Taking ‘Puzzle’ to heart

They say there’s nothing like hitting a good golf shot, and I suppose they’re right–though having never hit one, I wouldn’t really know.

Come to think of it, I have hit one good one I can remember, a birdie putt on a Par 3, and I think it’s because we smoked a joint on the way to the green. It was like I could see a path in bluish green curling 10 feet from the ball to the hole and I just stroked it along the guiding line.

I guess it’s the intense satisfaction we get, maybe instinctive, when achieving something requiring a refined skill, like sinking a putt, swishing a basketball into the net, kicking a soccer ball or driving a puck into a goal, pitching a ball into a catcher’s glove, hitting a target with a dart, bow-and-arrow or firearm.

Or even fitting that final piece into a jigsaw puzzle. I’m reflecting on this now after seeing Puzzle, the wonderful relationship/self-discovery movie about a repressed Connecticut housewife who finds herself after getting a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle gifted to her for her birthday. Played beautifully by Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald of Boardwalk Empire fame, Agnes then visits the puzzle shop in New York City where it was bought and answers a plea posted at the counter for a playing partner for a champion competitive puzzler (the great Indian actor Irrfan Khan).

The remainder of Puzzle—which opened last week in New York and Los Angeles–deals with Agnes’s relationships with Robert (the Khan character), her family, and the puzzles that take her out of her safe but stultifying life via the self-awareness, expression, exploration, fulfillment and empowerment she gains from them, much as one gains from any artistic or enriching diversion. Of course in her case, it also leads to a lot of painful confusion, such that at a pivotal point of self-realization, Agnes demeans it—and by extension, herself and Robert–by calling puzzling “a childish hobby for bored people.”

No, says Robert, “It’s a way to control the chaos. Life is messy, it doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Sorry to break the news to you: Life is random—there’s nothing you can do to control anything…but when you finish a puzzle you know you have made all the right choices.” Even after making many mistakes along the way, “at the very end, everything makes one perfect picture.”

I used to love jigsaw puzzles as a kid. We had a big dining room table that was perfect for assembling them. Now, when I go to the annual Toy Fair trade show at the Javits Center in February, I always make a point of dropping by the puzzle suppliers.

Of course, there have been big changes in jigsaw puzzles in the last 40-some years since I’d worked on one, though basic ones are still the same—lots of little cardboard pieces in a box. But 4D Cityscape, for instance, makes these great three-dimensional puzzle maps of famous cities, where you locate and place key buildings on the maps. Nervous System, whose booth I visited in May at the ICFF furniture fair at Javits, showed its new Geode Puzzle: a jigsaw puzzle inspired by the formation of colorfully banded stone agates created by a generative computer design process that mimics nature in each unique puzzle’s variations in shape, pieces and image.

Ravensburger is one of the biggest puzzle players at Toy Fair, and a few years ago they showed an immense 32,256-piece (!!!) puzzle entitled New York City and featuring a panoramic view of Manhattan, from the top of Rockefeller Center, if I remember correctly. The pieces were packaged in eight separate bags altogether weighing 42 pounds and measuring 17 x 6-feet when completed, which at Toy Fair it was–and displayed in its own specially built room within the big Ravensburger exhibition area. Last time I checked, Amazon had one for $369.99 (and free shipping).

But at this year’s Toy Fair I became fascinated by White Mountain Puzzles, a company known among other things for its 1,000- and 500-piece “collage” jigsaw puzzles, new releases shown at Toy Fair including Things We Collect (everything from baseball cards to model trains and vinyl records), Betty Crocker Cookbooks and World War I Posters. They even have a “puzzle panel” of puzzle enthusiasts on Facebook and an email list, who submit ideas and participate in regular surveys to gauge the appeal of potential puzzle images.

A new series of White Mountain puzzles shown at Toy Fair was tagged “Seek & Find,” and using the example of the thousand-piece Retro Kitchen entry in the “Seek & Find” series, contained 22 “hidden” images in the puzzle that were not pictured on the box, that image depicting a well-stocked mid-20th century-themed kitchen in full party preparation mode (a list of the hidden elements–including a spatula and thermometer–was provided inside the box).

As these collage and “Seek & Find” puzzle examples suggest, many of White Mountain’s designs are nostalgia-related. They also have an “American Pop Culture” collage series, titles including Television Families (including the Flintstones, Beverly Hillbillies, Munsters, Simpsons and Bundys), Candy Wrappers (Cracker Jack, Mike & Ike, Sugar Babies, Jujubes), Fill Her Up—Old Service Stations (Texaco, Sinclair, Shell, Mobilgas) and Route 66 (vintage artwork of picturesque scenery along the historic highway).

But the American Pop Culture puzzle that caught my eye was The Sixties—my decade. Illustrated by artist James Mellett, the 1,000-piece, 24×30-inch collage had so many of my heroes, key events and cultural representations growing up: baseball card replicas of Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax, Jack Nicklaus, a Green Bay Packers helmet, JFK, MLK, RFK, LBJ, Khruschev, Castro, The Beatles, Joplin, Jagger, Hendrix, Woodstock, drugs, Walter Cronkite, Johnny Carson, Rolling Stone, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Flower Power, Black Power, a VW bug and hippie van, the moon landing. Oddly, I had a hard time with two of the bigger likenesses, of two of my bigger heroes: Muhammad Ali and Clint Eastwood.

So I wrote a little piece about White Mountain and sent it to Sean Minton, one of the company’s partners, whom I interviewed, asking him at the same time if he might send me the Sixties puzzle—along with a bottle of puzzle glue and a frame. The puzzle and glue arrived a few days later, but not the frame, so I figured maybe I’d asked for too much.

Now I live in a tiny studio apartment, filled to the brim with the detritus accumulated after 40 years of freelance journalism. In other words, I don’t have any space for a dining room table—let alone a dining room. The best I’d be able to do would be to clear some space on the floor for the puzzle assembly, but that would have to wait until the day came when I’d buy a frame, and that day was far away.

But to get a head start I did go on Amazon to see what price they had on frames, only to find a whole lot of other puzzle-related accessories I hadn’t even imagined.

Besides various frames and glues there were sorting trays, roll mats and other devices for carrying or storing finished or unfinished puzzles, large Portapuzzle carrying cases that likewise keep pieces in place while providing a work station, spinning Lazy Susan puzzle bases, puzzle “work surfaces” with sliding storage drawers, even dedicated folding puzzle tables and tabletop easels. If only I had the room!

So all I could do was hold the Sixties puzzle box, unopened, and stare at the picture, until one day, some weeks later, I got a big, 24 x 30-inch box in the mail, maybe another four inches deep. I had no idea what it could be until I saw White Mountain’s return label. Sean had sent me a frame after all! Now what would I do?

