1962/63 #USACUBA “SANTA” SET THE STAGE FOR USA CUBA THEN….AND NOW
When “Santa” is Revealed in the Form of Pope Francis,
Even Dauntless Diplomat Jim Donovan would be Speechless!
By Beth Amorosi, Founder, Donovan Institute
Granddaughter, James (Jim) Britt Donovan
James (Jim) Britt Donovan and his Cold War negotiation style is the subject of an upcoming Steven Spielberg film featuring Tom Hanks, dramatizing the exchange of Russian spy Rudolf Abel with American U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers in February, 1962. The film has already been named the must-see Oscar film of 2015, and is set for release next October.
President Obama, his administration, and its many allies and supporters on both sides of the political aisle, Raul Castro, the Cuban regime, and Fidel himself, as well as the scores of appeals and initiatives taken by the media, people in the private and public sectors, organizations, and other constituents, extending to the Canadian Government, and even the Vatican and Pope Francis are all to be commended for a truly courageous step toward this seismic shift in history restoring relations between the United States and Cuba.
Let’s recall and examine how and when this shift started with a pretty big quake on the diplomatic Richter scale: In the late fall of 1962 and into 1963, attorney and negotiator Jim Donovan began negotiations with Fidel Castro on behalf of President Kennedy and his administration, and the Cuban Families Committee, and was the ONLY direct link to the President. Obama’s communication with Castro is the first direct Presidential communication since Eisenhower. 52 years ago on December 22, Jim returned home to the U.S. on December 22, 1962, having successfully negotiated for the release of 23 prisoners. His trips to Cuba continued well into the spring of 1963, ultimately resulting in the release of 1100+ prisoners in exchange for humanitarian aid provided by the Red Cross and a major pharmaceutical company, all coordinated by Donovan: a diplomatic coup striking a balance of the private and public sectors and establishing the groundwork that continued with diplomatic discussions and plans happening. Unbeknownst to the public, this coup would have happened then, but on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was killed and a new Administration and era ushered in, politics entered the fray, and history stood still….until today.
Donovan’s son John Donovan traveled to Cuba as a teenager, accompanying his father on one of his 15+ trips there to negotiate with Castro. After the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs, Donovan was a strategic move in the Cold War chess game. Donovan bringing his teenage son on a visit was also a strategic move toward winning that chess game, salvaging relations after the failed invasion, and moving toward restored diplomatic relations. Also on this trip, the CIA actually attempted to assassinate Castro through a gift of a wetsuit that Castro was to wear with Jim on a fishing trip. At the last minute, Jim gave him another wetsuit, preventing the attack.
Jim Donovan’s dauntless diplomacy as it relates to #USACUBA, to #USARussia, and yes, even to the terrorist threat and the war on terror, offers a glimpse into the history of what happened on the world stage as it happened publicly AND behind-the-scenes a long time ago. These events have largely been eclipsed by so many years gone by and because the people who were there, are no longer here. Time and distance have a way of giving events a new perspective and the best recognition of all: success!!! Finally, success! Jim Donovan’s legacy in no way eclipses the significant accomplishments and efforts of those administrations and diplomats who have tried and contributed since that time, and most of all those on today’s world stage whose efforts directly impacted this dramatic shift. If anything, Jim Donovan’s legacy and those legacies of President Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy, now have the best gifts ever with today’s success and the opening of a new world for Cuba, and a new channel between Cuba and the United States.
All politics aside, let’s be proud of this change in the course of history. Time has a funny way of paying off. It may take a lot more time for many to adjust to this news, particularly those in the Cuban-American community in Miami who still struggle with how they left Cuba so many years ago and what/who they left behind. Respectfully to them and to the Cuban people who have suffered unimaginable loss, their feelings and opinions are all deserving. Ultimately, time will help to heal and reveal itself with the intangible gifts of freedom, change, hope, and progress. While history will always matter and never be forgotten, this is a truly momentous shift toward abundance, and the only way to look back is to move forward.
As the headline from @LakePlacidNews said in 1962: “Santa Came Home (to Lake Placid) from Cuba for Christmas”. Since Lake Placid is the town where miracles happen, because it’s Christmas. and because I believe in God, heaven, and in miracles, I will speculate on a miracle of my own: it seems that maybe Jim Donovan is still talking with Fidel Castro, having had something to do with helping to set this stage today…even from up above. Now that is truly something to consider, especially as we approach the 52nd anniversary on December 22 and of course as we approach Christmas on December 25. This year, “Santa” is not only President Obama, but also Pope Francis? Wow! There are just no words that give enough deference to how this was done to bring these prisoners home for the holidays beginning on Hannukah. As a Catholic, Jim Donovan and I am sure – President Kennedy and his brother Bobby – would not only approve, but very happily step aside in history for a Pope who is not only changing the Catholic Church, but changing the world. Given Jim’s wife and my grandmother’s personality, her influence with my grandfather, and her staunch Catholicism, this is something that seems to have her written all over it. Only at Christmas is it possible to speculate on such thoughts, but boy do I wish she and Jim were here to enjoy all of these wonderful pieces of news this year with us. Until we meet again, this event is the best Christmas/holiday gift ever for the released prisoners and their families, for Cuba and the United States, and for diplomacy. The events/news of 2014 is most certainly the best Christmas gift ever for the legacy of Jim Donovan, for my grandparents, for me, for my family, and for the next generation who hopefully looks to this day and this history to inspire their future ambitions.
