina video in the Costello Presley oeuvre is John Travis’s Powerline (1989), which also starred Eric Manchester. This film features one of my favorite unintentionally funny scenes from that era.

I purchased a VHS copy of Powerline while on spring break from college. I had gone into New York City to see a Broadway show with some school friends and was about to head back to Long Island. I couldn’t manage to break away from the group and go into a porn shop, so I said my goodbyes at Penn Station and headed down to the train platform. Once the coast was clear, I ran back up to 8th avenue and went into the first smut shop I could find.

I made my way over to the video racks as a stripper in a silver bikini and stilettoes danced on the stairs to the upper level, beckoning shoppers to partake of something more tangible. I grabbed Powerline and headed to the register. With a $39.99 price tag, it was more than I would normally pay for a porn videocassette but my train was leaving in 5 minutes.

All the “acting” scenes are priceless but this one is my favorite, featuring gay-for-pay cover model Tom Steele as the cable guy with Lou Cass and Troy Ramsey as the couple from downstairs who catch him jerking off on the roof.

Porn legend and uber music fan Lou Cass was a frequent guest on The Robin Byrd Show in the early 90’s when he was dancing in New York. The Bay Area resident still has a strong social media presence and occasionally releases his own music. This is one of several versions of Pat Benatar/Nick Gilder’s “Rated X” that he has recorded through the years:

If and when I find out more information about Costello Presley, I will be sure to update the post.

See also:
10 Gay Porn Stars We Lost in 2020
Gay Porn Stars We Lost in 2021
Remembering Prolific Pornographer Robert Prion
RIP Porn Star Turned Activist Terry DeCarlo

Dusty Springfield Sings Kate Bush

It’s hard for me to believe that I am well past 5 years into this blog nonsense and I have never written a single post about Dusty Springfield. I am a huge Dusty fan – she’s my diva. When I had my public access show here in New York City, I ran performance clips of Dusty so often that I received condolence calls and letters from viewers when she died in 1999.

Too much?

Back then, there was still much to discover: whole albums of unreleased material were unearthed and LPs that had been out of print for decades were remastered and reissued. But now the cupboard is bare, with even incomplete performances cobbled together to produce somewhat finished products.

I do appreciate collections that present the tracks in different contexts. A couple of nice recent compilations: Real Gone Music’s Complete Atlantic Singles (1968-1971) and Ace Records’ Dusty Sings Soul are welcome additions to my dusty Dusty collection. And then there’s Goin’ Back: 1964-1971, a 2-CD set of radio and TV recordings that is about to be released in the UK.

With a career spanning close to 40 years and hundreds of recordings in genres from folk to disco and everything in between, it’s easy to forget about some of the lesser known Dusty performances. I was recently reminded of the time she covered a Kate Bush song.

Yes, Kate Bush.

And I’m also a huge fan of Kate Bush. But somehow, I had forgotten about this.

It’s like artists converging from different dimensions. Or maybe not. We live in an age where Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett duets are a thing.

Programme for the Drury Lane shows, 1979

Dusty always had a great ear for music, whether choosing her own material or introducing the Motown Sound to the UK. She was also instrumental in getting Led Zeppelin signed to Atlantic records. It’s not surprising that she would have taken notice of Kate Bush from the very beginning.

Picture it: London, April 1979. Dusty has just turned 40 as she returned to the UK after living in the US for most of the 1970’s. Meanwhile, 20 year-old Kate Bush had released her first two albums within the previous year. Dusty was performing several shows at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Unfortunately there are no official recordings of the performances but we do have a couple of bootleg audio recordings. Dusty introduces the song:

“When I came here last year, I was surprised and mostly pleased at the musical changes that had happened here. I like things like (Ian Drury’s) ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ just as much as you do…. anyway the thing that impressed me most was that so much originality was around. In particular one young lady came through with a song called ‘Wuthering Heights’…. Kate Bush has an immense amount of originality and I was absolutely staggered by her. I’d like to sing a song that I think is one of the prettiest ones ever written, certainly by her. It’s called ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes.'”

She then goes on to, as Neil Tennant would later say, “Dustify” the song. It’s a beautiful performance of an unexpected song choice:

Dusty was not alone in her praise of “The Man With The Child In His Eyes”. Besides reaching the #1 spot on the UK pop charts, the song also won an Ivor Novello Award for songwriting.

