Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Mercury’s in Retrograde, My Internet’s on the Fritz, and My Altice SIM Card is Getting Dusty

Oh, that darned Mercury in Retrograde again…despite my highly charged beautiful purple amethyst proudly displaced on my desk (a gift from a gifted friend who shared these beautiful rocks with all of us), it was insufficient protection against the failure of all electronic devices in my home to declare war on me simultaneously, and my otherwise calm psyche this evening. If this happens to post online consider it nothing short of a miracle.

I was minding my business this freezing Veteran’s Day evening, having loaded up Barney into the warm car and trekked out in search of dinner for his family and mine (that’s code for pizza) and I ordered two different types of “hot ‘n fresh” pizzas at Little Caesar’s window. I asked the clerk whether they were both hot and fresh and she told me honestly that one was, and the other not so much. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll wait for two fresh ones.” She said, “If you’ll just pull around front and wait for 10-12 minutes and then come inside you can have them then.”

Hmm…the point of the drive-thru was to wait in a heated car. Getting out. Okay, I’m not too old or too grumpy to disallow the possibility of freezing, only to be rewarded by pizza. I did, however, ask her for a favor (though). I said, “Could you please divide both pizzas in half and place two different halves in one box so both boxes would be the same?” Without even a second to consider it, she said, “No, we can’t do that.” “Okay,” I said and Barney and I drove around to wait our 10-12 minutes and play 3 or 4 games of Word Chums while we waited. Going inside a very nice young man, Chris, agreed to do what I’d asked before about the splitting of the pizzas, no fuss, no muss. “Yay” I thought, and then “She” saw him doing my bidding.

“She” cast eyes of disapproval toward him and my two pizzas so I boldly said loud enough for her to hear, “Yes, he knows your policy is not to do that, the dividing them into two identical pizzas but he took pity on me and made this customer very happy.” “She” didn’t look up but as she stared anywhere but at me, I could see she was disappointed at being thwarted. I mean, when you make the doggie tradeoff in 30°F weather, do you really want the hot pizza box opened in the cold weather and the swap made there? Why no, no you don’t.

I managed to exit worried that Chris was going to get “what-for” from her over making an exception for someone who qualifies for senior pricing even if I don’t feel as though I deserve it (yet). The pizza caper behind me, I sat down to enjoy an episode of “JAG” as I knew that WGN would have a Veteran’s Day marathon as USA Network had one with “NCIS” earlier today during lunch (and the new programming on USA, by the way? A bunch of smut. Weird smut. Take it from a person who qualifies for senior pricing to tell you…pass on by. Nothing to see there. Apparently, anyone can pitch a show and the weirder it is, the more they want to pay for it. Sigh. Missing “La Femme Nikita” and “Suits” on USA already…but I digress).

Two bites of pizza in and my TV picture begins to “pixilate.” I learned that term from Suddenlink, many years ago when describing to them what happened to most all my NBC related stations’ programming. The big transponder doohickey that’s uplinked to the gizmo that travels to the fiber optic doodad…well, none of that word salad is right but let’s just say that the photographs break up into little pixels and the dialogue on TV sounds a whole like Chris Matthews reading the teleprompter every day. “Blap. Boop. Barrrp. Blep.” I don’t listen to Chris Matthews, but I know what he sounds like.

My key episode of “JAG” was slowly disintegrating in front of my eyes, sigh. Then, my internet went “out” on my computer…all three screens had the famous dinosaur pic on the google home page and the time out error and the “we can’t reach the server” message and I had planned on sending something I had edited earlier in the evening to a client…and it was a rush job due tomorrow…and I’d waited long to get our dinner simply to finish it. Dang.

I did a reboot or two of my computer. Same problem. I called my VIP phone number of Suddenlink and happened to remember my password (always a thrill not to have to look something up!) and while I’m doing this a phone call on my internet-based home line reads “Cablevision” calling and I answer, “Hello?” three times until I decide no one is there. Aw dang, do I need to block one more call today? Already blocked four of those pests before…

Well, I’m on my cell phone and have a 30-minute wait for a technician on Suddenlink…no, I’m not kidding. Yes, it was 34 minutes that I waited before “James” got on the line. Now, I have to give it to James. He’s not in the Suddenlink Tyler HQ but he’s in Florida, and it’s warm there. We try rebooting, unhooking, disconnecting, rebooting, unhooking, disconnecting and then we try my reacquainting my laptop with the good ol’ ethernet connection cable but nothing doing. Still got a pixilated Catherine Bell and David James Elliot and John M. Jackson as Admiral Chegwidden (be still my heart). And my pizza was getting cold.

I discussed with James, while we waited the 5 minutes between rebooting the TIVO and the router, his interest in playing the blues as he’s a guitarist. I told him I had the “Intermittent Connection and Pixilated Picture Blues” and he laughed. I was serious. I had work to do tonight!! Most of you who work 8 to 5 jobs have no concept of the wonky donkey hours I have been known to keep here at Headquarters, depending on the various time zones of the folks I work with. But, call whenever you want, I’ll answer the phone.

After more than one hour with James on the case, he reluctantly assigned me to a technician, but being a Suddenlink pro at this I said, “Now you’re going to tell me that the fastest you can get someone here is Friday, but that’s not going to work so I need for you to look again”…he came up with Wednesday am. Meanwhile the next JAG episode is on.

I get a wild hair to hook up an old router to see if a slower connection speed (the NOT-5g speed) might not be more stable. Nope, nope, and nope. And then I’m in the middle of rehooking up all the equipment and the “landline” phone rings again and it’s Cablevision on the phone and I answer and the man said, “This is Altice Mobile calling for Dawn Vakefield”…I said, “Yes, I’m Dawn Wakefield,” with an emphasis on the W, and I note that it’s 9:28 pm and curious as to why he’s calling so late in Veteran’s Day, grateful anyone at Altice even gives a flying fig about me at all, no matter what the time of day.

He said his name, Jake, and I know good and well it’s not Jake. It’s probably Edgar, but he wishes he’d been named Jake, and not that there are not a lot of great Edgars and all but…Just Jake and I don’t hit it off right away. He said he can’t hear me well. There was static on the line. I said, “Yes, that’s a problem I’m having with Suddenlink right now.” “I’m not with Suddenlink, I’m with Altice Mobile and I can’t help you with your Suddenlink problem.” I said, “I get that but if you want to talk to me you’re going to have to call me on my cell phone as that is the only device not on Altice or Suddenlink right now.” Then, you’d have died laughing had you heard the way in which I tried to give him my 10-digit phone number as alternate to call me back on, and the “static” kept parsing our sentences and even words and then even numbers. What was the area code again?

“979” I said. He said, “I got ’79.’”

“No,” I said, “979” and he said, “97…?” and I said “979” as fast as you could sing along to 867-5309 if you know the song “Jenny” by Tommy Tutone. (If you don’t, call me and I’ll sing it to you. Anyway.)

I then took the next 3 digits and we did those fast, too. And then to cap it off, I’m dying laughing as I try to rush the last 4 digits as well…Jake Edgar is laughing, too. He doesn’t play the guitar or care about the blues I am certain, but I didn’t even care enough about Jake to ask because when he called me back on my cell, I said, “I’m just in the middle of trying to reconnect my router and my TIVO box to see if my cable is fixed yet.”

He said, “I’m sorry I can’t help you with that, I’m with Altice Mobile.” I said, “Actually, I understand that, even though technically you’re all part of Altice now, out of the big New York City conglomerate but I’m not asking you to help me reconnect my TV, just give me a minute to finish recalling where the yellow cables go in and then undo the correct power source and then reinstall the power line.” Jake Edgar was a tad huffy as he said, “It is not productive use of my time to wait on the phone until you reconnect your cable system when I’m supposed to help you on your Altice mobile phone problem. I can call you back.” I said, “Jake, call me back in 5 minutes” and hung up before he could.

I then correctly reconnected the yellow cable line from TIVO box to router and you’d have thought I held a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, when I completed all three tasks without having any extra parts left over.

