Friday, September 17, 2010

Interview with Wanda Sykes - May 2009

This is an interview I did with Wanda Sykes for Orlando Home & Leisure Magazine prior to her appearance at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando in 2009.

Susan Cross:     Which do you enjoy most, standup, TV or movies?

Wanda Sykes:   My first love is standup because that’s where everything started. TV, movies came along as being known for doing standup. But I do have to say that I love the paycheck of TV and the New Adventures of Old Christine is the best show I’ve had in TV. I absolutely love it over there. The writers are great but I do still love the excitement of doing standup.

Susan Cross:     Since you and Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] have backgrounds as writers do you contribute or stick to the script?

Wanda Sykes:   I am scripted. They do a great job so I’m not going to do something to change what works fine. The character of Barb is pretty defined so it makes it a lot easier to follow the script.

Susan Cross:     Is there something that you would like to do that you haven’t done?

Wanda Sykes:   I have a show coming up and that will probably be the top rung for me – doing the White House Correspondent’s Dinner on May 9th [2009]. I’m very excited about doing that. Actually that wasn’t even on my radar when I thought of different things I want to do so when it came up it was like WOW! Before the President? It’s exciting and scary at the same time. I’m one bad joke away from getting deported or something. I made sure all my taxes are up to date; everything is good; staying out of any scandals or anything; I don’t have any dealings with Bernie Madoff, so that’s all good.

Susan Cross:     Do you think that aging is different for men and women?

Wanda Sykes:   For men it seems like they don’t talk about it as much as we do. It doesn’t seem like it’s as much of a concern for them. Men, they get older, they just date younger. We have all kinds of things going on – body issues and all kinds of stuff. With men, a little Viagra and that’s pretty much they’re chore – date younger.

Susan Cross:     If you were going to be reincarnated what would you like to come back as?

Wanda Sykes:   Oprah!

Susan Cross:     In your personal life have you gotten green?

Wanda Sykes:   Yes, but the doctor gave me an ointment and he said it should clear up. Oh, you mean GREEN. Oh yeah, I recycle; I drive a hybrid; I do the light bulb thing. You try.

Susan Cross:     Is there anyone you’ve worked with that you’d like to work with again?

Wanda Sykes:   I’d like to work with Jane Fonda again but hopefully I can get her to lift that restraining order. And Chris Rock but I would have to lift my restraining order against him. Steve Carell is great.

Susan Cross:     Have you seen a change in your fan base over the years?

Wanda Sykes:   Yeah, people are getting fat. I got to play bigger venues but it’s not because there’s more people it’s because the people are just more! We’re all at the age where we’re spreading. Even me, I need a bigger stage. I’m getting more of a cross section of people now and that’s good.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Leroy Cooper - One Man Band - in his own words

This is an excerpt from Leroy Cooper's memoir as told to me back in 2007. The material is copyrighted by Susan Cross and cannot be copied, published or duplicated without permission.

Copyright Charles Wells Photography

If the title doesn't show at first, refresh the page to listen.

Leroy Cooper had a wonderful life. His musical accomplishments include about 20 years as baritone sax player and bandleader for Ray Charles.
In addition, he was a great story teller. I had the great honor of sitting wth him and listening to him recount his tales. Here is a little clip about how his interest in music first developed.

To see Leroy back in 1975 leading the Ray Charles Orchestra, click here:

You can hear Joe Adams introduce him. The man with the very large Afro hairstyle playing keyboards when Ray comes out is the magnificent Ernest Vantrease, a.k.a. The Deacon. Ernest was with Ray for about 30 years and now plays keyboards for B.B. King.

Friday, September 10, 2010

In a Corner Near the Ceiling

It was Christmas Eve, 1975. My mother came home from work and found me in the hallway struggling to breathe. She frantically called the doctor and then carried me to the car and started driving. My gastroenterologists were all Jewish so they were at the office that day. Dr. Leo, the oldest, was like a father to me. He had been treating me for about ten years for the intestinal disease. He came out to the car and carried me inside to a treatment room.

