a couple of blogs ago there was a picture of me with a brown fedora and a buckskin jacket. i have a story about that fedora and peggy lee.
oh yeah, i’m in the story, too, but before i go on, i need to say something. i always have to say something. it’s what i do. i-i-i-i-i….i’ve been fortunate to have met extraordinary people in my life. most of the time it was pure chance. like ginger rogers at a subway exit and johnny cash in the basement of the Ritz some years ago. i had taken my parents to see him perform for their thirtieth anniversary and while i was downstairs introducing my folks to my friend Mike (who managed the place), Mr.Cash came in and he remembered me from a year earlier when i gave him a Scrap Bar business card, ( just days before he collapsed in albany and had to have emergency heart surgery). let me tell you, my folks sure were impressed. i said things like,”wow, you look great…and we were all nervous when you played last year,” and such. i met kurt vonnegut a couple of times and was able to engage in small-talk with him. when i owned scrap bar, every musician, movie star, sport personality was there. Even “The Donald”. i’m not one to ask for people to pose for pictures with me and i don’t have a roster of autographs anywhere, so for the most part you could say “prove it” and i’d say “sorry, i can’t,” and that would be that. the last time i waited for someone to sign a piece of paper for me i was ten years old. it was on a saturday. it was a fighter by the name of Sonny Liston in 1963 in Las Vegas Nevada. he was going to fight a guy named Floyd Patterson who he had knocked out some months earlier for the heavyweight championship of the world. this was the rematch. the reason i remember it was saturday was because on the next day, sunday, Floyd Patterson was at the same church as us. he needed prayers because Sonny Liston was gonna kick his ass later that night.
the third autograph is “The Brown Bomber,”Joe Louis, the greatest fighter ever. some time later, Muhummad Ali – Cassius Clay at the time – would beat Liston for the championship. i think, even now, that Sonny took a dive. Ali could beat any man alive, but not Liston. not yet. but i might be straying from the point. This is about peggy lee and my hat (and me). the video above is the song that started her career with Benny Goodman when she was something like 17. she was cool as ice and had a voice smooth as glass. in 1984, a short time after my return from LA with my rubber Tor Johnson mask after failing to get the funding for the Ed Wood Retrospective (the thing that i will ceaselessly refer to as the genesis of Tim Burton’s film and Martin Landau’s oscar), there was talk about the Fiftieth Anniversary of WNEW-AM and a scheduled gala event to take place at the Felt Forum. The felt forum was/is part of the Madison Square Garden complex located in NYC. It was in April, i think. it was raining. i had to do something that day and all-at-once i turned to my friend and said – “let’s go into NYC and crash that party.” we arrived at the back of the Garden seeing a small gathering heading in through the press entrance. there were some police-ish looking guys and some burly union types gathered in the hall. there was no other way to get in short of purchasing a ticket. they ranged from 175 to 500 dollars. i was broke and unemployed but was picking up occasional sunday afternoon shifts in a neighborhood bar. i had no money for rent but i had money for beer. a taxicab pulled up. a man in a tan raincoat got out of the front passenger seat of the car and opened the rear door and began fumbling with an upright bass. “hi!” i said, “we’re gonna help youwith that. i’m steve and this is my friend. he’s steve too. we’re both named steve,” i went on(you have to “go on”) …. “it’s…, i’m alright…..” he began to weakly protest, but i just kept talking and helping and before we knew it, we were walking in through the press gate with the musician leading the way and us and the bass in tow. “that traffic crosstown was a bitch..” i blabbed on…”oh, we’re with him” i said to the rent-a-cop who was at the desk, but i could see that he wasn’t buying it. “Hey…” said the security guy, with the union guys closing in. I could feel a hand touching my shoulder when i heard a voice calling “steve – hey steve…” - it was one of Smash’s gallery customers who was a stylist at this show. He corralled us down the hall, waving off the guards. “They’re fine..” he said and we were IN. He gave us a quick tour and hooked us up with something like 12th-row-left-center seats. We were gonna be sitting with the rich old geezers. We were children compared to the rest of the crowd. We stood out like Ziggy Stardust at an Elk’s club meeting. He then brought us backstage and there they were – Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone and Nancy Wilson and some others who slip my mind, all gussied up, shmoozing with the riff-raff. Maybe i said “ain’t this some shit!?” when i felt a hand on my arm. I thought the game was up. I slowly turned to see it was a woman’s hand reaching out from a doorway and before i knew it i was in a cinderblock-walled, dimly-lit dressing room. “And who might you be?” said Miss Peggy Lee. “I’m Steve,” i said,”and this is amazing! Peggy Lee! WOW,” and i really meant it. I sat down next to her at her make-up table. She reached over and took my fedora from my head and ran one hand through my hair, definitely playing the “Vamp”. “What are you doing here?” she asked, aware that i didn’t exactly fit the surroundings. I told her about how we snuck into this soiree’ and now, sitting here with her, made it more than worth it. She carefully took my hat in both hands and pressed the band that runs around it firmly to her red-lipsticked lips, embossing it with her print. She then reached for a pen and signed her name next to it. Handing it back she said,”So there.” “You’re the best there is, Miss Peggy Lee,” i said. She tossed me out as quickly as she pulled me in, but i didn’t even feel cheap. I was back in the hallway and saw Smash up ahead. “Smash,” i started, You’re not gonna believe what just happened….