Here's a story that's going to make you laugh, make you cry, and most of all make you think. Celebrity is a rough game. But Jesse Cutler is a survivor. Read how Jesse reinvents himself over and over. With Jesse, you brush elbows with legendary celebrities. You're up close to the action as he signs major recording contracts, performs on Broadway, records in the best studios in New York and Los Angeles. From having Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones watch in amazement as Jesse's band, the Young Executives, covered the hit song "Satisfaction," to helping arrange and then perform in Stephen Schwartz's hit Broadway show Godspell with the #1 single "Day by Day," to being the premier artist for Faberge's Brut Records label that included Michael Franks and comedian Robert Klein, to recording an album with Academy Award winner Joe Renzetti (The Buddy Holly Story), Jesse had it all. But temptations, seduction and leveraged buyouts of major entertainment conglomerates left him out in the cold.
STARLUST JESSE CUTLER The Price of Fame M J P • N E W YO R K STARLUST Copyright © 2008 Jesse Cutler No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying and record- ing, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from author or publisher (except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages and/or show brief video clips in review). ISBN: 978-1-60037-417-3 (Paperback) ISBN: 978-1-60037-418-0 (Hardback) ISBN: 978-1-60037-419-7 (Audio) Library of Congress Control Number: 2008925062 Published by: Cover/Interior Design by: Rachel Lopez firstname.lastname@example.org Morgan James Publishing, LLC Cover photo credit: Dick Zimmerman 1225 Franklin Ave Ste 32 Garden City, NY 11530-1693 Toll Free 800-485-4943 www.MorganJamesPublishing.com All photos in text are the sole property of Jesse Cutler. To all the millions of stars in the universe who are still unnamed unknown and unrecognized…. and to the memory of my best friend, the catalyst for this book, Anthony Hattenbach ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would ﬁrst like to humbly thank the people I have loved who have encouraged, inspired, and aided me with their support throughout my journey of life, love, and creativity. While there are too many to name here, I, of course, must thank my parents, Louis and Terry Gibaldi, for giving me the tools of education, a solid foundation, morals, and the best of whatever they could. I will forever be thankful. My sister, Leonora, rest her soul, passed away far too young but left with me my two wonderful nephews, Michael and Jeﬀrey Salvo. My grandmother, Anna Monteleone-Guarneri, who gave me the truest of love and aﬀection, thank you! To Ricky Shutter, a world-class drummer. You have been my faithful friend, my all-time best supporter. No one can ever replace you. ank you for all that you have given me throughout the years. v vi S TAR L UST To Paul Shaﬀer, Stephen Schwartz, Joe Renzetti, Stanley B. Herman, Ezra Kliger, David Mikeal, and Nina DeVanguardia: thank you for stepping up and supporting me in my book project. You were with me as I lived this, and I am grateful that you are with me again as this story goes out to the world. Most of all, I would like to thank the very special people who have helped me bring this book into your hands. A major thank you, always, to my part- ner, Michael Leigh. You believed in me and brought me back to life, and I am eternally grateful for you. To Dr. Patricia Ross who painstakingly edited this book. Your talents and empathy for my writing skills made the ﬁnal birthing of this book bearable. To Nicolo Stabile, my nephew, for carefully reading the ﬁnal document. And last but not least, Nancy Tart Raynor, wherever you may be, you were my best friend while writing this book, and I will always be grateful for your love and support. And always, I acknowledge God, my heavenly father, who shed his holy light throughout my times of darkness and despair. He granted me my talent for music and helped me develop it into my greatest passion. Louis Milo Gibaldi, age 4 TESTIMONIALS L ife is an art, and talent lies in the imagination. And if you’re inspired by a dream, you will have harnessed a great source of energy to make that dream come true. I’ve watched Jesse Cutler build on dreams many times. He represents the indelible dream maker who epitomizes my philosophy to its fullest. To Art. To Artists! STANLEY B. HERMAN Actor/Producer/Entrepreneur (Requiem for a Dream) Los Angeles, CA (http://www.stanleybherman.com) I was fascinated to read Jesse Cutler’s description of his experiences with Godspell. While Jesse describes moments where he feels he was arrogant or where he missed opportunities, I always found working with him a terriﬁc vii VIII S TAR L UST experience. To me, his creativity, enthusiasm, and unique style of guitar play- ing greatly enhanced the arrangements of