Month: September 2018

LutherOne of the definitions of the word irony is an incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.  What seems to be given can ultimately turn out radically different and such was the case in the life of the late Luther Ronzoni Vandross, Jr. (1951-2005), known simply to fans and friends as “Luther”.  To the world, he was a household name and his classic Here and Now has been played at countless weddings across the country.  His voice was unique with no singer coming to close to its richness and smoothness.  When he died on July 1, 2005,  many fans were in a state of shock and the idea that Luther Vandross was no longer among us seemed surreal.   Sadly, it was true and his voice was silenced as he departed this life and now rest in peace, having left behind a legacy that will far exceed his time on earth.  But how much did we really know about Luther and what was happening in his life behind the hit songs and glamorous stage appearances?  Craig Seymour once wrote for VIBE magazine, and interviewed Luther becoming very familiar with the singer but even he was unable to completely penetrate the walls Vandross had erected around his personal life, taking many secrets with him to the grave.   But what he has captured is presented here in this sharp biography that will surely suffice for Vandross’ fans.

Typically, we tend to view the lives of celebrities strictly based on what we see in magazines, on television and even on the internet.  Gossip has a dark tendency to follow any celebrity extremely successful or controversial.  And for male celebrities, the absence of a female counterpart fuels the rumor mill of possible homosexual tendencies.  Vandross fought all of these throughout his life and while many have their suspicions, the rumors have always remained just that.  Vandross was adamant about maintaining the privacy in his persona life but upon closer inspection there was far more than meets the eye.   The son of a working class couple, born in New York City,  rose through the music industry to become a titan.  However, no one could have predicted such feats on the 20th day of April, 1951 when May Ida and Luther, Sr., welcomed him into the world.  Vandross’ life is typical of that time until tragedy becomes a staple and his family found itself struggling to keep itself alive. Words cannot truly express the surprise and possible shock the reader will encounter with regards to the lives of those that compose the Vandross family.  Their plight would form a cloud over Luther’s head for his entire life, reminding him of the preciousness of being alive another day.   But before he made his own departure, he created a legacy and a reputation that will remain with us for years to come.

Those that knew him either loved him or disliked him for various reasons.  Personally, he never professed to being perfect but like every great artist, life is far from simple.  The blessing of a voice full of soul and the inability to find the very love he sang so passionately about, created a cruel irony that he was unable to escape from.  As a singer, he crossed paths with nearly every giant in the industry, collaborating on projects with several artists including the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin (1942-2018).  The relationships were not always cozy and Seymour does not shy away from Vandross’ conflicts with Franklin or those with Anita Baker and even the 90s all-female group En Vogue.  But one thing they can all agree on is that there was only one Luther and no one can ever take his place.

For years, it had been rumored that Vandross was a closeted gay singer.  While he never confirmed or denied any rumors, he only permitted knowledge of being in a relationship. With whom was never known to the public.  And while Seymour does not have a full proof smoking gun coming from Vandross himself, there is a revelation by someone close to Luther that might prove to be the clue many people have been looking for.  Personally, I could care less about Vandross’ love life.  I have always enjoyed his music and felt that whomever he was romantically involved with is his personal business.  But as an entertainer in the public life, it is a subject which was and is unavoidable. Luther handle it exceptionally well but I am sure that inside, it took a toll on his mental and emotional well-being.   Fitting that the title of this book contains the word longing for that is exactly what Vandross was doing as he belted out love songs while coming to terms with his own quest for love and closure regarding the death of his father Luther, Sr.  In death I can only hope that he found the peace that escaped him here on earth.  And if we listen closely to his many songs which we will play over and over again, we can listen carefully for the messages contained within their lyrics. The is the life the late and great, Luther Vandross.

ASIN: B00JNL0TK8

Biographies Uncategorized

hutton This November will mark twenty-seven years since the death of Farrokh Bulsara (1946–1991), known by his stage name of Freddie Mercury. On November 2, 2018, moviegoers will be able to see the anticipated biopic Bohemian Rhapsody starring Rami Malek as Mercury.  The film is on my list of those to view before the year is over. I do not know what to expect from the film but I certainly do hope that the filmmakers accurately portray the events in Mercury’s short but extraordinary life.  When he died on November 24, 1991, the music world mourned the loss of one of its true greats.  Today, if you hear a song by Queen on the radio, you can rest assured that at least several people will be happily singing along, knowing every word to the classic tune.  The longevity of his music is a testament to his genius as a songwriter and the talents of his band.  The world has yet to see another artist that possesses the aura that Mercury did.   Incredibly, for all of his public antics,  the singer was highly private and in fact, the world only learned of his battle with AIDS less than twenty-four hours before his death, through a carefully prepared statement.  In his final moments, he was surrounded by those closest to him, including his partner at the time, Jim Hutton.  Contained within the pages of this book is Hutton’s story of his time with Mercury and life after his death.  Hutton died on died January 1, 2010, from the effects of lung cancer and will not be able to see the film about his former partner when it is released.  But I believe he can rest in peace knowing that even today, Freddie’s fans are still as fascinated by him as they were when Queen was tearing up music charts.

I instantly loved the book once it began and I think the reason for that is Hutton does not talk extensively about Queen or the music business.  On occasion he does mention a new song that Freddie was writing or a hit that was released, but the primary focus is his relationship with Mercury and what made him tick.   Readers uncomfortable with homosexual subject matter might decide to take a pass on the book.  While there are no descriptions of sexual acts, the story is about a gay couple.  Lovers, ex-lovers, domestic issues and the like appear in the book showing the human side of the man deemed by many to be a music God.  Hutton is very direct in his words, possibly because of his Irish roots and Freddie, like most musical genius is not a simple character but multi-dimensional and composed of many traits, some interesting and others amusing. But from Hutton’s words, we can see that to know him was to love him.

