Liz Smith: Ageless Voices Still Thrill

“THE BEST pop singers never seem to age.” So wrote music critic Anthony Tommasini, musing in a positive fashion over the recent concerts of Barbara Cook at Carnegie Hall and Barbra Streisand at the Barclays, in Brooklyn.

Obviously, audiences and record buyers agree. They remain passionately devoted to these great singers, aged 85 and 70, respectively. In fact, Miss Streisand’s latest CD, “Release Me,” hit the charts at #7 last week.

This is Barbra’s 32nd album in a row to rank in the Top Ten. Only the Rolling Stones and Frank Sinatra have an edge. (Streisand beat The Beatles some time back.)

“Release Me,” is a collection of unreleased recordings from years past. (“Release Me,” unreleased songs — get it?)

These include Jimmy Webb’s “Didn’t We” … Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” … ”Willow Weep for Me”…”Home” (from “The Wiz”) and “How Are Things In Glocca Morra” (from “Finian’s Rainbow.”)

Barbra is the best-selling female recording artist in history. Well, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mr. Tommasini wonders if Barbra will still be singing at 85? He thinks not. I say, sure — why not?

FORBES MAGAZINE ranked the writer/director/actor/producer/songwriter Tyler Perry as the highest paid man in show biz two years ago. He’s probably still way up there. But his latest film “Alex Cross,” in which he attempted something new, as a break-away from his beloved character Madea, has been a disappointment. He originated Madea onstage and brought “her” to films, as well as doing highly successful big-screen soap operas such as “The Family That Preys,” “Why Did I Get Married?” and “Why Did I Get Married Too?” He was also the executive producer on “Precious,” which won an Oscar for Mo’nique.

Maybe Tyler should have tried something a bit less daunting than following in the footsteps of Morgan Freeman. Morgan, who has also played God, originated Alex Cross, homicide detective, in two previous films.

Audiences aren’t ready for a “new” Tyler Perry, tough and serious and … well, playing a man. That’s an exaggeration. Tyler has appeared in movies out of his Madea drag, but not in anything quite as grim as “Alex Cross.” This film also stars Matthew Fox as a serial killer. (And as usual, in every Tyler Perry movie, there is a juicy role filled by the great Cicely Tyson. Although Perry did not direct, produce or write “Alex Cross,” he has clout, and gets what he wants.)

I think Perry can “escape” Madea. Though I don’t think he minds that trap too much. He has ignored criticism of his movies as enforcing stereotypes. And when he doesn’t ignore it, Tyler gets very sassy indeed. “Spike Lee can just go to hell,” Perry responded after Lee laced into the subject matter of Tyler’s movies and plays.

A lot of fans of the “Alex Cross” novels and previous movie adaptations, are not even particularly blaming Perry, they are lambasting the script.

Tyler Perry has built a remarkable career and media empire. I think he’ll survive one small blip on the radar screen of his success. He has survived a lot worse in his life.

PEOPLE ARE still talking about the fabulous memorial service for Helen Gurley Brown, the empress of Cosmopolitan magazine and the savior of Hearst. One of the things I neglected to mention about that event was the brilliant idea using of the music soundtracks to many of David Brown’s movies, as the audience watched a glorious slide show of Helen through the ages. (The theme from “Jaws,” however, was missing.)

Cosmo itself is still going strong and changing with the times, as ever. We’ve all heard about Cosmo’s “Fun, Fearless, Fabulous Females” and now they’ve got themselves a fun, fabulous guy writing for them. He is Sergio Kletnoy, who was wildly popular at Marie Claire, but the gals at Cosmo made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. (He still writes highly informed music reviews for Marie Claire.)

Among other things, Sergio pens a weekly online diary of life at Cosmo for online’s “Daily Front Row.” Here’s this entry: “It’s official. I am definitely working at Cosmo. Just received a 1,184-page book called ‘Guide to Getting It On.’ Chapter 50 (yes, 50!) is called ‘A Trip Inside Amber’s Vagina.’ Wow, what does one pack for that? We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Nope, you’re in Cosmo world, kid. You’re over the rainbow now.

HOW DEPRESSING to hear so many people in the publishing world say that they rarely look at a newsstand anymore, preferring to read newspapers and magazines on Kindle or iPhone. It’s the way of the future, of the now, everybody says.

So, I am antediluvian for sure; my apartment is still strewn with magazines, newspapers and books. And always will be. It’s messy, but I like to hold my news in my hands, turn the page, mark it, send a clipping to a friend.

ENDQUOTE: Vanity Fair has changed the look of its monthly Proust Questionnaire at the back of the magazine. I can’t say it is much of an improvement, cosmetically, but then I don’t think USA Today’s “makeover” has been successful. The newspaper — my favorite — now looks much diminished.

But, back to VF. Dolly Parton was the subject this month, and these are two of her best answers. Asked what she considers the most overrated virtue, Dolly says: “Monogamy — I’m sorry, I meant monotony.” And when queried on her “most marked characteristic,” the singer replies: “Do I really need to answer that question?!”

This column originally appeared on NYSocialDiary.com on 10/24/12

One comment so far.

  1. avatar jjfnygrl says:

    Ms.Smith,
    I am happy to stand with you in the book,newspaper,magazine mess. I do have an iPad and a few ebooks on it,but will always be a (physical)book girl. Lost my job last year with Borders and miss it everyday.
    It is sad to see newspapers and magazines either stop printing or go online. Newsweek will be one more magazine we won’t be able to page through-a shame.
    Jackie