I waited another couple weeks or so, getting more and more anxious over the prospect of actually putting it together—and how I could do it without realizing my greatest fear: losing pieces. Eventually I had to give in, and managed to create enough floor space to lay out the box that the frame came in, opening it up vertically to twice the frame size, then taping the four-inch flaps at the corners to contain the pieces. I opened the box, tore open the clear plastic bag holding the pieces, and dumped them into the center of the box.

It was like the beginning of an acid trip. Suddenly everything was blown apart and disjointed. Nothing made sense.

In the movie, Agnes can put a puzzle together easily in an afternoon. When she meets Robert, he shows her how to assemble a puzzle efficiently as a partnership: Sorting the pieces by color, he says, is “the Number 1 rule of competitive puzzling”–among other tried-and-true team strategies.

In my case, I probably didn’t do anything different from what I did the last time I did a puzzle some 50 years ago. While turning over the upside-down pieces I separated the border pieces, then did the same with the right-side-up ones. I then went ahead and constructed the border. All this took most of a Sunday afternoon, at least; Agnes would have had the whole thing put together by then.

But I really didn’t have enough space in the box to work with—though that wasn’t the worst problem, which was the tremendous pain in my knees from kneeling on the floor, not to mention my back and neck from hunching over the puzzle for many hours.

Once most of the border was done I could start dealing with the obvious and major images—Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE pop art image, for example, or the big “Top Songs of the 60’s” LP record or the many representative ‘60s buttons and badges (“Make Love Not War,” “Support Our Boys in Vietnam”)—working on several areas at once, forming floating “islands” within the borders that grew as more pieces were found and added, impinging upon others until that magic moment when the one piece was found that “anchored” the island to the border.

But “island” and “anchor” are my terms, same with “feet”—the varied appendages of pieces that I kept telling myself I was searching for during the endless endeavor to focus on specific shapes, with and without colors matching the holes they would fit in. After a day or so of said talking to myself it dawned on me that there must be a time-honored jigsaw puzzle nomenclature, and sure enough, I found online that what I called “feet” were also known as wings or ears, though there was no universally accepted comprehensive classification of puzzle piece shapes. Other terms for piece-parts employed by both manufacturers and puzzlers include, when paired, loops and sockets, knobs and holes, tabs and slots, keys and locks, and my favorite, denoting the knob that fits into the hole of the adjoining piece, “bobble.”

Besides the pain–which required regular breaks for stretching and repositioning–I was hindered by the lack of adequate space to spread out the many small “puzzles within the puzzle” with their presumed loose pieces, and since I didn’t have any of the sorting tray systems, I made one of my own out of the puzzle box and a couple plastic food containers. But there was no solving the other major problem: hopelessly lost track of time.

I was in the middle of auditing two college courses at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and I was able to pull myself away from the puzzle to go to the Monday and Wednesday classes. But that was it. I stopped going to the gym, stopped eating, stopped taking medication, answering the phones, returning emails, tweeting and facebooking. Forgot about the news online and TV and recording my usual shows and movies. Aching and exhausted, I’d finally lie down around 2 a.m. for a few hours, then bleary-eyed, resume my obsession.

The good part was that with every piece properly placed, there was one less one to find. And after so many hours—and days—of trial-and-error, I eventually started remembering where some of the unplaced pieces were, once their mates were in position—kind of like the old Concentration game show and card game.

But by now, totally addicted, I was having a hard time seeing straight. Luckily, pieces were starting to miraculously appear, and some that I picked that I though I knew where they went I suddenly found fit somewhere else. Everything was starting to speed up: As the acid trip started wearing off, the dust of the initial explosion settling, the slow rebuilding of consciousness and control gave way to clarity.

Still, there was one final, nagging fear, going all the way back to the last time I did a jigsaw puzzle at home on the family’s dining room table: Did I lose any pieces? This time there would be no cat or dog to blame if I had—only my nasty habit of setting a piece down out of the way amidst the surrounding clutter and forgetting where I set it. And the faster I was finishing it up, the bigger the empty spaces yet to be filled seemed to be.

I was sure I was missing anywhere from five to 20 pieces, yet lo and behold, when I put in what I thought was the final piece, I had one left over! By now I was both so exhilarated and delirious that I actually freaked out–to use another acid trip metaphor—then had to pore over the completed puzzle and finally run my hand on it slowly and methodically until I sensed the one missing hole.

I don’t know if it was joy or exhaustion, but I was drained emotionally upon completing the puzzle, incredibly, in only three days. I was just so driven to get it done and out of the way—and not lose any of the pieces in the process. Of course, it wasn’t over, even then: I still had to glue it—which wasn’t a problem after watching a few YouTube videos—and then get it into the frame, which was a problem in that even with all the glue, some sections popped out while transferring it to the frame and had to be reset.

As for the “problem” of the jigsaw puzzle pursuit as a whole, I found a pretty good quote while researching competitive puzzling, which I didn’t know even existed until seeing Puzzle.

“It’s a problem where you know there’s a solution. If you just work at it you know you can solve it and when you’re done you know you’ve solved it completely and correctly,” said Mike Helland of the championship four-person team The Collectors, to CBS Minnesota, on the eve of the St. Paul Winter Carnival, home of the country’s biggest jigsaw puzzle contest, in January of last year.

Or as Robert says in Puzzle, “What other pursuits can give you that kind of perfection? Faith? Ambition? Wealth? Love? No. Not even love can do that. Not completely.”

By this time in the film Agnes, by way of puzzling, has stepped out of her marriage and family, and has become so bold in her newly achieved sense of self that she even casts away Robert’s puzzle rules, and wins—with him—on her own terms.

As I always stay until the end of the credits, I was able to catch Sean Minton’s name in the closing thank-yous, along with another puzzle trade contact, Paula Jo Lentz of Ravensburger. And now I must note that while White Mountain doesn’t offer a golf puzzle as such, its Things to Do in Naples FL features a colorful road map with the location of things to do and places to see, bordered by 40 or so squares singling out posh resorts and popular attractions like The Caribbean Gardens Zoo, Everglades Excursions, and Naples Grande Golf Club–one of the top 100 resort courses in North America.

A conversation with ‘Mirzya’ director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

(Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra–photo: ROMP Pictures)

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who previously directed the award-winning Rang De Besanti [2006] social-political drama with Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan and sports biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag [2013, about Indian Olympian runner Milkha Singh and starring Bollywood multi-talent Farhan Akhtar], takes an ambitious turn with the just-released Mirzya, a visual stunner based on the famous Punjabi Mirza-Sahiban legend of star-crossed lovers.