Anyway, Jake called back and I said, “Look, let’s start over. I wanted to reconnect the cable in the event you asked me to access my Altice mobile account online which I couldn’t, thanks to Suddenlink and by the way, you couldn’t understand me on my home phone you called because it’s a home phone on the Suddenlink $10/month bundle package for old people for life and it’s driven by the cable system which was going in and out constantly.” He said, “oh.” And I thought that was his wisest sentence to date.

I said, “Now I am going to tell you why you are calling me.” He said, “okay.” I said, “SEVEN days ago, I called Altice Mobile for the 7th time in 4 weeks hoping to know when my cell phone service would have my number “Ported over” from AT&T the way your reps promised me it would be “soon.” Now, here’s the deal Jake, 5 weeks ago your Suddenlink rep, Christy, told me that I was paying too much to AT&T for my cell phone for unlimited talk and text and with a quick, easy process I could go to save $600/year “for life” for exactly the same service and I could bring my same number.

Christy, I thought then, should have been the President of Suddenlink that night when we were working on my Suddenlink account. I had made my usual “Let’s talk about this latest bill” phone call to them when they thought I’d won the jackpot and decided to raise my monthly bill by 70% and Christy managed to keep my business with Suddenlink so I could start my 23rd year of being held hostage, err, I mean, being their customer.

All y’all Verizon people…it’s better in big cities but in Mayberry, Verizon, aka Frontier Communications is not the way to roll. Neither are T-Mobile, Sprint or Cricket, not all the places I find myself using the phone across the wide USA. I need these Suddenlink people and I thought AT&T could do no wrong. Well, forget that.

All it took was a phone call to AT&T, keep my account active, Christy had advised, and then request them to “unlock” my phone. I did. I got my account number and my Secret Squirrel Pin number and those were what I had to give Christy to get the move started. She created an Altice account for me and I didn’t write down the number but she said, she’d send my new SIM card out right away. A few days went by and no SIM card. Hmm.

Then I saw a message on my home phone (powered by Suddenlink); we’re talking still early October. A person named Yolanda was kind enough to call me and ask if I were expecting anything from Altice Mobile, and if so, her phone number was XYZ and to give her a call. I was thrilled she could find me because land lines are rarely in the book…and my land line is really a Suddenlink fiber optic internet-powered thingy but no matter, she found me. Turns out she lives 3 miles away in a nearby neighborhood…I know two folks who live on that block…but there was no way it should have gone to her and she had not recently changed over to Altice Mobile. Hmm…a mystery. I should have looked for Mercury back then.'

So, I insert the SIM card and the number that came up was “NOT” my regular number. I also could not receive any phone calls, messages, or text messages at my “old” number with the new SIM card in. Had to replace AT&T SIM card and I was getting reallllllllly good at popping those little teeny micro cards in and out of the SIM card slot. I’m thinking I am doing a Post-Doc in Electrical Engineering to switch out these cards. I live in an alternate reality sometimes, so just humor me. It’s warm there and they know me. I’m good.

So, Christy said, “It can take a few days so hang in there.” Two weeks later, I have people texting me saying, “I called you and left you a voice mail at your new number. Did you get it?” Um, what new number and what voice mail? Turns out when I texted them on old AT&T SIM card but they see an entirely different number on their screen…I sent an e-mail to 12 colleagues to let them know to call me on my old number and no matter what they see on the screen when I reach them, it’s really “good ol’ me.” Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and last week I went up to the Suddenlink office after Melinda, on instant chat at the Altice Mobile site, said I really needed to go into the store and they’d have it all fixed up for me.

Entering the office, I saw a lady who’d worked there since it was Community Cablevision 40 years ago. I didn’t get to see her. In fact, I had a full 30-minute wait and my back had been realllly bothering me that morning. Another lady behind me came in wearing socks and Adidas sandals because her back was hurting her, and so we practiced alternating sitting 5 minutes at a time in the one chair available there, and we saved one another’s place in line each time. We bonded over back pain. It’s Mayberry and everyone just shares, frankly, and we all work together to help one another through whatever. It’s just what we do here.

Finally reaching the rep at one desk, I turn around to hear a tiny lady about 50 years old, wearing British Carnaby Street hat and perky little outfit 20 years too young for her. She was loud and insisting someone had been taken in line ahead of her. She was so disagreeable that I thought I was going to have to go back there and perform a citizen’s arrest, complete with adrenaline, as she was really getting ugly with the service reps. One rep came over and confronted her, only to have her say, loudly, “You’re messing with me today and God is my number one!” I turned to look back at my rep, who looked back at me and I said, “I’m not sure God is here right now at Suddenlink but if He were, I’m not altogether convinced that he’d want to claim that one.” The rep she was regaling against said quietly…”he’s my number one, too.” Boom.

Then five minutes later, another woman went off on another rep, loudly, and I wondered which local pharmacy had run short on their recipes for peace and quiet…when both of these women seem to have run out of theirs…because surely they were in need of some calming influence (had they run out of hooch? I wondered). I was much taller than the little loudmouth ladies, so I was prepared to go all NCIS over them, should someone need a special agent, haha, but the supervisor managed to politely handle them and invited one of them to leave, which she did.

Lord, have mercy. What are people coming to when they explode on people who are actually trying to help them? Egad. Well, after Sharon, my counter rep and I spent 20 minutes on ‘chat’ with the Altice Mobile reps, she said that I’d have to now create an account, which we did together, so Christy had not created the full account info for me, aha, and that Sharon had heard that a colleague that worked with her had waited 10 days for AT&T to port the number over to Altice. Ruh-ro. I was in for a long, hard winter, I feared.

Last Saturday, the one 9 days ago, I got a text from Top Client asking me did I still have two phone numbers and which should he call me on. Sigh. It would be one of two almost identical texts from two Top Clients with the question “How much longer do we see the ‘wrong’ number when you text us back?” Heck if I know. So, I signed into my Altice Mobile account, and did the chat portal for the 7th time in 2 weeks. My rep, Chantel, and I decided she would escalate my claim and I’d hear back from “Engineering” within 48 hours. Oh good! Last Monday came and went and no call from Engineering, Escalation, or even Escalators…nothing.

So, tonight, amidst my literal entanglement of cables, cords, power wires, and a portable speaker I never use on this TV (don’t want to hurt Barney’s supersensitive ears by playing my music on TV too loud to suit him) and well…Jake Edgar got a bit of my wrath at that point. I did point out to Jake Edgar that my 48-hour escalation had taken an additional 168 hours to be fully escalated to crisis stage.

So, Jake Edgar wrapped up by saying, “I’m so very sorry this happened to you. It will be a very quick fix to get that portal thing done and I promise you they will call you immediately when it’s done.” I think it was the quiver in my voice that caused him to apologize for my inconvenience I’d experienced these past 6 months. I guess the extra $79 for another useless month of AT&T and an extra $20 two weeks ago to start off my lifetime of savings with Altice Mobile, so far has cost me $100 but to save $600 a year on cell service seems worth it. AT&T wants to make it hard for me to save money but I’m scary stubborn and determined to save so I can buy more dog treats for Barney (wait, who typed that? Who wrote that? Barneyyyyy!) I’m determined to save and that’s the end of that sentence.

Now, here we are at 1:37 am, and I’ve had functioning e-mail now for about 24 minutes…the TV pic is not pixilated any more and though "JAG" ended, Gibbs is back. And more importantly, I’ve been able to send 3 work projects without the “Lost internet connection” symbol popping up. Whew! Goodbye Ethernet cable, goodbye slow router, goodbye waiting forever to see a web site populate my screen.

Now, oopsie, there’s a little pixilation now and then on a channel here and there but I’m up to 95% consistent speed and considering it’s 35°F right now and no rain, we’re good. The internet cable from the pole to the houses are swinging in the wind no doubt…and I’m going to make sure that technician comes out on Wednesday to triple-check all my connections. After all I pay that extra $6.99/month for the privilege when it used to just be $4.99/month. Ah, the price of technology and its maintenance.

Oops, the screen is pixilating a little, and the internet connection is blinking a little as the wind roars like a train engine coming round the bend out there. While I can, I’m going to get a little rest until some phone rings telling me I’m now with Altice Mobile. It won't be a call from Christy. I texted her today (on her personal cell number she gave me so I wouldn't be bounced around 100 reps?) and she told me that she had moved to another city and quit her job at Suddenlink (who sold the Altice mobile product to me) because her uncle had died. Sigh. I expressed my condolences and...well, you just knew that was going to happen, didn't you?

