Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Sweet dreams and time machines
From CNN Coordinating Producer David Daniel in Los Angeles:

As a Coordinating Producer in the L.A. bureau, I write and produce a lot of stories about entertainment, but rarely "get out of the house" -- the occasional movie junket, the very occasional premiere ... and once in a great while, a story I know I'll remember forever.

This time, I not only got to meet a longtime favorite, but to travel back in time as well.

Our music producer knows I've been a James Taylor fan for decades. So when JT came to town recently for a rare in-store appearance, signing copies of his new CD/DVD, "One Man Band," she assigned me to cover the event, interview James, and put together a story. Heaven.

I didn't mind a bit waiting while he signed autographs -- which is good, because he worked the crowd like a pro, chatting with every starry-eyed fan, posing for photos and talking on cell phones and singing "Happy Birthday" into videocameras and signing everything thrust at him, including a child's teddy bear.

There were hundreds of people in line, and a plane was waiting to take him back east, but even after several hours, with a break for our interview, he didn't rush through a single fan's request.

In our brief conversation, we talked about various topics, including fatherhood: JT's on a second swing through Dadville, with two grown children and twin 6-year-old boys. "It hauls you back into the center of life, you know?" he said. "It reconnects you with the school system, your environment, your community, the popular culture -- everything. You reconnect to it, you re-experience it because you're having to negotiate it with a new batch of kids. ... When Kim (wife Kim Smedvig) and I first had the twins I said 'Oh my God, we're going to do this again?' But you don't live 20 years at a time, you live 24 hours at a time."

It was over far too quickly, but I'd cast my line for a second chance: before the interview, I'd asked his PR people whether I could ask James about the rumor that he and Carole King would reunite at the legendary Troubadour club in West Hollywood for its 50th anniversary. They hesitated, as the shows hadn't yet been confirmed ... and, as I'd hoped, promised to remember me when the official announcement was made.

Flash forward to last night, and there I was, standing in the Troubadour -- and if I squinted, it seemed to be 1970.

JT was center stage, seated on a stool, quietly letting his fingers roam his guitar. To his right, King sat behind the piano, floating chords throughout the tiny, weathered club. And to his left and behind him, The Section: drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Leland Sklar, and JT's old pal Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar on second guitar. The same lineup that graced the Troubadour stage 37 years ago, when Taylor had just released "Sweet Baby James" and a pre-"Tapestry" King was his piano player and opening act, not far removed from her Brill Building songwriting days. And the same stage where, the next year, Taylor would first hear King play a new song she'd written, "You've Got a Friend," the song that would elevate both their careers and tie them, happily, forever.

After they'd sailed through rehearsals of "Steamroller," "I Feel The Earth Move," and "You've Got a Friend" -- discussing chord changes, and kidding each other just like folks who've been playing together forever -- I got a few minutes with King and Taylor. They reminisced and praised each other and talked about songwriting, while I smiled and nodded and, inside, wondered how in the world I'd gotten there. Watch King and Taylor talk about their experiences

See, I'm about as musical as a train wreck. Even the shower doesn't make my voice sound much better. And here I was on the stage of the Troubadour -- the club where the Byrds met at an open mic night, Tom Waits was discovered, superstars from the Eagles to Elton John launched their careers, and everyone from Miles Davis to Willie Nelson has recorded. Rickie Lee Jones wrote "Chuck E.'s in Love" about a former Troubadour employee, and a band that had been called Mookie Blaylock performed there for the first time under their new name -- Pearl Jam. But few performances hold the historical significance of the nights JT, Carole and The Section played there in the early '70s.

The reunion shows are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, two sets a night, and as one might expect, tickets (at www.tickets-for-charity.com) aren't cheap. But a big slice of each goes to such causes as the Natural Resources Defense Council, MusiCares, and a local food bank. That's a good reason to put on a show, as is the venerable Troubadour's anniversary.

But when those five take the stage, and perform the way they did decades ago, the music and the memories will become all the reason they -- or the fans -- need. Because after all, isn't that why we love the music we love?

It's a time machine.

-- David Daniel
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Who are these guys?
Two guys from Brooklyn, two movies, two similar titles, two bare-bones releases.

You've seen Norman Lloyd. He played Dr. Auschlander in the 1980s series "St. Elsewhere" and, for those who remember farther back, the villain in the 1942 Alfred Hitchcock film "Saboteur."

You've heard Harry Nilsson. He hit No. 1 in 1972 with his song "Without You," and had a few other hits, including a version of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin' " and his own "Coconut," which was later borrowed for a soft drink commercial.

Neither Lloyd, who's still kicking at 93, nor Nilsson, who died in 1994 at age 53, are the kinds of people who pop up in everyday conversation, but both had fascinating lives -- and both have been celebrated in movies. If you can find those movies, that is.

The Nilsson film, "Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?," actually came out in 2006 but is still awaiting a distributor. It's only been shown at a handful of festivals, though it would seem a natural for DVD or cable (or both). (More information can be found at whoisharrynilsson.com; an e-mail to the filmmakers is awaiting a response.)

Nilsson had a beautiful voice and was a brilliant, eclectic songwriter ... which probably prevented his albums from reaching a wider audience. (One of his funniest songs, "You're Breaking My Heart," uses the F-word so casually I do a double take every time I hear it.) But despite his rich life, he's too often a footnote to other people's biographies: he was often with John Lennon during Lennon's "lost weekend" around 1974, and it was in his apartment that both Mama Cass Elliot and Keith Moon died. He deserves more recognition than that.

A documentary on Lloyd, "Who Is Norman Lloyd?", recently opened in New York. Lloyd's career stretches back to the 1930s, when he acted with Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre company. He passed on a role in "Citizen Kane" and instead joined up with Hitchcock, who cast him in "Saboteur" and "Spellbound." Hitchcock also rescued him from the blacklist, making him the producer of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." Lloyd's still acting in his 90s, having appeared as a professor in 2005's "In Her Shoes."

With everything else out there, it would be nice if both films could find a wider audience. Their subjects deserve no less.
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Occasional musings and gab about the world of entertainment.
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