the score and helped to deﬁne a particular kind of “pop Broadway” style. It amazes me to read what was going on in his head and heart at the time of Godspell, but that’s part of what makes this book so interesting. STEPHEN SCHWARTZ Academy Award-winning Composer New York, NY As a mother of an 8-year-old daughter who is interested in becoming a model or an actress, this book was very enlightening and gave me an insider’s per- spective of the inner workings of the entertainment industry and the secret world of show business. NINA DEVANGUARDIA Mother of two Winter Park, FL In 1976, I was 35; Jesse Cutler was a twenty-something. Jesse was a really good-looking Italian boy from New York. e girls loved him. Jesse was a killer singer and wrote great songs, so much so that he landed a nice record- ing deal with United Artists to make an album. He chose me to arrange and produce it. I had just come oﬀ of arranging the strings for Barry Manilow’s hit song “Mandy.” With the great arrangements and Jesse’s voice—and a bunch of really great musicians—we made a wonderful album. e music was all engulﬁng. It consumed us. We lived ‘the life’ of show business, Jesse and I, and although neither of us fell into the usual traps, we had a ball. It was the life of dreams—we knew it, and savored it. Testimonials ix Most young upstarts would sacriﬁce body parts for that experience, and many did. Jesse and I also ﬂirted with the ﬁlm biz. In 1978, I won an Oscar as the music producer/composer for the independent ﬁlm e Buddy Holly Story. I brought Jesse in as the guitar player, and he peopled the band in the very last scene with many of his musical friends. So, there we were, Jesse and Joe. We spent some wonderful years together in La La Land. We lived it up. It was wonderful, and I hope that anyone reading this will have fun. It was a trip. It was show business in the ’70s, and it was a wild ride. JOE RENZETTI Academy Award-winning Composer/Arranger Bucks County, PA From day one, as Concertmaster for his United Artists album, I discovered that Jesse Cutler was a man of enormous talent. His deeply emotional and sweeping melodies gave wings to my inner soul. May this book be an inspiration to those seeking to have their careers take careful and successful ﬂight. EZRA KLIGER Violinist/Conductor Los Angeles, CA CONTENTS Foreword xiii PROLOGUE 1 CHAPTER ONE: Rude Awakenings 7 CHAPTER TWO: Discoveries 21 CHAPTER THREE: Music is the Magic 35 CHAPTER FOUR: e Rise and Fall of Lou London 53 CHAPTER FIVE: Private Lessons 67 CHAPTER SIX: Proving Myself 81 CHAPTER SEVEN: Learning to Lie 93 CHAPTER EIGHT: e College Bribe 105 CHAPTER NINE: Rebel, Rebel 117 CHAPTER TEN: Who’s Really In Charge? 133 xi xii S TAR L UST CHAPTER ELEVEN: e Spell of Godspell 147 CHAPTER TWELVE: Love, Star Style 163 CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Music My Mistress 181 CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Stripping Down 193 CHAPTER FIFTEEN: My Own Worst Enemy 207 CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Making My Parents Proud 223 CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Fabergé’s Premier Recording Artist 239 CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Celebrity’s Child 253 CHAPTER NINETEEN: e Land of L.A. 267 CHAPTER TWENTY: L.A. Gone Bad 281 CHAPTER TWENTY ONE: Midnight Train to Manhattan 293 CHAPTER TWENTY TWO: Angels From God 309 CHAPTER TWENTY THREE: Making it to the Top 327 CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR: Hope Remains 347 EPILOGUE: Fare Well 359 FOREWORD S how business is everything that you’ve always heard it to be—all the ﬂuﬀ, the fantasies, and even the hard falls into oblivion. I’ve been in the entertainment industry a long time, from Broadway and television to music and movies. I’ve worked in TV since 1975 and have spent the last 26 years with David Letterman. rough it all, I’ve watched talent come and go, the starlets and “one-hit wonders.” I’ve witnessed something even more remarkable, however, something that isn’t usually discussed in the trade papers and tabloids because it’s too hard to pin down exactly when it happens, too diﬃcult to paint in the garish colors the media uses to sell celebrity. It’s almost impossible to put what I’m talking about into one neatly packaged phrase, but if I had to, I would call it the cycle of celebrity. And it goes something like this: there are many talented people in this world, but xiii xiv S TAR L UST few make it to the top. e reason for this is that who’s “in” and who’s “out” depends in large part on public taste, and it’s no secret that the public is ﬁckle. ey like something and then they move on. So to become a celebrity and then maintain yourself as a star, you need to be talented, of course, but you also need the smarts to ﬁgure out how to market yourself in the milieu of what’s “in.” And, you have to be willing to go the distance, all