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G.H. Harding

GORDON OH GORDON — (from The Guardian) In the 1960’s and 70’s, no serious rock fan viewed the drummer Jim Gordon with anything but awe. By the 80’s, none of them viewed him with anything but contempt, a 180-degree turn that led to his virtual erasure from the culture. Even four decades later, when the veteran music journalist Joel Selvin first tried to sell publishers on a book meant to tell Gordon’s story with nuance and depth, they balked. “They would debate it for months and then say, ‘Nope, can’t do it,’” Selvin said. “It was almost impossible for them because of what he had done.”

In 1983, he entered his mother’s house and began to attack her with a hammer, crashing it into her skull four times before grabbing a knife and stabbing her repeatedly, the final time with such force it pinned her to the floor. Soon after her resulting death, Gordon was arrested, charged and convicted of murder, and spent the next four decades in prison, before dying this past March at 77. Over the years, several prominent articles have been published that tried to trace the outlines of Gordon’s story, ascribing his heinous act to an diagnosed case of schizophrenia that forced him to hear voices and experience hallucinations. Yet only in Selvin’s new book, Drums & Demons, does the reader get a feel for the full horror of his disease and the mess it made of his mind. “In one of his hallucinations, he thought he was in a jail cell that was on fire,” Selvin said. “To me, that was a metaphor for Jim’s whole life. For him, life was a jail cell that was always on fire.”

Despite the chaos that created, both for Gordon, and increasingly, for those around him, Selvin aimed to tell his story with empathy. Only after the drummer’s death was, he able to finally convince a publisher to go along. “The guy got so little compassion,” he said. “I wanted readers to know just how impossible Jim’s life was and how brave he was in battling the disease.”

At the same time, the author meant to “restore Jim’s peerless legacy. Who has done more to put his mark on our music than Jim Gordon?” Selvin said. “What a playlist he was on!”

Just tracing the surface of Gordon’s contributions reveals more than 100 classic songs powered by his invention and finesse. In his early studio work, he appeared on an entire chart’s worth of pop hits, by acts like the Beach Boys, Ike & Tina Turner, the Byrds and Glen Campbell. By the 70’s, he became a key member of pivotal rock bands, including Delaney & Bonnie, Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Derek and the Dominos and Traffic. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley of California, Gordon became entranced by the power of the beat from childhood. He played in bands by puberty and, by 17, helped flesh out demos for the publishing arm of Liberty Records. That same year, he joined the Everly Brothers on a tour of England and, afterwards, became part of the storied Wrecking Crew, a loose collection of studio musicians who played on a dizzying range of 60’s hits. “Back then, there were loads of great studio drummers,” said Lenny Waronker, a legendary producer and record executive whose career started in the same west coast studio milieu of the 60’s. “Jim was able to plow through that. All the other musicians were amazed by him.”

Gordon’s role on those storied sessions extended way beyond the simple task of keeping time. “He wasn’t just a backbeat guy,” Selvin said. “He was a fully musical drummer who embedded his playing into the core of the composition.”

For instance: in the 70’s hit, Grazing in the Grass, by the Friends of Distinction, Gordon’s drum elaborated the song. “Even though there was a chart in which every note was written out for him, he added a Latin boogaloo feel that exploded the whole record,” Selvin said.

The fills and intonations he added to Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain contoured the melody and directed the listener’s ear to the record’s subtler touches. “Jim orchestrated that entire song from the drum stool,” Selvin said. In Maria Muldaur’s number one smash Midnight at the Oasis, he added a key samba groove, while in Steely Dan’s Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, the tricky beat he devised deepened the song’s debt to jazz. In doing so, “Jim became an important part of the hit-making process,” Selvin said.

Mark Lindsay, frontman of the hit group Paul Revere & the Raiders, immediately noticed Gordon’s gift after he was hired to drum on their song The Great Airplane Strike. “He was doing this polyrhythmic thing with a kick, a snare and a high hat, accented by tom-toms,” Lindsay said. “He changed the song up so much that I wound up rewriting half of my lyrics to fit was he was doing! Jim became the conductor of the track.”

