Bessman update!

I’ve noticed an increase in subscribers to this site over the past few weeks–for which I’m greatly thrilled and deeply grateful…and enormously befuddled!

Maybe it’s because folded and all my loyal subscribers there wondered if I folded with it. If so, I should state the obvious: Most of the writing here is personal in nature, longer (sometimes way longer!) than the examiner stuff–most of which was probably longer than most people want to read online or off. I’m currently researching setting up another site–with a generic name–in which to write the examiner-type stuff. Until then, I’m doing a bit of it here under the new “News” category heading.

In other words, if you’re a fan of my examiner stuff and not so much a fan of the stuff, bear with me! I’ll get the new site going soon enough and announce it here, of course. Mainly, I need to come up with a name that hasn’t been taken already, as I have top designers working around the clock–or at least, somewhere within the vicinity of a clock–to get it up.

Also, if you don’t know, I tweet links to everything I write, and will also announce the new site via Twitter. And again, I’m happy anyone comes here, period, for whatever reason!

One other thing: Since the entire site is no more, I’ve started reposting a few of the 1,907 pieces I wrote there in six years here, in the new “Bessman Archives” category. If there’s anything you remember that you want to see again by all means let me know.

The Bessman Sideshow

So I needed a new category for commentary-type thought pieces, and a name to go with it. You know, something suitably self-important.

The Bessman Factor came to mind, but I didn’t want to tempt being confused with O’Reilly. The Bessman View didn’t work, as I’m no Barbara Walters, not to mention Jenny McCarthy.

The Bessman Perspective was too ponderous, and then The Bessman Circus popped into my head—kind of the way Cancer Funnies did. Close, but no exploding cigar.

So please make welcome herewith, The Bessman Sideshow, premiere post to follow shortly.

Reflections on Nick Ashford–Part 8

One of my favorite Nick stories—and I’ve mentioned it here before—is how he was homeless when he first came to New York, and slept on a park bench in Bryant Park. Many years later, Val bought a Bryant Park bench and had a brass plaque reading “Nick Ashford Slept Here” affixed to a corner.

A few years back, when CBS Sunday Morning did a feature on Nick and Val, they taped a segment at the bench. They filmed Nick as he walked to the bench, but when they got there—and I’m quoting myself, now–“a rather filthy homeless person was sleeping on it”—much, perhaps, as Nick himself had done. That homeless person, upon closer inspection after he “woke up,” was none other than Yours Truly–much to Nick’s surprise and delight.

Exactly a year ago Bob Merlis and I went to the bench and took pictures of each other napping on Nick’s bench, then posted them. We thought it was the coolest thing, and it was. But it took me almost exactly a year to come up with the idea of a Nick Ashford’s Bench Facebook page, where everyone can go and post their own pictures of themselves and the bench. My hope, of course, is that it will become a tourist attraction, on par with, say, the Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty—which is only as it should be: Nick Ashford wasn’t as big physically, maybe, but he was definitely statuesque and no less monumental.

And no one, no thing, was more New York.

Anyway, I only yesterday thought of creating the Nick Ashford’s Bench Facebook page, and quickly got way ahead of myself. First of all, this website has been under reconstruction for a couple weeks, and  today, out of necessity, I finally figured out how to add another post. Second, I haven’t even figured out how to change my profile pic on my own FB page, let alone put up a background, and when I clicked on the “Create Page” link, just to see where it would take me, I ended up creating the page without actually wanting to—I mean, I wanted to, but not so fast!

I quickly called Val to make sure she was okay with it. My guess is she was either too amused or confused to say no. Then I couldn’t for the life of me find the pics of me and Bob on the bench, so I rushed out first thing this morning and took a selfie—and I hope I never use that God-forsaken word again—of me on the bench, and a background shot of the bench, and managed to get them both up okay. Then Bob found the originals and posted them, but for some reason they wouldn’t show up unless you clicked on the post—until I accidentally figured you could make them visible by clicking on the “Highlights” button and changing it to “Posts by Others.”

In other words, I have absolutely no fucking idea what I’m doing! As if you didn’t know….

Anyway, the hope remains that people will use the page to post their own photos, reflections, thoughts on the most wonderful Nickolas Ashford–and by extension, the most beautiful Valerie Simpson—and all that the magical Ashford & Simpson represent.

And thanks, Val, for the bench. I go there often.

The Great (Al) Goldstein

I’m not much for wishing anyone “RIP.”