JOHN DONOVAN SPEAKS ABOUT HIS DAD AND TRIP TO CUBA
The legacy of Jim Donovan is dedicated to a commitment to education, the law and the defense of the unpopular cause, diplomacy and the art of negotiation, the preservation of history, public service, the arts and the humanities, and to empowering and inspiring others to commitment to a life enriched by any/all of the above. His legacy serves as a role model for those of all ages, and especially to those parts of society and the world with limited opportunity and to the next generation. For additional information and continued updates on news in 2015, please visit http://www.jamesbrittdonovan.com/.org or http://www.jamesbdonovan.com/.org and/or contact firstname.lastname@example.org/.org.
I am so excited about Wills & Kate being in New York for so many reasons, including one very personal one, and another: that I am now involved with a conservation initiative supported by the royal patronage of Prince William called Tusk Trust. Most of all, I am excited by one reason that no one in the media seems to be highlighting/emphasizing as much as they did on the first #RoyalVisitUSA: it’s only Kate’s second time here, and her first time ever to New York City – and at Christmas!!! This trip is so exciting for us, but if we take the spotlight off of that for a second, can’t you imagine how exciting it is for her and them, not just as the #RoyalFamily, but as human beings just like the rest of us? As a lifelong New Yorker, I have always wanted to experience New York City through those innocent-wide-eyes of someone experiencing this city for the first time. As a lifelong New Yorker, I have those moments myself on a daily basis because of how proud I am of #NYC & #NewYorkState, and because of how extraordinary, dynamic, and mesmerizing this city truly is, especially at #Christmas. That said, to have those moments that I have myself through the eyes of a first-time-ever-visitor is something I have always wondered about and wished I could experience myself. While obviously that will never happen, I still get goosebumps for that person, seeing their eyes and faces light up like it never has before.This time, that person is a beautiful, charming, elegant, graceful, and approachable young woman who is very simply something we just don’t see as often as we should: a true lady – just like her mother-in-law @PrincessDiana. Just like she was, Kate is a fantastic role model for women everywhere. She married a young man who may have been born-to-be-prince-and-king of #England, but he has truly become a real prince and king of a man and changed the monarchy for the better forever. Really, it is something we get to witness for the first time in history, and to see a beautiful young couple at the beginning of their lives together taking #NYC and the world, by storm. British Consulate-General – New York #RoyalVisitUSA #christmasinNewyork
Since I have recently posted informal mini-reviews/round-ups of the Video Music Awards, the Country Music Awards and the American Music Awards, I seem to now feel obliged (compelled?) to do the same with the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, making this round-up thing a new tradition of my own.
So the tree lighting ceremony production was a little bit loose-r than years past, including Mariah’s décolletage! Whew! That Xmas song of hers is the best, but it may be time to change the dress color, bring up the neckline and just generally tighten things up a bit, don’t you think? Or maybe just get a stylist like everyone-else-and-their-mother-who-is-supposedly- somebody? Her talent is too great to be distracted by the other parts of the package hanging ten!
Though I loved seeing my fellow Sacred Heartie Stephanie Germanotta (aka Lady Gaga) up there alongside Mr. Tony Bennett (and she looked and sounded smashing), I thought Music City’s Jason Rucker was among the best, if not the best, of the singing bunch (the country music crowd always delivers the best musical talent). Sara Bareilles and Seth McFarlane also really delivered a fantastic rendition of Baby it’s Cold Outside. Ingrid Michaelson was really out-there, seemed like she might have even been on something other than the high from her off-key notes, and that outfit was the evening version of a hybrid of all the private girls’ school (Sacred Heart/Spence/Chapin/Nightengale/Spence/Hewitt) uniforms blended into one bad evening gown at the Gold and Silver Ball (only New York City kids will know what that is). A bit more dancing could also be thrown in to the production, but at least the Rockettes – a tradition unto themselves – showed up. They never disappoint, though it would have been nice to see a change in outfit for the 2nd kicking!
Idina Menzel is an incredible singer and performer, though that song from Frozen should be saved for the 1,000th DVD viewing at home by kids only. Maybe the tree lighting should be held on Monday night when Broadway is dark or at least try to get more song and dance routines from the Great White Way and Lincoln Center? If the A-list like Timberlake or even our own new Welcome to New York ambassador Taylor Swift can’t make it, then tapping the Great White Way, Lincoln Center, and more from Music City would make this the A-list show it is at heart, but just wasn’t there entirely last night, though always an A for effort with the peacock network NBC. The feathers just need to be fluffed a little more for next year.
Though I love all of the music, it feels different and somewhat wrong without the ice skaters. As a figure skater myself, it’s not my favorite ice rink (as it’s small), but Rockefeller Center during the winter, and especially at Christmas, has always been all about the ice. When trend takes over tradition, sometimes it veers too far and tonight it went a bit too far, especially when Nick Lachey is the best announcer of the whole Today Show crew (love that guy!!!), and when the talent is yearning for a true emcee (Ryan Seacrest, anyone????), and the newest New Yorker…..Taylor Swift. As a new New York ambassador of sorts, as the biggest star in the industry with the hottest album release out there, wouldn’t you think she would have been in New York to light up the tree instead of strutting the runway at Victoria’s Secret in…… London? Hey, wasn’t that show always in New York??? What happened to that??? Don’t those models all live here??? I know they do! I just saw Karlie Kloss at the Knicks game last week with her BFF (best friends forever who don’t know) Taylor Swift. have gone to it many times over the years….until this year??? Hmmm…..let’s get that back here. “Victoria” might exude British, but isn’t that an American brand?? Let’s get that Victoria back stateside. Hey speaking of lingerie and pajama-wear….
