The great blues artists Blind Willie Johnson wrote and recorded the original song "Dark Was The Night" in the late 1920s while Wall Street was roaring and America sang and danced to witty songs from Broadway shows that were a lifetime away from the moaning slide guitar of a Delta blues singer. Within a few years most of the people signing and reveling to Cole Porter and George Gershwin had first hand knowledge of what Willie Johnson conveyed in his song.
Ironically, my company, Red Hot, started with one of the very first tribute albums ever released, centered on the songs of Cole Porter reinterpreted by some of the best artists of the 1980s--David Byrne, k.d. lang, Annie Lennox, U2 and many others. I had been an art critic curator and teacher in New York's East Village at the time, which was a hotbed of creativity and one of the epicenters of the disease. By the late '80s many of the most talented and lovely people I knew were sick and dying. It was a terrible time.
Cole Porter's music struck me as a perfect soundtrack to this era, even if they were old and no one who had grown up with Rock music, much less Punk, thought they fit in. But Porter was gay in an era when he had to express his identity in a coded way that provoked much of the wit and sophistication of his songs. What had been clever in his day became poignant in ours. That project, "Red Hot + Blue," combined new interpretations of Porter's songs with brilliant short films by directors such as Wim Wenders, Jonathan Demme, Jim Jarmusch to create a rallying cry for everyone affected by AIDS. It helped bring the disease out of the closet, as it were, to be dealt with as a social and medical tragedy that impacted everyone around the world.
In the two decades since, AIDS still has not been cured and HIV infection remains one of the worst health disasters of all time. Sadly, it is no longer front-page (or home-page) news; and Red Hot sadly still has a mission two decades later. Don't get me wrong, I love making albums and it has been a strange blessing to be able to work with so many brilliant creative people over the years from David Byrne, who was the very first artist to agree to work with Red Hot to Aaron and Bryce Dessner who took time from their band The National to curate "Dark Was The Night" with me. In fact, David Byrne collaborated with a young band, The Dirty Projectors, on the first track from the album. Don't waste any more time reading my words, click the player and listen for yourself. Hopefully you will agree that music remains one of the best ways to reflect the reality of the times we live in, however dark, while also inspiring us and giving us hope of better days to come.
Next, I'll Blog about involuntary volunteerism. How I lost my high-paying job as an entertainment lawyer by producing Red Hot + Blue and the various day jobs I have had ever since while keeping the Red Hot spirit going.