the time. Celebrity, especially lasting celebrity, depends on whether a person can capi- talize on what’s working today and then continue to repackage themselves as public taste changes. is celebrity cycle is, by deﬁnition, very demanding. Some capitalize on their talent in their youth, and then they’re done. Some maintain the ﬁre throughout their lives, and some willingly choose to let it all go. Hollywood and New York City are littered with those who had stars in their eyes when they were young, who yearned to have their faces blown up larger than life or hear their voices magically crooning to them from the radio. ey either got eaten up or decided that it was best to leave the world of make-believe to those better equipped to handle it. Fame—it’s an unbelievably heady feel- ing when it happens, a sort of out-of-body experience where things get very unreal very fast, if you let them. So, it is with great pleasure that I write this foreword for StarLust: e Price of Fame, the story of Jesse Cutler’s life in show business. And while you may not know the name, you know his music. I met Jesse when we did the Godspell movie soundtrack album together back in the ’70s, and I have met up with him periodically over the years. After watching the parade of actors, singers, authors, and other colorful personalities, I see what it takes to have staying power, and I take great delight in knowing that Jesse has maintained himself as a creative force in the entertainment industry. He un- derstands the meaning of celebrity—how it can harm you and how you can use it to your advantage. Foreword xv As I have navigated the nebulous cycle of celebrity, I can say one thing for certain: some people have talent, some have longevity, and some have both. Jesse belongs in the latter camp. He seems to have that knack for reinvent- ing and repackaging himself, for coming up with something innovative. He’s incredibly talented and a fantastically unique musician, but as you’ll ﬁnd out from this book, he’s also deﬁnitely experienced all of show business, the highs, the lows, the lies, and the joys. While his book is an autobiography, if you read closely, you’ll ﬁnd that it is also a cautionary tale about what it is like to be a celebrity. It gives you an idea of what you may run into emotionally, ﬁnancially, psychologically, and spiritually. Being a “star” aﬀects all the dynamics of life, and Jesse takes you through all of it by sharing his own experiences. Most important, he tells you how he’s survived. In this business, there are few like him. His story shows you that, by choice, he’s stayed on the outer circles of celebrity, but he’s also a Grammy Award recipient—the top honor in music. While he routinely plays in fame’s inner circle, he has stayed on the outer rim of it all, and that makes him the perfect pair of eyes and ears to comment on the whole package of stardom. In a way, he’s like the Chorus in a Greek tragedy—interpret- ing the action, cautioning the audience, applauding what is right. But sometimes, he steps oﬀ the sidelines and directly into the play. He’s made some mistakes, experienced the dark side of fame, but he’s always managed to pull himself up, step aside from the pit, and move on with his “self” and his sanity intact. Jesse is a master of reinvention, and what I got from reading this book is that he has one of the most important kinds of talent in show biz. He’s an “everyman’s person,” able to relate to everyone. And while he’s seasoned, he’s not judgmental. So, as he repackages himself again, I am thrilled that Jesse Cutler is back in the game. PAUL SHAFFER November, 2007 PROLOGUE Y ou get no warning about what celebrity is or how to deal with it. It’s sort of multitiered. e initial stage is feeling discombobulated and not up to task. I didn’t understand the incessant attention when I went outside, the way people completely focused on me made me very uncomfortable… en you start to see the ﬁckleness of celebrity… that it isn’t rooted in something of real value. ere is this strange wanting by people to get next to you. It has nothing to do with you but with something they feel they are missing in themselves. BRAD PITT Parade Magazine October 7, 2007 1 2 S TAR L UST In the summer of 1956, I was ﬁve years old. I had just returned home from my ﬁrst oﬃcial full summer at camp. Camp was fun, but I spent that sum- mer with something weighing me down. So, on my ﬁrst day home, I started walking around the kitchen table. Round and round in a clockwise circle I marched and all I could think about was that all the songs had already been written. I was really upset to think that there were no more songs to write. I don’t know why I thought this. I didn’t play any instruments. I hadn’t writ- ten hardly anything in my life, let alone a song. But I was deeply troubled. I started to cry; my parents probably thought I was just sorry