Friday, February 18, 2011

Nancy Wilson - Tree Of Life (1976)

Today I've been reflecting on the passage of time, life's ups and downs, and how some things always seem to cycle back around. Part of it is that last night I watched a documentary on Hugh Hefner that David Lynch co-produced back in the early 90s titled Hugh Hefner: Once Upon A Time (not be be confused with the recent doc Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, directed by Brigette Berman). And I was struck by a dark episode involving the suicide of Hefner's executive secretary in early 1975, a woman named Bobbie Arnstein, who was also one of his closest friends. She was targeted by the feds in a vicious attempt by Republican prosecutors (including future Illinois governor "Big" Jim Thompson) to nail Hefner by entangling him in a drug investigation, in the hopes of destroying his publishing empire.

A grieving Hefner reacts to the suicide of Bobbie Arnstein.


Hefner was an early financial supporter of NORML, and funded a bevy of other very liberal causes through the Playboy Foundation. Between his progressive, pro-legalization political agenda and very public role as pied piper of the sexual revolution (no less a cultural authority than Roger Ebert called Playboy "the most influential magazine of its time"), he made a lot of enemies in the conservative, puritan, law-and-order establishment of the 1960s and early 70s, and they seized their chance to try to bring him down.

But the tragedy was that Arnstein, a fragile, gentle, brilliant soul, got caught in the crossfire, sentenced to an excessive fifteen-year jail term on trumped-up charges, all in the hopes that she would implicate her boss for something he didn't do. Even right-wing columnist William Safire denounced the prosecutors' tactics in the New York Times, editorializing "It is one thing to give a cooperative witness a break, entirely another to threaten to let a defendant rot in the slammer until he or she tells the story the prosecution wants." Well, she killed herself instead. What a shame.

Bobbie's story struck me, and I kept thinking about her today, so it's fitting that I would discover this track, which is a fairly unknown Nancy Wilson gem. From her 1976 Capitol LP This Mother's Daughter, it was written by Eugene McDaniels, who also penned the album's title track. McDaniels is a soul genius singer and songwriter currently living as a self-described "hermit" in Maine and an artist who, like Nancy Wilson, I also had never heard of before today. But his Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse LP from '71 apparently provided samples for classic tracks from hip hop outifts like Tribe, the Beatnuts, and the Beastie Boys.

(Note from 2018 - apparently, less than six months after this post was originally written, Gene McDaniels died peacefully at his home in Kittery, Maine on July 29, 2011. Love, peace, and mad props to an amazing musician and songwriter.)



This was an Elliott Road thrift store find. By the time it dropped in '76, "Sweet Nancy" had already released an amazing 40 other albums in her career as a jazz vocalist stretching back to 1959.

- Dyn-O-Mite

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