In high school and early in my college days, I made attempts to write songs. In retrospect, they probably were not that good, though I do have some affection for a couple of them. Among other things, I realized that I had, on more than one occasion, unintentionally swiped the tune from an existing song. Still, I wish I could find the notebook where I was keeping the lyrics over a number of years.
One of the songs was called “Black or White”. It started: “My father was a singer of folk songs, My mama used to hum along.” I remember that part, because it was true. In the chorus, there was this couplet: “It doesn’t matter if it’s black or white. Music is music if the feeling’s right.”
I do recall the specific inspiration for this song. My father had moved to Charlotte, NC. Whether it was true or his perception, he felt that the gumbo of folk music that he had performed in hometown Binghamton would not fare as well in the South of the 1970s, and for a number of years, he just stopped playing. I found this quite disheartening.
In the same vein, it was a song for Dionne Warwick, Charlie Pride and Jimi Hendrix, who were often put down, including by black people, because they weren’t singing the music they were “supposed” to be playing, jazz, soul or blues, but certainly NOT pop, country or rock. (I have an irrational affection for the song Then Came You by Dionne and the Spinners – “see, she can do soulful; now, SHUT UP, already!”)
When Michael Jackson’s song Black or White came out in 1991, complete with the lyrics “It Don’t Matter If You’re Black Or White,” it made me feel…wistful. If I ever DID find this book and recorded the song, people who think that I had ripped it off from MJ, when i had written it at least a decade and a half earlier. (And no, I don’t believe he ripped it off from me, either.) *** So, I’m waiting and waiting for Fred Hembeck to post something about his daughter Julie’s birthday this week, but nothing. So I write to him, and he tells me I should have been checking out Facebook! I’m mediocre re Facebook at best, and not much better with Twitter. There’s something rather ephemeral about those social network platforms; it’s different with the blog, which is a web LOG. Anyway, belated happy birthday, Julie! Really, I didn’t forget.
Before I get to that, though, I need to direct you to this post of June 23, 2004, when Fred Hembeck noted the 25th wedding anniversary of Lynn Moss and himself. That was five years ago, which would make today…their 30TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY! Big congrats to you both. Oh, and people, you might want to check out a more recent Fred post, June 21, 2009, where daughter Julie cracks wise.
Oh, and since we’re speaking about Fred, you can now buy Hembeck-designed T-shirts from WORLD OF STRANGE Fantastic Apparel. You can’t buy them from Fred directly , but his June 3 post explains how it all came about. *** Got this from the Frog again; BTW, there’s the back of lovely naked female person in the header of his blog, so depending on where you live or work, that may be an issue. What I guess I’m having trouble with in the meme is the hate side. It’s not that I don’t dislike stuff; it’s that if I dislike it, I tend to ignore it and subsequently forget who or what it was.
1. Most hated food: Brussels sprouts; Sir Frog had a vivid description. 2. Most hated person: Well, I forgave G W Bush, so I’ll say Dick Cheney. 3. Most hated job: Working at Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield as a customer service rep. We were given all the tools to fail. I note that of the 16 people in my training class, at least 12 had left the company before I did 13 months later. 4. Most hated city: that would be Charlotte, NC circa 1977; my father described it as a big country town. But I don’t hate it now, and can think of no substitutes. 5. Most hated band: can’t think of one. 6. Most hated web site: ditto. What I do hate are websites that are perfectly functional; then they do a redesign so I can’t find anything. 7. Most hated TV program: is that show with the Sweet 16 excesses still on? Hated it, just hated it. 8. Most hated British politician: Tony Blair, maybe because I actually had high hopes for him before he became a W toady. 9. Most hated artist: don’t know. 10. Most hated book: Don’t know. That said, the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament is often troubling. Oh, and related, I JUST discovered Mr. Frog’s The Bible Summarized By A Smartass from a couple years ago. Example from Genesis 22: “Abraham walks up the mountain and knifes his kid. Except that God jumps out of the bushes at the last second, probably laughing and pointing. ‘Oh, dude, you were totally going to do it! You were! You should see your face, man! You’ve just been Punk’d!'” 11. Most hated shop: Wal-Mart. Beyond the politics of the place, I had a really lousy experience there when I first shopped there in 1994, and haven’t been back since except with someone else. 12. Most hated organization: Ku Klux Klan, which is still out there, trust me. 13. Most hated historical event: Dred Scott decision, US Supreme Court, 1857. 14. Most hated sport: NASCAR, I suppose. I tried watching it, and unless there’s, Allah forbid, an accident, it’s pretty boring. 15. Most hated piece of technology: The cell phone. The expectation that one can be accessed 24/7. The fact that people drive poorly when talking on them, even the hands-free ones. The fact that I hear too much of other people’s lives when they use them. 16. Most hated annual event: Cinco de Mayo. Pointless drinking. 17. Most hated daily task: Flossing. I swear the gaps in my teeth on the right side of my mouth are far smaller than on the left side, and it’s a PITA. 18. Most hated comedian: never got the Three Stooges.
