People Who Died - February, 2022
February is my least favorite month so I am glad it is behind us. It is cold, dreary, and in the way of March which for me brings the dawning of Spring and heralds in St. Patrick’s Day. Whoever came up with the calendar thought so little of February that they stuck in an unneeded “R” and didn’t give it as many days as the other months. Its shortness is perhaps its only saving grace. This February had another saving grace however; it didn’t give me much to write about. I mean, I probably could have taken the month off except you all would have thought that perhaps Margalit Fox took me up on my offer and she was feverishly putting the finishing touches on my own obit. Not the case and because of that you will have to endure yet another read of this rag. Sorry to disappoint you all. And by the way; some of you got on me last month about spelling. First, I can’t be responsible for such things and second; I can’t help it if some people spell their own names wrong. I retain poetic license to fix such errors. This ain’t the New Yorker so bear with me. My copy editor deserted me. Don’t let that stop the comments, however, as they are, actually, appreciated.
While February was light, it was not without its losses. First on the list for me is John Koss. I am not a fan of the earbud but I have used headphones to ruin my hearing by cranking the volume way up and letting the sound of rock n’ roll reverberate in my head until I developed tinnitus so bad that it’s like I have a friend with me at all times blowing a whistle right into my brain. I can’t blame Mr. Koss for my mis-use of his invention- the headphones. He has probably ruined the hearing of millions but I can’t complain because I still put on headphones and crank it up. Mr. Koss and a friend, Marty Lange, who died in 2009, invented the headphone in 1958. They rigged up cardboard cups with small speakers in them and held the cups in place with a coat-hanger covered in a shower hose. I mean, we’re not talking Beats here. When they brought the first model to market it was an instant hit and Koss headphones soon became standard equipment for sound technicians, disk jockeys, musicians and anyone who wanted a good quality sound right in their head. Members of the House Judiciary Committee listened to the White House tapes of Richard Nixon and his choice language on Koss headphones. The company branched out and like many others, hit hard times and filed for bankruptcy. It pared its business back to what it is best at – headphones - and still makes a quality product today. I am sure that one of these days some class action lawyers will bring suit on behalf of the hearing-impaired masses who turned their volume up to the Spinal Tap 11 while donning the Koss headphones. As one who has mis-used the product Mr. Koss invented and had fun doing it, I hope such a suit falls on deaf ears.
We’ll move from bad hearing to Double Vision. Ian McDonald, a fellow who undoubtedly wore his share of Koss headphones while he recorded for King Crimson and Foreigner, died at 75. I don’t think I can think of two more disparate albums than “In the Court of the Crimson King” and “Double Vision.” Well, actually, I could, but you get the picture. I remember seeing King Crimson at the Schaeffer Music Festival way back when. It could have been Doctor Pepper but I went through that last month and it will now always be Schaeffer when I refer to it because I never liked Dr. Pepper and Schaeffer is the one beer to have when you are having more than one; a slogan I am sure the MADD organization would have had something to say about back in the day. Anyway, back to McDonald; while Foreigner undoubtedly made him more money, King Crimson gave him much more musical cred. “In the Court of the Crimson King” contained the song “I Talk to the Wind,” and now he certainly does.
On the prog-rock theme, Gary Booker, the singer and keyboard player for Procol Harum, died at 76. While “Whiter Shade of Pale” (purportedly abut a drunken, sexual escapade gone bad) is perhaps their biggest hit, I was more a fan of “Conquistador” and loved their album (remember those?) recorded live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. The band spawned Robin Trower who went on to different, but perhaps not better, things as a solo performer. Booker himself played on studio sessions with George Harrison, played with (and was fired by) Eric Clapton (they remained friends) and worked with the Alan Parson’s Project, Ringo Starr’s Allstars and Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, among others. Forever, he can skip the light fandango.
On a more grunge note, Mark Lanegan, who fronted Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age died at 57. He had drug problems in his past and had a tough bout with Covid but the cause of his death was not given, leaving us to speculate which is never good. While never attaining the popularity of other bands with the Seattle grunge sound, such as Soundgarden and Nirvana, Mr. Lanegan’s voice was synonymous with the genre and Screaming Trees was one of the bands that formed the fusion between Rock and metal that the Sub Pop label became synonymous with. Screaming Trees put out a Sub Pop record in 1989 which helped to define the sound that made others more famous. The voice, however, is great as you can hear on Dollar Bill. Lanegan teamed up with Josh Homme (also of Queens of the Stone Age), to compose the theme song for Anthony Bourdain’s “Part’s Unknown.” Lanegan credited Kurt Cobain’s wife (by then, widow), Courtney Love, with helping get him into rehab due to a heroin problem which seems to have been a rite of passage for too many grunge artists (and Bourdain), and saving his life. Too short lived.
