Golden California -- from a Persian perspective

(A while back, I sent papers a story on the new
“Shahs of Sunset” series and its most interesting person, Asa Soltan Rahmati. Since then, one person has said his name should not be in the story; he is not married to Rahmati, he said, and he's not involved with her.

(The original confusion may have started with a Los Angeles Times article I mentioned in the story. Let's err on the side of making sure everything is accurate; here's the story, now with that that paragraph omitted.)


Tucked into Los Angeles' sprawl are
endless sub-cultures.

Some – black, Chicano, Asian –
have had TV time. Now the Persians get their turn.

These are people with roots in Iran. In
Bravo's new “Shahs of Sunset,” you'll hear young adults rave
about the Persian culture; you'll also hear Asa Soltan Rahmati say
she has mixed feelings.

What's good about the culture? What's
bad? “I probably have the same answer to both,” Rahmati said by
phone. “It's passion.”

The passionate life can glow. “We're
old-school,” she said. “There's the love of friends and family.”
And it can reach excess. “We can be obsessive about some things,”
she said.

Viewers got an example in Sunday's
opener, which reruns every day this week: A trendy-dressed beauty
says Rahmati (who has a self-described “modern Persian gypsy
Bohemian” life and look) is “ghetto”; then they scream a lot.

We expect that, because this is a
reality show. It's produced by Ryan Seacrest (the “American Idol”
host), who wrote that the six main people are compelling: “They are
confident, combative and outrageous. But they are also colorful,
caring and funny.”

And they are attractive, diverse (one
is gay, one is Jewish, Rahmati is rebellious) and wealthy. Their
families left Iran after the 1979 revolution, but most had sent money

Rahmati said her family had a bumpier
ride. “My father was a very high officer in the Navy. We had a lot
of respect and wealth.”

He stayed in Iran after the revolution;
that changed about five years later. “We escaped as political
refugees,” Rahmati said. “We left with one suitcase each.”

She was 8 then, adjusting to Hamburg,
Germany. Later, the family moved to the U.S., finding an apartment
that could get the kids into Beverly Hills High School.

“It was an incredible culture shock,”
Rahmati said, but not necessarily a bad one. She was 15 and already
had an arty image; that gave her an identity on “90210” turf.

In some ways, Rahmati has become a
classic Californian. “I was always a cultural observer … Living
here, with the palm trees and the ocean is definitely a good thing.”

There, Rahmati can follow her ideas.
“I'm multi-media, all over the place,” she said.

She writes and records music, designs
art, even poses on a bicycle in a bikini, holding a machine gun.

The bikini, of course, is gold. “I
love gold,” Rahmati said. Sometimes, obsession looks good on

– “Shahs of Sunrise,” 10 p.m.
Sundays, Bravo.

– The opener debuted March 11 and
reruns daily.

Yes, GMC is a channel (not a truck); yes, this movie is OK

There really is a GMC channel, hidden away somewhere on satellite (Channel 188 of Dish, 338 of DirecTV) and digital TV. It has reruns, some of them good ("Cosby Show") and most OK; it also makes its own family-friendly movies.

The latest film arrivs Sunday (March 11) and is pleasant enough. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Life seemed to prepare David A.R. White
for the pulpit.

He was a Kansas kid who grew up as a
Mennonite – “one step above the Amish,” he says. His dad was a
preacher who sent him to th Moody Bible Institute in Chcago.

“My entire family had met and
married … there and graduated from there,” White recalled. “My
dad was hoping I would be an evangelist.”

Instead, he became an actor. Two
decades later, he's full-circle – playing a preacher in a
drama-comedy movie on what's called a “faith-friendly” cable

That's the phrase used by Brad Siegel,
vice-chairman of GMC (formerly Gospel Music Channel). “We are the
only network (with) a consistent, high-quality, positive, uplifting
experience,” he said.

Viewers who find GMC – usually via
satellite or digital cable – will see reruns (“Waltons,” “Cosby
Show,” “Dr. Quinn,” etc.) and gospel music, peppered with the
occasional movie and gospel play.

“I had been talking to Brad about
what the network was looking for,” White said. “He said something
like an inter-racial comedy.” And that sort of summarized White's

He had seen exactly one movie
(“Grease”), when he dropped out of Moody and moved to Los Angeles
to be an actor. He was 19, blonde-ish, from a town of 2,000 near
Dodge City; for six years, he rented a room with a black family.
“It's like the first time I found out about grits. (I'd) never
heard of that.”

