There Are No Jewish Cowboys

There Are No Jewish Cowboys

 

I love westerns.  When I was a kid, that was all that was on television.  Westerns!

My Grandfather and I used to watch westerns together all the time.  I loved my Grandfather, my mother’s father.  He passed away when I was eleven.  That was a time when I really could have benefitted from him being around.  But such is life.  Grandpa took me to see my first western on the big screen.  I was seven or eight and we went to see “Rio Bravo” at the Vaughn Theatre in Toronto.  A John Wayne western with Ricky Nelson, Ward Bond, Walter Brennan, Angie Dickenson and Dean Martin as Dude, a drunken deputy that was trying to get sober.   And with all the time we spent sitting watching and cheering those western, horse operas, shootem ups when I was a kid I had the realization of this one important fact…there are no Jewish cowboys.  There was never a synagogue under siege that John Wayne had to rescue, round up a posse and “save the Torah”.   I never saw an episode of the Lone Ranger when the masked man looked down on some travelers and said “Tonto who are they?”

“Them Jews Kemosabe, you think we should help them?”

“I don’t think so Tonto, I might be a masked man that wears pastels and hangs out with an Indian, but add the Jews to that mix and I might really be in trouble.”

The Jews weren’t on the Ponderosa with Little Joe and Hoss, Jews didn’t carry around Paladin’s card of “Have Gun Will Travel”, Boot Hill’s graves never bore a Star of David and every bar that Maverick gambled in was restricted.  Yet my grandfather loved westerns and so did I.   And by a funny twist of fate my grandfather’s son, my uncle Albert Zlatkis (or Ab as I called him), spent over half his life in Houston Texas.  Home of real cowboys, Texas rangers that wore badges and Beef “it’s what’s for dinner”.

My uncle is Albert Zlatkis.  He was famous.  He was a scientist not a cowboy but he was famous.  He helped develop Gas Chromatography.  But bigger than that he worked to bring scientist from all over the world together to share their breakthroughs with Gas Chromatography.  They were called “The Zlatkis Meetings”.  He did that for over 20 years and was given awards for the work he did.  He started out as out of work chemist from Toronto whose friend informed him that they needed research scientists at Shell Oil in Houston Texas.  Later he was then approached by the University of Houston and given a fellowship in the Chemistry Department.

My uncle is important to me for numerous reasons.  I didn’t have a lot of men who showed up in my life in a positive way.   I have a lot of stories.  I am only telling one.   He was my gateway Jew. The original corned beef Jew.  He was the man who taught me about all things Jewish culturally.  Mostly food, humor and music.  He used to walk around singing, “di di di di,”.  I thought he had forgotten the words to some lame Yiddish song.  It wasn’t until years later when I came to Bet Alef Synagogue that I was informed that melody was a nigun, a melody with no words.  After that moment at any service I am at where they start singing a nigun, a big smile appears on my face and I remember Uncle Ab singing a song with no words.

 

He lived in Houston but travel quite intensively for his work.  I visited my Grandmother every summer in Toronto.  If Ab was in town he would pick me up at the airport.  We would head immediately to Mo Panzers deli for corned beef and dilled cucumbers, pickles, kishka with gravy and fresh rye bread.  He would have pastrami and I would have corned beef.    When I hit my bottom with drugs and alcohol it was my uncle who sent me a ticket to Houston so I could be supported by family.  That was January of 1989 and I am forever grateful to my uncle and his family for their support, then and now. My uncle passed away in 1998.  My last memory of my uncle is being in his beloved Houston driving to Flying Pizza and laughing.

 

This is one of my favorite stories of hanging out with my uncle.  When I was in my early twenties I was invited to Houston because my cousin Debbie was getting married.   Much had happened in Houston in the twelve years since I had last visited.   The wedding was during the summer when I was staying with my grandmother in Toronto.   Aside from my clothes, my suitcase was packed with Health Bread bagels and Pearl’s salamis, which was the usual way to pack for a flight from Toronto to Houston.

Houston had something new.   They had a deli.  My uncle took me there directly after I landed at Hobby Airport.  I had an actual corned beef on rye with some white goop on the side of my plate.  “What’s that?” I asked horrified.  “Grits” responded my uncle, “Hominy Grits, they put it on everything here, just think of it as parsley and don’t eat it.”