Waronker recognized the same level of creativity on Sundown, a song he produced for Gordon Lightfoot that became a number one hit. “His drum part made the song move in its own way,” he said. “It’s a specific rhythm that Jimmy picked up from Gordon’s guitar. It became one of the most important parts of the song.”

In the 70’s, Gordon expanded his range to work with rock’n’roll’s most cutting-edge bands on the road. “When you listen to his live work with Mad Dogs & Englishmen or Derek and the Dominos, he’s unleashed,” Selvin said. “The ideas just flow from him.”

At the same time, the voices that were roiling inside his head began to find disturbing external expression. In an infamous incident on the Mad Dogs tour, he hauled off and punched his then girlfriend, the singer Rita Coolidge, in the head. “Here was a guy who was noted for being gentle, smiling and laid back,” Selvin said. “But that was just the mask he wore.”

Some people were already beginning to see through it. “[The singer] Claudia Lennear said she always wondered about that smile,” Selvin said. “It was too simple. She felt he was hiding behind it.”

“Jim had such genius,” Lindsay said, “but I sensed there might be something lurking behind the curtain.”

To Selvin, Gordon’s talent can’t be separated from his torment. “The level of intuition that Jim displayed

in his playing requires a certain electro-chemical makeup,” he said. “His highly personal style had to come from the same place in the brain that produced his schizophrenia.”

At the same time, the focus and power involved in playing drums gave Gordon a refuge from the cyclone of thoughts whipping through his head. “The combination of the resonance of the drums and the rhythmic entertainment of the groove produces a hypnotic feeling that can lift you out,” Selvin said. “Nothing calms a schizophrenic faster than a Walkman and a pair of headphones. For Jim, the drums provided a place where the voices couldn’t follow.”

Strangely enough, the herculean amount of recreational drugs Gordon took at the time also had a calming effect. “You would think that the massive amounts of cocaine he did would make things worse,” Selvin said. “But I talked to psychiatrists who said that it would normalize his dopamine levels. He was doing blow to feel normal.”

Similarly, the crazy rock’n’roll lifestyle of the 70’s, which Gordon exemplified, served as a cover for his increasingly aberrant actions. “The rock scene of the time was nearly indistinguishable from psychotic behavior,” Selvin said with a rueful laugh. “Jim just blended into the background.”

It helped that, at the time, he was still soaring creatively. In 1973, Gordon devised a pair of drum patterns that proved crucial to the development of two separate genres. His work on the Hues Corporation’s smash Rock the Boat, with its high-hat syncopations and danceable beat, helped patent the rhythms of disco. Similarly, his extended break on the song Apache, paired with the congas of King Errisson, became a foundational pattern in hip-hop that was later sampled ad infinitum. “When Kool Herc found Jim’s long drum break on Apache, he discovered that he could make it bound from one turntable to another forever,” Selvin said. “He was driving crowds nuts with that sound.”

By late in 1973, however, Gordon’s beat, and sanity, were beginning to seriously waver. He viciously attacked his wife Renee Armand, cracking several ribs in the process, ending their marriage. His work with the would-be country-rock super group Souther-Hilman-Furay Band grew so erratic they had to sack him. While he managed to keep it together in the studio for a few more years, by 1978 Gordon proved too unreliable to be employed.

In a reporting coup, Selvin acquired research that helped fill in Gordon’s inner life during that pivotal time. He found two women who, in the late 80’s, had gained the drummer’s cooperation for a book that never got off the ground. The notes they took gave Selvin access to jail house interviews with Gordon along with his medical records and related court documents. (Selvin sent several written requests to interview Gordon himself but they went answered.) Regardless, the research he acquired from the women allowed him to put the reader deep inside the musician’s roiling mind.

The voices Gordon heard shamed him so deeply, he rarely told anyone about them, which contributed to him never getting a proper diagnosis. His mother, one of his closest witnesses, believed that drinking and drugs were his problem rather than a symptom of something far more corrosive. While Gordon began to imagine that many people were torturing him at the time, the main voice in his head was his mother’s. “Because Jim’s father was a practicing alcoholic, his mother became the sub rosa leader of the household,” Selvin said. “That’s why she became the major figure in this panoply of voices hectoring him.”

