Legacy: For Adam, On His 36th Birthday

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(I wrote this in 2012 for Adam’s 34th birthday, upon discovering that he had died a few years prior, never having the chance to say goodbye. I’ll repost this annually for as long as this blog exists…)

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Adam and I met 18 years ago during a brisk and stinging winter morning. It sounds like a cliché, I know, but it’s actually true. I was standing on a near-empty underground subway platform at Church Avenue waiting for the F train, when, from the corner of my eye I noticed a young man (who vaguely resembled a young, handsome male version of Sandra Bernhard) bopping and sing-whispering aloud to Guns N Roses, with a pair of drumsticks protruding out of his back pocket. I don’t recall who initiated the conversation, or what our first words were, but I remember, after giving him the thumbs up for his pseudo-public performance, he smiled, took his headphones off and we started speaking. Soon subsequently, he and I were at my apartment – Guns N Roses was his favorite band, Axl Rose his favorite singer, and he was in awe of my massive CD collection that I ‘acquired’ while at my recent past tenure at Tower Records. As a fellow music lover he was enthralled spelunking the thousands of titles (especially those G ‘n R imports!) packed in my small one room apartment.

The above photo was taken on March 9, 1994 in that Bensonhurst, Brooklyn apartment on Bay Ridge Parkway and 17th avenue not too many months after we met. Unemployed at the time, living off my (ahem) “savings” from Tower, we spent limitless days lounging about. We kept each other company through that cold winter, lunching on microwavable hamburgers and diet Coke from the corner deli up the block on 18th avenue, traipsing through the snow to Manhattan to check out new CD releases from the copious import stores that saturated the East Village. We strolled to Bay Ridge in the springtime and sat along the water, people watching, dreaming. We excitedly talked of buying bikes so we could pedal to the Verrazano Bridge to enjoy the exercise and the view. I told him about my friend, Kenny, who took his life many years ago by leaping, and how the bridge has become, for me, a sort of sanctuary for contemplation, even amidst the clamor of the traffic above. I loved teaching him everything I knew about music, movies, life, politics, and I loved him, soul deep. Through this all, at some point between seasons, the eventual had happened.

But…how was I to know? Age never really mattered to me, up to some point (his age was definitely something I never pursued – my range was always a +10/-5 year circumference). But the age he told me he was upon our meeting – and appeared to be, in all his emotional and personable fortitude – was not what the truth was. But…? There was more than a decade difference between us, and he was too young, a teenager still. I was confused after I found out the truth – and angry (for a little while) – but…if it was beautiful, then how could it have been wrong? (It wasn’t.)

I never thought Adam was gay, despite our relationship – I knew he had been with other men, usually older, but he spoke so often about girls that I figured any same-sex dalliances were merely that of the heightened hormones of a horny teenager. He told me he was bisexual, and I accepted that, knowing even then that ours was a temporary sexuality – and one that was merely an extension of friendship rather than a torrid romance. I loved him, but I was never in love with him.

I started working shortly thereafter at Merlite Industries, a costume jewelry catalog company based in Chelsea, and our times together grew more fleeting, though we made our efforts to see each other whenever able. But it was purely platonically; once I started working, the sexual relationship had evaporated, as I knew it would and should. Over the next year or two, we saw each other as often as we could – even after I moved in with a roommate to a larger apartment not too far away from my previous one and sporadically beyond that.

Sadly, as time progressed, Adam had virtually disappeared. Our visits were more and more infrequent, our phone calls halted completely (it didn’t help that he no longer had one). The last time I had spoken to him, he was living with an older woman and her two children. He sounded happy, despite their age difference (funny, huh?), and I was happy for him. He was 18 at that time, I surmise. As I hugged him goodbye, I kissed his cheek and said, “I miss you, man!” He replied, almost bittersweetly, “I know. Me too.” We paused a little longer mid-embrace, and then he walked out the door, heading home. If I had only known…

Despite the years-long hiatus, I’ve often searched for Adam. I had no phone number for he had no phone; his previous address left no forwarding one. When I finally purchased a computer in 2000-2001, I began, in vain, my quest. I spelunked Yahoo and AOL chat rooms, on Guns N Roses fan message boards. With the advent of “social media,” I would peruse Friendster and MySpace then later Facebook and Google, all grasping onto the hope that Adam took to this new form of technology.