In fact, Mehra doesn’t consider Mirzya to be a Bollywood film at all, what with its novel structural juxtaposition of doomed folkloric and contemporary stories linked by music, wall paintings and third-party narration. To bring out his admitted obsession with the Mirza-Sahiban folk tale, Mehra enlisted India’s celebrated poet, screenwriter and film director Gulzar, the top Bollywood songriting team of Shankar Ehsaan and Loy, untested actors in the lead roles (Harshvardhan Kapoor, son of Bolly superstar Anil Kapoor, in the Mirza-derived role; Saiyami Kher, granddaugheter of actress Usha Kiran and niece of actress Tanvi Azmi, in the Sahiban part; Anuj Choudhry, as the third character in the tragic love triangle), and a location—the desert of the North Indian state of Ladakh—that is as forbidding as it is beautiful.

Mehra spoke of Mirzya in a phone conversation last week from London, where he had just arrived for his film’s premiere.

What attracted you to the Mirza-Sahiban story?

Thirty-five years ago I saw a play of it while I was in college–in 1981 or ’82 at Delhi University—and I was fascinated by the Sahiban character and how she broke the arrows of Mirza. It made an indelible mark on my consciousness, before I ever thought about directing movies.

What was it that affected you?

Maybe it was how the things that we love the most often destroy us—which stayed with me the longest time. Now, 35 years later, I texted Gulzar, whose contribution to Indian literature—poetry and short stories and long stories—and Hindi movies, for which he is a great exponent of poetry, is immense. We live a minute apart, and I went to his house and over tea I asked him, Why did she break the arrows? He said, “Son, why are you asking me? Why not ask her?” I said that I’d been looking for her for the longest time, and she seemed to be eluding me.

You mean Sahiban, who broke Mirza’s arrows to prevent him from killing her brothers? Did Gulzar offer any suggestions on how to “find” her?

There was a twinkle in his eyes, and he said, “Let’s hold hands and find Sahiban”! He’s written scripts and directed a dozen movies, but not written for any other director in 35 years. So we embarked on a journey, and a couple months later he had a draft of the legend of Mirza-Sahiban.

But Mirzya doesn’t end with the story of Mirza-Sahiban.

I had a second question: Is there a Mirza-Sahiban of today’s time? Like Romeo and Juliet, can these stories be experienced today, or are we too caught up in the pace of modern life? And Gulzar said, “Why not?” Because maybe the world is moving so fast, but the heart still moves at the same beat and at the same rate that it has forever! Then we turned around and came up with a story for today’s time.

But your concept didn’t even end there!

I kept getting greedy! I said, “Let’s mix both these stories up!” and took them onto my writing table and mixed them up, totally. But I love telling non-linear stories.

The music really comes into play here.

You can argue that every Hindi film is song-and-dance, but Mirzya is not a true blue musical. I wondered if I could tell a story musically, and remembered seeing [1993 gypsy music documentary] Latcho Drom, which traced the music of the colorful nomadic gypsies of [India’s northwestern state] Rajasthan—who still exist–through Egypt and Turkey and Eastern Europe all the way to France and Spain. It depicts a journey that’s been going on for thousands of years, and I wondered: Why can’t I tell a story in 2016 in the same form? Then everything started coming together. I said to Gulzar, “Just give me some poetry and a narrative,” and we wrote it all into the script and the songs.

It must have been a lengthy process.

I took a year. Every director has to make the material his own, and I had to take Gulzar’s amazing writing and make it my own. It was fascinating and exciting to build the two worlds connected by another world—the music—and see how all three came together. But in my head I was telling one story, and after finishing the shoot for the one in the present day, I took a one-month gap and told the entire unit to go home and we’d resume in a month. Then we shot the musical portion in 15 days and six months later shot the folklore portion—making no connection between the characters and the role-playing but approaching it as a new film altogether.

The music, then, is the third film?

Yes, the music of the nomadic gypsies, their dancing and their narration of the folklore portion. That’s the inspiration, and they come together at the end of the film. It was absolutely fascinating to tell this one story, essentially, in three different forms: one in choreography and music, one in regular sound and dialog, and one in silent cinema–because there’s not a single word spoken in the whole folklore portion, and no songs are attached. My dream was to make a silent movie and it’s so pure, and the third part—the contemporary portion—the characters are as real as today’s India.

Is it Bollywood, then?

It’s definitely not Bollywood. I don’t know what it is, but it’s definitely not Bollywood.

The soundtrack singing voice of the great bhangra artist Daler Mehndi is almost a character in itself.

Absolutely! I related to him the story as told by the blacksmith, the paintings on the wall that come alive, and said, “Younger Bro”—I call him that–“the only voice I could think of is you!” because he’s so soulful! He does famous pops songs, but he’s also an exponent of semi-classical songs and folk and Sufi singing. He’s a great Sufi singer, and you don’t see that side of him normally.

You said there were no songs in the folklore portion.

There is background music but no spoken words. It’s an old folklore from greater Punjab, and I didn’t treat it the way it was written but reinterpreted it–as folklore is all about: They become larger than life, and I wanted to invent larger-than-life characters in the mythical past. I wanted very strong imagery, and a childlike quality. When I hear these stories, the child in me is triggered off. I knew that Sahiban had broken Mirza’s arrows and filmed that, and picturized all the fight scenes.

The fight scenes, with Mirza firing arrows on horseback, or quite stunning.

I realized there was no mounted archery in India. There was one club in Japan and one in Turkey, and there were passionate people in Poland. So I got 16 riders in Poland, and they played Sahiban’s brothers.

How do you categorize Mirzya?

I had already started in my head making departures from the place called Bollywood. But there’s no place called Bollywood! Hollywood has a hill and a sign, but we don’t have that! Also, I don’t like the term. It’s a generic label, and when our cinema was turning 100 years [in 2013], I was asked to make a documentary expression of it and try to show how the whole [Bollywood] song-and-dance came about, and how the hero started dancing. It was titled Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told [2011], all in dark humor! I took a camera and went into the metro station in Bombay, and the first cab I found, I asked to take me to Bollywood—and the cabbie said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I asked a second cabbie, and he said, “Get lost!” Then a third and fourth, and the fifth one said, “Give me a thousand bucks and I’ll take you there!” It was shown at the Cannes Film Festival and all over the world—but there’s no place like that!

What about the place where you filmed Mirzya?

