Hard to believe that after working on “The D” a solid year and a half, my ever-growing crew of 15 and I are descending upon Detroit in less than a week to record the song, video and feature length documentary. We’ll be recording and filming groups of 50 to 1000 people at each of 40+ locations where people will be singing “The D”, dancing, and showing their Motor City spirit however they can. Nothing like this has ever seen attempted- not just the largest number of people ever on a record, but the largest number of people as the original artist on a record. A partial list of locations participating is at the end of this email.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been recording incredible Detroit born singers, songwriters, musicians, comedians, and actors here at my studio in LA – groundbreaking Motown songwriters and producers like Lamont Dozier, Paul Riser and Mickey Stevenson, former Supremes Mary Wilson and Scherrie Payne, singers Freda Payne, Marcella Detroit, Pam and Joyce Vincent, Diane Steinberg, daughter of legendary Detroit DJ Martha Jean The Queen, comedians Lily Tomlin and Angela Shelton, and musicians like Greg Phillinganes, Ray Parker Jr., Reggie McBride and Bruce Miller – with a lot more to come. Here’s some of the action in my studio over the past week:

Mary Wilson:

Lamont Dozier:

Lily Tomlin:

Massive thanks again to all of you who donated moolah to make this truly historic song, video, documentary and collaboration with the people of Detroit possible. As the scale of this project involves tens of thousands of people and a 20 day/ 40+ location shoot, not to mention postproduction and all else involved in finishing the project we are still actively seeking funding. I’ve started another online fundraising campaign at http://www.gofundme.com/3btivk. I haven’t made a big deal about this one. It’s just there for generous souls who want to be part of something truly inspirational. We are also seeking larger donor sponsors and/or angels. You can email me back with any inquiries about that.

Thanks to the following locations where we’ll be filming and recording “The D”. One of the sing-alongs at The Heidelberg Project, Saturday, September 21st at 3pm is open to the public.  A schedule will soon be published at https://www.alleewillis.com/WeSingTheD/.

The Detroit Historical Society and Museum
The Dossin Maritime Museum on Belle isle
Detroit Yacht Club
D-Hive
Mumford High School
Pasteur Elementary School
Martin Luther King High School and marching band
Wayne State University
College For Creative Studies
Eastern Market
Temple Israel
Academy of Rock
Rock Ventures/ Opportunity Detroit
Radio One
The Heidelberg Project
Mosaic Youth Theatre
The Whitney
The Fisher Building
Greg’s Soul In The Wall restaurant
Consumer Auto Parts
American Jewelry & Loan (Hard Core Pawn)
U Detroit/ Harmonie Park
Henry The Hatter
Lafayette Laundry
African Bead Museum
Lululemon at Eastern Market – largest yoga class ever in Detroit – 500 people
Michigan Opera Theatre
The Ford Piquette Ave. Plant
Campus Martius Park
The Alley project (TAP)
Detroit Synergy – biking event
Historic St. James Baptist Church
The Greening Of Detroit
Detroit Dog Rescue/ HUSH
Church of the Messiah
Deep River Y Choir/ Comerica Park
Russell Industrial Center
Ebenezer Baptist Church
Michigan State University Community Music School
Woodbridge Housing Complex

Now just about all that’s left is to board the plane to Detroit!!

Onward!

Allee

 

 

On Friday I had the honor of sitting on the dais and speaking at the Pacific Pioneers Broadcasters luncheon honoring my friend, mentor and sometimes collaborator, Lily Tomlin.

It was thrilling being surrounded by so many Laugh-In alumni and friends. (L-R) Leslie Jordan, Kat Kramer, Gary Owens, Sally Kellerman, Lily, JoAnne Worley, me who I’m always surrounded by, and Bruce Vilanch:

Sally, Bruce and I go back to 1974, when I first started writing songs and tip-toed on to the stage:

I just met Leslie, who I had been a rabid fan of since I first saw him on Will & Grace, for the first time a couple of weeks ago when I saw his one man show, Fruit Fly, at The Celebration Theater, where my musical, The Color Purple, is about to do a four month run. Trust me, he will be gracing these pages often.