Staying with music, Beverly Ross, the songwriter who wrote the hit Lollipop (you’ve got to be pretty old to remember that one), died at 87. Don’t confuse the Ross tune with the other lollipop hit, “My Boy Lollipop,” which was written by Robert Spencer of the Cadillacs. The songwriting credit for that is also sometimes attributed to Mo Levy but anyone who knows anything understands that Mo Levy couldn’t have written a song if his life depended upon it. However, being mobbed up and running a record company gave him pretty good leverage to get songwriting credit on many songs he had little to do with. While Mr. Spencer was getting screwed by Morris Levy, Ms. Ross was getting the shaft by Phil Spector. As the story goes, Ms. Ross had some clout in the industry and started working with the then-unknown Spector on some demo songs. While working through one particular melody, Mr. Spector said he had to leave and she soon heard the Riff in the Ben E. King hit “Spanish Harlem.” According to her, Spector ripped off the tune and never gave her credit. So angry was she over that move that she titled her 2013 memoir, “I was the First Woman Phil Spector Killed.” I am sure the family of the woman Phil Spector did kill – Lana Clarkson – wasn’t too happy about that title. Back to better times, Ms. Ross co-wrote songs for Elvis and Roy Orbison and scored another hit – “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” which was made so by Leslie Gore. She got into the songwriting business when she encountered a musician in her hometown of Lakewood, New Jersey (she was born in Brooklyn), who wanted to date Ms. Ross’ sister. She said she would get him the date if he would tell her how to break into the music business. He got the date by pointing Ms. Ross to the Brill Building and the rest was history. Not sure what happened on the date but given the success of Beverly Ross, I hope it was at least a “Paradise by The Dashboard Light” kind of evening.
Speaking of a “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” kind of evening, the hot lips of Major Margaret Houlihan will quiver no more for the likes of Frank Burns and it is a loss to us all. Sally Kellerman, who played the role in the film version depicting the 4077th MASH unit, died at the age of 84. While many are perhaps more familiar with Loretta Swit’s (from Passaic, NJ and still going also at 84) version of the character in the hit television show, Kellerman originated the role in the Robert Altman movie. She starred in other Altman films such as “Brewster McLoud,” was the love interest of Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School” (an off pairing, that) and Elaine Navazio in “Last of the Red-Hot Lover’s.” On television she appeared in everything from “My Three Son’s” to “The Young and the Restless.” She was also a cabaret singer who was offered to sign with a jazz label when she was 18. She originally sought a different Role in the MASH movie (that of Lt. Dish) and was miffed at being offered the Hot Lips role. Altman pressed her to take the role saying that she could make more if it than appeared on the written page. She took it, made the most of it, and forever was tagged as hot lips. While it sometimes bothered her, in the scheme of things, how many of us would turn down that handle or career? Not me.
P.J. O’Rourke died at 75. Writing about him posed a dilemma for me. I could try to fake it and seem erudite and polished and talk about how much I loved his work or I could fess up and admit that I hardly read what he wrote even though he is in the vein I would like, being a Republican satirist who skewered both parties. Truth is, I hardly read him but the fact that he is immediately recognizable to even those who are not overly familiar with his work says a lot about his legacy. I think that if I could have fit him into my day, I would have liked him. He was somewhat ubiquitous, having written 20 some odd books and published extensively for the Daily Beast, the Atlantic, Rolling Stone and the Weekly Standard as well as having a stint on 60 Minutes and being often on late night talks shows with the likes of Bill Maher, Charlie Rose and Trevor Noah, among others. Signe Wilkinson, in reviewing Mr. O’Rourke’s best-known book for the New York times, Parliament of Whores, perhaps summed the author up best when he wrote that “[a] spin with P. J. O’Rourke is like a ride in the back of an old pickup over unpaved roads. You get where you’re going fast, with exhilarating views but not without a few bruises.” Enough said.