If you have decided to read this book or consider reading it, then I take it to mean that you are a fan of Queen or interested in Mercury’s life.  Whichever applies to you, I believe that this book will appreciated.  In comparison with publicity photos and recorded video, this side of Mercury is not from a script but a reality of his very private side filled with shopping sprees, property in multiple countries, lavish parties, the gay scene, a long-term relationship and a love of cats.   To say his life was unorthodox would be an understatement.   Mercury lived on his own terms and every day was a new adventure. The thrills are high and the pace fast but there does come a point in the book where the inevitable appears and it is the part the reader might dread the most.  Roughly about halfway through the book, Mercury’s health begins to become an issue. Hutton,  was not oblivious to Freddie’s lifestyle before they met and even after they became an item.  And during era in which AIDS wreaked havoc on the gay community, mortality became a dark cloud over daily events.  As Mercury makes his descent towards the end, Hutton is there with him and his recollections of those times highlight the devastating effects of AIDS on the human body in the days before advanced drugs kept the virus in the stage of HIV only.  But through it all, Freddie remained stoic, accepting his fate and embracing death as the next phase in his life.  And there to support him was the partner whom he could always trust, his beloved Jim.

If you like this book and have more questions about Mercury’s life, I highly recommend Somebody to Love: The Life, Death and Legacy of Freddie Mercury by Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne.  It will not let you down.

ASIN: B00U8IVOVI

Biographies

PickettThere is something about soul music that is incredibly hard to put into words.  Its ability to reach the listener and touch them in ways they never knew give credence to the title of its genre.  The men and women who perfected their craft singing soul music became legends in the process.  Many of them are no longer with us having died either violently or tragically.   Planes crashes, murder, drugs and diseases formed the nexus of poison from which they chose.  Nevertheless, their voices still reign supreme and remind us of an era which we will never see again.   James Brown is known as the “Godfather of Soul” but in reality there were other challengers to the throne, most notably the late Wilson Pickett (1941-2006).  He is best known for his classic hit “In the Midnight Hour”  which helped propelled him to legendary status.  But behind the music was a man whose life was anything but ordinary.  Instead it was filled with genius, vices, love and heartbreak.  Pickett’s death on January 19, 2006 at the age of just sixty-four years of age, was the final chapter in the singer’s life which had steadily declined in his final years.  However, to this day he still remembered as one of the best to ever do it and his legacy is cemented in the many memorable songs he mastered during his time on this earth.

But just who was the real Wilson Pickett?   And how much of his on stage persona crossed over into his personal life?  Tony Fletcher was born in Yorkshire, England and some might find it surprisingly that a White Englishman chose to chronicle Pickett’s life. But by Fletcher’s own admission, he grew up listening to soul and the book became a passion.  Regardless of his country of origin, he has thrown his weight behind this excellent biography of the late singer.  The story begins in Prattville, Alabama when Pickett enters the world on March 18, 1941.  His early life was quite chaotic with the young Pickett moving from state to state as he discovers himself and his talent for singing.  It isn’t long before he begins to ply his trade and once his career took off, it took him on a ride that some can only dream about. The heights he reached in his career were astounding and his induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame was the figurative icing on the cake.  His true goal stayed out of reach and until the day he died, he never did get the Grammy Award he coveted.  But he did top charts and sell out arenas and his music has stood the test of time.

Like all great musicians, there was a very dark side to Pickett stemming from his unorthodox childhood and indulgence in drugs and alcohol.  Combined with Pickett’s hair-trigger temper, the concoction resulted in acts of violence on many occasions, some of which would land Pickett behind bars later in life.  Domestic violence also reared its ugly head and not even band members could escape his wrath.  In later years he would attempt to make amends for those acts but his reputation as unstable would never leave him.  The descriptions of Pickett’s acts of violence and comments from those who were their as a witness or as the recipient, are mind-boggling but also an inside look into the paranoia that nearly consumed Pickett.  As his drug use increased, so did his paranoia as he begun to spin out of control.   His downfall placed him on  the list of celebrities whose lives were nearly or completely ruined by drugs, alcohol, money issues and in some cases, crime.   Their daily lives became a walk on a fine line between genius and completely insanity. For Pickett, his genius behind making hit music and captivating audiences was betrayed by his backstage antics and precarious mental state.  Some speakers in the book speculate that he may have had a mental condition that was never diagnosed.  Whether that was the case, his actions can only be described as surreal.  Fletcher brings the past to life leaving the reader mystified at Pickett’s actions.

Remarkably, nearly all that knew him, loved him even with his sometimes dangerous flaws.  In death he was elevated to a higher status on order of soul singers whose natural talents were believed to have been given by divine intervention.  Some of the make an appearance in the book such as Robert Dwayne “Bobby” Womack (1944-2014), Riley B. “B.B.” King (1925-2015) and the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Louise Franklin (1942-2018).  Womack is a critical part of the story and those sections will undoubtedly pull the reader in.   Pickett’s lovers including ex-wife Bonnie Covington and his children would all be witnesses and the targets of his rage and his relationship with his son Michael is perhaps the most surreal example of parental fail I have ever seen.  But that was Pickett, the good, the bad and the brutal.  After his death they would all come together giving him the proper send off to the next life. The world lost a musical legend who suffered from inner turmoil, paranoia and ultimately vices which he could not shake.   This is the story of the life of Wilson Pickett, a soul music legend.

ISBN-10: 0190252944
ISBN-13: 978-0190252946

Biographies