Leann Rimes looked like she was wearing her husband’s bathrobe. Though she showed a bit of a garter and black dress underneath, she never shed it completely and the outfit didn’t even look too exciting for it to be shed. It really wasn’t any better than the first outfit where she was wearing her husband’s lumberjack shirt from LL Bean. At least make the outfits Christmas-y when the Christmas song she chooses to sing is about…….hippos???
And what happened to our new Mayor flicking the switch? I always saw my favorite Mayor (other than Mr. Guiliani), Michael Bloomberg next to the Speyer family (uh, owners of Rock Center?) right next to Matt and the Today Show crew. Even seeing the Speyers would have made it all come together a bit more at the end. Who was that crowd next to Savannah and Matt? With the new Mayor nowhere in sight (I realize the job called tonight with protests looming, and gratefully, none happened at Rock Center), you would think that even a stalwart NYer like Trump or even Kathie Lee and Hoda could have been brought in to liven things up a bit and make it all seem like New York?! Who was that crowd? Couldn’t they come up with at least one boldfaced name instead of the group Today Show hug with Cyndi Lauper and a bunch of other New Yorkers we don’t know? At least then let’s get some children there to enjoy the thrill of lighting up the biggest tree from Pennsylvania that Al Roker brought in on the top of his station wagon!
It just wasn’t up to the level of years past, but on the bright side, there were no disruptions, everyone was happy, the songs/carols were all classics, and sometimes casual and not-so-pulled-together, feels like home too. As much as I love Taylor Swift, she is still growing on everyone as an authentic New Yorker (like the tree, she is originally from Pennsylvania) and there is something much more New York about Ole Blue Eyes and the New York, New York anthem we all know and love. In between Swifty and Frank are also Jay-Z and Billy Joel whose New York anthems New York State of Mind and Empire State of Mind would seem likely candidates to perform – even at Christmas. As resident performer at Madison Square Garden, let’s shoot for him next year? And Jay-Z can bring Beyonce and Baby Blue too, and wow – wouldn’t that be something!
The most logical choices also seemed to be missing: SNL cast? Brian Williams for his 10th Anniversary to flick the switch??? Maybe with his daughter Peter Pan? Seth Myers? Jimmy Fallon to slow-jam-the-Christmas-tree-lighting-news? We know now that Jimmy had more important new daddy duties to welcome his new daughter to the world, but next year we better see the new dad and host of the new Tonight Show in New York City? Maybe even host that night’s show outside! Now that is the perfect ensemble and none of them has to walk very far at all. We all love the Today Show crew but they are tired from the Thanksgiving Day parade and it was a long day for them. Give them a break and hand over the reins to the king and prince of nighttime!
On the brightest side of all: we are emboldened by the evening’s events aways, regardless of the show. The tree lighting is one of the grandest traditions in New York that is appreciated and enjoyed worldwide. IT always puts us in that Welcome to New York, New York/New York, Empire State of Mind because after all, the tree was greener and brighter than ever, baby it’s really not so cold outside, New York is the greatest city in the world and one helluva town- always, and there is absolutely nothing like New York City at Christmas.
LIKE U2, TRUE HEROES ARE NEVER “MINUS ONE”
One Life: What One Person can do to Change the Course of History
Over the course of my father’s career as a hematologic oncologist at @NYULangoneMedicalCenter, he has always shared highlights about his wide-ranging experiences in medicine: from news about the most interesting discovery, insights about the latest innovation, and interesting facts about the diseases he was treating, to his own interpretations of medical stories in the news, and most of all, to his professional and personal interactions with patients, students, and colleagues-doctors, nurses, lab workers, fundraisers, office administrators, and more. Many of those patients and colleagues – and their families – also became part of our extended family and a very familiar part of daily life whether it was on the phone taking messages on his behalf or seeing them at office/medical center visits and social functions, and even on special occasion dinners, performances, sporting events, and vacations to the Cape, the Jersey Shore, and the Adirondacks.
When I was in my early teens, my dad would share a little bit about interactions with one colleague in particular who also happened to be his long-time office-mate. I remember him talking about a new disease that was appearing in patients of theirs (though mostly hers, as this was her specialty) everywhere, in exponentially escalating numbers, which were also very quickly becoming beyond control. That colleague of his was also a pioneering researcher, who co-authored/co-published the first paper, identifying that disease. Thanks to this colleague of my dad’s, and the diligent research and innovation of medical professionals like her, along with leadership and support from Presidents Clinton and Bush 43, tireless advocates like Bono and his organization @RED, and other leading organizations such as @amfAR The Foundation for AIDS Research, the world has changed, and made so many incredible strides in the treatment of that disease. It is amazing to see what just one person did that began to manifest itself while she was alive, and how that work has manifested exponentially since she left this world at the way-too-young age of 45.
