Friday, March 14, 2008

Day seventy two...Make them come to you.

I wear a lot of black.

It's not that I'm excessively morbid or a professional roadie. I'm just a guy who realized long ago that one's weight is a reputable litmus test for which colors should be at the forefront of their closet.

Skinny people can get away with white clothes.

I can't speak for the rest of my overweight brothers and sisters in the fattest country in the world, but I can't wear white.

White items have a place at the very back of my closet. In fact they are the very back of my closet.

The walls.

And the rest of my wardrobe is made up of dark blues, maroons, grays, olives, rusts, browns, and of course, blacks. T-shirts, jeans, jackets, scarves, and gloves, even my socks tend to be a dark color.

One of my trips to Europe afforded me this nugget of wisdom from an Italian girl living in London:

"You know how we can spot an American? We look for the white socks."

It is an amazing discovery when you start to notice it.

Europeans wear beautiful dress socks to almost every daily event. Because they live the credo that there is no time to look bad. Absolutely none. Look your best every moment and you will be your own V.I.P. pass to the world.

I was well aware that Nightline was going to be at the Young at Heart rehearsal on Wednesday.

I made sure to wear my finest black; even my spiffy new hat.

I didn't know that they would be waiting in the rehearsal room ten minutes early with the cameras rolling as each of us walked through the front door. But that part didn't matter.

The part that mattered was that they made sure that we walked through the front door by arranging for the other entrances to be locked.

Hmmm...that's a pretty obnoxious thing to do. They must be from New York.

It's not baseball season and I'm already cursing the Empire state.

But they were the press and the press, unfortunately, don't always play by the rules.

I walked in with the Chorus' bass player and sometimes pianist Ken Maiuri (a musical Houdini) and we set up our stuff. I noticed the man who was pacing in the back of the room. He was wearing a fine cotton dress shirt, blazer, jeans, and well broken in laceless shoes (not loafers, not sandals, not inexpensive) and he had his hand up to his chin and was sort of looking up to where the ceiling meets the walls of the Florence Community Center. He was composing himself. He was going over his plan of attack.

Because he knew that he was quickly going to have his hands full.

The Chorus are used to these kind of details; more so outside of the States as I've outlined in previous posts, but with a major nationwide movie release coming up, the big boys have started to paw at the door.

Enter John Berman.

John Berman is a nice guy.

He is blessed with kind, smooth features which inhabit skin the color of creamy peanut butter;
Skippy, not Teddie.

If you've watched more than a couple of Nightline's you will definitely recognize him. He's the likeable one. He gets the softballs; the public interest stories; the "you're never gonna believe this, America" kind of stories. I just saw a segment in this evening's broadcast of him interviewing author, James Patterson and the two of them yucking it up at his Palm Beach mansion.

Let's just say, I don't think he'll be getting sent to Iraq anytime soon.

I just unearthed a clip from a pre-Christmas segment John did on the rarely seen and quite corny, "Star Wars Holiday Special", from 1978. It included a discussion about how the first ten minutes of the show was completely in Chewbacca's native tongue. Another clip I found focused on the Youtube phenomenon and how thousands of people put up mindless footage of themselves doing next to nothing. He then demonstrated with 5 seconds of dead air.

That kind of stuff.

So it only makes sense that he is a huge Barry Manilow fan.

The rehearsal went well. The Chorus is always in rare form when the cameras are rolling. Not to say they ham it up, but they kind of give a "two shots of espresso" performance. It's always fun to be a part of.

We have a tradition when new people enter the cave to witness the magic we conjure up.

We make them sing.

We had done it one week ago to the Today show correspondent's, Bob ("I've been doing this for 35 years") Dobson. We did it to the segment producer and then to the sound man Paul who executed a heartfelt rendition of the Beatle's "Don't Let Me Down." Right on Paul.

Well, Mr. Berman wasn't going to get off any easier.

"What kind of music do you like to sing John?" Bob Cilman asked.

" mean...I couldn't possibly..."

"Oh come on John", Bob implored, "You've got to have a favorite song."