I remember the corned beef was decent but the barbeque was better.  Houston had a growing Jewish community.  Ab was a member of a reform synagogue.  I was into Hendrix and pot and not necessarily in that order.  My uncle was into “The Barry Sisters” and Manachevitz wine.  The wedding was on Saturday.  There was a family dinner on Thursday night for the out of town guests.  And on Friday night the family went to synagogue to get a blessing by the rabbi before the wedding.  It was a mitzvah to bring the bride and groom up during the service and allow the community to bless their nuptials.  There we were.  Debbie and Craig, my aunt Esther, Uncle Ab the Scientist, and myself.  I was in awe of the ceiling and wall of this magnificent synagogue.  Then out from stage left to the bimah came a man in white robes, with steel grey hair slicked back and coifed, his eyes were cobalt blue.  He had the smile and stature of a used car salesman from Beverly Hills.  He was going to make you an offer you couldn’t refuse.  At that time Judaism to me was “Holocaust bad…corned beef good”.   So I really can’t tell you much about the service in reality, but what I can tell you about was the blessing.   My heart pounded and my eyes widened as I heard the Rabbi give a blessing with a thick Texas drawl.  “Baruch Atoy adonay eluhanu melach ha o lom.  Shehekeyanu ve kemanu lahigeanu lazman ha za.  Amen.”  And when the 150 Texas Jews said “Ahmen” it sounded much more like a revival meeting than any kind of religious service this corned beef Jew had ever attended.   The service continued.  I sat there stunned for ten minutes and finally I leaned into my uncle and whispered “Debbie can’t get Married”

“What?”

I tried again.  “Debbie can’t get married”

I had gotten through this time.

“Why not?” he whispered back.

“Because this Rabbi is obviously not Jewish!”.

We laughed inappropriately in the front row of the synagogue.  We immediately quieted down with an icy glance from Auntie Esther.  It was a good moment.

Somewhere in my Uncle’s DNA was his father’s love for westerns.  In 1979 I got an excited call from my Uncle who told me in no uncertain terms that I had to rush out and see Gene Wilder’s new movie “The Frisco Kid”.  My uncle called it “a Jewish western”.  I think there was part of him that wishes he could have seen it with his father.  I know that after I saw it I wished that my uncle and my grandfather were sitting next to me.

Zack Hoffman 2017

Workshop Poem

In 2004 I attended a local Poetry workshop.   In one of our exercises we were given a piece of art to look at and then write a poem.  We were shown “Japanese Girl With Red Table” by Balthus.   Here is both the poem and the painting.   Who’s art moves you?

 

Meeting Balthus’ Japanese Girl with Red Table for the first time.

 

posed

with her sex exposed

an ancient royal gift

tied up in a silk sash and bow

to be opened or closed

fondled or forgotten

leaning against the pillow

breath held

focused on a tapestry

until the spoken words “thank you”

break her neutrality

like the great exhale

as she humbly

turns to the red table

to pour tea

and cry

 

Zack Hoffman         May 2004

 

 

The Breakfast After

My writer’s group mostly sits in the café, nose down, writing then reading.  A safe place to find our voices.  Usually groups of three or four.  I am continuing to post pieces which began at the tables.

Once a month we meet up and read.  We get five minutes each.  It’s timed.  Dusted off and polished up pieces of what we were working on at the tables.  The next step in risk.  Standing up …being heard.  Here is the piece I read last year.

 

The Breakfast After

The bedroom was softly illuminated by two candles and the 3 inches of the open bathroom door.  Jimmy had turned on the water but Suzanne can still hear him peeing.  She was naked and warm, covered by a white down comforter.  She took the opportunity to look around the room, she saw signed concert posters professionally framed, all the furniture was light oak.   Suzanne imagined he’d gone into some trendy furniture store when he was flush, pointed at the bedroom set and said, “I’ll take it.”  On the dresser was a silver framed picture of Jimmy’s parents or at least Suzanne thought they were his parents.

Jimmy walked out of the bathroom wearing a pair of pajama bottoms.  He sat on the edge of the bed with Suzanne playfully pulling the covers over her head.  From under the covers she asked, “Staying or going?”

