Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chuck Berry's Purity Level Of 99.92% (or Biopic #1)

The first biopic I ever took on (in 2004) was one about Chuck Berry, a living legend who most definitely should have his own biopic someday. Chuck Berry's story is a genuine and very rare sort of rock & roll life. No serious or tragic substance abuse, or bouts with depression. Just a stubborn personality who rocked, and rocked, and continues to do so. 
It's an 'American story' to behold. That a black man, during a time of extreme segregation, broke through the airwaves with his brand of optimism and upbeat tunes. He was mistaken as white because he enunciated his words a certain way. How many times was that man (wrongly) imprisoned, for 'crimes' that are just laughable today? Society did not know how to handle Chuck Berry. True, he and his friends went on a robbery spree when he was 17, and he was imprisoned for three solid years for it. 
For the most part, Chuck Berry was the 'dangerous' type without posing actual danger, which makes him the epitome of rock and roll. He posed the danger that you might have a little too much fun if you listened to his music, or he might have been too attractive to impressionable white teenage girls –– and he played a mean guitar (and still does.) And that's about all. Unlike the many acts before, or following him, who would turn to some kind of a substance to relax or to feel good, or to simply assume that so-called rock & roll image, posturing as a pseudo-Rolling Stones-esque bad boy, Chuck Berry was 'bad' because he didn't try to be. 
His famous 'duck walk' was a happy accident, born out of his trousers needing to be pressed, and his trying to hide that fact on stage. Sometimes he'd show up for a gig, only to be turned away by the surprised booking agent who'd figured he was white (again, because of his sound) since the venue was restricted to 'whites only'. His bandmates figured he was only being stingy with his money (as he could and can be) because he'd bring along his own food when they travelled on the road; they didn't realize at the time why he did that. When they'd stop by a restaurant to eat at places where they inevitably had to go around back to get their food, Chuck Berry was choosing self-respect. He did not choose subjecting himself to intolerance. Instead, he'd eat his meals with dignity in the privacy of their vehicle. His heightened level of self-esteem, in any and all circumstances, was impressive.
But here's the stunning moment that clinches it all for me. Can you guess what famously endearing song Chuck Berry created within the confines of his jail cell one day? Where did his mind wander to, when he was (once again) unjustly imprisoned? While he was being punished, for the umpteenth time, Chuck Berry wrote one of the the brightest, most upbeat pronouncements of joy and freedom ever captured in song: 'You Never Can Tell'. 

Allow that sink in –– Chuck Berry wrote the eternally upbeat 'You Never Can Tell' while he was unjustly serving a jail sentence. 

They furnished off an apartment with a two-room Roebuck sale
The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger-ale
But when Pierre found work
The little money comin' worked out well
"C'est la vie', say the old folks
It goes to show you never can tell!
They had a hi-fi phono, boy,
Did they let it blast
Seven hundred little records, all rock,rhythm and jazz...

You could not find the limit to this man's spirit if you tried. Even when his body was trapped, his heart and mind were off somewhere else: likely sitting in a brand new shiny convertible, with a pretty lady sitting beside him in the passenger seat (just as he would in the lyrics of any one of his great songs.)
That to me is rock & roll. 

And that's the kind of story I think people should have the chance to watch in biopics. Not the tragic figures, who succumb to drugs and depression and take their lives when they are faced with hard times. We should celebrate people like Chuck Berry, who didn't buy into any of it. When times were harsh, he transcended what was unjustly put in his way. He resisted and he prevailed –– and always on his own terms. 

And the man still packs up his gear and goes on stage, to this very day, to belt out his classic tunes and perform. Mind you, just so that he can collect his money and go home. Chuck Berry doesn't quite grasp what a big deal he is to so many people. He does what he does for the money, and he would tell you that. Because it's his job to perform, to show the people that duck walk they likely came to see. Because he's good at it, so why not keep doing it as long as he gets paid his money?  

His perspective is hilarious and it's also a triumph of the human spirit. And THAT is why Chuck Berry, himself, is rock and roll (minus any alcohol) with a purity level of 99.92%.
If it's of any interest to you, you can definitely get enjoyment from the wonderful Chuck Berry documentary, 'Hail, Hail Rock & Roll', the passion project that took Keith Richards from a state of blissful expectation to work on it alongside the man he idolized in order to share his story with others -- only to be gravely disappointed and disenchanted by just how ornery a man his subject could be! 

