Kenny Rogers and the First Edition

You better count your money

The first time I knew the name Kenny Rogers was as a member of a group called The First Edition. Several people, including Thelma Camacho, Mike Settle, and Terry Williams, split off from a folk-music troupe, The New Christy Minstrels.

They had a big hit, Just Dropped In (To See What My Condition My Condition Was In), which got all the way to #5 pop in March of 1968. It was a quasi-psychedelic track later covered by Tom Jones.

After a couple flops, they released But You Know I Love You. They performed it on some variety shows, because I remember the applause at the dead-stop false ending. It went to #19 in early 1969.

Their next hit was Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town. By now, Kenny Rogers was receiving top billing. Read about the Mel Tillis song, which was not about the aftermath of the Vietnam war. It went to #6 pop and #39 country in mid-1969.

The follow-up, Reuben James, went to #26 pop, #46 country. The group had a few more hits, notably Something’s Burning (#11 pop). They even had their own syndicated show called Rollin’ in 1972. Kenny went solo in 1973. It took a while, but the hits eventually came.

His first country #1 was Lucille in 1977, which also went to #5 pop and went gold.

When the dealin’s done

If one knows only one Kenny Rogers song, it might be The Gambler. While it only went to #16 pop in 1979, it went to #1 for three weeks country. Moreover, there were at least three TV movies about it, starring Rogers. And it’s the only one of his songs ever quoted in this blog.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run

In 1980, Kenny Rogers was the #1 pop artist, with massive crossover hits. Lady, written by Lionel Richie, for instance, was #1 for six weeks pop, #1 country, and #42 soul.

You probably have your own favorites, including duets with female artists. I count 20 #1 country hits among the 53 songs charting. His other #1 pop song was Islands in the Stream with Dolly Parton for two weeks in 1983.

He was a ubiquitous popular culture presence for decades, and I’m sorry about his passing.

Coverville 1302: The Kenny Rogers Tribute Cover Story.

How news of Mom’s death spread

before you post another RIP on social media

Trudy.Green_dress This Groundhog Day I get to relive the day my mom died in 2011. I stayed in her room overnight on 1 February, and she died early the next morning. My sisters were already on their way back to the hospital. I suppose I could have called them on their cellphones, but I didn’t see the point. They walked into the room less than five minutes after she died and I got to tell them the news.

As I’ve noted, there was a certain symmetry to this. My sisters were present when my father died in 2000. My mom and I were en route to the hospital. I signed some legal document as the correspondent of her death, as I was for my father – the joy of being the oldest. The hospital contacted the funeral home, and eventually we went home, shortly after noon.

As it turned out, I had written a blog post, a few days earlier, about my mom’s stroke and me taking the train to Charlotte. Eventually, I checked my email. Denise Nesbitt, the doyenne of ABC Wednesday asked how my mom was. I told her that Mom had died.

She must have shared the news somewhere. Within 15 minutes, I started getting comments that switched from hoping my mom was getting better to condolences regarding her loss. I suppose it’s bizarre to note it’s the post for which I received the greatest number of comments.

Facebook

I was reminded of this article, Please read this before you post another RIP on social media. The piece doesn’t apply to my situation, but it was nevertheless instructive.

In fact, my grief was documented in several posts that month. My sisters and I have to write an obituary? Post it on the blog. We have to come up with the program? More blog fodder. I still remember someone referred to me as “dispassionate” because I was doing one post in my Joe Friday mode. “Just the facts.” It was/is my coping mechanism.

I’ve been dealing with death for a long time, it seems. My father’s mom Agatha died when I was nine; she lived upstairs from us. My mom’s maternal aunt Deana passed when I was 11; I saw her almost daily. Agatha taught me canasta, which I taught to Deana. I was very fond of both of them.

Groundhog Day is the day I relive when my mom died. I think about how I’m now an Orphaned Adult, a book I recommend, BTW.

It doesn’t matter much to me

Let me take you down

It doesn't matter much to meNearly four decades after his death, there’s an inordinate interest of What If? when it comes to John Lennon. Quite often it comes from people who were born after the Beatles broke up, or even after John died.

If he had lived, would he have left Yoko? One can find theorists suggesting that he would, that their marriage was a sham. The thought was that once he started writing music again, he was regaining his inner strength. Eventually, after Double Fantasy, or maybe the followup, he’d leave her.

Of course, the Beatles reunion is always at the heart of this sort of speculation. John was fond of some songs on McCartney II in 1980, Paul’s first album sans Wings in a decade.

George had a modicum of commercial success. His first album after the murder, Somewhere in England, contained a tribute to John. His album after that, 1982’s Gone Troppo, was not a big hit. Ringo had had all three on his various albums, although not simultaneously. So I suppose a reunion might have been possible.

Now you know I remain a massive Beatles fan. When my sisters and I lipsynched to the songs of Beatles VI in 1965 for the neighbor kids, I was always John. Lennon was always my favorite Beatle. I was devastated by his death.

Let me take you down

Yet I find all the speculation is not at all interesting. As he wrote, “It doesn’t matter much to me.” So I don’t have much of an opinion on which songs would be on a 1981 Beatles album if there had been such a thing.

For one thing, the interaction among them would have been far different than it was in 1969. Would they even get along in the studio again? Does George get more songs? Who knows? NOBODY and no one ever will.

