Michael Jackson was only 50 when he died on June 25. Claude Lévi-Strauss was 100 when he passed on Oct. 30. Jackson was undoubtedly the more famous of the two, a household name all over the planet, and the ludicrous hype of his later career and his tabloid notoriety don't dim the appeal of the millions of records he sold, even now. Anthropologist Lévi-Strauss' name is known to a small fraction of the planet's better educated citizens, but few 20th-century thinkers have as profoundly influenced the way we understand ourselves as a species. Can it be said that one or the other's influence was greater, or that their life mattered more?
Maybe it could, but we're not gonna start that argument here. The point is, fame does not necessarily equal influence in the grand scheme of things. Plenty of people who were famous in one way or another died over the course of 2009 with all the fanfare befitting their Q ratings: TV-news clips, prominent print obituaries, various OMGs and RIPs on Twitter, etc. Ted Kennedy, Farrah Fawcett, John Updike, Merce Cunningham, David Carradine, Steve McNair, Robert S. McNamara, Walter Cronkite, John Hughes, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Les Paul the list goes on. But what we're doing here is taking a moment to remember a few of the less celebrated citizens of the world who helped shape it in a way disproportionate to the size of their renown as well as some locals who dispatched their mortal coil this year, to varying degrees of deserved recognition. They each deserve a public RIP in some way, and here it is.
If you started listening to Harry Kalas on your bedside clock radio, the covers pulled up over your head while staying up late listening to West Coast Phillies games your mom didn't want you staying up late listening to, it was easy to imagine Harry his stentorian baritone bellowing about Michael Jack Schmidt and LONNNG DRIIIVES as some kind of invulnerable colossus, one capable of drowning out the din of a crowd with just the power of his fog-horn home run call. It would then have been easy to carry this Paul Bunyan-esque image of the man into your mid-30s, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (he was a man with a slight build, a smoking habit and an increasing propensity to start his home run call on fly balls that turned into cans of corn).
And so on that fateful afternoon of April 13 just five months after he celebrated his beloved Phillies' second World Championship and crooned again about that rubber tree plant when the Internet exploded with the news that Harry had been found unconscious in the press box at Nationals Park and been pronounced dead 50 minutes later, there would be ample cognitive dissonance while contemplating that the one man most universally affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies franchise would not be taking over the play-by-play with Larry Andersen that day, or ever again. In losing Harry to heart disease at age 73, we had not just, as team president David Montgomery put it, "lost our voice"; it was like we'd lost a beloved uncle ... and a limb. In his 39th season as the Phillies' play-by-play man, the Hall of Fame broadcaster was this city's rock, a constant presence (and make no mistake, Harry Kalas transcended baseball), the North Star, the one thing you could count on when you couldn't count on anything else. It would have been a fitting tribute for the Phils to have repeated as World Champions this year, for Harry, but it's safe to say that anything the Fightins accomplish from now till the oceans rise up and swallow us all, they'll be doing for Harry.
Harry G. Ochs
South Philly native Harry G. Ochs (born Harry Finocchio) started working in the Reading Terminal Market as a butcher's apprentice at 14, and kept at the craft until succumbing to a long battle with cancer Dec. 6, at the age of 80. Remembered just as much for his outsize warmth and welcoming personality as his pork, chicken or lamb, Ochs also served as something of an ambassador for the RTM he was one of the landmark's most beloved and recognizable characters, and was instrumental in protecting the market when it was threatened by the construction of the Convention Center. Though the conduits through which customers receive their fine cuts have evolved dramatically since Ochs hoisted his first cleaver maybe you've seen his stuffed flank steak hawked on QVC, or placed an order off ochsprimemeats.com the butcher's legacy is indelible. For proof, just walk up the 1100 block of Filbert, which six years ago was redubbed "Harry Ochs Way."
South Philly-born, 15th-and-Tasker-raised crooner Al Martino may best be remembered because of a horse's head. Or more specifically, the horse's head: In The Godfather, he played Johnny Fontane, the Frank Sinatra-based character pleading with Don Corleone to help him convince a producer he was right for a movie role. The producer got the famous horse's head in his bed, and Al Martino got immortality. But Martino, who died Oct. 13 at age 82 in his Delaware County home, deserves recognition in his own right, too. He scored his biggest hit with "Spanish Eyes" in 1965; Martino was also the first American to top the British charts, with 1952's "Here in My Heart." He was, as a longtime friend proclaimed in his Philadelphia Inquirer obit, "the last of a show-business era" and "a hero in South Philadelphia."