But the reason he was intangible breaks my heart, still.

In May of 2011, like an epiphany, I remembered Adam had an older sister – he talked of her fondly years before and I loved that her name was “Starr”. So I looked up Starr on Facebook on a hopeful whim and there she was! I eagerly wrote:

Hi Starr – forgive my intrusion but I was wondering if you were related to Adam Forgetta. He’s an old friend of mine from back in the 1990s and we’ve lost contact over the years. I know “Adam” is a common name, so let me describe my friend Adam – he was about 5’9 – reddish curly hair, a HUGE Guns N Roses fan (big music fan in general). He’d be in his early 30s now, as I knew him when he was a teenager. If Adam is indeed a relative of yours, can you please let him know that his old friend from Bensonhurst Jeffrey (the music man with 8,000 CDs) has been looking for him for a few years…and if he is indeed a relative, please let me know and I will give you my number so you can give it to Adam. If Adam is not related to you, please let me know as well. Thanx for your time…I hope to hear back from you soon. ~jeffrey

She replied with the worst words I never wanted to – or expected to – hear:

I’m his sister and he passed away in 2004. U can call me at xxxxxx

I momentarily froze. My hands quivered and I sobbed uncontrollably. Through the tremors, I responded:

I can’t talk…I’m in tears…I will call, but I can’t now…too emotional…how did he pass…?

Ur going make me cry! I loved my brother very much. He died from HIV and cancer and he left a set of twins behind, a boy and girl. They’re 9 years old now…

Oh my…I am so sorry for your loss…I didn’t mean to make you cry. I loved your brother…he was special to me and when we lost contact a piece of my heart left…I still have photos of him from a few parties I threw…Oh, Adam!!! I am weeping so hard… I’ve looked for him for years…I wish I never lost touch…oh, sweet, sweet Adam!

I called Starr after I composed myself and we spoke – and through our tears she told me the tale of her brother’s later life, of the woman who had given him HIV, his twins he loved so much, the AIDS-related cancer he had finally succumbed to. How it was 7 years since he died and how she misses her brother beyond comprehensive words and how she longs to embrace her twin niece and nephew, Adam’s children. She told me of the tattoo she had made in her brother’s honor so he would forever be with her. She told me if I Googled his name, I would find his death notice. I have Googled his name in the past, and always came up with nothing. After we hung up, I did so again. And there, like a serrated blade, it was. So I wept again.

I know it’s a cliché to say it, but there really aren’t words to convey the prodigious size of the hole in my heart. I had prayed to a god I don’t believe in that the aforementioned hiatus would be just that…that I would find my long-ago lost, itinerant child…that I would embrace him and feel that breathtaking hug of his, and to again smell his hair while doing so (which he always thought was weird, and we’d laugh); that, speaking of laughs, we would have a few good ones at the expense of his favorite singer’s eccentricity (though there’s no doubt Adam’s love for Axl would not have waned). I had always expected that I would see him, rocking down the street, air-drumming with those drumsticks he was rarely – if ever – without (they were his security blanket, his constant thread to his reality. And you wouldn’t recognize it instantly, but he’s twirling those beaters in the photo above). I anticipated the ensuing day I would hear the tales of his happy life, perhaps of a wife and kids, or a partner or husband. I fervently awaited the tales of how he had filled the missing years that separated our tangibility, but not our brotherhood or bond.

I just assumed that, given time…he would just…be here.

But, these are now evaporated aspirations, jolting evanescences, discarded dreams. Oh, if only I had tried much harder…used any resources at my disposal, extended my searches. I never should have allowed those expanses that life jettisons at us to allow him to slip away. If I tried more powerfully, perchance he would still be here.

Maybe, if we remained tangible, I could have, at the very least, held his hand when he left us.

