Is it possible? She was surprised to hear that buffalos had wings, and she couldn't figure out if Chicken of the Sea was poultry or fish, but Jessica Simpson — America's third dumbest blonde (after, of course Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith) — has a bona fide chart hit on her hands.
If the numbers hold out today, Simpson's album "In this Skin" will finish at No. 2 on the charts, right behind Norah Jones. "In this Skin" has been on the charts for 28 weeks, but only got as high as No. 10 on Billboard. That's half-a-year of mediocrity.
But last week a single called "With You" — as undistinguished a pop song as there ever was — was the most played according to Radio & Records. Just on that basis the single seems to have pulled the album from No. 15 all the way up to No. 2. What's next? A Grammy Award?
Of course, Simpson owes this unprecedented success to the equally mystifying achievements of her "Newlyweds" show over on MTV with clueless, patient husband, Nick Lachey. Together they have become the Steve and Eydie of the MTV generation. (When I mentioned this to them at Clive Davis' recent Grammy party, the couple didn't seem sure to whom I had compared them.)
I am a little confused though what the future holds for this married duo. When I asked Lachey if they planned on recording a duet, he answered, unequivocally: "No." He followed that by saying: "We have to do some things apart, you know." But recently it looked like the couple recorded a duet on their MTV show. A lot can happen in two weeks, I guess.
Guests at tonight's book party for former CBS Records chief Walter Yetnikoff may be talking more about what's not in "Howling at the Moon" than what is in it.
Yetnikoff headed the company that was eventually sold to Sony — and still comprises Columbia and Epic Records — from 1975 to 1990. (He succeeded Clive Davis when Davis went to start Arista.)
A wild man who eventually had a bad drug problem, Yetnikoff worked with all the stars whose pictures adorn the cover of his book: Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, James Taylor, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Billy Joel among them.
But the real crux of "Howling at the Moon: The Odyssey of a Monstrous Music Mogul in an Age of Excess" is the relationships among Yetnikoff, then-artist manager Tommy Mottola, and record biz entertainment lawyer Allen Grubman (father of the now-infamous Lizzie). Previously chronicled in Frederic Dannen's terrific book, "Hit Men," this triangle really ran the music business for a time. Yetnikoff signed the acts, Mottola managed them and Grubman represented them.
Later, when Mottola succeeded Yetnikoff, the Mottola-Grubman relationship continued without Walter. That may be why he holds both of these men in such low esteem in "Howling at the Moon," calling them "Tweedledee and Tweedledum," and not giving them much credit for accomplishing anything without him.
In fact, Yetnikoff was determined in the original galleys of "Howling" to make Grubman — who let me tell you, is no dummy — seem as crass and as bad as possible.
In one scene that was deleted from the book, Yetnikoff wrote that he thought he'd see how low Grubman would go in debasing himself to get a new client on the Columbia roster. Yetnikoff claims that he demanded — and got — Grubman to expose himself in a conference room in exchange for access to the client.
"I treated him like a schlemiel," Yetnikoff says of Grubman.
In another episode that was deleted before publication, Yetnikoff recalls despoiling Grubman by accident when he was supposed to be giving a urine sample.
Each of these anecdotes should do a lot to endear Grubman, who remains a powerhouse in the music business today while Yetnikoff has become a distant legend.
(Grubman didn't respond to messages last night.)
Of course, it's unlikely anyway that Grubman will show up tonight at the home of Broadway Books' Steve Rubin. Billy Joel is being advertised as a celebrity guest. But people with long memories will recall that Joel sued Grubman for $90 million in 1992 for malpractice, fraud and breach of contract. They settled out of court.
Around about 1987, Suzanne Gluck — then a fledgling agent at ICM — called me up to offer the writing services of Spalding Gray. I was then the articles editor of a magazine called Fame which was just starting out. Had I heard of Spalding Gray? In fact, a few years earlier I'd been to see him perform downtown at a place called the Kitchen in what used to be Soho (this was long before it became a shopping mall).
Spalding had made his reputation at the Performing Garage around the corner, but on this night in February 1981, for some reason he was at the rival Kitchen. People sat on the wooden floors or they pulled up folding chairs in order to hear him do a monologue called "God Is Dead." I thought at the time that he was like a cult leader. The people at the Kitchen would have followed him anywhere.
When Suzanne called, Spalding had just appeared in the movie "The Killing Fields." That experience became the basis of his monologue, book and eventual movie called "Swimming to Cambodia." The whole project had been a big hit. In the six years since I'd seen him, Gray had become a star. Now Suzanne offered him as a writer, if I remember correctly, because Esquire couldn't use a piece he'd written. Gladly I took the rejected story — a hilarious tale of spending Christmas with his longtime girlfriend, Renee — and went to see Spalding at his downtown apartment.
Right at that moment in time there was no sign of his depression. Spalding was droll, yes, but he was also quite ingratiating. We met at another place that doesn't exist anymore, Smokestack Lightning, and went through my suggested editorial changes. He was great to work with, and through the process of the next few weeks he was a delight. Spalding was then living with his girlfriend, Renee, who he eventually married, and then, surprisingly, divorced. His previous longterm girlfriend, Elizabeth LeCompte, had left him, I was told, for Willem Dafoe, but they were all still good friends. (Ironically, it's just been reported that Dafoe has left LeCompte for a younger woman.)
Anyway, the Christmas piece was a big hit and a good 'get' for the magazine. From then on, Spalding and I were good acquaintances if not friends, and I counted the experience of editing him as an important one in my life. In 2002 — after he'd been in his terrible car accident in Ireland — I ran into him at the premiere of a Woody Allen movie. He was not himself mentally or physically. It was obvious that his injuries were inside and outside. His face seemed caved in, but so did his spirits. Then came the story last year that he attempted suicide at the Sag Harbor bridge. And then the disappearance in January.
The discovery of his body yesterday didn't come as a surprise. But I think of Spalding Gray's time as a writer and performer, especially those early days when he drew audiences to Soho like a pied piper, as seminal. He prefigured a raft of performers who came later with rantings and ravings about their lives and travails, some who thought they could cash in on the Gray phenomenon. They couldn't though, because Spalding's observations, his self-deprecating tone, his language were all unique visions expressed by someone brilliantly beyond our understanding. Luckily his work will live on. But for so many people — his family and friends, fans like me — he will really be sorely missed.