Standing in the Shadow of Berry Gordy

Berry GordyRandy Newman is 70 years old today. As a movie composer he is middling. But as a singer-songwriter, he is great. His first couple of albums are just great. Two in particular, were very important to me: Randy Newman Live and Sail Away. Later, he lost me, but there is no doubt that he is great. I remember seeing him live when I was in college. Before doing the song “My Life Is Good,” he remarked, “This is unfortunately autobiographical.” I believe him; he’s always struck me as a dick, but one who has a sense of humor about it. Here is one of my favorite of his songs, “Last Night I Had a Dream.” I love the evocative anxiety dream about the impending break up. “I said, ‘You know what my name is.'” It gives me chills. (Also: great guitar part by Ry Cooder!)

Hooray! Dick Morris is 65! Hopefully, we will never again have to hear him make pathetically obtuse electoral predictions. A mainstay of last year’s election coverage on Fox News, Morris was a big guy in the Clinton White House. What more do you need to know about conservatism in the New Democratic movement?

Judd Nelson is 54 today. A big happy birthday to him! Look, I thought it was very funny when Bill Maher made a joke about how Reagan was the movie star equivalent of Nelson. But the truth is that this is unfair to Nelson. He is actually quite a good actor. And while Reagan was only ever a B-movie star (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Judd Nelson really was a star when he was young. And of the “brat pack,” he has gone on to have one of the best careers—an actor’s career. So it’s all fine to throw his name out because he isn’t the big star he once was. But the man deserves our respect. And he gets mine.

Jon Stewart is 51. He really has found his place at The Daily Show. Because here’s the thing. He wasn’t a very good stand-up comic. He was okay. But really, Jerry Seinfeld seemed edgy next to him. I’m not saying he wasn’t funny. And I know that my younger sister was rather fond of him. But it was never clear to me why anyone would pay money to see him. But he took The Daily Show that was pretty good under Craig Kilborn, and turned it into something great. Here is his take on the conservative media freak out about Obama’s Thanksgiving address two years ago (you remember: when he didn’t mention God):

Sam Seder is 47. He’s a comedian of sorts. But mostly, he is a political observer. He does the daily podcast The Majority Report. At this point, there is no one I agree with as reliably as him. What’s more, he is as out of it about pop culture as I am. He often makes literary references that I’m totally in tune with, but which his (younger) producers kid him about. What’s the big deal?! We are in our late 40s. We’re supposed to be out of it and interested in more enduring works of art.

Other birthdays: the great poet William Blake (1757); philosopher Friedrich Engels (1820); anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1908); singer-songwriter Bruce Channel (73); actor Ed Harris (63); actor Martin Clunes (52); and model Anna Nicole Smith (1967).

The day, however, belongs to the great Berry Gordy who is 84 today. As the founder of Motown Records, he is arguably responsible for more joy than any other person in the 20th century. Usually, people like him don’t get recognized. He’s the semi-sane guy in the center of a creative hurricane. Think: Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Show. And just like Kermit, Gordy is a creative guy: a songwriter and producer. In fact, before Motown, he co-wrote a number of hit songs, including the great Jackie Wilson song “Lonely Teardrops.” In fact, let’s listen, shall we?

The story of Berry Gordy and the history of Motown Records has been told much better than I could, notably in Motown 40: The Music Is Forever. Here is the start of it:

Happy birthday Berry Gordy!


Here is a nice playlist “100 Greatest Motown Songs.” Great Thanksgiving music!

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