Liz Smith: Yoko Ono Rocks The House!

And more from our Gossip Girl: Paul McCartney loved Queen Elizabeth’s bust! … Aretha Franklin’s funeral “Spasm” … Kevin Costner, Whitney’s finest “Bodyguard”

“I WANT to thank Michelle Obama for my style. Michelle has been my inspiration. I am studying her oeuvre. Her oeuvre is fascinating. Oh, and if anybody can tell me what oeuvre means, I’d appreciate it.”

That was Sean Lennon, onstage at Le Poisson Rouge last Saturday night before introducing his mother, Yoko Ono. I don’t know if anybody explained to Sean what oeuvre means — or why he thinks he has the First Lady’s style — but one guy standing in the crowd did shout out, “Well, whatever you think it means, you are mispronouncing it!”

Then Sean good-naturedly and affectionately introduced his legendary mother. It was Yoko’s 79th birthday. Sean said, “Instead of just going out for good food at some quiet place, as usual, my mother said, ‘This year, I just want to rock the place down! So, here she is to rock this place down!’”

Yoko — looking youthful and petite — appeared in her standard all-black ensemble, dark shades and a jaunty little hat. She took in the roar of her assembled fans and their birthday greetings, but she said, “The thing is, I’m already thinking about the next one, only 12 months to go!” And then Yoko let loose. Her voice, her sound, has always been unique — and not universally admired. At least not back in the day. But her primal singing/songwriting/performing has been re-claimed by a younger generation. Her voice is astonishingly strong. The crowd loved her!

One charming aspect of the celebration was the presence of small trees (or large plants — the place was dark.) All the guests were handed little cards on which they were instructed to write one word for Yoko’s birthday. There were a lot of “Love” cards. But others read “Peace,” “Flow,” “Glow” “Art” “Forever” and other words representing Yoko’s undeniable place in history, along with her strong sense of self and survival. I wrote the word “Courage,” which Yoko has in spades.

Oh, and the bond between Yoko and her son seems strong and loving. He was clearly proud to be onstage with his remarkable mother. She was equally proud and happy to have him there.

Perhaps later that night she explained oeuvre to him.

* * *

SPEAKING OF rocking the stage past the point when the young and the press say you shouldn’t, Paul McCartney tells Rolling Stone‘s Brian Hiatt that  “yes” — he can imagine himself doing his thing onstage even in his eighties. Paul is now 69. However, after the RS writer suggests possibly keeling over dead onstage one day, Paul says, “What kind of a question is that? I must say, that’s not in my imagination. Rocking on until a grand old age … the only thing would be when it’s not pleasant anymore, then ‘That’s a good time to stop.’ But it’s way too pleasant at the moment. And it pays.”

Paul, who was knighted in 1997, also has pleasant things to say about Queen Elizabeth, reminding us that when she ascended the throne in 1953, young men in Britain “saw her as a bit of a babe. We were at the right age and we were impressed with her bust!” Paul says years later, when he and John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr met the Queen, they thought, “She’s OK, she’s cool.”

One wonders, however, if Lennon would have ever mellowed enough to accept a knighthood. Lennon did mail back his Member of the British Empire medal. John always thought Paul was too interested in popularity and public opinion. However, if Lennon hadn’t been murdered, he might have come to appreciate popularity and royal acknowledgments in time. At any rate, at the time of his death in 1980, he was more at peace with himself, with Yoko, their child Sean, and his son Julian, than ever before.

* * *

ARETHA FRANKLIN stirred the ire of many Whitney Houston fans when she skipped Whitney’s funeral, claiming “leg spasms.” She then went on to perform in sprightly fashion at Radio City Music Hall the next day.

Supposedly, Whitney’s family was irritated by Aretha’s allusions to Miss Houston’s drug problems, and the Queen of Soul’s remark that “parents have to really talk to their children before they leave home.”

Was Aretha implying that Cissy Houston hadn’t “really talked” to her daughter? Well, you can talk and talk to people, but if they don’t want to listen…

To be honest, I don’t think Aretha — who was not Whitney’s godmother — has a lot of patience with certain addictions and issues. Although she certainly expected latitude with her own issue of obesity. Sure, this is hardly the same as being a drug addict, but it’s still unhealthy and can affect a singer’s voice. (And I know from personal experience never again to critique Miss Franklin’s fashion sense!)

However, let’s give Aretha the benefit of the doubt. She was scheduled to give a concert. People had paid good money to see her. If she thought attending Whitney Houston’s funeral would endanger her work — her professional commitment — she made the correct professional decision. Whitney’s funeral came off fine without Aretha. And it sure went on and on and on otherwise.