The truth is, most writers would gladly settle for one great book. Yeah, it'd be great to have a long and prosperous career, cranking out celebrated genre works that get adapted into movies and maybe even write a movie yourself. But if you get right down to it, any writer wouldn't mind creating one novel featuring one character who becomes unforgettable from the first page.
Donald Westlake had the audacity to have both those careers. Westlake who passed Dec. 31, 2008, in Mexico en route to a New Year's Eve dinner at the age of 75 cranked out crime stories at a pace that should make most writers hate him. From 1960, when his debut, The Mercenaries, was published, through to his death, Westlake, a Brooklyn native who spent most of his life in upstate New York, cranked out more than 100 novels and an untold number of short stories, some under his own name, some under one of his many pen names. Most of these were crime/mystery stories for which he was eventually awarded three Edgar awards although, like many genre writers, he also dabbled in other forms, such as sci-fi. One of his most accessible serial creations, the comically bumbling criminal planner John Dortmunder, became the source of seven screen adaptations. Westlake himself even got a chance to write a screenplay, adapting Jim Thompson's The Grifters for director Stephen Frears' 1990 movie earning an Oscar nomination in the process. The Dortmunder series became known among mystery writers and readers as one of the funniest reads in a genre better known for cold-bloodedness. It was, in fact, a rather ingenious invention: Marrying wisecracking humor with meticulous plotting of the genre, Westlake finely honed the idea of screwball noir. And from the many interviews he gave over the course of his career, the man comes off as an instantly likable and gregarious talker the ideal interview subject.
All of which makes Westlake's most indelible creation so fascinating. In 1962, Westlake, under the pseudonym Richard Stark, created one of the most compellingly repugnant characters in contemporary fiction. In The Hunter, an amoral criminal, known only by the name Parker, gets left for dead by his double-crossing partner, Mal. The entire novel is Parker's methodical, almost stoically self-righteous bloody path up through the ranks of a New York crime outfit to get back the $45,000 he feels he's owed. Parker is not a verbally gifted or especially likable main character, more this unknowable blunt force who knows what he wants, feels he deserves it and will stop at nothing to get it back.
Parker became the recurring character in a Stark series, but none of the subsequent novels pack The Hunter's brutal precision, ingenious structure and circuitous moral clarity. It's so well plotted it's been the source of two entertaining screen adaptations John Boorman's 1967 Point Blank with Lee Marvin is the most cinematically arresting and so tightly conceived not even Mel Gibson could muck it up when he starred in 1999's Payback. Parker is the sort of character that brands itself into the reader's brain, and The Hunter is the sort of book on which a literary reputation can hang. Westlake, bless him, had five careers' worth of output still in his tank.
If Peggy Amsterdam, president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, is remembered only for her most recent victory, she picked a damn brilliant swan song. Amsterdam, who died Dec. 26 of cancer at the age of 60, fought this fall against Pennsylvania's proposed tax on arts and culture events and won. Next time you go to the Wilma and pay only what you signed up for, tip your hat to the matriarch of Philly arts.
In 1951, while American fight fans argued about whether Ezzard Charles or Rocky Marciano was the world's greatest fighter, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound Brazilian named Helio Gracie made fight history by losing badly to a Japanese judo champion named Masahiko Kimura.
Kimura had told all of Brazil that if Gracie could withstand even three minutes in the ring with him, Gracie should be considered the winner. And, as Gracie admitted more than 40 years later, Kimura did render him unconscious almost immediately. "If Kimura had continued to choke me, I would have died for sure," Gracie told a 1994 interviewer. "But since I didn't give up, Kimura let go of the choke and went into the next technique. Being released from the choke and the pain from the next technique revived me and I continued to fight. Kimura went to his grave without ever knowing the fact that I was finished."
Gracie went 13 minutes and got his arm broken, but it was his older brother, Carlos, who stopped the fight.
As a slight, thin boy growing up his older brother's shadow in Rio de Janeiro, Helio Gracie adapted Carlos' jiujitsu techniques to require the least amount of power, in a bid to allow the weak to beat the strong. His techniques, combined with an indomitable spirit, distilled into a fighting system now known worldwide as Brazilian jiujitsu. From the start he aimed for fame, deploying both technique and temper. In 1932, at age 19, he brutalized a famous wrestler who insulted him; he was imprisoned for assault, only to be pardoned by the president of Brazil. Gracie's challenge matches against practitioners of other fighting styles, begun in the 1950s, birthed the modern sport of mixed martial arts and the billion-dollar brand name we call Ultimate Fighting Championships, launched by Helio's son Rorion and an ad man named Art Davie in 1993; they sold the franchise in 1995.