“I vote for staying” said Jimmy, and got up and walked over to the closet and pulled a white terrycloth robe off a wooden hanger and walked back toward the bed.  Jimmy handed her the robe and Suzanne slid out of bed slowly, she showed him her nakedness again and put the robe on but deliberately not tying it.  He stepped in and reached up, closed the robe and reached around pulling the terrycloth sash and tying it.  Jimmy took this opportunity to lean in and kiss her again, to taste her.

“Hungry?”

“What you got Jimmy Z” she said playfully

He began patting her butt, herding her toward the kitchen, “Eggs” he said.

“That will do nicely.”

As they slowly walked toward kitchen Jimmy couldn’t believe how well it was going.  He was sure now that disaster was soon to follow, he would drop the eggs on the floor, start a small kitchen fire, fart inappropriately, he took a deep breath, sighed and decided to act cool.

Jimmy started pulling things from cabinets and the refrigerator; it was as if he were a teenager preparing for a science project.  He grabbed the bowls, forks, spoons, eggs, Swiss cheese, a Teflon coated frying pan and a spatula.  Suzanne started looking through Jimmy’s cupboards; as if the white terrycloth robe had given her carte blanch to act as if she belonged.  She made a mental note of all the boxes of Lipton’s chicken noodle soup, the cans of Green Giant niblets corn, and Mrs. Butterworth’s pancake syrup.  She saw a large circular glass container and pulled it down.  It had breadsticks in it so she opened it up and with Bugs Bunny proficiency chopped away on a crunchy bread stick.  Jimmy put a dollop of olive oil in the Teflon pan, he remembered asking his grandmother about putting olive oil in the pan and she said, “I like olive oil, it’s like adding another food”.  He poured two beaten eggs into the now hot frying pan.

The eggs started to bubble around the edges.  He quickly picked up the salt shaker followed by the pepper and added it to the yellow mixture in the pan.    Jimmy took the spatula and started moving it around the edge. When a circle of eggs had taken some form Jimmy skillfully shook the frying pan back and forth.  until the mixture moved freely in the skillet.   Jimmy added the Swiss cheese on one half of the omelet.  Suzanne brushed up against him and offered a bite of bread stick.  Crunch.   With the cheese in Jimmy folded the omelet from left to right.   He lowered the heat on the gas Magic Chef stove and then grabbed two slices of whole wheat cup bread and slow them in the toaster.

Being distracted and impatient for the omelet to be ready Suzanne wandered toward the living room.  She looked past the dining room into the living room and saw a wall of sideways turned blue plastic milk crates filled with record albums. After a few minutes of being lost in album covers she yelled back into the kitchen,

“How many records do you have?”

“Right there is 3000”, he gently pulled her back into the kitchen and handed her a plate with half of the omelet and a slice of toast.

“Not really 3000!”, she said sort of astonished, then took a bite of the omelet, smiled and said “yummola”.   “So that game people play where you crash on a desert island and you can only take five records and you have to say which five would they be… you couldn’t do it?”

“Probably not” said Jimmy, taking a bite of his own omelet.

“Five, you can’t do five?”

“Not five not fifty, don’t make me choose.  Which Beatle album should I leave behind? Coltrane or BB King. Which Stones or Who album? Dave Brubeck, Art Evans, can I leave the Doobies or Steely Dan or Santana or Sinatra or Mozart or Bach or Tchaikovsky which one of those guys am I gonna choose?”  Jimmy smiled while Suzanne took another bite.

 

Zack Hoffman

Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau

When I was a young man in Los Angeles, I was going to Valley College and doing standup on Thursday night at a small club call the Bla Bla Café on Vineland Boulevard.  On Saturday nights we would go to the club to see the headliner, this amazing jazz singer named Al Jarreau.  He blew us all away with his music, his spirit and his artistry.  We knew we were watching and listening to someone special.  When his first album came out, “We Got By” we all ran out and bought it.   The song “We Got By” is one of those songs that is like a tuning fork for my soul.  It moves me.  It moved me when I heard it in 1973 and it moves me every time I listen to it.  Pictures and people and the life I live dance through my head.   Here is the song done in Hamburg in 1976.

