Archive for June, 2011

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My Interview With Rita Rudner

June 23, 2011

Last night I spent some time with Rita Rudner. She’s doing an East Coast mini-tour and performed at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  I interviewed her backstage for ON THE SCENE.

I wondered about a couple things: would she talk like she does on stage…that sweet, quirky, staccato, deer-in-the-headlights sort of affect. And would she go for the one-liner rather than the reveal. That’s always the question when I interview comedians because they instinctively want to be funny. But I want the audience to learn something about them, too.

In reality she was open, relaxed, and willing to talk about every subject I brought up including the enduring impact of her mother dying when Rudner was just 12 years old.  She also told me that she’s “mortified” about much of the comedy being performed. She thinks it’s gotten too harsh. Rudner is not a topical comedian…the wars, recession and cloud of terrorism that we live under these days…don’t make their way into her act as they do Bill Maher, let’s say. She also doesn’t make the rich and famous the brunt of her jokes, like Joan Rivers.  Rudner’s point of view is personal…marriage, parenting, and her own social ineptitude are the basis of her act.

It ended up being one of the interviews I’ve enjoyed the most in a long time.  We covered a lot of ground so there’s a lot in this interview people are going to relate to. The airdate for this next ON THE SCENE special is being announced VERY soon.

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An E Street Band Original

June 21, 2011

I spent the day reporting on the death of Clarence Clemons including a visit to the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey where a memorial has sprouted in honor of Clarence. I met fans from New Jersey but as far away as Colorado and Illinois who stopped to share memories and to  grieve with people who share their loss.

And I had an interesting visit this afternoon with Vini Lopez. He’s the original drummer of the E Street Band. We taped an interview on the front steps of his house,  tucked away deep in the woods down a gravel road.

Lopez left the band in a money dispute in 1974. But in those early years he was roommates with Clemons. And Danny Federici. Of those three E Streeters Lopez is  now the only one still living.

He told me about remembering playing for as little as five bucks a gig, going fluke fishing so Clemons could fry fish for the gang come dinnertime, of Clemons’ humor, and how he built up his strength as a sax player by practicing on the bag pipes. Which presented some trying moments around the house.

I’d never met Lopez before and I’m glad he agreed to an interview on just an hour’s notice today. He was the there at the very beginnings of a musical dynasty.

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Primetime Emmys: The Race Is On

June 19, 2011

Who knew there were this many tv shows, actors, actresses, and executive producers who are indisputably brilliant and Emmy-worthy?

I can tell when the Primetime Emmy race is on by checking my mailbox. “Emmy Magazine” arrived the other day…the 2nd quarter issue…and that means all the industry ads for Emmy consideration. The nominees will be announced next month and the awards are handed out the end of September.

And so now the advertising and pr push to sway Academy voters.

I admit I love the ads this year. Universal Studio’s 13 page spread is especially funny, each page promoting a different show for Emmy consideration with titles including, “Outstanding Corporate Interference” for genius “30 Rock”; “Outstanding Upstandingness” for “Parks And Recreation”;  “Outstanding Paper-Pushing” for “The Office.” Clever and in the spirit of the shows themselves.

FX is really trying to nail an Emmy for Dennis Leary of “Rescue Me.” It’s two page ad includes three pull quotes in a row from tv critics describing “Rescue Me” as the most “underrated drama.” I guess it’s time for Emmy to the rescue.

FX is also championing Margo Martindale as supporting actress in “Justified” with a similar ad rattling off of quotes like, “surely the Emmy Gods will smile upon her,” and “I wonder if they’re printing Margo Martindale’s name on that supporting actress Emmy yet?” We’ll find out.

The lesser known Reelz Channel sprung for a splashy 6 page fold out ad and enclosed  a dvd of episode 2  for “The Kennedys.” Clearly it’s hoping a nomination will be a reputation builder. It’s not the only dvd. I have one here for “Survivor: Redemption Island” and “The Amazing Race.” The producer is trying to win nominations for Best Reality Competition Program and best host.

Is there a little-show-that-could out there on a channel I maybe haven’t even heard of? One that can’t afford the glossy ads and pr machine but is every bit as Emmy worthy?  Tell me.

 

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Remembering Clarence Clemons

June 19, 2011

A larger than life figure has left the stage. Clarence Clemons has died.

Tonight I’m thinking not only about the incredible sound he gave to the greatest songs of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, but about the times I interviewed Clarence.

The last time I interviewed him, in the fall of 2009, the signs were unfortunately apparent that his body was failing him. I remember waiting for him to arrive at a book store, where he was signing his memoir. I was scheduled to interview him before the signing. As he walked in I was shocked at the change in his appearance in just one year since I’d interviewed him last. Clarence had a hard time walking, moving carefully with a cane and was much thinner than I had ever seen him.

