He sounds best on vinyl, even with a scratch or two, accentuating the throb in his voice, the emotion in his heart. It’s good to accumulate a few dings over time.
I went right to the vinyl on Monday when I heard Richie Havens passed at 72. He once made an album called Mixed Bag that (with all due respect to Dylan, to Joplin, to Cash, to Motown, to The Band) says everything about America in the late ‘60’s. Or maybe now. I think young people should know his work.
Mixed Bag was the album of the age, not just because Havens became famous for holding the fort at Woodstock until reinforcements arrived. That was in August of 1969 when it was beginning to seem possible that we -- the ubiquitous we – might be making some points about the war and injustice. But in 1967, when he made Mixed Bag, things were pretty bleak.
He caught the poignancy of Dylan’s Just Like a Woman and the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby and he carried the torch big time on San Francisco Bay Blues.
But check out the song Handsome Johnny, written with Louis Gossett.
Havens mentions Handsome Johnny, marching off to one battle or another: Gettysburg, Dunkirk, Korea and Vietnam and then he adds Birmingham, which is pertinent since he came from Bed-Stuy back in the day. Then he blurts:
Hey, what's the use of singing this song
Some of you are not even listening
I say, in the spirit of Richie Havens, in homage to the ‘60’s, give a call to some of those senators who ignore the 90 per cent of this country on the gun vote, and give Handsome Johnny one more play over the phone.
Richie Havens gave the title to Pete Fornatale’s marvelously eclectic radio show on WFUV, still ongoing, but Pete left us a year ago, and now Richie Havens is gone, too. I can only imagine what Don McGee will play in his Havens tribute on Saturday.
I heard the news from Christine Lavin, that talented and caring staple of the New York folk community, who wrote:
“I played at many Canadian festivals when Richie was one of the headliners -- backstage he was always very modest and humble, always interested in meeting the other musicians and watching others' sets. He's one of those musicians (and there's not a lot of 'em) who you know exactly who he is from the first strum of the guitar or the first words out of his mouth. Very rare.
“It was always a hoot to watch him do that crazy signature 'kick' of his as he finished his sets. His taste was very broad -- I love what he did with Ervin Drake's It Was A Very Good Year, and the Beatles' In My Life, Eleanor Rigby, and With A Little Help From My Friends -- and his Dylan covers went a long way toward cementing Bob Dylan's reputation as the premiere songwriter of his generation.”
Sat next to Richie Havens in a Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks on Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street a decade or two back. He had sheet music with his name hand-written across the top. That’s how I knew who it was, since I never saw him perform. I could not bring myself to say, “Hey, man, I love your work,” because….well, he was enjoying his coffee and glancing at the music sheets, and why disturb an artist in his repose. But, hey, man….
Let me see if I have this right.
The people wearing jackets with FBI and ATF on them, the ones who supplemented the admirable Boston and Massachusetts officers, are part of top-heavy federal government?
The brainy public officials, current or retired, who went on television, glowing with expertise and assurance, are a drain on our tax dollars?
The men and women driving off into the Boston night, to the sounds of applause and cheers from the crowds lining the roads, are the ones who are going to come and take guns away from the so-called good guys?
The 50 states could all put up web sites like the FBI's, with its photos of the two suspects?
It’s everybody’s neighborhood, actually. Boston is one of the greatest iconic American cities, source of so much history and character in a growing nation.
Not being a Yankee fan, I never bought into the obscenities, the hard feelings, the rivalry. There’s no place like Fenway or the old Boston Garden, for that matter, or the Marathon. People who ran it talk with awe about striding down Boylston.
Years ago, I drove my young son up on Patriots' Day; we left at 4 AM and actually bought tickets and sat behind right field and watched Fred Lynn's game-ending home run get larger and larger as it flew into the next section. Then we walked down to Boylston and watched the early wave of finishers. That day will make a Boston fan out of anybody.
Boston is the place to send children for college; it’s the great young-person’s city in America. (Our three all got a visit to Boston to visit colleges, but somehow resisted.)
Boston sends strong people out in the world. In New York, we hear the accents of Michael Bloomberg and Suzyn Waldman. Never lose them, kids.
And Boston keeps strong people. Two people I care about could easily have been near the finish line on Monday; in past years they would have been. I needed message assurance that they were all right, and they were. Now we have so many more people to care about.
One other thing: In recent years, my wife and I have made glorious trips to Boston, usually staying a block or two from Boylston and wandering down to the T station to catch a movie in Cambridge or visit one of the art museums.