Most would-be actors soon retreat home,
but While landed a dozen episodes of “Evening Shade,” playing the
friend of Burt Reynolds' son. He's had a fair amount of roles ever

For GMC, he came up with th idea of
playing the Rev. James White, living in obscurity with his wife and
kids – Lily, Emma and Cooper. (Yes, her name is Lily White; this is
not always subtle humor.) He's sent to a small church, surprising its
all-black congregation.

Scattered in support are:

– Ray Wise, who played Satan in the
“Reaper” series. Now he plays an evangelist. “After playing the
devil for two years, this was a real change-of-pace,” he

– Jackee Harry, whose “227”
comedy is rerun often on GMC. She plays the widow of a previous
pastor. “She's bossy,” Harry sad, “such a stretch for me.”

– Bebe Winans, who performs late in
the film. “He's an amazing gospel singer,” said Anna Margaret, a
singer-actress who plays White's disenchanted teen daughter.

All combine to make life complicated, a
feeling White understands.”I kind of feel like my whole life is a
fish-out-of-water story,” he said.

– “Brother White,” debuts 7 and 9
p.m. Sunday, GMC

– Reruns at 9 p.m. Monday (March 12),
9 and 11 p.m. Friday (March 16)



B-52's: the whimsical side of rock 'n' roll


In between "American Idol" blogs, let's pause to remember that rock music needn't always be pitch-perfect. Sometimes, it's just fun.

Here's a story I sent to papers about the B-52s, which have a 35th-anniversary concert that shows up on many stations during pledge drive. Cincinnati, for instance, airs it at 8 p.m. this Saturday, March 10; East Lansing, alas, hasn't yet scheduled it:



It all started as college-town fun,
bar-room whimsy. Then the B-52's became semi-eternal.

“You're going to have to wheel us on
stage,” said Fred Schneider, 55.

Not yet. The band remains lively and
(at times) goofy, as many people will see on a PBS special.

This odd rock band, performing on the
network of “Antiques Roadshow” and antique cellists? Do the
B-52's really fit PBS? “Yes, because we're very intelligent,”
Schneider said.

Besides, one original member (the late
Ricky Wilson) learned to play guitar by watching PBS.

That was in Athens, the home of the
University of Georgia. Wilson, his sister Cindy and Keith Strickland
grew up there; Schneider and Kate Pierson joined them.

“Athens was … at the end days of
the hippie era,” Cindy Wilson recalled fondly.

It was a fun place, Pierson said, “this
hotbed of creativity and all these bands.”

It would soon be known for R.E.M.,
Widespread Panic and the Indigo Girls; first were the B-52a.

“It started out sort of just as
something to do,” Schneider said.

He and Strickland were just jamming. “I
would play noise guitar, basically,” Strickland said, “just would
rub bottles up and down the strings or whatever …. And Fred would
recite his poems.”

One night, the others joined them in a
basement, after sharing a “flaming volcano” drink at a Chinese
restaurant. “We didn't have money for food,” Pierson said, “so
we drank.”

On Valentine's Day of 1977, the group
gave its first concert. “The first time we performed for our
friends, we were surprised that they liked it,” Strickland said.

This was a different sound, said Joe
Campbell, who coordinates pledge-drive specials for PBS. “Their
music was fun. It was a little outlandish; it was melodic. And best
of all, women loved the B-52's.”

One source ( descibes the
band's “campy, thrift-store aesthetic.” Another (Rolling Stone
Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside, 2001) describes “gleefully
eccentric party music – stripped-down, off-kilter funk, topped by
chirpy vocals and lyrics crammed with '50s and '60s trivia.”

It was unconventional and, at first,
unnoticed. At first, no album did better than No. 18 on the Billboard
chart; one sputtered after Ricky Wilson's death (of AIDS in 1985). No
single reached the top 50.

Then came the 1989 “Cosmic Thing”
album. Producer Don Was listened to proposed songs, Strickland
recalled. “He said, 'These are great; do you have anything else?'
And I said, 'We have this one song, but it's not finished.' We had
different opinions about it. I didn't think there was a song.”