Later that year, Dusty’s performance at Royal Albert Hall was properly recorded for posterity. Unfortunately, by that time the song had been removed from the set list.

Today would have been Dusty’s 83rd birthday. She is still sorely missed and I’d trade my eye teeth to hear her sing a duet with Lady Gaga.

Revisiting Kate Bush’s gayest songs.

Mme Spivy: I Brought Culture To Buffalo In The 90’s

Ladies and Gentleman, it is time once again to revisit that late great dynamic lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe or LeVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he had been born in Brooklyn as Bertha Levine.”

In case you missed them, these are our previous Madame Spivy posts:
The Alley Cat
The Tarantella
Auntie’s Face
100% American Girls
A Tropical Fish

Our latest offering is one of her signature songs: “I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s”. Curiously, on the recording Spivy introduces the song as “Intimate Memories of Buffalo In The 90’s.” This is the fourth side we have profiled from her 1939 album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs. The lyrics were written by Everett Marcy, who also co-wrote (with Spivy) “Why Don’t You,” another song from the album. Marcy also had a few Broadway writing credits including New Faces of 1936.

Prince Paul Chavchavadze

The music is credited to Prince Paul Chavchavadze (1899-1971), a writer, translator, and deposed Georgian royal living in New York City. And with that nugget of information, I have to say… whenever I look into the eclectic array of international bohemians associated with Spivy, I am reminded of the party scene at the beginning of Auntie Mame. This is also a fitting scenario considering Spivy later played Mother Burnside in the Broadway production.

Oscar Wilde plays a part in the lyrics of the song, as a guest in the home of our fictional hostess. It should be noted that he did conduct several lecture tours across the U.S., including speaking engagements in Buffalo. One of the topics was “The Decorative Arts.”

I Brought Culture to Buffalo In the 90’s

I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s. When Wilde was there, he visited my home
I showed him all the glories I’d bought so cheap in Greece
and all the wonders I’d brought home from Rome.
He was spellbound at the splendor of my whatnot and the cigar butt Papa got from General Grant.
He couldn’t tear his eyes from my bay window and the maidenhair beneath the rubber plants.

I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s – the year I took the iron dog off our lawn.
In its place I put a Venus in a nightie and a rather naughty but authentic faun.
I completely reproduced the Versailles garden though the Erie claimed they had the right of way.
I swore I’d die before a tie was laid to desecrate Versailles. I made Buffalo the place it is today.

I was the first to have a Turkish corner though plenty followed suit, you may be sure.
I produced a pageant based on Jackie Horner and the deficit was given to the poor.
I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s. I made the natives conscious of the nude.
In my dining room I put “Boy Extracting Thorn From Foot” and my guests that winter scarcely touched their food.

The season that I gave my talks on yoga was one I felt I never could surpass.
I had a negligee cut like a toga and all my candelabra piped for gas.
I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s. When Wilde was there, he visited my home.
Filled with all the treasures of the ages and a nugget Uncle Nate had sent from Nome.

I showed him all the house right through the garret and said “What one thing does it still require?”
When Oscar looked at me, I could not bear it.
“A match,” he said, “Madame, a match to set the goddamn place on fire!”

This newspaper blurb (courtesy of the Queer Music Heritage page) mentions the song being “rented” to singer Bea Lillie:

The Lion In The Emerald City: Promise Of A New Day

Eagle’s calling and he’s calling your name,
Tides are turning, bringing winds of change
Why do I feel this way?
The promise of a new day…

Paula Abdul still reigns supreme on Lite-FM, if my trips to the pharmacy and grocery store are any indication. Her #1 hits from the Forever Your Girl LP are still in heavy rotation there, yet her chart-topping follow up album, Spellbound, seems to have been forgotten along with its two #1 hit singles: “Rush, Rush” and “Promise Of A New Day.”

“Promise Of A New Day” – the lead track on the album – was my unofficial theme of the Summer of 1991. Not the edgiest choice, but it perfectly captured the energy I felt as I moved into my first New York City apartment. I picked up a used promo CD of Spellbound at St. Marks Sounds and played it as I hung posters and organized my books and records on unstable milk crate shelving units.