"Well, I've always been a big Manilow fan."

Cue Ken Maiuri on the piano with the "Copacabana" intro.

Our guy steps up to the mic and thrusts his left hand in his pocket. Then he puts his right hand around the mic stand and starts to sing.


"Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl..."

And the Chorus, men and women alike, jump to their feet and start whooping and clapping.

"With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there" -This last line required the all important run of the index finger from the shoulder to the mid thigh region.

Someone's done this once or twice before.

"She would merengue and do the cha-cha"

Now, I've seen these things happen a lot. Most of the time the unsuspecting uptown dandies try to back out of it. Not our guy John. He sang the whole song with unbelievable feeling. Thankfully, the cameraman got it all on tape.

"Across a crowded floor, they worked from 8 till 4. They were young and they had each other. Who could ask for more?"

Well, I couldn't just keep my camera in its pouch now could I?

He did some solo interviews with some of the members. I got to hear Lenny tell him one of his favorite songs to do was "Purple Haze."

How cool is that?

We finished the afternoon off with some sandwiches and sodas provided by Fox. I even got to take a few home as the opulence of Hollywood traditionally overdoes the catering detail. Not something to complain about. Not even a little.

Stuntman Steve and I realized we had to keep an important appointment with our publicist and had to leave the party. But not without a souvenir. Much like the Europeans, I try to live the credo that there is no time to look bad. Absolutely none. Look your best every moment and you will be your own V.I.P. pass to the world. And this V.I.P. wanted a memento of my day of music, sandwiches, and the hottest spot north of Havana.

I asked Steve to take a picture.

I'm glad he did.

I'm F. Alex Johnson. This is my new pal John Berman. And for all of us here at Nightline...goodnight America.

See you the Copa....don't fall in love.

Thanks for reading.



Anonymous said...


Getting to meet Young@Heart was a thrill, and an inspiration. I can't tell you how much fun I had.

It is not every day that I get to sing Barry front of other people that is.

And I have never had the chance to sing with a band, and chorus quite like yours.

As for Iraq? Let's just say I might not get sent there soon, but that might be because I have been there about 9 times since the invasion in 2003. (This is the 5th year anniversary of when I was embedded with the Marines.)

Let's just say I MUCH prefer Barry Manilow.

Rock on.


F. Alex Johnson said...

Wow, thanks John.

I stand very much corrected.

I can't even begin to imagine what one trip to Iraq, let alone nine must be like. I'll have to say I'm more jealous of your Manilow moves than your experience in what I'm sure must be a living hell.

I'm glad you took my uninformed assumption with humor and grace. It speaks volumes.

It was a pleasure to meet you. I have a feeling it won't be the last time.


Anonymous said...

What I really can't believe is that you were able to play Copa Cabana so easily? What a band!!!

I have an important question...what was the song about Heaven that you rehearsed while I was there?

It was lovely...

Has the PR tour started for you yet?


F. Alex Johnson said...


The song "Heaven" is a Talking Heads song. It's on Fear of Music from 1979. It's a somewhat nihilistic view of the afterlife.

Just another fine example of the surprises which abound at a Young at Heart show.

We had the honor of meeting and playing with Mr. Byrne not once but twice.

We were part of his presentation "How New Yorker's Ride Bikes" from last years New Yorker festival. It was at Town Hall and it was awesome.

He had such a good time that he even came and sat in with us at a gig we had the next day at the Paris Bar in Grammercy Park right before we left for a week in Ireland.

David gave us a song to perform that he co-wrote with Brian Eno called "One Fine Day." You can see it here:

Along with a video of "Heaven" from the same gig.

And yes, the Y@H press barrage is in full swing. Bob, and Diane and a few members of the chorus are on a month long trip around the country. There's talk of a possible appearance on Leno an Ellen. We'll see.

Thanks for the interest,

I'd love to keep in contact with you. You can email me from this blog. Just go to "View my complete profile" at the end of my bio and it's right there.


PS: thanks for the compliment. I am honored to play with such amazing musicians. You can see everyone's bio at