I would consider running away from home for Tony Bennett.
I know, he’s in his 80s, but I don’t care. I would happily change his Depends if he would just sing to me at least once a day and say things like, “Hit it!” in that Tony Bennett voice of his.
I have had a love affair with Tony Bennett’s voice since I was about 8-years old. I was the baby of my family, so I was still pretty young when my oldest sister Kathy had a job and money to buy albums. She bought us our first stereo, a big silver and black meshy thing on a chrome cart with wheels. She bought Petula Clark’s album Downtown when she brought home the stereo and we listened to it in stereo from Dec. 25 until about Jan. 10, pretty much constantly, with the arm up and out, until she broke down and bought another album, which I think was Glenn Yarbrough.
That was followed up by Peter Paul and Mary, The Lettermen, The Dave Clark Five, a bunch of Beatles, and then a string of Frank Sinatra albums. And that’s when I fell in love with The Crooners. Not as much Frank, although I might have done adult-diaper duty for him, too, if given the chance. But he was more a gateway drug to Tony Bennett, who I was crazy about.
When I was a little kid and families still went to weddings almost every weekend (Remember that? You would get invitations to weddings of the grandchildren of people you barely knew, and the whole family would traipse to the wedding and the reception) I would always walk up to the band and request “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
I loved Tony Bennett when his albums were in the dollar bin at Hill’s, when he went all hipster and had psychedelic album covers, when he was singing "Eleanor Rigby" and "Little Green Apples."
And then he made the comeback of comebacks that was groundbreaking. I don’t know how he did it. Even the Mafia isn’t that powerful - this isn’t The Godfather, this is real life - yet suddenly Tony Bennett was the cool jazz cat that everyone claimed to love. But not like I loved him.
My husband was in a meeting at work once and said, “I have to leave a little early. I’m taking my wife to see Tony Bennett tonight.” And someone said, “Oh, Tony Bennett, he’s really hip right now.”
“Yeah,” my husband said, “But my wife liked him before it was cool to like him.”
That concert, at the Roosevelt Theater in downtown Chicago, was when I almost turned liquid and spilled off the balcony. Tony set the microphone down on Ralph Sharon’s piano and walked to the edge of the stage and sang "Fly Me to the Moon" with no accompaniment and no microphone. Just belted it out. I had to be poured into a travel mug to be taken home.
There’s a lot you probably don’t know about Tony Bennett. He met his first wife in Cleveland. He was demoted in the Army for dining with a black soldier when our Armed Forces were segregated. He was a serious drug addict for some time. He was discovered by Pearl Bailey. He paints.
We went to a gallery showing of his paintings in Washington D.C. in the early ‘90s. The paintings were beautiful. I wanted one, a New York City night scene with a bright yellow taxi in the corner, but it was outrageously expensive and we could barely afford the Home Interiors daisies-and-barn print I got as a hostess deal. I wasn’t wearing a fur, so I didn’t even get a second glass of champagne offered to me.
But when I gave him an album to sign, his face lit up. It was The Tony Bennett Bill Evans album. He turned to his assistant and started reminiscing about Bill Evans, who had died about 10 years earlier.
I had a friend in New Jersey who was just a mom like me, except that in her spare time she was CFO for a big fashion apparel company. She was always going to things that made the New York society pages, in dresses that she had made for her, arriving in limos that were arranged for her. She told me once she went to a private party in her boss’s Manhattan apartment and Tony Bennett was one of the guests. At one point in the party, he walked over to the fireplace and sang three songs.
“And you stayed a solid?” I asked her.
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Labels: Bill Evans, Crooners, Frank Sinatra, our first stereo, Petula Clark, Tony Bennett