HAWKINS PASSES — (Via Forgotten Hits) We lost another music legend when Ronnie Hawkins passed away this past weekend.
The story of The Band began with Ronnie Hawkins. He was our mentor. He taught us the rules of the road.
Ronnie Hawkins brought me down from Canada to the Mississippi delta when I was 16. He recorded two songs I’d written and thought I might be talented. He tried me out on guitar and bass the only problem was; I’m too young to play in the clubs they toured, I was too inexperienced, not a good enough musician yet, and there are NO Canadians in southern rock and roll bands. But I practiced until my fingers were bleeding and he ended up hiring me against all odds.
Ron prided himself in always having top notch players in his group. Levon Helm his drummer in the Hawks and I talked Ron into hiring Rick Danko on bass and vocals, Richard Manuel on piano and vocals and Garth Hudson on organ and sax. Along with Levon and me this became the magic combination.
Ronnie was the godfather. The one who made this all happen.
He had us rehearsing constantly into the wee hours. We balked about it, but we got better and better. Our goal whether we knew it or not.
After the Hawks left Ron and went out on our own, we joined up with Bob Dylan. Next the Hawks became The Band and the rest is history, as they say.
All starting out with Ronnie Hawkins.
He was not only a great artist, a tremendous performer and bandleader, but had a style of humor unequaled. Fall down funny and completely unique. Yep, God only made one of those. And he will live in our hearts forever.
My deepest condolences to his family.
Bless his soul.
CALL RAY –— (from Variety) Ray Parker Jr., the R&B star and singer-songwriter best known for the theme from “Ghostbusters,” gets the documentary treatment in “Who You Gonna Call?,” from Sony Pictures Entertainment, which premieres on digital platforms on June 7.
Parker says, “At a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a musician. It was my dream. My life. I did everything and anything I could to make that happen. I’d like to say that luck was very much on my side, but I think dedication and determination to make my dreams come true played a larger part. I always tell young musicians that if you want something then work hard at it and go after it. When you find something you’re good at, the fun part just comes along for the ride! Also don’t think about Option 2. Make Option 1 a reality. You are the only one to make it happen. Know that creating music is a collaborative process, so always deliver, have fun and enjoy the process. This usually guarantees call backs.”
Strine says, “When I interviewed Ray for my previous documentary ‘Hired Gun,’ I knew there was a bigger story to tell. From the moment I sat down with him, I was instantly hooked on telling his life’s story. When most people think of Ray Parker Jr they think of ‘Ghostbusters.’ Yes, he’s had great success with that song, but Ray is so much more than that. The list of legendary artists Ray has performed with and written for is staggering and people don’t know this side of him. After learning more about him I knew right away I needed to tell his story. I’m positive people will draw inspiration from his life story, as I still do, by watching this film.”
Debbie Gibson started her 15-date tour this week. Calling it The Body Remember tour after her album of the same name from 2021 …
Saw an interview with Lee Dickson, Clapton’s former guitar tech and he said that for him, Clapton’s most exciting gig was when he played with Lenny Karvitz at a 1999 White House-event with Bill and Hillary Clinton. They performed an unrehearsed “All Along The Watchtower” – and, yes, that is Cindy Blackman Santana on drums. Watch it here:
Netflix’s Stranger Things Season 4 premiere Friday (Part 1) broke all of the cablenet’s records for viewership. I watched them all and thought they were sensational.
Kate Bush’s 1995 “Running Up That Hill” was on the premiere and shot up to #1 on Apple iTunes the very next day … And, Congrats Michael Moritz and Gia Ramsey on their wedding and Happy Bday Bob Dylan!
The Glorious Corner
STRIKE END LOOMS — (Via Showbiz 411/Roger Friedman) All the studio chiefs met Wedneday with the Writers Guild and will continue negotiating tomorrow, according to a WGA post.
The sudden seriousness of the studios is welcomed as the deadline looms for the 2023-24 TV season. If the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes aren’t resolved by early October, my sources say it will be impossible to put on a season.
Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, Disney’s Bob Iger, Universal’s Donna Langley and Warner Bros Discovery’s David Zaslav were present today for the negotiations, a sure sign that the studios are finally in panic mode.
There are no daytime or nighttime talk shows, no new material on TV, and actors can’t promote the fall and winter movies. The actors have already missed the Telluride, Venice, and Toronto Film Festivals. Now the New York Film Festival looms, as does the premiere of Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.”
The so-called Fall TV Season has been decimated; the Emmy’s pushed back and just general chaos everywhere. The severity of the strike -142 days in- has hurt almost-every-single below-the-line sector, from caterers to limo drivers to costume houses. It’s reported that it will take up to 10-12 weeks to fully resume everything. That means early-November and let’s not forget come Thanksgiving, the holiday season officially starts. Stay tuned.
LOVE, BURT AT THE CUTTING ROOM — Monday night at Steve Walter’s Cutting Room was the presentation of Love, Burt – celebrating the majesty and memory of Burt Bacharach’s music.
The show really moved me and reminded me of the reason I do what … the music!
The show was just sumptuous – with the assembled group -led by Mike Visceglia- honoring and doing proper justice to a host of Bacharach songs – everything from “Baby, It’s You” to “One Less Bell To Answer,” The Look Of Love” and “Alfie” were all dutifully done. Especially poignant was their rendition of “A House Is Not A Home.”
The fact of the matter is that when these songs were recorded, they were embedded into everyone’s consciousness. These versions were good, but the originals remain standout. You hear a lot about the Great American Songbook, but these songs are the “new” Great American Songbook. Just luscious.
They ended the show was one of my favorite-Bacharach songs, from the 1988 album Burt recorded with Elvis Costello, Painted From Memory. One of the album’s strongest cuts is “God Give Me Strength.” It was simply sensational. Spotted there were Benny Harrison and Maria Milito from Q1043.
The room was packed like never before; what a night!
SHORT TAKES — Micky Dolenz headlines the ACE Theatre Friday night in LA, and was a guest on KTLA Wednesday. Here’s a shot of him on-set with Sam Rubin who interviewed him with the KTLA-gang. Sam’s the second from left. Industry stalwarts at the ACE Theatre show include legendary-LA Times writer Randy Lewis; LA Magazine’sRoy Trakin and Goldmine’s Ken Sharp … Roger Friedman reported Wednesday that the pre-sales of Jann Wenner’s upcoming book Masters have been severely impacted by his New York Times interview. Take a read here: https://www.showbiz411.com/2023/09/20/jann-wenners-new-book-the-masters-drops-in-pre-sales-run-on-amazon-almost-off-the-top-2000-after-scandal-erupts And just last night his big presentation at NYC’s 92nd Y with Cameron Crowe was shuttered as well … SIGHTING: Alison Martino at NYC’s Algonquin Hotel …
When Apple TV’s The Morning Show debuted years ago (November 2019), created and run by Kerry Ehrin, it was a first-rate series certainly of The Sopranos-like and Mad Men-like caliber. Billy Crudup was astonishingly good as were Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell. The second season was basically trash. Three episodes in on a third season -with a 4th already guaranteed- it’s kind of a mixed-bag. I did not care for the first two EPs, but the third was bordering on the edge of greatness – and Witherspoon wasn’t even in this one and there was no explanation why. Jon Hamm has joined the cast as sort of an Elon Musk-figure. To me, he’s still Don Draper, just with an updated wardrobe. Most of the production staff has been replaced and it seemed to me, they’re still finding their way. The trouble is, that with these 8 or so episode-runs, it gets really good at episode 6. Go figure …
Rupert Murdoch to retire per CNBC? More on this next column … Meg Ryan and David Duchovny in What Happens Later – looks cute and Ryan directed it – check out the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqTZqSglhZo … RIP Roger Whitaker
and Happy Bday David McCallum; Curtis Urbina; and Bill Murray!
NAMES IN THE NEWS — Glenn Gretlund; Jodi Ritzen; Leonard Nimoy; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Scott Shannon; Zach Martin; Michelle Grant; Art Rutter; Maria Milito; Joe Lynch; Melinda Newman; Mandy Naylor; Kimberly Cornell; Sam Rudin; Jim Clash; Terry Jastrow; Randy Alexander; Bob Merlis; Andrew Sandoval; Art Rutter; and CHIP!