It was a place in the north of India, Ladakh–the highest and coldest desert in world. It’s like taking the desert and putting it at 20,000 feet–absolutely exquisite, with very little oxygen. I’ve been going there to camp every year for 20 years. I’ve been there through rain storms and snow blizzards, and know it inside-out—so it came out of a very personal, deeply entrenched place in my head and imagination.

And the Polish director of photography Pawel Dyllus?

I wanted a fresh set of eyes and was looking up directors of photography and came across Pavel, who shot Maciej Pieprzyca’s [award-winning 2013 Polish film] Life Feels Good. We hit it off on the first Skype chat, with my favorite films turning out to be his favorite films. One of the main things, he was a student of [influential Polish director] Krzysztof Kieslowski. I’ve learned from Kieslowski.

How did you work with Pawel?

He came over and was with me for six months before shooting. The visual effects were done by the same company, Prana/Rhythm and Hues, that did Life of Pi and The Golden Compass. We went to them and made a movie that looks like one of the biggest Hollywood productions, but we needed to do it on an Indian budget: We had to make a film that looked like $100 million with a $6 million budget.

And what about the cast? The four lead actors are all new.

In the folklore portion you see some known faces. But when the new draft came together–with a new approach to storytelling—and the music was almost half complete and I was feeling that the film was coming together and feeling very strong about it in my heart, then I told the casting director we needed new faces, because we were trying something new and needed to let the audience come with a completely clean slate. We spent 18 months with the new actors before we started filming. That’s a lot—and we could only get that from newcomers: If they were established actors, we wouldn’t have been able to train them. None of them knew horse-riding, and they had to learn different levels—the battles, the polo games. But everybody had to be trained for everything.

How do you sum up Mirzya?

I have to tell one story–even if there are two or three different things. At the end of the day, you have to feel it’s one day—and it’s a journey: What I wanted to discover is that one moment you spend in love, that’s greater than your entire lifetime. So many scenes were written with boy-and-girl romantic moments, and I kept throwing them out. They only come together at the end.

And what comes next for you?

After doing this film about love, after doing social-political films like Rang De Basanti and the paranormal [Aks, 2001], to enter the zone just to understand the deeper meaning of love–I came out of it a different person and filmmaker. It’s almost like a rebirth, and it’s really amazing. I can’t tell you how cool it is to keep exploring different genres.

‘Mirzya’ mixes time periods in stunning retelling of tragic Punjabi Mirza-Sahiban legend

(ROMP Pictures)

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya, which opens today worldwide, offers the story of a doomed love triangle that literally transcends time, thanks to a novel—for Bollywood—storytelling technique.

Mirzya essentially interweaves three stories: the central Punjabi folkloric legend of legend of Mirza-Sahiban, a thinly related contemporary take on its tale of tragic romance, and a sort of gypsy music-and-dance commentary that loosely ties the other two together. So structurally, Mirzya is anything but a typical Bollywood film.

Cinematically, it’s truly stunning, especially in its mythical depiction of the folkloric segments. Newcomer Harshvardhan Kapoor (Bolly superstar Anil Kapoor’s son) as the Mirza-derived character suitably fits the role of warrior-on-horseback, firing arrows at aggressors—and exploding bombs and missiles–with blazing speed and accuracy in breathtaking desert and lake locales. As the gorgeous Sahiban character Suchitra, fellow newcomer Saiyami Kher (granddaughter of actress Usha Kiran and niece of actress Tanvi Azmi), in exotic costume, explains Mirza’s fateful desire—which carries over to Kapoor’s Munish character in the contemporary parallel.

The mesmerizing slow-motion photography of the folklore fantasy also carries over into the contemporary scenes, most notably in the polo sequence starring another newcomer, Anuj Choudhry, as Karan, the prince who is Munish’s rival for Suchitra. But what really brings out the intensity of the film’s romance through the ages is the music, composed by the famed Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy Bollywood team of Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendosa, and delivered most notably by the great Punjabi bhangra king Daler Mehndi.

Mehndi has a robust tenor reminiscent of Pavarotti and infuses his Mirzya songs with the dramatic urgency sought by Mehra. His is the perfect voice to convey the immortal love that is the credible heart of the film, that for audiences unfamiliar with Mirza-Sahiban, might have been otherwise missed.

Ajay Devgn and Kajol star in New York ‘Shivaay’ press conference

(From left, Ajay Devgn, Kajol and Reliance Entertainment USA head Sumit Chadha at “Shivaay” press conference in New York)

It had been over 10 years since Bollywood superstar Ajay Devgn had come to New York to promote a film to the metropolitan area’s huge South Asian population, but when he appeared at a press conference at the Taj Pierre Hotel in Midtown yesterday—to be followed with similar outings this week in Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco–he brought along his fellow Bollywood superstar wife Kajol to delight the packed room of journalists while supporting his ambitious action thriller Shivaay.

Also Devgn’s second directorial project (he produced the film as well), Shivaay releases worldwide on Oct. 28 for Diwali Weekend. A production of his Ajay Devgn FFilms company, together with Pen India Limited and NH Studioz with distribution via Reliance Entertainment, Shivaay was introduced with a trailer launch event Aug. 7 at the Basketball Complex in the city of Indore, home of one of Devgn’s biggest fan clubs.

The explosive trailer, which has since surpassed a staggering 25 million views on YouTube and social media, was shown at the start of the press conference and offered a breathtaking representation of what looks like a stunt-filled movie replete with car crashes, helicopter chases and dreadful tumbles down Himalayan mountains.

“Become Shiva–destroy your demons,” the trailer states, and the trailer surely lives up to another statement: “There will be destruction.” Indeed, the film required stunt teams from four countries besides India, as Shivaay, which was in pre-production for over two years, was shot in exotic and extreme locations and situations including 19-degree Celsius temperatures.

“We shot in atrocious conditions, and I’m grateful to my unit,” said Devgn of his 400-person crew. “They all believed in this film and worked as hard as if it was their own film.”

Devgn noted how he suffered severe hypothermia while shooting at the Vihren Peak in the Pirin Mountains of Bansko in Bulgaria. He also had to overcome his fear of heights in performing his own stunts.

“I don’t have a choice!” said Devgn, whose father Veeru Devgan is himself a stunt choreographer and action film director. “People expected me to do my own stunts.”

He noted that while Bollywood lacks the big budgets of Hollywood cinema, “we have the information to try to do that”—meaning that Bollywood has the technical ability and capacity to pull such a Hollywood-level action film off. “Trust me: When you see the film [you will see] we can make it in India.”

He added, however, that because of the “logistics” involved, including access to out-of-the-way locales, many action sequences had to be shot in Bulgaria and elsewhere.

But rather than “action thriller,” Devgn chose to call Shivaay an “emotion drama” film.

