A few weeks ago, a certain Youtube video went viral. In this video, a young man secretly filmed his family’s intervention, staged some months after he informed them that he was homosexual. Family members present appear to include his grandmother, stepmother, father, and another male relative. People were shocked by the raw, painful nature of the conversation, which escalates and culminates in an explosion of physical rage from his stepmother and his male relative. Naturally, the unanimous decree of the anointed was that he was a hero, his family was horribly bigoted, and everyone should go throw $$ at his GoFundMe account now that his horribly bigoted family had disowned him.
I also found the video gut-wrenching to watch (language warning, by the way), but not for the same reasons as everyone else. In that brief 5-minute conversation, I felt that I had witnessed a lifetime of pain unfolding—the pain of a parent who looks at his son and realizes that he is truly, hopelessly lost.
This year I regret to say that I won’t be able to provide the kind of detailed running commentary on each night of the NQC that it’s been my pleasure to provide in previous years. Other goals will be impinging on my evening time for most nights of the week, so that even if I do spare an hour here or there, it won’t be a continuous stream of commentary. However, I do hope and plan to carve out time to watch all the concerts on Friday and Saturday night. The Hasty Notes shall return, if in somewhat condensed form! See you then!
So the other day, this regional quartet called Mark209 put out a silly music video for a novelty song called “Have a Good Time,” and now some people are getting all upset about it. Some other gospel artist (I know his name but he’s nobody I’ve ever heard of before) was Facebooking his thoughts on the matter rather bluntly. He thought it was risque, said it “nauseated” him, and wished that Mark209 would just leave southern gospel altogether and go play to the godless masses. Them’s pretty strong words!
So naturally I wondered what all the fuss was about and watched the video myself. If you absolutely need to burn a few brain cells, you can watch it here too, but honestly, it’s really not much to get upset or excited over. It’s just forgettable, vapid and goofy, with some shots of cheerleaders in questionably modest outfits (probably the main thing that’s upsetting folks).
I’m more interested in the general debate it’s brought out regarding what the Christian religion is supposed to look or sound like—in short, whether Christians are even allowed to “have a good time.” To say that this debate is nothing new would be a vast understatement.
Tony is pictured here furthest to the right in this rare cover with his face on it.
Recently it was announced that tenor singer Tony Jarman was stepping down from the Down East Boys. In my humble opinion, Jarman has never gotten enough attention for his voice. To be honest, I prefer it to some other much better-known tenors. It’s pure, warm and well-rounded, and it reminds me of the lead singer for 4Him. One of my favorite performances of his is the Poet Voices’ “One Holy Lamb.” His face doesn’t appear on most album covers for this project (or even the Youtube thumbnail below), because he left shortly after it was recorded, but it’s his voice on this number. Milan Klipa is the tenor featured in their live performances, like this one, but he’s not as rangey or powerful. In fact, you can hear him balking and pulling away from the notes Tony nails in the studio version. While several singers have tackled this standard, Tony’s version will remain the definitive in my book:
I’m not subscribed to Homecoming Magazine myself, but I noticed that this month’s issue featured an interview by Buddy Greene with special guest Harry Connick, Jr. This intrigued me, because I never knew that Harry Connick, Jr. had southern gospel connections, but then again, Buddy Greene knows everybody. If anyone else gets a chance to read this interview, I’d be interested to know what they think, but it looks like fun. Two of my favorite musicians, both pros who would understand each other very well. Now if only we could get them to have a jam session with a recorder running.
I’ve written about Harry Connick, Jr. and his work before, and you can read my “Christians in Entertainment” entry on him here.
This week’s used bookstore find is the slim World War II memoir Medic! by army medic Robert “Doc Joe” Franklin. Subtitled “How I fought World War II with morphine, sulfa and iodine swabs,” it offers an unflinching “worm’s-eye” perspective from the European front, specifically the invasion through Italy. In its pages, Franklin traces the path of the 45th Infantry Division, whom General Patton described as “one of the best, if not the best division that the American army has ever produced.” Though he was thrown into combat with no medical training, he quickly learned to improvise and saved numerous lives, winning two Silver Stars for bravery under fire. With clean, unadorned, and compelling prose, Franklin leads the reader through a lifetime in 146 pages.
This is no ghost-written puff piece. Most of the book is heavily based on Franklin’s own diary, and his distinctive voice comes through loud and clear to give a cohesive, day-to-day narrative. The final third of the book is more anecdotal, but even this section does not feel awkward or choppy. Franklin is a skilled writer, with a special gift for presenting the most powerful human moments in the simplest way. This makes them all the more effective by their lack of sentiment.
A great while ago the world began
With a hey ho, the wind and the rain
But that’s all one, and our play is done
And we’ll strive to please you every day.
– Twelfth Night, Act 5, Scene 1
Part I here
Part II here
In 1975, the BBC asked Donald O’Connor if the musical was dead. His succinct answer: “No. It is dead the way we used to make ‘em.” He spoke without resentment. It was just a fact.