E-mail me if you need me until I get the other communication devices in and out of the Mercury in Retrograde in Scorpio Repair Shop. That's where I believe we'll all be for the next 8 days.

Monday, October 14, 2019

In Loving Memory of Barbara Denise Cusack Squires

August 9, 1947 – October 4, 2019

On October 4, my friend Barbara Cusack Squires, passed away at age 72—too soon for anyone’s liking. Although she’d battled serious health challenges for the past 15 years that I’d known her, she had an indefatigable spirit of bouncing back, Irish stubbornness that wouldn’t quit, and a joie de vivre that was infectious, to say the least.

Barbara gifted me with many things over the years, her time, love and care as a friend, and time with her family. You’re a friend of one Cusack, you’re a friend of the entire Cusack clan. That’s how she rolled…and rolled she did.

Famous for her love of Cadillacs, sometimes you couldn’t see her coming because of the blur created by her lead foot and ability to outdrive any police car that might be even remotely interested in snagging her with a speeding ticket. Her dad was a cop and she started driving in middle school (never mind she may or may not have had a license).

Barbara grew up in Chicago, and I learned from her to back into a parking space (for a faster getaway)…at the time she offered that instruction, I was slightly mystified as to why I might need that skill, but later I learned just to listen and remember what she said.

Growing up in Chicago can mean many things to many people, but to a Chicagoland native, that means understanding the neighborhood where you are from. She was an MC…not emcee, but MC as in Madison and Central. She had respect from the locals anywhere she went. If you were her friend, you knew it. If she was mad at you, you knew it.

She was a larger-than-life Leo and given her Irish temper, there were times when you’d be on the receiving end of her thoughts…but you learned to wait until the storm passed and then she was gentle as a lamb and always seeing what she could do to help you out with something.

She welcomed me at her family gatherings for holidays in my earliest years after my Mom had passed away, which allowed me not to prolong grieving my loss because I was busy celebrating life. Those were wonderful occasions filled with laughter, great food, and she was the quintessential hostess. And she loved music, especially 60s music and especially The Buckinghams.

Long story short, she told me had a good friend from their days as teenagers in Chicago, Carl Giammarese, and she invited me to join her the next time The Buckinghams played in Las Vegas. In 2006, Barbara, her daughter Tara, sister Candace and Candace’s daughter Natalie went for a girls’ trip and included me.

I met them out there and we had an amazing concert evening. She told Carl, “you two need to meet each other; Carl, Dawn Lee writes and Dawn Lee, Carl writes.” Now, I’d written her a long opinion piece regarding Carl’s first solo album, “Trying Not to Fade.” I had no idea but she’d sent it to him. That’s when our dialogue and ultimate writing collaboration began, thanks to Barbara. Just another of her random acts of kindness.

Throughout these past five years, my journey has whisked me away from what I “used to do” and instead finds me “doing different things.” Barbara never ceased to be encouraging of my goals, whatever they were. Even when we’d not spoken in person or by phone in the past two years, she’d like or comment on my Facebook posts. I was stunned when I went to her Facebook page today and saw that she’d recently shared two photos of me in the midst of my recent work out west…and that made me smile.

She knew that about me…that I am in my “happy place” when I am able to introduce light and love into the world and tell the stories of success that people have accomplished, both during their lifetimes and afterwards. She loved that I’d become a Certified Life Celebrant and reminded me of why she thought I was good at it. 😊

Briefly, her passing was quick and her suffering was brief…she’d gone back home to Chicago (without telling her family) for her high school class reunion, and for one last look, as it would turn out, at the others who’d grown up with her in school. Those of us who insist on keeping up with our high school friends (my hand is in the air) know better than most how precious life is and how, with each passing year, we lose one or more of each other from our ranks.

So, we gather, frequently, usually twice a year, leaving aside differences in opinions and judgments of same, to simply celebrate life together and “remember when” life was simpler, clearer, and the entire world was still ahead of us.

I’m aware that Barbara kept details of her health challenges to herself mostly, and if you asked her how she was doing, she’d lean back, laugh her trademark laugh, and say, “Just shoot me” and then she would turn the conversation to a different topic as quickly as she could. In her lifetime, she loved deeply, made her way in this world and took control of things she could and waited out the hard times with a good spirit and faith that never failed her.

She brought into this world two wonderful children who became terrific adults. She lived to know and love her grandchildren, seeing many of them through to adulthood. Daughter Tara inherited her beauty and her determination to make her way in this world, to love her kids and love everyone around her. Barbara sang Tara’s praises to everyone (except Tara, of course); she was so proud of her work ethic and her parenting skills.

Son Martin was a rock for her and no matter where he was in the world, she always knew he was a phone call away. And he was. Grandsons Brandon, Jake, and Martin III (M3, now in college), and granddaughter Sophie and Martin’s wife Kelli brought great joy…there were so many times she spoke of them and shared photos so proudly…and when one of them had a ceremony, everyone in the family turned out en masse!

Barbara’s richest treasures on this earth were her family…and she was a wealthy woman in that regard. Husband Charlie stood by Barbara and would slyly smile as he’d turned a Chicago city girl into a Huntsville country girl (she once said to me, “Do you know I never once wore a pair of jeans in Chicago?

I didn’t ever wear those until I wound up on a ranch with Charlie!! And, by the way, there’s a cow in my front yard right now, waiting for me to go swimming in the pond out front with her!”). She never said “y’all” that I can recall, and she never lost her Chicago roots, but she survived Texas well (as long as the a/c in her Cadillac was on full blast)!!

Her nieces and nephews called her AB (short for Aunt Barbara), and she was as proud of each of them as she was of her own. She adored her ‘baby brother’ Bil, and longed for the days they could get away for an Italian beef sandwich together. She was so proud of her nephew Chris, and his amazingly brilliant Houston restaurant ventures.

She loved how her niece Natalie sang, and how another niece, Tiffany, was a fabulous mom, and how another niece, Ashley, was blowing the tops off the test scores in college. There are more relatives and love she shared, but sadly I’d lost touch with her the last few years to know the details. Barbara loved going to casinos with her sister Candace, to hear live music with Bil and Karen, and sister Kim, who adored her big sis and shared many of her same loving traits. She’d always include you in the gang if she was going to hear music she knew you’d like.

I’ll never forget the concert at the Woodlands when there were about 7 Cusacks and two others of us in one entire row to hear Earth Wind & Fire and KC and the Sunshine Band. In case you were wondering, no, none of us sat down the entire time as we were up dancing along. That’s just what you do. Everyone was on their feet, lovin’ the music.

Times with the Cusacks were fun…you might be in a hilarious gift exchange at Christmas, enjoying barbeque outdoors while trying to hold your own in dominoes, or just sitting in a lawn chair holding her little chihuahua because well…he just was too cute not to hold and cuddle. I remember once I got to babysit Lucky here at my house (I had no warning I was about to do that one day, she’d forgotten to tell me (or ask me), but he and I became fast friends) for a week, and he was so precious.

Barbara grew up with a famous mother (at least in Arizona and Texas) who was often in the spotlight on TV or newspapers. For a time in the 1960s, she and her mom (Joanne) worked in PR for Pat Boone she said one day, matter of fact as though everyone had done it. In her late teens, she worked for photographers on some modeling assignments, and then later she organized runway shows in Houston when she managed a boutique dress store. Barbara became famous in her own right, and many championed her as a success in the worlds where they met her.

Upon reflection, she was a force larger than life in many ways and she loved as large as she lived. She would find her heart crushed from time to time, and Leo that she was, if she was happy, you knew it and if she wasn’t, you heard about it, too.

She likely outlived many prognoses that she refused to admit to hearing (or was willing to share that she heard), and she survived open heart surgery two years ago without having told many people. In the end, pneumonia won out, but as she knew better than many, this world is not where everything ends that it doesn’t begin anew somewhere else.

