I’m sure that Floyd Cardoz is a magnificent chef and I should’ve seen his win coming from that constant coming-in-second storyline all season. But having spent at least half of my adult life eating Mary Sue Milliken’s food, I went into the Top Chef Masters finale openly prejudiced that she would reign supreme.  But alas…

The true true winners last night were Mary Sue’s friends, gathered at Border Grill to watch the finale with her and eat the food she made onscreen amidst the skyscrapers downtown.

Mary Sue won more challenges this season than any other chef. We couldn’t believe she lost, especially as we were sitting there chomping down on the food she competed with. Nano-seconds after Floyd was crowned she was gracious as always, despite guests like me screaming she was robbed!

But I’m here to tell you Mary Sue’s final challenge dishes were INCREDIBLE. Not only were we were served all of them during the finale as they were served to the judges onscreen, but a whole round of other tongue-numbing treasures were passed around during the final elimination show Bravo ran the hour before.

My apologies in advance to Mary Sue for the following descriptions as I undoubtably short-change everything by not being able to describe every ingredient or name the dishes by proper title. I am NOT the next Food Network star! (Though let me loose on diner fare and that’s a different story.)

First came ceviche:

Then cheese empanadas with guacamole:

I know that’s not the way to photograph a foodstuff when one is trying to impress the quality of it upon the reader. The guacamole should be neatly dabbed on top so the empanada doesn’t look like it’s been dragged through the guacamole as one would use a scraper to remove ice from a windshield. Here’s a better, pre-guacamole view:

Quinoa fritters came next:

I THINK the following is avocado tacos coated with sesame seeds and quinoa, but I heard someone at the next table fawning over ahi tuna something. So it could go either way. I just know it was crunchy and good. I also know the photo is blurry, but when it comes to Mary Sue’s cooking it all deserves to be seen.

Finally it’s 7 pm. and the actual finale show begins. For their final challenge, the chef’s had to cook a three-course meal-of-a-lifetime based around food memories. Course #1 was a dish inspired by their first taste memory. Mary Sue made Asian steak tartare.

The second course had to represent a dish that inspired them to become a chef in the first place.

Mary Sue made crab and shrimp salpicon with shrimp and chervil mousse stuffed rigatoni:

An inside look at that rigatoni:
Mary Sue’s chances were looking excellent on TV as a guest chef diner chomped down on the rigatoni.
Another guest chef diner was Susan Feniger, Mary Sue’s partner at Border Grill, Top Chef Master competitor last season, and owner/chef supreme of Street, the restaurant I co-own and at which my butt is usually parked at table #20.

Not such a great shot but night was falling and my camera was snapping slower and slower. Susan was in the kitchen last night helping to turn out the never-ending cornucopia of food we feasted on. Here we are with fellow chomper,Troy Devolld.
For the third course, dessert, each chef was paired with one of the judges and asked to make their favorite dish. Ruth Reichl requested a lemon soufflé. Mary Sue enhanced it with lemon ice cream, lemon hazelnut meringue and rhubarb compote.
Our version included the lemon hazelnut meringue and ice cream but the rhubarb compote was replaced with a churro with chocolate ganache. I’ll take dough any day over a vegetable, which rhubarb is despite technically being a fruit. This dish KILLED, but using a flash blew the ice cream out so the churro isn’t getting the attention it deserves in this non-flash photo:
Here’s a tighter yet blurryish shot of the churro mid bite:
The final slurp of ice cream was sliding down my throat as we learned the Queen was not to take her throne. But Mary Sue’s personality is so infectious, and she’s so damn nice that the crowds’ spirit wasn’t dampened and chewing continued through the night.

If you’ve never been to Border Grill, that’s a MUST. Really, your tastebuds will be thanking you forever.

Long live the Queen!

Well, it only took close the four decades for me not to be stage fright and have absolutely one of the best nights of my life when I sang and told stories about the songs I’d written live on stage Monday night at The Songs Of Our Lives concert to benefit the Fulfillment Fund. After being hung up about performing ever since I walked off stage after only six songs in 1974, to say I’m ready to come back is an understatement!!  Well, in relatively small doses but I’m willing to try. Thank you SO MUCH, Charlie Fox, for insisting I perform. I feel like a massive weight has lifted and I’m very excited to see the shift that’s going to occur in my never-ending rollout of what I’m going to do next.

