Good news for a change.
UNICEF is starting a George Harrison Memorial Fund so it can continue funneling proceeds from the CD and new DVD of "The Concert for Bangladesh."
Since Harrison recorded the now-famous (and first-ever) all-star charity concert at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 1, 1971, UNICEF has collected millions of dollars for the troubled nation.
Last night, Harrison's widow, Olivia, premiered the new DVD of the concert at a screening downtown at the new IFC Theater on Sixth Avenue in New York City.
Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone magazine sponsored it along with Capitol/Apple Records, and the turnout was like a reunion of music stalwarts from all over.
Barbara Orbison, widow of Roy Orbison, hugged Olivia, while Pete Bennett — the Beatles' legendary promotion man — reminisced with Apple's chef de guerre Neil Aspinall.
Manhattan Records' Ian Ralfini with his wife Sunny, head of the Nordoff-Robbins Foundation, as well as terrific record producer Russ Titelman all showed up, as did Bruce Springsteen's guys Max Weinberg (also Conan O'Brien's guy) and "Little" Steven van Zandt, also of "The Sopranos."
This shows the diversity of Springsteen's E Street Band: Weinberg was dressed in a gorgeous Italian to-die-for blue pin-striped suit; van Zandt was in a one-piece outfit that looked, as his beautiful wife Maureen noted, like it was cut from someone's Persian rug. It was one-of-a-kind, just like Little Steven!
Before the screening, Olivia told us, "When George was going through the footage and listening to the tracks, he reconnected with Phil Spector, who produced the music. Phil sent back letters in gigantic Gothic type proclaiming his love for George, and George ended his with drawings from Lenny Bruce. It was like it was 30 years ago."
Later Olivia confided, "I feel like 'Whew! I'm done!' This is what George wanted me to do."
She said the hard part would now be receiving the constant praise for Harrison that people keep giving her.
"He wouldn't approve of it. He would say it would take away from the spirituality, building up an ego like that." Then she added, "But he deserved it."
Every spouse should have a survivor like Olivia Harrison, that's all I can say.
If you're too young to know, or you've forgotten, the Concert for Bangladesh was devised by Harrison at the request of his pal Ravi Shankar as civil war left millions in the then-East Pakistan facing starvation.
The show featured performances by Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Billy Preston. The backing band was Badfinger, who were six months away from releasing the album that would make them famous, "Straight Up." The sidemen included Jim Keltner on drums, Jim Horn on horns and Jesse Ed Davis on guitar.
Shankar, whom no one appreciated at the time because we were impatient to hear our "stars," opens the show with what now seems like a tour de force performance of Indian music.
I don't think I understood Shankar until about five years ago, and now I find him mesmerizing. You will, too, when you see him in tandem, playing sitar with Ali Akbar Khan on sarod. There is something so subtle and beautiful in their frenzied melodic renderings that maybe it can only be understood by more mature, accepting ears.
Olivia told me that even though the DVD package is brimming over with extras, including unseen rehearsals with George and Dylan, there's still a little more in the vaults.
"There's another Dylan song, and some more interview material," she said. "I'm keeping that in my back pocket for now."
What is included on both the new (remastered — throw out those old CDs) limited-edition album and the DVD limited edition is a Dylan performance of "Love Minus Zero/No Limit."
Dylan, as it came to pass, had a grand time on stage that night. He hadn't been seen in some time. At the ripe old age of 30, he'd become a little bit of a recluse.
Six of his songs are included on the album. Two more — "If Not For You" and "Come On In My Kitchen" — are on the DVD. His take on "Blowin' in the Wind" is earnest, heartfelt and, for Dylan, disarmingly innocent. It's quite lovely.
Harrison shines all the way through the show, and it's worth watching all the DVD extras to know what was going on behind the scenes as he was planning the show.
Clapton missed several flights and almost didn't show up, for example. It was only when Harrison let him know he was being replaced that Clapton got himself to the airport. Dylan was also a question mark, and when he showed up, Harrison simply put him right on without making him wait.
Other highlights: Leon Russell nearly steals the show with his medley of "Youngblood" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." The screening audience all applauded Preston, then about 26 years old, knocking out "That's the Way God Planned It."
And seeing Ringo playing drums next to Keltner — it looks like ballet. Poor Ringo — he never gets the credit he deserves. Here you see him out from under the Beatles' shadow, and he's a giant.
Both the new CD and DVD by the way include information from UNICEF about where the money's gone and how it's been used. You can also read it about at www.georgeharrisonfundforunicef.org.
Essentially, George and Shankar were prescient in creating an annuity for Bangladesh. Their heirs are Elton John, with his AIDS Foundation, and Sting and Trudie Styler's Rainforest Foundation.
From the sublime to the ridiculous: Mr. Britney Spears, aka Kevin Federline, is recording rap music.
Yesterday, some of it was leaked onto the Web. It is — surprise, surprise — quite awful. Thanks to an intrepid soul on the Velvet Rope Web site, here are the lyrics that could be determined:
"I should be saying keep my damn name outcha mouth but y'all people keep increasing my change amount
So, go ahead and say whatcha wanna, I'm gonna sell bout two mill, fool, then I'm a-gonna
I know you wish you was in my position cuz I keep getting into situations that you wish you wuz in, cousin
I'm not your brother, not your uncle, I'm daddy, dude
Steppin' in this game and y'all ain't got a clue
My prediction is that y'all gonna hate on the style we create, straight 2008
But I know that you really can't wait because people are always askin' me — when's the release date?
Well maybe baby you can wait and see
Until then, all these Pavarottis following me
Gettin' anxious, go take a peek, I'm starring in your magazine now every day of the week
Back, then, they call me K-Fed, but you can call me Daddy instead..."
This is what we get, 34 years after Harrison, Dylan, Clapton, et al. And you say the world is not ending.
Tonight, the above-mentioned Sting and Trudie will be honored by the Soil Association, of all things.
Sounds dreadful, but their Food for Life program is an important one concerning organic farming and making sure school children are fed properly with healthy foods.
The event takes place at the Metropolitan Pavilion, a smallish catering hall on West 18th St. in Manhattan. I tell you this because — shhhh — Sting is performing around 10 p.m. There may be tickets left, I don't know. Call 212-683-2442 and beg. ...
Meanwhile, Al Green is coming to town! He'll be at B.B. King's on 42nd St. tonight (sold out) and tomorrow night (maybe a few standing room). So far appearing at B.B. King's has made Aretha, Dionne and many others turn it on, so this should be good. And by the way, James Brown is there on New Year's Eve, so you know where I'll be. ...