Monday, May 28, 2007

RIP Charles Nelson Reilly

Charles Nelson Reilly, who acted and directed on Broadway but came to be best known for his campy television appearances on talk shows and "Match Game," died on Friday (5/25) in Los Angeles. He was 76 and lived in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, said his partner, Patrick Hughes, who is his only immediate survivor. Mr. Reilly had been ill for more than a year, he said.

Although he had a career before his days as a game-show staple in the 1970s and 1980s, Charles - complete with his ascots, oversize spectacles and over-the-top penchant for double-entendres, was a key to my growing up years. I watched him work - listened to how he delivered lines and learned all about timing.

Both Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde taught me a lot about quality wit and comedic humor - and more importantly, how to laugh, even when faced with frustration or ridicule.

Charles Nelson Reilly - I salute you.

if the embedded video doesn't load, the direct link is


So, this Memorial Day Weekend I've spent mostly in air conditioned comfort - to try to balance the discomfort from allergies gone wild. I was doing some bookmark housekeeping online, and discovered a clip I had saved - and I can see why.

Young@Heart is a documentary produced by Channel 4 in the UK last fall. It followed the Young@Heart chorus as they prepare for their new show, 'Alive and Well' which will be performed before an audience of a thousand in their home town of Northampton, Massachusetts.

What makes Young@Heart unique is that the average age of the choir members is 80 - and they perform current and classic songs from Outkast, The Clash, Nirvana and more.

In the course of the film, an intimate, moving and often hilarious portrait emerges of an extraordinary group of people who may be old in body but refuse to grow old in spirit. This particular clip from the documentary was (for me) the most stirring moment of the entire program ... and the program had many stirring moments indeed.

The performer here is Fred Knittle, who suffers from congestive heart failure. This song was intended to be a duet between Fred and another chorus member, Bob Salvini. Sadly, Bob died of a heart attack shortly before and it was left to Fred to carry the song on his own.

From what I've gathered, the people you see crying at 01:13 are Bob's family. The lady you occasionally see mouthing the lyrics in the audience is Fred's wife.

There were some very touching scenes where we see Fred rehearsing alone soon after Bob's death. It is an incredible film and this is a wonderful rendition of a powerful song.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Video Vault

May has turned into a hectic month and I for one am grateful that Memorial Day Weekend is upon us ... I need to catch up with myself!

Recently a friend shared a video clip with me, which triggered a folder of memories - the star of the clip was the late, great Mama Cass. Now, I'm not going to teach you about Ms. Cass - she's well worth the read if you are unfamiliar - but my post is about just how important Mama Cass was to me and to little gay boys like me in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

My first memory of Mama Cass was within my father's record collection. Just looking at her made me see how unique and different she was, compared to pop stars of the time. Here was this big girl who dressed brightly and boldy and did not let her shape stand in the way. I remember connecting to that - but not knowing quite why.

I really got into Mama Cass when I was around 6-8 years of age (1969-71). My parents had divorced and my mother and I moved into a home in West Philly as a temporary step - it was owned by two 'aunts' of mine (not blood related) who were the hippest and coolest adults I knew at that point. Aunt Rita and Aunt Sandy let me listen to whatever music I wanted - swing in the huge Macramé chair that was bolted to the ceiling - and help out at the sandwich shop they owned at the corner.

Years later I would realize that Rita and Sandy were lesbians - at the time tho, they were just cool. I remember being enrolled in a public school where I was the only white kid in the class.

Different never was so clear to me as it was during that moment.

Even at a young age, I took advantage of the situation; parents split up - everything in disarray, distractions abound. I would go out of my way to avoid school - sick, lonely, tired. Whatever card I could play to convince my already exhausted mother that I couldn't - WOULDN'T - go back to that horrible school.

When I think back - I realize the times played a bigger role than I had thought. Up til then, I grew up in NE section of Philadelphia and spent my kindergarden year in an all-white class. I really hadn't met a black person, with exception to my Nana's housekeeper, who came to help her care for the house where I grew up.

Being pulled out of the only home you knew - seperated from my father and tossed into a new neighborhood that was completely DIFFERENT than anything you had seen ... then entering a school where you are the only white kid in the first grade classroom ... it was a lot to take in.

But I don't regret it one bit. Living with Aunts Rita and Sandy allowed me to learn to appreciate our black neighbors as simply human beings. Rita and Sandy took the time to teach me about stereotypes and to show me how to accept and respect.

Not only others, but myself.

They also allowed me to explore my love for Mama Cass.

I remember the first time I heard this song:

The record ended and I just sat there - a 7-year old gay boy, stuck in a whole new world, all alone but at the same time totally understanding just what it was I had to do.

This song makes me cry til this day. It spoke to me as a kid and Mama Cass became MY Mama at that point. I realized that she was singing to those who felt DIFFERENT. I soaked it up.

I convinced my Aunts to take me to see Pufnstuf - a movie based on the TV show H.R. Pufnstuf ... a truly stoned out of their friggin minds kids show. Pufnstuf the movie came out in 1970 and starred Mama as Witch Hazel and I just HAD to see it!

We went and I was floooooooored. Especially when Mama took to the screen - during this performance, I knew that Mama was singing directly to me.