And now the love.
1. Most loved food: spinach lasagna. 2. Most loved person: The wife or the daughter. 3. Most loved job: working at FantaCo from 1981-1986; but I was there from 1980-1988. So overall, I’ll say being a librarian at the NYS Small Business Development Center. 4. Most loved city: Montreal. U.S. city: San Francisco. 5. Most loved band: The Beatles. 6. Most loved web site: I don’t know; maybe Evanier’s. 7. Most loved TV program: Current: Scrubs. Ever? The Dick van Dyke Show. HOF: JEOPARDY! Oh, and my wife is watching 30 Rock faster than I am. BTW, I just came across a piece on how 30 Rock is a rip off of the Muppet Show 8. Most loved movie: Annie Hall. It’s been a linchpin. 9. Most loved artist: Auguste Rodin. First time I actually saw a Rodin sculpture in person, rather than in photos – probably in Boston – it was heaven. 10. Most loved book: Top Pop Albums by Joel Whitburn. Oh, something with a narrative? Henri J. M. Nouwen’s Here and Now: Living in the Spirit. 11. Most loved shop: Before I worked there, FantaCo. 12. Most loved organization: American Red Cross. 13. Most loved historical event: the resignation of Richard Nixon. 14. Most loved sport: baseball. 15. Most loved piece of technology: DVR 16. Most loved annual event: my birthday. I take it off from work. 17. Most loved daily task: racquetball. 18. Most loved comedian: Bill Cosby in the 1960s. Have five of his albums that I haven’t played in years, but there are whole bits I can still hear and recite from memory.
One of the great pleasures I’ve had as a result of reigniting my friendship with Fred Hembeck and his wife Lynn Moss was getting to know their daughter Julie. From an awkward 15-year-old teenager to a beautiful 18-year-old young lady, she has blossomed in her confidence as well as her artistic eye. She will be going to college next month in New York State, but about four hours from home, compared with a couple colleges she looked at right in the Mid-Hudson that were only about an hour’s drive. So Fred and Lynn have to cope with being empty-nesters.
In fact, Leonard Bernstein, who would have been 90 today, discusses and plays the Ode for Joy, just for Julie:
And speaking of the Hembecks, Carol, Lydia and I made our annual trek to their chateau earlier this month. As usual, Fred and I blathered about what we’ve later described as unincapsulable. I know we talked about FantaCo, Regis Philbin, and Fred’s new book. But the conversation tended to flit from subject to subject.
He, our wives and I also had a philosophical conversation about blogging. My wife chastised me for me saying that she should look at my blog, rather than me having to explain what I had written. I noted that it isn’t just the information in the blog that I was trying to convey but the style and manner in which I said it. So to give a Cliff’s Notes version of it wouldn’t do it justice.
Fred ragged on me when he discovered that I had watched on the Internet the last 10 minutes of “There Shall Be Blood.” About every 10 minutes he would find some parallel slapdown to give me, ending with “Oh I suppose you listened to/read/watched/ saw the last 10 minutes of THAT,” no matter what it was. He even got my beloved wife to join in the fun. I had a good time anyway, with Lynn’s vegetarian dinner a highlight of the day. *** Another satisfied Fred Hembeck customer.