to leave summer camp. But, oh no! I was worried about music being stricken from creation. And I felt this as intensely as I did when I wondered where the sky ended. By the way, I’m still wondering about both. I went on to write many songs. I lived the life of a musician who didn’t need a day job. I got my big break in the hit oﬀ-Broadway play Godspell, and because of that, I made the right connections to get the recording contracts. It looked like I had “made it.” But I found out the hard way that it takes more than just talent to grab on and then hold on to the proverbial brass ring of stardom. I learned only too well the betrayal and backstabbing that happens as you climb your way up the ladder of fame. If you don’t have the right sup- port, the right business management, the right love and nurturing, it’s nearly impossible to reach the goal because there’s no protection against those who, like Brad Pitt says, want to suck everything out of you. While this is the story of my early life, I have always thought of this book as something more. First, I hope that everyone who reads this will never feel that they are alone or that no one else can understand the cruelty of severe rejection of their own unique talents. I have lived that rejection over and over and over—sometimes by my own stupid decisions, and sometimes by the Prologue 3 ﬁckle nature of fate. Because of all of those dark times, I knew that I had to write my story to be more than a “tell-all” tale of all the sex and drugs that accompanied me on my way up the ladder and followed me on the way back down. You can read any number of those kinds of stories in any number of celebrity memoirs. I can’t say how many hours, days, or even years I’ve wanted to get this story out, but ﬁnally, somehow, I sit here, now, in Santa Monica, California, just spilling these words out onto paper. And as I write, I see this story as a cautionary tale—one that tells you what not to do as you chase your own brass ring. Periodically, I would see the events of my life unfold like a movie, and I even pictured writing this catharsis in a cozy, rustic beach house in Carmel or somewhere along the Monterey Peninsula, a writer’s perfect set- ting. If the whole movie thing sounds cliché, you’ll see that it’s not as you read about all of my diﬀerent brushes with fame. rough it all, however, one thing is certain, I have come to respect the muse called creativity, and when she says, “Hop to,” I listen. I’ve learned, over the years, the best part of being creative is that you never really know when your muse will call, but you must be ready…no matter what. Above all, what I have come to understand through my many brushes with fame is that we need to recognize the blessing of our talent for what it is: our voices, hands, legs, and feet—all a part of an extraordinary miracle known as the interaction of body and mind. e true artist harnesses, reﬁnes, and continually practices their particular art. I know that I have more years behind me than I do ahead of me, but I will continue to create and to give voice to my art. I see this book as yet another vehicle with which to accom- plish that. So, as I write, I think of all of you who have weathered unseen blockades, survived torturous inner struggles, and traveled across magical boundaries 4 S TAR L UST into the land of art. ese are all part of a giant key ring ﬁlled with several shiny keys that can either open the door to the paradise of fame or to a Pan- dora’s box of unspeakable hells. I think of the blessed few who have “made it,” who found a way to hang on. My hat is oﬀ to you because I know that to get where you are, you, too, have probably suﬀered your many disappoint- ments. I think about and admire those artists who answered fame’s siren call with an “I think not!” I understand why you would knowingly choose not to hang on to the prize. But most of all, I think of most artists, the burdened ones who just exist, frustrated, confused, and even directionless. Know some- thing; you are a SURVIVOR no matter what…GOD BLESS YOU! Since I have been given so many opportunities to cross the line of ano- nymity to celebrity status and have not done so, I realize that I have been, in part, the victim of my own fears of self-destruction. Being the man who feared his greatest wish isn’t easy—and I’m sure that I’m not alone in that— but it has inspired me to chart the waters of my own story. Everyone is born into this world with talent—but that doesn’t mean that everyone is a talented artist. As I start my journey back to my own begin- nings as a musician and try to make sense of what happened to me in that glittering and sometimes dark world of show business, my heart goes out to all of you who were born with the blessing or burden of natural artistic tal- ent. Be you a musician, writer, dancer, ﬁlmmaker, actor, director, or even the child born of parents too