March 13, 2008

THE LOOK OF LOVE: Burt Bacharach & Hal David at Hotel Murano

I have a long and intense history with the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Burt & Angie Dickinson are still my illusionary romantic ideal. This has been covered in depth here, and this back story is what makes the following story so monumental. Oddly enough, the back story ends on the same note that becomes a climax of this story.

My friend Jim Staicoff had been talking of an amazing project he was working on in Tacoma, Washington, the Hotel Murano. When he came into St. Louis in December 2007, he told me that for the grand opening of the hotel on March 8, Burt Bacharach would be playing in its ballroom. He then casually mentioned that Hal David would make an appearance that night.

My head exploded.
In their 40-year history as a songwriting team, they had never appeared together on stage. Hal is 87 years old. How is this possible?! And if it happens, I must be there.

Jim said he would do all he could to get me into that show, which would take some doing, as it was a $500-a-plate charity event for the Tacoma Art Museum that was already sold out. The whole concept was so surreal that I had to let it go. But Jim worked miracles and found a way to, literally, sneak me into the event.

The Hotel Murano is absolutely fabulous. Read about that experience here. But as fabulous as it is, it can't top what happened in the ballroom.

That's me with Hal David, above.
Yeah, that's me with Hal David!! My inner voice repeats this constantly; it will become an annoying tick in my senility.

As we drove up from Portland, Oregon on the day of the show, Jim gets a call from his design partner, Denise Corso. Eunice told her that the Murano is the most beautiful American hotel she's ever been in.
"Who is Eunice?" I ask.
Eunice is Hal's wife. They checked into the 24th floor the day before.
Is it OK to be first name-only with a musical god? My head exploded.

Since Jim met Hal & Eunice earlier in the night, once we got into the ballroom, Jim dragged me (because I was petrified) over to the table for an introduction to Eunice & Hal. How I managed to speak while my soul was in orgasmic turmoil is still a mystery, but I somehow told him (in a hopefully coherent manner) exactly why this moment was so special for me, and for music history in general:

"Ira Gershwin never came to the gigs of his brother George. Bernie Taupin has never stepped on stage with Elton John. Lyricists just don't usually do such a thing. But you are an exceptional man of words, and this is an exceptional moment in time. I am deeply honored to meet you."

Hal David seemed happy to let me have a picture taken with him. For this photo, I touched greatness. He even touched me. I did not faint, but my disbelieving heart was breaking with happiness.

Then came the concert.
I have seen Burt Bacharach probably 8 or 9 times, starting when I was 9 years old, when he appeared at the St. Louis Muny Opera with Anthony Newly. I have seen him with Dionne Warwick and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, twice. Every occasion is special because, as Hal David wrote on his website, "Burt is a man of many talents - a masterful arranger, an outstanding conductor, but first and foremost a brilliant composer. Among songwriters there are many tune writers but just a handful of composers. He is one of the few."

Along with the selections one would expect - and never tire of - he and his band and 3 singers did "God Give Me Strength" from his collaboration with Elvis Costello and a selection from his 2005 politically-minded record At This Time.

What made this concert a tear-stained event was that Hal David was sitting at a table behind us (how did we get better placement than him?), and I could look at Burt and turn to look at the man who wrote the words. And get this: Hal was mouthing along with the words he wrote! I could never have even imagined such an event, much less this occurrence at the event. My head exploded.

Near the end of the show was the moment I couldn't fathom happening: From the stage, Burt announced Hal was in the audience and confirmed that it was the first-time ever that Hal would come up on stage and sing!

Hal David sang "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." I captured this mind-bendingly historic moment using the video setting on my camera, thus the quality is not the best (it's a bit shaky because I was a lot shaky), but it is captured.
Here is Part One.
Here is Part Two.

My head exploded.
And then Jim says we're heading up to the 25th floor for an invite-only reception for Burt & Hal.
No, I can't take anymore. I met Hal David, had my picture taken with him, watched Burt, watched Burt and Hal together... I had spent my limit of good fortune and was emotionally spent.

Yes, you're going, and he steers me to the elevator where we ride up with Eunice and Hal David!
My head exploded.