As a result, it was her voice that he felt the most urgent need to silence. Once details of the subsequent murder came out, some observers who knew Gordon in his high functioning days were floored. “When I knew him, he was a tremendously nice person,” Waronker said. “He was the all-American boy.”

Selvin’s book describes what led up to the murder in granular detail, but he doesn’t write much about Gordon’s subsequent decades in prison because, he said, he found it undramatic. Often keeping to himself, Gordon became a virtual zombie due to the anti-psychotic drugs the prison pumped him with. Rare as Gordon’s particular case was, one key reason Selvin said he wrote his book was to let readers know how common various forms of schizophrenia are. “To me, the single most astonishing fact of the research I did was that schizophrenia affects one in 100 people,” he said. “Let that sink in: Multiple sclerosis affects one in 10,000! We see these people out in the street, hearing voices all the time. Their world is totally frightening. And I have nothing but compassion for them. Unfortunately, society doesn’t.”

The other key reason Selvin wrote Drums & Demons, he said, was to restore Jim Gordon to the popular music world. “He’s gone,” he said, “and he needs to come back.”

Drums & Demons: The Tragic Journey of Jim Gordon is out on 27 February.

SHORT TAKES —New bio on the Bee Gees by music-wiz Bob Stanley. The group, one of my all-time favorites, were huge, but in many ways never got the respect they deserved. Many people don’t realize that Robert Stigwood, who masterminded them to the top, used to work for Brian Epstein.I’m eagerly waiting for this one. From Pegasus BooksWe watched Anatomy of a Fall and loved it. Its long, but fascinating and intense. A French legal drama, directed by Justine Triet from a screenplay she co-wrote with Arthur Harari. A great cast, especially Milo Machado-Graner, as the boy Daniel …

I watched the opening SNL monologue, with host Shane Gillis -who was fired from the cast for some racial slurs-. A sort of Adam Sandler-wanna be, I didn’t find him funny in the least. He actually reminded me of a low-rent Louis C.K. -remember him?

Lorne Michaels

I don’t know why Lorne Michaels would even want him back, except for some splashy ink – which wasn’t terribly kind. This appears to be Michael’s next-to-last year on the show and he’s clearly choosing to go out quietly. No more gas in the engine I fear …

AppleTV+ has a new show Constellation with Noomi Rapace. Stunningly done; reminds me of Gravity from a few years back … And, Happy Bday Paul Undersinger and George Harrison!

NAMES IN THE NEWS — William Schill; Anthony Noto; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Derek Taylor; Charles Comer; Howard Bloom; Mark Bego; Phil Goldstein; Tropique Records; Marsha Stern; Beth Wernick; Marion Perkins; Les Schwartz; Liz Rosenberg; Bob Merlis; Obi Steinman; Andrew Sandoval; Warren Lawrence; Jodi Ritzen; Jeremy Long; and CHIP!

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

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Book Reviews

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents Four Award-Winning Musical Theatre Writers Who Turned to Writing Books

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“Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents”, is  filmed live every Wednesday from 5 – 6 in the lobby of the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience.

In this episode T2C’s publisher and owner Suzanna Bowling talks with Douglas J Cohen, Stephen Cole ,Alison Louise Hubbard and David Spencer, musical theatre writers, who all have books out.

We are so proud because the show and our guests are now featured on the TV screens in the lobby and the hotel rooms.

I am so grateful to my guests Douglas J Cohen How To Survive A Killer Musical: Agony and Ecstasy on the Road to Broadway, Stephen Cole Mary & Ethel… and Mikey Who?, Alison Louise Hubbard The Kelsey Outrage, The Crime of the Century A historical true crime novel and David Spencer The Novelizers: An Affectionate History of Media Adaptations and Originals, Their Astonishing Authors—and the Art of the Craft

Thank-you Magda Katz for videoing and creating the content to go live, the audience who showed up to support us, Rommel Gopez and The Hotel Edison for their kindness and hospitality.

You can catch us on the following platforms:

Pandora:

https://www.pandora.com/podcast/live-from-the-edison-hotel-times-square-chronicles-presents/PC:1001084740

Stitcher:

https://www.stitcher.com/show/1084740

Spotify:

Amazon:

https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/e3ac5922-ada8-4868-b531-12d06e0576d3

Apple Podcasts:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/live-from-the-edison-hotel-times-square-chronicles-presents/id1731059092

We hope to see you there on April 24th. We will be announcing our guests tomorrow.