“There’s a lot of action, but there’s a lot of pain on the character’s face when he’s doing the action—and not action for the sake of it,” he said.

Devgn’s main character is the title’s Shivaay, a Himalayan mountaineer and innocent everyman who transforms into a determined destroyer in order to protect his family. His name, of course, derives from Shiva, the principal Hindu deity known as “the Destroyer” as well as “the Protector.”

But Devgn noted that Shivaay “does not touch on religion in any way,” that the title connotes “energy” and that Shivaay’s faith is “within him. It could be any religion.”

He declined to reveal much of the storyline so as not to spoil it, other than to note that the young girl of the trailer is his daughter in the film. After the “buzz” about Shivaay’s soundtrack was brought up, he observed that music director Mithoon was “really pushed” out of his musical comfort zone in composing the songs, and added that they tried to predict what music style would be current during the two years of advance composing work.

To this end, the new video for key track “Bolo Har Har Har” was screened, showing participation of the singers Badshah, Sukhwinder, Megha Sriram Dalton and Mohit Chauhan in fiery ice and snow setting jibing with the movie snippets. Mithoon has said that Devgn wanted “a powerful sound to represent the intensity and the contemporary nature of his film at a level of world music,” and the track does in fact blend contemporary and traditional sounds in an EDM/hip-hop format.

Also screened, for the first time ever, was the new video for the romantic track “Darkhaast,” which was shot against a Himalyan landscape and goes online today.

“Every song has its own feel and voice,” said Devgn. “Whichever worked best.”

Devgn mentioned his involvement with Parched, the international film festival favorite that was a hit earlier this year at the New York Indian Film Festival and is considered groundbreaking in its exploration and representation of misogyny and sexual attitudes in a stagnant and remote Indian village. Devgn produced the indie feature, which was written and directed by Leena Yadav, who credits his participation in its initial funding for providing the impetus for its production.

“I don’t know if it makes a difference, but at least it starts a conversation,” Devgn said of Parched, which due to its content is only now being released in India after its release everywhere else. But he maintained that “films are basically all about entertainment, [though] entertainment can be emotional so long as it connects with you. The basic idea is to entertain people and not necessarily have a message—but it should touch your heart.”

Here Kajol interjected that “honesty and integrity is what people respond to,” that “the camera is one thing that will never lie to you.”

She was asked whether, like her husband, she had any directorial desires.

“I’m not going to make a film!” she said. “I’m purely an actor. I’m the lucky one: He does all the work and I get all the glory.”

Feigning disbelief when Devgn explained that she didn’t belong in Shivaay because the female roles were for a non-Indian and, especially, a 19-year-old, Kajol recalled his first directorial effort, the 2008 romantic drama U Me Aur Hum (You, Me and Us) in which they co-starred in their seventh film together.

“He’s one of the finest directors I’ve ever worked with in my life!” she emphatically testified. “My dad was in the hospital and there was a lot of stress, but no indication of that ever came across on screen.”

Devgn returned the praise in relating how directing Kajol “is pretty easy because she understands the character, and she’s one of the best actresses we have in our country. She’s more concerned about the performance than how she looks on screen, [whereas] so many actors are more concerned about how they look.”

He also revealed that directing “comes much more easy than acting,” and said that he always wanted to direct before becoming an actor.

Asked if he wanted to join other top Bollywood stars who have recently signed on to Hollywood film and TV projects, he said that “offers come in all the time—but do you like it?”—suggesting that the right offer for him has yet to come in.

Devgn was also asked about the commitment of U.S. studios to Indian offices. Some are withdrawing, he conceded, but “I think nobody’s going to leave. They have to adapt. You can’t come to India with the mindset of the U.S.”

And he was also asked why it has been so long since his last visit here.

“I got lazy and didn’t travel so much,” he said, but declared that he felt he must come now because of Shivaay, and that he was happy to be here—as was Kajol, even though they got stalled by the street closures and transportation delays due to the opening this week of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly.

“We got out of the car and walked to the hotel since there was so much traffic!” she said. “We did the New York thing.”

What I say about ‘Danny (Fields) Says’


I’m very happy that Danny Says, a documentary on the life and times of Danny Fields that’s been in production for the last couple years, is finally coming out via Magnolia Pictures on Sept. 30. Based on attending an early screening, I can say it’s very good.

But it’s also missing my four hours of interviews-two of me, two of Seymour Stein that I did, though at least Seymour does get a few onscreen seconds. As the director has the tapes, I don’t know what I said verbatim. But I did say a few important things about Danny that no one else said-neither Seymour nor the stellar likes of Iggy Pop, Judy Collins, Jonathan Richman and Alice Cooper–so I’ll try to recapture them here the best I can.

I definitely recall my main point about Danny Fields, since it’s one I often use when I speak about him–which is often–and that is, there’s no telling what music of the last 50 years–from the mid-1960s on to this day–would be like without him. I mean, this guy had a hand in nearly every key music development post-Beatles–and even had a hand in The Beatles, too.

Indeed, Danny “is an expert arbiter of culture–music being his main focus,” Timothy Young, curator of modern books and manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, told me a couple years ago when I wrote about the library’s acquisition of truckloads of Danny’s papers–along with his vast collection of interviews and photographs, audio and video tapes, films and memorabilia.

“But we have to keep in mind that he has been writing all of his life. His articles for 16 Magazine deserve a close reading for how they promoted and shaped youth culture in the 1960s and 1970s. His several books detailing the lives of his friends–Linda McCartney, [Andy Warhol’s Bad star] Cyrinda Foxe–were the result of an amazing amount of research. His role in creating, promoting, and managing the public personas of The Ramones–one of the most influential rock groups of the 20th century–is a case study in how music culture operates.”

Yes, Danny discovered and managed The Ramones, for which he remains best-known to most people, probably. But long before that the Phi Beta Kappa Harvard law school dropout was deeply embedded in Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory scene in New York (he wrote the liner notes for the Velvet Underground’s Live At Max’s Kansas City and lived with Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick) prior to becoming publicity director at Elektra Records, where he worked with acts like The Doors, Nico and Judy Collins and managed The Stooges and MC5. He also worked with artists including Cream, Lou Reed and Rufus Wainwright, and if you ever get the chance to stroll through his West Village apartment hallway you’ll see a wall lined with his photos of a young Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Divine and many of the aforementioned.

And as Young noted, Danny played a not insignificant role in Beatles history—aside from being a close friend of Linda McCartney. He’s the one who published John Lennon’s infamous “We’re more popular than Jesus” quote (in the August, 1966 issue of Datebook).