Rest in peace? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? That no one robs your grave like some Egyptian pharaoh?

But I’m close to wishing a peaceful rest for my dear, dear friend Al Goldstein. Maybe the most restless mess of a man I ever knew, and surely, in spite of himself, high up among the most lovable.

You could easily shrug him off as one big id, but there was so much more to him than his voracious appetites for sex and food and maybe above all, freedom of expression.

I loved the quote in The New York Times obit, from “the manifesto” in Screw’s debut issue in 1968. “We will apologize for nothing.” And it rightly pointed out how he ‘lived to shock and offend.” But to my mind, at least, those he sought to shock and offend had it coming, way more often than not—on two occasions, myself included.

But really Al, am I so bad because I’m such a huge Burt Bacharach-Hal David fan that I told you how much I loved the 2003 Broadway production of their musical revue The Look of Love, which was so soundly thrashed by the critics that it closed after only 48 performances—one of which you went to, on my recommendation, and hated, so much so that you did the first of two golden Al Goldstein Midnight Blue “Fuck You”’s to me?

Obviously, yes.

But was I really so bad that in the middle of another “Fuck You” the following week, you lost your train of thought, then reverted back a week and went after me again?

“Jim Bessman. You visited me in two hospitals. You took me to concerts. You got me CDs. This is the thanks you get: FUCK YOU!”

If you never watched Midnight Blue, Al’s legendary cable access program that came on Friday nights at midnight and mixed hardcore porn footage with Al’s fever-pitched rants against ex-wives, lawyers, restaurants, movies, the government and good friends, well, you missed out on the LOL genius of Al Goldstein.

One year I turned him onto Tammy Faye Starlite. Real name Tammy Lang, Tammy Faye most recently has won acclaim for her portrayals of the late German rock chanteuse Nico, of 1967’s legendary Velvet Underground & Nico “Banana Album” fame. But the former yeshiva student first found her own fame—make that infamy—in her Tammy Faye Starlite guise as an overwhelmingly obscene and biased evangelical Christian country rock ‘n’ roll act that is either blasphemous or hysterically blasphemous depending on your sense of humor.

In other words, she was right up Al’s alley. Sight unseen, he asked her on the show, and asked me to sit there while he interviewed her, in character, going back and forth between asking her questions and hurling insults my way. And he liked her so much that he kept there long, so her segment would appear in two parts.

I had to leave after the first part, unfortunately before Penn Jillette showed up. An atheist saint for standing up for and caring for Al in his final years of dire need, an uncomfortably put-off Penn sat in on the second part of Al’s Tammy Faye interview, not realizing it was all brilliant born-again shtick. He challenged her religiosity at all turns, yet failed to dent Tammy Faye’s facsimile of impenetrable piety. Al just lapped it up until nearing the end of the interview, Penn finally got the joke.

Of course not even Tammy Faye Starlite could be as utterly repellant Al Goldstein, but there was always something somehow adorable about Al, even cuddly. And most of Midnight Blue was his producers making fun of him: I still crack up thinking of the bit where they liften the scene in Apocalypse Now where Martin Sheen’s Willard is being instructed to “terminate with extreme prejudice” Brando’s Kurtz.

“He’s out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct,” Willard is told.

“Al Goldstein?” he asks, thanks to the magic of Midnight Blue voiceover. Cut to footage of Al sitting at his desk, gleefully thumbing his nose at the camera.

That was Al.

And then there were the “Fuck You”’s.

I was there on several occasions when they’d set up a video camera to tape the segments. Al would have a sheet of paper with half a dozen or so topics, then go through them extemporaneously and rapid-fire, climaxing at the end of each one with both hands outstretched, middle fingers angrily thrusting upwards along with the most disdainful “Fuck you!” deliverable. It was truly breathtaking to behold.

When he died yesterday after spending the last few years in hospitals and nursing homes and deteriorating from numerous physical ailments, Penn Jillette tweeted, “My friend, and hero, Al Goldstein is dead. I will miss him and the world will be a little less free and honest.”

He was my hero, too, and in 1999 I somehow managed to squeeze in an article in Billboard about how record companies were advertising on both The Howard Stern Radio Show and Midnight Blue—though I can’t for the life of me remember which label used the latter. But Al was thrilled to get noticed by such a respected publication, and from that point on I was invited to every Screw/Midnight Blue staff meeting, which always was well stocked with pizza.