One thing is for certain…in her lifetime she loved many people and she knew that she was loved every day of her life. Her family will need some time to process their reality, and grief, and decide on their plan for life without her, but they also know that they carry with them her abiding love. God bless you Barbara Cusack Squires, and thanks for the good times. Those are the ones we’ll always remember.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Kiki Ebsen Shines with Joy in Theatrical Premiere of “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen”

On Saturday night, Sept. 14, the most amazing thing happened at Hollywood’s Theatre West. As Kiki Ebsen made her appearance on stage as a beautiful silhouette, the house lights took over control on their own, it seemed. Carrying on seamlessly, working basically in darkness, Ebsen walked toward her discovery of a large trunk, of which all of us could make an outline in the dark.

Suddenly, fervently, the yellow light trees flashed and rolled up and down across the stage as though a giant thunderstorm were outside, and Kiki kept on studying the trunk and began to examine its contents. The light show only lasted 15 seconds, then returned to pitch black. Ever the professional, Kiki pulled something from the trunk, strode toward the piano bench and sat down.

As she began to play the opening note of her father’s composition (with Zeke Manners) of “Missing You,” to the second that her fingers touched the keyboard, a single spotlight appeared on her as she sang “Missing you, when shadows fall….missing you now, most of all…” and as though divine intervention had now concluded, the rest of the lights were restored and never once during the rest of the show did Ernest McDaniel’s brilliant creation ever deviate from perfection. It was clearly out of his hands in the first place. The audience had no idea this wasn’t planned, so seamless was the transition. But, having arrived from Texas the day before, I’d also seen the prior night’s performance, hence the insight.

Close friends and family who attended Buddy Ebsen’s public memorial (August 2003), held at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre, are familiar with the sudden variation in electricity that occurred for that event, as Kiki took the stage to sing “Missing You” in honor of her dad. She was to sing accompanied by a prerecorded music track. Not once, but twice, had she begun the song in her dulcet tones, only to have the music stop, dead in its tracks. Unabashedly, Kiki waited, the engineer restarted the song, and Kiki again sang the opening line, and the same thing happened again. Undaunted this time, Kiki smiled, and as she held the audience in the palm of her hand with her complete comfort on stage, she simply began the song a cappella. As you might readily expect, the music track began again, exactly on cue where it was supposed to be, within the song.

Before you look left and right for Rod Serling, or maybe recall the images of Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, it might just be a given that wherever Buddy Ebsen’s name is involved, and whenever Kiki Ebsen is nearby, there’s a connection beyond the realm of one world that seems to reach out and find the other. Two life lessons we know to be true, one thanks to science, is that energy is neither created nor destroyed; and love never dies as it transcends time and space, eternally.

“To Dad With Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen” creates a beautiful pathway to restoration and rejuvenation in any father-daughter relationship, and the elements of healing that come with time. Co-created by Kiki Ebsen and Dustin Ebsen, the multimedia images that Dustin and Kiki had selected, updated and augmented by Dustin’s newest discoveries, might just bring you to tears on their own accord. New photos accentuate the bond between the youngest siblings as together they navigated the world of comprehending Hollywood.

A fun time for all the Ebsen children was when Buddy took them all on the road with him, Kiki explains, in a production called “An Evening That’s Entertainment.” That tour would mark further determination for at least four of the children to make Arts & Entertainment some major aspect of their future careers, albeit via four very distinct pathways. [TV Guide article from Aug. 9, 1975, author's personal collection]

Seeing the premiere of an all-new theatrical production by StKi, LLC and expert direction of S.E. Feinberg was so powerful that it afforded me the opportunity to unlock my own closely held opinions about the long estranged relationship I had with my own father during my young adulthood, a subject I’d avoided thinking about for years.

What opened the floodgates of memories for me that night? The honest, raw courage that Kiki had for bringing her own story to the public, of missing out on solid time together that would have been the most important time in her young adult life. Feinberg brings that level of expertise to every project with which he is associated; he's also an accomplished author, most recently with P.F. (Phil) Sloan on his biography (What's Exactly the Matter with Me?) and filming of his screenplay, The Happy Worker.

The lessons we learn in life often come with a price we have to pay. We also have to choose how we will regard those life lessons, especially those that come with a high price. Perhaps we lose our childhood beliefs in adults’ perfection a little sooner than we should. Maybe we see them as "just human" before we really want to. No matter the reason, every person from Hollywood to the Hudson Valley who knew Buddy Ebsen from TV alone as either (Uncle) Jed Clampett, Barnaby Jones, or even (Uncle) Roy Houston feels a special kinship to an icon they grew up watching on television.

That is one way in which we “know” Buddy, even when we don’t, or didn’t, at his most complex. For he was a writer—of songs, letters, and his own autobiography (The Other Side of Oz) and was prolific and gifted in his expressing his feelings. His songs, usually cowritten with a talented partner, were upbeat, happy, and at times—deep. His time spent with his family, though, was precious to him and therefore private. So, when Kiki reveals his complex persona that afforded him the strength to defeat all sorrow, ignore all pain, and overcome all obstacles by simply choosing to focus on optimism, faith, strength, and kindness toward others, we want to love him even more.

Given Dustin Ebsen chose images of himself and Kiki as young teens, you can’t help but wipe away the tears from your eyes, as you quickly identify that, just at the cusp of becoming adults, on one side of their world was life among nature and the animals on the ranch, and the other that beckoned was teeming with celebrity, status seekers who wanted to be their friends, and some people worth their time, others not so much. Until you’ve walked that path, as you do in this story, you just don’t know what it’s like. Kiki Ebsen inherited talent from both her parents, as did all their children. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting six of his eight children (two by his first marriage, six by his second) so it’s personal opinion substantiated by experience.

And yet, Kiki is entirely unique—she embraced the worlds of both parents (community theatre and acting/directing from her mother and, well, everything else from her father). Then, she absorbed all that and struck out on her own in music, her own music at first and then the music of the greatest in contemporary pop/jazz/blues/singer-songwriter genres. She can sing opera one moment, symphonic arrangements of rock songs with full orchestra another, then pull out her guitar and sing a very country version of “Loudmouth Girl” (her composition), or pull into a festival and fire up the night singing Joni Mitchell songs with her first-call jazz band, and then wheel on in to Theatre West and sing, dance, play the banjo, make you laugh, bring you to tears, and then wipe away those tears with her brilliant acting—all over the course of a few months’ time in her performance schedule. [Below photo (c) by Cliff Lipson, used with permission.]

In “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen,” the most powerful words in the script were not written by Kiki Ebsen. They were instead solid feelings conveyed by Kiki, as you see a woman of grace and dignity, who possesses a keen sense of comedic timing, loves to tell a story, sings to perfection, and who appreciates every single member of her premiere band (Jeff Colella/Perry LaMarca, piano; Kendall Kay/Bernie Dresel, drums; Granville “Danny” Young, bass; and Kim Richmond, woodwinds)—all while making it look easy. That’s communication and conveyance at its finest.

Yet, Kiki has undoubtedly spent countless hours writing (and rewriting over the past year), honing her message, to those who might have viewed a preliminary but very different version of her show. Together with an unparalleled talent in director S.E. (Steve) Feinberg, who inherently brings the best to, and inspires the best in, every production in which he is intricately involved, she flourishes. Kiki’s husband, Steve Wallace, her coproducer in StKi, LLC, who has staged this production, designed the evening’s sound so perfectly and intricately that at least three other reviewers have noted the outstanding quality of the sound, when typically the only time anyone ever writes about sound is when they don’t like it! He has her “dialed in” as performers love to say.

Let's talk about dancing! For the majority of her career, Kiki Ebsen was been described as a talented, first-call keyboard player and backing vocal musician. Later, she was described as a dynamic singer and eventual premiere jazz headliner and sultry song stylist. All are true. However, one glaring omission was her classification as a tap dancer who possesses skill and a comedic flair as she "goes her Aunt Vilma one step better" in her brilliant dance performance with choreographer Gregory Gast. Without giving anything away, let me just say that I believe, somewhere in Heaven, Lucille Ball has acknowledged another redhead who should be adored because she, too, was a most talented dancer who possessed impeccable comedic timing. Greg Gast is the quintessential dance partner, and has additional bona fides of having danced with the renowned Rusty Frank at Buddy Ebsen's 2003 memorial service. Come for the music and the story; stay for the dancing!

