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….
FRIDAY, November 22, 1963
A Personal Tribute to JFK
By Beth Amorosi
For as long as I can remember, Friday has always been my favorite day of the week. It’s the day when a week of work, routine, and (hopefully) to-do’s are crossed off the list, and when a weekend of fun and rest with family and friends, lies ahead. Friday is the day when one is able to look back at the week and (hopefully) feel good about what was accomplished, and then still look ahead to a weekend to recharge and start over, so that perhaps next Friday will be an even better one. Friday is the day when eating pizza for lunch is a no-brainer (at least for me, anyway), and when “Beating the Clock” with $.50 pitchers of beer at the Georgetown University Pub in Healy Basement was the most popular pastime until about 1988. Now, Friday evening is ok to just stay home, watch TV or read a book, and go to bed, even when a single lady at my age should be out on the town meeting her Jack Kennedy. Apparently, many other people must feel the same way about Fridays given the popular saying “Thank God it’s Friday/TGIF”, inspiring a restaurant chain, and the 1980’s song by the band the Cure, “It’s Friday, I’m in Love.” Since I came of age in the 1980’s and my tastes in music were largely formed with the birth of MTV (I still want my MTV…back…by the way), I have always loved the band, the Cure.
Recently, the song “It’s Friday, I’m in Love” has inspired my Friday Facebook status updates to find something especially interesting, positive, and uplifting to share with my (2000+???) Facebook friends, by starting with, e.g. “It’s Friday, I’m in Love: E Street Radio, because it is 24/7 Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band & if I had been driving all week, that would be my station!”. Lately, my Friday Facebook commentary does indeed include Bruce Springsteen, aka The Boss – one of my biggest role models, figure skating and the upcoming Winter Olympics, empowering girls through education or something else philanthropic, or something adorable about my nephews and nieces. This past Friday, however, is a day when I had to really pause and pay it the respect that it truly deserves. For it is on Friday, November 22, 2013 that we are commemorating a day 50 years ago, when we lost much more than a man and a President, but so much that is irretrievable: hope, dignity, youth, vigor, beauty, grace, elegance, culture, and when making a big effort to look and act our very best, was simply a responsibility of each and every human being’s daily existence. There will never be enough time to give this story the narrative that it deserves, because it was a fairy tale, without a happy ending. So it is our job to find that happy ending, by rising up to the challenge that JFK and my parents’ generation met in order to give us the world of opportunity we have today.
As we all know, this Friday – today – marks the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. If there is an equivalent to flying a flag at half-staff on Facebook, it seems that leaving my status update blank might be one very, very ridiculously miniscule way to honor JFK, especially since my Facebook updates and commentary can sometimes be hyperactive! But I can’t let this Friday pass without paying my own personal respects to a man whose legacy has been omnipresent in my life, through a photograph in my parents’ living room. It is because of President Kennedy that I was introduced to American ideals, to a bygone era that I have been lucky enough to remember and still be wistful for and about, and to the concept of role models and real greatness. Most personally, it is because of President Kennedy and that photograph, that I was introduced to my grandfather, James Britt Donovan, who died in 1970 when I was just 3 years old, and who played an important role of his own in American history before, during, and after the Kennedy years. Im fact, JFK personally called my grandfather at home from the Honey Fitz to thank him for the securing the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners, and to run as the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in New York. Just think had he won: the Javits Center could have been the Donovan Center!!! Oh well, getting VIP treatment at a conference center isn’t exactly too compelling now is it!? I am simply much more in awe of the fact that my grandfather was a candidate for U.S. Senate, among many other awe-inspiring accomplishments.
