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Daily Buzzkills: Funeral Friday

Congratulations on making it to the end of another week! Unfortunately, these people didn’t: Light a candle for Funeral Friday.

In our rush to eulogize last week, we sadly left out Willy DeVille, a true original of the New York punk scene. In his band Mink DeVille, the man born as William Borsey cut an unusually dapper figure on the stage of CBGB’s with his tailored suits and towering pompadour, playing a refined version of soul music alongside contemporaries like Talking Heads, Blondie, and the Ramones. DeVille drew a lot of inspiration from artists like the Drifters and Ben E. King, incorporating their classic, string-sweetened soul with bits of Latin, French, and Cajun influences for a classic (yet truly unique) sound that stood in stark contrast from all the bands who were so intent on ripping up history and starting again. Nevertheless, he had a dangerous edge to him that made the punks respect him—Daily Telegraph critic Neil McCormick once wrote that DeVille “sounded like he couldn’t quite decide whether to serenade you or pull a knife on you”—and even though DeVille himself never saw the connection, he’s indelibly connected with that scene, with three of his songs appearing on the famous Live At CBGB’s compilation. The group signed to Capitol Records in 1976, and while Mink DeVille never exploded the way some of those other new wave naifs did, the band continued to be a critical favorite, aided by the production work of Jack Nitzsche and Steve Douglas, both of whom had worked with Phil Spector on the Wall Of Sound technique and were thus a perfect fit for DeVille’s lushly textured music. Early albums spawned the minor hits “Spanish Stroll” and “Cadillac Walk,” while his French cabaret-inspired Le Chat Bleu survived a shelving by Capitol to be declared Rolling Stone’s fifth best album of 1980.

He eventually shed all of his original bandmates and went on to record albums that dabbled in everything from Springsteen-like workingman’s rock to traditional blues to mariachi music to New Orleans-influenced zydeco, and in 1988 he even scored an Oscar nomination for his “Storybook Love,” which was used as the theme to The Princess Bride. After kicking a two-decade-long heroin addiction in 2000, he embraced his Pequot heritage, wore a headdress on the cover of 2004’s Crow Jane Alley and Native American jewelry on stage, and began dabbling in Spanish-American music and even straight country. His well-received final album, 2008’s Pistola, was a culmination of everything that had come before, fusing Tex-Mex blues, tribal rhythms, vintage rock, and New Orleans soul. DeVille died last Thursday at the age of 58 from pancreatic cancer; there’s currently a petition circulating to see him inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Although the West Coast and its Dogtown crew typically gets all the credit for creating the ’70s skateboard culture that would later become a full-blown, still-flowering phenomenon, the East Coast had its own influential collective known as Zoo York (later co-opted by the Ecko Unlimited clothing brand) and at the head of it was Andy Kessler. Highly respected by Dogtown skater Tony Alva for their “super hardcore” riding style and willingness to navigate the harsh urban environments of Manhattan, Kessler and his Soul Artists Of Zoo York team pioneered the art of city skating, taking over the band shell in Central Park and Brooklyn swimming pools while also relentlessly tagging the city with spraypaint, helping to create the culture of graffiti, skateboarding, and old-school hip-hop that still informs much of the New York art scene and beyond today. Kessler later helped to design and build some of the city’s first skate parks, and after recovering from his own problems with heroin, went on to help many other young addicts get clean. He died this week at the age of 48, from an allergic reaction to a hornet sting he sustained while surfing.

The figurehead of her own influential, albeit entirely different New York subculture, actress Ruth Ford held court over a borderline mythical salon of legendary writers in her apartment at the Dakota, becoming something of a muse to people like William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Terrence McNally, Stephen Sondheim, and Truman Capote. She began her career as a model working with luminaries like Man Ray and the Russian surrealist painter Pavel Tchelitchew before branching out into acting, beginning with Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater. A trip to Hollywood found her cast in a string of more than two dozen B-movies like Truck Busters, The Gorilla Man, and Adventure In Iraq, an ignoble career about which she once said, “I made so many terrible movies in Hollywood.” She fared far better on stage, where she most famously starred in Requiem For A Nun, the only play ever written by Faulkner and a role he created expressly for her after they’d forged a friendship in their native Mississippi. In all, she had more than 50 film and TV appearances ending with 1985’s Too Scared To Scream—though none of particular note—but it was her role as hostess and friend to New York’s creative class that had the most lasting influence, providing a place for chance encounters like the one between Sondheim and Arthur Laurents that led to the creation of West Side Story. Ford died this week at the age of 98.