Alas, a no-show in Eileen Brennan. Though as I was seated next to her it meant I got an extra dinner roll:

Lily gets her award:

Lily and I are about to go back to our hometown, Detroit, to, among other things, attend the first high school performance of The Color Purple, at her alma mater, Cass Technical High School, in April. We’ve done a lot of things together, though this high school thing is about as exciting as it gets to me as I’ve been waiting for high school performances of TCP to happen since I finished (co-)writing the show in 2005. But here’s an earlier instance of us being joined together, when my head served as the model for Lily’s character, Kate, in her Tony award-winning show, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe:

So I’m looking forward to much mayhem in the future with our honoree. Love you, Lily! MUCH deserved.

Me and Lily are planning our trip to Detroit in April to see the first high school production of my musical, The Color Purple, at her high school, Cass, and my conducting the glee club and marching band at my high school, Mumford. We’re also going to be taking a lot of meetings to figure out something to do in Detroit together permanently.

Then out for stupendous fried chicken, yams, greens, mac & cheese, peach cobbler and brownie gooey cake at MP’s Soul Food in North Hollywood with RuPaul, Tom Star and Ben Bove:

Life is exceptionally sweet!

I meant to start posting my thoughts about my Soup To Nuts Party Mix show, my first live performance in 37 years at the El Portal Theater last Tuesday night, the day after the show but I could barely pick up a stylus to write let alone move my mouth in any detectible syllabic pattern because I was so tired and overwhelmed. I’m racing to get photos up, a fun yet gruesome task as there are literally thousands of them to go through. Hopefully by tomorrow I’ll have them organized enough to post. In the meantime, let me tell you about this cruise on the Love Boat that mutated into the Titanic yet somehow still ended up at Fantasy Island…

Stormy seas and all, Soup To Nuts Party Mix was about the most incredible experience that I’ve ever had. Not because it went so well, but because literally 95% of the technology it was dependent on failed. It was apparent from the second I walked on stage that I was going to have to throw out the script and effects I had worked on so furiously for four months and literally ad lib my way through the evening. All I can tell you is that despite riding a sinking technological ship, I kept people in stitches, and I mean tears rolling down their faces, screaming laughter stitches, including standing ovations in the middle of the show for things I was forced to come up with on the spot.

So despite being an utter failure as far as the show I planned, it was an unbelievably cathartic moment as a performer. Like five years worth of working the act out within the space of two hours, some time of which I spent sitting down watching brilliant and charitable friends of mine takeover and help me out.

One of  them was the stupendous comedienne Luenell, who has stepped it up at other parties of mine as well and Tuesday night helped a sista out during one of the 6,437,293 technical glitches that befell the stage.

But just as Luenell got to her punchline, something FINALLY popped up on the screen and I had to cut her off.

One of the best moments of the show, although perhaps not for Luenell, was when she then took a seat and the chair started rolling out from under her…

…until she plopped down flat as a log on the floor. When I asked if she needed a first aid kit she yelled “NO, what I need is a lawyer!”

I need the same lawyer for the guy at the controls. But from the jump four months ago I approached this whole thing as a party thrower, not a playwright, and a good party thrower is ready to field anything that goes wrong, even if of a catastrophic nature such as the tech sinkhole happening on stage left. I’m sure a phrase that will stick with my shows forever was born: “Get the foamcore!” as I sent my assistant, Dina Duarte, and set-collaborator, Mark Tomorsky, both on stage with me for the whole show, racing for a ratty piece of paper covered foam to hold over the main monitor every time the wrong photo, lyric for a sing-along or even worse, the tech guy’s desktop, appeared. Here they are hoisting it over what was supposed to be the lyrics to “Boogie Wonderland”, while my collaborator on that song, Jon Lind, kills time with his story about Maurice White, chocolate danishes and other things that happened the day we wrote it.