I am grateful to have known her at all, honored to say I did, and blessed to live in a world where her legacy continues this tireless fight. My dad’s colleague lived with a lifelong stigma of her own, and worked on behalf of others with a different type of stigma. But stigma is the same regardless of the source, and her stigma was something she was able to parlay quite easily into her work with these early patients who were very unfairly stigmatized, not as much because of the disease itself, but for their supposed choice of lifestyle. No one should ever live with stigma of any kind, and this doctor set the tone for treatment – medically and personally – at the outset. On #WorldAIDSDay and #GivingTuesday, this woman’s legacy is very worth sharing, not only to continue to fight for those lives who continue to suffer and/or face suffering, but also for those facing any stigma at all –whether it’s physical or mental illness, a physical or mental disability, man or woman, race or color, religion or atheist, single/divorced/married, adult or child, parent or aspiring parent or someone who chooses to not have any children at all, political affiliation, personal tastes in music, clothes, art, food, home, and yes – lifestyle. Stigma is a disease unto itself, and is something that not only pervades society and perpetuates our social ills, but alienates people from the human race. When disease becomes stigma, it alienates those people further from people when they need them the most. Celebration of our differences and what each person in this world has to offer is what makes this world and life so interesting and dynamic. Every individual on this planet has the right to life and to humane treatment – regardless of differences and any disease – and should be treated with compassion and dignity, most of all when they are in pain and in need. This is the time when “brothers and sisters” are called upon to carry each other through some of that pain rather than turn a blind eye or worse, rub salt in the wound.
That colleague of my father’s lived her life in a wheelchair because of polio. Despite this tremendous disability, she became a very successful doctor, who left a legacy that will endure not only well beyond her lifetime, but through the incredible strides that have been made and continue to be made in the treatment of this disease, the tireless advocacy of everyday heroes with unsung names like hers, as well as those heroes like Bono. Mr. Paul Hewson – or to reference him with his world famous moniker, Bono – has done so much more than lent his name, but devoted his life’s work to and through his music which we sing and dance to every day – to this disease. I wish he could have known her, as she is one of those heroes we don’t encounter every day. The countless people affected by this disease then, now, and in the future have all been touched by her work in one way or another. #What1PersonCanDo not only saves lives, but changes the world.
In the spirit of the U2 song ONE, #What1PersonCanDo, and #U2MinusOne: @U2 could never be U2 without @Bono, and Bono could not be U2 without @theEdge, @LarryMullen, and @AdamClayton. U2 is Bono, and Bono is U2. The man is the band; the band is the man. But the band he and they have created is not only their music, but something bigger than themselves, something bigger than the entire catalogue of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musicians on one stage, even including (now, as a lifelong E Street girl, this is tough even for me to say out loud!) – yes – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band! What is extraordinary about #U2MINUSOne, is that Bono’s spirit is so larger-than-life that it could never be replaced by someone else – not even by his longtime pal and fellow @RockandRollHallofFame-r, Mr. Springsteen, his soon-to-be-fellow-Hall-of-Famer @Coldplay’s Chris Martin. They, along with @CarrieUnderwood and @KanyeWest, rose to the occasion and paid tribute to Bono and U2 by being torchbearers to the cause, using their names and talents because of something bigger than themselves. They believe in Bono and U2, they believe in their music and their message, they believe in the cause, they believe in the power of the human spirit, and yes – they believe in music to heal, to move people toward something bigger than themselves, to “move brothers and sisters to carry each other.”
Like Bono, this fight is never “minus one” because this doctor is no longer here, or because of all of the casualties this disease has left in its wake. It is a fight and a cause that has new names and faces added to it every day. It is an extraordinary band, a collective of people who have come together for a cause that has taken on a life of its own. That band has come together as Bono sings, “One. Brothers and sisters who carry each other.” That is the power of the human spirit, and the power of what one person can do to create a song, sing it, and use that song to have everyone sing the same tune, carrying each other through it, producing one resounding, glorious and triumphant symphony for lifetimes to come.
That Doctor is @Julia Roberts’ character in the HBO film, developed from the Broadway play, by
That Doctor’s name was #DrLindaLaubenstein. That disease is #AIDS.
Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same
Will it make it easier on you now
You got someone to blame
When it’s one need
In the night
We get to share it
Leaves you baby if you
Don’t care for it
Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
To drag the past out into the light
We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other.
Carry each other
Have you come here for forgiveness
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head
Did I ask too much
More than a lot
You gave me nothing
Now it’s all I got
But we’re not the same
Hurt each other
Then we do it again
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt
You got to do what you should
With each other
. One life.
But we’re not the same.
We get to
Carry each other
. Carry each other
SEPTEMBER 20 & 23, 2014
This past week, I had the privilege of hearing Thom Zimny speak about his work as filmmaker, videographer, and film archivist for #BruceSpringsteen with @Backstreets/#Backstreets Editor/Publisher Chris Philips. Organized and hosted by the #FriendsoftheBruceSpringsteenSpecialCollection @MonmouthUniversity, the evening also served as a birthday celebration for the man affectionately known as “The Boss”.