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Book Reviews

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents Four Award-Winning Musical Theatre Writers Who Turned to Writing Books

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I am so pleased to announce our guest for next Wednesday’s show on April 17th are four award-winning musical theatre writers who turned to writing books.

For a veteran musical theatre dramatist, getting a new musical on is rarely easy, even at the healthiest of times. But when a pandemic stops everything cold—and a restless creative spirit is driven to both keep writing and reach an audience—what can be done? Well, four musical dramatists independently decided to meet the challenge head on with the same answer: Write a book! But their creative paths to near- simultaneous publication would be as unique as the rave-reviewed books themselves. And when they realized that their musical theatre backgrounds cast them as an equally unique quartet…they decided to come full circle back to the theatre community …to tell that story…the story of how their incredible books came to be…which in its way is also a universal story; a story for our time. A story of taking stock, taking a deep breath, taking new steps…and turning the page. Here are our writers:

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David Spencer is an award-winning musical dramatist, author, critic and musical theatre teacher, whose work has been produced in the US, Canada and England. His most well-known credits as lyricist-librettist are two musicals in collaboration with composer Alan Menken: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, based on the novel by Moredecai Richler (original cast album on Ghostlight Records) and Weird Romance (co-librettist: Alan Brennert; original cast album digital-on-demand from Columbia Masterworks). He made his professional debut writing the acclaimed colloquial English-language adaptation of La Bohème for the Public Theatre; and as composer-lyricist wrote scores and orchestrations for Theatreworks/USA’s young audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables (librettist-director for both: Rob Barron). His published books are The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide (Heinemann), the acting edition of Weird Romance (Samuel French)—and, pulpsmith proud, Passing Fancy, an original novel based on the TV series Alien Nation (PocketBooks). He recently completed a draft of his first straight play, Spirit Run (story by him and Jerry James).

David is an ex officio steering committee and faculty member of the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, where he taught for over 25 years, and has also taught at HB Studio, Workshop Studio Theater in New York; and Goldsmith’s College and BML in London.

His book is The Novelizers: An Affectionate History of Media Adaptations and Originals, Their Astonishing Authors—and the Art of the Craft

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 Stephen Cole is an award-winning musical theatre writer whose shows have been produced from New York City to London to the Middle East and Australia. His off-Broadway musical with Matthew Ward, After The Fair, was nominated for the Outer Critic’s Circle Award for Best Musical and was subsequently produced in London to great acclaim. The Night Of The Hunter won the prestigious Edward Kleban Award and was produced in New York City, Dallas, and San Francisco, where it was nominated for several Bay Area Theatre Awards. The award-winning 1998 concept CD features Ron Raines, Sally Mayes, and Dorothy Loudon. Saturday Night At Grossinger’s has had successful runs in Texas (starring Gavin MacLeod), Los Angeles, and Florida. Broadway legend Chita Rivera toured in Casper, and Hal Linden and Dee Hoty starred in the world premiere of his musical adaptation of Dodsworth. In 2005, Stephen was commissioned to write Aspire, the first American musical to premiere in the Middle East. This experience resulted in another musical about the creation of that show entitled The Road To Qatar!, produced to rave reviews and awards Off-Broadway, in London, and at the Edinburgh Festival, garnering a Best Musical nomination. Among his other produced shows are Rock Odyssey, which played to hundreds of thousands of kids for ten seasons of productions at the Adrienne Arscht Center in Miami, and Merman’s Apprentice, presented in concert at Birdland in New York City, followed by an all-star cast album on Jay Records, and an acclaimed premiere production in Sonoma, CA in 2019. Stephen’s latest critically acclaimed musical is Goin’ Hollywood. Stephen’s published books include That Book About That Girl and I Could Have Sung All Night, the Marni Nixon story, currently in development as a feature film from Amazon. Stephen has also written several published stories and his real-life friendships with Ethel Merman and Mary Martin resulted in this, his first novel. Visit www.stephencolewriter.org.