I doubt that Larry Dunn, founding member of Earth Wind & Fire who played keyboards on the records of “September” and “Boogie Wonderland” and accompanied me on those songs in the show, ever got cut off early before. But I had to yank him short as without lyrics sing-alongs can only be so effective.

Danny Sembello also came onstage for two songs he co-wrote with me, “Neutron Dance” and “Stir it Up”, neither of which were consistently accompanied by correct lyrics.

Chris Price played “I’ll Be There for You”, the theme from Friends and “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”, both of which I was forced to race through without their accompanying stories as by the time we reached them it was already the time I had planned to end the show, 10:15, and we were barely at the halfway point because of the malfunctions. Dina and Mark had the foamcore ready but thankfully the Friends theme is so short and has been hammered into the heads of every audience member a hundred times a day since 1994 so my tech guy could only wreak so much havoc.

And then we were supposed to play Bingo. How do you mess up Bingo??!  But if you’re spelling K-I-T-S-C-H and not B-I-N-G-O and there are no visuals to go along with “K- Dust Mop Slippers” or “T-Flowbee”, “S- Farrah Fawcett Shampoo & Conditioner” or “H – Beatles Pantyhose”, who’s going to know what you’re talking about without visual accompaniment? As soon as it was apparent that that too tanked I just turned to the audience and yelled “Fuck Bingo! The first 20 people up on stage get all the prizes!”. You would’ve thought the Gold Rush hit California again from the way this audience stampeded the stage.

Jelly room deodorizers, soccer balls that turn into magic towels when they get wet, vintage Afro picks, matzo ball kitchen timers donated by Davida (who also contributed the packs of Kosher Kurls in the gift bags), Handerpants – underpants with finger holes so graciously displayed by Daniel Franzese in a shot below and donated, as much of the gifts were, by Archie McPhee… this was one of my favorite moments of the show. To me it’s all about interaction between performer and audience and there they all were on stage like bit players and incredible friends. It truly felt like a party in my yard, which is what I had built the set to look like anyway.

Then I threw in a montage from my musical, The Color Purple, though we skipped the sing-along.

And finally, a veritable tour de force, Pigmy Will doing “The Hustle” played us out.

Just like I never learned to read, notate or write music yet have sold 50,000,000 records, or that I didn’t know you mix paint to get different colors until ten years into my art career, I’m probably the only person in theater history who ever booked the theater before they wrote the show and then performed the show before they had a rehearsal. I am, if nothing else, consistent! It’s the spontaneous event and what happens between performer, audience, and stage, whether it’s in a theater or on my porch, that’s the art form to me. Yes, a stage manager and lighting and sound director would have been nice, as would have been a theater whose usual fare wasn’t Christmas specials and geriatric musicals. But thankfully much of the audience was peppered with people who understand the pitfalls the stage can hold. For example:

My sentiments exactly! All I kept thinking as the world collapsed around me was a) what the f&#k is going on and what the hell am I going to do next??, while simultaneously being conscious that b) this will be my most legendary performance ever because I don’t know anyone else who wouldn’t have walked off stage after 20 minutes. Through it all I just kept going and got funnier and funnier and funnier. So the tech mishaps in their own bizarre way worked in my favor. In the end, I got far more out of it than I had intended. My soul soared, and although I was nearly suicidal by the end of the show it was probably the most artistically satisfying thing I’ve ever done. At once everything was shattering around me in the worst conceivable way that anything can happen on stage, yet it was a totally triumphant evening.

Six cameras were shooting. I realize that a brilliant Waiting For Guffman times 1063 could be made out of it. That’s music to the ears of a kitsch lover such as myself, especially one who’s obsessed with learning how to make lemonade out of extremely rotten lemons. So it’s a kind of Self-Help Waiting for Guffman, or in this case, The Tech Guy. I also realize it gives me an incredible starting point for the next version of the show, which should happen by the end of January.

I will never again be afraid of adversity. I will only look at it as an annoying friend that I have to make the best of, and in the making of that a beautiful flower can bloom.

Tons of photos here!

