Tales of the City: Bobby Dazzler 

I can tell you one good thing about being an only child, or at least the only child of someone who refused to spend his time pandering to childish tastes. I spent my divorce dinners eating Indian food, I saw Sondheim on Broadway, and I was taken, at regular intervals, to see Bobby Short sing at the Carlyle Hotel. For my entire life Bobby was a fixture at the Carlyle, as reliable as the tides, as solid as the bedrock under Wall Street. The atmosphere was a bit less rarified than it became recently (a $75 cover!), but boy, was it fabulous.

He played two runs a year, one in spring and one in the late fall: his annual reappearance was forever tied in my mind to an awareness of Christmas, not imminent, but not too far away either. We always went just for the music, my father maintained that the food was both overrated and overpriced, a bit of a scam. Dad’s trick was to get there in time to grab one of the (six? eight?) seats at the bar: they had a greatly reduced cover charge and a superior line of sight. And it was always easy to get another drink.

How do you explain the feeling of doing something which makes you feel as though you are at the white-hot epicenter of the universe? That’s what it felt like. There was a kind of loose, jangly feeling in the room, a jazz-age ease made sparkling by expensive cocktails and glittering outfits, and the incredible timbre of Short’s voice, brassy and velvety at the same time. He could make the most exquisite love song and the goofiest novelty tune sound equally compelling. It was the closest I ever got to living a Fred Astaire movie. Yes, I was a hopeless geek, but I’m not ashamed to say it was a hundred times more exciting than anything else I ever did in my elementary school years.

I remember the audience like painted scenery around Bobby and his piano.  Neat tables of glossy men and women, sometimes in evening dress (when was the last time you saw not-wedding-participants in evening dress?) smiling but entirely, respectfully, quiet, except when applauding.  No talking during numbers, no ringing phones.

Well, Bobby died last month, and I suppose that’s the end of that. I’m trying hard to not grieve too much, but I’d give anything to see him one more time.       

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