New York’s Music DNA

So many musical greats have passed in recent months and, now today, Doc Watson, at 89.

All big names, all breakthrough artists.  Disco Donna.  Levon.  Duck Dunn.  Watson.  And more.

For Real New Yorkers, however, I present this sad news:

Buddy Saltzman is dead.

I didn’t know until last Saturday night.  Marshall Crenshaw, in his Bottomless Pit radio show on WFUV-FM, spread the word.  Full disclosure: when I heard the name — Buddy WhoSaltzman? — it did not ring a bell.  Crenshaw explained.

And as he did, I realized how greatly Buddy had touched my life, informed my musical tastes, was an architect of much of my life’s interior soundtrack.

Buddy was New York and, specifically, Brill Building New York — that beehive of musical industry, right on Broadway.  He was a superlative drummer who was constantly in-demand and played in literally thousands of sessions from the 50s to the 70s.  He worked with Real New Yorkers such as Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Laura Nyro, Leiber & Stoller, Goffin & King, Paul Simon — as well as with Phil Spector, Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, the Shangra-Las, Bobby Darin, Dylan, the Coasters, the Shirelles, the Cyrkle, Connie Francis, the Monkees, Lou Christie, the Archies, Leslie Gore, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Cowsills, Little Eva…even BARBRA!…even FRANK!

But perhaps the sound that best exemplifies Buddy’s muscular, take-charge style was his drumming for The Four Seasons.  Play “Dawn (Go Away).”  Go ahead, I’ll wait. Click on the link here

He was a master of power and precision, with the around-the-kit rolls and the subtle ghost notes and right-on accents and those kick-ass triplets at the fade out of “Dawn.”

Think of “The Locomotion”…”I’m A Believer”…”Rag Doll”…”Lightnin’ Strikes” — even “The Sounds of Silence”…all number-one tunes.

All Buddy Saltzman, on the drums.  All part of our lives, made-in-New York.  By a Real New Yorker.

And I’m thinking: this is a guy who worked two, three, four sessions a day, for five, six days a week, with the best of the best.  And he dies.  And no big obits.  No big noise.  Crickets.

But the thing is, he mattered. 

A lot.  He pushed the orbit of the earth, if only just a little bit.  Because whether we knew it or not, this professional musician touched us all, and lifted our lives.

On the website for Artie Kornfeld (one of the Woodstock Festival masterminds), Saltzman is quoted: “All I ever wanted to do is play drums and provide for my family.”

You did a bit more than that, Mr. Saltzman.  You made some of the best and enduring music of the 20th Century, and you influenced generations of musicians.

RIP, Buddy Saltzman, a Real New Yorker.

Cue the music:





Apres Citibike, Le Deluge (Of Tourists)

Well, well, well.  Citibike is putting the finishing touches on their New York City bike share program, which Manhattanites such as David Byrne note in today’s edition of The New York Times, is designed to offer an efficient and fun new method of intra-city transportation. 

Simultaneously, the good people of Chelsea, near the High Line, fed up with the influx of tourists into their neck of the woods, plastered their nabe with flyers chastising tourists who flood the neighborhood on their way to, and on their way back from, the High Line. 

“West Chelsea is not Times Square,” the flyer’s writer squeals (photo via the excellent Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York).  “It is not a tourist attraction.” 

Au contraire, mon ami.  Thanks to the handiwork of Bloomberg and his hand puppets, who relentlessly market New York City as the ultimate luxury product, your neighborhood — like so many others — has become just another corner of Epcot/New York.

See the mall stores on Sixth Avenue!  See the luxury condos cheek-by-jowl with Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side!  See the tour buses snake down Plaza Street in Park Slope, as confused tourists in the upper deck watch the locals’ dogs poop!

And, soon to come, new hordes of tourists, weaving down YOUR STREETS and YOUR SIDEWALKS on dopey looking bikes emlazoned with oh-so-cool blue-and-white Citibank visual identification!!! Imagine the thrill of dodging the throngs, as they roll your way, dropping bikes off ON YOUR BLOCK, visiting YOUR STORES and then picking up another bike to wreak havoc (as defined by taking pictures of your building, walking two or — horrors — maybe three abreast) in another neighborhood within a 30 minute riding radius.

Real New Yorkers have known for some time that the game has changed here in town.  David Byrne extols the freedom of the new bike share program, but that freedom largely benefits those who live in wealthier precincts, and those who travel about during non-peak periods. 

Your basic New York wage slave is probably not going to hop on a Citibike at 8 a.m. in Elmhurst and travel to work near Union Square.  No, that person will continue to take mass transportation.  Nor is the Wall Street trader going to bike to work from the Upper East Side in his or her bespoke suitings. 

The benefit of the bike share program will be for those who are not desk bound — and to enhance intra-city transportation for tourists.  It’s fun!  It’s cool!  It’s “just like they have in Paris!!!!”

“Do not sit on the stoops of buildings, or take pictures of and film buildings or residents,” the Chelsea flyer orders….”Observe New York sidewalk etiquette….”

Ha!  And what etiquette would THAT be, oh exalted Chelsea-ite? 

I actually lived in Chelsea from 1975-1978, on West 21st Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues.  A young Andre De Shields, in The Wiz at that time, lived across the street.  Even then, the cars parked on the streets had plates from Texas, Ohio, California — all over.  It was an affordable place for out of towners to get a foothold in the big city and forge a career.  It was scruffy, in the same way that Park Slope was in the 70s and 80s.

