Aired Dec 22, 2013 on Dave’s Gone By. Youtube clip: http://youtu.be/-XJcnuKO1O0
Shalom Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a Rabbinical Reflection for the week of December 22nd, 2013.
My friends, this is that time of year, between Chanukah and Tu Bishvat, when we become reflective, we take stock, when we look towards a new year with a sense of hope that the previous year has nearly crushed out of us.
But before we move forward, it is good to look back and remember some of the special people that we lost over the past twelve months – or 13, if you’re counting in Hebrew time. People who made their mark on our lives and were, therefore, bigger than life. Although, obviously, not bigger than death, because they died.
So farewell, to some major humor beings. People like Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa who could have spent his time in power going, “Hmm, how many white people can I get back at?” Instead, he forgave and included. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, just compare it to the way Moses and the Israelites left Egypt: plagues, bloody water, frogs, death of the first born. Not as if the Afrikaaners didn’t deserve the occasional boil outbreak or locust infestation. But Nelson Mandela was above that – which makes me jealous, because I’m not.
Another thing I’m not is psychic. And neither was Sylvia Browne, that woman you saw on Montel Williams telling everybody their future, except she knew less about the future than air-traffic controllers on September 10th. It pains me to speak ill of the dead – well, no it doesn’t. And in this case, I think psychics should have the same credo as doctors: first, do no harm. You wanna make people feel better about their dead loved ones looking down from above – or up from below? – fine. But Sylvia Browne served as a paranormal consultant on police murder cases, giving families false optimism and getting virtually everything wrong. Meanwhile, she predicted her own death at 88. And she got THAT wrong, by 11 years. I predict a few years in limbo for this charlatanette.
In 2013, we also lost Roger Ebert, a Pulitzer Prize winner who made talking about the movies even more fun than going to the movies. I didn’t always agree with his thumbs down, but I liked the way he kept his chin up. Well, his original chin, anyway.
Jonathan Winters died this year, a man whose comedy paved the way for Robin Williams, Gallagher and Carrot Top. So Jonathan may be doing some hell time. We also bade farewell to Esther Williams, who could dance in a swimming pool for hours and still look glamorous. If I’m in water more than two minutes, my face looks like a carp, and my body could double for Eubie Blake. And speaking of bodies, farewell to Harry Reems, the porn star of “Deep Throat.” Born Herbert Streicher, Harry Reems was blessed in a way most Jewish men are not, and he used it in a way most Jewish men aren’t capable of. Reems later had a drug problem and then converted to Christianity, but I’d prefer to remember him as a risk-taking Jew who worked hard. Sometimes rock hard. Which brings us to Al Goldstein, the man who founded Screw magazine and for 30 years hosted “Midnight Blue” on cable television. He was known for giving the middle finger to anyone and everything that he felt impinged upon his God-given freedoms, and for that, I hope God gives him five fingers in a hearty handshake. Oh, and we wouldn’t even have sex in this country if not for the late Virginia E. Johnson. In Masters & Johnson, she was the Johnson. And he had the Johnson.
In 2013, we lost Dr. Joyce Brothers, the psychiatrist and advice columnist who, because she was Jewish, was usually right. Late in the year, we lost Peter O’Toole, who played a crazy Arab sympathizer in “Lawrence of Arabia” but made up for it by schmoozing with Brooklyn Jews in “My Favorite Year.” 2013 was also the year we saw the wonderful Jean Stapleton stifled, and the passing of Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, who taught so many young boys about courtesy, good manners and tight sweaters. We lost Tom Clancy – the writer, not the Clancy Brother; and Joan Fontaine, the actress who wishes she could trade places with her sister.
