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Live from New York


Bette Midler
At The Continental Baths, 1970-1972

The joint was in the Ansonia Hotel, where Caruso and Stravinsky used to live, but now it was filled with a thousand men wrapped in towels, a full-time VD clinic, and a KY vending machine. Bette and her accompanist, the less-than-divine Mr. Manilow, entertained the troops. Stalking chlorine-drenched tiles like a pint-size Mae West, Bette advanced a bent rendering of New York cabaret tradition, a mix of Cole Porter, Pearl Bailey, and Mabel Mercer, with an occasional reprise of her days as Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof, for old time's sake. The only downside, according to Edmund White, was that Midler's performances made "everybody stop their sexual activities to listen to her."

Sonny Rollins
On the Williamsburg Bridge, 1960

By the time he was 30, Sonny Rollins, the great mohawk-headed saxophone Colossus, had played with Miles, led a quintet with Clifford Brown and Max Roach, and made Tenor Madness with Coltrane. But it wasn't enough. So he disappeared. For two years he played -- "woodshedding," he called it -- up on the rusted walkway of the Williamsburg Bridge, amid trucks and BMT squeal, the winter's wind hard against his face. "I went up on the bridge because I was living on the Lower East Side and it was close," he said. "It was a way of controlling my destiny."

Frank Sinatra
At the New York Paramount,
October 12, 1944

It was a busy year, 1944, for the 28-year-old not-yet-Chairman of the Board. He met Roosevelt, and Frank Jr. was born. Walter Winchell, working with J. Edgar Hoover, who thought Frank was a commie, spread rumors that he paid $40,000 to beat the draft. Still, Frank found time to do his part in the invention of the postwar American teenager, then primarily in the guise of screaming girls referred to as "bobby-soxers," on account of the white half-hose they wore. The apotheosis of what one contemporary psychiatrist called "mammary hyperthesia" occurred in Times Square on Columbus Day, when 30,000 Sinatra fans, insufficiently controlled by several hundred of New York's Finest, broke numerous windows in their attempt to rush the box office of the old Paramount Theatre, dubbed "the home of swoon." It was a libidinal outpouring matched only by the Sullivan-show appearances of Elvis or the Beatles. Sinatra, who had previously appeared at the Paramount opening for Benny Goodman on December 30, 1942, was in fine voice, singing several of his No. 1 hits: "Night and Day," "Embraceable You," "All or Nothing at All," "I'll Be Seeing You." Asked about his remarkable hold over young women, the soon-to-be leader of the Rat Pack said, "Well, I'm a boudoir singer."


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