Having watched Ernest McDaniel at work behind the scenes before the show several times, it is gratifying to see how much dedication to and love for live theatre he possesses, especially for the historic Theatre West and this particular show. His abundant gifts and talents shine throughout the production. The entire Theatre West family is excited about this show’s run, now extended to a fourth weekend for this must-see show.

The story of Buddy Ebsen’s seven-decade career over his 95-year life is told, with exceptional talent, joy, and love in story and song, by his youngest daughter, upon whom all stars shine brightly, with joy, as Kiki Ebsen performs brilliantly in “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen.” The entire evening is “Lights Out” grand!

If you go: Tickets for the remaining six shows are available at BuddyEbsenTribute.com or TheatreWest.org. Theatre West is located at 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles, CA 90068 and $5 parking is conveniently available directly across the street. More info at www.BuddyEbsenTribute.com

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Relentless Persistence and Subsequent Success of Buddy Ebsen

2nd Choice+ 2nd Chance + Perseverance = 1st Rate Success

The preceding is the mathematical equation for the accomplishment that Buddy Ebsen solved and re-solved for 70+ years in his career in the entertainment industry.

From the time dancers Buddy Ebsen and his sister, Vilma, found acclaim as a brother and sister dance team in 1930, it was a whirlwind of exhilaration and success, only to be followed by an avalanche of disappointment and failure to achieve the dreams the young siblings had hoped to accomplish—together. After all, Buddy had arrived in New York in August 1928, and was fired his first week on the job, for being too tall in a chorus. Undefeated, Buddy pursued his goals to make it onto the New York stages as a dancer.

After achieving success sufficient to call for his sister, Vilma, to join him, the world was just about to become their oyster. Billing themselves as the Baby Astaires, one rave paragraph from the New York Daily Mirror’s powerful syndicated columnist Walter Winchell in 1930 found them swamped with over 90 offers for the couple to perform in clubs nationwide. Success was achieved for the devoted duo, ultimately leading to being signed by MGM studios for musicals.

The excitement over “Broadway Melody of 1936” found the duo teamed with Eleanor Powell and the movie led them to hope for even more success in films. Despite having caught the eye of famed director Charles Walter for being a beauty and a dancer, MGM no longer wanted Vilma, just Buddy. Crossroad number one. A decision was made for Buddy to go it alone. Vilma’s life would turn out “just fine” and she was deemed happy to have found two loves of her life, with two children to adore, and a modicum of delightful memories that co-owning and operating a California dance studio would bring. Buddy’s solo parts were great, but secondary, roles.

Buddy married his first wife, Ruth Cambridge in 1933, and they had two daughters, Elizabeth (Libby, d. 2002) and Alexandra (Alix). At 6’3” and limber, he developed a reputation for “eccentric dancing,” a unique genre. The thrill of a lifetime came in 1938 when Buddy was told by Arthur Freed that he was a “sure thing” for the part of the Scarecrow in an upcoming film, “The Wizard of Oz,” that MGM meant to give Disney’s 1937 “Snow White” a little competition in the fantasy genre. For once, Buddy allowed himself a moment to soak in the euphoria of success. It didn’t last.

When Ray Bolger appeared on the studio lot, Buddy knew immediately he’d never last in the role of the Scarecrow. He was right. Bolger got that part. However, there was a second-chance role for Ebsen—the Tin Man. The euphoria at being “saved” didn’t last long. After 10 days of filming on the “Oz” set, Ebsen succumbed to a toxic reaction when pure aluminum powder coated his lungs, almost asphyxiating him, and landed him in the hospital for weeks.

Miraculously, Ebsen recovered, but had lost the Tin Man part to Jack Haley, Jr. Ebsen’s involvement in the iconic project would remain unknown for 50 years. Buddy’s marriage to Ruth ultimately ended in January 1945. He didn’t speak of either disappointment to his family, he just followed the words of Pres. Calvin Coolidge, “Press on.”

The U.S. entry into World War II meant the enlistment of a patriotic Ebsen into the U.S. Coast Guard, having failed to get into the U.S. Navy (his first choice). His Coast Guard service would lead him to meet the second woman of his dreams, Nancy Wolcott, whom he would make his wife six days after the end of World War II. Fourteen months later, their first son, Christian Ebsen, III, would be born, but live only 22 days. The tragic loss presented the young couple with a new crossroad: would they continue to build a family? Three daughters later, Susannah (d. 2019), Cathy, Bonnie, Buddy was finding work acting in “B” westerns mostly, until 1954, when Walt Disney director Norman Foster recommended to Walt Disney that Buddy portray “Davy Crockett” in a series Walt was planning.

At long last Buddy might just have that starring role, but legend has it that James Arness was Walt’s first casting idea.

Until Walt Disney happened to see a Warner Brothers sci-fi film, “Them!” featuring James Arness, and in one scene was a young unknown named Fess Parker, whose plane goes down as UFOs that look like giant ants takes him out, and Fess comes unraveled.

Forget James Arness, forget Buddy Ebsen, Walt chooses Fess Parker as Davy Crockett. Buddy’s hopes of starring are again dashed. The phone rings the next day, though; seems Davy has a best friend, George Russel, and Buddy gets second billing (again). [Right: Fess Parker and Jim Arness in "Them."]

Not long after Buddy becomes a Walt Disney go-to for many things, last daughter Kiersten (Kiki), and son Dustin are born, and the Ebsen family had three age groupings with Kiki and Dusty as young children only knowing Dad as a TV star. Wasn’t everyone’s Dad on TV?

Time and fate would be kinder to Buddy. Television producer/creator Paul Henning saw Buddy on a TV show playing a backwoods hillbilly, and created the part of “Jed Clampett” specifically for Buddy, who—legend has it—had to be talked into the idea for the role by his agent, Jimmy McHugh, and Henning. During the nine-season run of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” a show consistently at the top of the Nielsen ratings, the show was frequently rated #1 each week.

In 1968, mid-Hillbillies, Buddy sailed and crewed his catamaran, "The Polynesian Concept," past James Arness’s “Seasmoke,” as he won the 2,400-miles Transpacific Multi-Hull Ocean race in 1968. Buddy came in first…again.

After CBS Programming Chief Fred Silverman pulled “rural shows” (“The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Green Acres,” “Petticoat Junction,” and “Mayberry RFD”) from its weekly lineup to seek a so-called highbrow audience, Buddy thought about retiring. But he was still young, at age 63. Meanwhile across town, producer Quinn Martin had scored weekly hits with “The FBI,” (1965–1974) and “The Fugitive” (1963–1967) and in 1972 Buddy’s agent got a call that Quinn was looking to stage a new detective show and was interested in him for the title role. [Photo: Quinn Martin gets his star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, on the North side of the 6600 block of Hollywood Boulevard.]

Producers looking at Buddy in starring roles was now the new trend, for a pleasant change. Given that Quinn Martin had a plethora of detective procedurals running, Ebsen hesitated…until he heard that the character actually brought something new to the screen—a “foxy grandpa solving crimes”…that did the trick.

As “Barnaby Jones” from 1973–1980, Buddy Ebsen achieved acclaim and fame far surpassing his roles in Vaudeville, MGM films, Hollywood “B” westerns, and even the successful “Moon River” part as “Doc Golightly.”

After “Barnaby,” costarring with the beautiful Lee Meriwether and featuring newcomer Mark Shera, Ebsen did some stage plays at home, and began writing.
In 1984, Buddy was called to portray a character of “Uncle Roy” for ABC’s “Matt Houston,” a Texas oilman turned private eye, in a series created by Lawrence Gordon and produced by Aaron Spelling of prime-time drama fame. The series starred Lee Horsley and Pamela Hensley and gave Buddy another season of appearing in people’s homes each week in 1984-1985.

As fate would have it though, producer/creative Ron Howard wanted to cast Buddy in a new film he was making and because of contractual obligations to “Matt Houston,” Buddy couldn’t participate. During his 1986 acceptance speech for the Oscar, actor Don Ameche thanked Buddy Ebsen “for not being available to play the role” that Ameche would inherit. Another substantial potential honor lost, because of fate and the luck of the draw.