But Chuck Berry never claimed to be a great guy to hang out with, & he's never tried to sell anyone on that. Clearly, Keith Richards would be the rocker one might want to kick back with. And Richards was sorely mistaken thinking he might enjoy spending loads of time with the man he so admired. But Chuck Berry, with all of his quirks and idiosyncrasies, is all right with me.
And of course that Chuck Berry biopic is in the works. If not by me (I'd be happy to discuss my passion for the project with Chuck Berry and his people :)) then by someone. 

And if not, it's a real shame. People ought to know more frequently about the triumphs of our idols who've lived illustrious, empowered, fruitful lives long enough to tell us about it.
I might as well sign off here with the perpetually awe-inspiring 'You Never Can Tell', which (as you may have gathered by now) could not have been more aptly named. Once again, Chuck Berry wrote this song while unjustly confined to a jail cell... Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

La Question + Other Transcendental Francoise Hardy Experiences

Francoise Hardy's La Question album cover
I haven't drawn as much attention to Francoise Hardy and her music on this blog as my heart may have intended –– because she has been so omnipresent (residing over everything) from its conception. In a monk-like way, I felt like my silence was the best way to express the deep respect and admiration I have for her and her work. I love certain people and things more that I can even express, so silence speaks louder for me on those occasions.
Francoise Hardy, Alone
I wasn't conscious about Francoise Hardy's presence while growing up here in the U.S. in the 80's/90's. I'd seen her brief appearance in 'What's New, Pussycat' on TV, but didn't know about her at the time. 
Francoise Hardy's brief appearance in 'What's New Pussycat'
Later, near the turn of the millennium, I found her on my own when I came across a photo of her in a book in an NYC bookstore. Until then, I had imagined a person like her only in my mind, but did not realize someone like Francoise Hardy truly existed. So I was in a little bit of shock when I actually saw her. Her style was the elevated version of my late 60's preference –– if I could have had any wardrobe of my choice. With my bangs and coloring, her simple hairstyle was what I wanted mine to be once I grew it out much longer. If I wore eye makeup, by that time, I'd already discovered that the only way I could wear liner was on my eyelids, 60's-style, for it to look good. (Lucky for me, the makeup style that works best on me has always been my favorite look, too.) And she had that same look from top to bottom. Right away, I felt a spiritual connection with Francoise Hardy because she was also how I pictured my 'higher self'. If you're spiritual, in the same way that I am, you may know what I mean. And since I'm generally a very mellow, calm, sensitive, idealistic, lone wolf sort of person, her demeanor was also in prefect cahoots with mine.
Francoise Hardy – someone once thought this was a photo of me, so flattering
Her music became my soundtrack for the next few years. This was before internet dominance and Google searches.  She had become such an important presence in my life, that I consequently introduced her to those immediately around me. If they actually processed who this French 60's singer was I was referring to, that is –– since the music people were generally exposed to at that time could not have been more different. As much as her presence is everywhere these days, it was exactly the opposite at that time. Even when I'd mention how much I loved her to anyone French, they seemed surprised (while nodding their approval) that an American from my generation could even care about her. Discovering Francoise Hardy was very special, and in many ways life-changing, for me. A couple of years after I became enamored of her, someone I was dating at the time who was British brought back some original Francoise Hardy album singles for me from his parents' collection, when he went home for a visit, which was a very nice thing to do. 
One of the original Francoise Hardy albums given to me
I played them over and over and still have them. My favorite song was the very chill 'C'est A L'Amour Au Quel Je Pense', because with its relaxed surf guitar it always made me feel like I was at a beach campfire after a long day of catching waves.
Incidentally, before I met my husband, I was enchanted by how Francoise Hardy is a Capricorn. Because I loved her energy, I decided I might want to become romantically involved with a Capricorn. Sure enough, the next person I became involved with was my now husband, a Capricorn. In fact, their birthdays are only two days apart. Even more amazingly, my being incredibly interested and influenced by astrology is itself yet another connection to Francoise Hardy, herself. Because aside from being one of my favorite musicians, by trade, Francoise Hardy also happens to be –– an avid astrologer. Later when I met my husband, who's German, it turned out that his mother was a fan of Francoise Hardy's in the 1960's –– and back then, people also thought she strongly resembled her. So when I first met his mom, now my mother-in-law, she and I talked about Francoise Hardy within the limits of our language barrier. 
Francoise Hardy, musician and astrologer 
Returning to the actual sequence of events, in terms of her music... I started buying her CD's and soon I knew every one of her songs from her earliest until those she recorded by end of the 1960's. Some of my favorites, at that point, were 'La Maison Ou J'ai Grandi' from 1966, the incredible 'Voila' from 1967, 'Comment Te Dire Adieu' from 1968, 'Ou Va La Chance' also from 1968, and 'Soleil' from 1970. 'Comment Te Dire Adieu', the entire album, became my favorite and it was on constant rotation. I also loved the unique 'Comment Te Dire Adieu' album cover, and still do.
Francoise Hardy, Voila