The Glorious Corner
WENNER TAKES A DOWN —Jann Wenner always speaks his mind and this week he may have overstepped just a bit. In an interview that ran in the New York Times about his new book called Masters, he quite openly said that there were no black or R&B artists in it, because they were not able to articulate properly. I know, I felt the same way reading that. Minutes later, he was let go by the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which he helped start with Ahmet Ertegun way back in 1983.
His Like A Rolling Stone autobiography book was quite an indulgent read last year, but Wenner has in the last several years suffered several health set backs and it was pointed out that he may not be in his right mind. Still, he should have spoken way more carefully. I’ve known Wenner for decades and trust me, he feels he’s way entitled, and that said, you can rest assured that there were dozens and dozens of people (and former employees) waiting to take him down.
The sad fact is that most of the accusations are true. That said, let’s face it Rolling Stone magazine in it’s heyday was a miraculous outlet for so much music and terrific journalism – from Ben Fong-Torres to Hunter Thompson and Jann himself .. it was distinguished. Now, he may have killed it all.
Rolling Stine magazine Monday posted this – essentially disowning his from the magazine: “Jann Wenner’s recent statements to the New York Times do not represent the values and practices of today’s Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner has not been directly involved in our operations since 2019. Our purpose, especially since his departure, has been to tell stories that reflect the diversity of voices and experiences that shape our world. At Rolling Stone’s core is the understanding that music above all can bring us together, not divide us.”
Here’s the report from Deadline: https://deadline.com/2023/09/jann-wenner-removed-rock-and-roll-hall-fame-foundation-board-1235548690/comment-page-1/#comment-3858649
DREW’S BLUES — Boy, what did Drew Barrymore ever do to deserve the treatment she’s been through with the media. Sure, her ideas to bring back her daily-chat fest was a good one, for the right reasons, but everyone from Rosie O;’Donnell to the trade papers have bounced on her like madmen. I never met her, don’t hate her, but really … let’s get back to something real, like these Russell Brand-accusations!
SHORT TAKES — We finally caught David Bryne and Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love and absolutely loved it. I remember it well when it premiered at the Public Theater way back when and knew they were trying to get it to Broadway. Honestly, I never thought twice about the Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos story, but the play was riveting then and it remains now. They’ve outfitted NYC’s magnificent Broadway Theater with disco-balls galore and club-lighting and the immersive experience is terrific. Here’s a great re-cap of the play’s evolution from Theatre Guide: https://www.newyorktheatreguide.com/theatre-news/news/how-the-music-of-here-lies-love-evolved-on-the-way-to-broadway …
Micky Dolenz appeared on Sunday’s Breakfast With The Beatles with Chris Carter (on KLOS) and talked about his new Dolenz Sings R.E.M. on Glenn Gretlund’s 7a Records. He also talked about his time with The Beatles and John Lennon. Carter also played a mash-up of Monkees and Beatle-songs which was done in England and it was superb. Here’s a shot from the event at LA’s Hard Rock Cafe on Highland and Hollywood Blvd. … SIGHTING: PR-pasha David Salidor and Benny Harrison at Monday’s Cutting Room tribute to Burt Bacharach … RIP Sammy Ash …
I’ve been thinking the best way to describe Jimmy Buffet and I saw this headline in LA Magazine: leisure evangelist– and it fits perfectly …
Happy Bday Donnie Kehr and Richard Branciforte.
NAMES IN THE NEWS — Dan Mapp; Brad Auerbach; James Clash: Robbie Robertson; Carol Ruth Weber; Randy Alexander; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Andrew Gans; Kathy Brown; Roger Clark; Chris Boneau; Tricia Daniels; Dan Zelinski; Benny Harrison; Steve Walter; Gil Friesen; Donna Dolenz; Dan Mapp; Brad Auerbach; James Clash; and ZIGGY!
