There’s no business like show business, except maybe the business of misery

Apparently a singer just died, there was a big memorial event in L.A., and it’s all over the news.

While we’re dispatching entertainers to play to capacity audiences in the Biggest Room of All, it behooves us to bid adieu, too, to Vancouver’s Serf-of-Pop, Terry Black.

Very Terry: The Japanese pressing

Mr. Black seemed to have the chops, but he couldn’t catch the breaks.  The parallels with this other dead entertainer, one Michael Jackson, are minimal, except that back in the 1960s, they were both tapped to become the next big thing in teenage music. One rose; one fell.

Mr. Black came out of British Columbia with a hit record, and moved to Hollywood, where there was talk of putting him in the next Elvis movie, as Presley’s brother. It never panned out. Mr. Jackson emerged from Gary, Indiana — a less-likely point of origin than B.C., if such is possible — with four of his brothers and a hit record, and moved to Hollywood, where he married Elvis’s daughter. That didn’t completely work out, either.

Mr. Black’s record revolved at 45 rpms, precisely the same rotation rate as Mr. Jackson’s hit singles, and both recording artist’s recordings had big holes in the middle, where you placed an adapter before putting the record on a spindle. Mr. Black’s “Unless You Care” was played frequently on Canadian radio stations for decades, at least in part because the law required broadcasters to play music by Canadians. He sang the peppy lead vocal on “Try a Little Harder,” a memorable 1972 track by the Toronto band Dr. Music, and warbled on the soundtrack of Ivan Reitman’s 1979 motion picture “Meatballs” (listen here.) When he died last week, he’d been working as a disc jockey in Kelowna, a small city in B.C. populated by retirees.

It has not been a good week for Canadian disc jockeys and other entertainment industry figures.

Two more sorry specimens are the theatrical impresarios, and just-convicted fraudsters, Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb.

The Livent Lads, on the move
The Livent Lads, on the move

If you followed their courtroom occurrences, the former principals of Livent could tend to get a little fuzzy regarding certain details of their business dealings. They are crystal-clear on one point, however: They don’t want to go to jail.

This is understandable. After all, Drab has at least one close friend named Black — not Terry Black — who is serving time right now in a Florida slammer, and most likely there isn’t much good to say about the experience.

Drab and his locked-up pal (you know the name; he writes books) share another friend, who is the lawyer, Eddie Greenspan. Ed defended them both — unsuccessfully, as it turns out. Having not achieved his desired outcome, which would be his clients absolved of all charges, and left to clink champagne flutes with their attorney while they all cackle like hyenas, Eddie has seized the opportunity to fabricate lemonade from lemons.

Don’t send my boy to jail for 10 years, judge, your worship, he has suggested to Madam Justice Mary Lou Benotto; please, please don’t put this good man behind bars.

Ed’s offering up a whale of an alternative concept. Why not just let Drab and Myron, those luverly Livent Lads, put on a show?

Ed says the boys are prepared to set off on a cross-country lecture tour, if it means they can bypass a cell in the stony lonesome. Drab and Myron will star in “Community Service: Tonight!”, with performances at universities, community colleges, and technical institutes from coast-to-coast. Drumming up interest in the idea, Ed says Drab “would teach students the discipline of the craft, the enormous role that integrity and honesty play in the theatre, the importance of fulfilling contractual responsibilities [and] the avoidance of unethical conduct.” Throw in some recycled Gallagher-and-Sheen patter, along with a good set of PowerPoint slides, and you just might have box office magic.

The inspiration for Fast Eddies lecture series?
The inspiration for Fast Eddie's lecture series?

The fellow who wants to put the producers behind bars, Crown Attorney Alex Hrybinsky, seems to think Ed-the-lawyer’s follies will bomb in New Haven. Yes, there are precedents for the type of staged entertainment Ed envisions, but they have never been imposed as a legal remedy in a criminal case. The lawyer seems to have been inspired by the exhibits of human curiosities and oddities described by author Gregory Gibson in his recent book “Hubert’s Freaks,” which is about the long-running Times Square peep-show of the same name. If what Ed has in mind is to place his clients into some kind of travelling carnival, where onlookers can gawk, and the attractions can make a bit of money answering yokels’ questions and selling souvenir postcards, that constitutes a macabre revenge-scenario worthy of fellow-showman Tod Browning.

On with the Drab n Myron Show: A Tod Browning revenge fantasy?
On with the Drab 'n' Myron Show: A Tod Browning revenge fantasy?

Our layman’s prediction: The Drab ‘n’ Myron Road Show will never happen. Ed’s courtroom string of bad luck appears to be not yet over, and as much as the impresarios must long for the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd, this final act has Bialystock & Bloom written all over it, if you happen to recall the ending of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.”

Plaudits to the other legal Greenspan sibling, Brian, who is representing Myron. Brian has come up with a wonderful reason why Myron shouldn’t have to go directly to jail: It seems the former Livent CFO is really kind of reluctant to mingle, and doesn’t get all out much. According to Brian, that’s equivalent to being under house arrest, and should be calculated as time served. Madam Justice Benotto must be stroking her chin over that one, in a stagy form of contemplation, or else doing a slow-burn pantomime, as perfected by the late actor Edgar Kennedy.

++++++

What is more tragic than a pair of impresarios who may find themselves incapable of producing a theatrical extravaganza, for the next eight-to-10 years? How about a broadcaster whose mike has been abruptly shut off, following a 25-year career serving one media outlet? Martin Streek, a D.J. with radio station CFNY-FM in Toronto, reportedly parted ways with his employer in May. He committed suicide this week, reports say.

Mr. Streek entered the radio business out of high school, right around the time stations were switching to an automated voice-tracked format. All the talk, in the 1980s, was that the day of the disc jockey was through. Indeed, when the early-’90s recession hit, the entire medium of commercial radio was considered to be in jeopardy, with some licensees walking away from their equity, unable to pay their whopping power bills through advertising revenues. In other words, it was very much like the situation that daily newspapers find themselves in today.

The role of the disc jockey endured, nonetheless, and it’s said Mr. Streek was crackerjack at his work, and a decent bloke, to boot. Especially disturbing is the news that he left a suicide note on his Facebook page. There are already web sites that make light of celebrity deaths, and the popularity of so-called social networking sites can’t be disputed. I fear that the posting of suicide notes to the Internet may already be a trend, and that some web entrepreneur not unlike Rupert Murdoch will quickly move in to exploit this as a niche opportunity. The round-the-clock coverage of Mr. Jackson’s death leaves little room for doubt that there is any human misery either too large or too small for someone to avoid capitalizing upon.

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