As if that massive psychological breakthrough of being terrified and forgetting very word in my head wasn’t enough, I got to experience three incredible hours of sound check and four incredible hours of performances by some of the most legendary songwriters on the planet. I’ve long cherished songwriters’ versions of their own songs over the records made of them. If you’ve never had a chance to hear a songwriter sing one of your favorite songs you’re missing out on a truly soulful experience. Regardless of whether their voices are as powerful as the artists who made the records, the deliveries are so authentic and heartfelt you could die. Not only do you get the power of the song but the intention with which it was written. All I did was swoon for seven hours, and having my own performance thrown in there with the bonus of having an  absolutely insanely wonderful time on stage –  how can I even be saying those words??!? –  this experience was seriously was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.

It was the first time ever outside of a friend or two’s living room that I sang “September”, “Boogie Wonderland”, “Neutron Dance”, and “I’ll Be There for You (theme from Friends)” in public. I nipped one previous mental saboteur in the butt by carrying out a fistful of lyrics so I didn’t have to panic about forgetting the words.

A huge epiphany: The difference of singing songs that everyone in the audience knows from singing the first ten songs you ever wrote that no one in the audience has even heard of, which was the case in 1974, is massive. It gave me confidence that I never knew as a singer before.  Added to it was that this was an audience who truly appreciated songwriters, and hearing the stories behind the songs was what they were there for. And if there’s one thing this blog has finally hammered into my brain, I’m a good storyteller.

Of course, now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t tell everyone I know to come. I knew that would make me more nervous and I really accepted the gig to try and get over this hideous weight of stage fright. So I only told those absolutely closest to me, and was very relieved when most of them had conflicts for the evening as Michele Obama was in town and they were going to a dinner for her. But the party faithful were here. L-R- me, Nancye Ferguson, Prudence Fenton, and Laura Grover.

Mark Blackwell trailed me on video, a routine we have worked out to a science by now, as Bob Garrett arrived.

I shared a dressing room with legendary jazz singer, Dianne Reeves. How I blanked on taking a photo with my fellow Detroiter I don’t know, but at least I got the shot of our dressing room door.

There were also a ton of legendary producers and players in the audience, not the least of whom was Michael Boddicker, probably the most lauded synth player who’s ever lived. Like he played on every Michael Jackson record and a trillion other classics.

Michael always tells the story of one time we worked together and I was trying to describe a particular sound I wanted him to make on a duet between Herb Alpert and Lani Hall, who I wrote for and produced in 1981. Now I make no secret that I know absolutely nothing about music other than how to write a great song. I couldn’t tell you the definition of a specific music term like measure, adagio or anything. But for a player who’s excessively visual – and trust me, in those days there weren’t a whole lot of them – describing the sound I wanted as “a ping-pong ball being crushed underneath a seagull’s wing” was perfectly clear to Boddicker.

Right before I went on I did some major bonding with the evening’s emcee, Tony Danza.

I’d never met him before but he knew I was nervous and not only was a very encouraging daddy backstage but gave me a great set up line when I walked out so I could talk about the lunchroom debacle and why I had shunned doing anything on stage ever since. It got an immediate laugh, which was like a Valium rolling down my throat, and I was on my way.

But it was the songwriters themselves who made the evening shine most. Jeff Barry went on right after me.

Here are just a few of Jeff’s gems: “Da Doo Run Run”, “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy”, “Then He Kissed Me”, “Be My Baby”, “Baby I Love You”, “Tell Laura I Love Her”, “Chapel of Love”, “Iko Iko”, “Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)”, “Leader of the Pack”, “River Deep, Mountain High”, “I Can Hear Music”, “Montego Bay”, “I Honestly Love You”,and “Sugar Sugar”. Not to mention the theme from The Jeffersons, “Movin’ On Up”, my favorite TV theme song (next to, of course, Friends). And literally, those are just a few of them.

Someone I had never met before but whose songs I always loved and who is sure to become a great friend now was David Pack.