Al Jarreau passed away on February 12th 2017, a month shy of his 77th birthday.   He had just canceled his tour a few months earlier.  He continued to do what he loved.    I am so sad.  Yet I am so grateful for his presence in this world, the joy, the music he brought with his passion, his gentleness.  For me, he will always be the greatest jazz singer of my generation.  God Bless you Al Jarreau.  Rest in Peace.

This Is My Start Line

This Is My Start Line

This is my start line.  For a writing practice.  We practice writing.   We practice having our thoughts flow. We come when we are tired, hungry, lonely, frustrated, calm, happy, joyous, paralyzed. We come when there are no words. We come when all words have stopped.  When our characters sit on the ground like petulant children and say, “Up yours!  We won’t speak to you, so go write some bullshit with your pen ink and paper that you so meticulously prepared”

We come when our lover has left us, when we have found love, when the world is a loveless cold place, when love and hope caresses our flesh.  We come when we remember.  Remember a relationship, a food, a walk through our favorite park.   We come and write and come and write and come and write.  The endless courage of showing up.  We write about nothing and everything.  We come and question ourselves and the world.

And Jack will say, “Where’s the poetry here?”

And the poetry is here when I press the pen against the paper and the ink spills out on the page.  The poetry is here when I am willing to risk everything.   Talk about the darkness of movie theaters in St. Louis, where sick men prey on young boys and laugh.  The poetry is here when Jimmy risks everything to love Suzanne and let her know she is special.  The poetry is here when Nick Sands needs one more Scotch to talk about his pain and in his pain I see my Mother and that is the poetry.

We keep coming empty and full, bloated with nothing and when the air seeps out of the bloat only the truth is left and you better write it down because it’s ugly and beautiful at the same time. The silliness of a well constructed joke, sex and death, my Grandmother’s hands, the pain of suicide, it all belongs here. Here at the table.  Sitting here at the tables and somewhere in the distance I can hear Natalie’s voice faintly saying, “Keep the pen moving across the page.”

My brothers and sisters keep me company.  To be a community.  To push and to push back.  To cheer, laugh, cry, risks, succeed, fail, inspire and most of all keep me accountable.  This is my start line.

tables

 

Zack Hoffman 2017

 

My Top Ten Films for 2016

My Top Films of 2016

I thought it was a strange year at the movies.  These, in my opinion, are the gems.  I think we managed to go to 40 movies this year.  I love going to the movies with my friends.  I hope the trend continues.  I also hope they forgive me for schlepping them to Jack Reacher “Never Go Back” in IMAX and the awful “Batman vs Superman”.

 

Here is the list in order.

 

  1. “Hell or High Water”

A surprisingly good tale of brothers, Texas and the system.

  1. “Dark Horse”

Documentary about a barmaid who had a dream and the people who believed in her.

  1. “Rogue One”

It reminded me how much I loved the original Star Wars.  Hands down a great action movie.

  1. “Where Do We Invade Next”

What can I say?  I love Michael Moore’s take on life.  My only problem was I thought he was going to have a stroke.  “Michael! Put down the cheese”.

  1. “Manchester by the Sea”

A heart wrenching cinematic poem on unresolved grief.

  1. “Deadpool”

This potty-mouth superhero had me in stiches from the opening credits.  I saw the movie twice and bought the dvd.  Of course it makes my list.

  1. “La La Land”

Inventive, fresh and visually stunning.  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone worked their butts off to make the dancing believable and the characters soulful.  They have wonderful chemistry.

  1. “The Music of Strangers”

Yo Yo Ma’s documentary was captivating, moving and opened my ears to some wonderful music and musicians.

  1. “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople”

This funny and touching Australian film about a foster child captured my heart.  Sam Neil has never been better.

And my favorite film is:

“Sing Street”

singstreet

This romantic look at teenage angst in the early eighties was amazing.  Set in Ireland, it took me back to that time and recreated it with original music.  Moving and fun.

 

 

Two more poems

The two poems are separated by 40 years.  The first one was written in 1972.  I struggled not to rewrite the young Zack’s words, who at the time believed them to be perfect.   The second poem I found hanging around, asking to have the light shined on it.