On the corner were guys playing dominoes and drinking nips of Miller all day.  The deli counterman had anchor tattoos, slicked back hair and a glass eye.  The Key Food on Eighth burned down and was vacant for years and years.  Riss was the chee-burgy, chee-burgy place of choice.  There was a pool hall upstairs on 23rd and 8th.

One year, Empire Diner came.  Camouflage clothing.  The Elgin Cinema (remember midnight showings of The Harder They Come?) became The Joyce.  No more Mi Chinita.  No more Asia de Cuba (the old diner, not the newer restaurant by the same name).  Chelsea got the galleries and became cooler than cool.  And that attracted even more affluence, tilting the see-saw way up.  And then came the High Line, so that now, the last people to migrate into the neighborhood are pulling up the gangplank.  “No no,” they hiss at the huddled cupcake-eating masses.  “Don’t come aboard…”

New York changes.  It always did.  It always will.  The key is balance.  The impatience of today’s Chelsea flyer-writer — no doubt affuent, no doubt from another part of the country, is understandable, to a point.

The growth of Epcot-like, tourist-centric inventions, such as the High Line, needs to be gentle, mindful of the urban ecology.  Yes, real estate developers benefit.  Yes, it’s kinda cool.  Yes, new shops spring up around it, like mushrooms after the rain.

And yet.  Do the people in the Chelsea housing projects west of 9th Avenue benefit from these stores?  Is the intent to drive out all non-affluent New Yorkers, from every corner of the city?

Meantime, the tourists come.  They rent our hotel rooms, buy our goods and services and eat in our restaurants.  And that’s a good thing.

But don’t mess with the tax base — the NYC resident.  We are becoming overrun.  Don’t destroy the quality of life of residents, in the effort to woo ever more tourists. 

The flood of two-wheeled, camera-toting, velveeta-butted, track-suited nitwits through the nabes of NYC on Citibikes this summer may be the last straw.




This is the face of pain.  It sears.  It takes your breath away.  You gasp and clutch at your injury, your head white-hot, confused.  Minutes later, the pain subsides just enough to allow the injured to understand: uh-oh, this is bad — I really did it this time.

The other day, Mo went down like a sack, freakishly, doing something he loved to do — the simple, boyish, exhiliarating act of shagging a fly ball in the outfield.

Every kid that’s ever picked up a bat, glove and ball has had this fantasy, a fantasy Mo replayed in his mind before every game he played, as part of his pre-game ritual.  Here’s the fantasy, which echoes through your mind with the sound of your favorite baseball announcer (and mine was Phil Rizzuto): “Holy cow, he hit that ball a ton…Rivera goes back, back, back — and he MAKES THE PLAY on the warning track…”

It’s such a pure, simple act when done by someone with such grace and athleticism as Mariano Rivera.  Guys like Mo, like Bernie in his prime, they moved like gazelles and made it look effortless.  According to reports, newspaper guys would tease Mo upon occasion, asking: “Who’s the best all-time Yankee outfielder?”

“You know..” Mo would say, an impish smile on his face.

“Who?” they’d ask again.

“Me, man!” he say.

And now comes the hard part.  Right now, he’s no doubt on pain meds and he’ll go to New York for further testing with the surgeon who did his shoulder and they’ll look at the pictures and maybe do another MRI, or MRI with contrast, light his leg up like a Christmas tree with that strange chemical-smelling dye that makes you want to puke, while you’re in that tube with your headphones on, but still hearing that pounding MRI DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH that seems to go on forever.

And then, there are the pre-surgery rituals and you’re led into that workshop with all tiles and monitors and stainless steel and it’s cold and the AC/DC is blasting over the speakers (why surgeons like to hear headbanger music while they operate is beyond me) and you count backwards from 100 and the next thing you know, you’re coming to and you’re in the recovery room and you blink and blink again as you focus.

And at that very point, the easy stuff is over because the very next day you start the rehab and you see how stiff your leg is, like a new baseball glove that’s got to be broken in.  It’s natural to despair.

I expect Rivera will shine, because he has heart, as only a Real New Yorker does. 

It’s hard work, my friends, coming back from an operation, even those that the docs say, oh-so-cavalierly are “routine.”  Yeah, routine for THEM.  Trust me: for the patient, it is HARD WORK.

No matter what happens from the point of regaining consciousness in the recovery room, on — because the technical aspect, the surgery itself, should go smoothly — Mo controls his fate.  He’s a superbly conditioned athlete who has defied time, but he is 42, after all and he does not want to get back to pitching slow-pitch softball in the local bar league.  He wants to pitch major league baseball at the highest level, for the New York Yankees.  “OK” is not good enough, not for a pitcher like Mo.

If this is, in fact, the end of Mo’s career, then it’s perfect, almost Biblical. He’s had his time to shine, as no one else has — and who amongst us can say that?

The morals to this story?
— respect your gifts and use them with honor;
— take pride in your work, and let it give you joy;
— know that nothing lasts forever;
— age with dignity and grace, while retaining the enthusiasm of youth;
— use your gifts and your assets to help others, who are in need

Mo knows this and more.  He came up from nothing, in a small fishing town in Panama. Now, he is a worldwide sports icon.  But Real New Yorkers know what Mo is all about.

The winning was great, but only one part of who the man is. I salute him in whatever he decides to do next, and look forward to the next chapter in Mariano Rivera’s life.

Rest assured, it will be lived with heart.