It is also that photograph of JFK’s handsome face and perfect smile shaking the hand of my grandfather with his smiling Irish eyes and cherubic face, that inspired me to write my college application essay, gaining me entry into my beloved Georgetown University. It is that photograph which inspired me to attend Georgetown, perhaps most widely known for basketball (lately though, we Hoyas wish it was not!), but also known for its prestigious School of Foreign Service. Seeing world dignitaries on campus at Georgetown is a regular occurrence. In fact, just last week Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State/First Lady/Senator Hillary Clinton and former First Lady Laura Bush were there speaking about the future of Afghan women. A few notable Georgetown Hoyas include President William Jefferson Clinton, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, famed Hollywood director and actor Carl Reiner, and multiple Kennedy’s and Shrivers, one of whom was in school with me, and then here in NYC post-college when I would attend his small receptions to help start his Best Buddies organization, now a very well-known non-profit organization providing mentors to disadvantaged children. It is also that photograph that reminds me of the importance of role models that inspire dedication, hard work, and giving back. By the way, that list of role models does not include anyone with the name Kardashian or a Real Housewife or a Nike-endorsed golfer. No, those are not the role models I am referring to. Finally, it is because of that photograph that I have become more recently inspired to learn about my grandfather’s role in American history and to commemorate that role fifty years ago at www.jamesbdonovan.org, and to establish an Institute in his name to continue his legacy and commitment to education, to the humanities, to the law and diplomacy, and to public service. Finally, it is because of that photograph – and because of my own father’s lifelong and unwavering dedication to medicine and to his family – that challenges me to reach for the stars and to leave an important mark on this world. While that continues to be a constant challenge and I have yet to find out exactly what that mark will be, it is that photograph that continues to challenge me to find the greatness lying somewhere within me. So on this Friday, it is still Friday, and yes, I am in love: with a man whose legacy becomes only more inspiring with the passage of time and challenges me “to ask not what my country can do for me, but what I can do for my country”.
Upon returning from one of his last trips to Cuba to negotiate with Fidel Castro (accompanied by his 16 year old son, my uncle John Donovan), my grandfather met his family, including my mother, in Palm Beach, Florida for Easter weekend. My uncle tells me that it was shortly before this, that Jim gave Castro a wetsuit, which the CIA was using as an assassination plot against Castro. Obviously, the attempt was unsuccessful, and my grandfather had ultimately formed a very friendly relationship with Fidel. Had he, JFK, and Bobby Kennedy lived, I/we can only ruminate on where the United States would be in its relationship with Cuba today. I have a strong instinct though, that we would be in a very different place rather than stuck in time as we remain, just as if it were 50 years ago. Alas, that is a subject for another story, but certainly one worth examining more closely at another juncture.
My grandparents had very close friends from the Lake Placid Club in Lake Placid, NY who owned a very fine jewelry store there, and on Royal Poinciana Way in Palm Beach, Florida. The Lake Placid Club is now gone, but it was one of the very last vestiges of this bygone, old-school era, an era where graciousness, fancy dress, intellectual stimulation, and engaging in real culture was the norm. With the exception of Palm Beach, Florida and a few other lesser-known enclaves, there are no touchstones to take us right back to that era, at least to the good parts, since we all know there were some very negative aspects of this era that none of us ever wants to remember. The Club lasted through my own adolescence and faded into oblivion after the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. Darrah Cooper Jewelry is still a very sentimental reminder to me of an era gone by, since the new owner still operates it as one of the finest jewelry stores in America on Main Street in Lake Placid. Easter weekend, 1963, my mother was visiting Mr. Cooper at the store, when he told her who was shopping next door at FAO Schwartz. No one else was in the store with him as it was closed to the public during this special shopping trip. So it would just be her, the Secret Service, and President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Given Mr. Cooper’s friendship with FAO’s owner, and also given my mother’s father’s role in Cuba and relationship to/with the President, he told her that he could facilitate an introduction. One might surmise that because my mother was a very eligible and beautiful young lady, that it might have been a clandestine interlude of sorts and perhaps the President might have taken advantage of an opportunity of another kind. Rather, it was quite the opposite and to this day, an event I imagine in vivid, larger-than-life-technicolor, as if it was one of the greatest scenes ever in a classic feel-good movie like the Sound of Music or My Fair Lady, or a Walt Disney fairy tale. Jane Donovan (Amorosi) visited with the President for 45 minutes while he shopped and she helped pick out toys for John and Caroline. She still describes the meeting with the glee and excitement of a child meeting Santa Claus or a teenage girl meeting John, Paul, Ringo, and George.