* * *

THE APPEARANCE and remarks of Kevin Costner at Whitney’s funeral put me in mind of the phrase “the very parfitt gentle knight” from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Costner, who was Whitney’s co-star in “The Bodyguard” was dignified, affectionate, humane, and sincerely moved by the passing of his former leading lady.

He really is one of the genuine nice guys in the biz. I wish Miss Houston had known a few more like him.

16 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Paul Smith says:

    Newark could have used a good dose of Yoko on Saturday to rock the church that never rocked.  The choir that appeared sedated, along with Jesse Jackson, should have rocked the rafters to claim it rights as the home to Ms. Houston’s creative beginnings and strong African American musical traditions. That service sent not one soul to a higher realm. Ms. Franklin, or perhaps Ms. Ono, would have slammed it home. 

    • avatar Lisa Cornell says:

      I don’t know what funeral and church/choir you were watching, but I thought the service was beautiful, if not too long. The music was spectacular and a moving tribute to the artist she certainly was. I thought the tributes were touching and spoke of a very decent human. Ms Houston’s problems were very public, but to dismiss her as an addict and ignore her enormous talent and gifts is disrespectful and cruel.

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        I didn’t watch, of course. It disturbs me to a certain degree that these things are treated as media circuses…but that’s what the public as a majority seems to crave.

        I hope, but doubt, that the choir sang “Walk Him (changing ‘Him’ to ‘Her”) Up the Stairs” from “Purlie”. It is a magnificent song, absolutely stunning, and would have done justice to Whitney Houston. If a group of 14 white high-school kids from a mostly Jewish and Catholic suburban school (we had the benefit of the school’s first black teacher, our beloved Pam from New Orleans) can raise the roof and, in her worthy estimation, sound like a full gospel choir (we sang for her, whom we loved and treasured) think about what a joyful noise the real thing could give her on her last journey, hopefully to some peaceful place. I am not in the least bit religious, but I understand the language of joy, and I hope that Whitney Houston will find it, if there is any to be found on the other side.

  2. avatar KarenR says:

    If Aretha learned ahead of time that there was a plan to sell videos of Whitney’s home going I can see why that would give her pause.

    Rosa Parks’ home going clocked in at about 7-1/2 hours with numerous big names speaking, many of them quite effectively, but none of them matched the heartfelt, unabashed, old school whoop of Dr. Charles G. Adams building to his 10,000 Tongues (“Thank You”) ending that had the most jaded of politicians and preacher/pundits out of their seats:

  3. avatar ElizabethP says:

    I was also thinking what a gentleman Kevin Costner is as he was speaking. (Loved your literary reference.) I also couldn’t help but think that he must have been a little in love with her. Who could blame him? And then my other thought was, “My, isn’t that man just like fine wine?!”

  4. avatar rick gould says:

    Although Aretha’s known to be a handful, it seems her intentions were good. She spoke lovingly of Whitney several times the night before at her concert… Aretha is nearly 70 and not in the best of health, so perhaps she did overextend herself. But there’s always a segment of the press and public that like to assume the worst…

    I’ve never been a big fan of Kevin Costner, he always seemed a bit bland to me, though I felt he had a nice light comic touch in Bull Durham and Tin Cup. Though I opted out of watching the funeral (like Briana, I felt it was a little voyeuristic) but I did watch the clip of Kevin. I thought Costner showed himself to be a humble, classy gentleman.

  5. avatar maytaguide says:

    Thanks for illuminating me on the absence of Aretha from Whitney’s funeral, which I watched in its entirety on CNN International. When you criticize Aretha’s weight issues, are you kidding? You must realize she has the same amazing voice no matter how much excess weight she is carrying or how much of it she may have lost. And Aretha’s style? Don’t even think about it. I will not compare Aretha and Whitney as singers because each is/was great and inimitable in her own way. I am sorry that no one was ever able to break through to Whitney and help her free of her addictions. Her loss is immense. Kevin Costner’s discourse was beautiful.

  6. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Oh, please. Aretha held her head up. And held her nose. She made some comments. The most pointed about the real addiction which was the “bad boys.” And that comment, one which few apparently caught, was the it wasn’t her place to say anything. But no doubt she could have. And the family wouldn’t have liked it one bit.  Kevin Costner made an inference that Whitney Houston was “the greatest” so perhaps it’s a good thing Aretha didn’t attend. At that point there probably would have been a very audible “excuse me???????” heard throughout all of New Jersey. If she refused to attend for the reason everyone suspects, well, at least she was being honest. Which is more than you can say about everyone else. After all the “friends, family, and other assorted strangers” finish painting their “pretty picture” on the morning news shows I suspect the tabloids are going to go into high gear. And quote some of their previous comments.

