Monday, December 29, 2008

Warm as early April

Looking towards the Manhattan skyline from the west of the Hudson. 11:00 PM. Photo: JH.
12/29. Weekend almost as warm as early April with some brief spritzes to add to the illusion. Otherwise it was a grey and very quiet weekend in New York. A cab driver told me on Saturday night that I was the slowest holiday time, business-wise, since he started driving twenty-seven years ago. It is also a worry on the minds of many.

The city has been very quiet in almost every neighborhood, except for Times Square which has been jammed with tourists. Looking.

Michael Feinstein
Although, on Saturday night Michael and Eleanora Kennedy invited me to dine at the Regency, and to see their old friend Michael Feinstein with his 17-piece band doing his tribute to Sinatra. This is the 10th anniversary of Feinstein’s at the Regency and Michael’s show is the icing on the cake. It is so popular that they had to move out of the regular clubroom and into the ballroom.

He opened December 2nd and closes with New Year’s Eve show, and he’s filled the place every night. I don’t know if that means you still can’t reserve, but if you’ve been thinking about it, don’t wait another second.

An accomplished musician, a musical performer, Michael Feinstein may also just be the leading performing archivist of what is now called the American Songbook – that archive of American tunes of the first half of the 20th century, the music that spawned Sinatra and all the great crooners and vocalists.

As he took us through his show (about 90 minutes that felt like ten when the end came), he literally gave us a tour of Sinatra’s tastes and transitions as well as some background on the talent that supplied him with his brilliant material.

With only three or four tunes performed at the piano, he does this show standing with mike in hand before the adoring audience. Michael Feinstein is a phenomenon.

The topic of the moment this past weekend
was of course Bernie Madoff et al. The bold isn’t a typo. There is a compulsive hunger for new, fresh information on Mr. Madoff. And Who Else. At least one book is being planned for February publication. I think February is going to be premature for what this can of worms is going to reveal about many members of this community. It will have a distinct effect on the social prominence of a number of individuals.

The other topic of conversation if anyone can tear him or herself away from the Madoff Catastrophe is Caroline Kennedy and her bid to fill out the remainder of Hillary Clinton’s term in the Senate. We’ve had letters both pro and con.

Caroline Kennedy occupies a very special position in New York and possibly the entire world. It is unique and epic from a historical point of view. Her late brother occupied a similar position although he handled it quite differently. In New York where she has lived since she was a small child, she has retained a distinguished if diffident presence.

Because of her name and of course her considerable Kennedy/Onassis fortune she has always had access, almost beyond compare, to the corridors of power. She is probably the closest thing we have to an American princess in the way that Americans seem to revere royalty (as long as they don’t have to support it). Yet despite all that she has basically refrained from getting too involved with anything outside her own circle of friends and interests.

None of us knows what it is like to be Caroline Kennedy, age 51, child of destiny, wife in a marriage that is often rumored about, mother of three healthy children to whom she appears to be devoted. There are people out there who do know her well and who do know what she’s like. However, they will never tell you because part of their loyalty as friends is to zip it.

The same could not be said of her mother or her brother, let alone her father. All were highly social, sociable and expressive. Jackie, for all her skill with discretion and requisite privacy that she guarded so cleverly, was still out there in the world. She had close friends with whom she talked about herself and her life in the most revealing terms.

Many of her acquaintances and friends had Jackie stories, almost all of which described a curious, clever, talkative, witty woman, with a ready smile; a woman who loved people; and who was highly amusing herself. Much the same could be said of son John. He had an army of friends and acquaintances, of all walks of life, with whom he enjoyed a merry camaraderie and many adventures. Many of his friends, as it was with his mother’s friends, talked about the man, their friend, their charmed pal, with joy and amusement.

Caroline Kennedy has lots of friends too although in a more circumspect way. New Yorkers in the game are well aware of the rungs on the ladder and who is who and what is where. Caroline Kennedy has chosen to remain out of that fray and above it. For whatever reason, the result of that “out and above” has allowed her a highly privileged position.

I have always wondered if her self-presentation was simply an expression of that position. Where her mother and her brother could nod and smile at a passerby or someone else at the lunch counter, the daughter is much less inclined.

You never see the woman and think to yourself “oh there’s Caroline Kennedy.” You see the woman and you think of the family history, your country’s history, and the tragedy of her father and the incredibleness of her mother. Loss.

Watching her interview on the internet yesterday afternoon, never having her heard speak in a conversation, I was surprised. It was a little like that experience of hearing a very familiar face speak for the first time. They are suddenly different. Caroline Kennedy’s public image will be noticeably altered after this, whether she goes to the Senate or not.
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