The Gracie family's legend eventually outgrew their deeds. In martial arts circles, stories still circulate claiming that Helio Gracie arrived in the United States in the early 1990s with a $1 million challenge for anyone who could defeat one of his sons. The actual scenario a $100,000 wager that former kickboxing champion Benny "The Jet" Urquidez could not beat Royce Gracie never came off. Another challenge from then-80-year-old Helio to "Judo" Gene LaBell was scuttled when LaBell, who was over 60 years old and 200 pounds, said he could not trim down to Helio's 140-pound weight class.
Braggart, showman, sometime brawler, Gracie polarized opinion first in Brazil, and later in the U.S., where his son Royce became the first Ultimate Fighting Champion. Gracie's wife, Vera, and his nine children carry on the family name and traditions. He died Jan. 29.
If you never heard Jack Rose's music, you can be forgiven, but once you have, you may not forgive yourself. Loved and lauded within the music community, the nimble-fingered guitarist who died Dec. 5 following a heart attack at the age of 38 was a well-kept secret in the city he called home. No surprise there; purveyors of acoustic ragtime rarely find a larger audience. But Rose did achieve cult status, thanks in part to energetic live performances. His thoughtful instrumentals were especially dazzling in intimate settings, be it the First Unitarian Church's chapel or any local haunt with a seat and a stage.
Rose's musical journey had louder, though no less artful, beginnings in his native Virginia, where he played in experimental psych-folk trio Pelt. The group released several notable albums on various indie labels, starting in the mid-'90s and continuing even after Rose moved to Philadelphia in 1998. Pelt disbanded in 2006, by which time Rose was earning his "Dr. Ragtime" nickname, and had already released what might remain his definitive work, 2005's stunning Kensington Blues. At the time of his death, Rose was planning a tour to support a new album of "pre-war American music" on indie label Thrill Jockey. Instead the rustic, blissful Luck in the Valley, which comes out Feb. 23, will serve as a final statement from a man whose instrumental music spoke volumes.
For a longtime drug addict, DJ AM's death came as a hell of a surprise. Perhaps because he'd sidestepped the big sleep so many times before he'd lived through a fatal plane crash, morbid obesity, a suicide attempt and Crazy Town we thought Adam Goldstein, aka DJ AM, could endure anything. Sadly, his resilience was no match for the heady mix of cocaine, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax, Benadryl and Levamisole that snuffed him on Aug. 28 at age 36. We'll miss his merry, utterly silly grooves that made us feel, however wrongly, like we'd make it out alive, too.
If you've ever read The Catcher in the Rye or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, you might have librarian Judith Krug to thank. Hell, if you've used the dictionary which has actually been removed from school library shelves for bad language you should light a candle for Krug, the patron saint of not caving to censorship.
Krug, née Fingeret, grew up in the Pittsburgh area with parents who didn't believe in stifling children's interests. When her mother found a young Krug reading a book about sex with a flashlight in the dark, she simply requested Krug turn on the light so she didn't hurt her eyes. She married in the early 1960s and had two children of her own, to whom her anti-censorship stance also applied: "I didn't care what my kids read as long as they were reading," she told the Chicago Tribune in 2002.
Krug became director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom at its founding in 1967, and two years later helped create the Freedom to Read Foundation, an independent group that provides funding for legal aid in First Amendment cases. For the next 40 years, Krug fought tirelessly to block censorship at every turn.
It may not seem like such a big deal who bans books these days, right? It turns out a lot of people try. In 1982, as the evangelical Christian group the Moral Majority came into prominence, there were more than 1,000 attempts to remove books from libraries. (The number is currently in the 500 range each year.) But it isn't just the Christian Right that wants to take books off the shelves. The Left has complained about the use of the n-word in Huckleberry Finn and the misogyny of American Psycho.
Some of the books that people have tried to ban include the Harry Potter series, Of Mice and Men, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Brave New World. Krug even got a complaint about a sewing pattern book called Making It With Mademoiselle, because the title sounded dirty. In 1982, she founded Banned Books Week to promote awareness and celebrate the fact that these and thousands of other books are still available.
