Category Archives: Celerbrities

From Linda Ronstadt and Robert Redford to James Galway and Robin Williams: The Box of Interview Tapes

 

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When Gary Shandling died recently, I found myself thinking about his wonderful The Larry Sanders Show. But then,suddenly, Hey, didn’t I interview him? popped into my brainpan. I was a busy boy back then doing the journalism thing, and writing about the famous, semi-famous and not-quite-yet famous at such a rapid clip that I moved on quickly to the next. Had I really interviewed Shandling, or was that some celebrity fever dream?

That’s when I remembered the big plastic box of cassette and micro-cassette interview tapes that I hadn’t been able to part with. I found the box and pulled off the lid. Stacks of tapes stared back, more than 100 of them. Would Shandling be in there? I’d have to burrow in to find out.

Right on top were cassettes labeled “Ronstadt,” and that set my mind wandering back to a 1980s sit-down with the well-famous singer. It had occurred in the office of her manager, Peter Asher, which was on Doheny Drive in West Hollywood right around the corner from The Troubadour, the seminal music club where Linda had started her climb to renown. I had seen her perform there, barefoot on stage, several times. In the interview, I remember her telling me that she had moved to Marin County in Northern California and had a cow there named Luna. She was dating some governor. Some things you never forget.

Here are other memories from those old tapes:

  • There was Mil Batten, former New York Stock Exchange chairman. I sat in his huge Wall Street office in while the amiable West Virginian shared his views on many subjects. One was the impending breakup of AT&T, intended to erase its monopoly status and increase competition. Worst idea ever, Batten said. Why? Because the “Baby Bells” produced by the breakup would inevitably coalesce over time to form other near-monopolies, he said. That, of course, is exactly what happened. And one of them is now named AT&T.
  • I picked up a cassette labeled Robert Redford and recalled that we had once compared backgrounds–he wanted to hear about me first before talking about himself–and found that we had both lived as kids in Los Angeles’s Beverly Glen Canyon. Then I smiled and remembered that the actor and director had later called me at home to fill in some gaps in our discussion. My wife Patti picked up the phone and  asked the name of the person calling for me, and when she heard “Bob” Redford was on the line, the look on her face was as if she had just heard the word of God. It was a priceless moment.
  • I met Quincy Jones for lunch at at a favorite restaurant of his, Wolfgang Puck’s Chinoise in Santa Monica. The music producer did talk about his projects, including one with Michael Jackson, but mostly he talked about food.
  • When Esa-Pekka Salonen came to California as new music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, I was the first writer to interview the Finnish conductor and composer. He had barely gotten off the plane from Finland when I picked him up after a rehearsal at UCLA, and while I drove him to the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles I thought it would be funny to welcome him to Los Angeles by playing the Monty Python song honoring his homeland. It begins: Finland, Finland, Finland; Pony Camping or Trekking; Or just watching TV; Finland, Finland, Finland; It’s the country where I want to be.  He had never heard it. I thought it would be hilarious. He didn’t agree.
  • My dubious inspiration for interviewing blue-eyed soul singer Boz Scaggs was to go on a saloon crawl with him in San Francisco, where he lived. It devolved into a long night of hopping between drinking establishments, in one of which we met a genial biker who told us he had that day changed his name legally to Joe Dirte’, pronounced Dir-tay. A couple stops later, after an unfortunate encounter for Joe in the Balboa Cafe, he ended up stuffed rear-first into a trash can, both legs and arms poking out. That’s where we left Joe, grinning up at us.
  • David Geffen has a fearsome reputation for ruthless business practices, but the billionaire music and film business entrepreneur has never been anything but cordial to me. Once we met for a luncheon interview in his Beverly Hills mansion, which he told me was actually rented from actress Marlo Thomas. His staff served us pork ribs, I recall, and afterward he promised that he’d always take my call. I’m keeping that in my back pocket until I need investors for my next can’t-miss inspiration.
  • For decades, Steve Allen was admired as a nonstop creative force in television, publishing and songwriting. His output was so prodigious it was easy to imagine he had little need for sleep. But the most surprising thing he told me was that he was worthless unless he had 10 hours of sleep every night.
  • Once I went on a road trip with the Los Angeles Lakers, during which I learned how boring such multi-city jaunts really were–grinding travel and hotel time punctuated by a few hours of game, usually every other day. In Atlanta, some players used the down time to go to a shoe store patronized by many NBA players. I remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and teammate Gail Goodrich sitting on the edge of a baggage carousel playing chess. During a team shoot-around on a practice court in Cleveland, I found an unused basket and was throwing up a few awkward baskets when I felt a presence behind me. When I turned around it was Kareem, staring down and me and shaking his head sadly.
  • Robin Williams always seemed a hyperkinetic whirlwind of energy and quips, as he was on the set of Mork and Mindy while I watched the show’s taping prior to our interview afterward. But when I was shown into his trailer later, Robin was slumped in a chair, exhausted. He was perfectly pleasant, but it seemed draining for him to simply answer questions, much less crack jokes. His performances exacted a tremendous toll.
  • Before I knew better, I assumed that classical music artists were serious and solemn even when not playing for an audience. James Galway set me straight about that. I met the flutist from Northern Ireland on board the long-gone small French ship Renaissance during a remarkable two-week classical music cruise in the Caribbean. Galway was one of the solo artists, who also included Daniel Barenboim,  Maurice Andre’ and Gidon Kremer. The entire English Chamber Orchestra was also on board. From the first lunch at a big round table with several of the musicians, it was clear that classical artists knew how to kick back. One night gathered in a cabin and fueled by multiple bottles of good Champagne, Jimmy, Daniel and a few others grabbed their instruments and engaged in an impromptu jam session. I never looked at classical music the same way again.
  • Before I met Tom Waits in the seedy West Hollywood motel he called home, I thought the singer-songwriter-actor’s down-and-out persona was calculated. But I changed my mind when I entered his disheveled ground-floor apartment, carpeted from wall to wall in crushed beer cans. Pushed against one wall was the battered upright piano on which he composed such bleary paeans to drinking and disappointment as Closing Time and The Heart of Saturday Night. Even that distinctive gravel growl was authentic. When we went for a late-night drive in his pink Cadillac convertible many hours later, I understood how wrong I had been.
  • I didn’t know it at the time, but English artist David Hockney lived very close to us in the Hollywood Hills, our mutual canyon immortalized in his Nichols Canyon. It was close enough that I could walk to my interview with the acclaimed painter and collage artist. He couldn’t have been more pleasant. He let me into his house and introduced me to his beloved dachshund Stanley. He showed me his high-ceiling studio with its north-facing windows and unfinished works scattered around. We sat next to his backyard pool, its bottom painted in those trademark squiggles, and talked of California and England, of fame and privacy, of creative energy and ennui.