 

The Capitalist

 

My old friend the capitalist

dropped by to visit me

and over a cup of bitter memories

we talked of people we knew

of changing times

of pressure cooker worlds

of tears we both had shed.

 

When we parted company he said,

“What kind of car are you driving?”

 

Zack Hoffman 1972

 

capitalist

 

 

Romeo’s Lament

 

I am neither

Montague nor Capulet tonight,

just an aging crevasse

on this globe stage.

Waiting with dread

to strut with perkiness

that has left long ago.

 

Waiting for love

that will not make its way to the balcony.

Love is in San Diego

sleeping with a producer

who wears a much larger codpiece.

 

Tonight’s Juliet

puffy and self important

barking like a poodle

to all who won’t listen.

Cast members pass the poison early

hoping to spare the second act.

 

The Buddhist stage manager

lets hands do what legs do.

Lamps flood.

Lightning strikes

burned and excited

all identity is lost

to that bastard Romeo

who walks smoldering into the fog.

 

Zack Hoffman   2004

 

globe

 

Blogged down

I have been absent from the blog.  Every week I think about what I am going to write about and then another week passes into emptiness.  Summer is over, the grey is back and I have to look at what I am doing.  I have written steadily for about 8 years.  Mostly timed writings at Louisa’s café on Eastlake Blvd in Seattle.  We write for 45 minutes and then break into groups of three or four people and read.  We read without advice or commentary from the other writers.  We read that way so it is a safe place to write and that we have a chance to develop our own voice as a writer without criticism (inner or outer).

The other thing I need to do is change the blog post deadline day to Wednesday instead of Monday.  I have been an actor way too long and Monday is a day I don’t write.   Monday is the actor’s day off.  Working the weekends, Sunday is usually a double day with a matinee and an evening performance.  And though I am not currently in a show, my body clock still seems to work that way.

bobnjack

Jack Remick and Robert Ray are accomplished writers in Seattle.  They started the writer’s group at Louisa’s Restaurant 14 years ago.  They were inspired by the work of Natalie Goldberg who wrote “Writing Down the Bones” and “Wild Mind”.  Two great books on the art of writing practice.  Bob used to go to New Mexico and take Natalie’s workshops and he realized he had to create a writing space in Seattle.  It has morphed a number of times but the tables at Louisa’s continue on.  Tuesday and Fridays at 2:30 PM.  A safe place to come write and develop your voice.

See you next week.

Lost

Lost

By Zack Hoffman

 

I lost my faith.

Where did I put it?  I’ve been looking for it everywhere.

In drawers, in the kitchen cabinet, pulling pants out of the laundry hamper and looking inside the pockets.

Where is it?

Is it in a book?

Did some self help guru hide my faith between the lines?

Is it on page 8 or 114 or was it chapter 3?

Where is it?

Did it get sucked out of me by all those episodes of network murder porn, where each week, each episode, each hour, another murder, another body that gets probed and analyzed, cut open and covered with a white sheet, hour after hour after hour?

Has my faith left town?

Did the President take my faith and cash it in for stock options?

Is my faith with family?

Is it at my mother’s apartment at the bottom of a bottle of JB scotch?

It’s gone.

I keep looking.

I don’t want to leave the house without it.

Friends come over to take me to temple on Friday night …it’s the Sabbath, but I am faithless sitting in the back seat of a car, like some pilgrim being taken to the block for public humiliation.

My relationship is in chaos,

I came home and I found our friendship was smashed on the floor in a hundred pieces and I took broom and a dust pan, and swept it up and threw it in the trash.

My home, my work, all in chaos

But we kept driving to temple because it was the Sabbath and the sun was setting, but for me it was already dark and cold.
We got out of the car and I we walked to the edge of the door of the synagogue and I froze.  Like a force field that separated…

out from in.

me from them.

I was empty.

I had no faith with me.

What it looked like to me was that all around me there were people who had their faith with them.

They had name-tags and buttons and handshakes and hugs.

They were passing out prayer books and yammikahs.

I don’t know what happened or where they got it, but it seemed everyone around me had woken up this morning gone to the dresser drawer and said, “There it is! There’s my faith”
and slipped it on like a loose garment.  That loose garment everybody talks about.   But I looked in my closet and I didn’t have that loose fitting garment.  Or any garment or even a tee shirt that said “Got Faith?”