Often we stop in at the Bangkok Blue Thai restaurant at 755 Boylston, consistently good, feels like home. The last time we were in there, a couple of workers were planning to take one of those bargain buses to Manhattan for a day of sight-seeing. We gave tips on the best way to see our city.
To me, Boston and New York are linked far beyond cheapo bus lines or the shuttle or Amtrak, or some baseball rivalry. Boston is the great city where we have never quite lived.
I’ve tried calling and e-mailing Bangkok Blue in hopes that everybody is all right. No answer, so far.
Personally, I would listen to Christine Lavin sing names from the phone book, much less her own songs about supermarket checkout meltdowns and gallivanting flies on airplanes and “sensitive new-age guys.”
She’s my favorite Upstate New York-Upper West Side folksinger-drum majorette.
Now Christine is addressing the gun issue in the wake of Newtown.
Please click here:
Lavin says she’s been in touch with Esther Williams because of this video. Maybe she will elaborate.
I happen to agree with Chris. But even if you don’t agree with every point, there’s the voice and the guitar.
The Web Site:
They are a walking advertisement for that elusive blend of sports and education – starting with a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Stephen Dunn, all 12 a credit to themselves and the school.
My guys from Hofstra College, circa 1959-60, knew the academic apparatus of that modest commuter school would flunk them right off the team if their grades slipped.
The basketball team from that year, which won 23 games and lost only one, is being honored Saturday by induction into the Athletics Hall of Fame. There is a dinner at 4 P.M. followed by a lacrosse game against sixth-ranked North Carolina.
That team was coached by Butch van Breda Kolff, the former Knick, who would later coach Bill Bradley at Princeton and bench Wilt Chamberlain in a championship loss with the Lakers. They still hear Butch’s piercing whistle in their nightmares.
I was a student publicist on a workship. Saw them up close, kept track of their assists and rebounds, sometimes did the public address, called the results into the papers, and listened to Butch and his assistant Paul Lynner tell great stories at diners, very late at night. That was an education, too.
I’ve written a lot about that team over the years:
The shot by Bob Larsen of Wagner for the only loss of the season. We caught up with Larsen last year in New York:
There was a reunion in 2000, when the players and school got to thank Butch one more time:
But the main thing was, the players went to class – even after late bus rides back from Pennsylvania. They knew the team had been decimated a few years earlier because players were not getting the grades.
This was a small, serious place, where first-generation college students were getting an education. The president was John Cranford Adams, a Shakespearean scholar whose dream was not the basketball team being invited to the National Invitation Tournament but building a permanent home for the Globe Theatre – now the John Cranford Adams Playhouse, a wonderful place. Francis Ford Coppola produced original plays in that building. He was our classmate. Lainie Kazan sang in the musicals. She was also a classmate.
(Did I mention that our football team was 9-0 in 1959? Alas, our aging classmates do not feel part of that any more, since Hofstra abruptly terminated the program in 2009.)
Most of the basketball players are coming back on Saturday, some of them with rebuilt hips and knees after all the torque they put on their bodies. (One of them has a reinforced aorta from a recent operation; others are survivors of this and that; thank goodness for modern medicine.) Stevie Balber, the bow-legged point guard from Brooklyn, who gave everybody nicknames, has passed on.
In 2000, I wrote, “They took their educations and went about being responsible adults.” I mentioned Adam Gadzinski an accountant; Bob Stowers a teacher; Ted Jackson a parole hearing officer; Stan Einbender an endodontist; Curt Block for many years a vice president for media relations at NBC; Richie Swartz a furniture salesman; Bob Lauster a salesman for I.B.M.; Richard Goldstein, operating the family shoe accessory business; Stevie Balber the chairman of a direct-mail company; John McGowan an engineer; Stephen Dunn, poet and teacher; and Brant Alyea who played 361 games in the majors.
I cannot wait to stand at the fringe of these guys I admire so much, and hear the stories – often about Butch. I love Brant’s stories about being managed by Ted Williams and Dick Williams. The players recall how Stowers could do a standing leap from the floor of the gym to the stage at one end of the court; how Swartz could lull you into submission in practice and then flick the ball away with his long arms; how Einbender – the 6-4 captain and leading rebounder -- blew a dunk in the closing minute of his final game and walked straight to the bench, to save Butch the trouble of hauling him off the court for showboating.
They could also talk about the modest commuter college that was doing things right. Their lives reflect that.
