I Left My Heart In 20-Something

Tony Bennett passed away yesterday, a true legend that is justifiably being mourned by countless millions worldwide, an iconic talent whose prowess spanned eight decades of productive and inspiring performing.  Some of those people are more prominent than others, as the numerous obituaries that have popped uo since the news broke yesterday morning have attested,  Many are legends in their own right, some decades younger than the man they shared the honor of recording duets wth in recent years.  Hence, the man who was born Anthony Benedetto in Astoria, Queens three years before the Great Depression is someone whose appeal and allure was as broad as the shoulders of the city that he hailed from and as diverse as the lifestyles of the city that claimed him as his own when he crooned a soliloquy to it more than 60 years ago that is its de facto anthem.

I never saw Sinatra perform live, nor did I see Caruso.  I’ll likely never see Streisand, and I had to settle for Beverly Sills within the constraints of a memorable but hardly exemplary performance on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House teamed up with her comedy inspiration Carol Burnett.  But I did get to experience Tony Bennett live, through the eyes of someone who cared far more about him that they ever did for me, and I’m actually offering unqualified gratitude to that person for it.

Bennett’s later life was turned around by the efforts of his son Danny, who brought him back from the twin challenges of divorce and drug abuse in the 80s and 90s when he was embraced by the MTV generation and began to make appearances on that network’s awards shows and live concerts.  The generation that grew up with that saw him as the coolest grandpa they had ever seen, and wound up learning an awful lot about the Great American Soundbook that Bennett evangealized was music they needed to know.  Through his performances, especially those duets, he educated people who otherwise loved goth, rap and more modern genres with an appreciation for the music that their grandparents and even great-grandparents embraced at their age.

And one of those fans and partners was and is one fellow New York Italian born Stefani Germanotta.  You know her.   And I once knew someone who is as devoted to her as anyone on this planet, and far more devoted to her than they ever were or could be to me.

So it was serendipitous that a post-Grammy Awards special performance they gave at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles where the unlikely pairing of Benedetto and Germanotta graced the stage was one that I was encouraged (well, actually STRONGLY encouraged) to spring for tickets for, and, as usual, I gave in.  But on this occasion, it was more than worth it.

It’s one thing to hear and see someone on television, which we know can edit and manipulate performances optimally.  It’s another thing to see someone live and unfiltered.  And in a smaller venue like the Wiltern, one of the few such older and restored stages in LA, those differences are enhanced.  The Gaga fan was agog with happiness seeing her live, and I also certainly appreciate her talents, perhaps not quite as much as they do.  But, for me, it was seeing and hearing a man nearing age 90 hit notes with the perfection and nuance of a truly gifted  artist keeping pace and range with someone far younger and ostensibly more energetic.  that gave me chills.  It was a master class of both proficiency and durability.  And one of the few actually enjoyable nights I got to share with the person I went with.

I willingly joined the line of well-wishers and admirers who stayed after the show in the hopes of catching a glimpse of them.  The Little Monsters who made up the majority of those uberfans were far more vociferous about seeing Gaga than they were about seeing Bennett.  But to their credit they got the significance and magnitude of the older legend , and took their lead from the degree of reverence and dedication that their idol  showed to Bennett.  A friendship and partnership that endured right up until what turned out to be his final live performance, shortly before his 95rd birthday two years ago at Radio City Music Hall.  Even as Alzheimer’s disease was advancing and his once-ubiquitous smile and swagger was dimming, Gaga was able to channel and focus his talents on what he was born to do and continued, per reports, to do until just a few days ago.

The social media post that announced Tony’s passing yesterday made reference to his singing one of his first hits, BECAUSE OF YOU, in that last private performance.  Anyone who has suffered through seeing a loved one struggle with Alzheimer’s or similar decline knows how special the rare flickers of clarity and normalcy are.  Ever the trooper, Bennett provided that even at the end.

And I know he brought it home when I had the chance to see him.  And I know even more that he made someone who I never could seem to make happy happy enough for at least a minute not to take out their persistent displeasure with me in ways that robbed me of many of my best years, pretty much my life savings, and certainly my dignity.

But those are feelings best reserved for another day.  Or perhaps, G-d willing, ones that should forever be banished from my mind and any others who might know what I’m referencing.

The only feelings I have today are gratitude for the chance to see at least one legend live.  And, you may be surprised to learn, sincere condolences for anyone who may really be feeling sadness at his loss.  Yes, even anyone who may have cost me much of my ability to love and be loved.

Arriverderci y grazie, Anthony Benedetto.

Until next time…

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