The Glorious Corner
STRIKE UPDATE— (Via TV Line) “9-1-1, what’s your TV emergency?” The dual WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes need to be resolved by the end of this month if scripted primetime fare such as 9-1-1: Lone Star and The Cleaning Lady are to return with new episodes in the 2023-24 TV season, says Fox entertainment president Michael Thorn.
When last we tuned in, 29 days ago, the WGA had countered the AMPTP’s latest offer; no next meeting has been scheduled. Things are proceeding even slower on the SAG-AFTRA front. Sources tell TVLine that it will take scripted shows roughly eight weeks to get back into production once the strikes are resolved.
“You’re going get to a point in the fall, in the late fall, where it’s going to be very hard to launch [scripted shows] within the traditional TV viewing season,” Thorn told our sister site Deadline.
If the strikes are resolved later than October 1, that’s where difficult scheduling decisions will have to be made.
“If that means the [delayed scripted] show could work and succeed in the summer [of 2024], great,” Thorn said. Or, “If it’s better to wait for the fall and use football and sports” to promote/launch scripted seasons, “we’ll do that.
“You could use October 1 as the date” by which the writer and actor strikes need to be settled,” Thorn added. “Every show is different but sometimes when you’re staring at a May launch date, you always wonder, ‘Is that the best time?’” to premiere a season/series
Fox’s fall TV slate features one full night of scripted animated fare (on Sundays), while the rest of the week is rife with multiple Gordon Ramsay cooking competitions, new seasons of Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test, Name That Tune and The Masked Singer, 9-1-1: Lone Star reruns, the new, David Spade-hosted Snake Oil game show, and, of course, Friday Night SmackDown.
But whenever the magical day comes for live-action scripted fare to return to our screens, “we’re going to return those shows with vigor,” Thorn avowed. “We really pride ourselves on ‘less is more’ and we were fortunate to be able to really put our money where our mouth is in that regard. When we return, Animal Control is going to get the full backing of this far-reaching platform [as will] John Wells’ new show, Rescue: Hi-Surf, when we launch it.”
Several columns back we posited that the strike might just be settled by Labor Day .. and we were lambasted with emails from a scattering of actors, writers and below-the-line talent that it would not be. They were right. As Gordon Gekko said, greed is good. Is it? Let’s all make nice and good back to work.
SHORT TAKES — As you may know the Toronto Film Festival has been going on and the two films that have received the most buzz are the Paul-Simon/Alex Gibey doc,
In Restless Dreams and Knox Goes Away starring Michael Keaton, who also directs, with Al Pacino, can’t wait to see both. Bravo! …The latest episode of Hulu’s Only Murders In The Building was just OK. So far, this third season has totally underwhelmed us. We said a few columns back it was most likely due to the fact that Martin hasn’t written any of the episodes so far. Why? I have no idea. Matthew Broderick played himself, but with a little more anxiety than usual, but the real highlight of this episode was a video-phone call between Martin Short and Mel Brooks. Irresistibly funny … Hard to believe that it’s the 25th anniversary of MTV’s ground-breaking TRL Live (Total Request Live).
Carson Daly did a nice remembrance on Thursday’s Today Show, even citing John Norris and Kurt Loder, who were key correspondents. They taped many of the shows at NYC’s long-gone Palladium (now an NYU dorm), but many, many memories come to mind; Hall & Oates rehearsing in their dressing room
and running into Debbie Gibson is one. Daly pointed out -and rightly so- TRL was a fan-driven show, where viewers had to request what to hear. These days I guess it’s just a download. Much missed for sure …
Funny watching Carrie Underwood this morning; as she she reminded me so much of Shania Twain. from the music, to her visuals. As always, her “Before He Cheats” is tremendous and a big crowd pleaser … It’s a funny world for sure.