He’d invite me to his frequent dinner parties, too, where he’d pick up the tab for 10-20 friends at his favorite delis, Korean or Chinese joints. Gilbert Gottfried was a regular, so was “Uncle” Al Lewis and author Larry Ratso Sloman—another deeply caring friend of Al’s.

His kindness and generosity knew no bounds: I brought a couple girlfriends over the years, and he told them how beautiful they were–though he did question their soundness of mind for being with me. And I took him everywhere: to Joey Reynolds’ radio show, to see Sandra Bernhard and the Oak Ridge Boys; Al loved country music, and the Oaks were thrilled to meet him.

Then again, everyone was thrilled to meet Al Goldstein. His outgoing personality was as big as his obese girth, and even after he had his stomach stapled, lost a ton of weight, and actually looked great, that personality was no less big.

And big as he was, Al always stood up for the little guy and those, like him, who were maligned and misunderstood. Like Phil Spector. He loved Phil, and was ecstatic when I had Phil send me an autographed Spector box set to give him. They had a lot of good in common, unbeknownst to the general public.

“Yes, Al. You are missed. So missed,” tweeted Penn, calling him “one of the greatest proponents of free speech of my generation.” Yes, he was that, and so much more.

My biggest regret is that I was unable to make his voice heard again after he went bankrupt. I failed in attempts to interest people in putting new “Fuck You”’s up on their websites, and could never figure out how to do it myself. With his passing, a thunderous voice shouting out in the wilderness has been silenced.

I’m just lucky to have known him, and glad that he made it to 77—when he could have given up long before. Besides all that weight, he’d lost his home and all his possessions (what I wouldn’t give for DVD copies of Midnight Blue!)—but never his fighting spirit and sense of humor.

Bedridden and deathly ill, Al Goldstein was still a joy to be around. He went out the giant that he was.

Three years in the making, the Jim Bessman Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is up and running!

What an embarrassment.

It’s been almost three years since I wrote here that I was going to start up the Jim Bessman Rock and Roll Hall of Fame–and I only got around to it yesterday.

Actually, it’s now called The Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantheon (not to be confused with The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), and like most of my writing over the last three years, you can find it here at

In the interim at least a few of the artists I had intended to induct have been inducted into the RockHall: The Hollies, Darlene Love, Laura Nyro. But I still have about 30 who should be in–that will be in The Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantheon (not to be confused with The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).

And now, having honored KISS as the first inductee, the Jim Bessman Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a reality–though under a different name and in a different place. The nominating committee and electorate (there’s only one person in both–and it’s the same person) assure me that forthcoming inductions will be at the very least occasional.

Reflections on Nick Ashford–Part 1

I’m flying back to New York from L.A. this morning as I write this on November 20, 2011, thinking back some three months to the last time I flew back from L.A., Monday afternoon, August 22, 2011—a date which will live in infamy in my life and others, no doubt, very many others.

Infamy, says Merriam-Webster: evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal, shocking, or brutal. Fitting for Pearl Harbor, as FDR so historically proclaimed.

Evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal. And while I knew it was coming, it was still so grossly shocking, brutal beyond words and comprehension, to this day and for all days.

The death of Nick Ashford.

I knew it was coming, I just didn’t know when. But no one really did, at least not until Monday morning, when Liz Rosenberg called. She had only found out he’d been seriously sick a week or so earlier. I’d known pretty much from the beginning, but didn’t know exactly what it was—or that it was going to end like this.

So I kept it quiet. I asked Val about him regularly, and thought whatever it was, he’d get better and it would be okay. I had no reason to think anything worse.

It couldn’t have been much more than three months that I’d spent time with him last, hanging at the Sugar Bar on a Thursday night Open Mic. He was fine then, at his center table upstairs in the Cat Lounge, watching the performances on the wall monitor, graciously receiving friends and fans, posing for pictures with anyone and everyone who asked.

There’s always a rose, now, in a vase on the table. Sometimes a glass of champagne.

The last time I saw him was at Aunt Bea’s funeral, Valerie’s aunt who died a couple months before him. Aunt Bea always made the greatest cakes that us lucky ones got to taste after everyone else left at the day-long “white parties” Nick and Val hosted on the Saturday nearest July 4, when they had their place in Connecticut. Everyone wore white, everyone ate and drank and lounged around the pool and enjoyed the wondrous A&S vibe–and a few of us had our Aunt Bea’s cake and ate it, too.