A small change was suggested by Was;
the song, “Love Shack,” reached No. 3. Other singles on the album
reached No. 3 (“Roam”) and No. 30 (“Deadbeat Club”); the
album hit No. 4.

The B-52's had their hits. Its people
now range in age from 55 to 63, but its music remains young, odd and
ready for th next party.

– “The B-52s With the Wild Crowd”

– PBS pledge-drive special; air date
varies with each station

– Also an album, with 17 tracks; see
music stores, iTunes or


It turns out, they really can sing Whitney

All these years, Randy Jackson has been warning the "American Idol" contestants: Don't even try to do the big three -- Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey or Celine Dion. You'll pale in comparison.

And tonight, we learned he was wrong -- or two-thirds wrong, anyway. The six "Idol" women were ordered to each do a Whitney song; four of them nailed it.

That leaves the other two (Elise Testone and Shannon Magrane) fighting for survival. Two others had minor flaws, but Skylar Laine made up for that with charm; Erika Van Pelt made up for it in range, covering every known octave and volume level.

And the others were flawless. First was Hollie Cavanagh (who, at 18, could win any vote for 8th-grade prom queen); then was Jessica Sanchez, proving that even "I Will Always Love You" can be conquered.

The guys, tackling Stevie Wonder, were harder to differentiate. I'd put Heejun Han and Joshua Ledet at the top, with the others close. I'll guess that Jeremy Rosado is the one standing next to Testone when she's sent home; she'll be an example that sometimes the Randy rule is correct.


Davy Jones: A likable Monkee dies at 66

Davy Jones, the likable little Monkee, died today (Wednesday, Feb. 29) at 66. Here's the story I sent to papers, a slight re-woring of one I sent last year:


For Davy Jones – the former Monkee
who died today at 66 – fame came at just the right time.

He was young and the world was
changing; he became a Monkee and a star.

“This was a time when we were
carefree,” Jones said last summer. “We were having a great old
time. It wasn't all about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll – some of
the time was, but that's another story.”

That was a time he sometimes
celebrated. He did nostalgia concerts; he hosted a nostalgia special
that many PBS stations are rerunning during their current pledge
drives. In interviews, he recalled the time when four mismatched
strangers became the Monkees.

Micky Dolenz had once been a child
star; at 11, he had the title role of TV's “Circus Boy.” Peter
Tork was a folkie whose dad was a college professor. Mike Nesmith was
an heir; his mom, an artist-turned-secretary – has invented
white-out and sold the Liquid Paper company for almost $50 million.

And Jones? “I was a practice jockey
in England, back in 1961-62,” he said.

He had the size (5-foot-3) and passion
to be a jockey. However, show-business intervened with “Oliver”
and the flashy role of the Artful Dodger. Jones had just turned 17
when he co-starred on Broadway, getting a 1963 Tony nomination.

Three years later, he was cast in “The
Monkees.” The show lasted only two years, but won an Emmy for best
comedy series. It had:

– A loopy, carefree visual style, the
sort that would soon be popular in music videos.

– Appealing pop songs from top
writers. “Our Monkees songs were written by Neil Diamond, Carole
King, Neil Sedaka, Carole Bayer Sager, Leiber and Stoller,” Jones
said. Three reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts; three were No. 2
or 3.

There have been reunions, but mostly
the ex-Monkees have been on their own. Dolenz and Jones did some
theater and Dolenz does cartoon voices. Tork, who plays a dozen
instruments, returned to his own music. Nesmith became a pioneer in
music videos; he won the first Grammy for best video and temporarily
built Pacific Arts Corporation into a homevideo giant.

And Jones became a jockey – again. “I
was in my 50s and my kids said, 'Dad, if you know so much, why don't
you just do do it, then.”

So he returned to England to ride
steeplechase and then do track racing. “I rode my last race in '96
in England and I won... on a horse that I bought for my daughter.”

He continued to have horses at homes in
Pennsylvania and Florida; it was, he said, an expensive hobby. “I
have two-year-old horses and a 10-year-old car.”

At times, he also returned to music for
nostalgia concerts. One example is “60s Pop Rock & Soul,”
which many PBS stations are airing now. It ranges from Jefferson
Starship's hard-edged “White Rabbit” to the amiability of Peter
Noone singing “I'm Henry the Eighth, I Am” and Jones singing
“Daydream Believer.”