When I grew up in Detroit I went to the zoo on 10 Mile and Woodward at least a couple times a year. Although I got this particular chapeau on Ebay, I’m certain I had one exactly like it as I never went there without something separating me from the sun. I was quite fond of theme hats as a kid.

I’m not sure exactly what animal is on my zoo hat.

I suppose that’s a bear. Though it looks inbred with a beaver and Golden Retriever. It never made any sense to me that with a baseball team named the Tigers and a football team named the Lions that one of those didn’t get top billing in felt.

At least a tiger made the supporting cast. As did another animal that actually looks more like a bear than the beaver/Golden Retriever or maybe otter mystery animal in the starring role. I’m not going to worry about that though as there’s so much else beautiful that came out of Detroit. Like cars, Vernor’s ginger ale and Sanders hot fudge, the latter two of which remain staples in my refrigerator to this day.

I’m sure I was consuming both the last time I walked around the zoo, which was at least four decades ago.

The Detroit Zoological Park wasn’t the only thing I loved about Detroit. You can read all about my love affair with the city here.

Someone else who was born and grew up in Detroit still feels the love too.

Lily Tomlin and I have been friends since 1984 when we were introduced by Paul Reubens a.k.a.Pee Wee Herman. Lily even used my head to insert her own into for her character, Kate, in her Tony Award Winning Broadway show, Search For Signs Of intelligent Life In The Universe.

Both of us still love Detroit and are looking for something to do together there on a permanent basis.  We don’t know what that is yet but it will most certainly revolve around the arts as coming from the big D had such an enormous impact on what we both do. It also made my once alter-ego, Bubbles the artist, the artist she was, whipping out copy paintings of Lily’s character, Ernestine, like they were on the Ford assembly line, which the star would then autograph so a few more dollars rolled into my coffers.

Now we want a few more dollars rolling into Detroit, where I’ll be heading in April, perhaps with Lily in tow, to figure out what we can do there together. My specific mission is delivering the closing keynote speech at the three day Rust Belt To Arts Belt conference, exploring ways and mental states to turn decaying American cities like Detroit into cities of the future, which I’ve long held my home town can be if it rises from the ashes with both heart and conscience. I’m also going there to conduct my high school marching band playing a medley of my greatest hits in the lobby of the Fox Theatre before a performance of my musical, The Color Purple.

Despite the fact that I can’t read a note of music, including my own, I became obsessed with conducting last October after I was asked to conduct the 350 piece marching band at my college alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, when they played my songs at the Homecoming football game.

You can see the details of the excellent Priority Mail envelope hat I wore then here. Conducting the Mumford band with The Color Purple cast singing along will also give me a chance to wear another excellent hat:

Although I now collect marching band hats –  I’m up to over 30 different color combos though still missing the maroon and blue of the Mumford Mustangs –  my little hat from the Detroit zoo remains one of my favorites. I may not know what kind of animal sits on my head but I know a great city when I see one!

I wasn’t going to do anything for my birthday this year. Too overworked and no extra coinage to throw around. But word leaked out and spread and all of a sudden these people, most of whom I’ve spent every birthday and momentous occasion with for umpteen years, showed up at my house:

Bottom row (L-R):  Diva Zappa, Lisa Loeb, me, Prudence Fenton and Michael Patrick King.
Middle row (L-R):  Jane Wagner, Lesley Ann Warren, Bob Garrett, Lily Tomlin, Pamela Des Barres, Karen Levitas, Gai Gherardi, Gail Zappa, Nancye Ferguson, Stan Zimmerman and Jim Burns. Top row (L-R): Ben Bove, RuPaul, Tom Trujillo, Roey Herschovitz, Jimmy Quill, Charles Phoenix, Sonny Ruscha Bjornson, Mark Blackwell and Jack Nesbit.