Parts won, parts lost, fame and fortune was always fleeting for anyone in the entertainment business. It’s one of the riskiest businesses outside of Wall Street. And yet, the rewards for any artist are not built around, nor are they measured by, numbers, statistics, awards, or intangibles. [Photo: Ron Howard surrounded by his cast of "Cocoon," the film he directed that was supposed to feature Buddy Ebsen, who could not appear because of his contractual obligation to his season in the TV show, "Matt Houston."]

Every day, if you do what you love, if you work with people you love, if you have the freedom to make your own plans or schedule, find a group of people who think in sync with the way you believe you want to approach a project, then you have arrived at success in life. The secret to Buddy Ebsen’s success was relentless perseverance of his goals, his ambitions, his dreams, and his ability to tune out the naysayers, to weed through the false or temporary friends, to find the highest caliber of agents and representatives who believed in him and fought for him, and in his own skill to bring his best to any project he was involved in.

“To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen” is a love song, written by his youngest daughter Kiki, to honor her dad’s spirit, his dreams, and his accomplishments during his lifetime. There was a costly price Buddy had to pay to be led by his artistic muse but it was not a permanent cost.

His relationship with Ruth created two daughters and brought him joy during the first phase of his career in New York; his relationship with Nancy created two sons and four daughters and brought him more family during the second phase of his career in Los Angeles. His marriage to his third wife and widow Dorothy provided joy during the third phase of his career, as a painter, writer, and bon vivant in a world whose bright lights he’d mostly had abandoned while raising his family. Fame, acclaim, and contentment were ultimately his, and after a lifetime of sacrifices, losses, near hits, near misses, and total obscurity for a time, the one thing that remained about Buddy Ebsen was his indefatigable spirit.

It is that same spirit which flows through the pen of his daughter Kiki, that resonates through her voice when she sings, through her limbs as she dances, and through his son Dustin when he assembled the photographic storyboard of seven decades of his father’s life. If he had only one thing to offer all of his children besides his love it was his soulful spirit of joy in working in the entertainment industry.

Kiki learned from him that no one hands you anything. You work to make your own opportunities. You persevere even when people shake their heads or don’t share your dreams. And you create new art because you must. It’s there to be created. All you have to do is allow the messages to come through and to present your very best self, surrounded by people who love, honor, trust, and regard you as a working professional artist.

StKi Productions, LLC Presents: "To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen" runs at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. For tickets, visit BuddyEbsenTribute.com or theatrewest.org

“Remember, that of all the elements that comprise a human being, the most important, the most essential, the one that will sustain, transcend, overcome and vanquish obstacles is—Spirit!” ~~Buddy Ebsen

Monday, August 12, 2019

Reflections on Woodstock at 50: Music, Memories, and Forever Postage Stamps

“Did you know this is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock?” That’s what the clerk asked me when I asked her what new stamps were out. It was a rare trip out in the 106°F heat to go inside the post office to mail a package where I was stunned how she had pegged me as someone who might care that it’s the 50th anniversary of Woodstock this week. Of course, I am, but it got me wondering about who among my generation of Baby Boomers knows, and cares, about the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

Clearly I’m not alone, when I’ve just become one of the stamp collectors to invest in a sheet of the new issues. There on the sheet of 20 stamps can be found an array of colors, ala Roy G. Biv (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, which is about as groovy as 8th grade science class got), and a small white dove with a red beak. The swirl of words in the message read:


A sheet of forever stamps, just issued on August 8th. Calling them “forever” stamps helps you forget that the price of one stamp is $.55, or a sheet of 20 is $11.00. Still, it was a must-have for the collection. Researching, I found art director Antonio Alcalá designed the stamp to commemorate “The Woodstock Music and Art Fair, held in the small farming community of Bethel, New York, in August 1969, was the most famous rock festival in history and an expression of the youth counterculture of the 1960s.”

Last year I gave substantial thought to what the year 2019 would bring. Whereas 2017 could be considered the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love” in 1967, or 2018 could even be considered another variation of the “Summer of Love” in 1968. That loving summer really spanned more than 365 days, anyway.

Ironic that the 30th and 40th anniversaries of those auspicious events didn’t generate much, if any, fuss or cause for celebration. It’s the 50th (golden) anniversary that brings a profound weight upon the days and times when the world was spinning around in chaos as young men were in the midst of the Vietnam conflict, which had really begun in 1965 in terms of U.S. entry into battle. At the same time war was creating the dividing line towards the draft, conscripted service, and conscientious objectors formed two divisions within the country.

Meanwhile on the radio stations (primarily AM radio, thank you), we heard songs of love, peace, and sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. The Beatles’ invasion of America in 1964 overtook the minds and hearts of most teenage girls who fell in love with teenage boys and teenage boys who fell in love...with guitars, bass, and drums. Meanwhile over in Vietnam, strains of pop sounds by The Buckinghams' Carl Giammarese, Nick Fortuna et al., brought sounds of a greater, gentler time. Ironically, The Buckinghams, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and even Paul Revere’s Raiders posed for album covers in various military uniforms ca. 1968. The Cowsills, Chuck Negron and his bandmates in Three Dog Night, the Turtles and the Classics IV were all engaged in battle, against and with the uniformed ones, on the Billboard Music Charts for top spot each week.

With growing dissent in seeing our country at war, an attitude that some dared question the logic behind the war, much to the dismay of longtime patriots who’d rather lose a limb than question authority, the young people of the United States quietly chose positions. Even so, the protests against war were loud but generally orderly. Adults looked at the “children” assembled on college campuses, surveyed the ones who quickly enrolled in college and others who left college to serve their country and yet both groups coexisted in society without venom. No parent wants to lose a child to battle, any battle, and yet the generations who came before never had a choice, or took the effort to make one. Music was a means of disappearing here at home.

Music across the FM airwaves, though, was launching a counterculture sound. Artists who chose to “tune in, turn on, and drop out” mastered the art of guitar, keyboard, and drum solos that might go on for four minutes each as FM radio and 33 RPM albums provided a lengthier expression of music to undergird a protest and profess that love would overcome hate, and war.

Songs of love comprised both AM sunshine pop and FM protest sounds did battle of their own for an audience to listen and purchase their music. Music did battle here at home, but it would be 35-40 years before groups like The Buckinghams would have concerts where, at the end, Vietnam veterans would stand in line for an hour to shake the hands of Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna and their sidemen and say “Thank you so much for playing your music back then. It brought ‘home’ to us.” As the vets stood there, many of them who resembled body builders with waist-long hair cascading over well-worn leather jackets, their eyes filled with tears recalling in an instant what they’d felt like some three and four decades earlier.

Meanwhile, in upstate Bethel, New York, a three-day event occurred that people, especially those who were not there, would remember fondly and warmly for the next five decades. The first evening of Woodstock was August 15, 1969. Among the performers from Max Yasgur’s Farm, are many who are still with us today, still going strong...Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Melanie, Ravi Shankar, Richie Havens, and Tim Hardin were six of the acts.

Personal favorites of the songs they brought to life in that time include Arlo’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” a song that is at least 17 minutes long and was played by every FM deejay at the end of their radio set, particularly so they could leave the station a good 15 minutes early, or they could take a needed trip down the hall during their long show. Guthrie’s storytelling in song, with guitar, is one-of-a-kind, and all some of us have to hear is one phrase “8x10 color glossies, with the circles and the arrows on the front, and a paragraph on the back of each one, telling what each one was” before bursting into laughter. And no one wanted to sit on the “Group W” bench either. War could be funny, too, although not for long.

Richie Havens, it is said, opened the festival because heavy traffic kept some of the openers from arriving on time, so he managed to become very well known to a crowd of people who really didn’t know much about him before. Singing “Freedom” and many other songs, the audience got a sense of appreciation of what the messages the artists were saying in words and in songs. Others of his 10 songs included “I Can’t Make It Anymore,” “Handsome Johnny,” and “I’m a Stranger Here.”

Joan Baez sang “Oh, Happy Day,” Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” and covered The Stones’ “No Expectations,” “One Day at a Time,” “Take Me Back to the Sweet Sunny South,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome” among her offerings. Today when she sings, she brings back memories so strongly.

Saturday, August 16 brought Canned Heat, Country Joe McDonald, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, John Sebastian, Santana, Sly & The Family Stone, and The Who among the lineup.