He had/has one of those killer voices that made the songs he wrote for his group, Ambrosia, have that classic ring. Last night he sang “You’re the Biggest Part of Me”, “You’re the Only Woman”, “Holdin’ On To Yesterday”, and “How Much I Feel”.

But the guy who put me over the top even more than those pillars of masterful songwriting was Felix Cavaliere, writer and lead singer for The Rascals.

How do you write a song as classic as “Groovin”?! And “It’s a Beautiful Morning” and “People Got to Be Free”?! Felix was the first writer to do a sound check when I arrived in the afternoon. They didn’t have most of the mics set up yet so I got to hear that most incredible “Groovin'” bass line, probably one of the most used and imitated in the history of music, over and over again. I literally was sitting there with tears dripping down my face it was so exciting for me as a songwriter to be in the presence of such greatness. That we became fast and thick friends backstage only added to my joy.

Thank you, Chris Price, for accompanying me. You were PERFECT!

So, all in all it was a pretty classic day and night for me. I can’t believe I wasted all these years being nauseous at the thought of doing anything like this. But I’m back and that’s all that’s important.

Mere days after my first and only album, Childstar, was released on Epic Records in 1974, I walked on stage in front of 10,000 people to open in Boston for folksinger David Bromberg.

The only other time I had been on stage before was when I played a little fur tree in a school play when I was 8. Now here I was singing soul music, the first 10 songs I ever wrote, plus a Mary Wells medley and Brenton Woods’s “Oogum Boogum”. My band, the singers of whom would go on to become Chic, were dressed as sequined vegetables and I was in a satin suit that I’d autographed from head to toe. This is a really crappy photo of part of the costumes on mannequins but it’s all I’ve got;

Me and The Angle Babies aren’t in costume here but you can get a pretty good idea that between us and our costumes we weren’t what the folksinging crowd came to see.

I didn’t have a very good time on stage. I never could remember my lyrics and I always spent more time designing the sets and costumes than I did rehearsing or getting comfortable being on stage. After five performances on the East Coast we were booked into a lunchroom at Ohio State, the only way the college could also get Joni Mitchell to play in the main auditorium because we had the same agent. Our only audience were three people at a bridge table eating hot dogs and a psychology class being conducted in the back of the room, with the professor telling us to lower our volume after every song. I walked offstage after six songs and made the decision to just be a songwriter, where at least if I was being tortured it was in the comfort of my own room.

Through the years I’ve gotten much more comfortable performing – in my own unique way of doing so which doesn’t include singing live – mostly because I’m a big party thrower and walk around on mic the whole time.

Almost every conversation I have comes through the speakers and I’m literally directing and producing the party as I go. Throw in the thrift shop auctions and stupid party games that I lead the guests through and I’ve gotten very relaxed holding that cold metal thing in my hands.

But I still never have gotten it together to sing anywhere other than in the studio.

So the fact that in mere hours I will be up on the stage for the first time in almost four decades and I’m not sitting here throwing up is a MASSIVE ACHIEVEMENT! Me and five other well oiled songwriters will be singing our greatest hits and talking about how they were written. It’s just with a keyboard – Chris Price, who I’ve been writing and recording a song with and shooting a video all on iPhones, is accompanying me –  but I’m singing and remembering lyrics and lines nonetheless.

And if I can get through the evening not thinking about soul singers dressed as vegetables, psychology professors and hot dogs I will have made a big breakthrough.

I’ll be performing “September“, “Boogie Wonderland”, “Neutron Dance”, and “I’ll Be There for You (theme from Friends)“. At least radio has regaled me with these songs thousands of times over the years so I’m hoping that for once I can remember my own lyrics and be happy I’m up on stage.

Wish me luck!

This is the kind of gem I pray pops up every time I enter a 99¢ store. It’s perfect kitsch – cheap, ratty sounding, filled with misspellings and bad translations, completely over-art directed, and way too much gold. There’s even gold on gold, making the title of the product hard to read.

Which is a shame because it has absolutely nothing to do with what’s written around it. (White paper inserted as reading aid.)

But wait… Is Discretion the name of the Musical Jewelry Box or is it Pianissimo Piumosso?

And what exactly is the logo? Is someone with an Afro blowing a candle out? And look at the finger smudge on the candle.