"Hanging out" in a room with Hal David was unsettling. Rather than liquor to calm my nerves, I go over to the banquette to pour a cup of coffee. At this point, Hal & Eunice are seated at tables behind me, and I can hear them having casual conversation with people they know.

During the show, Burt introduced "Arthur's Theme" as being written "with ex-wife Carole Bayer Sager" (because we were so close to the stage, I politely refrained from hissing at the mention of her name). I overhear a lady at the table say she didn't realize "Burt and Carole were divorced. When did that happen?"

Eunice answers that it was "long ago," (1992, to be precise). The lady asks what became of Carole, to which Eunice answers in a politely dismissive tone, "Oh, she's married to, oh, Bob... I can't recall his last name."

I'm overhearing casual conversation about Burt from the mouth of Hal's wife! That the pouring coffee didn't wind up all over the countertop while my head was exploding is a minor miracle. I slammed down the coffee, surreptitiously took the photo above and left because my head hurt from all the explosions.

I was barely back in the room when Jim calls: Get back here now. Burt's here!
Oh shit. Is there any head left to explode?

And here's Burt Bacharach. I adore that he left the stage, went back to his room, peeled off the suit and changed into clothes that looked Sunday morning casual when contrasted with the surrounding formal attire. Good for him.

And here is what one looks like when their head is exploding while standing near Burt Bacharach.

Here's where everything turned into a dual existence in lightening speed slow motion, of being detached from the body while overwhelmed from being in the moment.

Once again, Jim stepped in where Toby feared to tread. He took my camera, walked up to Burt (gasp) and said there was someone here who came all the way from St. Louis just to see this show, and then he introduced to me Burt. I truly don't remember what I said to him; maybe I just blubbered like a lunatic. But I did manage to ask him if I could have my photo taken with him and Hal David. He said "of course."

With the audacity borne of an out-of-body experience, I peered across the room to spot Mr. David, and called out, "Hal!" Hal looks at me (probably thinking, "Oh, that head trauma victim from the elevator"). I ask, "Can you come over here for a picture with me and Burt (me and Burt, how fucking rich!)?" And he comes over!

With Hal next to us, I swear to you it's true that Burt says this: "Let's have Toby (he remembered my fucking name?!) stand between us, since she came all the way from St. Louis to see us." Burt moves me into place between them (Burt's touching me!) and flashes start popping.

I could feel my hands on their necks (yikes!) and with my head pounding, I leaned my head onto Burt and whispered in his ear, "Thank you." I leaned my head onto Hal and whispered in his ear, "Thank you." And I can't recall anything else because, well, my head exploded for the final time.

Here's me looking like a hurricane victim dragged from the wreckage. It is, without a doubt, the worst photo ever taken of me, but screw that. Look at Burt and Hal! They are god like! Anyone who had a heart could look at me and know this is the look of love. A lifetime of musical devotion culminates in a final moment I never conceived of. And I floated out of the room, into the hall and into the waiting elevator.

And I'm sharing it with Eunice and Hal David!

By now, I was completely emotionally spent. I fell back in the corner with my hand on my heart and waved my hand at them in surrender. They smiled sweetly, and luckily had to go down only one floor to escape this shipwrecked fool.

I went back to the room and stood in perfect silence, staying right in the moment because it was so exquisite. I met Burt Bacharach & Hal David! I had my picture taken with them! I will be the most annoying person in the old folks home from constantly muttering this.

To have left this room to go back to the party would have been a series of diminishing returns (and Jim said Burt left shortly after I did), an anti-climactic trek back down Mount Olympus. So I crawled under the covers, turned off the lights and say a little prayer for you, Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Thank you.

Hotel Murano: A Sleepover Art Museum

February 09, 2008

The New Face of Raquel Welch

Raquel Welch has been out promoting a new sitcom she appears in. A friend sent out an urgent bulletin to beware her talk show appearances, as she's virtually unrecognizable with her newest face. Seeing photos of Miss Welch during Fashion Week triggered a Hollywood trashtastic memory of Raquel and Mae West (above) in the gloriously bad classic Myra Breckenridge.