I recently dreamt of Adam, almost a year after receiving the news, and one of a myriad of dreams he’s haunted for years and years. These dreams were always surreal, unexplainable, but commonly; they very rarely altered – they were of Adam and I doing what we’ve always done as friends, as if time were not merely a ghost. This time was different, though. I remember reaching out, imploring to him, “Don’t go…stay, Adam…” And he smiled that goofy, glorious grin, enveloped me in his arms and said, “I love you man. Always have, always will…”

Drenched in tears, with the sunlight bathing my face, I woke up smiling.

I don’t believe that dreams are anything other than our subconscious minds working overtime to get us through the night. But…that embrace…maybe, just maybe.

So, Adam, here’s to you on your (34th ) (35th) 36th birthday. You are forever tattooed on my heart, and will always reside within the storehouse of my soul, for as long as I shall live…and beyond.

On your grave, I will lie, it’s the closest I will get to touching you again. I will kiss the dirt, make love to the stone…I will always remember you…

Especially during those cold November rains.

Legacy: Elaine Stritch Everybody Rise!

Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch 1925 ~ 2014


How do you mourn a legend who’s lived more than you and me combined? At the ripe old age of 89, the great Elaine Stritch has taken her final bows. To see her in a show was to expect the expected AND unexpected, and to bear witness Broadway royalty non pareil. I’m thrilled, delighted, and now nostalgic that I was able to be a mortal spectator over the years – in the astounding “Eliane Stritch At Liberty,” over a dozen years ago, and more recently as Angela Lansbury’s replacement in the revival of “A Little Night Music.” And, I can still, forevermore, as Colleen Donaghy on “30 Rock,” my already worn out copy of the making of the Original Cast Recording of “Company,” and countless YouTube treasures.

Rest in peace and respect, Elaine. And everybody rise…rise…RISE!


Recording her legendary “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Sondheim’s “Company”:


On The Rosie O’Donnell Show from the 1990s:


“I’m Still Here” at the White House:



The full “At Liberty”:


 

Music Box: Happy Birthday, Phoebe Snow

 

The Late, Great Phoebe Snow

The Late, Great Phoebe Snow


 The idea was noble, the benefit, beyond worthwhile, the execution a little cheesy in hindsight, but back in 1995, Lincoln Center staged a concert reading of “The Wizard Of Oz In Concert: Dreams Come True” to benefit the CDF (Children’s Defense Fund), the child advocacy group whose motto of No Child Left Behind defined their great cause.

The cast included Jewel (as Dorothy), Debra Winger (The Wicked Witch of the West), Natalie Cole (Glinda The Good Witch), Nathan Lane (the Cowardly Lion), Jackson Browne (the Scarecrow), Roger Daltrey (the Tin Man), and Joel Grey as the Wizard (he also narrated, played various other parts).

Rather than an absolute faithful concert, the songs were altered – stylistically – to better suit each singer’s voice, rather than role (e.g. a Rock N Roll-ish “If I Only Had A Heart” – a la Daltrey’s classic rock front man persona).

But the single moment I fell in love with from the whole affair was the addition of the late, great Phoebe Snow. Acting as a muse, of sorts, she performed a medley of “If I Only Had a Brain; a Heart; the Nerve” – as a reprise, alone with only piano accompaniment (with lyrics in hand), and it’s the most glorious 3 minutes of the production. Her voice simultaneously bluesy, bittersweet, nostalgic and haunting, she soars while staying grounded.

The concert was never released on DVD – I transferred the Phoebe Snow medley from an old VHS recording, and converted it digitally (so excuse the shoddy quality) because as a lifelong Snow fan, I feel it deserves to be seen. And what better day than on the date she would have celebrated her 64th birthday?

So, Happy Birthday, Phoebe Snow. Your voice…your brain, your heart and your nerve…are still – and will forever be – missed.


Music Box: Sheryl Crow & Stevie Nicks Live 2002

Sheryl & Stevie

Sheryl & Stevie

On March 6th, 2002, Sheryl Crow filmed a concert for TV benefiting Breast Cancer Awareness (it aired later that year). She invited the Queen of Rock N Roll (Stevie Nicks, of course!) to perform with her on a few songs.