On a similar note, Mike Seeger, half-brother of protest folk singer Pete Seeger, never achieved the same level of fame with his own songs, but he had a crucial impact on musicians of the ’60s with his dedication to unearthing and popularizing pre-industrial American roots music. In his Chronicles: Volume One memoir, Bob Dylan referred to him as “the supreme archetype” of a folk musician, hailing him for being “romantic, egalitarian, and revolutionary” and even calling him something of a father figure. Seeger began recording artists like Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie in his home around the age of 20, and would later seek out long-lost musicians from the old records that he loved, bringing people like Dock Boggs—whom he personally invited to the 1963 American Folk festival—back from obscurity and introducing them to a new, young audience. A talented multi-instrumentalist on everything from dulcimer to fiddle, he recorded, produced, and played on dozens of albums over the years, scoring six Grammy nominations along the way. In 2007, he performed on both the Album Of The Year-winning Raising Sand from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss as well as Ry Cooder’s Grammy-nominated My Name Is Buddy. Seeger died last Friday; he would have been 76 tomorrow.

A former TV and music producer turned sensationalistic publisher, Michael Viner found his true calling in a rather unlikely place: the world of audio books, which he helped to transform into a popular, multimillion-dollar industry in the 1980s. After noticing the limited number of titles in the fledgling medium, Viner and his wife, actress Deborah Raffin, started Dove Books-On-Tape from their home garage; their first titles were recordings of bestsellers from Viner’s longtime friend, author Sidney Sheldon, who agreed to the production rather than pay Viner $8,000 he lost to him in a game of backgammon. The company grew quickly, with Viner hustling authors and Raffin recruiting actors like Roger Moore, Jason Robards, and Gregory Peck (who narrated the Bible in one of Dove’s most popular titles), and the two of them churning out everything from potboiler thrillers to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History Of Time, its first big hit. Eventually, Viner found a second calling publishing some of the least reputable books in the biz, trashy titles ripped straight from the tabloid headlines—most famously, Faye Resnick’s Nicole Brown Simpson: The Diary Of A Life Interrupted (which netted him a summons from Judge Lance Ito), but also books on the Menendez Brothers and, more recently, Rod Blagojevich. His most recent in-progress list included books on Bernie Madoff, a Larry Flynt autobiography, and “’a historical and personal perspective’ of prostitution by Kiss singer Gene Simmons.” Sadly, he’ll never see any of these published, as Viner died this week at the age of 65.

With his burly physique and squinting eyes that said, “Don’t fuck with me,” character actor John Quade had an unlikely Lana Turner moment when—after many years working in aerospace (including crafting pieces of equipment left on the moon during the Apollo missions)—a stranger noticed him in a diner and suggested that he put his rough-and-tumble looks to good use on the screen. His most famous roles, naturally, were as “heavies” in westerns like High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales, and he squared off against Clint Eastwood again as motorcycle gang leader “Cholla” in the famed trucker-orangutan love stories Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can. Quade’s credits also included classic films like The Sting and Papillon, and he built up a sizeable résumé of television credits on everything from Buck Rogers to The A-Team to the pilot episode of Knight Rider. As he more or less retired from his acting career in the 1990s, Quade became an increasingly outspoken opponent of the U.S. government and a figurehead of the anti-New World Order movement, giving frequent lectures on the Constitution and, common law, and what he saw as the dangers of being forced to register for drivers’ licenses and Social Security cards. Quade died this week at the age of 71.

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