When he saw my swollen abdomen he knew. I looked nine months pregnant when just that morning I had been emaciated. His brother, Dr. Albert, gave me a shot of morphine but the pain didn’t subside. The third doctor was the youngest so he carried me to my mother’s car, a 1969 blue Chevy Nova and drove with his hand on the horn, blaring, running red lights. I was stretched out in the back seat holding on, bracing my body against the agonizing pain. The next thing I remember was being revived in the ER. I heard voices, “DOA.” “BP is dropping.” I saw the blur of bright lights and heard the wheels of the gurney rolling on the hard floors. I closed my eyes and drifted.

I awakened in a little room. There were doctors surrounding my bed. I remember smiling and telling them I wasn’t afraid. They said they were trying to put an IV in my arm but my veins had collapsed. They were going to have to do a cut-down. I didn’t know what that meant, but I told them the pain was gone now so I didn’t care. One doctor told me that I was in shock so they couldn’t sedate me. He apologized for what they were about to do. I watched as they prepared my left arm for surgery. One doctor used a scalpel to make a two inch cut just inside my elbow to reach the vein. He threaded a tube into it and kept threading it until it stopped. I felt a twinge near my shoulder. Then he stitched the incision closed around the tube. I saw the bag of fluid hanging on the IV pole. The fluid was dripping rapidly from the sack down the tube and into my arm.

I slipped away. I wasn’t on the table anymore. I was hovering in a corner near the ceiling of the room looking down at my body and at the backs of the men wearing white jackets. I watched them fussing over my empty shell. I heard no voices. I saw a doctor pound on my chest; then again. And I slipped from the air back into my body and looked up into the doctor’s eyes. I smiled at him. I wanted to tell him how incredible it had been to be watching from above but I was too weak to talk.

The doctors said they didn’t want to operate until I was stable. They waited until 3 o'clock Christmas Day and then moved me into the operating room. The surgeon introduced himself to me. He had an Italian name and I felt bad because he had to work on Christmas. He put a large mask over my face. He said it would give me the maximum amount of oxygen. The mask was so large that I couldn’t turn my head with the straps holding it tightly, covering my nose and mouth. I listened to nurses talking and the sound of the metal instruments being prepared for surgery. It seemed like hours.

Then the surgeon told me there was no more time, he was going to operate to relieve the pressure inside my body. My blood pressure was so low that they were afraid to anesthetize me completely, he said, so they gave me very little anesthesia. I was awake when the surgeon started to make the incision, but compared to the pain I had of my failing organs, the knife was like a fingernail scraping against my skin. I was strapped down to the table and couldn’t move. The anesthesiologist was watching the surgeon so he didn’t see my pleading eyes looking up at him. I couldn't talk. My tongue felt swollen in my mouth because of the oxygen. Finally, I wiggled the big toe on my right foot. Since he was looking in that direction he was startled by the movement. Then he looked at my face, horrified when his eyes looked into mine, and increased the drip. Finally, it was dark and quiet and I felt no pain.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Interview with Lynyrd Skynyrd - May 31, 1975 (update 11/2014)

Updated 11/18/2014

By now, most of you surmised that I am not a young pup after reading interviews I've done with the likes of Arlo Guthrie sparking my own memories of Woodstock. So the fact that I interviewed the original Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1975 should come as no surprise.

Life was just a wee bit different in those days. I had a tape recorder, with a real tape in it, and batteries that were fully charged when I went into the penthouse suite of what was then the Americana Hotel in New York City. (This was the same suite I had been in the week before when I interviewed Barry Hay, the lead singer/songwriter for Golden Earring, a band most recognized for their hit song, 'Radar Love'.)

As soon as the publicist left the room, Van Zant jumped out of his chair to confront me. Although a huge presence on-stage, he actually stood 5’7” tall (with his boots on), towering over my 4’10” frame.