Francoise Hardy's Comment Te Dire Adieu album cover
Francoise Hardy, Soleil
I'd play her songs in my room in Brooklyn and sing along, realizing... in addition to all the Francoise Hardy wonders I'd unveiled for myself, even my 'pure soprano' vocal ability (as it was once dubbed by a singing instructor) fit with her own singing style. To add to it all, listening to her songs allowed all of my years of French study to become more solidified and I found myself communicating the language better than before. So Francoise Hardy gave me a lot to be thankful for. She became my dearest friend during a time that otherwise could have felt lonelier. The following videos are of 'La Maison Ou J'ai Grandi', 'Comment Te Dire Adieu', and 'Soleil'. 'Voila' had some beautiful promo videos I'd have shared, but they aren't available on YouTube at this time.

In the prime of her career, and even today as people around the world have begun to discover her through various media outlets (and it's taken this long for a contemporary filmmaker like Wes Anderson to include a little of her and her music in his 60's-centric 'Moonrise Kingdom'), Francoise Hardy tends to be associated primarily with her iconic style and incredible beauty, as well as with her being tagged as one of the original ye-ye girls. I personally think of her as an incredibly talented singer, songwriter and musician, first and foremost. And then as one of the greatest beauties and style icons of all time. Then I think about her stint as an actress in movies like 'Grand Prix' (1966). 
Francoise Hardy, circa 'Grand Prix'
Only after that, I might think about her beginning as a ye-ye girl, since in the span of her entire career, I don't think of that being an especially significant thing. And I wouldn't expect she herself does, either. Yet somehow, what people tend to focus on with Francoise Hardy are her style and her earlier music in that limited way. 
Francoise Hardy, another great photo from the La Question album
Which leads me to her amazing album 'La Question' from 1971. This album was a true revelation. My thought when I heard the first bars of the first song on the album, 'Viens', was: "Who produced this?" You know a song or album is exceptional when you wonder who was involved in creating that particular sound. It still stuns me.
In the case of 'La Question', that sound is beautifully sparse –– and at times incredibly lush with strings –– simple and powerful. Francoise Hardy, who at the point when (at least in Europe) could have recorded anything and worked with anyone, teamed up with obscure Brazilian artist Tuca to create most of the songs on the album. The arrangements are elegant and they moved my soul the first time I listened to the album, and still do. Because of the album 'La Question', I consider Francoise Hardy to be one of the most gifted musicians in the world.
The inner lining of Francoise Hardy's La Question album
In summary, Francoise Hardy is one of the most astounding musicians I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. I'm continually amazed by 'La Question' and do believe it to be the most beautiful album I've heard. I should also post a photo of our sweet kitty, Francoise Johan Micoud, who was named after Francoise Hardy. She also has a very calm and thoughtful demeanor, like her namesake.
Our sweet kitty, Francoise Johan Micoud
Her twin sister, Mary Jane Goodnight, has had her photo posted on my blog before and she's been mentioned on more than one occasion, and it's only fair. 
Francoise Hardy was, and still is, an absolutely brilliant musician. That is why her presence, even in my respectful silence, has always been here on my blog.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Peggy Lipton –– The Prettiest + Coolest Lady

In 2007, I read Peggy Lipton's autobiography Breathing Out. Around the same time, I bought and began watching Seasons 1-4 of The Mod SquadI got on the Peggy Lipton train and never looked back. Soon after, I featured Ms. Lipton in two of my videos, Undun by The Guess Who and my style compilation video, Classic.Sporty.Chic. 
I never had a chance to watch 'The Mod Squad' before–––on TV or in reruns–––although I'd been trying to watch it for years. I went on a binge of sorts with it when I finally got the chance. In fact, when I created Retro Active Critiques, it was out of my desire to write posts about shows like 'The Mod Squad' and people like Peggy Lipton. 