Fred turns 55 today, that wonderful time of the year when he’s older than I for about five weeks. The interview I did with him, which I posted a few days ago was only the first half. Unfortunately, technological difficulties precluded getting the second part. But since I still have the questions written, I’m going to piece this together based entirely on my recollection of a conversation ten days ago, and hope for the best. I asked him about his comic influences: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the original team on Spider-Man; his recently expressed love of Lee/Kirby circa 1964; how he came to DCs first, and he told some wonderful tales, none of which I can summarize properly. Since he’s not reading new comics heavily, he doesn’t have strong opinions about the Brand New Day reboot of Spider-Man, with Peter as a single guy, Harry is back, etc., although, for most of Fred’s reading of the character, Peter IS single, so it doesn’t bother him much.
Fred is indeed a member of the Bing Crosby fan club. “Probably among the youngest members when you joined,” I opined. Apparently his wife Lynn had said something similar. He first noted Der Bingle in those Hope/Crosby Road movies, and he thinks Hope is underrated as a singer, but that Crosby’s voice he really appreciated. I noted that he turned me on to an album that Bing did with the Andrews Sisters.
I asked, “You seem to have more than a passing interest in Soupy Sales. You even have an album of him singing pop songs. One is forced to ask the question why?” He laughed, noting that his love of Soupy came from watching him on NYC TV growing up.
He claims to be less obsessed with Jerry Lewis, although he still watching the Labor Day weekend telethons and will catch him in whatever dramatic roles he takes. (I recall a Law & Order franchise show that Fred had mentioned in a column.)
A couple years back, I gave Fred some slight grief over his youthful affection for Al Jolson. He noted that, at the time, pre-Beatles, he hated all things rock and roll, and that he was fascinated by just how huge Jolson was, to have two movies of his life story, one played by Jolson himself and one by Larry Parks. (Sidebar: there was a video clue of Parks mimicking someone, not in blackface, in a video clue on the second day I was on JEOPARDY; I got that it was Jolson.) No, Fred has not seen the recent movie The Savages, where Jolson figures into the storyline. I asked what old movies did he grow up watching that he thought most affected his sensibilities now. He demurred, saying that it was more old television that helped turn him into the man he is. He specifically mentioned Sgt. Bilko, and I almost asked him about Allan Melvin, who had died, but that Fred had not yet written about; he has subsequently. We talked about our shared affection for the Dick van Dyke Show, of which he’s watched all five seasons on DVD AND has been reading a book about it. He needs to blog on how well it’s held up. He professes that Car 54 Where Are You was a much better show than The Munsters, though they shared actor Al (Grandpa) Lewis.
His affection for Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys is legendary. I made him record the Kennedy Center Honors segment on Brian. He’s glad, because he was touched, especially by Lyle Lovett’s singing, surprising to him because he’s not such a Lyle fan, though he knows I am. He was less impressed with Hootie and the Blowfish, who he though had broken up anyway. Always interesting to see Brian looking uncomfortable, we agreed.
I asked him what was about the Beach Boys and Brian’s solo work that he finds so appealing. He wished he were more versed in music terminology so that he could answer that better.
I noted that we’re both Beatles’ fans, but he leans towards Paul, Brian Wilson’s near twin, while I tended toward John. Fred clarified that, up to Rubber Soul or so, it was about even, and perhaps he was leaning a little towards John, before Paul took over. He noted John’s near-absence on Revolver, which, of course, would have been the American version that Capitol Records had butchered. Yes, he was you watching Sullivan on February of 1964, and that was a transformative time in his life. He has seen both Paul and Ringo live.
He’s gone through phases of music, which has involved everyone from Lesley Gore to Michael Jackson to Nellie McKay.
Fred has gotten over last season’s colossal collapse by the New York Mets. I went on to some personal stuff. He was born an only child of parents who were a bit older than his friends’ parents. His father was 50, his mother 39. I noted that they were YOUNGER than I was when Carol and I had our daughter Lydia. He grew up on Long Island, in Yaphank, but went to college in Buffalo, where he met Lynn Moss. He spent a time in the Kingston/Woodstock area. Then he came to the Capital District when Lynn went to RPI. I had thought that was when he started hanging out with the FantaCo folks, even me. In fact, he had met Mitch Cohn in Kingston. He recalled that he had only known Mitch for a couple weeks before Fred and Lynn got married, so he didn’t invite Mitch to the ceremony. They did invite people they soon lost track of, but Mitch was someone Fred especially would know for several years thereafter.