As documented here, Raquel Welch threw many an on-set hissy over Mae West. From costume misunderstandings to stolen musical numbers, Mae became the Bette Davis to Raquel's Joan Crawford. If decades of industry rumors have any truth, Raquel Welch has never slackened the levels of persnickety she achieved because of Mae West.

I am a lifelong Raquel fan. From the time I was old enough to pay attention to grown ups talking, every woman had something catty to say about Raquel every time her name came up. This is precisely why I like her. But as I gaze upon the latest pictures of Raquel, I can't help but notice that karma's a bitch because she now looks pretty much like...

...Mae West in Myra Breckenridge!! Slap a long platinum wig on her head and we'd have the ultimate Celebrity Plastic Surgery Karma Morph.

February 02, 2008

Ode to Fabulon

While doing research with a nice stack of Vogue magazines from the very early 1960s, the above ad made my spine tingle because it was so fierce.
My first thought: is that a drag queen?
My second thought: this is so Fabulon.

Fabulon is my favorite non-celebrity gossip blog because it covers everything else that's just as crucial to my upkeep. In quick, bite-sized chunks, he either eggs on my favorite cultural obsessions or exposes me to new ones (I've always adored Zsa Zsa, naturally, but pink poodles are the newest craze!). On cold rainy days, I used to flip through old Cosmopolitan magazines to fell better. Nowadays, I scroll Fabulon.
Cher Bless You, Thombeau.

Moving away from my early Valentine's to Fabulon... LOOK AT THIS!

From the same April 1961 issue of Vogue, the perfect spring outfit from White Stag. Everything about this ensemble - from paisley to skort to the white accessories - is what I need in my closet right now!

Could the ladies' clothing retailers please get over their endless tape loop of mid-70s re-treads and copycat some early 1960s for me? Please?

January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger Skips Out

Every time an artist dies, I remind myself that I never knew them personally, and the way that I know them lives on forever exactly as it always has, just no new output. That usually helps with the sadness. But what rationale can I use for a shocking death like Heath Ledger's?

On the night of his death, with full details still fully unknown, the bitchy but very fair gossip god Ted Casablancas intimated that Heath's drug problem had long been a blind item. The day after his death, the extent of his drug problems slowly comes above ground. With conclusive autopsy and toxicology results weeks away, this story promises to linger until the explosive final act.

There's a theory that when someone gets fired or laid off from a job, they should be congratulated because in some way they manifested this outcome; it shouldn't be a huge shock. This same theory goes through my head about Heath's death. It's not a suicide, more an accident, but is there really such a thing as an accident?

I was happily on board with Heath since 10 Things I Hate About You (especially because of these scenes!), a movie I can't even watch in mourning since I just watched it (for about the 27th time) a couple of weeks ago, dammit! That movie was the beginning and end of his romantic comedy career, and he never lived well with the "handsome hunk" persona the biz tried to build around him. Turns out he had much better stuff to offer. He was an actor, a real good one, the type that spent more time bettering their craft than playing show biz. Even with a string of actress girlfriends, he wasn't as paparazzi-desirable as other actors in the same situations; he was an actor trying not to be a star. And it paid off.

Brokeback Mountain gave him an Oscar nomination, and will always be listed as his most important work. The Joker in the upcoming Dark Knight will become his most iconic role because of all the posthumous drama, among other reasons. I think his shining moment was as Robbie Clark in I'm Not There. He embodied a difficult time in Dylan's life while also revealing his own turbulence. It's exactly the fluid, multiple layers of meaning that director Todd Haynes craves, and considering that he returns to actors he loves working with, I was excited about Heath becoming Johnny Depp to Haynes' Tim Burton. The shock of his death turns to sadness...

But 10 Things I Hate About You and I'm Not There are my comforting bookends for an actor in steady ascent. An ascent that crashed abruptly. Maybe it would be easier to process if he had died in a plane crash... but that poetic symbolism would have doomed him to insufferable legend forever more. Or maybe there's no escaping the looming legend, considering how shocked everyone is long before the whole story is known. But the common denominator surely is the sadness of being robbed of all the great performances to come.