“I want you to know before we get started that I hate writers so whatever you have to say, say it quick!” he shouted in my face.

Standing nose to nose with him (I have always been pretty gutsy) I asked, “Why do you hate writers? You just met me. Why would you hate me?”

“Because writers lie. They take everything I say out of context and then print it to make me look ignorant,” he said.

“You see this? It’s a tape recorder,” I told him. “I intend to record this interview and when it is printed, if you are misquoted, taken out of context or made to look ignorant I swear I will never do another interview with anyone.” What was I thinking? I was very na├»ve, but I meant what I said.

Ronnie Van Zant
“Really?” he said. “Ya know, I kinda like you. And you're shorter than me, too. Sit down.” There was no place to sit but the floor so I made myself comfy on the carpet. (Yes, my hair was long and dark then and my signature felt hat was part of my identity.) He introduced his friends and when he got to the end, I said, “You don’t have to go any further. I know who Al Kooper is!” Kooper just looked at me silently, expressionless. I admit I was disappointed. I would rather have been interviewing him at that moment.

Van Zant proceeded to offer me a drink and I declined. He called room service and ordered screwdrivers for everybody. We chatted for awhile, conversationally, and then the tray of drinks was delivered. Van Zant placed them on his lap, offered them to his friends and after they declined he started drinking. Later on, the interview began.

Leon Wilkeson
Gary Rossington

The resulting article appeared in the front section of a magazine named SWANK. Yes, that’s right, my loyal readers. Susan Cross (under a pen name)had a short article that appeared in a magazine often found under the beds of teenaged boys. In my defense, I proudly am included in the same issue as author Henry Miller (Tropic of Capricorn) and Ed Naha (screenwriter who wrote ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids’) so, yes, some people really did buy the magazines to read the articles.

The two hours that followed were very revealing but I was there for a specific reason—to ask about his relationship with Alabama’s Governor George Wallace who was well known as a segregationist.

In Skynyrd’s song, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ there is a line, “In Birmingham they love the Governor, boo, boo, boo,” expressing the band’s opposition to the Guv’s racist leanings, although it is often taken out of context and misunderstood as a result of another line, “I hope Neil Young will remember, southern man don’t need him around anyhow.” Neil young was recognized for his anti-racist attitude. (There are plenty of explanations of this on the web so I won’t go into further detail here.)
Concert that night, May 31,1975

Following is the portion of the article as it was submitted and later published in the magazine.

WARNING: Ronnie Van Zant used blunt language which some people might find offensive. If you are one of those people, either stop reading or cover one eye and skip any words that start with the letter ‘f’ and end with the letter ‘g’.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nice to meet you. What do you do?

It seems to me that when you are introduced to a person for the first time you should ask them something about themselves. Something personal, I mean. Unfortunately, the most common question is, "What do you do?"

I do a lot of things. I quilt, I paint, I walk my dog, well you get the idea. But that's not what they're asking. They really mean, "What kind of work do you do?" Somehow a person's employment has come to define the person. That doesn't sound reasonable to me.

What is even less reasonable is the response most people give. "I work at ??? Company." The question wasn't, "Where do you work?" It was, "What do you do?" So now we're taking it one step further--defining a person by what he/she does and where he/she does it. If the answer to the first question is, "I'm an engineer," does it matter where? Is the question meant to define the value of that person's worth?

As most of you know, I'm a writer. Or at least that's my job. For whom do I write? I write for Central Florida Lifestyle Magazines. Would you think more of me if I was a technical writer? Or if I wrote for Vanity Fair? (Or maybe less of me, depending upon your opinion of those examples.)

Here is a link to my articles in the September issue of Central Florida Lifestyle Magazines.

My point is that people who clean toilets are just as important as the President of the United States. After all, without them, we'd all be sitting on dirty tiolets! (Anybody who was in NYC during the garbage strike knows what I mean.)