Danny Says, of course, takes its name from the Ramones song on the band’s landmark Phil Spector-produced End of the Century album. But Danny is a true Renaissance man, with interests far beyond pop music.

“It’s odd to go from Shakespeare folios and 18th Century prayer books to posters of Dee Dee Ramone!” he told me, and now I’ll tell you what I’m sure I said in my interview: Danny can go from Shakespeare folios and 18th Century prayer books to posters of Dee Dee Ramone–and just about anything cultural, historical and intellectual you can think of. He and I actually go to the opera together, which is great for me on two counts: Not only do I get to spend quality time with him, but he actually knows opera and can explain to me what we’re seeing.

Of course, my close friendship with Danny Fields isn’t based on opera, but even though I wrote the first book on The Ramones (Ramones—An American Band) and thanked him in it and interviewed him at length, it isn’t based on The Ramones or punk rock, either—though I obviously knew his name from both.

No, when I first met Danny Fields—and I was so thrilled to meet him, knowing full well who he was—it was in, of all places, Nashville. To be precise, it was at a Warner Bros. Records party at some country club during what was then called CMA Week, in reference to the week of performing rights society banquets and other celebrations culminating with the Country Music Association Awards. Must have been 1984, because I was full-time at Cash Box magazine as retail editor, in New York only a year or two and hadn’t managed to break in as a freelancer anywhere—until that fateful night.

Two things stand out, over 30 years later. First, Conway Twitty was there! Second, so was Danny Fields! But what on earth was Danny doing at a country music event in Nashville?

What I didn’t know was that Danny, who was no longer managing The Ramones, was now editing a country music magazine called Country Rhythms—having famously edited 16 Magazine–and was starting up a magazine to capitalize on the new MTV craze, Rock Video. I was an avid MTV viewer at the time, but was ambivalent about the quality of rock videos–though extremely opinionated. So when Danny said he was starting up a magazine called Rock Video, I practically begged him to let me write for it, specifically, review rock videos.

He asked how I got to the party and I told him I drove there in a rental car. He said if I gave him a ride back to his hotel—and got him back safely—I could write for him and Rock Video.

Thank you, Avis.

I’m pretty sure I was the first writer to review rock videos. And Danny let me contribute to Country Rhythms, too, country music being, ironically, what brought us together in the first place.

So not only do I not know what popular music would be like without Danny Fields, I don’t know what my career writing about it would be like. And I’m absolutely sure I’m not the only writer who would say that, let alone musician, let alone Yale library curator.

“He teaches me something every time we meet,” said Young, “and I’m glad to have his papers here at Beinecke with those of Gertrude Stein, Thornton Wilder, Robert Giard, Richard Neville, Ezra Pound and other talents who reshaped the way we see, read, and hear the world.”

In ‘Jersey Boys,’ Clint Eastwood Does it Again

I saw Jersey Boys only once, opening night on Broadway in 2005.

I was there since I was the first writer, I think, to write about the show with any kind of substance, enjoying a breakfast interview with Bob Gaudio at least a couple months before it opened, for Billboard. I mean, Rolling Stone had to be badgered into giving it any coverage—that’s how little the Four Seasons were regarded.

But I only saw the Broadway show that one time, and only remember that I thought it was great. But I know it couldn’t have been any better than Clint Eastwood’s screen version, which opens June 20.

I suppose a lot of people were surprised to learn that Clint was directing the film adaptation. I was, too, at first, but only because I wouldn’t have thought of him within the context of the Four Seasons and rock ‘n’ roll. I’d interviewed him a number of times, too, for Billboard, about how he put together the music for his movies, either choosing songs or composing his own movie themes.

In that respect, Clint long ago transcended Clint. There’s a quick incidental shot of him in his breakthrough TV role on Rawhide as cattle driver Rowdy Yates, which hews to the time period of the action, of course, but also points to the vast artistic territory Clint covered after leaving the show.

There were the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, obviously, and his own masterful western directorials that followed, then the action films of Dirty Harry and their like. But where he was once synonymous with westerns and action—and stereotyped for them—that was all so long ago. His film romance The Bridges of Madison County, which he starred in opposite Meryl Streep, was truly beautiful, and the took on as director another best seller in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

He successfully plied biography in Invictus (Nelson Mandela) and J. Edgar (Hoover), and his back-to-back World War II movies, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, make up a singular achievement in the history of cinema, being a look at the Battle of Iwo Jima from first the American point-of-view, then Japan’s.

And as an actor, starting with his masterpiece western Unforgiven, his performances have added subtle nuance to go with his aging character portrayals (In the Line of Fire, A Perfect World, Absolute Power, True Crime, Space Cowboys, Blood Work, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino and Trouble with the Curve).

Music, meanwhile, has remained a central thread of his films, from his singing role with Lee Marvin in the musical version of Broadway’s Paint Your Wagon to his directorial debut, Play Misty for Me, a thriller in which Clint, who had played jazz piano in an Oakland bar prior to being drafted into the Army in 1951 (in fact, he played a bit of jazz piano in In the Line of Fire, and in 2003 directed the documentary Piano Blues for Martin Scorcese’s The Blues documentary series) played a jazz radio DJ. From there he easily transitioned into playing a country-and-western singer in Honkytonk Man (also starring his son Kyle, who’s now a notable jazz bassist/bandleader and contributed to the Jersey Boys score); he also produced the documentary Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser and directed the  Charlie Parker biopic Bird, and composed the score for Grace is Gone, starring John Cusack.

In 1996, Clint was honored by a musical tribute at Carnegie Hall, later released on CD and DVD as Eastwood After Hours and featuring his performance along with those from numerous jazz luminaries. And when he walked up to the front of the Paris Theatre to introduce last night’s VIP screening of Jersey Boys, he reminded me of a fellow jazz great and ageless octogenarian, Tony Bennett, both of whom only get better with years.

He spoke briefly and softly, and after noting how films have long been adapted from Broadway musicals and more recently vice versa, said how he tried to use actors from three different versions of the staged musical, including the key original Broadway cast—and how much he loved them all and what a great pleasure it was for him to direct the film. And while ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll would not seem to be Clint’s forte, he could not have been more respectful of the Four Seasons and all of us who love them and their music.

And as always, Clint brings out the best in his actors and crew members. Jersey Boys is one gorgeous movie to watch—and hear. And whatever you do, don’t leave before the credits, for Clint ends it with what is essentially a joyous Bollywood video using the full cast as singers and dancers: Even Christopher Walken, who is superb in his gangster role, becomes a natural hoofer.

So now I beg you, Clint. Make my movie dream come true: An acting collaboration between the two greatest living actors, Clint Eastwood, 84, and Bollywood’s likewise incomparable Amitabh Bachchan (71).