The festivities really began last Saturday with #50YearsofMakingThisGuitarTalkSymposium
showcasing @MonmouthUniversity as a premier destination for #SpringsteenScholars, while also further substantiating and cementing the historical influence of #Springsteen’s music on education, theology, politics, culture, and society. There is also a beautiful photography exhibit in the @PollakTheatreGallery on view until September 30, with one special photo of a young #Springsteen at the piano at the 1974 concert in Harvard Square up for auction. While the guitar may be synonymous with Springsteen, he also converses with a wide range of instruments including the harmonica, organ, and piano, while also conducting his entire “orchestra” as a true #RockandRollsymphony of sorts. Taken by #RockRoyalty photographer @Barry Schneier and part of a larger collection entitled “Glory Bound”, the photo captures Bruce as the serious musician that he really is, and is one of many others of him on display alongside other musical icons including Bonnie Raitt and Van Morrison. #MonmouthUniversity is somewhat of a hidden gem of higher learning, professional development, the visual and performing arts, and college campus life to those who don’t know the #JerseyShore. If you are in the area this weekend and until September 30, definitely pay a visit to the exhibit and take a tour of the bucolic campus, which is situated less than a mile from the beach.
Thom spoke about his most recent collaboration with Bruce on his first-ever short film #HunterofInvisibleGame. Hearing him walk through the film process with us and viewing it on the big screen lent it the gravitas it truly deserves, which the Internet medium just doesn’t capture. He also showed us rare footage from the vault: #NYCSerenade, #MountainofLove, #DoesthisBusStopat82ndStreet (1/2 of which Bruce wrote on a bus, the other 1/2 on the subway) from 1972, portraying a young-but-old-soul-Bruce playing to audiences of 15 people with @ViniLopez (who was in attendance) and the #BigMan #ClarenceClemons, commenting on how amazing it is to see the same expressions, gestures, and performance techniques then, as we see now. Bruce may have just turned 65, but his youthful spirit has withstood and continues to challenge the test of time.
Thom also captured the essence of the 2012 #WreckingBall tour through the lens of the debut show at the Apollo Theatre In Harlem, with Bruce and the #EStreetBand paying tribute to the legends of the Apollo. The video captured the history, beauty, and intimacy of the theatre, the camaraderie that Bruce fosters among and with the band while simultaneously conducting them as the only #rockandrollorchestra of its kind, the perfect balance that he strikes between humility and genius, and the playfulness he always has with his audience. The video’s highlight captured how Bruce surprised everyone, including the Band, when he jumped up into and among all the balconies around the small circumference of the theatre to stand and sing along with the crowd, finally figuring out the right way to land atop the center balcony just in time for the climactic verse and then jump back down to the stage for the song’s finish. Thom said he did see Bruce survey the theatre during soundcheck earlier that day, which in hindsight made sense after this extraordinary feat. The film also captured the band’s faces and reactions, showing us that their bandleader astounds them sometimes too. (A link to a video from that show is below, though it is not Thom’s version which of course captured Bruce and the bands faces and expressions up close.)
Thom and Chris closed by paying tribute to us – the devoted fans and followers who have made #EStreetNation a global #NewJersey – with the 2012 closing tour thank-you video Thom made with Bruce. The #DreamBabyDream video is an extremely poignant, moving, and inspiring piece that brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face a mile wide. It did the same thing last night, creating a bigger smile, tears of joy, and so much gratitude for someone who has changed the world and mine, by making his guitar talk. Needless to say, we were all on our feet and left only wanting more.
While we wait, we can take new delight in an ever-expanding repertoire that includes an upcoming acting debut on @StevieVanZandt’s #Lillyhammer and a picture book bringing the character #OutlawPete to life through illustrations by @FrankCaruso (who was also in attendance) accompanying his lyrics. @BruceSpringsteen.net has also just announced the release of a deluxe box set of re-mastered classics for release on November 17, just in time for Christmas. A 2015 tour is rumored to be announced soon. We could also see a new album (or two!?) in 2015. If there is any effect of aging here, it is something akin to exponential creativity and a productivity level that only seems to surge as time marches on. There is just no time for retirement when there are more stories to be told, too much music to be made, and much more life to live by doing the thing he loves the most: making that guitar talk.
I waited and stood in the rain two years ago to celebrate along with 55,000+ others who belong to this worldwide fellowship now connected way beyond the original #JerseyStateline where it all started: across oceans and continents, generations, cultures, races, religions, and yes – political leanings. I listened to that concert again on #EStreetRadio driving back along #OceanAvenue with the windows wide open, breathing in the salt air, creating a new experience and perspective on that night two years ago. Needless to say, it was a #longridehome and just like waiting and standing in the rain: I would do it again in a heartbeat. September 23, 2015?
Happy Birthday #BruceSpringsteen. Here’s to fulfilling many more #dreamsbabydreams for you….and for all of us.
A SNAPSHOT OF THE FESTIVITIES
A ROCK AND ROLL SOUL BAND: LEGENDS OF THE APOLLO
DREAM BABY DREAM
HUNTER OF INVISIBLE GAME
As many years go for all of us, this past year was one of highs and lows. For the purpose of being in sync with this year’s Myth of Red Salon theme of ILLUMINATION: 2013 consisted of lights, dimmer lights, and yes, some moments of real darkness. Lights are constant reminders to us that there is always a light shining somewhere, even when it is not immediately visible. Words also have a funny way of lending more gravitas and decoration to one very simple word. For instance, ILLUMINATION magnifies, glorifies, and decorates the word light, making light seem that much more special than it inherently is on its own, perhaps also reinforcing it as an extraordinary gift with so many meanings and purposes that it cannot ever be taken for granted. In theme with a recent event and group of dear and talented friends of which I am privileged to be a part called the Myth of Red Salon, I wrote a “poem” about illumination and expanded it to include a tribute to my favorite musician of all time, as well as some illuminating wishes for a Christmas and New Year that shines more brightly than each of us could ever imagine.
