Pulitzer, Part Two?  | Madonna Makes No. 1  | R&B History   

Pulitzer-Prize Winner Styron: New Novel?

It's been 24 years since Pulitzer Prize winner William Styron published a novel. His last was Sophie's Choice, which went on to become a classic book and equally classic film starring Meryl Streep.

Now comes word that Styron is putting the finishing touches on a new novel. Said to be short in length, but no doubt powerful in punch, the tentatively titled The Way of the Warrior is said to be about Styron's experiences in World War II.

Since Sophie's Choice, Styron has published a volume about suffering from depression and a 1994 collection of novellas.

Of course it's not like he needs to do anything at this point. His position in the literary pantheon is firmly established with Sophie, Lie Down in Darkness and The Confessions of Nat Turner.

The big question is: Will he really do it? I am told the answer is yes, although the length of the wait has yet to be established. And who will publish Warrior? Random House has been Styron's publisher for years, but the company has changed tremendously since the days of Sophie. It will be interesting to see who swoops in for this piece of gold.

Madonna's Cunning Pay Off

I told you Madonna knew how to sell record albums. So here's the result of her crazy month of self-promotion at all costs: Her American Life will debut at No. 1 next week, with somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000 copies sold.

This is no small feat in a time when superstars can't sell records and music downloading has cut into actual sales.

But Madonna worked it: She created a non-existent scandal to bring attention to American Life, then eschewed all of that and took conventional routes to find customers. Does anyone remember her video with President Bush and the grenade — the one no one saw but everyone talked about? It was supposed to ruin her career. That was three weeks ago.

Two days ago I watched Anderson Cooper do a report on CNN claiming that Madonna no longer courted controversy and was just a mom now. Either Cooper has a short memory or CNN is part of the AOL Time Warner community, just like Madonna. I actually go for the former on this one.

Tonight: A Historic Night of R&B

Last night I sat in a rehearsal studio at SIR Recording and watched a half dozen superstars of the great rhythm and blues era put together a show.

Tonight, after a screening of a non-fiction film I was lucky to co-produce, called Only the Strong Survive, the gang will gather for the first and only time at B.B. King's in New York to perform their hits.

Sam Moore, Mary Wilson, Carla Thomas, Ann Peebles, and the Chi-Lites will hit B.B. King's around 10 p.m., backed by the Uptown Horns and a dozen or so of the best studio musicians in the world.

They will cover "Soul Man," "'Baby (Baby)," "Someday We'll Be Together" and "I Can't Stand the Rain." The Chi-Lites will be joined by their founder and leader, Eugene Record, who's been semi-retired for more than a decade. In rehearsal, Record's voice on "Oh Girl" was so sensational that an entire room of jaded musicians applauded him home to the finish line.

There was much discussion yesterday about sampling, and how several famous R&B songs have found their way into rap constructions.

The fact is, American rhythm and blues is the basis for almost everything being played today on pop radio. It's not acknowledged, but in place of original compositions, R&B is plundered to embroider the junk that passes today for "music."

Ironically, in 20 years, we'll see that there has been little original music from the current generation. They will have to dig out the source material — the sample — for their nostalgia. (I mean, seriously, you don't think you're going to be humming numbers by 50 Cent when you're getting a colostomy, do you?)

I'm looking forward to hearing a duet tonight by Sam Moore and Carla Thomas, in memory of Carla's wondrous dad, the beloved Rufus Thomas. A full report will be forthcoming, although it will probably be almost too terrific to share. Almost.

Meantime, just FYI, I was a little surprised about comments made by one of the Funk Brothers to the Associated Press this week in conjunction with the DVD release of Standing in the Shadows of Motown.

There was a quote to the effect that no Motown stars had reached out to their former back-up musicians, and that the Funks don't give a hoot about stars like Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson. ("We only taught Stevie half of what he knew," sniffed one.)

I'm thrilled that the Funk Brothers have finally gotten their recognition, but maybe if they hadn't claimed authorship of songs like "My Girl" (actually written by Smokey) they would have heard from their old friends. Just because you played well in a band doesn't mean you wrote the material.

For their part, the Funk Brothers did not reach out to the Motown singers. Their documentary could have included any number of Motown stars, such as Brenda Holloway, Levi Stubbs, Mary Wilson and Kim Weston. Instead, the Funks used an eclectic group with no ties to Motown, including Joan Osborne and Gerald Levert.