Though all of my friends may not practice kitsch like the religion I do, their lives and occupations are consumed with pop culture and they all bring unique individual style and vision to everything they do. None of us are color-in-the-lines people. Which means that when it comes to birthday presents, it’s fantasyland overload as their sensibilities collide with mine in harmonious gift wrapped chaos! For example, here I am with perennially great gift givers Nancye Ferguson and Jim Burns:

Jim is looking very happy because the video game he stars in, Call Of Duty Black Ops, was released the day before and set the opening day record for ANY type of entertainment,Is he is grossing $320,000,000 by the time he reached my house. Maybe that’s why they got me 14 gifts. Though Nancye and Jim are always reliable for a smorgasbord of age-inappropriate-unless-you-happen-to-be-me offerings like this magnificent 1950’s mother of pearl poodle pocket mirror/pill box:

… and this convenient land line phone ear piece for my iPhone:

They also gave me this wonderfully famous Enid Collins owl box purse…

…and this fantastic 50’s fold up wallet with plastic coin holder inside like the Good Humor ice cream man used to wear on his belt to give people change:

They also threw in this 1960’s Wilma Flintstone bathing cap.

Here I am with Pamela Des Barres, the world’s most famous groupie, and Diva and Gail Zappa, who came straight to my place from the airport after being honored at a Frank Zappa festival in London.

Pamela is a fabulous writer and also travels a lot for her work. Which is lucky for me and the rest of her friends as she hits thrift shops wherever she goes and picks up stuff for us all year round. She makes these finds for pennies and stacks them up so she can arrive like Santa Claus on any given occasion. These “On The Wagon’ coaster and snack trays she gave me are just about my favorite bar accessory ever!

I love when snacks are referred to as ‘Tid Bits’, especially when what is normally a single word is broken up into two separate words as stamped into the belly of the wagon.

This nightshirt could be the heaviest gift of the evening. It’s hard to see all the 1960’s pop culture graphics and slogans in this photo and I’m not sure who the characters on it are but there were more than a few vintage clotheshorses at the party, certainly including myself, and we all agree that Pamela’s $2 purchase would easily go for $500 in the right store.

Then there’s this early 60’s Make-Up Mask that you pull over your bouffant to protect the Max Factor from rubbing off your face when you pull your angora sweater over it:

Pamela graciously modeled it for us throughout the evening.

Her excellent gift giving instincts have definitely rubbed off on the other Des Barres in attendance, Michael, who reliably gives me fantastic African swag.

At one point there was a girl’s conference in the bedroom.  Here I am with (L-R) Lily Tomlin,Prudence Fenton, and Jane Wagner:

Prudence not only cooked an incredible dinner for everyone but made the excellent “Crackerature” portrait of me that’s between our heads in the photo above.

Lily and Jane gave me the most ridiculous-in-the-best-kitsch-sense-of-the-word-ridiculous gift of the night:

He’s only about 3″ high, his little arms are made out of bobby pins and his body is some kind of overcooked Sculpy or baking soda concoction. The card that accompanied him was just as kitschy.

The Diller is Phyllis Diller, which adds a few pounds on the kitsch scale for this gift. The note Jane and Lily wrote me make the cheese wheel even weightier:

Joining Lily and I here is Stan Zimmerman. We all grew up in Detroit.

Stan added a little class to my gifts with this 1950’s signed Sasha Brastoff ashtray.

Here’s Lily and I with RuPaul. Both of them have added greatly to the kitsch cache of my alter-ego, Bubbles the artist, as they are the #1 and #2 collectors of her art, each owning over 20 pieces.

Michael Patrick King, seen here with Pamela Des Barres’ lovely feet, brought me some of my most Americanized presents.

He brought my gifts back from Dubai when he was there filming Sex and the City II. First, this green shopping bag featuring a carefree Michelle Obama:

And then this brain-numbing Muslim Barbie shoulder bag:

I got one more bag, actually a Kitsch Emergency Kit, from Karen Levitas.

It’s nice when your friends give you a healthy snack of sardines to enjoy while you read cheesy poetry from the 70’s:

Here I am with Mark Blackwell, who’s also a November 10th birthday baby, and Sonny Ruscha Bjornson, Lisa Loeb and Roey Hershkovitz:

Lisa and Roey gave me some quality reading material:

Maybe I will learn to make beautiful cakes like this one on page 110:

But when it comes to baking, there’s only one Supreme Master and I’m pictured with him here:

Just a few days before my party Charles Phoenix was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal with his signature “Cherpumple” cake, one of which he baked for me.