Keeping books on shelves wasn't Krug's only fight. She stood up against a 1996 attempt to censor the Internet in libraries, seeing the medium's importance at a time when only about 20 percent of households in the United States had Internet access. The fight went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a statute prohibiting "indecent" materials from being transmitted online was struck down, though a later battle against filters blocking objectionable materials on library computers was less successful. And when the Patriot Act was passed in October 2001, Krug and her fellow librarians stood up and said no and not in a quiet library voice, either insisting that the government should not have access to library records.
Krug died on April 11 from stomach cancer at age 69. Here's hoping others will fight as hard and as successfully as she did, because the right to free speech is under-appreciated and frighteningly fragile. As Krug told The Washington Post in 1981, "I hate to say it, but I'm not sure we could pass the First Amendment today in this country."
Backing up a legend is a surefire road to obscurity. Hard-core football fans may recognize the names Gary Cuozzo, Earl Morrall, George Shaw and Tommy Tuckerton, but nearly everybody has heard of Johnny Unitas, the quarterback who all the aforementioned snap-callers played behind at some point in their careers. That backup position is where drummer Rashied Ali found himself in the mid-1960s when he started playing with John Coltrane. In the mid-1960s, Ali took over the drum stool previously occupied by Elvin Jones, who since 1960 had merely anchored one of the most innovative and celebrated quartets in jazz history.
Like many jazz musicians of his generation, Ali born Robert Patterson in Philadelphia in 1935 to a musical family (his mother and four sisters played piano; his father's cousin is drummer Charlie Rice) honed his chops while playing through his stint in the Army. Back home, he worked with early R&B and blues acts such as Dick Hart and the Heartaches and Big Maybelle before hooking up with other Philly-based jazzmen such as trumpeter Lee Morgan and organist Don Patterson.
By the early 1960s, Ali started forging his own vocabulary, an open and propulsive sound, and after moving to New York in 1963, he spent the decade gigging with some of the players who would open up jazz idioms into freer forms: Albert Ayler, Gary Bartz, Paul Bley, Marion Brown, Don Cherry, Bill Dixon, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and James Blood Ulmer.
It was with Coltrane, though, that Ali's approach fully bloomed. Ali played with Coltrane only during the last two years of the saxophonist's life, 1965-67, but those were arguably two of the most prolific and probing years of any 20th-century artist's life; a flabbergasting 23 albums date from this period. Not all of which were released during Coltrane's lifetime, and Ali played only on nine, but those albums such as Meditations and the epic Live in Japan document a consistently progressing artist at his most experimental. Ali didn't swing like Jones to be fair, nobody could swing like Jones but his multidirectional drive and responsive ear made him a sympathetic partner to this period in Coltrane's work, when music from other cultures was influencing the saxophonist's approach and he embraced a more internally investigative attitude in his soloing.
Interstellar Space, a 1967 duo recording between Ali and Coltrane that wasn't released until 1974, captures their sympathetic musical relationship, as this suite of cosmic recordings mines an imaginative territory of breathtaking emotional ambition. It was this torch, jazz as spiritual exercise, that Ali carried until a heart attack claimed his life Aug. 12 at the age of 74. Not for nothing was Ali often tapped by reedsmen for their heavyweight odysseys see: Charles Gayle's 1991 Touchin' on Trane or David Murray's 1993 Body and Soul and Ali's skillful presence powered such exploratory groups as Phalanx, By Any Means, Prima Materia and, most recently, his own Rashied Ali Quintet. He never tired of giving himself to the music, and his exploratory sound continues to open third eyes.
On June 14, Steven Wells filed his final column for Philadelphia Weekly. It was published June 25, one day after he finally succumbed, at the age of 49, to the cancer that had racked his body for years. The acid-tongued Brit ex-pat had chronicled his battle with this motherfucker of a disease over the years with a searing, brutal honesty; before that, Wells, aka Seething Wells, aka Swells, was an iconic writer for the U.K.'s big-shit music rag, New Musical Express (NME), who once received an ax from U2's Bono with a note asking if they could "bury the hatchet." He took on sexism and racism in rock 'n' roll. He wrote with a vigor and righteous belligerence and conviction of which most journalists could only dream; an obit in the London Guardian branded him "arguably, the last great British rock writer."
But let's go back to his final column, as Wells stared death in the face, and let him speak for himself, one last time (hopefully, our friends at PW won't mind too much): "Why is it," he asked, "that the people with the most profound stuff to say are also those who are the least capable of being able to express that profundity?"
Even as the cancer sucked the life from his bones, Wells never wanted for profundity or perhaps more accurately, an endearing venom that made you angry, but more importantly, made you think.
