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Chef's Quitting Controversy

Isaac Hayes' Quitting Controversy | Austin Rocks | 'Sopranos' Magic

Isaac Hayes' Quitting Controversy

Isaac Hayes did not quit "South Park." My sources say that someone quit it for him.

I can tell you that Hayes is in no position to have quit anything. Contrary to news reports, the great writer, singer and musician suffered a stroke on Jan. 17. At the time it was said that he was hospitalized and suffering from exhaustion.

It’s also absolutely ridiculous to think that Hayes, who loved playing Chef on "South Park," would suddenly turn against the show because they were poking fun at Scientology.

Last November, when the “Trapped in a Closet” episode of the comedy aired, I saw Hayes and spent time with him in Memphis for the annual Blues Ball.

If he hated the show so much, I doubt he would have performed his trademark hit song from the show, “Chocolate Salty Balls.” He tossed the song into the middle of one of his less salacious hits and got the whole audience in the Memphis Pyramid to sing along.

I can tell you, Hayes was very pleased with himself, was in a great mood and, as always, loved his fans' coming up to him and asking him about Chef.

As recently as early January, before his stroke, Hayes defended the "South Park" creators in an interview with “The AV Club,” the serious side of the satirical newspaper, The Onion.

AV Club: They did just do an episode that made fun of your religion, Scientology. Did that bother you?

Hayes: Well, I talked to Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker] about that. They didn't let me know until it was done. I said, 'Guys, you have it all wrong. We're not like that. I know that's your thing, but get your information correct, because somebody might believe that [expletive], you know?' But I understand what they're doing. I told them to take a couple of Scientology courses and understand what we do. [Laughs.]

The truth is, Hayes has a sly sense of humor and loves everything about "South Park." It’s provided him a much-needed income stream since losing the royalties to the many hits he’s written, such as “Shaft” and “Soul Man,” in the mid-1970s.

Even though he’s one of America’s most prolific hit writers, Hayes has been denied access to profits from his own material for almost 30 years.

But it’s hard to know anything since Hayes, like Katie Holmes, is constantly monitored by a Scientologist representative most of the time. Luckily, at the Blues Ball he was on his own, partying just with family and friends. He was very excited about having gotten married and about the impending birth of a new child.

Friends in Memphis tell me that Hayes did not issue any statements on his own about South Park. They are mystified.

“Isaac’s been concentrating on his recuperation for the last two and a half, three months,” a close friend told me.

Hayes did not suffer paralysis, but the mild stroke may have affected his speech and his memory. He’s been having home therapy since it happened.

That certainly begs the question of who issued the statement that Hayes was quitting "South Park" now because it mocked Scientology four months ago. If it wasn’t Hayes, then who would have done such a thing?

Meantime, Tom Cruise may have gotten Comedy Central to pull its repeat of "South Park"'s Scientology spoof last week, but the result is that episode is all over the Web. You can see it for free at youtube.com.

Not only that, the Comedy Central Web site has four clips from the 21-minute show. And it also says that “Trapped in the Closet” will air this Wednesday at 10 p.m.

So whether or not Cruise actually did use influence at Viacom/Paramount to get the show pulled from last week’s schedule, here it is, bigger and better than ever. Of course, no one would have cared one way or another if “Trapped” simply had aired on schedule.

Of course, no one could blame Cruise, John Travolta or even R&B singer R. Kelly for being upset about the episode. They are poked fun at mercilessly.

In the episode, Stan, one of the "South Park" characters, is solicited into Scientology. He gives them $240 and takes an EMeter test. This convinces the higher-ups that Stan is the reincarnation of the group’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

That would be bad enough, wouldn’t it? But Cruise visits Stan in his bedroom and winds up hiding in his closet when Stan tells him he’s not the greatest actor. Thus is born the line “Tom Cruise won’t come out of the closet.”

It’s repeated dozens of times. Travolta soon joins Cruise in Stan’s closet. He won’t come out, either. And when they do, there is the ecstatic announcement that they’ve “come out of the closet.”

You get the picture. But nothing in “Trapped in the Closet” is any worse than anything "South Park" creators Stone and Parker have done before. Just rent “Team America” and see what I mean.

Austin Rocks: Is the Music Biz Alive?

From the looks of things this weekend in Austin, Texas, you’d think rumors of the demise of the record business were just that — rumors.

Despite all-time-low CD sales, empty record stores and monopolistic radio conglomerates strangling the airwaves, rock is still rolling by the looks of things down here.

I came down to Austin for the final weekend of the annual South by Southwest festival — also known as SXSW, a play on Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.”

I came for several reasons, not the least of which was constantly hearing from anyone who’d been here that Austin was the anomalous Texas city, full of culture and fun.

They were, of course, correct. I will now put Austin on my list of favorite “fly over” cities along with Memphis and Chicago. Texas’ capital has an amazing aesthetic and nearly defies logic. There are no Texan stereotypes here, either.

