In defense of Scott Schechter and "the complete" Palladium Concert

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DRG Records has announced that they will be releasing, on February 9, 2010, the complete 1965 album version of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli “Live” at the London Palladium. It won’t be the “complete” 2CD set that was proposed by the late Garland historian and author and archivist Scott Schechter in 2002 and again in 2009. That release was so maligned by, well, DRAMA, that it’s doubtful it will ever see the light of day. A fantastic article about the history of the recording (up until this latest DRG announcement) has been written by author Lawrence Schulman and published in the ARCS Journal. Here is a link to download a PDF of that wonderful article:

The following is copied from my recent post on “The Judy Garland Message Board”, sans the opening paragraph that is a direct reply to someone’s question about what Liza fans think of the recording and not necessary here:

What’s disconcerting to me is the fact that certain people out there are using this latest Palladium development to declare, once again, open season on Scott Schechter. It’s hard for me to sit by and be made aware of this latest round of mud flinging without pointing out a few things. It’s no secret that Scott and I were friends. What I find very interesting is that the accusatory things being said, things like plagiarism, sloppy work, mediocre journalism, “and etc” could very easily be said about some of these accusers. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Scott wasn’t perfect, and he had his ups and downs just like anyone else. But similar accusations have been made, from a wide variety of sources (and not from Scott as some would think), about some of these same people who are currently flinging this mud. The lengths they go to behind the scenes, the backstabbing, the petty jealousies, “and etc” is, um, fascinating – among other things.

Scott’s not here anymore to defend himself, and I think these people should let him rest in peace already. He passed away tragically last May. Would it surprise anyone that when he suddenly died, he was literally on his way home from a meeting that very evening pursuing his ongoing determination and devotion in sharing unreleased Garland and Minnelli performances with the world? At least he died doing what he loved most! Funny how a few of these very vocal people (who obviously have more time to whine and complain than actually do anything), are the same people who said nothing when he died, then after a short time, started in with the mud flinging again. That says A LOT. Even those with whom he butted heads with sent condolences. It’s one thing to compete with someone, it’s quite another to jump for joy when that person dies so tragically.

Regardless of how one thought Scott went about doing what he did – which is subjective considering the like actions of others out there – without him Judy’s Capitol catalog would be grossly underrepresented on CD, as would her series on DVD (and other Garland/Minnelli DVD projects). He was the driving force behind getting so many unreleased performances out to the public, allowing the public to decide FOR THEMSELVES if they wanted to hear “The Letter”, “Garland at the Grove”, reissues on CD of most of Judy’s other Capitol albums, the first real comprehensive CD compilation of some of Judy’s finest vocals from her TV series, the first complete “Judy at Carnegie Hall”, Liza’s complete label collections for both A&M Records and Capitol Records, and so much more.

Scott was focused on getting unreleased material out there to the public. Plain and simple. He rightly felt that the public should decide what they want to buy and support, not some self-appointed two or three gatekeepers (aka hoarders) who claim to keep things buried “for the good of the public”.

Scott’s version of the complete Palladium concert wasn’t perfect. But it was a hell of a lot better than what was previously presented. And I still don’t see anyone offering any concrete alternative. What I see is whining about minutia, whining that a new re-mastering should be done, but again no concrete solution. I don’t see anyone stepping up to the plate to achieve this allusive “perfect” version. No, just whining.

This latest round of complaints now paints a picture of DRG being stymied because of Scott’s efforts. No, what they’re stymied by are the same roadblocks that were thrown in Scott’s path when he attempted to get his version out there. Of course DRG is gun shy – who wouldn’t be? But don’t blame Scott. This business about the legalities and costs of re-editing and redoing the release being financially prohibitive and requiring a knowledge of the material and a lot of time and cooperation and effort are not Scott’s fault, but the fault of those who continue to throw up these roadblocks. So if these people are upset that all DRG is willing to release – for whatever dramatic reasons – is solely 1965 album, they only have these “road blockers” to thank. Because obviously, per DRG, “The Estate” still doesn’t want to cooperate.

This tired argument about “future fans” being turned off by what they consider poor re-mastering, or Judy’s poor vocals, “and etc” doesn’t hold up at all. Many, many people out there have remarked that the 1965 release was their first Garland album – and 40+ years later they’re still here, as fans. I think it’s very condescending to the “general public” out there to assume that they would sample one CD and give up so easily. Give them some credit. And let’s not forget that there are tons of other crappy releases out there that are by far more possibly detrimental to Judy’s image.