Light is a navigational beacon, a guidepost, a comforting friend in moments of darkness.
Light produces energy, warmth, and beauty, whether it is from the sun radiating its golden glory through the trees, reflecting its rays onto the water, poking its head out through the clouds, electrifying a face with a smile and a belly with laughter.
Light is a source of growth and rebirth, lending its critical power to a seed in the ground, a bulb waiting to bloom, a bare tree crying out to be green again.
Light is celestial, otherworldly, heavenly, divine, eternal; A symbol of hope, peace, freedom, communion, humanity, solidarity, passing the torch from one generation to the next, sharing a most precious natural resource in ways that celebrate being, living, life.
Light is decoration, making everything beautiful, as the holiday decorations are doing throughout the city, as the skyline always frames the New York City sky, particularly now with that extra light of the Freedom tower; on September 11, with the two light beams reminding us of what once stood and all that we lost on that terrible day and have yet to regain, the décor in this room, the gorgeous costumes on our performers and our audience dressed in their finest winter whites, the candles lit in church every day and in honor of every tragic passing, the eternal flame of John F. Kennedy.
Light is also a benchmark of time. As we approach the shortest, darkest day of the year known as the Winter Solstice, we are reminded that another year has passed, reflecting on our time, our accomplishments, our missed opportunities, our families, our relationships, our work, our values, our goals, our existence. Luckily, by December 23, the days become longer, the light we are missing returns, albeit slowly toward a season of rebirth and renewal to plan for a lighter and brighter year ahead.
Light always illuminates.
One constant of light in my life has been music, starting with the 8-track tape in one of my family’s first cars: a very generic blue Oldsmobile. I sang to that Oldsmobile tape that came with the car, to the tunes of Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and Rain Drops Falling on My Head, and Good Ole’ Leroy Brown. Shortly thereafter, the Carpenters became the 8 track of choice that I asked my dad to pop in the good’ol Olds, along with his classical favorites and Frank Sinatra. To this day, I still think Karen Carpenter has the voice of an angel, unlike any female voice I have ever heard. Shortly thereafter and simultaneously with the Carpenters, another early favorite still remains a sentimental one, albeit perhaps an embarrassing one. When I was little, I used to sit at my parent’s piano pretending I was Shirley or Laurie to Keith Partridge’s “I think I Love You” and all of their other lesser-known tunes from every one of their albums that I still own, including A Partridge Family Christmas! When my cousins’ little girls began to listen to music with us, our love affair with the Partridge Family continued into our adulthood. When they asked why I was not on the CD cover photo, we told them I was sick that day!! Now that the girls are teenage young ladies, we finally broke the news that cousin Bethie was never a member of the Partridge Family. Boy did we have a good laugh. Needless to say, I thought it was eerily coincidental that my soon-to-be-musical-hero – a then unknown Bruce Springsteen – was almost overlooked because Columbia Records was focused on…you guessed it, the Partridge Family!
Also around this time, or even earlier, I began to take piano lessons. I started playing when I was in first grade and played through high school. I am told, and I do remember, being quite good. Going to lessons was easy – right across the hall on East 82nd Street to APT 5A, an apartment filled with music and all its accouterments, bringing light if it is possible, to sound, which emanated from an apartment at all hours of the day, wafting through the walls, with famous musicians playing. Beautiful music, coupled with the glorious scents of Mrs. Lewis’ cooking, established apartment 5A as a sensory smorgasbord and a childhood constant, lasting well into my adult life.
It also isn’t every day that greatness lives next door. Little did I know or appreciate until I went to Mr. Lewis’ funeral, after almost 35 years of being our neighbor and playing piano in their musical virtuoso apartment, that he was one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Extraordinary talent, refined and soft-spoken humility is – to quote my personal hero – a “brilliant disguise” for the real thing: greatness, sheer and utter, authentic brilliance.
Of course Saturday Night Fever, Olivia Newton-John and the Grease soundtrack played big roles in my musical development, along with WABC Radio, WNEW FM, and WPLJ 95.5 where I won tickets to the Police at Shea Stadium. I remember my first stereo, playing the radio more than I played any LP, and listening to WABC (which I believe was AM radio…is that possible????) and songs like Blinded by the Light sung by Manfred Mann and Fire by the Pointer Sisters were familiar favorite tunes. Little did I know at the time that these pop 40 hits were literally “Brilliance in Disguise”, as GUESS WHO wrote them both!??? I did not discover until I was less naïve and a bit more astute in my knowledge of music history, that yet again, it was/is Mr. Bruce Springsteen.
