Saturday, October 25, 2014

Close Mayoral Encounters (plus: Jessie Helms Goes Hassidic)

Musicians spend lots of time near politicians. It's one of the weird things about the music business. You're playing for crowds, and nobody loves crowds more than a politician. So it's a natural collision.

This is how I managed to view extraordinary sights like shit-kicking arch conservative North Carolina senator Jesse Helms wearing a yarmulka at a Hassidic fund-raiser for Israel (this was when evangelicals were just beginning to realize that, by golly, they have common interest with those Jewy folks after all, 'cuz they all need to return to Israel before the Messiah - who, by the way, totally won't be, like, pissed off in the least about what's transpired in His name - will come back). This was, alas, in the era before camera phones.

Also, I've spent time standing poker-faced behind three NYC mayors. If you're someone with street smarts, you can get some mileage out of the close-vicinity behind-scenes view.

Ed Koch, for example, was an egotistical asshole. This was clear even before his arrival. When the aides for his successor, David Dinkins, approached a bandstand to prep his entrance, they'd politely ask if the band could play "Take the A Train". Koch's brash scumbags, by contrast, imperiously informed us that we will play "New York, New York". Standing three feet behind Koch as he alternately milked and drank the applause, I knew that I'd never again witness such an epic and utterly shameless display of vampiric sucking. Being mayor wasn't sufficient; it was apparent that he required such ovations to function. Without them, I suppose he'd have swiftly desiccated into the petty, choleric old putz he truly was. At the time, I was also performing with Lionel Hampton's band, led by the music business' most notorious applause whore, but Hamp was a Benedictine monk compared to Koch.

Even worse, in his own way: Giuliani. My god, Giuliani. The atmosphere around him scintillated with edgy paranoid malevolence. My colleagues and I snuck off stage in mid-speech, and I noticed, to my horror, that wherever I stood in the very large crowd, he seemed to be staring right at me. With hatred. The other musicians, scattered around the area, all reported the same. I still shudder.

Any suspicion that my impressions were exaggerated due to the heightened nature of celebrity encounters was dashed by David Dinkins. The man was, as far as I could tell, walking dead. Dead eyes, dead vibe, Absolutely nada. No idea how he got that job, or who was pulling the strings.

These memories flood back because a few minutes ago I turned on my TV, which was playing a public television documentary about Ed Koch, and the show opened with the following remarkable statement:
"Whenever I would fly home - especially if it was at night - there was the city of New York laid out below me. And I thought to myself, 'This belongs to me!'"
This guy is remembered with great warmth and affection. While Michael Bloomberg, who really didn't need the aggravation, and who reigned selflessly and with great passion and competence, motivated entirely by civic-mindedness, is mostly remembered as that super-rich dude who outlawed soda.

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