Who has my faith?

Was it stolen in the night by the faith bandits with masks and idols?

Here I am and I don’t have my faith.

I can’t step out and I can’t step in.

I am in the real Limbo. The Limbo Catholic Church talks about, where my soul is rattling around inside my chest like some angry prisoner banging on the bars, wanting out.

Who has my faith?

God?

That bastard.

Who sits in a golden chair and throws lightning bolts, using words like “smite” and “pestilence”.
I know that God…he would not have my faith.

It’s the other God who might have my faith.   One who is patient even when I have tirade and beat the floor like a child.  One who utters words like “love” and “compassion” that wash over me like a warm breeze?

I have had faith.

That’s why I know I’ve lost it, because I have had it once, been full and danced with Them.

The Big Them

Not the Jews

Or the Moslems

Or the Christians

Or the Buddhists

But them…the entire human race.

And we danced and dared and got lost in meditation.

Got quiet and listened.

Is that where my faith is?

Somewhere at the bottom of a long silence.

An endless ommm or ohhmm or yaway or adoinoi.

Deep down and silent like the stomach of Job’s whale.

Is it there I will find a black and tarry glob and put it in my hand and it will melt into a ball of spinning energy, a glowing ball of energy that will light the way out of here?

When the dark night comes you have to pick up your bed roll, put it on your back and walk out the door.  Here I am, stopped at the door.

Stepping to the edge, then pacing.

I have emptied drawers and closets, looking behind bookshelves and underneath desks. Fumbled through nightstands and medicine cabinets.

My faith is not on my mp3 player

or on my computer

or on the DVD of the Dali Lama speaking Tibennese to English subtitles.

It’s not on my phone

Or in a cryptic text message

So shall I pretend?

Smile like some poser while Jackson Brown starts singing “in the cool of the evening…”

Just show up and hope no one really notices that I have no faith at all.

Fear that someone will walk up to me and make me show them my faith.

What would I do then?

Stand there and be embarrassed in the spot light?

Or lie and say something like, “I had it just a minute ago!”

 

zlost

Billy Joel Comes to LA

Billy Joel Comes to LA

 

The story I am about to tell you is one of those legendary music business stories that got passed along.  I can’t confirm whether this is true or false so I will have to present it as a work of fiction.  A myth, a legend, a music industry fable.  But it is a great story and worth telling.  It’s about the time Billy Joel went to Los Angeles.

I love music and I love the stories about the music business.  They are colorful and filled with characters, music and money.   Most DJ’s talk about music or the musician for 30 or 40 seconds at a clip on the air.  They will mention who was doing the backup vocals, about when the song was released, and maybe a quick tidbit about the performer him or herself.   Of course they never have time to tell stories.   Stories told to them by radio station owners, agents, roadies and music industry executives.

First a little history.  On the prestigious corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Doheny Drive in Los Angeles California, Doug Weston built the first rock and roll club in Los Angeles.  It was called The Troubadour.  In truth it was called Doug Weston’s Troubadour, that should give you some indication that ego is going to play a big part in the story.  If you wanted to showcase a band in Los Angeles between 1960 in 1985 the place to do it was Doug Weston’s troubadour.  Record industry people, radio people, musicians, movie stars, producers, and all the rest of the movers and shakers lived moments away from Doug Weston’s troubadour, because it lived east of Beverly Hills and west of Laurel Canyon.  It was a very convenient place for industry people to get to a concert or see their bands perform or throw a client party.  Doug Weston was a hard noised business man.  For the record companies and many producers who liked getting their own way Doug Weston was a giant pain in the ass.  If you’re a disc jockey and you’re invited to introduce a band you are told in no uncertain terms that the name of the location was to be pronounced first and it was quote unquote Doug Weston’s Troubadour.  If you were a promoter and happened to piss Doug off, good luck trying to get your band on the stage, a band that you’ve probably invested tens of thousands of dollars to promote.

troubadour_02

By the early eighties, the record companies were so fed up with Doug Weston and his shenanigans that they decided to build themselves their own club.  MCA and some other investors spent over $1,000,000 on the sunset strip to create a new place.  They called it the Roxy.  A beautiful state of the art venue with killer lights and sound that sat over 700 people and best of all Doug Weston and had nothing to do with it.  The first show that was there was “The Rocky Horror Show”, a rocking smash success on the Sunset strip.   The Roxy even had a private bar called “On the Rox” that was host to many Hollywood Celebrities.   Most notable it was Jack Nicholson’s watering hole for many many years.

