Hitchhiker- Part 1

A few years later

Since writing a totally random page, I kissed a boy, for a possible biography a few days ago, a lot of people asked me about my assertion that I was the only person hitchhiking in New York City in the mid-'60s and that I had lots of adventures. Maybe I wasn't the only one; that's just poetic license. Or maybe I was. I never saw anyone else hitchhiking around New York on a regular basis-- I mean, not once or twice... all the time.

One summer-- maybe 1967-- I was living on my parent's couch in Brooklyn and working at an Indian import shop on St. Marks Place in Manhattan. After work I would sometimes visit my girlfriend at her parents' apartment on the Lower East Side. So late at night-- let's say between 11pm and 2am-- I would hitch back to Brooklyn along the Belt Parkway. I'll share an adventure from that summer. First a note: I was also selling grass and hash and I was always really stoned and always carrying.

I left Martha's at around midnight and got on the the parkway and as far as Red Hook easy enough. But, as sometimes happened-- especially in as sketchy an area as that was back then-- no one was picking me up. I knew someone would eventually, unless I got arrested for hitchhiking first. But soon enough a limo drives by and then slows down and stops. I don't know if limos were much rarer then than they are now, but in my mind they were incredibly rare, like something you only saw on TV.

Ugghhh... tangent: The way I met Danny Fields is because he, a publicist for Elektra at the time-- and who signed MC5, The Stooges and discovered The Ramones, came to the Doors/Tim Buckley concert I put on at Stony Brook and after the show I walked him back to his car but his car was a stretch limo and there was a chauffeur in it and a bar and everything. I had never seen one and was stunned. "Oh, get it and roll around if you'd like," I still remember him saying 55 years ago. Anyway, that leads to something else that I will come back to at another time because a- it has nothing to do with hitchhiking and b- it has everything to do with my career choice.

OK, back from tangentville... an arm came out of the big black limo motioning me to come to where it had pulled over a few yards away. I ran over and it pulled away slowly but just another few yards. This time someone yelled "Sorry, just come on." So I did, though a little worried now. The door opened and I got in. Inside was an older guy-- maybe late 20s or early 30s-- a stylized Italian Mafia hood and a pretty blonde woman dressed glittery and sexy. The guy asked where I was going and I told him and he said it wasn't far from where they were going and they'd drive me there. I was so happy that they weren't just going to leave me off halfway and make me find another ride after them.

Then the guy starts bragging about how sexy and beautiful his girlfriend was. OK, that's fine. And then he said he had the strongest pot in the world and that I would never forget it. And he lit up a joint.

As it turns out, he was right but I thought to myself something along the lines of what does this rich old man in a suit know about pot. I was the biggest pot dealer in Suffolk County and no one could tell me about strong drugs. But, of course, I would humor him. So I took a toke from the joint he offered me. It wasn't just strong. I took one toke and I was still getting higher two hours later. A few years later this is something I would encounter daily in Afghanistan, but until this moment I had never smoked anything like this before. It was almost like acid. I tripped out of my mind until we were suddenly in front of my building in Sheepshead Bay. I don't remember a thing that was said between the toke and being home.

But then he pulled out a gun and pointed it and me and said he was going to kill me. I came down from my high pretty quickly and said something really stupid about having just been paid and having $70 in my pocket. (In today's money $70 would be $612.60 so it wasn't like nothing... except for a gangster in a limo with a stripper.) Anyway, I think I must have turned white because the two of them started laughing hysterically. He put the gun back in its holster and said I was a good sport and asked if I wanted to come over to their place in Bay Ridge. I was right in front of my door and it was almost 2am and this guy had just put a gun in my face and I didn't even like any of them. But I said OK. I don't know why. There's nothing I wanted from them. These days I'm ready for bed at 9pm. Back then, I didn't need to sleep at all.

So off we went... in a matter of a couple of minutes, I went from praying to God that they would let me go to voluntarily driving off to Mafiaville with them. So we get to their house, which today I might think was "modest" but back then... well pretty much everyone I knew lived in an apartment, not a house. So I was impressed. Once we got inside 3 things happened. First he made me look at every piece of this gaudy Italian, baroque or renaissance or something furniture that looked hideous to me. And after looking at every piece, he wanted to know what I thought. I kept telling him they were all beautiful.

Then he asked me if I wanted to have sex with his girlfriend. I don't think he would have and I didn't want to, but I think I said that I was in a monogamous relationship and that we didn't cheat on each other, which was kind of true. He let me call Martha; I wanted to tell her how stoned I was and what was happening, but she wasn't thrilled about being woken up so the call didn't last long.

Then he asked me to pick some music. I couldn't imagine he would have anything in his record collection I would like. What was I fucking doing there? So I told him to just pick anything he wanted. Nope, he wanted me to pick, like it was a test of some kind. An old rumor I once heard popped into my mind that the Rolling Stones were in bed with the Mafia so I asked if he had any Stones. He didn't. Then I remembered that Motown was definitely connected to the Mafia and that every Italian I knew loved Motown. I asked for The Supremes. Bingo! He had one of their albums and put it on his record player. I liked The Supremes well enough and could definitely get into grooving on their music, especially being as high as I was. But that didn't last long.

He stopped the music after a minute or maybe two and said he was going to play the greatest singer of all time. And he put on Frank Sinatra.

Before I became president of Reprise Records decades later, there had only been one previous president, Sinatra, the founder. He started it as a refuge for himself and his friends-- a refuge of artistic freedom so he wouldn't be told what songs to record and what instrumentation to use and so it wouldn't be someone else making all the decisions about his music. I took that very seriously; artistic freedom was the First Commandment at Reprise Records. He also had the two best seats for the Lakers-- literally, THE TWO BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE. When the Lakers girls kicked, the one in the middle, her foot came 6 inches from my nose. The seats came with the job. I wasn't even a big basketball fan and half the time I just gave other people in the company the tickets to use to help do their jobs promoting our music. But when I used them... they were really good for getting dates. Once I traded them for a new garage door.

I only met Sinatra once. It was backstage at a U2 concert I think. He was functionally senile and it wasn't much of a conversation. But I bet that Mafia kid 3 decades earlier would have wet his pants. Unfortunately when he asked me what I thought of... did he say "The Boss?" He said something like that, it wasn't "God" or "The Chairman." He had some phrase. Well he asked me what I thought and I decided, why not be honest. I panted over his hideous furniture and his gross girlfriend and played along with all his bullshit but I was getting to like him and why not just be honest? What a mistake! There was a time for honesty but that wasn't it.

I hated Sinatra all my life... everything about him. I never even really heard his voice-- he was the symbol of everything I didn't like about my parents and their friends. Like this Mafia guy, they worshipped Sinatra. He was their #1 for my whole life. And my father-- who I was barely ever on speaking terms with-- tried to look just like him and act just like him. The one time I can remember him taking me clothes shopping he even tried to buy me clothes that looked like Sinatra's clothes. Sinatra made my skin crawl.

I think the first time I ever listened to Sinatra's voice was when I was approached by Céline Dion's husband in the late '90s about her wanting to record a posthumous duet of "All the Way" with Sinatra. I gave permission and when they were done, I listened to the tape. She was supposed to have the greatest voice in the world but when I listened back I thought she sounded like a mouse compared to him. The album, All The Way, went platinum 7 times in the U.S. and was a smash hit everywhere in the world. And the duet was nominated for a Grammy. More important, I've enjoyed his music since then.

Oh, and when I told the Mafia guy I hated Sinatra, he was enraged and threw me right out of his house. I can't remember all the horrible things he said but he was nice enough to have his chauffeur drive me home, although not in the limo.