Also along the way, there was another musical constant and omnipresence, one that was also greatness and brilliance right next door and underneath my nose, just like Mr. & Mrs. Lewis, just like my father who is a dedicated and renowned physician, just like my maternal grandfather who was a prominent lawyer and political negotiator, just like my paternal grandfather who was also a dedicated physician and the first Italian-American to graduate from the University of Colorado Medical School, just like Scott Hamilton and Dorothy Hamill who are the accomplished figure skaters and wonderful people who I still admire and emulate. These people were the role models I wrote about for the college application that gained me entry into my beloved Georgetown University. The other role model was still playing a very subtle role, only to really unfold when I needed it to the most.
I had this “omnipresent constant’s” early albums, along with the Who, the Stones, the Kinks, the Police, Billy Joel, David Bowie, Steve Winwood, Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and other 80’s favorites like Roxy Music, and yes – Madonna. As a teenager from the 80’s, MTV was my musical “beacon”. I LOVED MTV and I think I really did watch it 24 hours a day. When Born in the USA was released, I was a very serious figure skater, pursuing my dream in my favorite place on earth where my family has a home and a long personal history, where the Winter Olympics have been held twice, and where the world watched the greatest moment in sports history: Lake Placid, NY. My mode of transportation that summer was my bicycle and my favorite accessory was my Sony Walkman. Honestly, I think I would be perfectly happy now, with my iPod and adding a paddleboard (and my dad’s Mustang with E Street Radio). I think the only music I listened to the summer of 1984 (and maybe even 1985 before I went to college) was the Born in the USA album. Not only was it my favorite because I loved the music, the lyrics and their meaning, and because it resonated with me at the right age, but also because it connected my brother and I with our dad, who finally found some common musical ground with a contemporary artist that my brother and I both loved. Through songs like Glory Days, Bobby Jean, My Hometown, Dancing in the Dark, and Born in the USA, my brother and I rocked out with our dad, which is a feat unto itself! As my dad had done with the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey game (and because he is the most generous and least extravagant person I know), he bought one ticket for my brother at Giants Stadium and listened to the whole concert outside in the parking lot by himself. Fortunately in February, 1980, he did decide to get one more ticket for himself. Though he sat separately from my 10 year old brother, he witnessed the US team beat the Russians and history, while my Mom & I watched Eric Heiden receive one of his 5 Gold Medals on Mirror Lake as the crowd slowly erupted into a firestorm of chants of USA USA USA. Fortunately almost 35 years later, the Boss is still touring and my father still has a chance to get that front-row seat to a(nother) concert, to another moment in history.
The ever-present Springsteen soundtrack has persisted, just as it has for so many others throughout the world. While my appreciation and love for his music has only increased with time and attendance at many concerts, it has been the last two years when he has been the best friend (and I know he doesn’t know) I have had. I remember saying at a concert years ago, sitting high up in the rafters at Giants Stadium, “I have never seen someone who loves life and his job as much as he does.” In 2009, I went to see U2 at Giants Stadium, a close second in my book behind Mr. Springsteen. The concert was fantastic; Bono and U2’s unique sound and the show was memorable. Only a few weeks later, I saw the last few concerts before the Stadium was torn down. Who else would be the Mariano Rivera (AKA the #CLOSER) to tear that baby down but the Jersey Boy himself. It was the first time I heard Wrecking Ball and over the last few years, it has assumed various other interpretations, including what is either a mockery or the best compliment ever to Bruce from Miley Cyrus.
The U2 show had colorful, psychedelic lights and an elaborate 360-degree stage, apropos for the 360-degree tour. While U2’s music is amazing, and the overall show was an exciting sensory feast, I felt differently several weeks later in hindsight. In October, 2009, I saw Bruce and the #EStreetBand light up the arena with zero of that fanfare and the most magnetic, energetic, passionate, lit-from-within live performer of our time at the former Giants Stadium. That show (like all of his shows) energized and emitted light throughout the crowd in a way that no one else is capable of doing to a crowd of 60,000+ people, or even a crowd of 100 people. Whether you are sitting up in the rafters or behind the stage (and I have done both) or standing in the pit in front of the stage (which I have also done several times now and will never go back to a seat if I don’t have to!), Mr. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band exceeds expectations every single time and leaves the crowd LIT FROM WITHIN.
In 2012, the light that shined the brightest for me was the opportunity to experience one of the great lights of this world – #music #live music – from my very favorite musician. This musician not only happens to be one of the greatest musicians today and ever, but he also happens to be my personal hero for many reasons beyond his music. September 22, 2012 at MetLife Stadium was a rain-delayed concert that had everyone inside waiting for a sunny “night”. It also happened to be the Boss’s 63rd birthday. I held a sign asking for a miracle (which I still hope might happen because yes, I do believe in miracles). I even showed him that sign on the beach a few weeks later on an Indian summer day with a mutual friend. On that epic concert night, he jokingly asked for 60,000 candles to light his birthday cake. While that wasn’t possible in reality, it was possible and indeed happened in spirit. For me, with the exception of moments in my own figure skating career and watching my figure skating heroes – especially Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton – I have never ever experienced the feeling of being one with that many people and with someone lit from within with so much brilliance and talent, including a solo Japanese man who spoke no English. I felt lit from within and in communion with every single person in that stadium, including the #EStreetBand, the #Springsteen and #Scialfia families, the Boss of the Boss Adele Springsteen, and the Boss himself. In 2013, because the #WreckingBall tour was overseas,#EStreetRadio in my dad’s Mustang, became my favored companion during a year that was not so great. Whether it’s a YouTube video, a live stream concert from #RockinRio, or a live concert, my spirit awakens and lights up to the sounds of #Springsteen.