The clunky plastic floral spray against red velvet is another excellent touch. And when you open the piano lid, a red light flashes while Fleur-De-Lis plays, at least I think that’s what the ear wrenching tinny notes are stringing together.

I have long confessed that I have absolutely no idea how to play an instrument despite the fact that music I’ve written has sold over 50 million records. But even I know that nowhere on a keyboard do three black keys occur next to three black keys. As far as flats go, there’s two of them, then three, then two, then three. But not on the Discretion Pianissimo Piumosso!

I’m going to assume that the makers of this fine musical instrument were attempting to incorporate the term “prologue” as the make of the piano, prologue being that section of a song, musical or story that sets up the main attraction that’s to come after it. Spelling it wrong however, “prolog” is “a general purpose logic programming language associated with artificial intelligence and computational linguistics.

From a kitsch perspective, the spray-painted flower on the side is an excellent touch. As if enough wasn’t going on on this piano already, the thought of leaving a solid color along the edge was just too much for the manufacturer. The top left petal just made it on.

The one on the other side didn’t fare as well:

Just imagine the poor person whose job it was to spray these things on as they rolled down the assembly line. High from paint and molded plastic fumes, it’s a wonder anything made the instrument at all.

Speaking of manufacturers, the maker of this grand piano music box is listed nowhere on the packaging or product itself, leaving only China to blame.

But perhaps the most astounding thing about this product is that despite being clearly marked as a Musical JEWELRY BOX, no compartment is provided for the jewels. Sorry, music box only.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be singing live on stage for the first time since I walked off one in 1974, vowing to concentrate solely on songwriting so I didn’t have to get paranoid about losing my voice, a band member flaking or feeling self conscious in front of thousands of people as I did back then.

My only hope is that when I get on stage at “ The Songs of Our Lives” Concert” in LA tomorrow night, I will appear to be at as high a level of musical brilliance as this Pianissimo Piumosso Discretion ProLog Musical Jewelry Box.


Last weekend, me and Snappy P, a.k.a. Prudence Fenton, jumped into the mustache van and headed up north on a cat reconisance mission after AWMOK‘s own (human) windupkitty sent an email blast from Palo Alto about a very special (feline) kitty in need of adoption. Normally I try not to read these things as I already have a fairly dysfunctional fur family running around Willis Wonderland, but this time, also-AWMOK’s own Snappy P in Los Angeles had been looking for a very special cat who embodied the spirit of her recently departed tripod puss, Harpo, and windupkitty’s description that the kitty in need of a home had an extra wide head, gigundo paws and a few other physical and mental quirks put him squarely in Harpo territory. So off we rolled up the 5 in search of the perfect cat.

Any of you who have ever driven the 5 know that once you’re past Magic Mountain you might as well be tooling through middle America. Other than the too-steep-for-me Grapevine, it’s flat as a pancake most of the way, cows and sheep the only signs of life lest for copycat franchise food and fuel stops completely devoid of the vintage truck stops you wish were still there if you have a bone of taste in your body. For someone who’s thrilled to be in a car because of the potential to spot thrilling kitsch, the 5 is punishment. The good news is that to get to Palo Alto you have to cut over Highway 152 to connect to the ubiquitous 101. And 152 is a fabulous highway, my favorite in California, just long enough to not get antsy and filled with fantastic vistas like this:

You don’t even mind when the road narrows down to a single lane because that’s when cherry stands start to pop up out of the ground like dandelions after a torrential summer rain:

The Bing wasn’t open so we hit one of the other ten or so “pit stops” within a few miles.  I hope this one is pronounced Mamie’s and not Mammy’s:

I really wanted to stop at this place for ice cream, especially if the person making it is the same person who made the sign and decided not to finish off the “L” so it looks like gariic ice cream is for sale.

Once we hit the 101 it was smooth sailing despite a disappointing lack of kitsch.  However, the snacks awaiting us when we arrived at windupkitty’s in Palo Alto more than made up for it.

Rice Krispie Treats are infinitely better if laced with M&Ms. And a car ride is also enhanced if it occurs in the Batmobile, parked outside our hotel when we had (a non-Rice Krispie Treat) breakfast the next morning.