Nick came late to Aunt Bea’s funeral and left early and I didn’t get to speak with him but he looked great. He always looked great.

So I thought he was okay, and hadn’t kept up the way I should have, overwhelmed by my own problems. When Liz called frantically I called Val immediately for an update, and while she didn’t say it was good, she also didn’t let on that it was almost over. But I don’t think she knew that, either. I’m sure she didn’t.

Really, we were all in denial. We all still are.

I called Miss Tee Sunday afternoon from the beach. Altamese Alston. Miss Tee. Ashford & Simpson’s longtime assistant. If I said she was the most extraordinary woman I’ve ever been around, I’d still be understating it.

I’d always call Tee from the beach in LA, just to check in—and give her the opportunity to joke about how well I must be doing, being that I’m calling her from the beach in L.A. She sounded glad to hear from me but didn’t say much, gave no indication of what was really going on—as I knew she wouldn’t. Val once said of Tee: “If you tell something to Tee that you don’t want me to know, don’t worry—I don’t know it.”

But I pretty much knew it anyway. I was staying with Bob Merlis, Liz’s longtime West Coast cohort at Warner Bros. Records publicity, and working out of his office. He was about to take me to the airport for the 1:30 p.m. flight back to New York when the call came in.

She hadn’t heard any word from Val or Tee in days, she said, and couldn’t take it anymore. She finally called the house.

Tee answered and said things weren’t good, that the paramedics were there.

I got an email from Liz an hour or so later on my Blackberry at LAX.

“You’ll be up in the sky… so perhaps you’re in a better position to talk to the man/woman above–should one be up there,” she wrote. “So say a lot of prayers and for now, we are not allowed to indulge in freaking out as we have to keep it together for them. But we will freak out to each other of course. Just when things couldn’t get better……”

Now one of my closest friends, Liz was Nick and Val’s publicist when they first came to Warner Bros. (long before Madonna) and remained close with them ever after. I became close to Liz within a year after moving to New York in 1982 and seeing Ashford & Simpson for the first time.

I saw them at Radio City and it remains one of the maybe five most memorable shows I’ve ever seen. It was their High-Rise tour, “High-Rise” being the name of their 1983 album—their second for Capitol after leaving Warner Bros.—and its hit titletrack single.

I was working at Cash Box magazine, a long gone record business trade. The man who hired me got four tickets; besides us, there might have been that many other white people in the full house.

I’ve never forgotten it and obviously never will: The stage had an Empire State-looking edifice in the middle, and when Ashford & Simpson’s crack backup band struck up the single, a hidden ramp unfolded and lowered from the center of it, revealing the beaming A&S standing there in all their glory.

Now reduced to the words of a novice concert reviewer, “the crowd went nuts” as Nick & Val descended the steps and progressed into a show I would eventually see with Liz so many times that in her booklet essay accompanying the 2008 two-CD Ashford & Simpson set The Warner Bros. Years: Hits, Remixes & Rarities, Val said that Liz and I might as well just do their show for them, since we both knew it better than they did.

Waiting to board, I responded to another email from Liz that said “No news” in the subject, the message saying: “From A&S world. Safe travels. Love.” I keyed the Blackberry: “Thank you. I’m freaking the fuck out. Boarding in half hour. Love you so very much.”

I got on the plane and ordered the inflight Internet service. I had maybe four hours of battery on a full charge.

I did some work in those four hours, and kept checking emails with mounting dread. I was still a couple hours out of Kennedy when the laptop ran out of juice.

I looked out the window into the darkness–except for the flashing light on the wing tip. Should there have been a man/woman above, I’d likely be the last one he/she would want to hear from at this or any time—atheist sinner that I am. Rather I kept hoping to see the William Shatner gremlin form the classic Twilight Zone episode making faces at me and driving me into sheer madness or utter horror. Anything would have been preferable to the helplessness/hopelessness I was feeling now.

When the wheels touched down I powered up the Blackberry and held my breath as the afternoon’s emails steadily added up. The one I hoped against all hope not to see had been sent at 7:45.

Liz’s subject was “Our Nick has left us.”

The message was “E or call when you land. I’m at house.”

It was after 11 when I walked into Nick and Val’s East Side townhouse. I had on cargo shorts and short-sleeved cargo shirt, an Obama-Biden inaugural ballcap, and my luggage.

There were at least 30 people there. I hugged Liz, then Val.

“I lost my honey today,” said Val.