Philadelphia's roots community said goodbye to a number of its stalwarts in 2009, but it's fair to say the family lost its matriarch when Esther Halpern passed away, on Oct. 8, at age 79 from liver failure. From her days running and playing the revered Gilded Cage coffee shop which hosted Joan Baez and John Hurt in the '50s and '60s to her enduring contributions as a co-founder of Philadelphia Folk Song Society (and its juggernaut Folk Festival), Halpern was all about creating a place for folks who like folk.
Long before Paris Hilton or Pamela Anderson gave their first video blowjobs, there was Marilyn Chambers. Before trash culture became normalized and piped into homes via cable and broadband, she scandalized pre-Internet America. We will remember her as porn's first and arguably best-known mainstreamer.
Born Marilyn Ann Briggs in 1952, Chambers aspired to be a model and actress during her Connecticut childhood, a dream her parents neither supported nor encouraged. She scored her first big modeling gig posing as a young mother for the packaging of Ivory Snow detergent. After landing bit parts in the utterly forgettable 1970 Barbra Streisand vehicle The Owl and the Pussycat and the indie nudie Together, her parents still were not impressed. Artie and Jim Mitchell, however, were apparently impressed enough to offer her a non-sexual role in their ambitious 1972 art-porn film Behind the Green Door. As filming progressed, Chambers was enticed to take her clothes off and change her life forever, for $25,000 and a promised 1 percent of the film's earnings.
Chambers' appeal wasn't so much that she had the all-American or girl-next-door look; it's more like she was the first in the industry to not look like she belonged in the industry. Today, it's difficult to imagine what it must have been like seeing a face found in every grocery store in the country wholesome, holding an infant suddenly appear on adult-theater screens doing full-on, rape-fantasy, interracial porn. But Behind the Green Door was a smash, as men (and women) were drawn to check out the new wave of artistic porn. The film earned a reported $50 million, and by 1981 it was playing in VCRs across the land. (It's unlikely that Chambers ever saw her full cut.)
Chambers was among the first actresses to attempt and fail at the transition out of porn. In 1977, filmmaker David Cronenberg, unable to get his first choice, Sissy Spacek, tapped Chambers for the lead in his second low-budget feature. Her performance in Rabid, a body-transformation/zombie thriller, earned her some good reviews and the respect of her director, but it didn't win her more straight-film parts.
In the early '80s, in between filming hardcore, softcore and the occasional non-sex role, Chambers was harassed while performing her live nude act at the Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell Theatre by then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who was on a bender to rid the city of strippers. Her Feinstein run-in may have inspired her performance in her 1999 comeback, Still Insatiable, in which she plays an anti-porn crusading senator who ends up sucked into the world she's crusading against.
Though angry that her straight career never took off and out of hardcore by 2001, she would still attend adult-film awards events. But when asked in 2004 if she would recommend working in porn, she said, "Absolutely not! It's heartbreaking ... it leaves you kind of empty." She died April 12 of a heart-disease-related aneurysm, 10 days before her 57th birthday.
Jack Cardiff would be on no one's list of great film directors of the 20th century the movie for which he is perhaps best known as an auteur, 1968's Girl on a Motorcycle, is considered a laughable disaster.As a cinematographer, however, Cardiff was one of the foremost technician-poets of the big screen, responsible for many of its most indelible images.
Born in 1914, Cardiff was a show-biz baby who followed his British vaudeville-performer parents onstage and made his first film appearance by age 4. His itinerant upbringing made for an erratic education, but the young Cardiff soaked up the vivid colors and light effects of Baroque and Impressionist paintings in art museums wherever he traveled. He went to work on British film sets as a teen, working his way up to camera operator. Eventually, he was sent to America to learn about a new film process: Technicolor. Despite his lack of formal training, his art-enhanced eye helped make him a prodigy at the process, which required cumbersome cameras but captured super-saturated hues.
After Cardiff returned to Britain, he made the most of his training working as director of photography (DP) for a string of films with director Michael Powell. For 1946's A Matter of Life and Death, Cardiff shot heaven in black-and-white and war-time England in absurdly vivid greens and violets as David Niven's love-struck downed pilot pleads with the celestial powers for a second chance. In 1947's Black Narcissus, Cardiff and company re-created a nunnery high in the Himalayas on U.K. soundstages, with Cardiff's deeply dramatic lighting and camera angles telegraphing the turmoil beneath the habits. In 1948's The Red Shoes, he and Powell created the Technicolor masterpiece: The central 18-minute ballet sequence remains a jaw-dropper for its imaginative lyricism and daring.
