Big Deaths, Little Lives

Last week was a tough week for Donald Trump: the Manafort verdict, Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg flipping, etc. Even Jeff Sessions stood up on his toadstool and proclaimed his independence.

This week is a tough one for him, too, with the death of John McCain.

And, I predict, next week will be also tough for him.

Why does that give me a warm, sunny feeling inside? The endgame is going to be very ugly. Trump is a puncher, and he will go down swinging. And more real damage will still be done in the meanwhile. Brett Kavanagh, anyone?

Fewer than seventy days until Election Day, 2018. The Dems should take the House, but the Senate seems out of reach unless revelations between now and Election Day boost the Blue Wave to as-yet unimaginable heights.

But sixty-seven senators are necessary to convict a president in a trial after an impeachment by the House. That’s a very tall order, but I think that the evidence from Mueller will be so overwhelming that there will be enough principled GOP senators to cross over. Am I being naïve? Perhaps.

Trump’s poll numbers haven’t moved much. There is some erosion, but his base (Fox viewers, etc.) is still standing behind him. Will there be incontrovertible proof of High Crimes and Misdemeanors from Mueller? (Isn’t there already enough stuff out in public – e-mails from the campaign, what Trump said to Lester Holt, etc. – to bring multiple charges against him?)

I try to concentrate on other things, but nothing else is really important when there’s a traitor in the White House.

Why should Trump be able to ruin my life? (Is that solipsistic enough?) Trump is the kind of person I wouldn’t even want in my house, much less in the Oval Office. A jerk in every way: rude, obnoxious, insensitive, petty, selfish, sexist, racist, ignorant, boastful, irresponsbile. He’s like a human laundry list of imperfections. Why is this idiot in our lives?

Some thoughts I want to put out of my head, if only for a little while. Instead of thinking about Trump’s horrible little life, I’d rather concentrate on some big lives that just ended.

(And I’m not talking about John McCain, whose legacy is decidedly mixed, but who passes for a “good Republican” these days. But these days, we are starved for heroes.)



I was surprised at how hard the death of Aretha Franklin affected me. I guess I sort of took Aretha for granted, assuming that she would always be there. Once she arrived on the scene in the Sixties, she was instantly acknowledged as One of the Greatest Singers of All Time, and nothing – no career ups-and-downs, no amount of bad records and indifferent concerts – has ever really changed that collective judgement. I have several of my favorite Aretha tracks on my “Favorite Tracks” queue and hear her singing all the time, streaming through my house. Her voice is one of the central sounds of American life.

About fifteen years ago, I saw her in concert at the now-demolished, much-missed House of Blues on Sunset Blvd. I think it was some kind of charity show during Grammy Week in LA when good, odd concerts occur. In any case, seeing Aretha in a small, intimate club setting was a rare opportunity. Though Aretha was known to slough off concerts, she was great that night at the House of Blues. She had some friends including Natalie Cole in the balcony, and I guess that she wanted to prove to all that she still “had it.” And she did.

I worked my way down to the front of the crowd and was very close to her as she sang. I wish I could recall the setlist, but I remember being blown away by “Ain’t No Way.” I do remember a feeling of certainty, after the concert, that I had been in the presence of true greatness.

Very few people reach everybody, but Aretha was one of those artists. And, the truth is, Aretha will never go away. Her records will remain a permanent part of the American soundtrack, just the way that Billie Holiday’s and Ella Fitzgerald’s have. Aretha’s voice told the truth, and Truth in Art shall never go out of fashion.

Some live goodies:

Aretha singing Curtis Mayfield’s SOMETHING HE CAN FEEL (from the “Sparkle” soundtrack) – on The Midnight Special, 1976 – Aretha at the peak of her powers.

Aretha live gospel in the White House – April, 2015

Top Ten Aretha Franklin moments



Another celebrity death hit me last week, maybe even harder.

I wasn’t the only guy in the Sixties in love with Barbara Harris. Both Richard Rodgers and Alan Jay Lerner wanted to write musicals especially for her (Lerner actually did.) Alfred Hitchcock, always with an eye for great actresses, built his last film FAMILY PLOT around her. Robert DeNiro called her his favorite actor. When I was a teenager, she was one of my “celebrity crushes,” (a term I picked up from my daughter.)

Barbara Harris was pretty and sweet and vulnerable and kooky (a good Sixties word), projecting a core of goodness and honesty that charmed everyone. She could sing and dance, clown and make you tear up. She had it all. I saw her in THE APPLE TREE twice.

She had a decent film career (A Thousand Clowns, Plaza Suite, Nashville, Family Plot, Freaky Friday, and Peggy Sue Got Married). She won a Tony Award, was nominated for an Academy Award, and received four Golden Globe Award nominations.
But she had a skeptical attitude toward fame, and her career never really caught fire the way it might have. She once said, “I used to try to get through one film a year, but I always chose movies that I thought would fail, so that I wouldn't have to deal with the fame thing.”

Did she walk away from fame? She had one huge bomb – Second Hand Hearts – but that shouldn’t have killed her career.

She had an enormous personal triumph in THE APPLE TREE in 1967, beating out legends like Mary Martin and Lotte Lenya for the Tony Award … and then she never acted on the Broadway stage again! How strange. Her last movie was a bit part in Gross Pointe Blank, and she spent the last decades of her life, living in Scottsdale, Arizona, and teaching acting.

Unfortunately, they didn’t dim the lights of Broadway for her. “She didn’t do enough,” my brother correctly said. Which is a great shame. She was a unique talent with an incredibly broad range. She could have and should have done everything. I bet she would have made a wonderful Amanda Wingfield. (If I recall, she did some regional Chekhov.)

(Fame is a funny thing. Aretha was super-famous, Barbara Harris not so much so. But they were both possessed by extraordinary talent. Careers unfold in odd ways. In fact, Aretha’s career languished at Columbia Records for five years from 1961 to 1966; it was her move to Atlantic Records that let her find the Queen of Soul within herself.)


The audition scene from WHO IS HARRY KELLERMAN AND WHY IS HE SAYING SUCH HORRIBLE THINGS ABOUT ME? – Barbara Harris got an Oscar nomination for this one, seven-minute scene. Magical acting.

A big chunk of ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER –with Barbara Harris and John Cullum – from “The Bell Telephone Hour”

THE APPLE TREE – from the 1967 Tony Awards – with a flattering introduction by Mary Martin, comparing Harris to the legendary Laurette Taylor

Barbara’s strange, sedated (?) Tony Awards acceptance speech

“It Don’t Worry Me” – her closing scenes in NASHVILLE


And NEIL SIMON, too.

I saw only a few of his plays and movies, but I did like THE ODD COUPLE and THE SUNSHINE BOYS. And I like the musicals for which he wrote the books – SWEET CHARITY and PROMISES, PROMISES. I admire his craftsmanship, his ability to write jokes that worked like mousetraps, and his long, honorable search for humor in the travails of daily life.

After all these years, these are HUGE laughs.

THE ODD COUPLE – “Now it’s garbage.”

THE ODD COUPLE – “Little notes.”


THE ODD COUPLE – Felix clears his ears.



Sometimes all I really want to do is play in a tide pool with Calder.


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Christian Correa