    As for the family now “licensing” broadcast of the funeral, well, this really shouldn’t surprise anyone. But some will act surprised just the same.

  7. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    And as for Aretha’s problem with weight and the apparent implication that it is the result of her own addiction problems some of us are just “naturally big and beautiful” including Elizabeth Taylor who like most decided to ruin her health by constantly dieting and popping pills and sorry that some don’t like any variation from the “dictum” that all women must be thin to be healthy but, well, at what cost “beauty for the eye of the beholder?” A cheap shot, Liz, and one you really shouldn’t have made.  Reality is that Elizabeth Taylor drank and smoked herself into congestive heart failure. But she also got a big push from all the dieting and the diet pills. Too much of this “pill a day” in Hollywood. In the end, the “pill a day” is really what killed Whitney Houston. Drugs are drugs. Whether you buy them “on the street” or pick them up at the pharmacy. Aretha has never felt the need for drugs. And obviously doesn’t understand those who do. She should be commended rather than condemned.  Drugs kill.  Which is why Aretha is still with us and so many others aren’t.  And why she is a role model and Whitney Houston is not.

    • avatar Liz Smith says:

      Dear Miss Snooks..

      Aretha’s obesity has most certainly had an effect on her voice. How could it not? I said–it’s not drug addiction, but it is still an addiction and it still something unhealthy. There is a difference between plump and fat. Plump is okay.

      I give Aretha props for doing her duty as a professional.

      As for Miss Taylor, she had pretty much overcome the worst of her addictions when her health began to fail. Yes, a life of excess didn’t help. But three hip operatons and a brain tumor, not to mention several more severe back fractures, were not the result of bad choices.

      Sorry you thought I was taking a cheap shot.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        I suppose I took a cheap shot at you, Liz, without meaning to and perhaps you did the same. Without meaning to. My point is simply that you cannot compare an addiction that may affect your health with an addiction that impares your judgement. There is a big difference between not being able to resist a platter of fried chicken and not being able to resist a “line” of cocaine.

        I had the “joy” of watching both Aretha Franklin and Elizabeth Taylor walk on a stage and leave everyone gasping in shock and then wondering if the stage was going to collapse under them. But Arena sang and Elizabeth cackled and all was right with the world. Despite the appearance otherwise. But it should be pointed out that Aretha wasn’t “high” on anything. Elizabeth was.

        I don’t think Aretha Franklin intended to “diss” Whitney Houston. I do think she intended to “diss” quite a few others. I had a friend who like Whitney Houston was addicted to the “bad boys.” And I saw through the “falling off the wagon” and addressed not only that but the fact that not all the “feel good” was from the booze. Some of it was from the pot and the pills.  She was dead a month later. I felt guilty about “saying something.” Until Whitney Houston died.  Who knows who said what and when to her. But quite a few obviously said nothing and were out partying with her every night.  With her and her daughter.  I think that was what Aretha Franklin was talking about.  Not Cissy Houston. Who probably tried all the time to talk to her. The way my friend’s mother did. There were just too many enablers around. And some of them were also family. Lots of similarities for me that mean nothing to anyone else. But they do seem to be part of a pattern wherever there is an addiction involved.  Bottom line is it was and is a total tragedy. And you really can’t “paint a pretty picture.” But it’s show business. So everyone will try. Celine Dion addressed that aspect. And has been “dissed” as well.  The thing about the schadenfreude is we avoid the mirror so to speak. And perhaps shouldn’t.  “There but for the grace of god…” perhaps should have an element of “Mirror, mirror on the wall.”   How many other women, none famous, took one pill too many with one drink too many that same afternoon?

  8. avatar Ber says:

    I didn’t get that Liz was condemning Aretha – just pointing out that there is more than one kind of addiction – some which seem to be more easily forgiven than others.  Aretha does/did have a weight problem – whether it affected her voice or not – and it can be just as deadly as pills.  Really one might wonder how much medication Aretha is taking due to issues caused by her weight.
    Also – I support Aretha’s right to make her own decisions.  Can you imagine traveling to an emotional “going home” celebration then rushing back for an evening performance  in front of an live audience – and as someone else commented – being almost 70 and in less than stellar health?  Sometimes you just have to think for yourself whether it’s popular or not.  And – from my observations – Aretha is very good at thinking for herself.

