INTERVIEW: The One and Only Dr. Ruth

dr-ruth-philadelphia-interviewTiny German dynamo Dr. Ruth Westheimer is as busy as ever in her 87th year. She comes to town next week to speak at the National Museum of American Jewish Heritage for its annual Dreamers and Doers series. The therapist who made her reputation with frank talk about sex, still has plenty to say.

On Monday, Westheimer speaks about her two most recent books (she’s penned 37!): Her memoir, The Doctor is In: Dr. Ruth on Love, Life and Joie de Vivre, and her children’s picture book about courage, Leopold.

On Tuesday, Westheimer attends the preview of the play about her life, Becoming Dr. Ruth at Walnut Street Theatre. It follows her life beginning when she fled the Nazis and Frankfurt at age 10. Taking part in Kindertransport, the evacuation of Jewish children to Switzerland, she never saw her family again. The play follows her as she gets older and joins the Haganah (Israel’s freedom fighters), through her years in Paris, marriages, children, single-motherhood and life in New York City. Westheimer will participate in a talk-back live session that follows the show. Get your sex questions ready!

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INTERVIEW: Our Chat With Storm Large

Photo by Laura Domela

Photo by Laura Domela

After I posted a list of the “must-see” fall concerts, a friend of mine in San Francisco let me know about a big one I had missed: Singer Storm Large and her band Le Bonheur perform this Thursday to the Prince Theater’s Rrazz Room. My friend also sent a link to a video of her meltingly beautiful rendition of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Who was this 46-year-old, six-foot blonde, this crazy cocktail of open-heart, punk rage and mischievous stage banter? He also sent me a picture of the massive tattoo arcing across her back in big, gang-style letters saying, “Lover.” More on that later.

Portland-based Storm Large must have heard the phrase “Living Large” more times than she can stand, but her gypsy life has indeed been lived in capital letters. In her memoir, Crazy Enough (2012) — based on her one-woman show of the same title — she chronicles her early years in a family at the mercy of a mother suffering acute mental health problems. Large wondered if she, too, would become afflicted — one of her mother’s doctors told her it was inevitable (It wasn’t). After high school, she moved to New York and struggled her way through the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Later Large journeyed through hyper-sexuality and heroin addiction, all the while hanging on to her music like a lifeline. After Large ended up in Portland, where she and her rock band, The Balls, gained a significant following, she took a gamble with her credibility and became a contestant in 2006 on the reality CBS TV show Rock Star: Supernova. She didn’t win, but attracted a lot of enthusiastic attention. In 2010, Large began touring with Portland’s elegant, glamour lounge band, Pink Martini, while continuing with her solo career.

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Johnny Rotten: “Thank God I’ll Be in Philadelphia”

Image by Paul Heartfield

Image by Paul Heartfield

John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, the king of the punks, lit the match for cultural revolution at age 20 when he penned the lyrics to the Sex Pistols iconic 1976 single, “Anarchy in the U.K.” and howled: “I am an antiChrist. I am an anarchist. Don’t know what I want. But I know how to get it.”

The Sex Pistols took on England’s Houses of Parliament, its monarchy and the establishment by speaking for the less fortunate who were stagnating in a quagmire of economic hopelessness and poverty. Johnny Rotten was hailed by young Brits as a cultural revolutionary. He was happy to provoke, make scenes, throw some punches and thumb his nose at the rules of convention. The MI5 declared the Pistols “subversive,” and they were banned from performing live anywhere in the U.K. But after only 26 months together, this seminal band was over. (Julien Temple’s documentary, The Filth and the Fury, chronicles the band’s chaos-filled rise and fall, including the fatal overdose by Sid Vicious.)

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Hunter S. Thompson’s Former Assistant Tells Wild Stories in New Book

Photo of Hunter S. Thompson from Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Hunter S. Thompson from Wikimedia Commons

The contrast is difficult to get my brain around. I’m talking with the well-mannered and apparently highly responsible Cheryl Della Pietra, who at 46, is a mom, wife, writer, copy editor at Us Weekly, Penn grad, and (full disclosure) former Philadelphia magazine intern. She’s so nice. But the stories she’s telling me are so naughty. It’s hard to believe that this novelist is the same woman who made a drug buy for cultural icon and creator of “gonzo” immersive journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, her boss for five months back in 1992. Della Pietra also romanced a Hollywood A-list actor, shot pistols with Thompson while high, consumed staggering amounts of cocaine, shrooms, and other illicit drugs, not to mention drinking enough alcohol to drown a sailor.

Gonzo Girl (Simon and Schuster/Touchstone) opens with a tense scene during her actual weekend “try-out” when she visited Thompson at his ranch outside Aspen, Colorado. You know you’re in for a delectably bad-behaviored tale with phrases such as: “The tray of coke never really settles on the table. It just keeps getting passed around like it’s crowdsurfing at a Hole concert,” and “Despite the substances and the guns, I’ve never felt unsafe. Until this moment.”