Cardiff won an Oscar for Black Narcissus and worked steadily as a DP throughout the '50s on big Hollywood pictures, including The African Queen, The Prince and the Showgirl and War and Peace. He tried his own hand at directing, winning a Best Director Oscar nomination for his 1960 adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, but the studio pictures his stately style best suited were going out of fashion. Cardiff took on the '60s youthquake by directing Girl on a Motorcycle, a cult favorite notable for slipping a nubile Marianne Faithfull naked into a fur-lined leather jumpsuit, and for its ill-advised use of cheesy "psychedelic" effects. By the late '70s, he had returned to DP work full-time, shooting everything from 1978 period whodunit Death on the Nile to Sylvester Stallone's 1985 blood 'n' guts blockbuster Rambo: First Blood Part II.
Cardiff's reputation was secure, regardless, thanks to the generation of post-studio directors who devoured his classic Technicolor imagery. (Click over to the extras menu of many Cardiff-shot DVDs and you'll find Martin Scorsese enthusing about him.) He won an honorary Oscar in 2001 but continued to work behind the camera until just a few years before his death on April 22.
Although Christina's World is set in the Maine countryside of Andrew Wyeth's many summers, the late American realist's most celebrated painting which now hangs in New York's Museum of Modern Art acts as a window into his Chadds Ford world, as well. The rural town outside Philadelphia is where Wyeth was born in 1917, where he learned to capture the magic of hushed landscapes, and where he died in his sleep Jan. 16 at the age of 91. One need only head west toward the winding Brandywine River to get a sense of where the great man found such gracious inspiration.
Most of the time, people show up in these obit round-ups because of something they've contributed to the world. Allen Klein is notable in large part for what he took from it. As an accountant and manager for 1960s soul and pop acts, including Sam Cooke, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, he proved himself a tough negotiator on his clients' behalf. At the same time, he sometimes wound up owning the rights to the work they created and often left strife and lawsuits in his wake. He gave the rock era its foremost archetype of the grasping, shady manager in the process.
Born in Newark, N.J., in 1931, Klein spent much of his childhood in an orphanage. After earning a degree in accounting, he set his sights on the entertainment business. His early specialty was combing through record companies' ledgers and finding money owed to artists, which won him grateful clients such as pop singer Bobby Darin and gospel-turned-soul star Cooke. The latter took on Klein as his manager, and was rewarded with an unprecedentedly rich Klein-negotiated record deal. (Klein's company, ABKCO, purchased the rights to Cooke's music after the singer's 1964 death.)
Already working with British pop acts, Klein landed the Rolling Stones as management clients in 1965. Impressed by the burly, unpolished Klein's reputation for toughness, and by the fat paydays he'd won for the Stones, John Lennon suggested he take over the Beatles' finances after longtime manager Brian Epstein died in 1967. Paul McCartney was against the idea, but the other two Beatles sided with Lennon, sealing the deal and driving a wedge; people may believe Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles, but blaming Klein makes more sense. The Stones, distrustful of Klein's own accounting, eventually tried to extricate themselves and ended up in a lawsuit that won him all rights to all of the band's music recorded before 1971. While he wound up with no Beatles rights himself, Klein uncharacteristically failed to secure for Lennon and McCartney the up-for-grab rights to their early songs the lucrative publishing eventually snapped up by Michael Jackson. After Klein helped ex-Beatle George Harrison organized the charitable Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, questions arose about his handling of the proceeds, leading to a brief prison sentence for tax evasion.
All the legal wrangling cooled Klein's management career, but he remained a formidable force through the rights controlled by ABKCO. He kept the music of '60s pop label Cameo-Parkway artists ranging from Chubby Checker to ? and the Mysterians out of print for decades. He prevented the release of legendary 1968 concert film The Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus until 1996. After funding Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1973 cult classic The Holy Mountain, Klein feuded with the director and withdrew all of Jodorowsky's early films from circulation until 2004. A snippet of a Stones tune that wound up in the Verve's 1997 song "Bitter Sweet Symphony" led to a legal battle that won ABKCO 100 percent of the royalties from the international hit. ABKCO sued rapper Lil Wayne over a similar Stones bite in 2008.