This same argument about some unsuspecting “new” fans being turned off could also apply to the Savoy Jazz CDs, which – as wonderful as parts of them are – are just as inconsistent in sound quality and Judy’s vocal prowess as The Palladium is accused of being. Keep in mind that these TV performances were never meant to be heard as a solely audio experience. They were performed live, in front of a studio audience and TV cameras, for the public to watch on TV. I doubt Judy would have wanted many of these vocals released on their own just as much or as less as she purportedly didn’t want some of the Palladium stuff released. Any more than she probably would have wanted the “Annie Get Your Gun” outtakes released either (or the “Valley of the Dolls” costume test footage…). This isn’t meant as a slight to her series performances. Many of them are, of course, amazing. And a joy to have on CD. But let’s face it, at times she was tired and not vocally up to her usual brilliance. She was human after all. But you couple those less-than-brilliant vocals with the visual of her performing the song, and you still get an amazing experience like none other. Strip away the visual, and you get a standard (for Judy) vocal. So not all of her series stuff needs to be regurgitated again and again on CD, just because it’s there. Sounds like the same arguments about the “complete” Palladium, doesn’t it? But hardly anyone mentions these flaws because, you know, they have groovy booklets! Believe me, if Scott had been behind these releases, they would be dissected and discussed and ripped apart like a frog in a high school biology lab.

Let me stop here for a second and mention that Scott wasn’t the only person to leave some of these lists and groups in a huff, or get booted off, or even subscribe under a different alias. What he DIDN’T do on these lists and groups (for the past several years that I had been a part of them) was troll them and consistently trash any Garland related project that he wasn’t a part of – as certain people always do. He also DIDN’T troll these lists and groups on an almost hourly basis and publicly call people names. He also DIDN’T engage in whining that some project omitted salient, important facts attendant to a product – then never offer up what those omissions might be – even when challenged to! That happens all too often with these constant whiners.

What he did in private email exchanges was his business, and from what I’ve been apprised of (and been on the receiving end myself from time to time), they weren’t any more or less damaging or unprofessional or [insert adjective here] than any of his peers.

This newly approved release of the ’65 album doesn’t do any more or less justice to Judy’s “image” than the proposed complete version would have. Sinatra, Holiday, and many other top tier legendary singers have good and bad performances out there and they’re still popular icons. So is Judy! This one release will not hurt her (or Liza) to this trumped up degree that these sob sisters would lead us to believe. It’s insulting to Judy’s (and Liza’s) talents and communicative powers to think this one release would do so much earth shattering damage. I truly believe that if Scott’s name had never been attached to this release, these discussions wouldn’t be happening. Call it jealousy, competition, pettiness, ego stroking, whatever you want. But that’s how I see it.

Someone sent me the following, which I think sums things up pretty well:

Its unfortunate that DRG is taking the simplest route to producing the long-awaited set but author John Fricke has stated publicly that they’ve chosen to do so without getting into the essential legalities and the necessary costs of re-editing and redoing the release. Fricke admits that to do it correctly would be costly but more importantly requires a knowledge of the material, time, cooperation and effort that they, and by deduction, he, are not able to provide. All of these concerns were met in the past by esteemed Garland historian Scott Schechter who sadly passed away earlier this year. Its clear that without his guidance the world will again fail to truly experience the only concert that Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli performed together.

I think we should all support this DRG release. Even if it’s not perfect, supporting it would let the label know that an audience IS STILL out there for this material. And perhaps it could pave the way for a more extended version – one that’s a good compromise between this “just the ‘65 album” and Scott’s hotly maligned version. As much as these companies spend on other things (booklets, fancy packaging), it wouldn’t be as cost prohibitive as some would lead us to think. Legally it could be a nightmare, but again, that’s thanks to those people putting up those road blocks. Not Scott – he’s been gone since May, remember?

One thing I AM glad of: Scott’s name is not attached to this new release. After all of his work and tenacity in getting the complete version released, I think he would be a bit deflated by this. But you know, that doesn’t seem to matter because he’s still getting the blame for everyone’s disdain for and disappointment in this upcoming DRG release. And will probably continue to do so.

One final note: It’s very easy for anyone to get a copy of the 2002 release. Most everyone out there has one already. So why not release it legitimately and let “The Estate” or “Heirs” at least get some compensation?

“Enough said”

One comment

  1. I am SO glad to see that some people can rise above pettiness and their own egos to believe in the goodness of some people's hearts, such as that of Scott Schecter. All fns of Judy and Liza will miss the wonderful gifts he gave us. For the rest of those that enjoy speaking ill of the dead, SHAME ON YOU!

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