So I wasn’t a rebel through and through, but I loved the East Village. I felt like I belonged there more than anyplace else, even if I was content to spend most nights in my apartment getting acquainted with Robin Byrd and leased access television rather than going over to Avenue B to watch GG Allin roll around in his own poop.

I previously wrote about my first professional theatre job as the Cowardly Lion on a children’s theatre tour. It was a big adventure with a little romance and a lot of angst as the tour drew to a close. Most of the other cast members had theatre jobs lined up for the summer, while I was about to wake up on the black and white side of the rainbow with no prospects other than crawling back to Carle Place Tower Records and asking for my job back.

I had to get to Manhattan. It was looming in the distance like the Emerald City. As I wrote in another post about this period… Dorothy may have been happy to go back home, but the Lion, with his newfound courage, stayed in Oz.

It turned out that Glinda the Good Witch didn’t have a job lined up, either. She lived in a women’s hotel on Gramercy Park South but was ready to make a move. When she suggested that we find an apartment together, I jumped at the chance.

I knew this might not be a perfect fit. Glinda’s nickname on the tour was Eeyore – partly because she carried the stuffed animal around with her, but also because it matched her personality. She was a lumbering sad-sack with a constant cloud of doom over her head. It was much more amusing when we were on tour than while apartment hunting in the summer heat.

We looked at one apartment after another – she would hem and haw and say that she needed to think about it. Any halfway decent place was taken by the time she made up her mind. In the meantime, she continued to live in the women’s hotel while I kept schlepping into the city from Long Island. This went on for almost two months.

By the time I found the apartment on East 6th street and Avenue A – a converted 2 bedroom in a 5th floor tenement walkup for $750 a month – I felt that this was our last chance. If she didn’t go for this one, then I needed to come up with an alternate living situation. Perhaps she sensed that this was the end of the line, because she agreed fairly quickly and we got it.

There was a clause in the lease – a standard apartment lease – that says something about the tenant being responsible for carpeting 80 percent of the floors to reduce noise for the downstairs neighbor. When we asked the landlord about this on the day of the lease signing, he started to laugh. A little too long. Then he simply said; “Don’t worry about it.”

Our first night in the apartment, we were startled awake by the blood curdling screams that sounded like a woman being attacked. This quickly escalated into a shrieking, incoherent babble that echoed inside and outside the building. I immediately thought of Kitty Genovese and the nightmare of urban apathy. It abruptly stopped before we could find the source. We soon learned that the neighbor right below us had frequent schizophrenic episodes – usually in the middle of the night, although they would happen at any time. So no, we did not need to carpet our floors to limit our noise for the downstairs neighbor.

Despite its flaws, I loved that apartment. It was above this derelict bar called the Cherry Tavern. 20 years later, the NYU kids were lining up to get in. We had no door buzzer so visitors would have to call from the pay phone on the corner – this was pre-cell phone, of course. One of us would have to walk down all those flights to let them in. The floors in the apartment were so slanted that we had to put a 2×4 under one end of the kitchen table to keep it level. The ceiling leaked. The exposed brick wall in the living room was actively crumbling. Anything placed near it was subjected to a coat of debris.

Our living room furniture was purchased by chance at a garage sale on moving day for a total of $8: a $3 wood coffee table with a wobbly leg and a $5 foam couch which folded out into a bed. Suddenly, we had a guest room.

Unfortunately, the couch would collapse sideways if you leaned on the armrests. Our heavy foot lockers were placed on either side to act as end tables as well as bookends.

Before the move, I had started working in the city. Technically, it wasn’t a telemarking job, but it was pretty close: trying to persuade doctors to take part in phone conferences sponsored by drug companies. My friend worked there and made tons of money in commissions. He loved it.

Two weeks after the move, I was fired. My success rate wasn’t high enough.  I didn’t have a strong, assuring voice that was able to convince doctors that spending an hour on a conference call talking about Cardizem was a particularly good use of their time.

I tried not to panic. I had bills now. REAL bills. Shit. What the hell was I going to do? Hit the Village Voice want ads. I applied at St. Mark’s Sounds, which would have been my dream job if the $4.25 an hour they paid would cover my expenses.

