Welcome to The Wall, where we, (actually I), discuss the recently deceased in order to celebrate their lives. I think there is too much grief in death and no enough celebration. Life is a precious thing and some live it recklessly, some timidly, some successfully, and others as seeming failures. But everybody is somebody. A mother, a father, a sibling, a friend. Even the worst of us mean something to someone. Lives are to be celebrated.
This will be a sometimes-irreverent look at people who have in some way touched me or the world in an odd way. There are too many people who have done great or small things that I think do not get enough credit and this will point out some of those people. Some of these dearly departed you will know, and some, perhaps at first blush, you may not. For instance, we recently lost Jim Steinman. His name may not immediately mean anything to many, but he wrote the songs on Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell album which was a big record in my youth. Paradise by the Dashboard Light, with Phil Rizzuto’s play-by-play of a guy’s attempt to get to a different kind of home plate than Rizzuto was used to calling, was an anthem to many a youth in my era. Rizzuto, by the way, is reported to have had no idea what he was getting into when he was asked to do the call, and was not necessarily happy with his role in spurring on adolescent attempts to reach for places well beyond second base.
Steinman also wrote the Bonnie Tyler hit Total Eclipse of the Heart. Steinman’s melodramatic writing style has been called over the top to which he once quipped: “if you don’t go over the top, you can’t see what’s on the other side.” He is seeing it now.
Okay, maybe you know who Steinman was, but we also recently lost Felix Silla. Extra points for anyone who knew anything about him. But you do. He was Cousin Itt on the Adams Family. He appeared in 17 episodes of the show, never once speaking or showing has face as it was covered with hair. Yet people of a certain age know the character immediately. I find some cosmic symmetry in losing both Steinman and Silla in close proximity. I believe Jim would agree.
Sure, we lost people like Walter Mondale in April who was admittedly a giant in the political realm, and Bernie Madoff who was at the other end of the spectrum (but yet even he was someone to certain people), but most know who they were. What about Arlene Pieper Stine? She was the first woman to complete an officially sanctioned marathon – the Pike’s Peak Marathon at that. I would have a hard time driving my car up that road let alone running it. She finished along with nine men and a horse. Because of last name changes due to a few marriages, the organizers, who wanted to celebrate her achievement, couldn’t find her. Only after a genealogist tracked her down for the 50th anniversary of the race, did she realize that she was the first. Of course, she didn’t have the race director assault her and try to throw her off the course like Kathy Switzer, the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon did. She ran it five years before women were formally permitted to enter the race by applying with her initials so they issued her a number thinking her a man. Thankfully, Ms. Switzer is still with us. Ms. Pieper Stine, although now gone, fared a lot better than the guy who ran the original one. She made it to 90.
I’m a music fan and in addition to Jim Steinman, in April we lost Rusty Young, who was the pedal steel force behind Poco, a player in the SoCal country rock scene. I saw Poco at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey and he was something to behold. I am sure Buddy Emmons, one of the greatest steel guitar players there ever was, would not have appreciated the way in which Rusty handled the instrument at times during the show. For me, though, it was supremely impressive. Perhaps on the other end of the musical spectrum, but still noteworthy, Les McKeown, the lead singer for the Bay City Rollers also died. I couldn’t tell you a single Bay City Rollers song but I do love the Nick Lowe’s ode to them: Roller Show.
Lastly, James Hampton, an accomplished actor who played the hapless F Troop bugler, Hannibal Dobbs, has blown his last clam. His part in the show nets him the position of musician.
Aside from music, I also like to laugh. Frank Jacobs, who wrote for MAD Magazine, (what me worry?), made many kids of my generation do just that. Song parodies were an especial strong point of his. In an issue of the magazine devoted to parodies of the Great American Songbook, he raised the ire of none other than Irving Berlin (long deceased writer of White Christmas and the Easter Parade), who enlisted some of the publishers of the songs to bring suit against Alfred E. Newman’s venerable publication. Now I love the tunes that were parodied as much as the next guy, but come on. Mad Magazine? Sue? Really? The parodies carried the admonition: "For Solo or Group Participation (Followed by Arrest)." Berlin and the publishers apparently wanted something of that sort to occur to Mr. Jacobs. Thankfully, Irving and his band of bah humbug, greedy, publishers got their asses kicked. Setting the tone for the ass-whipping from the start, Judge Irving Kaufman (who once presided over the espionage trial of Julius and Ether Rosenberg), writing for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which knows something about copyright law, set the stage for the plaintiffs’ loss by opening the opinion with the reminder that “[t]hrough depression and boom, war and peace, Tin Pan Alley has light-heartedly insisted that "the whole world laughs" with a laugher, and that "the best things in life are free." So right was he.
While I can’t stay up to watch it anymore (while 40 is the new 60, 9:00 is the new midnight for me), Saturday Night Live marked an incredible turn in weekend television. Anne Beatts was a writer for SNL from its inception and stayed for five years. She is credited with creating the Nerds which featured the characters Lisa Loop Loopner and Todd DiLaMuca, played by Gilda Radner and Bill Murray respectively. Given the hard living those early cast members went about, it must have been a tough place for a woman writer to hold her own. She, by all accounts, kept right up. Also, Bob Fass, who for some 50 years had a radio show on WBAI that was called Radio Unnamable because of the eclectic nature of its content, died in April. I note this not because I have any connection to, or even knew of Mr. Fass, but because I loved WBAI growing up. It had no delay for callers. Thus, on call-in shows, you could call in and hear the radio personality answer, and then quickly say “fuck you” and it would make it on the air. Oh, to be a child again.
When neither music nor laughter is available, there is always alcohol. Tomas Estes, who is credited with taking tequila from something akin to unwanted grain alcohol to a top-shelf spirit, passed away in April. Does Jose Cuervo ever owe him a debt. How is this for a gig? He was named as the Official tequila ambassador for the European Union. Can it get better than that? The last time I seriously drank tequila I don’t recall how I got home. Thankfully, it was a long time ago and I wasn’t driving. Thanks Elizabeth.
There is nothing better than a well-written obituary. For my money, there is no better an obituary writer than Margalit Fox of the New York Times. I can only dream that when I depart for the hereinafter, she writes my sendoff. With a commitment from her to pen my obit, I might end it all now to ensure she doesn’t predecease me. To prove my point, check out her obituary of Tempest Storm, (born Annie Blanche Banks), one of the greatest strippers of all time who passed in April. A woman who, according to Ms. Fox, continued to ply her trade into her 80’s, “not because she had to, but because she could.” She was billed as “The Girl Who Goes 3D Two Better.” She claimed to have had JFK and Elvis as lovers, referring to the President as “a great man in everything he did,” and of Elvis, noting “he really was the King.” Love Me Tender. Ms. Fox’ obit of Ms. Storm, is well worth the price of a NYT subscription. I won’t opine on the rest of the paper’s content.
Oh, and the oldest person in America, Hester Ford, believed to be either 115 or 116, passed away, thus making room for a newest, oldest person in America. We’ll report back when that person dies, leaving the spot open for yet the newest, oldest person in America.
All of these folks leave a void but let’s celebrate their lives and what they have meant to the world rather than mourn their loss. I suspect that’s how they would prefer it.
Editor’s note: There is little in life that I truly control. Who makes The Wall is one of them. Thus, you are free to make suggestions but note that l be the final arbiter of who gets the mention. The typos are all mine. Thanks for reading.