We shook hands and like he did with everyone,  he greeted me as if we were old friends…he had a warm familiarity with the whole world it seemed.  But the short distance he stepped to the space to the locations for the interview had left him very short of breath and I remember getting concerned how he could keep up the hectic schedule of a book tour.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to interview him..once backstage at a concert and then at the book signing. It is impossible to imagine the E Street Band without him. Impossible. But knowing the dedication of E Street Band fans they’ll find a way to keep him alive when Bruce Springsteen decides to take the band on tour once again.

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A Moment With Clarence Clemons

June 14, 2011

I’ve interviewed Clarence Clemons twice and today I’ve been thinking a lot about those moments after I heard he’d suffered a stroke.

I first met him in 2008, backstage, the Meadowlands, right before going on stage to join Bruce Springsteen and the rest of the E Street Band, which was in the midst of a world tour.  He pulled up in a golf cart, I remember him glimmering in a black and gold stage ensemble that included an enormous hat and cape,  with a smile so wide it seemed to stretch from the New Jersey Highlands to the southern shore..and then he slowly rose from the cart and sauntered up to shake my hand. I’m six feet tall,  so I’m not used to anyone towering over me, but he did.

“What’s it like to be in front of a home state crowd,” I asked.

“It’s like the everything we’ve done all over the world was leading up to tonight.  You always want to look good, but you especially want to look good in front of your own people.”

The next time I interviewed Clarence was in the fall of 2009. His memoir was just out and I talked to him before a book signing. His appearance had changed in the short time since we first spoke. He’d lost weight, was walking slowly with a cane and seemed short of breath. He’d recently had knee surgery I was told, and he wanted to reassure the fans that he was alright. He said he knew people were worried about his health but asked they please not be.

There’s a moment in that 2009 interview that I love, because it says so much about Clarence.  He’s been interviewed a million times and I wanted to throw a curve, I wanted to get Clarence into a spontaneous moment. So I asked a question in a lighthearted way, with a little laughter, “do you ever come off stage (with the E Street Band) and say, ‘God, there was a clinker in there tonight?”

“Never!  This band does not make mistakes. There are no clinkers in the E Street Band.” A pause and then, “and if something does happen on strange notice we call it jazz and move on.”

To me that answer shows his humor, his belief in the quality of his group’s musicianship,  and his unflinching pride in the legacy of an incredible rock n roll band, which he helped shape from the very start.

And I know millions of people tonight are wishing The Big Man a full recovery.

 

 

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Al Pacino One Night Only

June 3, 2011

Al Pacino came on stage looking every bit the Greenwich Village theatre rat. Head band holding back his mop of hair, dressed in black head to toe and his shirt, pants and jacket all two sizes too big. A rumpled bohemian who looked more like he was headed to an off-Broadway rehearsal than a stage interview and retrospective of his 40 year film career.

Pacino is doing select engagements around the country in “Pacino: One Night Only” moderated by NYU film instructor, Richard Brown. Wednesday night’s audience at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey paid up to 500 dollars a ticket and judging from the thunderous welcome Pacino was given, it was worth the price of admission for these die hard fans to just be in the same room with him. Certainly having him on the Basie stage is a coup for the theatre which is using profits from the event to help complete its restoration.

I came because  I wanted to see how the interview was handled and how the whole show was presented. Pacino gives few interviews and hasn’t seemed comfortable doing them. I remember when “Scent Of A Woman” came out and Barbara Walters interviewed him. The interview was almost over and Walters said, “can I ask you a personal question without you jumping out of your chair?”

But this is different and while Brown asked a few questions, Pacino directed his answers to the audience. With Pacino’s nervous energy and get-up-and-strut storytelling I think the only place to pull an engaging interview out of him is in front of a live audience. In fact, at one point Pacino cut off Brown mid-question and asked the audience to step  up to the mics for Q&A.  I thought it was rude. But Pacino is a performer and I suspect he sensed what I did sitting in the crowd… that it was time to get the audience involved. Dozens of people rushed to the mics.

His most revealing answers came from the audience questions. I thought this was fascinating: producers of “The Godfather” didn’t want Pacino in the film. Dead set against him, Pacino said. In fact they wanted to fire him until the fifth day of shooting. Then he nailed a big scene, they changed their minds and the rest is cinema history. “The Godfather” was only Pacino’s second movie, which is also pretty incredible to think about.

The evening included film clips of “The Godfather,” “Scarface,” “Scent Of A Woman,” and “Panic in Needle City”  and other classic Pacino roles. He closed, alone on stage, with a dramatic monologue from “The Iceman Cometh.”