* * *
In a totally different time, Hofstra appointed a new coach, Joe Mihalich, on Wednesday. Mihalich, the coach at Niagara for 15 years, replaces Mo Cassara after a turbulent season. Mo put his heart into the school. I wish both of them well.
* * *
Stephen Dunn wrote a lovely essay about his education from Butch and Hofstra, on a site called sbnation.com but the link does not seem to be working without signing up for the site.
WHAT THE CAPTAIN SAID:
(I went to school nine straight years with Stan Einbender, from JHS 157 to Jamaica to Hofstra. We are closer than ever. I enjoyed his remarks on Saturday when Hofstra honored the team, and I enjoy his second thoughts on Sunday. I saw him chatting with a member of the great 81-82 women's team that had such spirit at the dinner. That was one thing we did not enjoy in our time -- visible female athletes. How much richer sports are today with competitors like the women from 81-82. Here are Stanley's remarks GV)
AT THE DINNER:
Speech for ’59-’60 Team
First I would like to thank the committee that gave us this great honor, President Rabinowitz and Athletic director Jeff Hathaway who both seem committed to restoring Hofstra Basketball to the standard that we set. I listened to the news conference on my computer on Wednesday to introduce Coach Michalic and was encouraged that this was a good first step to reaching that standard.
I was the only senior on the team, and I assume that was the reason I was asked to say a few words. I know that some of the other players might be more articulate, such as Steve “Radar” Dunn, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, or even my longtime friend George Vessey who was not a member of the team, but has written many articles about our team in the NY Times. I was eager to take up this task because of the fond memories I hold for this team and our accomplishments, and my gratitude to Hofstra University for giving me the opportunity to compete and get a great education which led to my career as a dentist for 40 yrs.
It is very apropos that we be inducted into the Hofstra Athletic Hall of Fame as a team, because we were the best example of a team. There was no superstar on our team. I believe we had at least five players that averaged double figures. Under the guidance of Coach Butch VanBreda Koff and Ass’t Coach Paul Lynner, we were not interested in who shot or who scored, but only leaving all we had on the court and winning. As our 23-1 record showed, we did a pretty good job.
A successful basketball coach is depends on his recruiting and being able to get his role players to accept their job. Butch had an easy time with the ’59-’60 Team, because we were all role players.
Some players today do not realize what a privilege it is to compete in any inter-scholastic sport, especially at a great school like Hofstra University where we could also receive a great education.
In closing, I would like to mention a conversation I had with Coach Van Breda koff. After leaving Hofstra for the second time, he would return for certain basketball functions. It was very annoying that we seemed to age and loose some hair, and the Coach seemed to stay the same with that boisterous voice. The last time I saw him he looked quite frail. He was suffering from the Parkinson’s Disease that took his life, but he was alert enough say to me, “Stanley, these players today are better athletes, but you guys were better basketball players”. That meant a lot to me then and I am sure it does to all the members of the ’59-’60 Team. It still means a lot to I stand here now.
EINBENDER'S THOUGHTS ON SUNDAY
Last night, I, along with my teammates from the ’59-60 Hofstra basketball team, received the long awaited recognition by being inducted as a team into the Hofstra University Athletic Hall of Fame. Our record of 23-1 stands as the best record ever established by a Hofstra men’s basketball team. As expected, the University put on a great show with lengthy introductions, a great meal, and most important, the recognition of our accomplishments. I was given the honor of speaking for our team, which gave me a chance to thank Hofstra for the great memories that I still hold. The best part of the evening was the ability to renew old friendships with my teammates, many who I have not seen for over 50 years. When I am not looking in the mirror, I still see myself as that smiling person holding the basketball in the ’59-’60 team picture. After seeing my teammates from that team, I realize that our time as basketball players has passed, but at least we definitely had our time. I hope these renewed friendships will continue and we can all keep seeing ourselves as we were in that picture. I believe that those memories will help us to survive in fleeting years that remain.
My friend and mentor Stan Isaacs died last Tuesday at 83. Selfishly, my first reaction is, now I can’t call him with questions about the early days of the Mets, or the old days of the Polo Grounds, or the pioneer days at Newsday when we were creating something.
(I say “we” the way ball players talk about their first team, where they learned to play the game.)
Stan has been eulogized as a leader in the so-called Chipmunk movement in the early ‘60’s –chattering young infidels, long on psychology, short on details. It’s easy to get stereotyped by time.