Klein died of complications from Alzheimer's disease on July 4, but ABKCO, now reportedly run by Klein's son Jody, still controls an enormous chunk of rock-era creativity. And Klein might ultimately be best remembered by the various bits of rock-era creativity that seem to revile him, usually created by artists he represented. "Well your teeth are clean but your mind is capped," John Lennon sang in his song "Steel and Glass." "You leave your smell like an alley cat."
On Jan. 23, famed Philadelphia guitarist Linda Cohen passed away a month shy of her 52nd birthday, following a brief, but intense, battle with cancer. Yet somehow the loss was is as great for those she taught at the Classical Guitar Store as for her fans, old and new. To newbies, she was the godmother of freak folk an unfortunate term, but one that acts as a shortcut to the now-sound developed throughout the latter '90s of Joanna Newsome, Devendra Banhart and Philadelphia's own Espers. For old-heads, she was the godmother (or maybe sister) of psychedelic ambient classical folk, a crinkly, spooky and clarion sound she forged based on the likes of Andres Torres Segovia and John Fahey. Though she made her recorded debut with Leda in 1972, and continued with Lake of Light (1973), Angel Alley (1982) and Naked Under the Moon (1999), her playing and composition of atmospheric folk-blues-classical stuff started long before that: gigs at The Second Fret, Artemis and the original Electric Factory. To those who knew or met her, she was a quiet, seductive woman whose personality was so intertwined to that of her intricate music, it'll always be unforgettable.
Yes, Al Alberts (Albertini) popularized the downashore classic "On the Way to Cape May." He's probably best known to the cosmos for The Four Aces' "Love is a Many Splendored Thing." But in Philadelphia, he's best remembered for his 32-year Saturday morning institution, The Al Alberts Showcase, wherein a tuxedoed, toothy-grinned, meticulously coiffed Uncle Al hung out on a weird carpeted riser with his Teeny Boppers, a gaggle of precocious local preschoolers, as they warbled songs and cracked jokes they weren't really old enough to understand. It probably wasn't as creepy as it looked it couldn't have been as creepy as it looked but hell if the disturbing image of a 9-year-old imitating Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean"-era crotch grabs isn't burned into our subconscious anyway. The Showcase went off the air in 1994 and Alberts passed away Nov. 27 of complications from kidney failure at 87. He and his Little Miss Showcases live on, on YouTube.
Back in 1966, women wore wide-legs to hostess, recipe books included multiple versions of aspic, and Clamato a blend of tomato juice and clam juice was brand-new on grocers' shelves. The latter was just one of the ways Sylvia Schur, the lady mixologist behind Mott's odd savory beverage, influenced the way we eat and think about food. She died Sept. 8 at 92.
Born in 1917, Schur grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and edited her high school paper before studying at Hunter College in Manhattan. After graduation, she became the food editor for multiple periodicals, including Flair, Look and Woman's Home Companion, integrating food and meal planning into style magazines, which broke the ground for today's inclusion of cooking and eating in women's magazines from Vogue to More.
In 1958, she started the Creative Food Services (CFS), a food marketing and creation company that employed many young women in its test kitchen. "Food is a very emotional factor in people's lives," Schur said in 1981. She knew successfully working on the technological aspect of food creating recipes that used processed ingredients included taking the cook's heart into consideration. People wanted homemade taste out of three-ingredient meals; thus, her recipes for chuck roast with condensed mushroom soup and dry onion soup mix. Remember the early cookbooks for those huge, first-generation microwave ovens with their scrambled egg recipes? Home cooks want it warm and fast. Schur delivered. She also consulted on the creation of the '60s diet drink Metrecal, a sort of résumé oddity, considering this is the woman who knew the girls who read Seventeen magazine 40 years ago would eat up articles about the effects of a good diet.
Her company was also involved in the invention of food products and consulted prepackaged food companies to better market their products. She worked on the menu of New York's hallowed Four Seasons restaurant and invented the sweetly tart Cran-Apple juice drink. After the Duffy-Mott company bought a small clam processor, it hired Schur's CFS for product development and Clamato, a savory tomato juice with a shot of clam broth, was born. The drink is a bit of a joke for the uninitiated, but those who love it, love it. If that's the way you roll, raise your bloody Caesar (made with Clamato, natch) or red eye (Clamato and beer) to a culinary visionary with good taste who changed the atmosphere of reading about, creating and eating food.
If you've never heard of "the area rule," or admired the counter-intuitive lines of the F-106 Delta Dart fighter jet, that's OK. You still have Richard Whitcomb to thank for your ability to fly from New York to Miami for under $250, round-trip.