Not only did JFK speak with my mother glowingly about the father whom she adored, he also spoke with her about her life, her family, her school, and her dreams. She described his appearance as otherworldly and his dress as sleek and preppy, but with the sophisticated edge of the worldly and adventurous explorer that he was: pink pants and a black Lacoste shirt. She said he was the most handsome man she had ever seen and will ever see (of course she had not met my father yet and let me tell you, Dr. Edward L. Amorosi is one handsome and stylish fella too!). Later that day, the President’s convertible and motorcade drove informally down Royal Poinciana way (parade style) greeting the large crowd who had gathered to get a glimpse of this man who actually walked among them as if he were one of them – as common as one can get in Palm Beach, FL. anyway! The President saw my mother amongst the crowd, stopped the car, got out and ran over to her to say how much he enjoyed meeting her, how much he treasured my grandfather, and gave her a big hug. Needless to say, he made my mother feel like the movie star and her friends were aghast and what they had just witnessed! It was Easter weekend, 1963 and it was that Easter Sunday when the famous photograph of the First family was captured exiting mass at St. Edward’s. Unbeknownst to everyone, it was to be his last Easter.
Growing up, my mother always shared with my siblings and I where she was on that fateful day. She was far away from home in Brooklyn, NY at school for a year in Lausanne, Switzerland. The people of Lausanne immediately recognized her as an American and complete strangers embraced her with their sympathies and their own sadness for the loss of a man whose magnetism captured the world’s attention, during a time when black & white TV, the transistor radio, the good ‘ole newspaper and Life Magazine, and the telegram were the only way the world connected and communicated. It was also a time when reverence for the office of the President and any higher office was led by example through the media and the public was exposed to only the best sides of a public man holding the highest office in the world. It was also a time when school shootings and stabbings at JFK airport, and planes flying into twin skyscrapers, were unheard of and unimaginable. It was a time when a world leader driving a convertible with his serenely beautiful wife was something that connected people to a man and his immediate and extended family in a way that has made us connected to him and to that family forever, as if no time has passed, and as if all of us was there. It was a time and specifically, a day, that my father cannot even bear to speak about, to this very day.
I was fortunate enough to meet and hear the Academy-Award winning director Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, 3 Days of the Condor, Michael Clayton among many others) speak only a few years before he died. For my generation, 9/11 is the worst day in American history that we have experienced in our lifetime. When that day comes up in conversation, the first question that is always asked is “Where were you?” When I heard Mr. Pollack speak, the movie United 93 was on the verge of release. While he was not vehemently against the movie itself (though my instincts tell me he was), he made a very astute comment that I will never forget and use as a barometer for great storytelling and great art. An event of such gravitas deserves the passage of time for raw emotions to heal and for the intellect to direct the story’s narrative and lend it the gravitas it deserves. It is only if enough time has passed, will the story be told with the proper deference and perspective, and with respect to the art of storytelling or any art – for it even to be considered a piece of art, let alone great art.
As we commemorate this 50th anniversary of the worst day in American history for my parents’ generation, there will never be enough time to pass for our country to truly heal. There will never be enough time to muse on what we truly lost on that day. There will be endless accounts, reexaminations, analyses, movies and photographs, and we will never get enough. 50 years from now, the fascination with JFK, his Presidency, and the entire Kennedy family will continue and will transcend time. As long as there remains one member of that family who wants to try to emulate the life of JFK, then we have a similar responsibility – to do what he called upon us to do and to finish the life that was taken from him and from all of us on that day. For those who question this and become frustrated or annoyed with this seemingly excessive attention on one person and one family, then perhaps he hasn’t touched you and your life in the same way he has done with mine. There is never enough to learn about who he was and what he could have been, because we will never know. It is our job though to make the most of our time here and if that doesn’t inspire you, then perhaps getting a convertible, getting dressed up for dinner tonight, putting on some Sinatra, or watching the movie Parkland or reading Profiles in Courage, might inspire you to take just one more look. If you don’t, then you just can’t be an American, and perhaps not even human! For in the end, that is what he was, taken from this world in a violent and undignified way, leaving his family and the country with an unfinished life and so many unanswered questions. There will never be enough time. 50 years is just not enough. There will never be enough time to tell this story the way his and all of our stories should be told: with a happy ending.