Strong Enough
Sorcerer
Come On, Come On
The Difficult Kind
Midnight Rider (Allman Brothers cover)

At the end of “Midnight Rider,” you can see Stevie mouthing to Sheryl, “I think we should do…” suggesting that she wasn’t happy with the performance. So, they re-recorded “The Difficult Kind” and “Midnight Rider” (Stevie missed a cue during one chorus on this second try and looked adorable when she realized it), and then part of “The Difficult Kind” for a third time (they missed a verse – and needed to re-record it).

These are rare performances – so enjoy!


Strong Enough/Sorcerer


Come On, Come On


The Difficult Kind/Midnight Rider Take 1


The Difficult Kind/Midnight Rambler Take 2 / Difficult Kind Take 3

Music Box: Idina Menzel Live At Radio City Music Hall

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 8.19.29 PM


Idina Menzel lives in a musical kingdom where she rules as the Queen and her uber-fans are of many facets – her disciples, her defenders, her watchdogs, her court jesters, and her steadfastly dedicated army. Dare, if you will, to publicly state that the Emperor has no clothes, and you will be harangued, and scolded, and her votary will wish you banished to the tar pits of another land.

Yeah, they’re nutty like that.

I’ve often taken to Twitter and FB to complain (ok, mock, really) Menzel’s status as a theater (and gay) icon. Loathing the bloated, yet seemingly beloved, Wickedit’s always been a curiosity that so many have elevated her to the status that she thrives in (more recent examples include her “screeching” at the Oscars and her “Live: Barefoot At The Symphony” PBS special and album). But I live with someone who adores her, so, as a good boyfriend/partner/whatever – and thanks to my work connections – I was able to finagle two free tickets to her sold out Radio City Music Hall one-night only event. (As an example of that snark, here’s what I posted once the tix were secured: I was just comped 2 free tix to Idina Menzel’s Radio City Music Hall concert on June 16th. Lucky me. I get to endure 2 hours of shrieking. All for Rob. What a man suffers through for love. #‎HeyItsFree #‎IHaveAHeadacheAlready.Yeah, I know – no boundaries.)

Now, to be fair, and completely honest, I’ve always liked Menzel as an actress and a personality, where, whenever interviewed, she was lovely, earthly, un-manufactured, if you will, despite her vocal “styling” seldom pleasing my ears. (Of course I never meant the literal definition of “screech” or “shriek” in my description. It was always colloquially.) Her high belts were, and remain powerful, yet always thin – often bordering on shrill, rarely full, or robust. Every power note hit often results in a tinny tone, resulting in her wavering off-course, missing the landing. Her propensity to slur many of her words together leaves some lyrics indecipherable. When she hits her highs in head register, it always bamboozled me at the almost biblical reaction of the audience. (Although, I’ve always admitted that her tone was gorgeous when she sang in chest register.) Though such gut reaction is a personal emotion and cannot be negated by snark (especially mine), like the aforesaid emperor, I’ve sat in abstract awe at the rapturous response, always wanting to bellow, “She’s naked!!!!!”

In the three times I saw her in Wicked (don’t ask) her act-1 show-stopper, “Defying Gravity,” was bombastic (not her fault), anticlimactic (sorta her fault) and strident (yeah, her fault). Sure, she could’ve had an off-night, but three? I admired her in Rent a few years prior to Wicked (though admired no one from the disastrous filmed version), she was fine in (Andrew Lippa’s version of) the otherwise meandering The Wild Party, and liked her arc in Glee. (Forget about the insults hurled my way when I audaciously, apparently, declared that Lea Michele out sang Menzel on the latter, though Menzel’s performances were always stellar.)

So, night of the concert, I hurried Rob (he didn’t like Wicked either, but he became enamored with Menzel from Glee), packed my earplugs and Advil and hoped for the best.