Stan Isaacs was so much more than a rumpled sportswriter who appropriated the Brooklyn Dodgers 1955 championship banner from an alien site in Los Angeles, who watched a game with the sheep on the hill behind right field in Kansas City, who heard Ralph Terry’s wife was home feeding their new baby and blurted, “Breast or bottle?”
He came with a point of view advertised in the title of his column – Out of Left Field. That was a political statement, dudes. He was an old-fashioned share-the-wealth lefty out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a few generations back, before its recent yuppification. He brought a desperately-needed strain of Brooklyn to the Long Island suburbs, maintained his hearty mistrust of authority and establishment in politics, in business, and in sports, which was an extension of all of that.
As I was sitting at the lovely service for him in Haverford, Pa. on Saturday, a new friend from the retirement home alluded to Stan’s interest in college basketball – not the top-20 version but Swarthmore-Haverford, in his new back yard.
I thought, I’d love to hear Stan go off on the subject of Rutgers, which took way too long to notice a coach was mistreating his players. I could see Stan shake his head and mutter at the spectacle of college sports.
In the ‘60’s, the Newsday of Alicia Patterson was a great newspaper, looming to the east of the city, keeping a lot of other people honest. If Stan skewered a local team, or detected racism in the attitude of a manager or coach, or questioned the wisdom of using public money to build stadiums for rich owners (“socialism at the top,” he would sneer), it was a bit harder for the city’s columnists to go their formulaic ways.
I just found an email Stan sent a few years back when I asked about his career:
“I think I brought a mixture of idealism and tomfoolery to Newsday's sports section. I initiated Newsday's policy on official scoring. When it came my turn to be an official scorer I urged that we not do baseball's work for them. (Jack) Mann agreed wholeheartedly and Newsday was the first paper to refuse to allow our guys to work as official scorers.”
That was “us” - shaking things up.
One other thing I want to say about Stan – what a lovely family he has. We were reminded of that Saturday when his three daughters, Nancy, Ann and Ellen, and other family members graciously greeted visitors. Stan had not been himself since Bobbie died in January of 2012. I would call him and he would try to get off the phone. We all understood his grief: Bobbie was one of the wisest people I ever met. As one of Stan’s friends said at the service the other day, he died of a broken heart. His was a big heart, beating inside a very big-time sports columnist.
Note: Stan Isaacs continued writing for The Columnists. Please see:
Many colleagues have written lovely tributes to Stan. Well worth reading.
I’ve just done a column for the NYT on the double opening day in New York.
But wait, there’s more. I just heard from Bill Wakefield, who pitched quite well for the Mets in 1964, and he recalled the first game ever at Shea. He was a Stanford guy who during spring training had become friendly with Hot Rod Kanehl, who was not a Stanford guy.
Bill’s e-mail reminded me why I love baseball so much:
“We were staying at the Travelers Inn as a team,” Bill wrote. “Rod Kanehl took me out the night before and we went to Toots Shor’s, and Howard Cosell came up and said, ‘Runner Rod, how are you?’ and I thought, ‘Wow, this is the Big Leagues – better than Tulsa.
“We then took separate cabs back to the Travelers. I was late going to breakfast and I remember Rod telling me, ‘I thought somebody had taken you to Brooklyn and I’d never see the rookie again. I’m glad you’re here for breakfast.’
“I had a one-day pay check from the Mets. 1st and the 15th. I think it was around $160. I cashed it – in NYC – cash in my pocket. This is the life.”
“Game against the Pirates. Saw buddies from college along the stands in right field. Hickman looking at the stands and asking me, ‘Are we good enough to play here?’
“As Chris Cannizzaro used to do before opening day – he went around the entire clubhouse, shook hands with all 25 players and said, ‘Have a good year.’ You, too.”
You know you are going good when an old friend writes such a literate e-mail. Then I dug dug out my battered copy of The Southpaw by Mark Harris, which I regard as the best baseball novel, ever. A 17-year-old lefty from upstate New York attends opening day in the city, a few years before he will be the surprise starter there.
'There was an announcement by the loudspeaker, 'Ladies and gentlemen, our national anthem,' and the band struck the tune and some lady that I could not see begun to sing, and a mighty powerful pair of lungs she had. It is really beautiful, for as the last words die away, a roar goes up from the people, and for a minute there is no sound but the echo of the singing, and no movement or motion except maybe a bird or the flags waving or the drummer on his drums, and then the music dies and the people spring to life and the chief umpire calls loud and long, 'Puh-lay ball! And the game is on.''
You should read the book.
As Chris Cannizzaro said, “Have a good year.”
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.