Monday, October 27, 2014

Farrah Fawcett Majors And The Fallacy Of The Nipple

Back in High School, when The Leopard was but a cub, I often found myself obsessing. I have a collector’s heart, and whenever I’d obsess, I’d collect. It was simply a way of trying to grasp my need.
Like practically every other American male at the time, I had a huge crush on that vision of all that was right in the world, the utterly exquisite Farrah Fawcett–Majors (yes, that’s how I knew her at the time; she was married to The Six Million Dollar Man himself, Lee Majors).
With those huge, impossibly white teeth - - those bright, ice-blue eyes, and that famous swept back hair—I couldn’t imagine anyone more beautiful.
I wasn’t a fan of her television show, Charlie’s Angels. I was too impatient for its campy tedium. Actually, the first time I laid eyes on her was in the silly science fiction film, Logan’s Run. After that, I started collecting every magazine article, cheap paperback bio, and newspaper clipping I could find– no matter how obscure.
Finally, I remember spotting one day at my local mall that iconic Farrah poster everyone knows. The revelatory and iconic image – featuring the youthful starlet leaning back in a blood red bathing suit, her head at an odd angle, displaying those glittering pearly whites, --and most importantly, the imprint of her perky young breasts, drove me completely insane – but at the time I was too young to understand exactly why.
In no time I also bought a neatly ironed on T-shirt at a local Spencer Gifts that I wore proudly. Over time,  I matured and my obsession subsided. My view of beauty expanded well beyond skinny, sun-baked blondes, but she’ll forever be my first bonafide celebrity crush.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Falcon bears the falconer

Some time ago on a long work weekend The leopard stayed at a beautiful resort in the midwest. It was the kind where almost every creature comfort you could imagine was attended to: masseuses,  olympic size pools, and fully stocked bars. the only issue seemed to be that  if you wanted to dine outdoors you had to battle dive-bombing birds, capable of whipping food bits directly off your plate, or your fork.

The resort's managers came up with a elegant solution to the problem: Falcons. Looks like the majestic creatures are used to deter food-stealing birds from approaching your meal. This tall, impressive bird didn't even have to actually launch an attack at the smaller animals, just its hulking presence scares the bejesus out of smaller and less predatory species at sight.

The falconer, whom I'll call "Hank The Handler" explained all this to me. As nice as my stay at the resort was, I spent more time hanging out with Hank and his beautiful, strange bird more than warming up a stool at the hotel saloon.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Wynton, come blow your horn

Some years ago in The Leopard's past, I worked for a certain well known non profit jazz organization in New York helmed by world famous jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. The job eventually became life forming and one the greatest experiences of  my life, but I will never forget that fateful first week. In my capacity as Art Director for the organization, I was assigned to design a huge banner to herald the venue's upcoming season. Mr. Marsalis had mentioned to me he had just had a brand new Monette trumpet made, and I got the  idea to use a photograph of the horn as the main art. This particular instrument was completely designed and created with Mr. Marsalis in mind and was worth at least $10,000. Over a year had been spent on custom design details and development.

I asked Wynton to borrow this gorgeous horn to take it to be photographed. He loved the idea (Wynton at the time didn't much like to be photographed himself, which would surely have been the next option) and cheerfully handed it over. I grabbed a subway downtown to a location that I wasn't entirely familiar with. Preoccupied with the task at hand, I suddenly realized I had arrived at my stop. Without thinking,  I jumped off the train with a shot. But once the train doors started to close, I had a sickly feeling I had forgotten something. The case holding Wynton's golden horn was still on the seat!  I grabbed for the doors and tried to pry them open with all my strength. A good Samaritan - a young woman who had been sitting next to me - picked up the case and tried to hand it to me through the closing doors. I felt utter horror as the train began to move forward. I yelled ,"Stop! Stop!" at the top of my lungs as the train started to speed up, leaving the station. 

Finally, the door opened again about two-thirds wide and with the woman's help, I was able to pull it towards me without a scratch on the case.

As the train disappeared back into the tunnel, I'll never forget the satisfied look on the woman's face. I hope I get to meet her again some day and buy her a beer.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Before there was Harrison Ford, before Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, even before Sean Connery, there was Bogie, the greatest of them all. the prototype, the true star. No one was better than Humphrey Bogart at balancing sheer masculinity with stirring sensitivity. The Leopard's favorite Bogie performances - Dixon Steele in A Lonely Place, Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon,  Fred C. Hobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre -- all featured tough, weathered men who always had a  certain vulnerability.

Bogart's best known role - Rick Blaine in Casablanca -- showed this unique talent most eloquently. He was a man's man and a woman's man at the same time. Something that very few actors have been able to achieve -- and he did this without conventional movie star good looks. He didn't look like Montgomery Clift, Gregory Peck or Cary Grant.  He didn't have to. His beautiful, sad, face was all he needed.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Chrissie Hynde

There's always been something special about Chrissie Hynde. Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, Hynde was one of those outside kids straight out of am SE Hinton novel. A rock n' roll obsessive, She moved to the UK in hopes of writing for the British pop zine, New Music Express (NME), waxing philosophical about current rock music. After much ambling around, a she formed the band The Pretenders, a force that as much as any defined late 70's early 80's rock. Hynde's distinctive kittenish voice could scream and wail as well as say, the Clash, but she could croon as beautifully as Linda Ronstadt or Karen Carpenter on their best days.

Her version of Nick Lowe's "Stop You Sobbing" perked up ears in 1978, but her own composition - the one that she and the band are probably best known for - "Brass in Pocket" became her signature.
The story of a poor, besotted waitress trying to get the attention of a witless greaser, the song heralded a female rock sound like no other.
Self titled, the whole first Pretenders album was full of gems and there was no turning back. By this time Chrissie is a living legend, with an emphasis on the living.