Donald O’Connor was the last of the song and dance men. Known as “the youngest old-timer in show business,” it was his misfortune to reach the height of his powers precisely when the song-and-dance musical was dying. Rising to take its place were the spontaneous musicals, the Sounds of Music and Oklahomas and West Side Stories. Characters were ordinary people expressing their feelings, not entertainers putting on a show. There was no longer a place for O’Connor’s particular skill set on the big screen. So it was back to his first love: the stage.
Shifting base of operations to Las Vegas gave the restless performer a steady audience and the ability to nurture fresh talent. One young lad joined him for a special performance to commemorate his 30th anniversary in the business, which nearly doubled as a 31st birthday party. (Candid footage of the reception shows O’Connor surreptitiously piling an extra slice of cake on the boy’s plate.) With a happy second marriage and a growing new family, it seemed that he had landed on his feet. His son Fred later recalled, “I was very blessed to have my dad as my dad… We were never without anything, and the things we really wanted, he told us ‘These are things that you have to work for.’ And I’m glad he did.” Daughter Alicia fondly remembered how he would delight the children with quicksilver impressions, saying that “You never knew who was coming to dinner.” But as O’Connor danced closer to the line between “drinker” and “alcoholic,” he fought a rising fear that like his father and brother, he would not live to the age of 50.
“I was born and raised to entertain other people. I’ve heard laughter and applause and known a lot of sorrow. Everything about me is based on show business. I think it will bring me happiness. I hope so.” — Donald O’Connor, Parade, 1954
Read Part I here.
Gene Kelly knew what he was doing when he hand-picked Donald O’Connor as his right-hand man in Singin’ In the Rain. His own ballet training was perfectly complemented by O’Connor’s raw hoofing talent. O’Connor later credited Kelly with teaching him to be a “total dancer,” from the waist up. Each borrowed motifs from the other to create their iconic synchronized routine “Moses Supposes.” But working with Kelly had its tense moments. In this rare interview clip (edited by yours truly), O’Connor shares a priceless anecdote about the legend’s famously short temper on the set of their number “Fit as a Fiddle”:
The memories of Debbie Reynolds also offer some insight into O’Connor’s gentle, professional personality. When Gene became frustrated with Debbie, he would take it out on Donald. But Donald bore it with perpetual good humor. In one instance, as all three practiced a step in “Good Morning,” Kelly himself was unknowingly repeating an error while blaming O’Connor for it. Reynolds expected O’Connor to retaliate at any minute, but all he said was “I’m sorry.” Finally, Kelly stopped and announced, “I’m doing it wrong! Why didn’t you tell me?”
Yet for all his abrasiveness, Gene recognized a professional when he saw one: “Nobody else in the business could have taken the beating I gave Donald O’Connor in Singin’ In the Rain… Donald comes from vaudeville. He’s disciplined. I’ve seen him rehearse a step a thousand times.” Looking back on it all, O’Connor could only laugh and say “Working with him? Yeah, he was miserable. No, we had a great time together… I was never offended by Gene, I love the guy too much.”
Of course, “Make ‘Em Laugh” is the number that everyone remembers from O’Connor’s work in the picture. When MGM released its compilation That’s Entertainment, this was the one that could still make listless audiences break into spontaneous applause in the theaters. Mark Steyn has described it as “the essence of entertainment,” adding “Its only purpose is to delight. Which is a lot harder than it sounds.”
Quickly: Who’s the most talented entertainer you can name? For many, it would be the man who just took his own life last month. An older generation might name Dick Van Dyke. Yet another generation might reach still further into the past, to silent film stars like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. What do legends like these all share in common? Answer: They all had an extraordinary gift for making anyone happy, except themselves.
To that remarkable list, I would add another name. I would add the name of the man who immortalized laughter in three short minutes of pure genius on film. I would add the name of Donald O’Connor.
Perhaps Paramount exec A. C. Lyles said it best: “Donald O’Connor’s name, spelled backwards, would be talent.” Gene Kelly simply dubbed him “The O’Connor.” But his story sounds too painfully familiar: a lightning-fast comic wit, a master of improv, full of explosive energy and beloved by fans, yet privately haunted by divorce, addiction and depression. Except that his story does not end like so many other sad, sad stories. No, my friends. This is a story that ends with hope. Continue reading
Last week, I had some thoughts on the suicide of Robin Williams. While they deviated a bit harshly from the norm, I stand by what I said, because some balance was desperately needed amid the obsessive adoration. However, I can’t deny that once my attention was drawn to this character and the characters he created, it was difficult for me not to be drawn further in. It’s a rare talent that can leave you limp with laughter in one moment and move you to tears in the next. This sad, strange little man filled me with curious fascination, yet simultaneously, with pity. That was his way.
By sheer coincidence, I was recently listening to some Bruce Hornsby music and came across a little-known song called “Lost Soul.” The lyric brought me up short, because it was so startlingly poignant and apt. With surprising speed, something came together in my mind and my movie making software. I began to create and edit.
The finished product surprised even myself. Continue reading