Juan Gabriel’s legacy includes current tribute to Creedence Clearwater Revival

Mexican superstar singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel, who died August 28 at 66, was a six-time Grammy nominee who wrote hits for himself and the likes of José José, Luis Miguel and Rocío Dúrcal, while producing such artists as Dúrcal, Lucha Villa, Lola Beltrán and Paul Anka.

His 1984 album Recuerdos, Vol. II was the best-selling album of all time in Mexico, and his hit “Querida” (My Dear) stayed at No. 1 for over a year. Additionally, he was last year’s top-selling Latin artist in the U.S.

Currently, his version of the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”–titled “Gracias Al Sol”—graces the recently released Latin artist tribute to CCR Quiero Creedence.

According to producer Gustavo Farias, Gabriel was so excited about it being the album’s first single that “he immediately started tweeting to let his fans know about the summer release-and that it wasn’t his song! Everyone was
freaking out because over 40 years, it’s the first song that he ever recorded that he didn’t write.”

Farias related how he nervously tracked Gabriel’s vocals on a laptop in a hotel room in the Mexican border state of Sonora-notorious for heavy drug smuggling. They returned there a couple weeks later and filmed a video for the single in the middle of a jungle. So far the clip has garnered over 10.7 million YouTube views.

As “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” is Farias’s own favorite CCR song, he simply added a couple small mariachi guitars, vihuelas, to give it “a little funky feeling,” he said. “There are a couple nice violin lines, too, so there’s a little of Juan Gabriel’s personality and the essence of Creedence.”

John Fogerty, CCR’s frontman and songwriter, commented on Gabriel’s passing.

“My heart is heavy and very sad today for Juan Gabriel has passed away,” he said. “Juan is a legend in the world of Latin Music and someone that I truly admire. He has written and recorded hundreds of beautiful songs and recently had
recorded a wonderful version of my song ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ that I love very much.”

Concord Label Group president John Burk, an executive producer of Quiero Creedence (released via Concord) said, “We’re deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Juan Gabriel. He was a true musical giant whose incredible songs and voice touched countless lives.”

Gabriel Abaroa, president/CEO of the Latin Recording Academy, noted that Gabriel’s musical legacy “is much more than one or hundreds of songs.”

“He composed philosophy,” stated Abaroa. “In addition, he carried out heartfelt philanthropy with orphans of his Ciudad Juárez. He broke taboos, devoured stages and conquered diverse audiences. In 2009, the Latin Academy named him
Person of the Year, and honored him for his career and social work during a star-studded gala. The voice of the Mexican icon will resonate forever in all those who knew him, as we continue to dance to his music and appreciate
his art.”

Also in a statement, President Obama said: “For over 40 years, Juan Gabriel brought his beloved Mexican music to
millions, transcending borders and generations. To so many Mexican-Americans, Mexicans and people all over the world, his music sounds like home. With his romantic lyrics, passionate performances and signature style, Juan Gabriel captivated audiences and inspired countless young musicians. He was one of the greats of Latin music–and his spirit will live on in his enduring songs, and in the hearts of the fans who love him.”

Jillian Johnson: An appreciation

No sooner had President Obama told the BBC that his failure to pass “common sense gun safety laws” has been the greatest frustration of his presidency, the TV news outlets were stuck on the latest episode of what is so wrongly called “senseless” gun violence. After all, when anybody can get a gun, it makes all the sense in the world that sickos will use them indiscriminately, if not with discrimination.

“If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands,” Obama said, before he had the chance to add two more victims to the tally. Of course, with those numbers and the every week if not every day frequency, it’s only a matter of time before a gun killing episode would hit close to home, if not home itself.

I knew it was my time as soon as I saw that last night’s killings took place in Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Acadiana–Cajun country. I used to go there once a year on my way to Eunice, to enjoy the gracious Cajun hospitality and traditions of dear friends Marc and Ann Savoy and their equally wonderful and talented children Sarah, Joel, Wilson and Gabrielle. Lafayette’s the biggest town in Acadiana, but small enough for anyone to know at least someone I know. In the case of Jillian Johnson, sadly, it was many.

“It’s sad that we have to lose someone and after they’re gone, we tell them how amazing and inspiring they were to us, words that they’ll never see or hear,” wrote Wilson Savoy on Facebook, about his friend Jillian, one of the two shot to death by the hate-filled lunatic at Lafayette’s Grand 16 movie theater. She was 33.