Yes, along with many others, Gary Shandling was there, too. I had interviewed him. But I can’t tell you a thing about it. Some things you never forget. Others you just can’t remember.

 

 

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LOOK AT THE RIBS ON THAT HOLLYWOOD GRILL

PERFECT BBQ RIBS

 It’s fortunate that I have a penchant for perfection, because everyone around me expects it. That includes the victuals for which I am correctly famous. Just the other day, after a swooning response to my BBQ ribs—one I can only fantasize extends to other areas of my fraught existence—the Diva got a request for my recipe for same from her niece.

Well, sure, I warned Linda via e-mail. You can try to recreate Los Angeles backyard magic in the wilds of Manhattan. Just don’t expect perfection until your apprenticeship has extracted its toll. And don’t forget the silicon BBQ mitts.

This quest is no cakewalk. First, one must forswear three wrongheaded cornerstones of contemporary barbecue grilling: the propane grill; manufactured charcoal; and lighter fluid.

All three are about flavor, two are about health, and one is about direct heat.

The charcoal grill will allow you to impart real smoke flavor and cook slowly with indirect heat. (Fat will drip into a pan, not onto the fire, which can create carcinogens.) You must get one with a grilling area large enough so the fire can be on one side and the ribs on another. (That’s tough with a gas grill.) They’re inexpensive. Mine is a Char-Griller that cost $119 at Lowe’s and has lasted five years so far. It has a high domed lid that allows me to smoke a turkey, something I did yesterday to what I modestly admit were breathtaking raves.

Use real hardwood charcoal, not the best-selling briquettes with the name that begins with a “K”. Word on the street is that these contain coal dust, which is probably why the instructions include allowing the briquettes to completely ash before beginning cooking. I use briquettes from Trader Joes that have no potentially toxic binders or fillers, but I also use chunk mesquite too. And I don’t wait until that white ash forms because I don’t have to. I also use hickory chips that I soak in water for a half hour or so and add from time to time to maximize smoky flavor and to help reduce the temperature if it’s too high.

As for the best way to light the charcoal, use a $10 chimney lighter with crumpled newspaper below and charcoal in the top part. This is much cheaper and easier than the lighter solution, and there’s no kerosene odor to impart to the finished product. Since you’ll also need a water/drip pan to put beneath the ribs (see more below), one of my fast-lighting tricks is to soak newspaper in the left over fatty water from the drip pan. I let the newspaper dry out over a few days and then use it to start the charcoal in the chimney. That eliminates having to dispose of the left over gunk and it makes the ignition fire much more intense, just like the fat wood kindling starter used in fireplaces.

The drip pan is placed underneath where the ribs will be and is filled with an inch or so of water. This helps keep the ribs moist over a long cooking period. As noted above, it also provides the raw material for lighting future charcoal.

Now that you’ve got the hardware, here’s the recipe I gave Linda:

  1. Buy baby back ribs. They’re smaller, meatier and easier to work with than the big ones. Cut them into pieces of 3-4 ribs each.
  2. Pat the ribs with a spice rub. I mix brown sugar, tumeric, Chinese five-spice, garlic powder, chili powder and a good multi-spice dried herb (an Italian one works well). Find a mixture you like by experimenting, but my advice is to stay away from too much salt. I don’t use any salt, which is why I recommend garlic powder and not garlic salt. The ribs will taste so good you’ll never miss the salt.
  3. Do not use BBQ sauce…ever. It ruins the pure meaty taste of the ribs.
  4. After the flames in the chimney charcoal lighter begin coming out the top, they’re ready to dump into the right or left half of the grill. Don’t bother waiting for the fire to get any hotter. Put the grates over the fire and the prepared ribs, meaty side up, right over that fire. After a minute or two slide the grates with the ribs on them over the water pan. Put a little more charcoal (this is when I use the chunky mesquite) and those soaked hickory chips on the fire. Close the top but make sure the smoke can vent.
  5. Cook for about 2 hours with the lid on. At first the temperature will be 300+ but it will moderate in a half hour or so. If the temperature stays too high, throw some of those soaked chips on the fire. The last hour should be 225 or so, but even 200 is fine.
  6. Now the ribs will be smoky, tender, delicious.

See # 3 above.

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