Janis Joplin is no longer with us but the memories of her performances there and then are ingrained among everyone who’s ever had access to YouTube, to hear “To Love Somebody,” “Summertime” and “Try(Just a Little Bit Harder),” and “I Can’t Turn You Loose” to the showstopping “Piece of My Heart” and “Ball ‘n’ Chain.” Janis paved the way for women of grit and substance to take the music scene by storm and if they wanted to live a life out loud in between concerts, well then, that's exactly what she chose to do. And dare anyone to say anything about it other than "she was gone too soon." The power of her voice is still unforgettable.

Santana did Evil Ways,” and “Soul Sacrifice" and covered another Willie Bobo song, “Friend Neck Bone and Some Home Fries” in their set.

Sunday, August 17th brought Johnny Winter, Ten Years After, Blood, Sweat & Tears, The Band, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young among the artists, with Jimi Hendrix on Monday, August 18th.

Some 50 years later, everyone who dreamed of a CSNY reunion is still waiting for a day that will never arrive. Recent articles in major newspaper interviews find David Crosby lamenting how he was such a (his words) “Jerk” to his bandmates, but still none of the others wish to communicate with Crosby. Crosby is perhaps more famous for discovering Joni Mitchell, and promptly losing the object of his heart to Graham Nash. Everyone has a biography or other tome out that describes love won, love lost, love won again, and oh yes, a bit of Woodstock and Laurel Canyon history to boot.

Blood, Sweat & Tears tours today, with few original members but the lineup gets the songs just fine, and these days it’s harder to find original members playing the songs you fell in love to (on AM and FM alike).

Despite three and four failed attempts to restage Woodstock, or even a reasonable reunion of Woodstock, in the past 18 months, nothing materialized because frankly, in my overly judgmental personal opinion, it seemed an individual or two were just looking to capitalize on the big 5-0 of Woodstock. Thoughts were on the merch that could be sold if people paraded in and out to hear groups that really did not belong anywhere near Woodstock. Some of the proposed lineup was absolutely ridiculous to book for such a gig. It’s a matter of record labels and greedy promoters fighting to get a foot in the door of nostalgia bringing genre that is nowhere near authentic, and fortunately that didn’t happen.

There’s a concert in Bethel, NY, going on this week, all right, but it’s not Woodstock, nor even a reasonable facsimile. Many Woodstock performers are no longer with us. Janis is gone, Richie Havens, Jimi is gone, and some of the bands that were once, are no longer. The members of The Band travel the country today to big audiences, and they have thin but reasonable connections to the ‘real’ Band, so no one cares who’s there as long as the music keeps playing.

Meanwhile, back on the AM side of the dial, ironically one answer to Woodstock at 50, you have the Happy Together anniversary tour available this year. Fifty-three cities mark the path of the tour, currently celebrating the 10th anniversary of their first reunion concert after 25 years following the first Happy Together Tour (a 60s reunion tour rocked the mid-80s and set Pollstar touring records in 1985).

On this year’s lineup are The Buckinghams, The Cowsills, Chuck Negron (formerly of Three Dog Night), Gary Puckett (& the Union Gap, sans Gap), the Classics IV, and The Turtles (Mark Volman and Ron Dante, longtime studio singer and producer pinch hitting for Howard Kaylan for the 3rd consecutive year). They’ve sold out virtually every show because people are still hungry to hear those sunshine pop songs that promise love, happiness, and forever, all typically in songs that last three minutes or less.

Meanwhile, in upstate New York, Woodstock 50 is not happening. There’s a concert in Bethel, NY, but frankly, it just doesn’t matter, because it’s not the heart of Woodstock in its origin. Over in Delavan, Wisconsin, a Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young tribute band, CSN Songs, had to add a fourth night to their show at the Belfry Music Theatre because of the hunger for remembrances of their sweet harmonies.

And, in Southern California, Laguna Beach to be specific, on Tuesday, August 13, Kiki Ebsen’s Joni Mitchell Project takes the stage for their fourth year at the Festival of Arts, Pageant of the Masters because people love hearing Joni’s songs, and she gave up touring many years ago. Ebsen’s band (Grant Geissman, Terry Wollman, Steven Lawrence, and Bernie Dressel) together with Kiki bring Joni’s songs to life with standout jazz arrangements and pay homage to Mitchell without being a note-by-note-perfect tribute band. It’s conceivably the best way to honor an artist, providing your own take on their songs.

Song by song, year by year, AM radio gave way to news-talk and sports programs more or less, and FM radio now programs “classic rock,” “soft rock,” and “hard rock” in blends such that you might hear a CSN song, followed by an 80s hit, sandwiched between a yacht rock blend, and barely a hard rock song in the mix. You're lucky if you catch “Bohemian Rhapsody” every now and then. Good news, though. SiriusXM has the formula mastered far better in creating stations devoted to various branches of music and introduces short-term channels devoted to various artists. Pick your favorites. They play them.

Wherever there is live music, there are memories that come along for the ride. You remember when and where you first heard the soundtrack of your life, and as the band on stage cranks up the volume on whatever they’re playing, you look up at them and smile, and they smile back, because every day is the anniversary or some great song or other from our lifetimes. In our lives we amass our very own favorite playlists, and we know the songs we want to hear and the artists we want to see, and we get there however we can to catch these performances.

My dear friend, Betsy, often quotes her husband, Sam’s, wisdom; one of his truths she shares is “Never miss anything that only happens once.” Word. It’s also a command to keep your favorite music alive today, as you did back in the day. You’re never too old to have your favorite songs on the radio. Your songs, your artists, your lyrics, your melodies are a part of the fabric of your life that begins at birth and sustains you all throughout your life, even helping your memories stay strong when your mind can forget a few other things as the years pile on and the information piles up.

And as the postal clerk handed me my sheet of “Woodstock” stamps, I smiled as I kept my thought to myself…the anthem of the multiday festival of love and peace, “Woodstock” was written by a woman who wasn’t even there. But the song has been beloved for over 50 years and likely some 50 years from now, it will be playing on some station somewhere, and even fewer people will understand why some envelopes from 2019 had that stamp on them. Music and memories are what we make of them. It all comes around again on the guitar, Arlo Guthrie said, if you just wait 17 minutes. Life's chorus is just 17 minutes away; nice to know. Peace and music forever. After 50 years, we are still in battle, both here at home and abroad. May our distinguished military service personnel always have concerts to come home to, and may they all come back to us safe and sound. Our world today is not at peace, far from it in fact, but in the next year or so, we will indeed be that much closer to realizing equilibrium, where we belong.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Ridgecrest Earthquake Didn’t Faze the Excitement of Kiki Ebsen’s “Jazzin’ Up the 5th of July" at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s

As she’d just concluded her medley, “You Are My Lucky Star” and “I Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’”) from “Broadway Melody of 1936,” entertainer Kiki Ebsen sat at the piano to sing “Missing You,” cowritten by her father, Buddy Ebsen, and his writing partner Zeke Manners. The song is emotional, powerful, and no one else but Kiki can bring it to life as she reflects on the seven-decade career of her father's history. But then a 7.1 earthquake came, at 8:13 p.m, just one day after the foreshock quake in Ridgecrest, CA that was felt as far away as Las Vegas, Nevada.

As the patrons of Feinstein’s at Vitello’s experienced the earthquake, Kiki remained entirely in control, noting to her crowd, "The exits are there (pointing) and there." She waited the minute for things to settle down, and stated casually, “Well, we’ll keep going now, and just remember if this is the end, you’ll hear my dulcet tones as we’re going into the next world.” The audience laughed, relieved. She said, "Not one of you went for the exits! This is MY kind of audience!" and the crowd again erupted with laughter.

She re-checked, “Are you all really okay?” They assured her they were. She announced, “This is a song called “Missing You,” but I’m a little concerned that if I sing it, the earth is going to start shaking again.” As though addressing her late parents, she continued, “Let’s cool it up there. When I ask for help, that’s not the kind of help I was asking for!” The audience laughed and, without missing a beat, she went easily into her song.

Videographer Gregory Gast captured the following video of Kiki, before, during and after the quake, and you just have to hear everything she says as she maintains complete calm while sending the audience into gales of laughter. That's the mark of a real professional! This lady deserves her own TV show. Priceless comedy combined with total calm, and she sings so beautifully. Kiki Ebsen is the real deal.