When Fred and Lynn moved downstate, I lost track of them. Somehow, probably through Rocco Nigro, I did know that they had a baby girl, Julie, who’s now 17, and getting ready for college. She has her first serious boyfriend, and I wondered if it messed with that strong father-daughter bond I’ve seen them have. He explained that he likes Julie’s boyfriend quite a bit.
I asked about some friendships he developed in the comics field. I think I heard from Rocco that Fred had turned Terry Austin from a Luddite to a technological wizard. Fred noted several names, including Joe Staton, Joe Sinnott and Professor Herb Trimpe, but there may have been others.
One day in October 2004, I ran into Rocco, and he said to me, “Have you seen Fred’s website?” Of course, I hadn’t. Hembeck, of Germain origin, is an unusual enough name that when he registered Hembeck.com, it was available. I asked him, “What was the goal when you started the site and how has that evolved?” Don’t recall the answer to the latter part, but as to the former, he wanted to be all things to all comics and comics-related people, which I sensed almost immediately when I saw his list of links. When I discovered Hembeck.com, I e-mailed Fred and he e-mailed me back. And I got a little obsessed with his site, as I sent Fred a SERIES of e-mails noting broken links on his prodigious links page. And, we recalled, I gave Fred a couple of blog ideas, one on Herb Alpert’s 70th birthday and another about those variation on album covers site.
“Ultimately, I thought I had enough ideas that I thought I could have my own blog. So, it’s YOUR FAULT, Fred Hembeck, for getting me to blog, curse you!” He just laughed.
Fred has a MySpace page where he actually get comments for some of the stuff he republishes from Hembeck.com. He also has The Fred Hembeck Show, which started on IGN and is now on Quick Stop Entertainment. Ken Plume brought Fred to IGN, so when Ken left, and Peter Sanderson as well, Fred followed.
That column was interrupted by the book, but now he’s back at it. It used to be a weekly, but now he’s re-examining what he should be doing there that he isn’t doing at his home site. So recently, he’s been doing strips that, one day, can be gathered for a collection. My family’s been to the Hembeck palatial estate three years running now. I think the first year, Fred and I unintentionally seemed to be speaking in code and said, “Oh, yeah, I wrote about it on my blog” about a dozen times. Drove my wife crazy. I noted that Fred’s wife is more likely to read my blog than my wife is, and that I’ve learned to accept that.
So, that, in peculiar summary form, was the second part of the interview. Happy birthday, old man. Let me know what double nickel is like.
[PHOTOS: Various combinations of Lydia, Carol (in the red) and me visiting Fred, Lynn (in the white) and Julie (in the blue), August 2007, all taken by me, except the one I’m in, taken by Julie. Discovered perhaps a week ago.]
I’m pretty sure it started with a March 2 e-mail from Fred Hembeck to me and to our mutual friend Rocco, who also lives in Albany: “Lynn (Moss, Fred’s wife) just informed me that Sean Lennon is going to be performing at the Egg on Tuesday, April 10th–tickets are currently being offered to Egg members only (only fair that Egg men have the advantage when it comes to a Lennon, I suppose…), but the general public get their chance starting on March 12th. Seeing as how tickets are going for only $24–and that Sean’s new album has gotten mostly positive reviews (I haven’t gotten a copy yet, tho when I saw him on Conan about a month or so back, I was pretty impressed by his performance–and I WILL be getting a copy soon, given the new set of circumstances), we’re thinking about driving up to see the concert. Hey, it’s either this, or Zak Starkey and his band, and Who tickets are way more expensive! As you fellows–and your lady friends–actually live in Albany, I thought I’d check in with you and see if either of you have any potential interest in joining us?”
We mulled it over. Rocco evidently decided against, and my wife was likewise disinclined, as she hadn’t heard any of his music. Well, I hadn’t heard any of his music either, except for It’s Alright, when he appeared on an album of cover versions of his mother’s songs called Every Man Has a Woman.
But if Fred, Lynn, and their daughter Julie were going to drive a couple hours to Albany to see Sean, how could I say no? (Fred and I discussed this later: the fact that THEY initiated the activity made it easier to go without Carol. I wouldn’t have considered inviting them up, for logistical reasons having to do with the child, but since they were coming up anyway…)
So, they ordered the tickets, and then Fred sent me copies of both of Sean’s albums. I discovered that I liked them both quite a bit, though some of the lyrics were a bit of a downer, I thought.