When I learned about Mama's death in the summer of 1974, I was devatated. At 11 years old, I felt the pain of loss for the first time. But I remember that moment and I remember thinking to myself that I couldn't let Mama down. I had to be strong and continue to be proud of who I was, no matter how different I felt.

Cass Elliot was one of the strongest planks in the early years of my foundation - and she remains close to my heart to this day.

Mama had such a way with notes - with lyrics - with me.

In 1996 everything came together for me, my world and Mama Cass - all thanks to an incredible film called 'Beautiful Thing'.

Beautiful Thing focuses on three neighbors, Jamie, Steve (Ste) and Leah on Thamesmead Estate in south-east London. In the middle flat, Jamie lives with his pub manager mom, Sandra. Next door lives Ste, sporty and good looking, with his brother and alcoholic father. The atmosphere is tense at the best of times. On the other side live Leah and her mom. Leah has been kicked out of school and passes her time listening to old records and has become obsessed with the music of the Mamas and the Papas and particularly with Mama Cass. Jamie and Ste fall in love, much to the frustration of those around - 'cept Leah. Showing you this scene will not spoil the movie, since it is such a wonderfully-painful story that uses the voice of Mama Cass throughout to emphasise that being different is okay.

At this point in the movie, Jamie and Ste have had enough and finally show their love publicly in the courtyard as Leah (as usual) blasts Mama Cass records from her flat. Leah steps out - joined shortly by Jamie's mom - and watch the boys as they stand tall and embrace just how different they are - and in reality, just how same.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sex in the 70s

Today I had the chance to finally watch GAY SEX IN THE 70s -- a hypnotic documentary exploring the NYC scene through the 1970s and into the early/mid 80s.

Although not part of the 1970s sexual revolution, I stepped onto the Sexual dance floor during its final hour and watched the beat slowly fade away and along with it the carefree atmosphere that was the gay community that had, just a few years earlier, welcomed me with open arms.

So, I popped this DVD in, not knowing just what to expect. I know the Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival had screened it last year; but I was unable to see it ... everywhere I went afterwards, people kept asking me if I had seen it ... now I understand why.


This documentary really explores the emotions behind the sexual liberation that the gay male community experienced in the 70s. Instead of just documenting what happened, it gets the story first hand from those that were there - and helps the viewer understand the process the community was experiencing; why we exploded so fast and also the common thread between the network of friends in the 70s and how those networks helped form the activist movement in the 1980s, specifically surrounding the AIDS pandemic.

For me - it was comforting to see video and film of some of the clubs and bars I used to go to back then... I felt like I was watching family videos, since in many ways this WAS my family. The bars, the Village, the piers. Nights at The Saint and weekends at Saint Marks Baths. They even featured The Anvil - a place I went to quite often ... in fact, I still have the keychain they gave out at the club's entrance!

Here's the trailer for GAY SEX IN THE 70s

Watching this documentary opened a flood of personal memories - at the end, they interview kids (i.e. 25 or so) today about 'The 70s' and it's interesting to hear their comments while the credits roll. Afterwards, the screen goes black - then comes back to one of the men who shared their story through the documentary.

The director is off camera and asks him, so what do you miss most about the 70s? To which he pauses - looks into the camera - and says 'My friends. I miss my friends the most.'

I lost it - partly because it was a touching moment, but mostly because I totally get what he's saying. Ever since the bottom fell out in my world back then, I don't think I ever recovered. I've shifted from having a deep meaningful circle of friends to being completely absorbed by my career and side projects. Not because I need to be, but because I choose to be. I've developed such a fear of bonding with someone that, when not out and about, I keep to myself most the time. Most of my friends today understand that - and know that's just the way it is.

Sometimes I wonder.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Audio Flashback


So, I was up in Maine this weekend to celebrate my Nana's 100th birthday -- in the last year she finally entered a care facility, since her knees are no longer able to get her around on her own (but she still has her wit, vigor and memory!).

Anyway - once she went into her new home, my uncle and his family had the responsibility to clean out her apartment and distribute her belongings to the family ... in the midst of that process, Jack came across a cassette that I had given Nana back when I was just 17.


It was recorded in MAY 1981 as I was doing the overnight shift at WCSD-FM in Warminster, PA ... the format was anything goes overnight - so I would bring my records and do my shift from 1-6am each Tuesday morning.

Jack didn't tell me he found the cassette - instead he had it transferred onto CD and presented the disc to me this weekend ... I WAS BLOWN AWAY!! The funniest thing is when I started playing the disc, I didn't even recognize me ... thank God I got rid of that silly Philly accent.

Anyway - I wanted to share it with you - I put it up on Wiki ... since it's free ... just click this link, then click the brown DOWNLOAD FILE button - you'll have to enter in a security code and then the file will play in your browser, thanks to Quicktime.

For those wondering WCSD began broadcasting on Sept 6, 1976, a 10-watt radio station located at the former William Tennent High School on Street Road. Its call letters are the initials of the station's original owner, the Centenial School District.

In 1980 the station license was transfered from the School District to the Bux-Mont Educational Radio Association and the station relocated to the basement of the Warminster Township Building/Police Department at Henry and Gibson Avenues in Warminster, Pennsylvania. It began operations there on May 15, 1980 after a 16 month period of silence. In 1981 it increased power to 200 watts and in 1986 changed call letters to WRDV which stand for "Radio in the Delaware Valley."

Enjoy this flashback to Robert Drake, at age 17!!