Clifford Bell, jazz and cabaret empressario, offered the perfect bon mot on Facebook. He posted a photo of Kiki onstage with the caption:

At Kiki Ebsen‘s fabulous show with a packed house at Feinstein’s At Vitello’s. And EARTHQUAKE. She handled it beautifully but that was a little like The Poseidon Adventure. And the Chandelier was swinging. I hope she sings ‘The Morning After.’
Kaylene Peoples, musician/composer/publisher, added: “We survived the rolling. Kiki Ebsen is the ultimate performer and handled the situation like the pro that she is!” Those were just two of the real-time social media posts that captured the excitement and the calm of the evening, securely in Kiki’s hands.

After the show, Ebsen said, “Naturally, I realized we'd had an earthquake, but I knew I had a responsibility to my audience to assure we were all safe, the staff was safe, and we could go on with our show, as that’s why everyone had come.” Longtime fan, Jeffrey Dalrymple from North Carolina, in town on business, came dressed Hollywood style; others also chose to adopt the style of the grand old days of Hollywood.

What a difference a new perspective can bring to a performer when they take the stage at a once familiar, yet newly redesigned, venue such as Feinstein’s at Vitello’s was last evening! The evening had just started with jazz instrumental "On Green Dolphin Street."

[L to R: Grant Geissman, Lee Meriwether, Kiki Ebsen, Debby Boone, and Kim Richmond; photo by Annette Lum.] Ebsen invited two dear longtime friends to join her, Grammy-winning singer, entertainer Debby Boone, and actress Lee Meriwether, two-time Golden Globe and Emmy nominee.

Kiki intended this show as a one-time tribute to the golden age of "Old Hollywood," and its brightest stars, including Meriwether. Kiki's teen years intersected with Buddy's "Barnaby Jones" days and she recalled occasional family celebrations in classic venues such as Chasen's and Musso & Frank's. For most of her teen years, the younger Ebsen children lived near the Santa Monica mountains, away from the bright lights, but still Kiki remembered the stories of the grandest days of Hollywood jazz.

She invited renowned jazz pianist Jeff Colella as Musical Director, along with dynamic drummer Kendall Kay, who has worked with Kiki since 1993, superb bass player Granville “Danny” Young, and inimitable saxophonist Kim Richmond (from their "K Project” jazz) to set the mood for the show she called “Jazzing Up the 5th of July.” [Below, L to R: Jeff Colella, Kiki Ebsen, Granville Young, Kendall Kay, and Kim Richmond; photo by Annette Lum.]

Three-time Emmy nominee for composing, jazz guitar great Grant Geissman joined Kiki on four songs. Geissman is prominent in Kiki’s Joni Mitchell Project band, and he's part of Kiki’s new CD of original songs, coming soon. Thus, the perfect evening was set.

Champion of the Great American Songbook, musician/conductor Michael Feinstein, had recently partnered with Vitello’s owner Brad Roen to debut the all-new Feinstein’s at Vitello’s. As the band opened the show with “On Green Dolphin Street,” a 1940s tune that went perfectly with the club’s new ambience.

As Ebsen took the stage, she continued the music of early Hollywood with “You Are My Lucky Star” and “I Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’,” both from the movie “Broadway Melody of 1936,” paying tribute to Buddy Ebsen's passing, July 6, 2003.

Kiki continued with “Devil May Care,” written by Harry Warren and Johnny Burke, then was delighted to bring actress and singer Lee Meriwether to the stage to sing “Rendezvous,” a song written by Buddy Ebsen and Zeke Manners. Beginning her Hollywood career officially when she was crowned Miss America 1955, Lee Ann Meriwether has been a star of film and stage for so long, it’s hard to name all the works she’s been famous for. One of her favorite roles, though, was as Buddy Ebsen’s daughter-in-law Betty, on CBS' “Barnaby Jones,” produced by the prolific Quinn Martin. For eight seasons audiences loved Lee, who's said often that she adored the opportunity to work with Buddy.

Ebsen followed with a powerful arrangement of “Twisted,” written by tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray, and lyrics by Annie Ross. Stories about growing up in Hollywood were shared between tunes. Before “Moon River” Ebsen related how excruciating it was as a child to see her father’s heart breaking on that screen every time that film was seen.

As she sang, one can imagine her childhood reaction seeing tears forming in his resplendent blue eyes. Of all the roles Buddy is known for in multiple arts genres, Kiki's audience was shocked to realize that he had achieved exactly “zero” nominations for EMMYs, Oscars, or Tony Awards. Perhaps that’s the secret to having an enduring career for seven decades—work so hard that you never have time for award nominations to catch up with you!

Following another instrumental, Grant Geissman joined Kiki for “Easy to Love” and “Why Dontcha Do Right?” followed by Kiki weaving her own magic around Joni Mitchell's “Goodbye Porkpie Hat.”

Ebsen then introduced longtime friend, Grammy-award winning singer, Debby Boone, to the stage. Boone shared precious memories of growing up with her family living across the street from the Dean Martin family. She then sang “Everybody Loves Somebody” in a poignant tribute to Martin. Debby's recent album, "Swing This," exhibits her mastery of the music she loves. Boone still tours the country in concert and occasionally performs her "Reflections of Rosemary" as a tribute to her late mother-in-law, Rosemary Clooney.

Kiki returned to the stage to sing “Codfish Ball,” from the Buddy Ebsen–Shirley Temple film, “Captain January.” Ebsen then pulled out a letter that Buddy had written during the filming of that movie, addressed to his parents in Florida. Buddy’s letter and Kiki’s reading of it, sharing insight into a young Shirley Temple were both hilarious. Her rapport with the audience is so clear as Kiki is always at home on stage.

As Ebsen performed “St. Louis Blues,” your mind could easily wander back to the 1958 film “St. Louis Blues,” the story of W. C. Handy, starring Eartha Kitt, and Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, and Cab Calloway. Kiki mentioned she'd discovered a beautiful magazine photo of Eartha Kitt with her dad in Chasen's, enjoying martinis and conversation. That's part of old Hollywood evenings, time for cocktails, conversation, dinner, and music following. Today's Hollywood entertainment tries hard to recreate the "events" of yesteryear, but at least in the new Feinstein's, the setting is just right.

Ebsen prefaced her last song, “If I Only Had a Brain,” with the story of how Buddy Ebsen was cast as the Original Tin Man. She was joined by Grant Geissman for her powerful rendition as the audience reflected on what it had to have been like for Ebsen to hear he had a major role, as the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man. Yet, he never once revealed that heartbreak to his own children during his life. [Left: Grant Geissman and Kiki Ebsen; photo by Clifford Bell.]

There’s a favorite old saying, “Don’t miss something that only happens once in a lifetime.” As proof of its veracity, concluding the evening, Kiki invited Debby and Lee back to the stage. The trio blended on a priceless rendition of “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” showcasing the loving friendship and admiration shared by two Hollywood generations, each talented on their own.

Kiki then announced to the audience the fall debut of her newly expanded and revised stage presentation, “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen,” set to premiere the weekend of September 6–8 at Hollywood’s oldest continually operating Theatre West. She also invited the audience to visit the ticket link at www.buddyebsentribute.com, to obtain a 20% discount from 7/6–7/22 for Early Bird general admission seats.

With that, the audience jumped to their feet, applauding, reacting to priceless moments of Hollywood magic they’d experienced, for a few fleeting hours in that special club. If you missed it because it was a sold-out show, you have another opportunity to get in on the beauty of more Hollywood excitement of a different type, coming this September.

There’s more magic in the true story of Buddy Ebsen’s legendary career. And with Kiki Ebsen as your guide to the past, you're guaranteed a magnificent presentation of his life, in song, story, and dance. No parent could hope to be remembered as beautifully as Kiki remembers her dad.

A favorite quote from Buddy Ebsen goes:

"Remember, that of all the elements that comprise a human being, the most important, the most essential, the one that will sustain, transcend, overcome and vanquish obstacles is--Spirit."

Just as she soared and flew on the wings of jazz at Feinstein's at Vitello's, continuing her father's tradition, even in the face of an earthquake, Kiki Ebsen will always move you with her spirit, style, and talent.