I can’t remember when I first heard of Muhammad Ali. It seems like he’d always been a part of my life. I knew this: my father loved him so therefore I did as well. (The same went for Frank Sinatra, Afro-Cuban music, jazz, the New York Mets and our home borough of Brooklyn.)
It was the fall of 1978 and I was in Jimmy’s Music World in downtown Brooklyn. Having recently rewired my collecting impulses from baseball cards and comic books to LPs and 45’s–that’s vinyl albums and singles for you young ‘uns–I was looking for some product to play on my new Onkyo stereo component system. I was leafing through the R&B bin when I began to pay closer attention to the music on the in-store speakers.
I was on the train last night heading home. Two young brothers–early teens–were standing in front of me. Both were wearing worn but clean clothes, one had his hoodie up, the other didn’t. Both had light jackets—too flimsy for the weather and knockoff hightop sneakers. It was a look I knew all too well. It reminded me of an entire winter I spent with a blue double-knit jacket as my “winter coat.”
They were chatting usual urban teen talk. I paid little attention until I heard one of them mention what Trump had said earlier in the day about the Pope.
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy, Spiegel & Grau, 2015
I was raised during the Seventies on a cramped block of rundown tenements in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. Each building on my block was a five-floor walk-up. Each apartment–two to a floor–was a railroad-style flat. And in those apartments lived poor families raising passels of kids. Not only was this pre-gentrification but by modern hipster standards, this was downright prehistoric.
True story # 1: It’s a late spring Thursday in New York City in the late ‘70s and I’m a kid in high school. For reason I can’t recall, the entire student body was dismissed at noon. A halfaday!
Free! What to do? What to do? My pal Joel has an idea. He opens his copy of the New York Post–yes, we read newspapers back then–to the movie section and points to a small ad. It’s the final day of Pam Grier film festival at the RKO Warner in Times Square. Yes, indeedy, five, count ‘em, five of her finest efforts–Coffy, Foxy Brown, Bucktown, Sheba Baby and Friday Foster–for the price of one three dollar ticket.
The date was November 19, 1995. The place was the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. It was there that a two-hour television special was being taped—yes, taped—celebrating the oncoming eightieth birthday, December 15, to be exact, of the preeminent singer of the twentieth century: Francis Albert Sinatra. Broadcast on December 17 by ABC, the program Frank Sinatra: 80 Years My Way featured a hodgepodge of acts from Salt-n-Pepa to Vic Damone to Steve & Eydie to Bruce Springsteen performing songs Ol’ Blue Eyes had made famous. Seated at an elevated table facing stage right, surrounded by family, a tuxedoed Sinatra appeared to take in the parade of performers with a respectful, ruminative restraint. He dutifully applauded each rendition—even joined the star-laden audience in a couple of standing ovations for Patti Labelle and Ray Charles—but maintained a sense of emotional remove. Age and frail health be damned, the Chairman of the Board was holding court in public and he was determined to maintain his legendary cool.
Then Bob Dylan appeared onstage.
A fox tail dangling from a leather belt. A key chain dangling from a leather belt. A leather belt with a personalized name buckle. Low top red Converse sneakers. High-top black Converse sneakers. Green suede Puma sneakers. Clamshell white Adidas sneakers. White Nike basketball athletic footwear. Blue chinos with the orange stripe running down the side. Black “overlap” slacks with two overlapping seams running down the side. Black “AJ’s” slacks with white thread running down the side. Denim jackets with the sleeves cut off. Leather vests worn without a shirt. Leather motorcycle jackets. Leather blazers. Leather pea coats. Leather bomber jackets. North Face jackets. Shearling jackets. Black Bally boots with a Cuban heels. Army jackets. Combat boots. Doc Martens. Black baseball caps with the letter X emblazoned on them. Black caps and jackets featuring the logo of the Oakland Raiders. Hockey jerseys. Baseball jerseys. “Throwback” basketball jerseys. Starter jackets. Gold chains. Floppy denim hats. Tan Timberland work boots.