Fashionably Absent Nicole  | Beatles and Apples  | Jacko Case Update  | Zeppelin Still Rules

Nicole Remains Fashionably Absent

It was a case of the Emperor's New Clothes last night as Nicole Kidman was a no-show for the Council of Fashion Designers of America Fashion Awards. Kidman was supposed to get some kind of Frock Wearer of the Year Award, but at the last minute she had to do extra shooting in Los Angeles for her new movie, Birth.

The fashion awards — which sound like fun, but are kind of a painfully ordinary grouping of young people who don't want to live out their days selling t-shirts at the Gap — were not the same without her.

In Kidman's place was the up-and-coming Rachel Weisz. She's no slouch, but she's no Nic. The wind went out of the sails, as it were.

Special awards were given to everyone at Vogue (André Leon Talley, Anna Wintour). Several "designers" were nominated for awards even though they are really "marketers" with names. The actual designers, people who work in the back room, we will never know.

Kidman, meantime, goes from Birth to a remake of The Stepford Wives, after which she may do the movie version of Bewitched.

Will the Beatles Take a Bite of Apple Computer?

It's a busy time for Apple Computer. Its iPod portable music player is the Walkman of the millennium. The accompanying iTunes program is resolving long-standing disputes in the record industry. Apple is reportedly even looking into buying a record company. But there's a wrinkle.

It's the Beatles. They haven't recorded together since 1969. Two of the four original members are, quite sadly, deceased. And yet the Beatles stand to pose a big problem for Apple Computer.

That's because the Beatles own a holding company called Apple Corps, Ltd., which controls Apple Records, which released records by the Beatles and other artists from 1968 until the mid-'70s, and was recently resurrected to releases Beatles anthologies. Any good Beatle fan knows that.

Apple Computer's Steve Jobs was such a Beatle fan that he named his company after the record label.

But the Beatles, who are notoriously protective of their rights and quite litigious, weren't so happy with Jobs. In 1981 they made him sign something agreeing never to go into the music business in order to keep a name they had trademarked.

But then in the mid-1980s, Apple Computer started producing music files and software. It had to pony up $26 million when the Beatles sued, and again promised not to go into any more music businesses.

Fast forward: Since that last agreement in 1991, Apple has changed its tune. It has the iPod and iTunes. There was talk it was thinking of buying Universal Music Group. It's also said to be having talks with Amazon.com about some sort of joint marketing venture.

It's clear that Apple wants into the music business sooner rather than later. The Beatles, I am told, are gearing up for a fight.

One might assume that the exclusion of Beatles songs from the Apple iTunes Music Store library has something to do with this. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and a few other acts have so far not agreed to be part of the service, which charges 99 cents per song.

Of course, the Beatles aren't part of any legal downloading service. They have always been wary of new technology as it affects royalties. For example, they didn't issue CD's until 1987, five years after the format debuted in North America.

A source at their very tony British law firm, Eversheds, says not to read anything into this. "There's no particular reason the Beatles aren't in iTunes. They're not on any service," he says.

Another Beatles barrister told me: "There can't be any digital distribution without Apple's consent. And so far it hasn't happened. Neil Aspinall [who runs Apple Corps] has done a wonderful job keeping the group off the Internet and not included in things like Greatest Hits of the Sixties. He's made it exclusive."

But soon Apple Corps is going to want something from Apple Computer besides a few laptops for its executives. Even though Apple Corps/Apple Records is a small but thriving operation, its Beatle business continues to produce a lot of money. Recently, the best-selling album 1 made it a fortune.

There was also the recent reissue of A Hard Day's Night on DVD. It's just released The Beatles Anthology on DVD for the first time. In the fall, Apple Records will issue Let it Be on DVD and on a remixed CD without Phil Spector's much-discussed overblown production. It should be a bonanza.

Still to come are the "lost" Get Back album, as well as first-time CD issues of albums such as Beatles' Rarities and Live at Shea Stadium.

There's also a possible Hey Jude album, which was an American-only LP release; and all those tapes recently discovered in vaults and basements will undoubtedly be organized into a commercial project..

Nick Valner, the Beatles' attorney at Eversheds, was away and did not return calls this week. But Apple Corps, which operates in secrecy (its number is unlisted and no one's allowed to give it out), I am told, has been "in meetings" as the Apple Computer story progresses in the newspapers.

Valner does not hesitate to move against infringers of the Beatle trademark and neither do the other Beatle lawyers. They've sued over not only domain names but also unauthorized use of the Apple logo.

One lawyer who's worked on Beatles cases for 20 years told me: "They are very vigilant about pursuing these things."

The question now is how vigilant the Beatles will be concerning Apple Computer's new business interests.

Also: see yesterday's column for my report on Def Jam president Lyor Cohen and the TVT/Def Jam lawsuit. More is developing on this every day....

No Dismissal in Jacko Case

Just in case you were wondering why the wire services think the Myung Ho Lee vs. Michael Jackson lawsuit has been dismissed: They are confused.

The judge in the case is not considering dismissing the case. Far from it. Yesterday the judge said she would consider a motion made by Jackson's side to dismiss the case along with a lot of other motions.

This is standard operating procedure. The judge is also considering letting cameras into the courtroom (first reported here). There is little chance the case will not make it to trial. I'll have more on this for you tomorrow.

No. 1 for the Week? Eminem? No! Led Zeppelin! Yes!

It's the triumph of the geezers. I am happy to report the No. 1 album of the week is a triple CD live set by... Led Zeppelin!

How the West Was Won sold somewhere around 120,000 copies, beating the likes of people you don't know or care about. Suffice to say, Zep still rock. The discs are live shows from the '70s, when musicians played instruments and everyone was shooting up, not at each other.

Geezers will continue to rule next Tuesday as Annie Lennox's Bare album and Steely Dan's Everything Must Go hit stores.