My next job was a temporary night time position filling laundry carts at the Midtown Sheraton Hotel. I was in charge of the 36th through 50th floors, filling housekeeper’s carts with freshly laundered sheets, towels, little shampoos and soaps. I climbed a lot of stairs. I never saw any guests or housekeepers. It was solitary work but it paid well.

Although this was supposed to be a three month position, I was let go after three weeks. Was it my earring? It had been suggested that I not wear it to work, as the head of housekeeping would not approve. But I never SAW anybody while I was working, so I left it in. I crossed paths with her one day, and was let go at the end of my shift.

On the plus side, I had acquired a linen closet full of Sheraton sheets and towels and a year’s supply of sundries.

I had to remind myself that I didn’t move to Manhattan to be a housekeeper or telemarketer. I continued to audition but that went about as well as the employment prospects.

Meanwhile, Glinda was having her own issues. She was in full Eeyore mode: Unhappy in her day job. No theatre job prospects. No social life.  She would stay in bed all day watching television with the lights off in her windowless room. I tried to include her when I went out with my college friends, but she complained that we all talked about the past and she felt left out. She became increasingly petty and jealous.  She was not the kind of person who would be happy for me when I got a job or a callback audition or went on a date. Her first response was always some variation on “Why don’t I have that?” She also seemed quite pleased when the job, callback or date didn’t work out for me. Years later she was diagnosed as clinically depressed and went on medication, but we didn’t know about that at the time.

One day I came home, opened the apartment door and walked into the Amityville Horror. She had painted the 5’x5’ entryway high gloss blood red. But she didn’t do it carefully. There were red spatters on the black and white tile floor and red smears along the ceiling. It looked like a slaughterhouse. If she had ever mentioned that she wanted to paint, I certainly would have helped… first and foremost by explaining that a simulated bloodbath in the vestibule might not give guests a favorable first impression.

In late August, I got the call from the children’s theatre company that had done our Wizard of Oz tour. They were lining up their Christmas shows – would I like to do a New England tour of Babes in Toyland? Hell yeah. Of course, Glinda was not happy, because they didn’t call HER. And now she would be living with a subletter.

I needed two months of employment to get me to the start of the tour. My sister worked in the main office of the Petland chain of pet stores and directed me to an open position at their 14th street location. I would clean out the bird room every day – scrubbing bird shit off the cages with a wire brush. I learned how count out bags of 20 live crickets, and how to hold mice by the tail, flick them on the head to knock them out before feeding them to the snakes. Every day I acted like this was my career choice – nobody knew I was just biding my time.

I was barely making enough money to get by. I still feel a little queasy when I see those cheapo Table Talk individual dessert pies, which were 50 cents each. The Wendy’s dollar menu was also a big treat. And I was in New York City! I was sitting in Union Square eating my sad little lunch rather than a suburban mall parking lot. One day I watched Harvey Keitel film a scene from Bad Lieutenant and then went back to work and sold a bag of live crickets to Ellen Greene. Besides, I knew I would be back onstage and out on the road again soon. I was a New York City Actor now, with my own apartment to come back to.

One of my favorite memories of this period was a hot summer evening when I took my dinner plate of spaghetti out on the fire escape to catch a little breeze. I was wearing cut-off shorts and a t-shirt, eating off of a paper plate, while five stories below was the rear garden of a pricey Swiss restaurant on 7th street – an early sign of how the neighborhood would eventually change. A string quartet serenaded the outdoor diners.  Every once in a while, one of them would notice me, up on my perch. They would point and whisper to their dinner companions while I pretended not to notice.

In my head, I heard the tremulous voice of Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch saying “It’s all right… it’s just one of the little people who live in this land…”

I didn’t care. I was as happy as a clam on my city balcony with the Empire State Building off in the distance. I felt like I was exactly where I wanted and was supposed to be. I had come to the end of one road and felt a sense of accomplishment, knowing how hard I worked to get there. There was a whole other adventure up ahead, but for now I was in the East Village, and I was home.

Girl Group Heaven: Ronnie, Rosa & Wanda

Back in the summer of 2001, I was living up in Spanish Harlem when soul singer Aaliyah died in a plane crash. I was walking down the street and heard this guy on his cell phone saying “Aww man! All my divas are DYING!” Although I wasn’t a fan, I felt his pain.