poor to be given an instrument, it really is for you that I write this book. I hope that through my trials and tribulations you will ﬁnd hope and be able to take heart for your own journey to stardom—how- ever you choose to deﬁne it. Prologue 5 Louis A. Gibaldi and son, Louis “Chuckie” Gibaldi RUDE AWAKENINGS CHAPTER ONE T erry, Terry, I think I’ve killed the baby,” my father screamed one early morning around 2:30 a.m. I was coughing and sputtering horribly because he had given me camphorated oil instead of the banana cough syrup that I preferred. It was about four months after my birthday, the 28th of August, 1951, and while I don’t remember the incident, I do remember the taste of that oil. It’s the way I woke up to life, in a way, and it was the ﬁrst of many rude awakenings. When I was born, my family lived on 337 Grove Street in a four-story brownstone on the border of Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. Our apartment was an old-fashioned railroad layout, with four rooms all lined 7 8 S TAR L UST up. When you walked into my house, you would start at the kitchen/dining room, then the living room, then my bedroom that I shared with my sister, and then my parents’ room. at room overlooked the street. Not much privacy in that setup, but it did foster a sense of home, something I never felt again. When you are a performing artist and you want to make it big you need ﬁve basic things. You need ﬁnancial support, a professional assessment of your talent, knowledge of how the biz works, reputable professional manage- ment, and, most of all, a nurturing support system. As a young child, I didn’t know that I had a gift. I deﬁnitely wasn’t an early childhood prodigy, like some kids, but I still longed for a warm, safe environment. I loved my family, but it was a burdened and complex unit that in one sense gave me the love and support I needed, and in another, left me out to dry. My father, Louis Anthony Gibaldi, born of ﬁrst-generation pure Sicilian parents, married my mother, Terry, nee Petrina Guarneri, in 1943. My mother also came from a pure Sicilian background. As you can imagine, no matter what diﬀerence of opinion occurred in our home, it invariably resulted in temporary earth- quakes of loud shouting and doors slamming. I often thought I was witness- ing the beginning of WWIII, and that was deﬁnitely unsettling. My fears weren’t entirely unfounded, either. America had just ﬁnished World War II and went right back into another with Korea over some vague yet scary thing called Communism. War was a constant threat. As a child, I couldn’t grasp the politics, but watching my parents ﬁght deﬁnitely added to my sense of unease and, at times, downright helplessness. I always had a strong inner fear that my parents would break up, and that would have destroyed me. ey never did split up—and now that I think about it, maybe the ever-impending WWIII was the reason. If you’ve ever Rude Awakenings 9 been around Italians and Spaniards (and I suspect the Portuguese are like this, too), you know that in one minute all hell can break loose and then only ﬁfteen minutes later, everybody’s hugging and kissing again. Experienc- ing this as a kid with the frequency that I did prepared me to survive quick changes of attitude and mood swings of people and situations in the future. And I’m just as guilty. I haven’t shaken the cycle of getting angry, letting the steam spray out of me, and ﬁve minutes or so later, I’m “singing in the rain” again and can’t understand why the other person can’t let go of being upset until the next day or two. Besides my parents, I lived with my sister, Leonora, who was named after my father’s mother. She was a pretty girl with dark brown, straight hair, and dark eyes. She was seven years older than I, and during these early years, I’m told, that in order for me to go to sleep at night, Lee would have to hold my hand until she fell asleep. I would lie awake until she did, but then I would steal back into the living room and crawl into my father’s lap. at was sheer comfort and joy! I was a terror as a kid, full of energy. My mother loved to tell how I would launch myself out of my high chair into various moving objects, including other people. I guess I was looking for both a connection and attention, and that was the best way that I knew how to do it. I would also get to stay up and watch TV! It was still a novelty back then, and so it was a treat to watch the early black-and-white shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, e Loretta Young Show, Zane Grey eater, and best of all, e Peggy Lee Show. Now she was a sexy woman! I can still remember Peggy Lee back when I was only four or ﬁve years old, and I remember being stimulated by her blond hair, the little beauty mark on her cheek, and her sensuous voice and style. It 10 S TAR L UST was the 1950s, and it was the heyday of American