The Funniest People in Music, Volume 2: 250 Anecdotes

Acting

  • Songwriter Steve Earle also occasionally acts. To prepare for a role as a recovering junkie in the HBO TV series The Wire, he allowed his hair to grow long and he didn’t shave. The preparation worked well. Although he was staying at a swanky hotel in London when The Times’ Stephen Dalton interviewed him in August of 2007, he looked very much like a homeless person. In fact, he said, “The other day I noticed the homeless guys that pick up the tin cans on my street, before the recycling people come, they started protecting their cans as I walked past. They thought I was competition.”[1]
  • Jazz musician Branford Marsalis is multi-talented. As an occasional actor, he was once offered the lead role in a television situation comedy! However, his manager, Anne Marie Wilkins, thought that he should turn down the role and concentrate on music, so she asked him, “Branford, what do you want to be?” He replied, “I want to do one thing well.” She asked, “And what thing is that?” Mr. Marsalis replied, “Everything.”[2]
  • Jimmy Stewart was a big fan of Duke Ellington and his music, and the two even appeared briefly together in the Otto Preminger movie Anatomy of a Murder. Mr. Stewart even started staying up late to listen to Mr. Ellington play the hotel piano — something that adversely affected his early-morning wake-up call to get ready to act. Mr. Preminger was finally forced to forbid Mr. Stewart to stay up late listening to the music.[3]
  • Musical composer Jerome Kern once worked with an actress who had the annoying habit of rolling her r’s. She asked, “You want me to crrrross the stage. How can I get acrrrross?” Mr. Kern replied, “Why don’t you roll on your r’s?”[4]

Activism

  • The Rascals, who were sometimes known as the Young Rascals, took a stand for civil rights in the 1960s. After the Rascals had played at a concert with some black musicians in a Rhythm and Blues group called the Young-Holt Trio, creators of the instrumental hit “Soulful Strut,” one of the black musicians thanked the Rascals, saying that usually the Young-Holt Trio didn’t “get a chance to play for white people.” This made Felix Cavaliere and the other members of the Rascals think, “Why not really try and contribute to this civil rights situation by having a white and black act wherever we go?” Therefore, they insisted that black groups be hired to perform at their concerts. Such an action is consistent with the message of “People Got to Be Free,” a big Rascals hit in 1968: “Shout it from the mountains on down to the sea / people everywhere just got to be free.”[5]
  • Can music be political? Yes. Dmitri Shostakovich used his music to protest the oppressive Soviet society in which he lived and worked. In the dark days of Soviet Communism, everyone had to appear to be cheerful, no matter how they really felt. (Sadness was taken as a criticism of the Communist state.) In his Fifth Symphony, Mr. Shostakovich wrote passages of great sadness, and audience members cried when they heard them. The symphony was so popular that Josef Stalin — murderer that he was — would not attack the composer.[6]
  • Even as an 11-year-old girl growing up in the South during the Jim Crow era, African-American singer Nina Simone, nee Eunice Waymon, was an activist. She was supposed to play piano at the Town Hall in Tryon, North Carolina, but she noticed that her parents, who were seated in the front row, were being asked to give up their seats to a white couple. She declined to play unless her parents were seated in the front row.[7]
  • Novelist and stand-up comedian A.L. Kennedy once witnessed a very good example of how to use comedy to defuse a tense situation. At a demonstration at which it seemed a riot could break out, the demonstrating college students made many people laugh by sitting down and singing a song to the tune of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”: “We all live in a terrorist regime.”[8]

Alcohol

  • Marshall Grant was a member of the group Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two (later, Tennessee Three). Although Mr. Cash abused drugs and alcohol, Mr. Grant never did. In his closet is a suit that he has owned for over 50 years. It was a present from his mother, who said, “Every one of my boys who can make it to 21 without a taste of alcohol, I’ll get them a suit of clothes.” Mr. Grant made it to 21 without tasting alcohol, and beyond. In 2006, he pointed out, “I’m 78 years old and strong as a bull. I don’t know the taste of beer, wine, or whiskey. I’ve never taken an illegal pill, never smoked a cigarette, and as of this past November [2006], I’ve been married for 60 years. That’s not too bad.”[9]
  • Dee Dee Ramone could be pretty crazy. When the Ramones first played in London, their record company gave them unlimited room service, and Dee Dee acted the way that he thought a rock star should act and ordered so many bottles of Scotch that in two days his room service bill was $700. The record company representatives were surprised by the size of the bill, and they told Dee Dee, “We just thought you were going to order some cheese sandwiches and Coca-Cola.”[10]

[1] Source: Stephen Dalton, “‘I would never survive 26 divorces.’ Is Steve Earle, the much-married former junkie, convict and political activist, America’s greatest living songwriter?” The Times. 24 August 2007 <http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/cd_reviews/article2315064.ece>.

[2] Source: Bob Bernotas, Branford Marsalis: Jazz Musician, pp. 95-96.

[3] Source: Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week, p. 30.

[4] Source: Lore and Maurice Cowan, The Wit of the Jews, p. 92.

[5] Source: Tony Sclafani, “The Cost of Freedom: The Rascals’ Struggle for Change.” 21 November 2007 <http://www.popmatters.com/pm/features/article/50168/the-cost-of-freedom-the-rascals-struggle-for-change/&gt;.

[6] Source: Marc Aronson, Art Attack: A Short Cultural History of the Avant-Garde, pp. 90-91.

[7] Source: Kerry Acker, Nina Simone, pp. 30-31.

[8] Source: A.L. Kennedy, “Comedy is my self-defence.” The Guardian. 7 August 2006 <http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1838624,00.html>.

[9] Source: Chris Davis, “Man in Black.” Memphis Flyer. 21 December 2006 <http://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/Content?oid=oid%3A23008>.

[10] Source: Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Please Kill Me, p. 230.

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