When RL Stine’s Goosebumpsfirst debuted in 1992, it was heralded as refreshingly new, both for the kid-demo and its brilliance. There were a few attempts at a series (even with Stine introducing them) and even a movie in 2015 that did just so-so. Now, with Netflix’s Stranger Things having hit a home run, Disney+ is starting a series, with Justin Long, that appears to veer dangerously close to Stranger Things. Also, oddly enough, Stine does not appear to be involved with it. He says: “I wish I knew something about it. I’m not in the loop. It looked to me like they weren’t going to do an anthology show. They were going to do something different that was some kind of continuing story. That’s what it appeared. But I have no information about it.” It begins on October 31. Have a look at the trailer:
Great Bernie Taupin interview on NY Live with Sara Gore. They’re friends, so the interview as sensational. Check it out:
NAMES IN THE NEWS —Andrew Sandoval; Jacqueline Boyd; Alison Martino; Robert Funaro; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Roy Trakin; Daryl Estrea; Glenn Gretlund; Jane Blunkell; Roger Friedman; Felix Cavaliere; Dan Mapp; Jim Kerr; Sam Rubin; Liz White; Grace Mendoza; Roy Trakin; and ZIGGY!
The Glorious Corner
SAJAK’S WHEEL –— (Via TV Insider) Pat Sajak returned Monday, September 11, for what is sure to be a momentous and emotional season, as long-time host Pat Sajak takes center stage for one last time.
Sajak announced his retirement back in June, stating that the upcoming 41st season would be his last, with his final episode set to air in June 2024. He will be replaced by American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest, who will take over hosting duties from Season 42 onward.
The future of Sajak’s long-time co-host, Vanna White, is still up in the air. While she will be part of Season 41, there have been reports of contract disputes in recent months, with White said to be looking for her first pay raise in 18 years. Whether she sticks with the show after Sajak’s departure remains to be seen.
We do know that White will miss an entire week’s worth of episodes next month. The famous letter-turner missed the Teachers Week block of tapings in late July after she caught COVID-19. Instead of postponing, the show continued with California-based “Teacher of the Year” recipient Bridgette Donald-Blue filling in as letter-turner.
Regardless of what happens next, it has been a heck of a ride over the past 40 years with Sajak and White at the helm.
Sajak took over Wheel from Chuck Woolery in 1981, and White came on board a year later. Things got off to an awkward start, with the pair not yet having the fantastic chemistry they would develop in later years.
“My knees were shaking, my mouth was quivering, I could barely talk,” White told the Grand Forks Herald in a 2007 interview.
Sajak thought White’s nerves would doom the show, saying in a 2020 interview with CBS News Sunday Morning, “I didn’t recommend Vanna, and Vanna knows this. Not that she wasn’t lovely and wonderful and personable and all that, but she was the most nervous, by far, of any of [the auditonees].”
Once the initial nerves faded, the duo developed an incredible rapport that viewers loved. In fact, the pair’s on-screen chemistry led to plenty of rumors that they were a romantic couple, something that both White and Sajak have poked fun at over the years.
The iconic game show duo even pulled off a prank, pretending they’d gotten into a relationship together.
“Years and years ago, we did an April Fool’s joke, I don’t know if we said we were married, but we said something about being together, and we received toasters,” White recalled in a 2007 interview with the Television Academy Foundation.
As for Sajak, he shared his thoughts on whether they could have made it as a real-life couple.
“I don’t know how we would’ve done as a couple,” he shared. “We’re together a lot when we are together, and even if you did get on each other’s nerves, and I don’t know that we do, but even if you did, we go our separate ways, and we don’t see each other for two weeks. Every marriage in America would be successful if it were lived that way.”
But by all accounts, Sajak and White have never had a falling out or even a major argument. In an interview with Fox News Digital in 2019, White said, “Believe it or not, Pat Sajak and I have only had one argument in 36 years, and that was over putting ketchup on a hotdog,” adding that she likes ketchup and mustard while Sajak is a mustard only kind of guy.
STRANGE NEW TREK –— The Tiffany-network CBS (and, am I the only one still calling it that I wonder?) pulled a fast one last week in celebration of Star Trek Day on September 8 – it being 57 years since the original series first launched on the network for two seasons – by showing the first two episodes of Paramount+’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on linear TV. It’s ironic that the TV-pundits cited two distinct reasons for the event, firstly, that the networks are running out of shows, and, it was akin to what CBS did several years back during the pandemic when they ran the full-series of Star Trek: Discovery – which was a pretty good show itself. The sudden crenelation of the show was abrupt and caused much speculation as to why. It was, for the record, never really answered.