It’s as if Austin is the Texas town that Europe forgot. And a fantastic new 33-story modern skyscraper, the Frost Bank Tower, looms over the “old” Western city and gives Austin a welcome futuristic glow of promise. Very impressive.

On Saturday night, SXSW made the Sixth Street area of downtown alive with dozens of rock bands, singer-songwriters and anyone who could commandeer a bar stage.

In just a few hours, I got to hear some phenomenal music: “Soul Man” Sam Moore, New Orleans’ Alan Toussaint, Lyle Lovett, New York legend Garland Jeffreys, a little bit of Roseanne Cash and The Pretenders. Say Amen, somebody!

Of course, the weekend began on Friday night at the famous Saxon Bar on the outskirts of the city. That’s where I got to hear Austin’s favorite son, Stephen Bruton, play along with some of his friends.

If you don’t know him, Bruton has long been a star here, having played with and had his songs recorded by Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt and many other superstars.

It’s hard to say why Bruton himself never became a solo star. His albums are terrific, filled with songs that sound like they should have been hits.

You can read all about him at www.stephenbruton.com. His brand of folk blues and modern country will never go out of style.

Saturday night was bookended by two blockbuster shows from members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Moore was the headliner at the first one, at Town Lake. It featured a surprise appearance by Travis Tritt, who’d flown in from Atlanta on his private jet just to sing one song with the legendary Moore — “Riding Thumb,” a number that will appear on Moore’s highly anticipated “Overnight Sensational” album in June.

All I can tell you is, the overflow outdoor crowd went nuts for this, as they did for Moore and Tritt trading vocals on “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.”

Moore, by the way, is 70; Tritt is 43. They seemed very much the same age on Saturday night, and perfectly suited to one another. Moore’s voice is a revelation and more will be revealed shortly. "Overnight Sensational," which I’ve heard, should be for him what "Private Dancer" was for Tina Turner two decades ago.

The other big show of the night was from my favorite band, The Pretenders. I cannot be objective about Chrissie Hynde. I love her. Even though the sound system was absolutely miserable, The Pretenders put on a hot show to promote their new box set on Rhino.

I’m really grateful to Seymour Stein, whom I ran into on an elevator, for helping me get into this tiny show in the backyard at Stubb’s ribs joint. It was a pleasure hearing the couple hundred standing audience members sing along to “Back on the Chain Gang.” And the group did my all-time favorite obscure Pretenders song, “Cuban Slide.”

In between Moore and the Pretenders, I jumped over to a honky tonk on Sixth Street called Bourbon Rocks with Chesky Records’ owner Norm Chesky. We wanted to see New York’s Jeffreys, and we made it just in time.

He opened his set with the new song “I’m Alive.” Jeffreys is like a force of nature. He’s 62 and looks 35, with the stamina of a 20-year-old. No one works harder on stage, and his songs — new and old — continue to elicit a personal response from his audience.

Considering that "Wild in the Streets," his seminal song, was released in 1977, I was amazed that so many young people in the packed, sweaty room knew the words by heart.

And there were countless other bands playing all over the place all weekend. I ran into New York Times critic Jon Pareles heading in one direction, and none other than Island/Def Jam’s L.A. Reid going in another.

Sixth Street reminded me of Memphis’s Beale Street on a hot summer night, jammed with throngs of kids buzzing to hear not only the music of the moment, but the best of the near-past and living legends.

And everyone is eating: Like Memphis, Austin is a hog pit. People can barely put down their barbeque long enough to say the name of their favorite band. And everyone has a favorite place for ribs, which they swear are the best, and no two people say the same name.

In lieu of having an angioplasty, I return home instead.

Wicked Memories — 'Sopranos' Magic

Tonight at BB King’s in New York: a Wilson “Wicked” Pickett memorial celebration featuring Southside Johnny, Jimmy Vivino and many special guests I am precluded from mentioning.

It’s a great night of Memphis soul honoring the man who sang and wrote “In the Midnight Hour," and proceeds from the tickets will go to MusiCares…

David Chase may be paranoid about the press, but otherwise he continues to produce the most outstanding drama or comedy on television. Last night’s episode of “The Sopranos” was disturbing and poignant, superb in every way. This is easily shaping up as the best season in the series’ long run. Edie Falco is mesmerizing. James Gandolfini’s “dream” scenes showed that he is more than just a Jersey goombah. How can "The Sopranos" not win the Emmy this time? Nothing touches it…

Finally, I am sad to report that my old friend, Wendy Glass, a respected fine art dealer on New York’s Upper West Side for several decades, has passed away at age 80. She will be sorely missed. Wendy was a close friend of many famous artists whose work she dealt in, including Frank Kleinholz, Rafael Soyer and Chaim Gross.

Wendy came from an over-achieving family. Her father, Aaron Davis, was a philanthropist whose name is stamped onto a performance hall in Manhattan. Her late sister, Natalie Spingarn, wrote several best-selling books about living with cancer that changed people’s lives. Rest in peace...