 

Our story starts at the end of 1971 Billy Joel went to Hollywood looking for fame, fortune and a lucrative record deal.  Billy Joel had just recorded his second album “Piano Man”.  He was known on the east coast but couldn’t get national exposure because no one in LA knew him.  He wound up on the door of Doug Weston’s Troubadour.  Doug gave him his first big gig on the West Coast.  He was the opening act for the group “Ballin Jack”, which was being touted as the next Chicago.  Ballin’ Jack had a big brass section and they had a minor top forty hit with a song called “Hold On”.  Doug Weston started introducing Joel to a number of record producers.  Billy Joel agreed to perform a number of open act gigs for Doug Weston at the troubadour he signed a performing contract.  He recorded the album “Streetlife Serenade” which does nothing commercially and Billy Joel became more and more frustrated with the music scene in LA.

After a couple of years Billy Joel of feeling stifled by Los Angeles, Billy decides to move back to New York.  He goes home to begin again and get his creative juices flowing again.  He records the album Turnstiles that album becomes a moderate hit for him nationally, with notably the songs “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” and “New York State of Mind”.  Then Joel goes on to write “The Stranger” and wins a Grammy for the song of the year “Just the Way You Are”.  He follows that album with “52nd Street” and the fame train has left the station never to return.   Now Billy Joel was one of the biggest stars in music industry.  He is performing in stadiums to tens of thousands of people.

Then in 1980 Billy Joel played Los Angeles at the Forum.  Approximately 22,000 tickets were sold.  Doug Weston’s attorneys contact the concert promoters and tell them that he has a contract which Billy Joel signed, in 1972, and somewhere in the fine print it promises Doug Weston 10% of all concert revenue in the city of Los Angeles and surrounding area for the next 15 years.  Weston’s agents then gives the concert promoters copies of the contract.  They write Doug Weston a check for hefty sum of money.  When Billy Joel hears about this, and sees the contract, he freaks out.  He yells and screams and swears to the All Mighty that he will never, never, never, never, play the city of Los Angeles ever again.  And that’s exactly what happened.  Billy Joel’s next four albums all reach number one.  Five, if you include the album that followed which was Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits.  Billy Joel was married to a supermodel, brought a rock and roll band to Russia for the first time, without a doubt he was one of the biggest musical stars on the planet.  Billy Joel tour the country, so if you lived in Oshkosh Wisconsin you would have probably seen Billy Joel play.  But if you lived in Beverly Hills you couldn’t see a concert of Billy Joel’s because he was never never never going to play LA.

 

Someone looked into the contract and by the end of 1989 it had expired.  A concert promoters in Los Angeles talked Billy Joel into coming and playing at the Sports Arena.  Since Billy Joel hadn’t been there in close to 10 years he sold out 14 shows.  The problem with the Sports Arena was that it was also home to the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.  So Billy Joel agreed to play from the end of March through the end of April, and he would do shows when the Clippers weren’t playing.  Billy Joel would play three shows, the Clippers would have a four game home stand.  Billy Joel would play three more shows, the Clippers would play another for game home stand.  By the end of the concert dates Joel, his crew, his band, were all having the time of their lives.  All the old history was forgotten and Billy Joel had fallen back in love with the city of the angels.  It was a historic event, the most sold out dates by a performer at the Sports Arena.  I got to see him near the end of the run at the Sports Arena, Billy Joel took the stage to cheering fans and after the opening number said, “Good evening.  Welcome to the Los Angeles Sports Arena, my name is Billy Joel and we’re the house band!”

Another couple of decades have passed and now Billy Joel has made an arrangement with Madison Square Gardens in New York to be their franchise musician.  He has been breaking records playing one concert a month since early in 2014.  The next concert at the Gardens is November 19th 2015.   I wonder if he still says, “We’re the house band.”

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