As a true-Trekker (not Trekkie), there have been so many iterations of Star Trek and the various Star Trek universes, I’m even a bit confused by how they keep coming up with these shows. I guess it just goes to show… a good idea, is a good idea.
Worlds is suppose to occur even before the original series, but the look, the graphics, the CGI is quite amazing. Anson Mount essays Christopher Pike who we know was the original captain of The Enterprise, but was severely wounded. His character lived on in the series, and the character again has factored into several of the Trek-movies J.J .Abrams did. Mount is actually superb and embodies the spirit of Kirk. There’s a new Spock too (Ethan Peck) and one by one, the characters we’ve known for decades come into play.
The pilot episode was quite good and the second one reminded me of the original Trek-episode in 1968, A Piece Of The Action. The two-shows actually captured the heart-and-soul of the original … and that ain’t an easy thing to do. I’m already overloaded with streaming channels and unfortunately won’t be getting Paramount+. I would have loved to have watched the rest of the shows.
Here’s what the Hollywood Reporter had to say: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-news/star-trek-strange-new-worlds-cbs-1235573914/
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT BENNY — We’ve referenced keyboardist-extraordinaire Benny Harrison before in these pages, but we wanted to highlight his forthcoming solo effort, PAGES. We’ve heard it and it’s a terrific effort, rich in lyrical and musical content.
Benny, who’s performed with top caliber artists like Felix Cavaliere, Tommy James, Michael McDonald, Vernon Reid, and, Todd Rundgren, among others, just finished the album, co-produced by Mike Ciro (Alicia Keyes and Alejandro Sanz). The first single “Soon,” will be available shortly.
Benny, whose roots go back, played in The Spyders who had a regular run at the late-great and much-missed China Club. There he met bassist Will Lee, who introduced him to Paul Shaffer and things began to click. In fact, in-session-circles, Harrison is often referred to as “The Legend,” Not a bad nickname to have. One other good nickname is “The Boss.”
Felix Cavaliere said of Harrison: “Benny Harrison is an amazing talent. His love for music , his energy and enthusiasm separates him from all the rest. He is not just a musician he is family.”
We’ll have an exclusive interview with Harrison coming up.
SHORT TAKES — Micky Dolenz guests on Chris Carter’s Breakfast With The Beatles this Sunday, September 17, broadcast live from LA’s Hard Rock Cafe on Highland and Hollywood. He’ll talk about his new EP Dolenz Sings R.E.M. (via 7a Records); his forthcoming book I’m Told I Had A Good Time and his show at L.A.’s Ace Theatre on September 22. Chris’ show is broadcast on KLOS and SiriusXM … New Van Morrison album titled Accentuate The Positive. A collection of Van’s favorites. Here’s the first track: “Shakin’ All Over” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcxiAwRbzEQ …
Since I’ve been viewing The Band’s Last Waltz of late, no doubt one of the best highlights of the show is Morrison’s “Caravan.” Simply magnificent. Also, the last number of the show, Dylan’s “I Shall be Released” with The Band; Neil Young, Ronnie Wood; Ringo Starr; Eric Clapton; Dr. John; Ronnie Hawkins; Neil Diamond and Morrison. Amazing! … The Alex Gibney/Paul Simon doc In Restless Dreams, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival this week to rave revives. It’s long – almost three hours – but Screen Daily said: On the one hand, In Restless Dreams benefits from not being forced to justify some laboured thematic conceit, but on the other, the straightforward career recounting can become pedestrian. Then again, this is where the catalogue of hits helps: audiences will be happily humming along from start to finish. I can’t wait to see it . Simon’s a master ...
RIP Ruschell Boone and Happy BDay Marsha Stern and Joyce Moore!