But yes, it’s all there in the Connecticut-based author’s first novel, which chronicles the adventures of her first literary job out of college. She’ll be reading from it at St. Joseph’s University on October 27th at 6:30 pm, and Barnes & Noble, Rittenhouse Square on October 29th at 7 pm.

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The First Family of Reggae Returns to Philly this Saturday

Stephen Marley

Stephen Marley

The good news for all you reggae fans is that Philly welcomes Stephen “Ragga” Marley, Bob Marley’s second son, Damian “Jr. Gong,” Bob’s youngest son, and Jo Mersa, his grandson, this Saturday as they kick off their Catch a Fire tour at the Mann Center’s Reggae Fest. The bummer is we don’t get even more of the Marleys: No Ziggy, Julian, Ky-mani.

It’s notable that those Marley men are now all older than their father was when he died in 1981 at age 36. Stephen is 43 and Damian is 37. Yet, Bob Marley’s musical presence and message of love and tolerance in the world seem as in demand as ever. (Forbes magazine’s 2014 ranking puts Bob Marley behind only Michael Jackson and Elvis in postmortem earning power. And only the Marley estate’s income is on the rise.). I spoke with Stephen, an eight-time Grammy winner, over the phone to talk about Saturday’s upcoming show and his impressions of Philadelphia.

And yes, it did sound like I was talking to Bob himself. Their voices are eerily similar. And yes, he did address me as “mon” a few times.

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Rebecca Ferguson on That Time She Leapt From a 120-Foot Building With Tom Cruise

Rebecca Ferguson and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation.

Rebecca Ferguson and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation.

Rebecca Ferguson, the lovely 31-year-old Swiss ingénue who stars alongside Tom Cruise in the latest Mission: Impossible film, Rogue Nation, doesn’t scare easily. On her first full day on set, in location in Vienna, she had to jump off a large building while being wrapped around Mr. Cruise, facing her fear of heights, and her fear of accidentally crushing the ribcage of the most famous movie star in the world. The espionage thriller finds her jetting around on a high-octane motorcycle in Morocco, holding her breath underwater for minutes at a time in order to save Cruise’s character from an underwater centrifugal chamber, and beating the living hell out of a bunch of turned-agent thugs all over the world. In Philly to promote the film, she happily plopped down on a couch in a posh suite at the Ritz Carlton, and held forth on the responsibility she felt toward the franchise, doing her own stunt work while suffering from vertigo, and what it was like to work with the aforementioned Mr. Cruise.

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7 Questions With Singer-Songwriter Jesse Lafser

cabin hat

Photo by Weston Heflin


Country singer Jesse Lafser will visit Philadelphia for the first time to perform songs from her latest record, Raised On the Plains, at World Café Live on July 15th. Lafser uses a blend of folk and blues to take listeners on a self-reflective journey through the American Southwest. Here’s what the Nashvilian had to say about the inspiration behind Raised on the Plains and her current tour, which began with a contemplative solo road trip through the desert.

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6 Questions With Summer Fiction’s Bill Ricchini

Photo by Niels Alpert

Photo by Niels Alpert

Archbishop Ryan and LaSalle alum Bill Ricchini has earned praise from Rolling Stone to NPR’s World Café to Vogue for his brand of wistful, thoughtful pop. With this week’s release of Himalayahis second record under the moniker Summer Fiction, Ricchini says his material is “more fully realized and ballsier, not afraid to be eccentric.” We caught up in advance of his record-release show this Saturday at Boot & Saddle to discuss the new tracks, recording in England and stalking Morrissey.

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Kate Gosselin Talks Summer Plans, Eating at Talula’s Garden and She Clears Up a Rumor About Being From Philly

Kate Gosselin takes a break to pose for a photo at Penn's Landing. | Photo by Alyssa Mutryn

Kate Gosselin takes a break to pose for a photo at Penn’s Landing. | Photo by Alyssa Mutryn

Over the weekend, dozens of TLC stars were in town for TLC’s first summer block party event at Penn’s Landing. Among those who showed up was Kate Gosselin and her 14-year-old twin daughters Mady and Cara. We got a chance to sit down for a chat with Gosselin. She shared anecdotes about raising eight kids in the public eye, how she spends most of her days at Target, and how she wishes she could visit Philly more often.

You live in Pennsylvania. Do you come to Philadelphia often?
Every once in a while, I’m not here often. I usually stay within a 5-mile radius of my house, but occasionally I do different things down here. Just to clear up the rumor: Everyone says I am from Philadelphia, but I’m not. I live in Hershey, PA. Philly is the next big city, so everyone just says that.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in Philly? A favorite store?
I don’t know all that is available in Philly. There is nothing in my area, so I don’t get out enough to have a favorite restaurant. I am usually at Target or the grocery store. That’s the truth. But, when I do get to Philly, it is very beautiful, and I should come more, because it is right in my backyard.