Emile “the Cat” Francis died at 95. I could say that he coached the Rangers when they sucked but that would describe so many coaches it would not be illustrative. He did, however, coach the Rangers when I was young and paid attention to them. Back when players didn’t wear helmets, goalies didn’t wear masks and players had no teeth. The way hockey ought to be. In the days of Eddie Giacomin, Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert, who died back in August, 2021. Called “the Cat” because of his quick reflexes in the goal back when he played for the Moose Jaw Canucks, he only played 95 games in the NHL before hanging up his skates and taking up coaching. His legacy to hockey goalies is the glove they wear to catch the puck. When he started playing, goalies wore a five fingered mitt that wasn’t overly effective. Having played some baseball as a youth, he rigged (I was originally going to say jerry-rigged but in checking out that phrase it could be used as a slur against Germans and I am not here to offend a particular group as much as I intend to offend everyone equally so I didn’t use it) a first-baseman’s glove to use instead and a derivation of his adaptation has become a standard piece of a goal-tenders equipment since.
And then there is science. Like I can’t claim to be a big reader of P.J. O’Rourke, I can’t claim to understand science. I prefer to think of it as magic and then it doesn’t clutter my brain. Like electricity. I can’t think about positive electrons chasing negative electrons or whatever. I flip on the light switch and the bulb brightens – magic. The same is with the ethernet. I send a command from my computer and a document is printed – magic. In fact, this whole computer thing is magic. I hit a key, the contraption fires up and I can get porno in seconds. Or the New York Times. Anyway, the guy who invented the ethernet, David Boggs (great name), died at 71. He was a computer scientist working with Xerox. Xerox, by the way, not Apple, actually invented the PC. Their first model, the Alto, had a graphic user interface, a mouse and through the ethernet, connected to a laser printer. They were, however, too busy counting all of the money they made from copy machines, which were leased and not sold, that they did nothing about the stupid PC. They did, however, give a tour to Steve Jobs who took copious notes, hired away a few of their top people and months later came up with Lisa, the precursor to the MAC. The rest is history. Anyway, back to Mr. Boggs. He started as an intern at PARC, the Xerox research lab that was perfecting the Alto and met Bob Metcalfe who was trying to send electronic impulses through a cable. The two of them worked on that for two years and perfected the ethernet which Jobs effectively commandeered. Somehow Walter Isaacson missed that part in the Jobs biography. Once challenged by a sceptic about how the math behind the ethernet didn’t hold up, Boggs retorted that the ethernet doesn’t work in theory; it only works in practice. Maybe it is magic.
While we see the harrowing, horror that Russia is visiting on Ukraine, there was an earlier time when the Soviet Union, under another maniacally, heartless leader, Josef Stalin, initiated the Berlin Blockade designed to cut off the allied Forces access to West Berlin, depriving the people in that City from food, fuel medicine and other necessities of life. This was done to stop the allied nations from fostering a West German state that would be free and democratic. Sound a bit like what is happening today? Some things never change. In response to the blockade, Allied forces, the U.S. foremost among them, began the Berlin Airlift to drop much-needed supplies to the people of West Berlin. What does this have to do with the Wall you ask? Good question.
Well, we lost Gail Halvorsen this month at 101; better known as the “Candy Bomber.” Lt. Halvorsen was a pilot during the Berlin Airlift and he got the idea that in addition to food, fuel medicine and other needed supplies, the kids of West Berlin might enjoy a bit of candy. After exhausting his supply of Wrigley’s gum by handing it out, he told the kids that he would be back with more candy that he would drop from his plane. When asked how they would know it was him, he told the he would wiggle the wings of his plane, a move which earned him the nickname Uncle Wiggly Wings amongst the kids. He did wiggle his wings as he dropped candy on his next trip and during the 15 months of the Airlift, Lieutenant Halvorsen, his crew and other pilots would drop 23 tons of candy from the skies tethered to small parachutes. He was once summoned to his commander’s Office and feared he would be court-martialed because dropping candy was a deviation from Air Force Policy. Instead, his commanding officer, General William Tunner, was all for it, seeing the goodwill that could come of it. Eventually, up to 24 pilots took part in the candy bombing. All was not perfect, however. Lt. Halvorsen received a note from a West German boy requesting candy and enclosing a parachute and a map showing his house. Lt. Halvorsen looked for the house on his next flight and couldn’t locate it. As recounted in the New York Times, according to Andrei Cherny’s book, “Candy Bombers,” the boy wrote back stating: “No chocolate yet. … You’re a pilot. … I gave you a map. … How did you guys win the war anyway?” Flummoxed, Halvorsen sent the nine-year-old a candy bar in the mail. American Ingenuity. It is people like Lt. Halvorsen that this world needs more of.
Anyway, if you are still liking this, let your misguided friends know as I am as starved for readers as those German kids were for candy.