This week I fell in love, with Tony Bennett. I have known him for years as a singer, but never personally. I moved to San Francisco with his crooning “I left my heart in San Francisco,” and in 1963 I saw him in person at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe. I was disappointed in his performance then because he seemed to sing off key a couple of times. (I must confess I am tone deaf so I don’t know if my critique was fair).
I didn’t know that later that decade he was part of the civil rights movement and took part in the marches to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, and then he refused to perform in Apartheid South Africa.
I found out these things when he was interviewed on television by Piers Morgan, in between some of the silly questions Morgan interrupts his guests to ask.
When Morgan asked what he brought away from his participation in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, Bennett responded, “I learned that killing someone is the lowest form of human behavior.” That is when he had me.
But it was obvious that Morgan was not pleased with his answer.
Then I learned that his Italian mother, like mine, was also left a widow to raise her children alone during the Great Depression. He learned about integrity from his mother. It is hard to outdo a good Italian mother.
When he was asked about the dark years, in the 70s when he was using drugs, he gave us the lesson he’d learned. He said, “I thought I was doing fine on drugs, but I wasn’t.” Then he told about talking to the former manager of Lenny Bruce, who said about Bruce’s drug habit, “He sinned against his talent.” That was an epiphany for Bennett, and he experienced what all struggling not-to-be addicts would love to have: a transformation. He immediately stopped using, with no withdrawal pains, and no need to go to rehab. He went on doing what his passions were: singing and painting. If that would only happen more often! He added another bit of wisdom nice to remember: “At any given moment you can learn.”
And finally, the man has followed the dictum, “To thine own self be true —and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” Maybe that should be the oath that people take before becoming a CEO or assuming public office. Or maybe it should be a rite of passage at puberty for everyone. Unless of course, you are a natural born villain, but there are few of those.
What surprises me is that Tony Bennett never came to Costa Rica. He would love it here, and I think Costa Rica would love him. Maybe he still will. At 85 – a good looking 85 — being one of those lucky men who gets better with age – he works out every day and refuses to take elevators or escalators when he travels. In Costa Rica he would have many opportunities to take part in marches for good causes. The country seems sympathetic to closing streets, even main streets for parades and marches against such things as breast cancer and cruelty to animals, and marathons devoted to various themes. Even protest marches by groups are usually peaceful here, and their causes usually are just. Most people are tolerant of the inconvenience these can cause . . . except sometimes me.
Actually, it is not the parades or marches that bother me, it is what happens whenever there is a performance or a match at the new stadium in Sabana Park. Limiting access to the Avenida de Las Americas (the boulevard on the north side of the park) has become a regular thing in my neighborhood since the stadium was built. I don’t mind the lines of people hours before an event but just trying to get out of the area is a chore. I suppose I would stop complaining if the occasion were a Tony Bennett concert. And come to think of it, one of the lessons Mr. Bennett taught by example, on the Piers Morgan show, (and something I should learn) is graciousness in an annoying situation.