Tribute to Pete Fornatale
He arrived out of the ozone in the very late ‘60’s, a voice straight off the Fordham campus. On WNEW-FM, a station with its share of edgy types, he came off as much more than sophomoric but not yet a grad student – a perpetual junior, who was starting to get it. That is a compliment.
Pete Fornatale maintained that mix of wonder and knowledge as long as he lived, which was not nearly long enough. He died Thursday at the age of 66.
He was a friend. We lived about a mile apart in Port Washington for decades, and took long walks around the old sand mines on Hempstead Harbor. We talked about serious issues as we walked – spiritual things, political things. He was deeply affected by 9/11 – talked about it on the air at WFUV-FM, his first and final station.
He didn’t seem much interested in talking sports, thank goodness, which gave me the leverage to ask him about his music contacts.
There were perks to being a friend of Pete’s.
He introduced us to our heroes, Anna and Kate McGarrigle, in some Village basement dressing room, right after a show.
We sat with him when he emceed a benefit brunch at the Lone Star, when Richard Manuel and Rick Danko were about to go back on the road. Check out the High on the Hog album. Richard sings She Knows in that sweet falsetto, and at the end Pete and Richard salute each other. Now all three of them are gone, and so is Levon.
Pete and I took our sons to a Grateful Dead concert at the Nassau Coliseum.
He introduced me to John Platt, his Long Island buddy, now a Sunday-morning presence on WFUV.
And one night in a club on the South Shore of Long Island, he introduced us to Christine Lavin, his friend, now my friend. Chris once performed Sensitive New Age Guys live on Pete’s Mixed Bag show – using Pete as the male foil. That night in the club, she called out both of us to sing backup. She’s currently on the road, working on a tribute to Pete that will be played sometime over the weekend on XM radio and also on WFUV-FM on Saturday. We are all in shock.
But the best part was the music, the thematic shows, where Pete could find four or five songs that belonged together. (Doug Martin’s obit in the New York Times on Friday does a great job explaining Pete’s technique. )
I hope this doesn’t get Pete in trouble with the authorities – what can they do to him now? – but he used to make copies (cassettes, which dates me) of his best thematic shows. I play them on my walks.
One show was Ladies Love the Beatles, amazing arrangements of old favorites.
Another show was about aviation, with a sensational version of Tree Top Flyer by Stephen Stills. Afterward, Pete admits, with that heh-heh laugh of his, that the song just might have been about an illegal pursuit.
Another cassette was about the Sunday papers, all those sections, including the so-called funnies, with Adam Carroll’s song urging Dagwood to take Blondie up on the roof for a glimpse of the sky. That one certainly puts some zip in the step.
Pete was still growing, still learning, still thinking, still talking. My deepest condolences to his family. I’ll miss the walks but I’ve got the cassettes.
No More Rambles for Levon
They played music from deep in the collective continental soul. Four Canadians and a drummer from Arkansas.
First time I saw Levon Helm was backstage at the Garden during the Dylan tour in ’74. Somebody had placed a backboard outside The Band’s dressing room, and he was messing around with the ball, between shows. Wish I had said hello, but I was spying on Dylan’s sound check, so I kept moving.
Now his family says he is dying of cancer.
My favorite song from Levon is Ophelia because it is so….so…southern.
Boards on the window/Mail by the door….
Reminds me of funky neighborhoods in the south, where people come and go.
Although what could be more southern than Levon’s buzz-saw rasp on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down?
Only met him once. He played Loretta Lynn’s father, Ted Webb, in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter. I had written the book for Loretta, and the movie people graciously invited me to the openings in Nashville and Louisville.
I was afraid the movie-makers might commit a Beverly Hillbillies version about a part of the world I love. But as soon as I saw Levon as the slender, bashful miner, I knew the movie was going to be respectful.
The second night, there was a party at the hotel, with Loretta and Sissy Spacek jamming together. Sissy could crack up Loretta by imitating her voice and her down-home bended-knee gestures.