Some Jewish notables taken from us in 2013 included Bonnie Franklin, who used her acting skills to play an Italian single mother, and Ed Koch, who used his acting skills to play a heterosexual mayor. Koch had great charisma, and his sexual preferences were his own business, except his fear of being “out”ed kept him on the sidelines during the AIDS crisis. I can just see Mayor Koch reaching heaven and asking HaShem, “So, how was I doin’?” And God saying, “Well, Ed, there’s a few thousand faigeles who want to answer that question for you. Now bend over.”
2013 also took from us another politician with a questionable legacy, Margaret Thatcher, who was pro-America and pro-Israel but furiously anti-union. I hope she doesn’t have too much trouble with Archangels Guild 603. On the other side of the spectrum, there was Helen Thomas, the big-mouth White House correspondent who thought she was queen of the Nile because she got a front-row seat to ask presidents a question. What a meeskeit of a woman, physically and every other way – screaming at politicians, in her dotage, that Jews should get the hell out of Israel. Finally, God said to Helen Thomas, “Get the hell out of planet earth.” At least he gave her a long illness before he knocked the bitch off.
To be fair, I’m sure Helen Thomas was just bitter because she was so mind-bendingly fugly. Oh, ladies and gentlemen, sex-wise, Helen Thomas was a three-bagger. One bag for her head. The second bag for her head in case the first bag broke. And the third bag for your vomit in case the first two bags broke. Helen Thomas was so ugly, at press conferences, they’d put a microphone in front of her face, and it would droop. She once asked Bill Clinton if he wore boxers or briefs, and he said, “With you? Armor.” Helen Thomas was so ugly, her coffin requested a blindfold. If you put a black wig on Popeye, fattened him with chemotherapy drugs and hit him in the face with a rake, he’d still look like a GQ model next to Helen Thomas.
But enough of that; let’s talk music. Slim Whitman died this year, which brings yodeling one step closer to blessed extinction. Ripped from the book of life was Patti Page. And The Doors’ Ray Manzarek died, so we can finally forgive him for that endless, boring middle part of “Light My Fire.” We forgive George Jones for all of his excesses, not because he was a great country star but because he seemed like a nice guy underneath. Well, underneath 6,000 pounds of cocaine and 12 million bottles of vermouth.
And I guess we forgive Lou Reed, too. Can you separate the man from the music? The genius who gave us “Berlin” and “Transformer” and “Ecstasy” and The Velvet Underground and “Walk on the Wild Side” versus the tush-hole who walked on the nasty side with almost anyone who tried to have a conversation with him. For years, Lou the jerk was inextricable from Lou the drugged and debauched artiste. Even after he sobered up, he was still a dick half the time, so art is no excuse. However, Lou wouldn’t be the first artist who turned messes into masterworks. Look what God did with Noah’s Ark: horrible event, great book chapter. So if the recorded legacy of Lou Reed, who, by the way, wrote a song bashing Kurt Waldheim, Jesse Jackson and the PLO – outlives the man’s pettiness, that’s all right by me.
Oh, by the way, my heart goes out to John Cale. He’s very much alive, but with the death of Lou Reed and the no-relation JJ Cale, I’ll bet he unplugged his phone for a few weeks. Speaking of unplugged, farewell to folkie Richie Havens. One of the few entertainers who had a voice even more gravelly than mine. At Woodstock, he was supposed to do a couple of songs and clear out before The Who started breaking things. When he was asked to extend his set and keep playing, he vamped and improvised and created “Freedom,” one of the most thrilling live performances of all time. Up there with Elvis on Ed Sullivan, Dylan in Manchester and Sharon, Lois and Bram at the Wantagh Performing Arts Center.
And when it comes to live performances, let us not forget Sid Bernstein, who brought the Beatles to Shea Stadium, where no one could hear them, and Israeli songstress Yaffa Yarkoni to Carnegie Hall, where I saw her three times. It was only one concert, but I was wearing bad glasses.
Let us raise our good glasses, however, in a toast to those who left us this year. Honor their memories; celebrate their legacies. L’chaim.
This has been a Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches in Great Neck, New York.
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