Laurie Anderson, David Johansen Give Hal Willner a Suitably Eclectic Tribute

Although Hal Willner has been one of the most respected producers in the music business since the 1980s, he hasn’t exactly spent those decades chasing the brass ring. So, at a charitable gala paying tribute to Willner in Brooklyn Thursday night, the reluctant honoree got a knowing laugh from the supportive crowd when he referenced the self-effacing comedian Jack Benny and confessed, “I’ve spent the last 40 years as a producer creating things that would make sure this didn’t happen.”

In truth, he’s spent those decades generating the good will that made a night like this inevitable. Laurie Anderson and David Johansen were among the NYC legends paying tribute to their old pal. Actress Chloe Webb was among the emcees, and support also came in the form of taped video performances and messages from the likes of Nick Cave, guitarist Bill Frisell and singer Diamanda Galas. The show at the boundary-breaking artists’ space Roulette was a chance for to New York to do what it does best: celebrate one of its own.

The evening, which showcased many of Willner’s offbeat musical interests as well as his deep friendships, offered a case of an homage payer being paid some homage back. Besides being a mostly behind-the-scenes musical fixture of “Saturday Night Live” over a period of decades, Willner is best known for his eclectic series of tribute albums, with cult-all-star albums dedicated to the work of everyone from Kurt Weill to Disney. (Willner continues making tribute records all these years later, with a T. Rex tribute album coming out on BMG early next year.)

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