I thought of this recently with the passing of three key members of top 60’s girl groups: Wanda Young Rogers of The Marvelettes, Rosa Lee Hawkins of The Dixie Cups, and Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes. The latter two groups now have just one surviving original member.

It was Wanda who gave The Marvelettes their second act. Gladys Horton sang lead on their early hits, including Motown’s first #1 hit “Please Mr. Postman” and “Too Many Fish In The Sea,” but as their chart success waned, Wanda transitioned into the lead vocalist position on more smooth and sophisticated material – usually written specifically for her by Smokey Robinson. At the time, she was married to Bobby Rogers of Smokey’s group The Miracles.

Robinson recalled, “In the groups I worked with, I always felt these ‘sleeping giants.’ I felt the same way about the Temptations with David Ruffin when I did ‘My Girl’ on him… I knew if I could get a song for her it would be a smash.” She sang lead on such Motown classics as “Don’t Mess With Bill” “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” and “Destination: Anywhere.”

Post-Marvelettes, her life was plagued by tragedy, addiction and mental illness. She recorded briefly for Ian Levine’s Motorcity label in the late 80’s. Wanda was 78 when she passed away on December 15, 2021.

The Dixie Cups did not have a distinct lead singer, but they had a sound: all three members usually sang in unison or tight harmony. Rosa Lee Hawkins was 1/3rd of the New Orleans trio, which also featured her petite older sister Barbara and cousin Joan Johnson.

Phil Spector originally recorded “Chapel of Love” with Darlene Love and the Ronettes but was never satisfied with the results. The Dixie Cups version was chosen as the premiere single for Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller’s Red Bird Records. Produced by the songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, it was a smash – knocking the Beatles out of the #1 spot in June of 1964.

The combination of The Dixie Cups with the Barry/Greenwich producing/songwriting team resulted in girl group gold for Red Bird Records with classics like “People Say”, “Iko Iko”, “Girls Can Tell” and many others.

It was just last year when Rosa Lee Hawkins released her memoir Chapel Of Love, in which she wrote about her career in The Dixie Cups as well as the abuse she suffered at the hands of Joe Jones, their manager. She felt a great relief in finally telling her story. “I did not write my book to hurt anyone;” she said “I just wanted to get it all down on paper.” Rosa was 76 when she passed away of complications following surgery on January 11, 2022 in Tampa, Florida.

And then there’s Ronnie.

Meeting Ronnie at The Bottom Line, NYC, March 23, 1991

I waited to write about Ronnie Spector’s passing because I knew it would get ample press coverage, her career examined and appreciated with the florid language utilized by Professional Rock Critics. Why would I race to compete with that? Please don’t make me use the word “zeitgeist”.

Rolling Stone magazine posted a list of 15 Essential Ronnie Spector Recordings. Of course I disagree with some of the choices, which I envision being compiled on a post-it note-covered bulletin board with equally weighted choices from one old fanboy and four baby rock critics who had to Google her name when they got the assignment.

Here are five choices that I would have preferred to see on the list:

1) The Ronettes – “You Baby” (1964)
This Barry Mann / Cynthia Weil classic first appeared on the Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes LP. It was subsequently recorded by Linda Scott, Len Barry, Jackie Trent, Sonny & Cher and The Lovin’ Spoonful, just to name a few.

The Ronettes sing “You Baby” on Hullabaloo.

2) Ronnie Spector – “It’s A Heartache” (1977)
Ronnie’s recording of this song was released in the U.S. the first week of November, 1977 alongside competing versions by Bonnie Tyler and Juice Newton. Tyler ultimately won the battle with a #3 pop hit.

Ronnie Spector – “It’s A Heartache” (1977)

3) Ronnie Spector – “Any Way That You Want Me” (1980)
The Rolling Stone “15 Essential” list features no tracks from Ronnie’s first two solo LPs: the Genya Ravan-produced Siren and 1987’s Unfinished Business. This Chip Taylor composition from Siren was originally recorded in the 60’s by The Troggs and then Evie Sands, but Ronnie makes it her own.