That's why she's had a permanent home here on the right rail. ––––>
There's so much to love and admire about Peggy Lipton, I hardly know where to begin. Superficially, in my eyes, she's one of the most naturally beautiful women of all time. She was, and remains today, an effortlessly lovely woman. 
This is my opinion, but Peggy Lipton always pops in my mind when I think 'pretty'. She's the prettiest woman I've ever seen. 
Here are some especially lovely, rare photos of her by Guy Webster-Globe. (They're not easy to access, but still worth posting here.)
Other actresses might be considered beautiful, gorgeous, stunning–––and she fits any of those descriptions, as well–––but I equate the word 'pretty' with her. If I had to place a photo in a dictionary entree for 'pretty' (not that we have 'dictionaries' anymore) I'd add one of Peggy Lipton. 
She's always been natural in her acting methods, not to mention in her personal style. She wasn't a highly trained actress, having started out as a commercial model for Eileen Ford.
Peggy Lipton, Clairol Deb Star of The Year, 1965
While developing her character Julie Barnes in 'The Mod Squad', she found that she was comfortable with nailing a certain look for Julie, and a mood, and just sticking with that each time. Rolling with it. The method worked, and she was nominated for playing Julie numerous times during awards seasons. She even won a Golden Globe in 1971 for her portrayal.
Peggy Lipton as Julie Barnes
Despite being raised on Long Island, the only daughter of fairly conservative Jewish parents, Peggy Lipton came to embody the cool California girl with her long-running stint as Julie Barnes on 'The Mod Squad', a runaway from San Francisco who gets arrested for vagrancy in LA, only to become an undercover cop. 
'The Mod Squad' might feel somewhat dated today–––although I love the key players' style and lingo, especially when Linc Hayes stoically says 'solid' to mean he gets it (in just about any situation.) But the drama still holds up and remains effective in many ways. And one of the greatest charms of the show is Peggy Lipton's manner of playing the sweet, gentle and resourceful Julie Barnes.
The Mod Squad with kitties. Solid.
The Mod Squad
On the show, Julie always has a soft spot for her friends and fellow undercover cops, Pete and Linc. The three of them seek justice while still being distrustful of 'The Man'. The show was a hit because it touched on topics of the time with sincerity and poignancy. Peggy Lipton's soulful, kind eyes and demeanor were a perfect fit for the show's vibe.
Julie Barnes' empathetic nature extended into Peggy Lipton's personal life, as well. Her relationships ran the gamut of (what I consider to be) very different men. She's someone who I would say never had a 'type'. I believe she was simply attracted to a certain man for his spirit.
Prior to becoming a household name, she had a short-lived (publicity-based) 'date' with Paul McCartney, after which she became the sort of classic 'who's that girl' story, with newspapers the next day posting her photo and everyone wondering who she was.
Paul and Peggy, newspaper clipping
Other notable men she (actually) dated include Terence Stamp, Keith Moon, music producer Lou Adler, Sammy Davis, Jr., even Elvis Presley (and her candid story about her The King was especially touching to read in her book.) Of course, she fell for and married Quincy Jones. The greatest similarity these men shared, as far as I can tell, is that–––apart from Terence Stamp–––they're all musicians. Something I find interesting about Peggy Lipton is how open her heart has always seemed to be, which is a beautiful way to be. 
Sammy Davis, Jr. and Peggy Lipton
Lou Adler and Peggy Lipton
Peggy Lipton and Terence Stamp
Back when she and Quincy Jones got married, it was still very unusual to be a mixed-race couple. Peggy Lipton never cared for a moment what people would think. Her carefree and kind spirit shines right through, which is why she is so beautiful on the surface. She and Quincy Jones have two lovely daughters together, Rashida and Kadida, and they remain very close despite the fact they're no longer married.
Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton
Peggy Lipton with her family
Speaking of music, Peggy Lipton also sang for a while. Her voice didn't have a massive range, but she put a lot of soul and style into her vocals. Her voice suited the confessional, pretty style of the 1970's, and she was able to put it to use on several of her own albums.
Peggy Lipton's single for 'Stoney End' & 'San Francisco Glide'
Musical Peggy
Peggy Lipton recording
In the clip above, Peggy Lipton sings on 'The Mod Squad'. 'She's now. She's where it's at.' That's how Sammy Davis, Jr. introduced his friend Peggy to his audience, below.
As if all of that wasn't cool enough, Peggy Lipton also portrayed Norma Jennings on 'Twin Peaks'. The lovely Norma is my favorite character in that show, and that's also because of Peggy Lipton. I'm not sure that character would have struck me the way she did if someone else had played Norma.
Peggy Lipton as the lovely Norma Jennings
Which brings me back to the Peggy Lipton who still remains incredibly charming and beautiful today. This is how a natural and effortless woman can look at 65 (!) even after beating colon cancer. Extra kudos to her for looking this great in a sea of plastic women who succumb to the pressures of Hollywood at her age. She's a woman who inspires me in many ways.

How to age well... Peggy Lipton