Keith F. Girard’s The Curse Of Northam Bay
Author Keith Girard says, “The idea for this book, literally, came to me in a dream. I was anxious to write a horror story since I’ve long admired Stephen King’s work and wanted to challenge myself. Once I got the idea, I put aside a dystopian science fiction book I was writing and devoted myself to this project. But I have to confess, while it started out as a macabre tale, it morphed into something else. I quickly strayed from the standard horror genre. I was intrigued by the Salem witch trials, which were supposed to be the basis for this story. But the more I looked into it, the more I became fascinated by the political, sociological, and religious factors that gave rise to the hysteria.”
Girard has a fascinating background as a writer: The Washington Post; Billboard; and this book, the follow-up to his Heidelberg Conundrum, is as richly rewarding as you’d want.
We sat with Keith for an exclusive T2C-interview:
G.H Harding: Give us a little bit on your background
Keith Girard: I grew up in a family with two brothers and a sister. My mother was English and met my father while he was stationed in England during World War II. After the war, they married and she came to the U.S. to live. My father was in the Air Force and after his military career ended, he worked for aerospace companies. I grew up as a military brat and we moved almost every two years. It was hard at times but also gave me a unique perspective on life, and having an international background also helped broaden my horizons. I’ve always had an interest in history, science and current events, because we lived them daily. Two of my siblings are, literally, rocket scientists. But I was drawn to writing at an early age. It came very naturally to me, and I decided to pursue it as a career, although it was against my father’s wishes. So, I guess I was a bit of a rebel, too.
G.H Harding: What was your first book The Heidelberg Conundrum about?
Keith Girard: The Heidelberg Conundrum contains all the elements that I mentioned above. At its root, it’s science fiction novel about time travel, but it’s also a historical novel that touches World War II, the atrocities that took place in Germany and their connections with the present day. It focuses on a young physicist who gets his “dream job” that turns out to be something quite different. He’s hired to solve the “Heidelberg Conundrum,” a 400-year-old mathematical equation that is thought to be the key to time travel. Think “The Da Vinci Code” meets “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with a science fiction twist. The book is a dark journey that takes readers back to the last days of the war and Nazi decadence and into interstellar space.
G.H Harding: What do you think makes a good novel?
Keith Girard: I personally like science fiction because the limits are boundless and because it lends itself so easily to political and social commentary. The Heidelberg Conundrum has all three. For contemporary fiction, I think Tom Wolfe’s writing embodies what I mean. Also, writers like Joseph Heller; “Catch 22” is one of my favorite novels, and almost anything Wolfe has written. I love Hunter Thompson’s singular writing style and biting satire. But I also admire the great science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert. I grew up reading them.
G.H Harding: Billboard was the music industry’s go-to trade paper; what did you discover about the music industry during your time there?
Keith Girard: Billboard was a fantastic publication with a long history, but it was failing because of demographic and technological changes in the music industry. I was hired to turn it around, because I had a successful track record turning around two previous publications. If it ever had a chance to succeed, Billboard had to leave behind its legacy past, embrace technological change sweeping the industry and broaden its reach. Billboard was always a trade newspaper. Its readership base was made up of thousands of independent music stores across the country. It was the most economical way for record labels to market to them. But record stores fell by the wayside as big box retailers moved into that space. The MP3 revolution and streaming was the death knell. Talk about disruptive technology! The record industry was thrown into turmoil because it lost two important segments of its business – production and distribution. Any kid with a computer could reproduce identical copies of a song, over and over, and distribute it over the Internet to thousands of other kids. I saw Billboard as a great opportunity to reinvent itself. But legacies, especially as strong as Billboard’s, die hard, and the resistance to change, in the end, was too great.
G.H Harding: What do you think about Billboard’s decision to become a more of a consumer book?