Last year, I wrote a long letter to the well-known film producer #RidleyScott who was making a documentary called Springsteen and I, a movie about #Springsteen by the fans about what he means to them in three words. I grew up vacationing on the #JerseyShore and hadn’t been back to #SpringLake since my grandmother died five years ago. In fact, even though my aunt still lives there, I vowed never to go on Monroe Avenue again because the owners tore my grandmother’s picture-perfect home overlooking the Atlantic down. Upon receiving my letter, Ridley Scott’s team asked for me to give them footage for the documentary. On a whim early last December, I drove down the #NJTurnpike and the Garden State Parkway to Exit 98 (of course listening to #EStreetRadio) filming and photographing all the way down. Driving the highway, particularly down to the #JerseyShore, is not only home to me, but also hallmark #Springsteen.
I visited all of my favorite childhood haunts and filmed in town, from the South End, past the old Monmouth Hotel (a real relic which no longer stands, but is firmly etched in my memory), and the #Essex&SussexHotel. I took this route purposely, because my grandmother’s house was on the North End, pretty close to the gates of the neighboring town of #Belmar. As I approached her street, the police barricades were up and Hurricane Sandy’s devastation was visible. I decided it was time for me to take that ride to the other side around the corner. As I did, I saw the entire boardwalk on the corner of Ocean & Monroe Avenue lifted up onto Ocean Avenue itself. And so, I broke the promise I made to myself, drove right by 9 Monroe Avenue, looking at a new house in place of what I had known my entire life, and then drove right up to the barricade, where the pent up emotions filled my being, and cried my eyes out. I am happy to say that my grandmother’s house and my childhood and adult emotional attachment to 9 Monroe Avenue is still firmly intact and nothing will ever change that, not even the new structure in its place. I also experienced the real emotion of letting go and moving on, empathizing for the real losses from this devastating storm, appreciating how lucky I am to have had a gift of so many wonderful memories, of looking out from my grandmother’s screened-in porch onto a shimmering Atlantic, when others have lost their homes, their belongings, their loved ones. On that day, I gained perspective of how much I have been given and how grateful I am for a roof over my head, my friends and family, my health, and my life.
What I also realized on that trip was that greatness and brilliance was yet again, right next door under my nose the entire time, for my entire life! 10th Avenue and E Street in Belmar is a very short distance from my grandmother’s home. Growing up, I always knew that Bruce was from and on the Jersey Shore, but I thought it was somewhere else, much farther down the boardwalk. Even later in life when I had close friends in #Rumson and #Sea Bright, I never realized how close that brilliance was to where I spent so many summer days in my summer clothes, on the “’hood of a Dodge drinking warm beer” – well, ok, not really on the hood of a Dodge, but next to my Uncle Tom’s Dodge Dart in the driveway at 9 Monroe Avenue in #SpringLake #NewJersey. I think I even learned to drive on that car, so hopefully that counts, though the song Jungleland conjures images of something much more enticing!
2013 was not a particularly good year for me. I was not able to seize the day and synthesize my Springsteen and I footage to accompany the very personal narrative that I still have yet to share. I still have it all on my Mac, and I still will produce my little feature, even if it is just for myself and to say that I did. The producers asked the fans for three words to describe what Springsteen means to me. There are so many great words to describe him, and I really have had a hard time choosing them, though I feel pretty strongly about the words/themes I have decided to pursue. In short and to me, he is the not only the greatest musician, storyteller, and live performer ever, but also one of the greatest American exports we have, along with democracy, APPLE computer, and yes, General Motors and Ford. Now it’s time to put those themes to work, not just for my own Springsteen and I, but most importantly for me, my own life, my own narrative. For the purpose of ending the year on a high and lighter note, I have the perfect three words to describe him, the essence of what he means to me, and in theme with light and illumination:
LIT FROM WITHIN.
May your Christmas be merry & bright, and in 2014, may you be lit from within.
To my family, my friends, Daniel’s Music Foundation, to my “blood brothers”: May we all be blessed with the spirit of being lit from within this holiday season, but most importantly for 2014, to never take it for granted, and to find that light within each and every one of us, every moment we have here on this Earth. The light is always there – from the sun, the moon, the stars, the rainbow. Grab some of it, find that spark, light it, keep it lit, shine your brightest light possible. Find that external beacon that helps you to find it within you. Mr. Springsteen has certainly challenged me to rise up to the challenge, so let’s find it. Who’s in? As Bruce says, “Let me see your hands!”
If you aren’t in that festive, holiday spirit this year, then please join me at one of the shows in 2014 because the light shining from his spirit will at least light you up, if not from within, then just for one night. May you have a very Blessed Holiday, and as the Boss always says, “I’ll be seein’ ‘ya”. I might add….lit from within.
“Now we’re out here on this road
On this road tonight
Close my eyes and feel so many friends around me
In the early evening light
And the miles we have come
And the battles won and lost
Are just so many roads traveled, so many rivers crossed
And I ask God for the strength, and faith in one another
‘Cause its a good night for a ride, cross’ this river to the other side
My Blood Brothers” – Bruce Springsteen
On the road again….