“I met Jillian in 2003 and she changed my life forever,” continued Wilson, a Cajun accordion whiz like his father, and a Grammy winner, with Wayne Toups and Steve Riley, for the album The Band Courtbouillon, which was released by his older brother Joel in 2011 on his Valcour Records label. “She inspired me more than anyone else in my younger years, and I wish I had told her what an amazing person she was before it was too late. Before her show last Saturday, before she jumped on stage with The Figs, we stood together on the side of the stage at Blue Moon and chatted all about the past and the future, about her grand plans for projects, renovations, exciting new stuff. Never a dull moment with Jillian. I never said it in the past, but I’ll say it now. Thank You Jillian. I love you.”

His mom Ann, a Cajun music historian and Grammy-nominated artist who performs with numerous bands and artists including Linda Rondstadt, the Magnolia Sisters, the Savoy Doucet Cajun Band and the Savoy Family Band, echoed him: “Yes if only I had seen her recently or if only I had told her more about how amazing she was, everyday…but she knew how we felt, I’m sure..world sadder without her existence…Wilson, that was so well said….” Later, on a burgeoning Remembering Jillian Johnson Facebook page, she added: “Of all the people in the world, why did this one truly astonishing young woman have to go? Brilliant photographer, artist, designer…fun and funny person…gorgeous…I love her so much…goodbye, young friend….”

Sister Sarah Dover Savoy Gonzales, a musician and cookbook author, now living in France, wrote, “Jillian? Don’t be hurt too badly. Please don’t be dead. I just woke up to this news. You’re the closest female friend I ever had.” Speaking to Wilson, she later posted: “We used to joke that she’d marry you…and we’d all live on a farm together.”

Brother Joel, who has also played in numerous bands including the Red Stick Ramblers, wrote: “Makes me think about the early days of the Red Stick Ramblers at LSU. How many times did we stand in front of Jillian Johnson’s camera playing music or goofing off. Her being gone now makes me realize how all those moments she captured are also long gone–the band, that goofy light-hearted easy friendship, busking on campus…. What Id give to stand in front of that camera again and pose for my friendly nemesis. Rest in Peace J”

And from Joel’s wife Kelli Jones-Savoy, currently on the road with the acclaimed progressive Cajun band Feufollet: “So sad and heartbroken to hear about the awful happenings in a city I love so much, and heartbroken to hear our loss of such an amazing woman. Jillian Johnson was an inspiration and a beautiful person. Sending love to everyone and wishing I wasn’t so far from home right now.”

According to New Orleans’ OffBeat Magazine, Jillian had come to Lafayette from Tennessee and embedded herself in the local music scene. She did promotional work for bands including the Red Sticks, documented Acadiana’s music and formed a wonderful old-timey, all-female string band, The Figs–which I’m sure I saw. She was a big supporter of leauxcal music and businesses and owned two of them, the design and apparel stores Parish Ink and The Red Arrow Workshop. Her motto was “Be nice, do good work, try hard, listen, love.”

On Facebook, director/writer Tom Krueger, who made the 2007 Red Stick Ramblers “Made in the Shade” video, wrote: “So random, senseless, and devastating. What a huge loss. One of our dearest and brightest. Jillian was a huge part of why I moved to Lafayette. I’ll never forget the moment I met her, at Festivals Acadiens, just so full of life, joy, and style. Then, this person I hardly knew, jumped head first into the making of the Red Stick Ramblers video, organizing all the costumes and extras and so much more. I thought, if this community is filled with people like her, I want to live here. So, I did. Since that time I would come to know one of the most creative and interesting forces in Lafayette, not to mention our extended community, around the country and beyond. What an amazing and beautiful woman. She will be greatly missed.”

Krueger concluded: “It makes you realize the need to reach out to those we love and show them so, and reach out to those who are so full of hate and just try to show them another way…Every day. Every moment. We will love you always and miss you so much, Jillian. xoxox”

Tales of Bessman: Marla, Kayla and Emily

“To have a job where you can make things better for people? That’s a blessing. Why would I do anything else?”

The words of Marla Ruzicka, an angel and a saint. Her death April 16, 2005 from a suicide car bombing on the Baghdad Airport Road has haunted me to this day and for all tomorrows.

“We are heartbroken to share that we’ve received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller, has lost her life,” Kayla’s family said in a statement released yesterday. “Kayla was a compassionate and devoted humanitarian. She dedicated the whole of her young life to helping those in need of freedom, justice, and peace.”