Whitcomb was an aeronautical engineer who worked most of his career at NASA and its predecessor, NACA. The area rule is a complex formula for figuring aircraft fuselages into the pointy-tipped paper-airplane shape we now take for granted. Whitcomb came up with the rule while trying to figure out why airplanes that should have been able to fly faster than the speed of sound couldn't do so. The shape solved the problem of wave drag the tendency of air, at near the speed of sound, to form itself into invisible "pipes" because it can't get out of a plane's way fast enough. When Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947, he needed brute force in a rocket-powered experimental plane. By the late 1950s, engineers were designing passenger airliners that could fly as fast, mainly because of Whitcomb's design innovations. In the 1960s, Whitcomb also designed a new wing shape, called the "supercritical airfoil," and in the 1970s, he came up with "winglets," those vertical sails on the ends of airliners' wings, which save fuel by reducing turbulence.
Growing up in Evanston, Ill., Whitcomb was fascinated by aircraft and by the prospect of improving them. His first invention was a method of doubling the power available from the rubber bands that powered his model planes. "There's been a continual drive in me ever since I was a teenager to find a better way to do everything," he told The Washington Post in 1969. After studying at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, he went to work in 1943 at Langley Air Force Base, where he became a workaholic, sometimes sleeping on a cot in front of a special wind tunnel. A prototypical nerd, he was said to shower rarely, and he never married. He died Oct. 13 at age 88.
"I think he was the most significant aeronautical engineer operating in the second half of 20th century," Tom Crouch, a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, told The Wall Street Journal after his death. "His fingerprints are on every jet plane flying today."
The "Unknown Neighbor"
In August, a few dozen people gathered at Arch Street Methodist Church for an unusual memorial service. The attendees didn't know the name of the deceased. They'd never met him. But they did know how he died: On July 3, Philadelphia police responded to a 60-year-old homeless man who'd been pressing the emergency call button in the SEPTA concourse widely known as "Sherwood Forest," near City Hall, which is filled on any given night with the chronically homeless. The cops confronted the man, who allegedly pulled a weapon on the officers a box cutter. One officer shot and killed him, after, officers claimed, he "lunged" at them with the sharp tool.
In the wake of his death, homeless advocates around the city came together to memorialize the man whom they dubbed the "Unknown Neighbor" and to press the cops to answer the questions that his death posed: Did the cops overreact? Did the police follow proper procedures regarding the mentally ill? Were those procedures sufficient?
Jeffrey Joshua Rosen was one of several homeless people who spoke at the service. "This poor man was not a threat to these two police officers," he told the congregation. "Something has gone horribly wrong." Indeed it did. Although, if there is a silver lining to be had, it lies in the fact that the Unknown Neighbor's death forced us to look the uncomfortable reality of this often invisible population's dealings with the law.
In a football town that knows defensive masterminds, Jim Johnson towered above the Ryans, Rhodeses, Thomases and Campbells. During his 10-year run with the Birds, the Illinois native elevated the blitz to an art form, directing his crashing, careening, stone-walling charges like a maestro conducting The Rite of Spring. Like its architect, Johnson's defense didn't have a flashy name, just flashy results his Eagles once reeled off a 34-game streak of allowing 21 points or fewer, the second longest such streak in NFL history. When Johnson succumbed on July 28 to melanoma, at the age of 68, Philadelphia lost a little piece of its soul.
The circumstances of Joaquin Rivera's death were infuriating enough to warrant national media attention: On the evening of Nov. 28, the 63-year-old entered the Atria Health Frankford Campus emergency room complaining of chest pains. He was told to wait. And he did for more than an hour, before passing out and dying of a heart attack. While he sat slumped over in the ER, three homeless drug addicts stole his watch.
But it's his life that we choose to remember: He was a renowned folk musician, a dropout who got his GED, took online courses at the Community College of Philadelphia and Rutgers University and became a school counselor at Olney High School, a Puerto Rican activist who campaigned for bilingual education and protested the U.S. Navy's bombing of Vieques. Rivera made his community a better place, and that's all any of us can really aspire to do. Northeast Philly will miss him.
This list would be incomplete without a mention of poet, punk rocker and The Basketball Diaries author James Dennis Carroll, who passed Sept. 11 of a heart attack at his Manhattan home at the age of 60. Incomplete because it was Carroll whose band, the Jim Carroll Band, with the help of the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, in 1980 released a record titled Catholic Boy, the best-known track off which is, of course, "People Who Died."
Portions of this story previously appeared in the Baltimore City Paper.