Simply the Tesh

The wit and wisdom of John Tesh. Seriously.

If I claimed that I would like not to bury John Tesh but to praise him, I would not be entirely truthful. But I do have to give him at least a modicum of credit for grace under fire. He knows as well as anyone that the most prominent items on his resume--his work on Entertainment Tonight, his widely disliked gymnastics analysis and his easily ridiculed music--make him an irresistible target. But rather than attacking cultural commentators such as Howard Stern and Jay Leno for having turned his name into a surefire punchline, he has guested on their programs and laughed along with their gags. It takes big balls to respond to assaults like these so well. So does being married to Connie Sellecca, whom he calls "Concetta" (shudder).

Tesh doubts that reviewers who slam his recordings actually go to the trouble of listening to them anymore; as he puts it, "They just keep hitting the track-change buttons until they get to one of the simpler romantic pieces and then they say, 'This is repetitive,' or whatever. They don't listen to the tunes that are in 12/4 or the tunes that are in 7/8." So to prove my dedication to my craft, I sat down and spun Tesh's latest disc, Avalon, from beginning to end. To save you the same trouble, you should know that the title track, "L'Aquila" and "Seven Fourty Seven" sound like theme songs to television shows you'd never consider watching; "Spanish Steps" is jaunty in a special-price-on-cat-food-in-aisle-seven kind of way; and "The Inn on Mt. Ada" and "Avalon Shores" are so mellow that they hardly exist at all. The only cut that might qualify as rousing is "Destiny," a faux-gospel showcase inspired by Tesh's religious beliefs--which are epitomized by the infomercial Tesh made with Bill McCartney intimate Gary Smalley. The first person he thanks on his liner notes is "Lord Jesus Christ," about whom he says, "I am broken and lifted up by your presence." Sounds painful.

In conversation, Tesh comes across as pleasantly thick-skinned and extremely talkative on a wide range of subjects. He also got in a few zingers of his own. At the conclusion of the interview, he said, with an unmistakable sprinkling of sarcasm, "Thanks--that was very cathartic for me."

ON THE ROCKS

JT (in reference to the risks of recording a 1995 live album and video-companion project at Red Rocks): I didn't have a commitment from anyone. It was like, "Let's just do this thing."

WW: So you did it on spec?

JT: Spec with a capital S. Which is also in the word "ass"--which is pretty much what I was going to be if it didn't work.

BABY, THE RAIN MUST FALL

JT: When we got to the business-manager stage, they had a meeting with me and said, "You can't do this. It's just absolutely impossible. The orchestra's going to be too expensive and there's a chance of rain--and you can't get rain insurance." But I had seen U2's Under a Blood Red Sky video and had visited and had totally fallen in love with the place--I was sold. Fortunately, my wife was really cool with it--it really was a family decision--so I took my TV money and borrowed money to do it. And of course, in the middle of the concert, it started pouring...Then, on the second night, the temperature dropped to, like, twenty degrees and everything went out of tune. Trying to mix that thing afterward was ridiculous. Let's put it this way: I won't be doing another TV special there anytime soon.

THE HOUSE THAT TESH BUILT

WW: You mentioned Under a Blood Red Sky. As soon as that video was made, people started associating Red Rocks with U2. But not anymore. Last year I was at a show there by the Sex Pistols, and Christopher Hall, the lead singer of Stabbing Westward, one of the opening bands, announced at one point, "I feel just like John Tesh." How does it feel to have supplanted Bono?

JT: I heard another story--that Bonnie Raitt said once, "It's nice to be in John Tesh's house"...It's really crazy, but we had almost the same thing happen with Avalon. There was a report in one of the tabloids that said, "Barbra Streisand and James Brolin reportedly got married this weekend on the island of Santa Catalina in Avalon, the city that John Tesh made famous." And I'm like, "I did not."

IF YOU'VE GOT THE MONEY, HE'S GOT THE TIME

JT (when asked about the gobs of dough raised by PBS stations nationwide via repeated airings of Live at Red Rocks): Don't you think they should give me a piece of the action?

THE JOKE'S ON HIM

WW: Is having a sense of humor important to you in dealing with some of the ribbing you've received from people like Howard Stern and Jay Leno?

JT: Well, I make fun of other people, too--I threw out some pretty sharp lines on ET, for example. So if you're going to do that, you sure as hell had better be big enough to take it. And if Howard Stern is the king of all media, then I'm the most maligned of all media. But the Leno stuff is pretty funny, because he's a very calculating guy. He will call me and say, "Hey, this stuff is getting pretty rough over here. Are you okay with it? Are you watching the show?" And I'm like, "Yeah, I'm fine." So then they orchestrated this whole thing where they came to this show in Detroit via live remote and interrupted it to give me a peace offering--which ended up being Wonder Bread. I'm not sure what that was supposed to mean. (Note: Hear Tesh's excellent Jay Leno impression online, at www.westword.com)

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