Kayla was 26. Another vibrant young woman full of life and hope, who could have stayed here or gone anywhere else but there—where they risked and gave all on behalf of those so very less fortunate. Beauty in its truest.

Marla was 28.

“It’s rare anybody in a lifetime can accomplish what she did, and she did it in just a couple years,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said wen she died. Leahy had pushed through a $20 million compensation package for civilians injured accidentally by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq. “She was a champion I would follow anywhere.”

A striking, smiling California blond, Marla could “talk, smile and bust her way into all the meetings she needed–with Afghans, Iraqis, U.S. military and U.S. Embassy people,” recalled a journalist who had met her in Kabul. I mentioned her to my friend Matt, a Green Beret sniper in Iraq who later did security work there for Halliburton, and he had been so touched by her that he hung her portrait on his wall.

I was so taken that for the only time in my career, I came up with a charity CD concept in her memory. Of course it didn’t get very far, though had I known what I was doing, it would have been great. I’m sure I could have gotten Elvis Costello, ZZ Top, John Mellencamp and a number of other major names had I gone to them. The only one I mentioned it to was Ashford & Simpson: “Anything you want from us,” said Valerie, who, it should be said, always helped anyone who asked for anything, along with Nick, of course.

I had a friend at Rounder whom I called, and he was into it, too. So now I had to actually sit down and figure out how to do it. Luckily my first email went to Danny Goldberg, not only a music business luminary who’s served as personal manager, major label president, PR person and journalist, but a celebrated liberal as well.

If anyone knew how to do such a thing, it would be Danny, and sure enough, Danny told me I had little chance of putting anything togethe that would make any real money, and every chance of putting together one that would lose an awful lot of it—even with major artist donations.

I only wish I could say it’s the thought that counts.

And now, Kayla.

“Kayla dedicated her life to helping others in need at home and around the world,” President Obama said yesterday. “In Prescott, Arizona, she volunteered at a women’s shelter and worked at an HIV/AIDS clinic. She worked with humanitarian organizations in India, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, compelled by her desire to serve others. Eventually, her path took her to Turkey, where she helped provide comfort and support to Syrian refugees forced to flee their homes during the war. Kayla’s compassion and dedication to assisting those in need shows us that even amongst unconscionable evil, the essential decency of humanity can live on.”

Lest we forget, Obama added, “[Kayla] represents what is best about America, and expressed her deep pride in the freedoms that we Americans enjoy, and that so many others strive for around the world. She said: ‘Here we are. Free to speak out without fear of being killed, blessed to be protected by the same law we are subjected to, free to see our families as we please, free to cross borders and free to disagree. We have many people to thank for these freedoms and I see it as an injustice not to use them to their fullest.’”

Kayla had been held hostage by the Islamic State in Syria. The U.S. government confirmed her death yesterday, though details have yet to be made known.

“On this day, we take comfort in the fact that the future belongs not to those who destroy, but rather to the irrepressible force of human goodness that Kayla Mueller shall forever represent,” said Obama.

When Marla died, Rolling Stone hailed her as “perhaps the most famous American aid worker to die in any conflict of the past 10 or 20 years. Though a novice in life–she had less than four years of professional humanitarian experience–her death resonated far beyond the tightly knit group of war junkies and policymakers who knew her. She stands as a youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism, and darkly symbolic of what has gone so tragically wrong in Iraq.”

The Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), which Marla founded, continues its focus on helping civilians caught in the midst of armed conflict.
Here’s another quote from Marla: “Even though we couldn’t stop the war, I discovered that I could be involved in the movement for peace and justice. We are all victims of war, and we all count.”

I found these quotes on the website of The Emily Fund for a Better World, along with another quote: “Every act of compassion makes a difference for a more peaceful, just and sustainable world.”

The Emily Fund, it turns out, was established to further Emily Rachel Silverstein’s “legacy of hope in action for a more peaceful, just and sustainable world, through education, mentorship and creating and disseminating educational resources to facilitate individuals and student-centered organizations to experience local and global social change through community building activities.”

Emily Rachel Silverstein, I learned, was a sensitive and caring person, who had become vegetarian and began participating in peace marches when she was 10. She wrote her first letter to the president when she was in sixth grade, and was a member of the National Honor Society, Hightstown High School Marching Band, the swim team and the Adopt a Holocaust Survivor Program.

