Pendergrass at Live Aid: Tragedy, Revival and Philly

News of the death of Teddy Pendergrass found many of us posting videos of the singer at his prime, teasing live crowds with “Love TKO” and “Close the Door” as he sauntered the stage in his revealing custom white tank-top in ’79 and ’80.

This clip of singing-songwriter duo Ashford & Simpson bringing Pendergrass to the stage at the 1985 Live Aid concert for Ethiopian famine relief at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium brought chills back then and still does. Three years earlier, the brakes failed on the Rolls Royce that Pendergrass was driving through Philly’s northwest Germantown district, leading to an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. So in visual contrast to his heyday, Pendergrass comes on at Live Aid in a motorized wheelchair, the body he used to evoke such sensualized instincts in his audience now almost a heartbreaking redundancy.

Ashford & Simpson–who met at Harlem’s White Rock Baptist Church in the mid-’60s–had made their songwriting careers specializing in both ecstatic love songs and grandiose, gospel-tinged tunes like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” and “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).” The duo wrote the last as Diana Ross’s first solo single in 1969 as a strikingly plaintive plea for fellowship in contrast to, for example, the Temptations’ more confrontational “Ball of Confusion” during that year of Nixon, Manson, My Lai and Altamont. Sixteen years later, “Reach Out and Touch” seemed fitting again as cracks of compassion like Live Aid started showing through the Reagan/Thatcher/Gecko era of greed-is-good.

A&S reintroduce Pendergrass to his city in near church-meeting style, from Nick’s heartfelt build-up intro to the duo’s welcoming of the singer with upraised arms. By the time of his accident, Pendergrass had left Gamble & Huff’s CBS-subsidized Philadelphia International Records label–which had just been taken over by EMI–to record with Asylum. A bit of stretch, but maybe we can see this clip as A&S redelivering Pendergrass back to the City of Bro Love and the world.

Another reading: Pendergrass re-emerged in ’85 in this context of an elongated, natural-and-man-made crisis in continental Africa. News of his demise in ’10 came in against the heartbreaking background of an instant though similarly devastating natural crisis for the African-descended people of Haiti–another time for the world to reach out.


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Like a top-notch ghetto nerd, Chauncey DeVega at uses the Wilson yell to speculate on Obama’s zombie status, the coming zomb-pacalypse, etc.

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The end of television

At least for us at Chez 5th Ave.

The June 12 transition to digital has arrived. We're currently just a little too cheap for basic cable, have no box for our older set, and I haven't worked out the d-settings for our newer tube. So we're cut off. It's undeniably just a little startling for a couple kids brought up with TV as a central part of the home.

Although neither of us found that TV ate into family time to a debilitating effect, I definitely remember my dad regularly stopping the flow of a talk/argument in the den as his eyes would wander over my shoulder to the screen. He'd point to the screen, say "Let's watch," and that would be that. To be fair, he tended towards substantive fare, mostly news and docs–my parents loved to tut-tut in time to the stopwatch on 60 Minutes. Thank goodness we weren't brought up on the addictive "reality" genre.

Of course, the advent of The Network has assured that the end of television is neither about the end of televised content, nor the end of interacting with the screen. Nor is it the end of "far sight," the phrase to which the compound of the Greek tele and the Latin visio translates.

For all his occasionally annoying pretensions, Genesis P-Orridge generally had it right on this. I think it was in RE/Search #4/5 (during the early '80s) that he talked about media-makers transcending television's strictures. Of course, if anything, the post-television age is about more access to more diverse and interesting televisual content, more access to production and media, and fewer commercials and broadcast time strictures.

Bye-bye, TV. Your history is fascinating, but you're done.

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“This night is tragic…”, His & Hers

Director Adam Smith got out the body cam again to shoot the new Madness video, Dust Devil. It’s an obvious happier-ending companion to both The Streets’ “Blinded By the Lights” and “Too Much Brandy”, as Smith further develops his unique Tragic Night genre. Are there any American examples of this?

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At the Nuke

Harry Allen points out that a photographer has been let inside a nuclear power plant 200 miles south of Moscow, 23 years after Chernobyl.

Man, these people are like, "Worst-ever nuke disaster? 400 times more fallout than Hiroshima? Whatever–we need POWER."

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The Souter Puzzle

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Maddow’s report on Justice David Souter’s retirement reflected a bunch of deliciously enigmatic points: among them his (surprisingly to many) mostly liberal record as a Bush 41 nominee, his Hamphirean reclusiveness, his lack of real health reason for retiring at such an early age, etc.

Overall, Souter’s appeared to have helped out, keeping Roe v. Wade largely intact and voting on the correct side of Bush v. Gore. Charmingly, according to Jeff Toobin’s book The Nine, the fountain-pen using eternal bachelor’s a serious recluse: no email, mobile phone, TV or answering machine.

MSNBC somehow amplifies the moment’s mystery with the 4-vid/7-photo footage-loop that they assembled for Maddow’s report, making for a portrait that’s as non-descript as this guy’s personality. In contrast to Scalia’s chest-out impertinence or Thomas’s steely grace, Souter’s shown as comprising a cordial nod, a charming grin, a murmur, a focused glance, a short reply, a slight smirk…and that’s it. Seemingly a bit more to figure out in both his legacy and retirement than in what overall impact it’ll all have in the Obama era.

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The Art of News: NDTV Sweat the Pakistani FM

The horrific Mumbai attacks have made clear to me how potent a news org NDTV is. CNN started carrying the channel’s coverage right away, and they do basically seem like India’s Anglophonic version of Turner’s behemoth. But their crews seemed to swarm the scene with an uncommon ferocity, and their correspondents held themselves with great poise.
It seems like their live feed will be compelling viewing for a long while to come (wild commercials, too). Below, anchor Pranam Mukerjee and reporter Vikram Chandra grill Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

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