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Next month, Ocean Galleries in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, will debut an exhibit of artworks by John Lennon. Curated by his wife Yoko Ono, “The Art of John Lennon” comprises limited edition prints adapted from the “Imagine” singer’s original drawings—from his iconic pencil-scribbled self portraits, to whimsical, comic book-like illustrations with sayings like, “He tried to consult the stars, but no one returned his calls.”

“The Art of John Lennon” is a traveling exhibit created by Ono around 15 years ago with the intent of not only sharing her husband’s work with the masses, but to support local nonprofits. In this case, Ocean Galleries requests that guests donate $5 to see the exhibit, which will be given to Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

I chatted with Ono this week in anticipation of the exhibit. She shared anecdotes behind some of the works in the exhibit, told me a funny story about Philly, and opened up about falling in love with Lennon’s music again after all these years.

Let’s talk about this exhibit coming to Ocean Galleries. Why is it important for you to exhibit John’s work in small galleries like this across the country? 

I really think that it’s very important—even if it’s in a very small space … because it has a power and that power you’re going to get anywhere.

How did you go about selecting the pieces that would appear in the exhibit? 
In the beginning—15 years ago when it was starting—I [chose based on] what hit me the most. And then, gradually, I realized that each one was hitting me very strongly. I started to get into his work more. Now, I really feel that each one is so special. So I rotate them: This time I show some things, next year I’ll show something different.

Photo courtesy of Yoko Ono

John Lennon’s Let’s Have a Dream. | Courtesy of Yoko Ono

One of my favorite pieces is Let’s Have a Dream (right). What’s the story behind that sketch?
John was really getting into the family scene. He was really getting into [his son] Sean, actually. I was surprised at how he felt so strongly connected with Sean. Maybe in some ways, subconsciously, he knew he wasn’t going to have much time with us. I don”t know. But there was that feeling.

I also like On Cloud Nine (below, right), which pictures the two of you naked sitting on a cloud. Nudity was a recurring theme in your works and activism. Why? 
It has to do with softness and the fragility of human beings.

How did John’s work influence the art you were making? 
I was doing my artwork for about 30 years before I met him. I was eight years older than him … I was very much deep into my own artwork, and I think that there were a lot of technical things I knew … So there was more giving than taking.

So he was more influenced by you?
I don’t think so. That’s another thing that was very interesting: He was an artist before I met him—he started when he was 9. He was very good, and extremely different from my kind of work. In a way, we didn’t really influence each other, but we loved each other, which helped in a way. … You know what I think: We were in Japan together, and I think he was influenced more by classic Japanese paintings.

John Lennon's On Cloud Nine. | Courtesy of Yoko Ono

John Lennon’s On Cloud Nine. | Courtesy of Yoko Ono

You guys met in an art gallery, right? Can you take me back to that moment?
[Singing] We met in an art gallery … When he came in, he was looking around, but not expressing his emotions so much. When he went up to see a [canvas on the ceiling], he went all the way up the ladder and saw it and came down. He said, “Hmm,” and sort of gave a little smile and left—never explaining how he thought about it. Later, on a TV show, he said, [imitating Lennon’s voice] “Well, you know, I saw this thing and I didn’t like it.” So  he felt something, but he was too shy to tell me about it at the time.

There are a lot of themes of peace and love in John’s art. How do you think his images speak to what’s happening now in the world, especially in places like Ferguson and Baltimore? 
He was so upset about people killing each other and hurting each other. … He would have hated what’s going on now in the world.

What are your thoughts?
Ditto. I’m with him, okay? … We tried hard to bring peace and a better world. And we still do. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.

Do you have any memories of Philadelphia?
Yes. It’s so funny: John was in L.A. and I was in New York, and they wanted me to come to Philadelphia to do a show or something. I went with a very attractive, tall girl, who was my assistant at the time. And she had glasses on. Everybody went up to her thinking it was John. She said, “I don’t look like a guy, do I?” She was a little bit offended. [Laughs]

Do you have a favorite John and Yoko song? 
Any song that John wrote—especially when it was about us—I love very much. I used to have favorites, but now I’m starting to listen to his songs more … and I’m starting to like all of them, really. … I didn’t usually like to listen to John’s songs. It reminded me of John not being here, but I started to listen to them because I had to, because of business. Then I started to really like them.

Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
Ten years is a very long time these days. … In 10 years, maybe we’ll all be moths, or something. [Laughs]

It seems like you work really hard to preserve John’s legacy. How do you want to be remembered?
I don’t know. … I don’t know how people see me. I have no idea. I’m more concerned about John’s legacy, because he’s not here. I’m the only one who can work on it.

“The Art of John Lennon” will be on display at Ocean Galleries for a limited time only, from June 18th to 22nd. For more information on that and special events around the exhibit, go here. Check out more works from the exhibit below. 

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