Levon was singing backup. It was the women’s show.
During a break in the music, my wife sidled up to Levon and told him how good he was in the movie, and then she added, “You can sing, too.”
He might have had a bit to drink, but not enough that he couldn’t detect the compliment.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said.
“He was so cute,” she recalled on Tuesday, when we heard the awful news.
Another Memory of Giorgio
Of course, I'm giving away the punch line.
This was at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, when a bunch of traveling American writers were in Florence to watch Our Lads get waxed.
Searching for the press tribune, one of my colleagues spotted a man in a bright blue blazer standing in a portal.
What with the blazer, he could have been an usher.
"Excuse me," the reporter said, probably in slow, basic English, "but we're looking for the press section."
"My name is Giorgio Chinaglia," the man in the bright blue blazer replied with a smile.. "And I believe it is right over there."
My friend knew enough to be apologetic. Giorgio, who had what one might call a strong sense of self, thought it was funny.
Giorgio knew that current soccer writers might not recognize him. But defenders and keepers (and his own coaches and general managers) would always remember him.
Giorgio Chinaglia was one of those headstrong stars who came to New York in athletic middle age and could handle the pressure, much of it self-induced.
Think Reggie Jackson, Keith Hernandez, Mark Messier, Earl (the Pearl) Monroe.
Giorgio had the chutzpah to stick his 6-foot-1 frame as close to the goal as he could, and defied anybody – keepers, defenders, referees or, for that matter, his own coaches – to dislodge him.
Playing striker for the New York Cosmos from 1976 through 1983, he had the coraggio – translated more as gall or impudence than mere courage – to declare himself responsible for scoring goals. Anything else was somebody else’s job.
Just put the ball near the No. 9 on his jersey, and he would do the job.
He will always be the career leader in scoring for the North American Soccer League, inasmuch as the league is defunct.
Giorgio died at home in Florida on Sunday, at 65, of a heart attack. A friend said he had distress earlier in the week but checked himself out of the hospital. That would be Giorgio. Why should he regard doctors be any differently than he did Hennes Weisweiler, his German coach with the Cosmos, whom he openly defied.
“My job is to score goals,'' Chinaglia told me in 1981. “Other players may play both ends of the field, but they don't score as many goals. That is what the game is all about.” And he meant it.
Giorgio was the first world-level player I got to know when I was discovering soccer in 1980. He had a vaguely sinister presence even on his own team because he had the ear of ownership, and more or less flaunted it.
I saw him score two in a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Fury in 1980 – first on a header, and then with a shot out of the pivot with 18 minutes remaining. He faked to his left as if to use his power foot, his right, but then he swerved to his right to score at close range with his left foot.
“Usually, he will set up for his right foot,'' keeper Bob Rigby of the Fury said about the second goal. “But you know Giorgio, he is an instinctive player. The great ones don't think. They just do it. He is more dangerous with his back to me because I can't tell what he will do. He has an uncanny sense for what is right. ''
Giorgio just didn’t care what people thought. He was born in Tuscany, in Carrara, known for its marble, and in Italy was regarded as something of a straniero, an outsider, because his family had run a restaurant in Wales and he had come up through the pro club in Swansea.
He later was a star for Lazio -- by now the tifosi called him Long John, because he was tall, and spoke English. He played for the underperforming national team in 1974, and when he moved to the Cosmos he was criticized by Italian fans for defecting. That was Giorgio. He went his own way.
The Cosmos were made for him, the way New York was waiting for Reggie and Hernandez and Messier and Earl the Pearl.
Later he did television in Italy and helped run Lazio and sometimes gave striker-like feints that he might be in the mix of leadership if the Cosmos ever truly materialized again. Instead his heart gave out. But never his gall.
PS: Some serious soccer buffs might see this. Your own memories/tributes/critiques of Giorgio would be welcome right here:
“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.