I’m happy to report that the reason for our trip, the cat relocation program, was indeed successful. Here’s a photo of me, Snappy P, windupkitty and the as yet still unnamed new member of the Fenton family right before we piled back into our (non-Batmobile) mustached van and headed back along the flat 5.


I love these kind of toy kits that are slapped together to take advantage of some current trend because the contents are usually cheaply made and wrong. This card of Disco accessories is no exception. For example, the model with the sky-bound hair looks way more trashy 80’s than stone cold funky mid-to-late 70’s, which is what anyone gracing anything that has the word ‘Disco’ on it should look like. Although I suppose her hair transcends any decade:

The scarf is a nice touch, though placement on anything other than the neck doesn’t seem optimum for Disco dancing.

And shouldn’t the model be wearing platform Disco shoes and not heels she might have worn to a tea at the Holiday Inn?! They could’ve at least found a stock shot of someone wearing appropriate footwear. Even the enclosed Go-go boots, tre passé in the the Disco era, are wrong.

And look at the different belt lengths. Is this in case of the doll’s weight gain or loss?

I guess I can understand that sizing approach in belts but not in shoes. You either have one size feet or the other.

A lovely but somewhat limited selection of jewelry is also provided:

But what on earth is this? A beach ball cover? A beach-themed yarmulke? An example of sloppy stitching?

I love that all the record titles have the word ‘Disco’ in them, lest we forget that these are DISCO doll accessories.

At least they got the Disco font right. Then again, the “D” is suspiciously like the ‘O’ so maybe not…

I was much better dressed when I co-wrote this (thankfully) Disco classic:

Despite the fact that I co-wrote the Friends theme song, “I’ll Be There for You”, I’ve never collected the plethora of merchandise associated with the show. It’s too new and mass-produced to have the soulfulness of merchandise I collect that came from TV shows of earlier decades, and instead just plops the logo or photos of the stars on the same old cups, T-shirts and keychains that every other post-1990 show on TV stamped their likeness on. Like this keychain that the manufacturer was even too cheap to stamp the name of the show on.

Or this coffee cup:

Despite the fact that I really liked/like the show – and not just because I get a teeny-tiny-minuscule-for-which-I’m-eternally-grateful royalty every time it’s on – I never liked the tragically 90’s font of the show title. The only exception is on this incredibly cheaply made purse where the font is beautiful because they left the ‘s’ off of Friends.

My billfold has the teeny tiniest most minuscule of rhinestones on it, only about 1/16th of an inch in diameter.

And why was poor Jennifer Aniston gipped out of her necklace?  Although the manufacturer includes one spare rhinestone should the other girls’ jewels be compromised through normal use.

The inside of the billfold has none of the up and frothy sprit of the show:

The back isn’t any better:

I’d rather glue the edges of the sheet music together and at least have something distinctive to carry around. And I’d never have to worry about losing it as my name is right there on it

I wasn’t even sure what this was when I saw it on eBay a few years ago but it looked like it couldn’t possibly have been actual sanctioned Beatles swag, and that alone kicks it into a very high level of Kitsch. Besides, just the box – 5″x7″x1-3/4″ with colors so vibrant they make your brain rattle – was worth the 3 bucks it took to procure it.

George and John actually look like George and John.

But Paul kind of looks like a cross-eyed Paul and Ringo looks like Paul-but-not-really-but-certainly-not-like-Ringo.

When something comes packaged in the original cellophane as this Beatles product did it absolutely kills me to open it. But seeing as I really had no idea what lay within I had to carefully slice through the cello to reveal this:

100 tiny packages of Beatles pomade:

Greasy, waxy hair product that the Beatles never would have used on their Beatle hair as the whole point was that it bounced all over their head in rock ‘n roll defiance.  The wax still retains its original squish:

Now that the package is open to reveal the secrets within, my whole house smells like the bathroom at a Chinese restaurant circa 1964. Maybe because it was made on that side of the world that long ago.

That smell isn’t the best smell in the world to inspire brilliant music, which I have to write today, so I’ll confine myself to looking at the  box, not smearing anything on my head, and pray the Beatles vibe enters without rubbing it in with pomade.