Beth Amorosi is the granddaughter of James Britt Donovan, resides in New York City, and is working to establish the Donovan Institute in Lake Placid, NY. For additional information, visit www.jamesbdonovan.org
Jim Donovan had successfully secured the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners after more than fifteen trips to Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro.
Tom Friedman’s Imagined in America op-ed in Wednesday’s New York Times points to a dangerous fact: Americans have lost the fire in their bellies and that competitive spirit – probably as a result of being number one for too long and getting a little too
comfortable at the top. And yes, imagination may be the primary domain of a child – but this is no child’s play. In fact, maybe it is here where the child teaches the parent.
Imagination and innovation may have lapsed in the USA and there is a reason why:
resting on our laurels of being #1 for too long has created the mindset of a loser, or someone who seems to be content with 2nd or 3rd place. What America needs a reminder of is something very simple and is at the forefront of every true competitor’s mind on sports fields, stadiums,and yes – some boardrooms and offices across the country. Even Charlie Sheen knows what that is – duh, winning.
The competitive outdoor swimmer featured on the October 22, 2011 cover of the Sports section in the New York Times in Walden Pond does not go to practice at nine, go to
lunch for an hour, and return to practice for the afternoon and leave at five. He does
not take two week vacations or go in and out of an office each day collecting benefits.
He eats, drinks, sleeps, and lives swimming. He does not get out of the water because
he is tired and cold, although his body tells him otherwise. His mental stamina,
commitment, and focus on achieving his goal will help him to become number one in his sport. If America is to remain #1, then the American people must innovate,
revolutionize, and yes – compete as if we are all going for that gold medal. That wide
world of sports is not the only playing field where we can achieve it either.
The X Prize Foundation fosters innovation in education & global development,
energy & the environment, the life sciences, and exploration through high stakes ($1,000,000 to $10,000,000+) competition. In fact, teams just competed in the
Wendy Schmidt Oil Spill Cleanup X Challenge to develop new technology for oil spill
cleanups. Guess who won? An Illinois-based team, Elastec/American Marine,
proving that “Made in America” is very much alive and well. It just needed that extra
carrot dangled in front of it. In the end and in the words of the winning team, it was not
about the money, but the sense of achievement and making the impossible, possible
that made Team Elastec go that extra mile to create the winning technology that
captures an unprecedented 4,670 gallons per minute. Duh, winning!!!!
The X Prize just announced a three year multi-million dollar partnership with
Shell to promote exploration of land, sea and space. You can see the press conference
The Archon Genomics X Prize sponsored by Medco is a $10,000,000 competition
for teams to design and build a rapid and inexpensive technology proving they can
accurately sequence the whole human genome. The X Prize is making an
announcement related to this prize this coming Wednesday in New York City. In 2004,
the Ansari $10,000,000 X Prize gave birth to an entirely new industry –
private space travel. Now, the stakes are even higher: the $30,000,000 Google
Lunar X Prize will go to the first privately funded team to send a robot to the
So whatever it is the American people prize – whether it’s clean oceans, space or
deep ocean exploration, finding a cure for cancer, eradicating poverty,
educating every child, building affordable homes for disaster and/or
impoverished areas -the X Prize is offering American individuals and corporations
a gold medal opportunity.Now let’s get to work and keep reaching for that gold.
Resting on laurels and being a spectator is not an option in the mind of a winner.
Now each one of us has the opportunity to ask what we prize and know that yes –
making the impossible, possible and winning that gold medal is still very much within
By the way, given the ratings on Two & a Half Men and Charlie Sheen’s payout, recent interviews and a big dose of reality, it seems like the tides have turned again and
Charlie Sheen might be back to winning again. Who is going to have that last laugh is
yet to be determined, but right now it seems he might have been on to something. But
life is not a dress rehearsal and The United States of America is no Two and a Half Men.
We have a great team, so let’s get to work on winning again and making Made in
America our anthem once again.
President, Ammo Communications
I Prize Made in America