Neil Young, tall, lumbering with longish gray hair and prominent mutton chops, looked a bit out of place inside the glittering Regent Beverly Wilshire ballroom Tuesday night. That is, until he took the stage to talk about freedom.
After a video montage on Young's prolific musical and philanthropic career, he told the crowd that "to protect our freedoms, it seems we're going to have to relinquish some of our freedoms for a short period of time." But he added, "There is a law to make sure we get them back."
The outspoken rocker was there to accept a "Spirit of Liberty Lifetime Achievement Award" from the People for the American Way Foundation group. Founded 20 years ago by Norman Lear to challenge Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and to promote freedom of expression, the foundation's fund-raising dinner honored Young, director Kevin Smith ("Clerks," "Dogma"), "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, director Kimberly Peirce ("Boys Don't Cry") and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) for exercising their freedom of speech.
Dave Matthews, Jackson Browne, Rufus Wainwright and Chris Stills were on hand to perform individual tributes to Young.
This month, Young quietly released a new single called "Let's Roll," a song inspired by the words of Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer, who told a cell phone operator he planned with other passengers to overpower the terrorists. Moments after Beamer uttered the words, the jet crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside. On Feb. 6, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young will kick off "Tour of America," a 35-city, three-month tour that opens in Detroit.
"It's a tough time for all of us who believe in a certain way of life to make--this word is kind of hard for me--compromise," Young told the crowd.
A Cat's Tale
Imagine being upstaged by a cat ...
For 16 years, author and Random House editor-at-large Peter Gethers lived in the shadow of his Scottish Fold, Norton. Gethers recently came to Los Angeles to promote his last book about Norton, "The Cat Who'll Live Forever." We met him at the Four Seasons, a former Norton haunt.
When Gethers first met Norton, he was an unapologetic cat-hater. But he was soon charmed by the little gray kitten, a gift from his then-girlfriend. He proceeded to write three books about adventures with his feline friend, whom he describes as "the Tom Cruise of cats."
Norton certainly had a more eventful life than most cats--and even most humans. Before his death, Norton flew on the Concorde to Europe, attended a movie premiere in the Hamptons with Sir Anthony Hopkins and was fed by Wolfgang Puck, among other events. When Norton died, he became the first pet to receive an obituary in the New York Times.
Norton's adventures earned him many faithful fans, and some were so infatuated with the feline that they assumed Norton wrote the books while Gethers simply took dictation. "My opposable thumbs were just used for signing contracts," he cracked.
After Norton received literary fame, the cat traveled the country on book tours. Gethers' job was carrying portable litter boxes in his briefcase. "There's no question I played second fiddle to Norton," said Gethers. "It was kind of pathetic."
But Norton changed his owner's life. "Norton is responsible for my love life, my house, my travels, my professional success and whatever emotional maturity I've achieved."
Later, at Spago in Beverly Hills, Puck came over to greet Norton's owner. "It doesn't matter how many cats I get," said Puck. "I could get 100 cats but I would still have to come in to work."
The American Way
Advertisements in the entertainment trades are usually just gaudy career valentines ("Great job with that movie-of-the-week, from your network friends!"), so the mysterious two-page ad in the Dec. 1 issue of Billboard immediately caught our eye.
Labeled "Songs for Sale," it listed, in no-frills text, the lyrics to eight songs and a simple proposition: "I've got the words if you've got the music." A Vienna phone number at the bottom added a dash of international mystery. And the lyrics? There was a toe-tapper about finance ("If you have been hit/By the Hang Seng Indexes/And if the recent price rises/Won't pay for your vices/Take a good lie down") and wrenching torch songs ("Now if there's a God in Heaven/Why's he sending me to hell?/Of all the people on this planet/Who picked you to ring my bell?"). The lyrics also mention love 38 times and refer to Colonel Sanders and straitjackets.
Turns out the $7,500 ad was purchased by Raj Marhal, a former ad executive who was born in India, is a citizen of Australia and lives in Austria. Apparently, Marhal longs for a music career despite, by his own admission, a lack of any musical talent. "I love lyrics. I can't create music, and I couldn't collaborate very well with the musicians here, with me not speaking any German. So I figured that if I wanted to get some of these songs any kind of attention, I should do it the American way: put an ad in trades." So far, no takers. Marhal might have seen it coming. One of his other lyrics: "There's not much you can say with a jingle/When the price and the product are wrong."