Ronnie Spector – “Any Way That You Want Me” (1980)

4) Ronnie Spector – “Something’s Gonna Happen” (1989)
In 1989 Ronnie recorded a handful of Marshall Crenshaw songs with Crenshaw and his band backing her up. These Alan Betrock-produced tracks are among the best of her solo recordings – it’s hard to choose just one, as the artist and material worked so well together. Unfortunately, plans for an entire album were halted and the recordings stuck in financial limbo until Ronnie bought them back and released an EP in 2003. As blogger Denis Pilon recently wrote; “In a better world, the release of this EP would have marked Spector’s triumphant return to the spotlight.”

Ronnie Spector – “Something’s Gonna Happen” (1989)

5) Ronnie Spector – “Don’t Worry Baby” (1999)
Brian Wilson wrote the song for The Ronettes as a follow-up to “Be My Baby” but Phil Spector would not let them record it. 35 years later, Ronnie finally gave it her best on the Joey Ramone-produced EP She Talks To Rainbows. Entertainment Weekly wrote; “She sounds more fragile than belligerent now, and her bruised, cracked vocals work wonders on (the song).”

Ronnie Spector – “Don’t Worry Baby” (1999)

Brian Wilson hears Ronnie’s version of “Don’t Worry Baby”:

The Comfort of Repetition & The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

Department store Santas, 1948 (photo by Nina Leen)

I am not alone in saying that I always take comfort in the annual repetition of the holidays – revisiting holiday-themed music, film, television… and now internet posts as well. In fact, this post is a reworking of one I posted last year, not to get meta or anything.

I find it interesting that we immerse ourselves in certain pop culture favorites for exactly 6 weeks of the year and then pack them up in mothballs with the ornaments until next year. I mean, Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee and Johnny Mathis are rock stars from Thanksgiving through New Years. Are any of them on your 4th of July playlist? They aren’t on mine.

The film A Christmas Story has an even shorter (Elf on the) shelf life. We binge-watch the repeated broadcast for exactly 24 hours each year. I own it on Blu-ray and I’m not sure why: I have never opened it. To pop it in at any other time feels like a betrayal.

In keeping with this revisiting, blog posts of Christmas past are back to haunt you like A Christmas Carol, Mr. Scrooge:

This was my Canine Christmas Tail – a true story about my dog Sunshine and her appetite for tinsel.

Here is my take on the 1987 Motown Christmas Special – which featured few Motown acts.

When March of The Wooden Soldiers celebrated its 85th anniversary in 2019, I posted 10 things you may not know about this classic holiday film.

Have you watched Christmas In Connecticut yet this year? How about that delivery woman?

Unfortunately, due to copyright issues all the links are broken on my 60 Degrees Girl Group Christmas piece. This also keeps me from posting other episodes of my old radio show – hopefully only temporarily. However… I have this to share:

Way back in 2002, when Limewire was a thing and people listened to music on silvery discs, I started creating Christmas CD mixes that I would mail out or give to people. These were received with a combination of feigned delight, veiled indifference and deafening silence. None of these CDs had a pressing of more than 20 copies. I’d like to call them “much sought after” – but no, that’s not really the case, although every once in a while, someone really got into them and would ask for copies of other volumes.

And so, I’m offering this simple playlist…. for kids from 1 to 92. Unfortunately many of the tracks on these dozen CDs are not on Spotify, but I keep adding songs that would be on the current CD volume… if there was one. And now the playlist is over 14 hours of holiday tunes. I recommend listening on shuffle – there’s something to irritate everyone. Enjoy!

Madame Spivy: A Tropical Fish

This is the plea of a poor little tropical fish. It’s very sad and we must be very quiet, please.

Ladies and germs, it’s time once again to visit that celebrated lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe. To the uninitiated, allow me to get you up to speed:

Spivy (1906-1970) was a lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he had been born in Brooklyn as Bertha Levine.” You can read earlier posts about her here:

The Alley Cat
The Tarantella
Auntie’s Face
100% American Girls
I Brought Culture To Buffalo In The 90’s

Today we will focus on “A Tropical Fish”, a song was co-written by Spivy with Jill “Billy” Rainsford. The duo also composed the previously profiled The Alley Cat. Both songs were featured on the 1939 album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs By Spivy.