Enough grumpiness. Some songs:

BEATLES
Ticket to Ride
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
Norwegian Wood
Rain
Tomorrow Never Knows
Strawberry Fields Forever; “It doesn’t matter much to me”
I Am the Walrus, from LOVE
Come Together

SOLO
I’m Losing You
Nobody Told Me

Robert Freeman, the longtime photographer for the Beatles, died. He had an exhibit at the Albany Institute of History and Art. “The complementary exhibition, THE BEATLES: Community Stories, from December 21, 2002 through March 2, 2003, is an… exhibition that celebrates the Fab Four with a selection of memorabilia on loan from Capital Region residents.

“From toys to tea towels, from posters to photographs, from autographs to collectibles…you’ll see it all at the Albany Institute.” I had but one magazine, but I also brought in some bootleg LPs and The Beatles in Italy.

Garry Shandling would have been 70

Zen Diaries

Garry Shandling
per UCLA
In the 2016 article, Why Garry Shandling Was One of the Greatest Jewish Comedians Ever, Jason Diamond noted, “His persona was an anxiety-ridden, grimacing, guarded, confused man on the verge of losing control.” I think I related to that.

Though his two signature shows were initially on premium cable, I managed to see many episodes of each of them. It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, which he co-created with Alan Zweibel, ran from 1985 to 1990 on Showtime. The edited reruns started playing on FOX, which I watched regularly, starting in 1988.

Like The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show decades earlier, the series frequently broke the “fourth wall” and spoke directly to the audience There were 72 episodes, and it began with the intentionally silly theme.

No flipping

His experience as the frequent guest host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson led to his next series. “In 1992, Shandling launched another critical and commercial success by creating the mock behind-the-scenes talk show sitcom The Larry Sanders Show… It ran for 89 episodes… on HBO.”

It featured Jeffrey Tambor as sidekick Hank Kingsley, Wallace Langham as Phil, and the late Rip Torn, who died in July 2019, as Artie, “the foul-mouthed, dyspeptic talk show producer.”

I don’t think I subscribed to Home Box Office regularly, yet somehow I managed to view several episodes. The finale was titled “Flip,” a reference to Sanders saying to TV audience, “no flipping.” I watched it in a Boston hotel either the day I taped my JEOPARDY! episodes or the night before, in September 1998.

He even co-wrote with David Rensin Confessions of a Late Night Talk Show Host: The Autobiography of Larry Sanders in the voice of his alter-ego, published in 1999. Ken Levine wants you to meet comedian/writer Jeff Cesario– He was also a writer/producer on THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW.

Back when I used to watch those things, “Shandling hosted the Grammy Awards in 1990, 1991, 1993, and 1994. He hosted the Emmy Awards in 2000 and 2004 and co-hosted (giving the opening monologue) in 2003.

Dead at age 66

“Shandling suffered from hyperparathyroidism, a condition that can be fatal. On March 24, 2016, Shandling died at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California at age 66… The autopsy showed that he died from a pulmonary embolism… On February 4, 2019, Shandling’s estate bestowed $15.2 million to benefit medical research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.”

In The New Yorker, Naomi Fry describes Judd Apatow’s four-hour documentary for HBO, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling. Janis Hirsch briefly worked on the first series, where she had a less-than-positive experience. Nevertheless, she recommended the study.

Both Naomi Fry and Jason Diamond noted “the scene in the ‘Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers’ episode of ‘Freaks and Geeks.’ Specifically, the part where Martin Starr’s Bill comes home to an empty house, fixes himself a snack and watches one of Shandling’s sets…

“It’s the connection, those few moments removed from the real world that Bill gets, that makes that scene so easy to relate to. The lonely kid doesn’t feel so alone for a few minutes.” That was a gift of Garry Shandling for many, including his peers.

Garry Shandling would have been 70 on November 29.

Mourning has broken, somewhat

Henri Nouwen

mourning doveAs regular readers of this blog may have noticed, I’ve gone to a number of funerals this calendar year. Two members of my current church in January, two former fellow choir members from my previous church in February.

It’s not just my own mourning, of course. From those four funerals, there are three widows who I’ve known at least 18 years each, plus various other relatives. My wife and I went to the service of a mom of a friend, also in the first half of the year.

Somehow, I inserted myself as a source of information about the memorial arrangements for Charles G. Hill, e.g., Dustbury. BTW, his daughter had no idea about his favorite charity. She found nothing in his record-keeping. She suggested the Oklahoma City Performing Arts or maybe a mental health organization.

I should reiterate that donations for Arthur’s husband Nigel King can be made to Anxiety New Zealand. I would recommend you read Arthur’s blog, starting with the first of October, regarding his uneven adjustment.

A decade and a half ago

Certainly, there were lots of funerals/memorial services this year, expected as one gets older. My wife and I recall, though, the last third of 2004, when we attended at least five funerals. Two were for the husbands of friends of mine; the women were both named Mary.

I was particularly fond of Tom. We had similar sensibilities about politics and much else. I helped make sure he got to vote in that Presidential year, thus assuring the election of President John Kerry. Even this year, Mary and I have pondered what he would have thought of the 240 candidates running for President. Goodness, that was 15 years ago.

I came across this quote from one of my favorite theologians, the late Henri Nouwen. It’s what I TRY to do in these moments of mourning:

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.”