She made the Dean’s list at Gettysburg College, where she was co-president and lived in Peace House, whose mission was to create awareness of world peace issues. She was also involved in Amnesty International, Free the Children and other social justice activities, and studied Arabic to better address her concern for women’s rights in the Muslim world. In 2009 she helped organize an antiwar demonstration—Funk the War–a few weeks before she was brutally murdered by an ex-boyfriend. A week later students participated in a week-long event called Tent City, which she helped organize in order to help bring awareness to the homelessness crisis.

Emily Rachel Silverstein was 19. I didn’t know her, or Marla, or Kayla. But I’ll never forget any of them.

Elizabeth Lauten takes us lower

Elizabeth Lauten, communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), did the right thing today by resigning following the furor over her abhorrent Facebook post criticizing Malia and Sasha Obama’s appearance at the annual White House turkey pardon ceremony.

“Act like being in the White House matters to you,” Lauten wrote. “Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.”

But she wrote way worse in her seven-sentence piece of shit, when she called out the girls’ parents for setting, in her mind, a bad example.

“I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department.”

The media jumped on the direct attack on the girls for their dress and demeanor, but gave Lauten a pass for her vile suggestion that the President and First Lady neither respect their position nor the nation.

I get that you despise the President and First Lady, Elizabeth Lauten, and their kids. And I get that you don’t like him enough to defend him against such scurrilous slights, media. But really, to state–and let slide–such filth about a man who has shown nothing but loving devotion to his family, and the health and welfare of those who elected him twice by landslide, only succeeds in further lowering the standards of what was once common courtesy and decency to unfathomable depths.

Concert Highlights–Tammy Faye Starlite’s ‘Broken English’ at Joe’s Pub, 5/13/14

Tammy Faye Starlite as Marianne Faithfull at Joe's Pub (photo: Kevin Yatarola)
Tammy Faye Starlite as Marianne Faithfull at Joe’s Pub (photo: Kevin Yatarola)

With Tammy Faye Starlite’s Broken English/Marianne Faithfull presentation, which she reprised Tuesday night (May 13) at Joe’s Pub after debuting it in March at Lincoln Center, she takes her embodiment of brilliant but troubled rock chanteuses—the first being Nico—to a new level.

Her interpretation of Faithfull is indeed that, to be sure, but the monologues that lead into the songs give her more of a chance to extemporize with topical material, being of course, that unlike Nico, Faithfull is still alive. Different, too, is that while both were once beautiful, drug-besotted blonds who struggled to step out from the shadows of iconic male artists, Nico was a tragic figure, Faithfull triumphant.

Fearless as ever, Starlite held nothing back, even making light of the recent suicide of Jagger’s lover (“Too soon!” groaned one audience member, though not without full approval) and jabbing at name writers in the house–hitting this one especially close to home when singling him out for not really living so much as observing. Ahead of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” she even gratuitously broke character in referencing “Jew New York”—a standard crack from her uproariously anti-semitic, pornographic and Born Again Tammy Faye Starlite country shows—and still in Faithfull English accent, copped to the confusion.

As a whole, Broken English is a masterwork. But listening to Starlite’s verison some 35 years later, the lead titletrack takes on new significance.

First, was there ever a song more fitting of the word “roiling”? Or “churning”? That’s how it opens, that’s how it stays. Faithfull singing—often croaking–with stark directness lyrics including

It’s just an old war,
Not even a cold war,
What are we fighting for?

Lose your father, your husband,
Your mother, your children.
What are you dying for?
It’s not my reality.

Don’t say it in Russian,
Don’t say it in German.
Say it in broken English,
Say it in broken English.

Starlite sang it perfectly, as she did with the entire album, as she did with Nico.

Reagan ratcheted up the Cold War when he took office shortly after Broken English came out in 1979. He ordered a massive military buildup, condemned the Soviet Union as “an evil empire” and instituted the so-called Reagan Doctrine of foreign policy, which heavily supported Afghanistan’s pre-Taliban mujahideen groups in their war with the Soviets, and engaged in the illegal sale of arms to Iran in order to fund the anti-communist Nicaraguan Contras (the Iran-Contra Affair).

Who knows what’s going on clandestinely today, that is, besides the use of drones—often with tragic collateral damage consequences. But we do know that we have a president—a “Dahomeyan pinko octaroon,” as Starlite has identified Obama in her Tammy Faye shows–who hasn’t resorted to name-calling, or to any kind of nationalist adventurism. In fact, he’s done everything he can to avoid the militarism of the previous administration, much to the contempt of those of it and its supporters.

In hearing the classic antiwar anthem “Broken English” at this juncture and upon reflection, we have much to be thankful for, for not fighting for.