  9. avatar Jay Gentile says:

    Televising Whitney Houston’s memorial was grotesque. She was not a politician. Not a world leader. Not a head of state or anyone remotely important. Just a woman who sang songs. And the whole effing world should stop and pray because the woman drank and drugged herself to death? That doesn’t make her a martyr or a hero. It makes her a woman who threw away her gift and her life. Rest in peace, Whitney.

    • avatar omasan says:

      No, she was not a self-serving and/or self-promoting politician/world leader/head of state but she touched so many of us with her amazing and truly one-of-a-kind talent. She was also, unfortunately, a human being with a terrible addiction problem. I am the same age as Whitney and , while it sounds like a terrible cliche, her music really served as a soundtrack to my life. You obviously were not a fan, Jay, but even though I was not a Michael Jackson fan, I did understand the reaction to his death from those who were fans. She was more than ‘remotely important’ to me. Until the very end I hoped (selfishly) that Whitney would get her act together. I say selfishly because I wanted to hear that beautiful voice again. Yes, rest in peace Whitney and thank you for the music.

      P.S. Liz is so right, Aretha is just as much of an addict as Whitney, it’s just the substance of abuse that is different.

  10. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Speaking on the subject of addictions: As an alcoholic and drug addict (clean and sober 26 years, by my own hand, no rehab, AA or 12-steps for me) and a woman who is at my best curvaceous, and at my worst fat, who suffers from both body dysmorphic disorder and a linked chronic eating disorder, I can honestly tell you that the pills, and the pot and the booze are more lethal emotionally, mentally and physically than the weight.

    Yes, right now I am fat. My blood pressure is normal, usually in the range of 120-128/78-82. Through better eating I have dropped my triglycerides 89 points, my total cholesterol 28, and am now way, way under the line for healthy limits, and well out of danger. My heart is, according to my cardiologist, 75% healthier and more functional than women of a normal weight in my age range. I still need to lose about 90 pounds to get to an ideal weight, and I’m still working away at it (no pills, no diets, no surgery…just exercise and careful cooking). Why don’t I accomplish this? Because of a set of mental disorders largely brought on by a childhood pressure to conform to the standard of Twiggy-like proportions and Northern European figure that I was flogged with from childhood through young adulthood coupled with a fear of failure and a mother who was a feeder and who was fixated on seeing me fail, and destroying my confidence in anything I did that actually succeeded. That’s what society does for people. At once it demands conformity, and creates lazy parents and a system that encourages the worst kind of eating.

    And yet, free of alcohol, cigarettes, pills, pot and muscle relaxers, I am almost entirely mentally healthy, despite a full range of diagnosed Axis I disorders. I have a lot of energy, a 14 year old son, a wonderful 18 year marriage and a few very special friends. I did NOT have any of that as an addict to drugs and booze. Society as a whole does not advocate or condone alcoholism or drug addiction.

    Aretha Franklin, that amazing, powerful, formidable woman, was very fat the last time I saw her perform, and yes, it took some of the edge off of her voice. The most recent photo (I just looked it up today) shows a trimmer woman…hardly emaciated…but does everyone need to look like Ms. Jolie or Ms. Ciccone? I don’t want knees bigger than my thighs…at my thinnest I was voluptuous with a 22 inch waist and D cup girls and a serious booty. I thought she still sounded magnificent…and to dun her for allegedly making it known that Whitney Houston caused her own death in a form of slow suicide from her lifestyle choices…well, Ms. Liz…Aretha is 70 years old, despite her cancer, addiction and fat…and Whitney Houston is stone dead at 48. Like Jim Morrison, John Belushi, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham, Keith Moon, Judy Garland, Amy Winehouse…all people for whom fame was a road to hell, all dead from drugs and alcohol. O, fat has killed a few, most notably John Candy and allegedly Mama Cass…but LOOK at the majority.

    I do think Ms. Liz took a poke at Aretha Franklin. Maybe it’s considered de rigueur to attend funerals that are going to be sold to media outlets for entertainment purposes. Perhaps it’s a Celebutard Epic Failure and Faux Pas when you act on your better nature (and also meet previous commitments) and avoid such scenes like the plague. In the rarefied strata of the manufactured celestial, honesty is generally to be avoided at all costs. Perhaps an emotional cry to heaven against the perils of addictions would NOT have been amiss at Ms. Houston’s funeral. But that wouldn’t have been PC, would it have?