So, now I’m psyched, Fred and Lynn are psyched, Julie’s psyched.
With the help of Green Van Lines Moving Company – moving services the business was able to figure out the logistics. They would pick me up from work (faster than the irregular bus service from Corporate Woods), and we would go out to dinner. The initial request was for a place with a decent vegetarian menu, but was later modified to a vegan place, for Julie’s gone vegan.
On the day of the show, Fred writes: We’ll leave here at 3:15.
We’ll call you on Julie’s cell phone when we arrive!
We’ll go to the concert!!!
WE’LL HAVE FUN!!!!!
I get picked up, and I hear the dulcet tones of Rod Stewart, Julie’s current obsession. At least it was Rod back he was good. We eat at Mamoun’s Falafel, which was satisfying to all. We drive to the Egg. (The Albanian forgets the fastest approach to the underground parking, and we go on a mild excursion.)
We get to the concert. Our seats are in the fourth row, not too from the center aisle. This is a very intimate setting to see a show. The great thing about the Egg is that there aren’t many really bad seats. But we had an excellent location, about 30 feet from at least one performer in every set.
First up is Kamila Thompson, daughter of the legendary Richard and Linda Thompson. She’s wearing this attractively funky outfit, a fairly short blue dress with some sort of red print, a black sweater, black Capri pants and light colored high heels (Pink? Peach? Hard to tell with the lighting). There were so many power chords all over the floor that I thought she might trip over something.
She had a quite lovely voice, though not all of her songs, mostly about love and loss, were all that compelling. They seemed a bit pedestrian. A few riffs on her pink guitar, which she did not, she assures us, get from Hello Kitty, were rather tasty. She wanted people to go to her MySpace page; one of her MySpace friends, BTW, is Sean Lennon, I later discovered.
After as short break, Women & Children came out. There was but one woman, Cheryl, who sounded as though she had a cold and/or allergies (I sympathize). Her voice, for some reason, reminded me a little of Marianne Faithfull, circa Broken English. She did one song with her at the keyboards, then a guy comes out to play bass on the next song; he eventually plays guitar. The first drummer ends up on bass, and a second drummer eventually appears. A reviewer described them as being like Velvet Underground, and I guess that’s accurate. The real problem is that no one wanted to hear them. One opening act was OK; two strained the patience of this largely middle-aged audience; it IS a work night. No fewer than three people I knew and saw during the second, fairly lengthy intermission said that W&C “sucked”; so did the Metroland reviewer. I didn’t think so, but the vocals were thin, and the 40-minute set seemed interminable.
Finally, there’s Sean and his band, all in suits, except for the woman on the keyboards, his musical director. I think that familiarity with his music helped my appreciation of the tunes. But as Sean acknowledged onstage, he knew that most of the people in that room had no idea what his music sounded like; while he never used the B word, he knew there were people there just because he was a “son of a Beatle”. I got the sense that he’s made peace with that. He introduced one song, and one woman near the front clapped; he dedicated the song to her.
Most of the songs he played early on sounded not unlike the albums, but as the show progressed, I heard some pleasant variations on the theme. He played at least one new song. Sean was very good, the band was tight, and it was an enjoyable experience.
Well, except for the one loudmouth somewhere near the back. Three or four times he shouted out stuff, and except for the first one, “Listen to What The Man Said!” (a McCartney tune! har, har!), it was incomprehensible to Sean and to me. Eventually, security people invited him to leave . Also, there were flash pictures being taken during Kamila’s set, after which a guy from the Egg asked that no more be shot, not just for legal reasons, but because at least one person in the audience was having a bad physical reaction to the strobelight effect of the flashes. I noticed none during W&C, but plenty during Sean’s set.
I’m sure Fred, when he gives his Rashomon version of the event for his Quick Step column next week, will describe a post-concert purchase.
They dropped me off, then headed off on their two-hour ride home. I’m tempted to say, “A splendid time was had by all,” but I’ll pass. Thanks to Fred, Lynn and Julie for the invitation.