And while I didn’t get ‘the best,’ I was surprised as anyone that I was besotted and instantly smitten – faults and all – during her Radio City debut. I can’t explain it, really. But after a rough start (that damned “Gravity” song opened the show and was problematic), with every successive word spoken, story strung and song sung, she was kinda sorta magical. As seemingly unrehearsed (she does, after all, perform 8 shows a week in the dreadful If/Then and, I suspect, didn’t get much rehearsal time for this show), scattered, unusual, inconsistent as it all was, to my ears and eyes, this eternalized the charm.

Perhaps I was expecting a banshee jamboree – a nightmare filled with the sounds of dinnerware clattering on the classic Radio City stage, mired in yelps and scowls. Instead I witnessed a woman who was charming, sweet, hilarious (having losing a week earlier to foregone conclusion Jessie Mueller, she gave a fantasy Tony Award acceptance speech, which was lovingly heartfelt and very funny) and totally aware of her fallibility. She cursed at whim, despite the audience scattered with children (thanks to the treacly muck that is “Frozen” – hey, she didn’t ask to be a role model for children – and that damned Oscar winning song), performed a hooker mash-up (“Love For Sale” and “Roxanne”), kept all the “fucking special“‘s in Radiohead’s “Creep,” and, during one of her costume changes where her right breast was partially exposed, before an audience member let her know, said, “Fuck it, they’re real.” Oh, yeah…and she sang her guts out. Sure, bum notes were in profusion but I come to realize that’s part of her métier. And she doesn’t give a shit, and that’s refreshing in a genre stifled with constraint.

Midway through the show, Menzel quoted a recent review, which lambasted her “screechy” tendencies (and for a brief moment, I imagined that she was calling me out – yeah, I know, me. A miniscule, nonexistent blip in the blogosphere. I got over myself swiftly). That this was a preamble to a misguided Ethel Merman tribute almost proved that particular reviewer correct (Menzel is the polar opposite of Merman).

Personal highlights include 2 Menzel concert staples; a haunting, emotive reading of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” which brought Rob to tears, and a song that always brings me to emotional overload, “No Day But Today,” from Rent. Through these performances – as well as “Creep,” and a U2 cover (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”) – Menzel was adamant to break away from that misbegotten role as the Tween Queen thanks to Wicked and Frozen.

If her one night at Radio City proved anything, it’s that she might have finally broken free from such shackles. Despite how many ghastly covers of “Let It Go” the world will be saddled with eternally thanks to YouTube.

Sigh. Let it go, Jeffrey. Let it go.


Wardrobe malfunction:

Both Sides Now:

No Day But Today:

Her faux-Tony Award Winning speech:

Creep:

Take Me Or Leave Me:

Legacy: Casey Kasem

Radio Legend, Casey Kasem

Radio Legend, Casey Kasem


More than 500 Sunday mornings of my pre-to-teen years were spent with my ears glued to the radio from 8am-12pm listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. It was a weekly ritual; while my mother and sisters were downstairs in the kitchen starting Sunday’s afternoon dinner (the scent of sausages frying in the pan wafted throughout our home) and my brothers played outside in the backyard, I was in my room, bed on the floor, pen in hand, jotting down that week’s Billboard hits in my notebook as narrated by Kasem – in between the myriad of artist facts, chart trivia and of course, Casey’s Long Distance Dedications.

As my teen years progressed, this tradition waned – friendships, love, passion, sex, girlfriends, boyfriends, reality, high school, life all snuck up on me – but I’ve always harbored these memories in the storehouse of my mind as idyllic relics of my youth. So, for the thousands of hours of happiness you’ve given me, I hope you are resting in peace, Case6y Kasem. And thank you for telling a million kids to “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars…”

Read Kasem’s obit here.

 

Legacy: Jimmy Scott, The Voice of an Angel 1925 – 2014

The Late, Great Jimmy Scott

The Late, Great Jimmy Scott


“The Voice Of An Angel” has become such an insipid cliche that it surpasses pure ludicrousness. But, if heaven actually existed (yeah, yeah, I know), and if there were such entities as angels, and if those angels were actually able to bluss us in song, I always hoped that they would sound like Jimmy Scott.

Now they might. And I just might believe.

Rest in peace, Jimmy.

Photo courtesy Howard Baden.

Read Scott’s obit here.