Click here for a video of her new song Dark Sunglasses off her new album, "Stockholm".

Excellent article in The New Yorker on Chrissie Hynde by Sasha Frere-Jones

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bleeker Street Nigger Incident

On an overcast day a few weeks ago, The Leopard had a soul-shaking experience. I was walking down Bleeker Street in West Village of New York, when I passed by what appeared to be a middle-aged bearded homeless man. We met eyes for a second, and a few steps later, he yelled at me
 “Hey, Nigger”!
Startled, I turned around, and yelled back as loud as I could, F**K Y*U!! Then he said, “F**k You, nigger”!  It was at that moment that I almost lost control. Looking around I spotted an aluminum chair there, because we were standing in front of a restaurant. I went to grab it. Burning hot, I said, “You want your f**king head bashed in?” Not really thinking I would actually do it.  He said, “No”.  He was quiet for a moment. I turned to walk away again and he said, inexplicably:
“You don’t like being a nigger?”
In fury, I turned right around started to quickly walk towards him and screamed, “No, I don’t like ugly ass mother f••kers like you!” I must have looked crazed, because he threw up his hands, shielding himself, thinking I was going to hit him. But I turned away, still shaking.

Never thought I’d have to experience anything like that again in this day and age. It's still all true.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Biking In NYC

The Leopard drank beer and laid around in front of the TV a bit too much this Winter, so once the weather broke I finally decided to venture out and get some much needed exercise.
For me, my bike is the weapon of choice to battle the vestiges of an inert existence.

Getting into the rhythm of the city riding is another thing altogether. In my misspent youth, I was once a bike messenger, briskly weaving between moving traffic, riding down insanely steep staircases and cruising the wrong way down a one-way streets. This was second nature, never delivering a second thought during my my appointed rounds.

Nowadays, older (but probably not much wiser), helmet is firmly on head, earphones are in pockets and attention is on the business at hand. Yet even those precautions go but so far on the mean streets of New York.

I ventured out down the city bike paths to my job the other morning thinking myself quite the adventurer, only to be thrust in a crowd of like-minded Brooklynites. Immediately, my middle-aged alarm went on as I fell back, followed by a youthful assemblage, not wanting to block anyone's path.
I had barely made it across the Brooklyn Bridge when I began to gasp for air, refusing to get off the bike and stroll, as others in my age group had done, as I rode to the top, and then coasted down the other side, incredibly grateful to ease my burning legs.
Once on the Manhattan side, cars whooshed by, making me fear I'd make my destination in one piece.

A word to the wise when navigating the clogged streets of New York: There are NO rules.
"Green" means, red; "walk" means stop.  Everything is intuitive. Somehow, I made it to my place of employment. But somehow I think a peace - keeping stint in Afghanistan would have been easier.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

David Stone Martin, Artist

By far one of The Leopard's biggest influences is the remarkable illustrator David Stone Martin. Even if you don't know his name, you've probably seen his work on hundreds of album covers, most notably Billie Holiday's early LPs and and many other beautiful drawings and paintings created for jazz impresario Norman Granz's various record labels.

Martin's medium of choice was crowquill pen and ink, where he cultivated a rough, distinctive line, not wholly unlike his primary influence, the brilliant political artist Ben Shahn.

Martin's also created art for children's books and advertisements, but it was his jazz art that made te biggest impression on me. When I was given the opportunity to create covers for jazz bassist Christian McBride's LP covers, my mind went directly to Martin's wonderful work. 
Although I didn't want to directly emulate him, I tried to create a feeling similar to his.
I don't know if I ever got close to achieving it, but I'm was happy to even be able to try.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Al Hirschfeld

Several years ago when The Leopard worked at a large jazz organization in New York, I was in the position to occasionally commission art for marketing purposes. I took this opportunity to contact some of my creative heroes.
One of the first to come to mind was Al Hirschfeld. I grew up marveling at his amazing caricatures in The New York Times.
With his perfect, flowing line, He had a wonderful skill at capturing the essence of a subject. Yes, he could easily master a likeness, but more importantly he seemed to be able depict someone from the inside out and make you see things in them that you may not have realized. His eye was unique.

I met with him in the early 2000s at his lovely studio across the street from Central Park. His busy overflowing loft had drawings all over the walls from previous (mostly famous) guests. Scenes from parties and wonderful memories. Even though we were the only two people in his place, it seemed like the middle of a crowded café, brimming with fascinating folks in hushed conversation.

A vibrant, gregarious man, He told me many wonderful stories, the one I  remember most about how, as a poor artist trying to make his way in Paris in the early 1900s, he stood on the street trying to sell his little paintings.  A strange man came up to him and asked how much he needed put focus only on his work for a year and set aside being a merchant. He told him how much he thought it would take, and the man wrote a check for the amount and handed it to him. It was Charlie Chaplin.

He told me when he first came to New York from Europe as a very young man, the subway was just being started. And that in the last 30 years, driving around the city in his huge Cadillac, he never, ever had a problem finding a parking space.

The reason I came to see him that day was because I was commissioning him to do a drawing of my boss at the time, the jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. We were working out the concept and the particulars.
He did create a beautiful drawing.

About a year later, Mr. Hirschfeld had passed away at the phenomenal age of 99. He was so alive in his manner that this still surprised everyone. I received a phone call a few months after his death from his lovely widow Louise, who called me at my office and told me she wanted to "apologize" on Al's behalf. I said, "Why? Whatever for"? With a soft sob, she said, "Al was never happy with he drawing. He was going to re-do it. But never got to it. He always regretted that."

Just goes to show you, only the good die young.