As with “Auntie’s Face”, Spivy begins this song with her trademark spoken intro “It’s very sad and we must be very quiet…” solemnly intoned before launching into the tune, which tells the story of a tropical fish writing a letter of complaint to Fiorello LaGuardia, the Mayor of New York City (1934-1945).

A Tropical Fish

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the clerk and the trombone player,

The child on the street and the ultra-elite all write letters to the mayor.

La Guardia’s most conscientious – he tries to grant everyone’s wish

But they went him one better when he got a letter from somebody’s tropical fish.

Dear Mayor,” the letter began, “I’m writing as fish to man.

Our tank’s overheated and we’re being treated like common sardines in a can.

The way people watch us is quaint. Our privacy’s something what ain’t.

So be a good fella, my dear Fiorella and hear a poor fish’s complaint.

To be quite specific, the food is terrific.

We’re on the hay diet – you really should try it.

It tastes like the hook – gee, I wish we could cook.

The service is lousy – we have no back-housey.

And it’s some spot to be in with no pot to … cook in.

The innocent faunas are hiding in corners

Their love life is wearing with human eyes staring…

Why can’t we have covers like those birdcage lovers?

They’re hidden each night ‘til the morning sunlight

Then brought out to bath with no questions asked.

Dear Mayor, I’ve been very frank… but you don’t know life in a tank.

Believe me, it’s hellish and you wouldn’t relish to sleep in the water you drank.

Now here’s what we tropicals wish: Some bedrooms to give us ambish.

Less public relations and more comfort stations.

Yours truly,

A. Tropical Fish”

Lastly, here’s a syndicated article about Spivy that ran in newspapers across the country in late November, 1948. Note that her last name is mispelled “Devoe” with no mention of Bertha Levine.

Spivy Church 1948 full

The Comfort of Repetition & The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

I am not alone in saying that I always take comfort in the annual repetition of the holidays – revisiting holiday-themed music, film, television… and now internet posts as well. This feeling is in overdrive this year, as I occupy myself at home and skip other annual holiday traditions that involve leaving my apartment. The Rockefeller Center tree looks very nice on my television – and that view will have to suffice this year, thank you very much.

I feel bad for this year’s Rockefeller Center tree – sacrificed to become the most famous Christmas shrub in the world at a time when nobody is allowed to actually go near it. It’s the Just Sam of Christmas trees, which makes the displaced owl Ryan Seacrest.

I find it interesting that we immerse ourselves in certain pop culture favorites for exactly 6 weeks of the year and then pack them up in mothballs with the ornaments until next year. I mean, Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee and Johnny Mathis are rock stars from Thanksgiving through New Years. Are any of them on your 4th of July playlist? They aren’t on mine.

The film A Christmas Story has an even shorter (Elf on the) shelf life. We binge-watch the repeated broadcast for exactly 24 hours each year. I own it on Blu-ray and I’m not sure why: I have never opened it. To pop it in at any other time feels like a betrayal.

In keeping with this revisiting, blog posts of Christmas past are back to haunt you like A Christmas Carol, Mr. Scrooge:

This was my Canine Christmas Tail – a true story about my dog Sunshine and her appetite for tinsel.

Here is my take on the 1987 Motown Christmas Special – which featured few Motown acts.

Last year marked the 85th anniversary of March of The Wooden Soldiers – here are 10 things you may not know about the holiday classic.

Have you watched Christmas In Connecticut yet this year? How about that delivery woman?

Unfortunately, due to copyright issues all the links are broken on my 60 Degrees Girl Group Christmas piece. This also keeps me from posting other episodes of the radio show – hopefully only temporarily, as I find a work-around.

However… I have this to share:

Way back in 2002, when Limewire was a thing and people listened to music on silvery discs, I started creating Christmas CD mixes that I would mail out or give to people. These were received with a combination of feigned delight, veiled indifference and deafening silence. None of these CDs had a pressing of more than 20 copies. I’d like to call them “much sought after” – but no, that’s not really the case, although every once in a while, someone really got into them and would ask for copies of other volumes.

And so, I’m offering this simple playlist…. for kids from 1 to 92. Unfortunately many of the tracks on these dozen CDs are not on Spotify, but I keep adding songs that would be on the current CD volume… if there was one. And now the playlist is over 14 hours of holiday tunes. I recommend listening on shuffle – there’s something to irritate everyone. Enjoy!