“Post Grad”

Add to the growing body of noteworthy soundtrack albums released by the legendary ABKCO Records label (including “The Darjeeling Limited” and “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” in addition to ABKCO’s classic album catalog starring the likes of Sam Cooke, Rolling Stones and Phil Spector) that of the upcoming “Post Grad,” starring Alexis Bledel and Zach Gilford.

In keeping with the young adult comedy, the soundtrack boasts established new artists like Lily Allen (“Take What You Take” is a lively leftover from her “Alright, Still” debut album) and Gym Class Heroes (“The Queen and I,” lead track from the group’s hit album “As Cruel as School Children”), along with such noteworthy newomers as Nashville-based singer-songwriter Erin McCarley, whose lovely “Pony (It’s OK)” is the soundtrack album opener, and Cleveland folk-rocker Joshua Radin (his “Brand New Day” no doubt fits into a key “Post Grad” scene).

But Lucy Schwartz really wrote “Turn Back Around” for “Post Grad,” and the International Songwriting Competition award winner not only turns in the set’s best song, but likely the most relevant.

Walter Cronkite

I was a CBS Evening News junkie growing up and remained so through the troubled Dan Rather news anchor regime. He and his predcecessor Walter Cronkite were my heroes, along with Eric Sevareid, and later, Bob Simon.

I highly recommend renting Good Night, and Good Luck to learn about the great tradition of CBS News—a tradition that is sadly long gone. It focuses on the legendary Edward R. Murrow, the man who virtually built the CBS broadcast news division. Murrow recruited the iconic Cronkite, who would host the network’s evening news from 1962 to 1981 and become known as “the most trusted man in America.”

I saw him in person three times.

The first time was at a record store signing of a box set of vinyl LPs that he was involved in, historic moments of the 1960s, I think. The second was a press promotion for a home video documentary about the first moon landing. He spoke about the 1969 event–which he covered, of course—and said something to the effect that it was the most important story he had ever covered, or the one he was proudest of, or the one that was his favorite.

I was deeply disappointed.

I tried to track him down after his presentation to complain but to no avail. But luck struck some time later, when I attended what must have been Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner’s 40th birthday party, in 1986.
I didn’t know Jann and I wasn’t invited. But he had the good sense to hire my friends Beausoleil, the premiere Cajun band, to perform, and I went in with them. It was at some trendy restaurant downtown that didn’t have any outer signage saying what it was or even the address. I was way out of my element.

All the big record company people were there, and the literary likes of Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Tom Wolfe. I was very excited to meet the late Israeli singer Ofra Haza there. And to get a second crack at Walter Cronkite.

I went up to him and introduced myself and told him I had seen him at the moon landing home video press gathering. I told him how he had been such a hero, such that I could not accept his citing the moon landing over his momentous coverage of Vietnam (his famous commentary expressing doubts about the chances of winning the war, which he made on camera in 1968 after returning from a trip to Vietnam, was a major turning point in popular opinion) and the Middle East (he brought Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat together to launch the peace process).

His response was unforgettable, if to this day enigmatic.

“Well,” he said, pausing. I think he was embarrassed. I probably should have been.

“Asking what my favorite story is, it’s kind of like asking, ‘What’s your favorite soup?’”

Farrah Fawcett

I did get to meet Farrah Fawcett once, but as with many of my celebrity encounters, it was somewhat embarrassing.

It was at a so-called “Bessman Bash” a few years ago at my pal Bob Merlis’s in L.A. He throws one of these annually at the end of summer, a great opportunity for me to see a lot of people I know out there at once.

Our buddy Billy Gibbons was invited of course, but if I remember right (always questionable), ZZ Top’s legendary vocalist/guitarist  called during the party to say he couldn’t make it, that he was home in Texas (though he also lives in L.A.). Ten minutes later who should walk in but Billy Gibbons! He had called from his car just to set me up for what truly was a wonderful surprise. He was with an attractive middle-aged blond and was carrying a huge container of one of his famous guacamole varieties.

Maybe an hour or so later I was in the kitchen, no doubt pretty soused. I think I was talking to my friend Dave Schulps when the blond that was with Billy wandered in looking for the bathroom. I pointed the way and that would have been that, except that when I walked into the dining room to get more food, a record company publicist friend stopped me.

“You know, this party could make a Rolling Stone ‘Random Note,’” she said. “Whaa?” I slobbered. “Yes! Billy Gibbons, Farrah Fawcett….” “Farrah Fawcett?” I barked. “She’s here? Where?”

“She’s the woman you just told where the bathroom was!”

I sensed a certain disbelief, if not disdain, in her tone, and when Farrah returned to the kitchen I apologized profusely for not recognizing her and told her how much I enjoyed her work in Robert Duval’s “The Apostle” and Robert Altman’s otherwise awful “Dr T and the Women.”

At least I can say that Farrah was just great. She hung with us in the kitchen for quite a while and it was a real treat talking with her—about what I can’t remember.

I Wanna Be Your Dog

[Somewhere in the back of Nellie McKay’s mom/manager’s station wagon is my little Staples yellow spiral notebook—or else it fell out of my pocket when I rather dizzily stumbled out of the car when they dropped me off at 45th and 8th Ave. after Nellie’s remarkable—even for her—show late Friday night at the New York Uke Fest May 29 at Baruch College. So I can’t guarantee that what follows is entirely accurate. Then again, if I had the notebook I probably couldn’t have read my writing anyway: Basal thumb joint arthritis, that and my naturally horrific penmanship. Plus a new fat pen I’m trying to get used to. About the only thing I can say for sure is that the back seats were down in the car to make a perfect travel bed for Nellie’s dog—so I kind of rolled around a lot. And I did play with the doggie toy—despite mom/manager’s admonishment. And if what follows isn’t 100 percent true, well, it’s close enough.)

I had to leave the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg’s May 29 performance of “Onegin” at City Center—and New York ITAR-TASS bureau chief Vladimir Kikilo and assorted other Russian dignitaries—midway in order to catch Nellie McKay’s 10:30 show at Baruch College, where she was headlining the opening night of the New York Uke Fest May 29.

Uke Fest? Nellie McKay?

No doubt the greatest musical talent of her generation, Nellie usually performs solo, accompanying herself splendidly on piano (the last time I saw her, though, she spectacularly led a swing band for last year’s Midsummer Night’s Swing series at Lincoln Center). She often ends her gigs with a ukulele tune.

