My family went to NYC in 1971. It was my first real travel, and definitely the first time in a real city. I loved New York, was fascinated by all the yellow cabs, the noise, it never got dark, people spoke different languages. We stayed at the Hilton. Somewhere I have a photo looking down from the hotel window at the intersection of 6th Ave and 56th. The cabs looked like yellow dots. In the corner of the frame is ‘Black Rock,’ the old Sony Music HQ, where I was to spend a lot of time when I was on Columbia. (I once ran into Walter Yetnikoff on that same corner. He looked like he was going to shoot me. That’s another story).
These photos are from the top of what was the Pan Am Building, now MetLife, taken on my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic. As you can tell, my fashion sense was rocking even then. My brother and sister don’t seem to be as excited by the whole thing as I was, but they were teenagers and we all know what that means.
In this photo I’m 10 years old, roughly the same age my son was on 9/11. That day, he came home from school, got in bed and crawled under the covers for a couple of hours. He’d seen the towers fall on TV at school (an accident for which his teacher apologized profusely).
I’m not sure why these stories go together, but when I saw these photos this morning I remembered the innocence and promise I felt that first trip to NYC. I remembered the shock and silence walking those streets in early October of 2001. And I remember even now the searing image that my son, like so many of us, witnessed on that day.
Above all else, I think of that beautiful, crazy city and the strength of the people that make it what it is. I think about all the lives that were lost and those that were changed 20 years ago.
And, I still wonder what happened to that shirt.
I’ve been off the socials for awhile. Roughly since the death of Charlie Watts.
There was something about that event that made me go dark. I didn’t know him of course, but he meant something to me, to so many. I saw him play once and it blew my mind. For me personally, his death followed the passing of Nanci Griffith, Hal Ketchum and others like John Prine – people I did know, and had worked with over the years. Hal and I hung around a lot in the 80’s here in Texas. He was just a badass singer and had possibly the best hair this side of Robert Plant at the peak of Led Zeppelin. Nanci gave me some of my first really great opening slots on her shows. She sang on my first two records. One time we toured Northern California and LA together. I opened for her in Sebastopol the night Kate Wolf died. The next night at the Great American Music Hall in SF, I forgot to book a hotel and so she got me one. I hope I paid her back. John…well, he basically taught me (and so many others) what a song was. As a teenager I rewrote so many of his songs it’s embarrassing, replacing his nouns and verbs with my nouns and verbs. I wanted to know what it felt like to write like he did. I first saw him play at the Texas Opry House in Houston when I was 16. Later I did some shows with him. I have a picture of the two of us at the airport in St Louis a few years back. He was always a true gent. When these people died the internet was flooded with comments. I didn’t want to add mine to the wash.
And Charlie Watts. What was it that affected us all? Yes, his drumming was fantastic. Brilliant. Beyond. And the man had more style in his fingertips than I’ll ever possess. (I one time held a suit that he had owned at a vintage store in London. Didn’t fit, unfortunately.) Is that it though? Just drums and style? I don’t think so. My feeling is that beyond the personal loss, someone like Charlie Watts represents our youth and the passing of time, the certain coming end for all of us. We mourn this loss, this unveiling of not the end so much as the reality of the present moment, the mirror of where we are today, the time and experiences we’ll never regain, and what we may or may have the chance to get done on this earth before our number is up.
These people that leave us. I take them as inspiration, as a clear bell to do more, to push harder for music, for art, for taking the world in and making something from it, for just doing my best everyday.
Tony Bennet has retired. I heard an interview with him the other day. Bill Evans (another favorite of mine) told him near the end of his life that music was just truth and beauty.
Truth and beauty. That’s all there is.
So, let’s go for that.