Tony Bennett, Part Four

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In this essay (part 4 of 4), Jonathan Schwartz recalls the desert, the late-1970's and his close friends Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. 


In the morning at nine or so, I began wandering around the Penthouse of the Sahara. I heard Tony Bennett on the phone in his bedroom. He spoke exactly these words: "Well, you know, I sold out two shows, and this guy who's here loved the show! So, what do you mean...."

I slipped away. I took a look at Sally Keeble, who was still sleeping. I found a closet, empty but for 4 guitars. The kitchen was pristine. The floor of square black and white tiles looked as if it had never been approached. At least thirty crystal glasses were arranged in the round on a wide wooden table that boasted the same black and white tiles as the floor. There were no utensils that I could find, but in the refrigerator, a surprise: Sixteen bottles of Dom Perignon champagne. I remember thinking of Mickey Rudin, a blobby terror who served, and I mean served, as Sinatra's lawyer in chief. He once told me that he charged the current price of a bottle of Dom Perignon for a Sinatra concert.

"What if the price rises to a hundred and fifty dollars?" I asked him, on the phone. “Then you pay a hundred and fifty bucks for 'My Way'."
"How much for, say, 'The Lady Is a Tramp'"?

Mickey Rudin, unamused, relieved both of us from the edgy exchange by removing himself from the phone. Hearing this, knowing it, I still
forged forward.

“How much for, say, 'Right As The Rain'"? Had old Milton Rudin stayed on the line and offered a price, I would have been ready for him. "He's never sung 'Right As The Rain' in his life." I'd like to point out that, as I write, the price of Dom Perignon is $195.00. On the button.

I opened a bottle and took it out onto the roof, as the rain had stopped. At the railing, I looked down on Las Vegas, Nevada at nine in the morning. It struck me as a grim overstatement, a signal that The United States of America had lost a taco or two, or a marble, as Sally Keeble had said about me, a few hours earlier.

At the very moment I thought to go inside,” The man who closely resembles the singer Tony Bennett," as Sally had pointed out, joined me on the roof. He wore slacks, a light green shirt, sneakers with no socks, and a white terry cloth robe. He joined me at the railing, without saying a word, although if that spectacular, internationally known smile counts as a word, or more, he was, at very least, talkative.

And, at the moment he rested his elbows on the railing, the sun came out. A week had passed in rain, but, likely, the internationally known smile brought the sun to where it belonged.

"Look at that," I said, and put my arm around his shoulder.
“Gosh," he said. Gosh is a Tony Bennett word, I'd like you to know. I offered my bottle of Dom Perignon. "You want a sip?"
"No thank you," he said. “I can order another bottle?" 
"There are like eighty of them in the refrigerator."
"Have you ever looked in there?"
"I haven't had time."
"I see." We both took in the Vegas below, the sun suggesting that it might be a warm day.

In a while, Tony asked me this:  "Why do you think Bing Crosby has never played here?"
"I didn't know that he hadn't," I said. “Religion?  Divorce, deviation?"
Tony didn't reply. He thought about it.
"Tell me something," I said, both of us still looking down at the hotel's entrance. "What's the most important word to you when you're singing?"
"Love. It's what it's all about. I always try to emphasize love."
"And what about singing something over and over again, all over the planet. Like, for example, "San Francisco."
 "You see," he said, turning to face me, "that's what it's all about. That song. It gives me a ticket to everywhere in the world. I love singing it over and over again. People want to hear it right in front of them. It's a gift to me. I can't wait to sing it, you know?"

And for the first time, I knew. The Kremlin, the White House, the Vatican, the ballpark, the nightclub, the hospital room, the prison, a happy gathering at three in the morning: the pianist plays for Tony Bennett, he stands, and sings "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," and the room silences. A holy moment. I've seen it, heard it, and thought: this is a holy moment.

On the car radio, or alone at home, or from someone's record player next door: a holy moment. Sally Keeble was up and alert. "Tell me everything," she said, recovered.
“First of all, the sun's out."
"I saw."
"And you haven't really had a chance to talk with Tony Bennett."
"Well, how about now?"
When Sally Keeble was showered and dressed, we went to greet Tony Bennett. I was prepared to tell him how Sally would often characterize him. He would laugh, and give us an internationally known smile. He might even say gosh.

Tony was gone.

"You'll get to talk with him someday. He's a good guy," I told her.

Sally Keeble never got the chance. No private "San Francisco." No holy moment. I have always been sorry about that. It was a missed opportunity for a richly deserving woman. And holy moments these days are terribly hard to come upon.

Yes deserving, and Sally Keeble will come around on these pages, as time goes by.

-Jonathan Schwartz