I got to the venue on time, but the Fest’s organizer determined that Nellie hadn’t. Contractually, she was supposed to start at 10:30, but she hadn’t arrived by 10:20, when the preceding act, Hawaiian songstress Mihana, finished. So the guy, while noting that cell phone service in the auditorium in the lower levels of the building was limited, told the packed room that he had not heard from Nellie, declared her a no-show, and “dismissed” the attendees an hour early.

I don’t know how many people were there to see Nellie specifically. Probably not too many, though she’s for sure well-known in some circles for her incredibly original three albums (the first two being double-disc sets), her endearingly delightful performances, her award-winning Broadway turn as Polly Peachum in “The Threepenny Opera,” her contributions to The New York Times Book Review, and her award-winning dedication to animal rights and other tireless involvements in various causes.

But I was there to see her (I also corralled old friend Jim Beloff, a former fellow Billboard staffer and now one of the uke world’s foremost players, authors and manufacturers, into attending), and utterly dejected when the guy outright canceled the gig. An opportunity to see the wondrous Nellie McKay, suddenly withdrawn with no explanation: Was she ill? In an accident? Stuck in a stalled subway car?

Worried and weary, I ascended the four flights of steps slowly (chronically torn ankle tendons more sore than usual), head down, making my way to the exit without looking up at the handful of Uke Fest folk hanging about by the door. Still looking at my shoes, I had turned the corner and was nearing the subway when I saw the beautiful golden flats moving purposefully in the other direction, followed them up a bottom-fringed, black flapper dress to the mouth of the striking blond who could only say, “Oh, hi,” as she continued onwards, preoccupied but without any concern for the time. That’s how she always is before a show.

So I turned around and followed, still dazed, unable to react further. How could I tell her her gig had been canceled because they thought she was a no-show? “She’s always late!” manager/mom would bellow moments later in an angry showdown with the organizer, “But she always shows up!”

I had to find some way to lift up Nellie’s obviously sagging spirits after I finally mumbled out the news of the cancellation. As usual, I dramatically fell to the occasion—muttering inaudible gibberish as I led her down the steps to the auditorium. Manager/mom met us at the bottom, and became understandably irate when I filled her in on the situation.

Essentially, it was a culture clash. This was a folk music festival, really, with Nellie the only artist to have recorded for a major label, appeared on Broadway, and have high-powered (Creative Artists Agency) booking. They expected Nellie to have been there hours earlier, hanging out with the other artists and supporting them during their gigs—not at all unreasonable had she in fact been a folk artist at a folk festival. And as it turned out, Nellie’s camp had tried numerous times during the day to reach the organizers to find out the logistics (and make sure I was on the list), but as had been noted, cell phone signal down there was nonexistent, and the guy apparently hadn’t bothered to check his messages.

Different levels of professionalism—and different interpretations.

But the now empty room was still open: Nellie was there, I was there, and so were a mother and son from a town near Tel Aviv who were staying over an extra day just to see Nellie and hoping the now annoyed and embarrassed organizer would allow her to perform—even to the dozen or so who had been slow in leaving. So I snapped into what for me passes for action: I ambled over to the handful of uke players who were jamming folk-festival style just outside the auditorium and informed them that Nellie was indeed present and about to play, then did the same for the few remaining stragglers along the way. Maybe there were 30 people altogether who returned to the hall, some with their own ukes—which they played along with Nellie and with her encouragement.

She began with the lilting “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo,” which was sung by Leslie Caron in the 1953 musical “Lili”–with a puppet (it was also recorded, by the way, by sweet Gene Vincent). In the same standards vein, she did “Side By Side” and “Don’t Fence Me In,” the latter I know best from cowboy music conservationists Riders In the Sky, whose vocalist/guitarist Ranger Doug Green moonlights in the Time Jumpers, a popular Nashville swing band that Nellie said she saw on a recent trip to Nashville. She also did “P.S. I Love You,” which she performed—also with uke—on the soundtrack of the 2007 film of the same name, in which she also starred. (She told a funny-sad story, too, about how she took a movie-related meeting in L.A. at the Judy Garland Building, now the home of Adam Sandler’s production company, that is plastered with huge posters of Sandler—and one tiny picture of Garland.)

But as impressive as the standards side of Nellie’s uke-work were her 1960s song choices. These included “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” Herman’s Hermits’ broken-hearted chart-topper from 1965, sung by Nellie in appropriately melancholic English accent with her singing the backup parts as well; Peter and Gordon’s 1964 Beatles-penned chart-topper “A World Without Love”; and The Seekers’ 1967 No. 2 hit “Georgy Girl,” the titletrack of the 1966 English movie hit written by Dusty Springfield’s brother Tom Springfield, with lyrics by Jim Dale—with whom Nellie starred so many years later in “The Threepenny Opera” (also with Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper). Here she expressed her awe of Dale—and did him justice by singing the song replete with its sprightly instrumental intro (approximated vocally by singing a string of “bob-bob-bob” syllables).

She sang everything beautifully and with utmost poignancy—as her set list demanded (except for songs like her own caustically tongue-in-cheek “Mother of Pearl”). The recipient in 2005 of the Humane Society’s Doris Day Music Award for her support of animal rights, she also revealed that her next album will be a tribute to Day, whom she praised in a scholarly New York Times book review in 2007. (But please, Nellie. Do a swing album with that band you put together last year at Lincoln Center! Do it for me!)

She ended with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Meditiation,” then graciously thanked everyone who had stayed there for her, when others had lost all hope.

[Sure enough, Nellie’s mom Robin just called and said she found my notebook in the back of the car with the doggie toy. And sure enough, she couldn’t make out one word in it. So I couldn’t ask her what the complete quote of Nellie’s heartfelt good-bye line was, but it was something like this: “In this filthy rotten city, you brought smiles.”]

[Also, it dawns on me that I might have been too cute for my own good here. My title comes from The Stooges classic song “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” And calling the late, great rock ‘n’ roller Gene Vincent “sweet” is a reference to the late, great rock ‘n’ roller Ian Dury’s “Sweet Gene Vincent.”]

[Update: Just got my notebook in the mail from Robin! She sent it in a big envelope sprinkled with colorful commemorative postage stamps (Edgar Allen Poe, Medgar Evers, Abraham Lincoln, Bette Davis, Lunar New Year, Gee’s Bend Quilt), a heartbreaking PETA “Animals in Laboratories” sticker and a beautiful peacock sticker. She also had a Human Rights Watch address sticker. So here’s Nellie’s actual goodbye line: “Thanks for coming! You make this big rotten city smiling and rosey again!” And the mother and son were from the Tel Aviv area town of Savyon, one of the wealthiest municipalities in Israel. He was getting ready to move here to go to school and had learned of Nellie from the Internet and then turned his mom on to her.]