Jacko: One More Longtime Associate Gone |  'Execution' Must-See TV | Aretha: Ray Charles Like Horowitz | Remembering a Friend

Jacko: One More Longtime Associate Gone

Last week I told you the big news that Bob Jones, a three-decade veteran of Motown and an employee of Michael Jackson since 1984, had been ousted from his role as adviser to the pop star.

Now it seems that in addition to Jones, John McClain is gone as well. McClain, also a longtime Jackson adviser and the man who first put Janet Jackson on the map with her "Control" album years ago, has been axed by Michael recently, I am told.

This is even bigger news than the Jones story in Jacko world. McClain had survived several Jackson managers as they came and went, working alongside different administrators while keeping a day job, more recently, at Dreamworks Records.

McClain had originally been with A&M Records (that's where Janet's first hits, including "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" — an apropos title — occurred) which was later merged into MCA and Dreamworks through the Polygram merger.

In 2001, when Michael's album "Invincible" was being launched, it was McClain who tried in vain to reunite the Jackson 5 beyond Michael's 30th-anniversary concerts at Madison Square Garden.

But apparently one member of the Jackson 5, brother Randy, didn't cotton to sharing the spotlight with McClain now that he's calling the shots in Michael's soap-opera world. It was Randy who gave Jones, and now McClain, the boot.

Who's next? And who will Randy bring in to replace these people? (Only "The Shadow" knows, as they used to say!)

In the meantime, try to catch the "South Park" episode about Michael called "The Jeffersons." It is absolutely brilliant, rivaling only Robert Smigel's short film about Jackson from last year in its genius and hilarity!

HBO Tonight: 'Execution' Must-See TV

Tonight at 8 p.m. on HBO is really what they used to call must-see TV: Ivy Meeropol's semi-autobiographical documentary "Heir to an Execution: A Granddaughter's Story." I urge you to drop everything and watch this wonderful, important film.

Ivy is the granddaughter of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, an American couple executed some 50 years ago for treason.

The Rosenbergs left two small boys behind, Michael and Robert, who were adopted by a kind couple and raised with the last name Meeropol. The boys were abandoned by both their father's and mother's families, ironically since it was their mother's brother, David Greenglass, who ratted them out and condemned his own sister to death.

After "Heir to an Execution" was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival last January, I told you it was riveting. That has not changed.

Those who saw it at an HBO premiere last week — including novelist Kurt Vonnegut, blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein, blacklisted actress Lee Grant, and writer Victor Navasky (whose book "Naming Names" was one of the first important books about McCarthyism and the communist fear of the Fifties) were just as captivated by the film.

For people who know nothing or little about the Rosenbergs, there couldn't be a more important cultural event for you tonight.

The Rosenbergs' guilt or innocence has been debated for half a century now. There is conventional wisdom and even some evidence that Julius was guilty of something, although what exactly is still a matter of discussion.

What's so extraordinary about Meeropol's documentary, and about this generation of her family in general, is that there is no attempt to whitewash history.

Indeed, the Meeropols, when I met and interviewed them last winter, are incredibly sanguine about what Julius and Ethel did or didn't do. They are remarkably not embittered by their experience with the American government despite the many injustices dealt them. And that's what makes "Heir to An Execution" so involving.

Ivy Meeropol does not attempt to interview her estranged great-uncle, David Greenglass, which is a shame for the viewer since by the time she drives by his house, we are all ready with dozens of questions and a lot of anger.

But she does get to a number of people who are, remarkably, still alive, including a remarkably lucid 103-year-old friend of Julius Rosenberg who credits Julius with saving his life by not naming him all those years ago.

There is also a forgotten 1991 clip from "60 Minutes" in which the miserable Greenglass conceded that he'd been put up to lying and changing his testimony in order to make his sister and brother-in-law look guiltier than they were.

By the way, starting today and for the next several weeks, you can go on HBO's Web site (www.hbo.com) and ask Ivy Meeropol and her father Michael any questions you like about the film and their family. I am assured they will attempt to answer as many as possible.

It's a rare opportunity to meet a couple of extraordinary people whose family figures greatly in modern American history.

Aretha: Ray Charles Like Horowitz

The great Aretha Franklin called in on Friday and it was certainly a bittersweet birthday present for yours truly.

We talked about her friend, Ray Charles, who had passed away on Thursday from liver cancer at age 73.

Aretha and Ray were often thought of together because they had each recorded for Atlantic Records. But Ray's Atlantic time was in the Fifties; Aretha was in the late Sixties.

Ray was a good deal older, but they shared the same agent, another legend, Ruth Bowen.

When did she first hear about him, I asked?

"I was about eight or nine years old," Aretha said. "I went over to a girlfriend of mine's home and said, 'Who is that singing?' She said, 'That's Ray Charles. Don't you know Ray Charles?' And from that moment on, I knew who Ray Charles was."

The record she said she probably heard was "Come Back Baby," on Atlantic, which she herself later covered on one of her first Atlantic albums, "Lady Soul" (1968).

They met years later, at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, when producer Jerry Wexler put them together for a duet on Aretha's "Spirit in the Dark" for her famous live album in 1971 that still makes spines tingle on every play.

Of course, Miss Franklin was the Queen of Soul, and even though Charles is classified as R&B, the truth is, he was unclassifiable.

As Aretha came from gospel into the pop/R&B world, Ray Charles came from jazz. They were both pianists, which gave them a lot in common, but, she said, "He played more jazz than I did. I never seriously got into jazz. I got into more R&B and gospel, and pop. I got more into those areas.

"I was winging on jazz with Art Blakey and Horace Silver and John Coltrane, and people like Freddie Hubbard, down at the Village Gate, where I was singing for months at a time. I was leaning toward jazz in those days but I never seriously took up the piano," she said, modestly, since to hear Aretha Franklin play the piano is one of the great joys in this life.

"He inspired me in terms of musicianship," Aretha said. "He loved Nat Cole, and he was one of my favorites too. I heard him a lot because his records were in our home. Ray also liked Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum. The level of [Ray's] musicianship is unparalleled. You'd have to compare him to [legendary classical pianist Vladimir] Horowitz, same level, just different genre."

By the way, soul music fans: two more legends, Carla Thomas and Sam Moore, perform the R&B classic "Knock on Wood" Thursday night on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." It's a once in a lifetime event!

Remembering a Friend

Every year on this day I like to send a heavenly birthday message to my dear friend, writer Laurie Colwin. Today, I believe, Laurie would have turned 60.

She died in 1992 at the age of 48, but her many wonderful novels — "Happy All the Time," "Shine on Bright and Dangerous Object," books of essays such as "Home Cooking" and collections of short stories including "The Lone Pilgrim" and "Another Marvelous Thing" — remain in print and ever popular!

Your legacy lives on, Laurie.