Keith Girard: By and large it was a pretty significant strategic mistake. Billboard had a unique niche as a business newspaper focused on music. There was a lot of discussion about turning it into a consumer publication while I was there, but I opposed it. The consumer market was already saturated, and Rolling Stone dominated. When I joined Billboard, it had a circulation of about 26,000; Rolling Stone had a circulation of 3 million. There’s no way, Billboard could ever dent that, and it made no sense to give up a niche that Billboard owned. So, my efforts turned to broadening its audience. There was plenty of fertile ground. Plus, it was a way to build circulation and attract new advertisers. So, I greatly expanded coverage of touring, music management, music technology and musical instruments, all from a business angle, not just records and the record industry. Because Billboard readers were mostly affluent music professionals, it was also an untapped sell-through for luxury goods, from BMW to Rolex watches. We also made great inroads with guitar makers like Gibson, which loved the idea we were writing about musical instruments. Under my tenure, our Music and Money conference expanded and we launched an East Coast touring conference. But I didn’t ignore the consumer market. Our outreach to consumers was through our main website (billboard.com). We supplemented that with mini-sites focusing on business (billboardbiz), and the professions, agents, lawyers and managers. I think another big mistake was turning Billboard into a consumer magazine format. I spoke to dozens of music people at all levels and they wanted the kind of hard news Billboard was known for, and they liked seeing their artists on the front page. I could go on, but strategically that’s were Billboard went wrong in my opinion.
G.H Harding: The Salem Witch trials were always a hotbed of controversy; what did you discover in writing the new book?
Keith Girard: As you know, early Colonial America was a very dark period in our history, riven by superstition, fear and a belief in a literal God and Devil. But the more I looked into it, the more I discovered the period was marked by many of the same social and political undercurrents that exist today. That’s why I wrote the book in two parts, one focusing on 17th century New England and the other on contemporary society as it evolved in the same quaint fishing village over time. The Salem witch trials were fueled in large part by petty jealousies, religious differences, intolerance, greed and money. Often land disputes were at the root of witch craft allegations. Not surprisingly, those same forces are still embedded in our civic and political culture, today. That’s where I saw the parallels that make this story intriguing.
G.H Harding: How would you best describe Northam Bay?
Keith Girard: Northam Bay is a microcosm of everything that’s tearing at the seams of our society, today. There are class distinctions and disruption caused by new technology and new residents that have both a positive and negative affect on the town. I spent years as a reporter writing about small-town politics and graft, and Northam Bay is infected with schemers and grifters who will use everything, including murder, and stop at nothing to get their way. When you get down to it, it’s a tale about the growth of suburbia, and corruption in high places that shape our modern-day world. Plus, it’s generally a nice place to live, except, of course, for a curse that’s existed since the 1700s. And, it has a healthy dose of satire.
G.H Harding: What can you tell us about the Washington Post that would surprise us?
Keith Girard: Well, I worked as a reporter for The Washington Post in the mid-1980s. It was a decade after it rose to national prominence because of Watergate, and from the outside, it looked like this impenetrable colossus of infinitely brilliant people. I grew up reading the newspaper in high school. My father hated it, so I had to pay for my own subscription. I literally dreamed, one day, of working there. The odd thing was, once I was a reporter, my whole perspective changed. Let me first say, the 1980s was the golden era of newspapers, before the Internet and social media. The paper was huge; 500 reporters, a newsroom as big as a shopping mall and a huge cross-section of people. But there was one thing, it didn’t lose when it became a national newspaper. It was still a family business and felt that way. Kay Graham was still running the company along with her son, Donnie, and they were totally accessible. I saw them often when I was in the newsroom. The legendary Ben Bradlee was still the executive editor. If there ever was an imposing figure, it was him, a Harvard educated Boston Brahmin who hung out with Jack Kennedy. But as a boss, he was the most down-to-earth, relatable human being I’ve ever worked for. The Post had its share of eccentric characters, effete editors and genuine jack-asses, but it truly felt like a family to me, even it was more like The Royal Tenenbaums than Leave it to Beaver.
G.H Harding: As an astute journalist and editor, what do you read on a daily basis?
Keith Girard: I still read The Post and The New York Times daily and have online subscriptions to both. I also subscribe to Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Otherwise, the nice thing about the Internet is that it gives you access to so many publications. I’m constantly surfing dozens of newspapers and magazines, looking for great reads. For some odd reason, I’m particularly drawn to British newspapers: The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Mirror, The Guardian, The Times of London, and so on. Maybe it’s just the British in me.
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