Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ringo With a Little Help From His Friends

Who in the world could be invited to Ringo Starr’s 70th birthday party brunch and miss it? My two daughters and I did.

Ringo Starr began the celebration of his birthday, July 7th, at 10:45 with a private brunch party at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square. We three Foxes arrived as it ended, at 11:45. Anyone familiar with “Foxtime” won’t be surprised; we had the hour of the coveted invitation wrong.

We had excellent tickets for the evening celebration at Radio City Music Hall, but I hadn’t intended on going downtown—a long Manhattan mile and a half—twice in one natal day. Anyone’s. Not even for “Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band.” However, with a little help from one of my daughter Lauren’s closest friends, Ringo’s press agent Elizabeth Freund, I wavered. We were invited to another reception for the Starr at seven sharp!—one hour before his show. It occurred to me that, having met the only other surviving Beatle, Paul, not to meet Ringo was something like meeting Hansel, but dodging Gretel.

In an austere, notably “unmusicated” VIP suite at the Music Hall, we were joined by a dozen or more invigorated hirsute, hunched and hobbled sixty-somethings we could more or less identify as oldies-but-goodies rockers, but didn’t recognize—and their uniformly svelte companions, whom I still strongly suspected were one and the same quick-change genie.

Ringo entered and immediately began to mix. From no more than several feet away, you notice (and marvel at) how good he looks—trim, vigorous and buoyant, and happy—so genuinely, he makes you happy. And, like that!, he just about walked into me, we shook hands and chatted briefly. Believe me, you’ve had the same conversation, the passing exchange of pleasantries with someone, at any party you’ve been to.

If I had any thoughts about slipping away from the show, Elizabeth dispelled them by telling us emphatically that whatever we did, we should not leave early. That was tantalizing. Lauren and I wondered privately if it might be possible Paul McCartney would materialize, the ultimate magic trick.

I tired of rock concerts some time ago, fortunately while I still had my hearing. Tired of strobe lights in my eyes and obstructive bodies with arms and bottoms waving in opposite directions, largely in my face. But I was impressed by each “All Starr” taking his star turn. Then I got my first big treat, Ringo singing,
Yellow Submarine.” Not long after, Ringo singing, “Act Naturally.” And all at once, in half the time of a Yankee game!, it was the finale. And all those oldies-but-goodies guys were filing onto the stage and joining Ringo for, “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Pretty good! Then, Yoko Ono joined them. I like her as little as the most passionate Beatle fan likes her, and less than that on a visceral level. Nevertheless—impressive; she’s there. Moreover, she and Ringo are stage center, singing. Which must mean they’re talking.

I’m a little disappointed. I had hoped to see Paul on that stage wishing Ringo a “happy…” not just any happy birthday, but a happy 70th. A Beatle turned 70 years old! Still, it’s quite a show, and it’s Yoko and it’s Ringo’s friends and I’m glad I stayed for it.

And all around me, people are standing and singing and screaming and clapping their hands, and raising their arms and whatever rises with them and waving to outdo themselves. This is Ringo’s “Peace and Love” message coming to fruition for him and for them, at least as far, by far, as “Peace and Love” can carry on this July 7th. “Yes I get by with a little help from my friends/ With a little help from my FRIENDS!” Fortissimo! And everyone’s leaving the stage, waving goodbye to the audience. And Ringo’s saying things like, “You’re a great audience” and “I love you, New York” and “Thank you, New York” and he’s waving… goodbye! And he’s gone.

And the house lights come up. And New Yorkers actually seem to have had enough. Time to take their heat to the hot streets. But my eyes are on two guys scrambling to the stage and frantically working to set up a very tall amp smack stage center. And I’m looking for the screens to drop down. This must be it—Paul McCartney via satellite from somewhere in the world where he’s performing. And that’s OK. Paul’s going to wish Ringo a happy birthday!

And out comes Paul McCartney.

This is what they mean by raising the roof! An audience already on its feet doesn’t know what else to do but sit down and thrill and glow. Two Beatles on the same stage, Paul, stage center, guitar in hand, and directly above him on a raised platform, Ringo at his drums. And Paul is singing in that high, powerful voice, a Lennon-McCartney rock-happy “Birthday” song to Ringo. And Ringo descends and joins Paul on stage, and there they are, side by side, mike to mike, soon one’s arm over the other’s shoulder, then Paul kissing Ringo’s cheek and, if I heard correctly, saying, “I love you, man.”

And all I could think of were the two men who weren’t there and why they weren’t there, and try as I did to resist, my eyes filled and tears trickled. And the party was over. Two classy men, icons of our time no doubt, casually, unceremoniously left the stage.

And when the lights came up again—no question it was over, where could it go from there?—all who were around me were awed and elated and not so much saying anything as grunting their inexpressible wonderment.

New York Nights.


  1. Fortissimo!

    Epic. Truly epic.

  2. Like an arrow to it's mark, you got it. Thanks for taking us there.

  3. Sarah and Isabella are both HUGE Beatles fans. She will be quite jealous when I show her this post. Glad you didn't miss out entirely!

  4. Ray, thank you for sharing that special time.

  5. Dear Ray: I had tears too just reading your wonderful RINGO blog. Tears of joy and everything else tears contain. BRILLIANT!
    I often think that a musical highlight of my life was William Atherton singing Milady with you & me & Joe Papp together. (Did I play piano?)
    That was so fleeting and glorious at the same time.
    (I do follow your blogs...what Im doing now, "Bat Out of Hell" on the West End," is here as an attachment, an ad in the UK Standard newspaper. Wish me luck!)

  6. For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Steinman and Mr. Fox wrote a wonderful musical together in the 1970s, called "The Confidence Man", which is loosely based on the novel by Herman Melville. It’s one of my favourite musicals, and it should have been done by Joseph Papp, and I feel that if it was it would now be remembered next to Papp's great achievements, "Hair" and "A Chorus Line". It just goes to show you how unfair and tough this business can be. But I love this score, and the lyrics, Ray's work, are as ingenious as Sondheim, and I have told him this before, and I will treasure it always.

    I'd sacrifice myself at any price
    If only I were able once or twice
    To melt the fire, to freeze the ice
    Or lie between
    A tear-stained sea
    And a sky wept clean...

  7. Thanks, Ray, it was the next best thing to being there. Love, Pat