A Cherpumple is three Sara Lee cherry, pumpkin and apple pies stuffed inside three Betty Crocker cakes and frosted as one happy stack of sugary ecstasy:

Here’s my friend, Lesley Ann Warren, indulging in some. Perennially skinny and always eating healthy, she hit the Cherpumple as an extreme gesture of kitsch on my birthday.

Lesley was my first friend when I moved to Hollywood in 1976. She was also the first person ever to sing one of my songs on TV when she did the third song I ever wrote, “Childstar”, on Johnny Carson.

Some people went back for seconds of Cherpumple. Each plate weighs 2 lbs.

Gai Gherardi and Rhonda Saboff shared their Cherpumple:

They gave me an excellent pair of glasses from LA Eyeworks, which Gai co-owns and where I’ve bought all of my eye coverings for the last three decades.

When RuPaul arrived he brought me another birthday cake.

It was delicious but everyone had already gorged on too much Cherpumple.

Which means that everyone went home in sugar shock, the condition they’ve had much practice existing in as they’ve all been over to my house a trillion times before.

I didn’t have far to go as my bed was only feet away from the remains of the Cherpumple. I went to sleep with my crown on and had sugar sweet dreams anticipating a very good year to come indeed!

More party photos can be seen here.

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I don’t usually like mugs with serious faces on them but “The Gertrude Stein” mug made by Fitz & Floyd in 1976 is a rare one featuring legendary and first-outta-the-gate lesbian life partners, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Gertrude actually looks like Gertrude while Alice looks like a mushroom person, the kind of  poisonously sweet little gnome-like being that ceramicists were somehow infatuated with in the late 1960’s and 70s.

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Stein, an American writer living in Paris in the first half of the 20th Century, was ultimately known most for her “a rose is a rose is a rose” saying and for coining the term “Lost Generation”, while Toklas is revered for a brownie recipe with a little something extra she published.  They were also known as spectacular party throwers for the salons they hosted that attracted the “mugs” of great artists and thinkers of the day, including regulars Ernest Hemingway, Thornton Wilder, Picasso and Matisse.

As gay women who are out and throwing parties go, #1 progressive morning radio show host and Larry King regular, Stephanie Miller, threw a spectacular one Saturday night.  After years of being an outspoken supporter of gay rights, especially as regards the repeal of Caifornia’s Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage, Stephanie announced her gaiety on her radio show last month and then threw this combo Birthday/Coming Out bash to celebrate.

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Stephanie’s “mug” looks an awful lot like this 1964 Republican Vice Presidential candidate’s. That would be because William E. Miller was her father.

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Stephanie being a staunch liberal Democrat, their “mugs” are as far as the resemblance goes. My “mug” doesn’t look anything like Mr. Miller’s but it would have been stupid to have been this close to his in his daughter’s house and not popped off a shot.

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There were a lot of  fantastic “mugs” at the party, the kind that sit on top of your neck and smile as opposed to ceramic ones like Gertrude that you sip something out of. Here I am with three excellent ones, Jane Wagner, Rep. Maxine Waters and Lily Tomlin.

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My compadre, Julie Brown, was also there…

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…along with Prudence Fenton

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…and this “mug” who I was very excited to meet, George Schlatter. His show, “Laugh In” changed my life, not to mention introduced the world to Lily Tomlin.

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I die for Rep. Maxine Waters. She speaks her mind and is right on target. I’ve always loved her for her mojo and spirit. She has an amazing personality for a politician.

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I only saw the “mug” of attorney Gloria Allred from afar.

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Although Stpehanie’s “mug” appears out her cake, it’s her starts-with-j-and-rhymes-with-mugs that are used to best advantage on it.

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A big blow-out Happy Birthday & Coming Out to Stephanie Miller!!

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