optimism. It was a time of celebration, for it was the postwar years, and we were on the eve of the sexual revolution. My main source of entertainment was music! Elvis was singing, “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog,” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” Sometimes I had even more fun by just ﬂinging the 45s out our backyard window than I did listening to the music. It was a simple time, and I led a simple life. I did what I was expected to do, and the highlight of my day was when my father came home. He always had a great big hug for me—something I didn’t often get from my mother—and he always had some sort of surprise for me under his arm. He was forever bringing me home a new game or toy. He was my only link to the big, scary, outside world. He’d tell me exciting stories about his daily adventures, and I always wondered what he did “out there.” I would ask him questions, lots of them, and he would take the time to answer them. He even asked me questions in return, something my mother and sister never did, and I’ve always considered him my savior. His love was glue, and it deﬁnitely held us all together. Whether thirty-seven years have passed or 370 years, man has generally been given the need of belonging to a “family.” I was no diﬀerent. I desper- ately needed to feel that I belonged somewhere, and I know that my devel- opment as an artist was made possible because the Gibaldi family, while it certainly had its diﬃculties like any other family, was grounded in my par- ents’ continual commitment to each other and to their children. I know that both my sister and I were blessed with an inner strength because my parents wanted the world for us and loved us in the best way that they could. I think if it were not for that very important factor I never would have been able to survive long enough to have written this book. Rude Awakenings 11 Mother Beatrice “Terry,” sister Leonora, and baby Chuckie My given name is Louis Milo Gibaldi. I was named Louis after my father and Milo after his father, very Italian and very traditional. But Chuckie was my nickname, supposedly given to me by my mother because she said I was “born laughing.” So ﬁrst came “Chuckles,” then, thank God, came Chuck. I think it was probably the result of my mother ﬁnally admitting years later that she’d been downing a strong alcoholic beverage known as a Manhattan while she was pregnant. Back then, they didn’t have all the public health warnings about drinking alcohol while pregnant, so maybe I wasn’t that hap- py as a baby; I was just plain drunk. It set the tenor of our relationship, and it was complex. While my father was my savior, my mother was a beautiful but distant woman in the kitchen who made wonderful meals and kept our house very neat and tidy. As I said above, I know that she loved me in her own way, but she never really gave me the close, nurturing care that I craved. ere were times my mother and I chatted about little things, but we never had too 12 S TAR L UST much real dialogue. If it was a big issue, she would just raise her voice and try to control and dominate my feelings. is isn’t good for any child, and I remember feeling very lonely because I didn’t have a mother whom I could talk to and conﬁde in. is fundamental disconnect with my mother has haunted me throughout my personal and professional lives. e ﬁrst major rift with my mother happened when I was in kindergarten. I bet many of you had parents who liked animals but still carried invisible “all pets forbidden on premises” signs on their backs. My mother was no diﬀer- ent. I was given a beagle puppy that I named Tiny. I was so excited. I had him just three days when I came home from school, looking forward to playing with him, but I didn’t see him. “Where’s Tiny?” I asked. “Oh, we gave him to Big John, the guy who lives in the country,” my mother said. “What?” I cried out in disbelief. “ at’s where dogs belong, by a lake in the woods,” my mother said, mak- ing no excuses. I just looked up at her with tears streaming down, sobbing and crying over the loss of my little friend. All my mother kept saying was, “You never walked him and he made cocky all over the house. Stop crying! You never walked him.” I was stunned. I ﬁnally had a playmate and now he was mercilessly given away without my knowledge or permission. I felt thoroughly betrayed by my mother and I didn’t fully forgive her for thirty years. No amount of cleaning and tasty dinners can compensate for a mother’s aﬀection, and needing a woman’s aﬀection, yet distrusting it, has caused quite a few relationship challenges for me throughout my adult years. My mother was also trying to drown something out with alcohol. I never could ﬁgure out what, but while she Rude Awakenings 13 wasn’t a bad alcoholic, she had a problem. And when she did drink, she became a diﬀerent person, and she would invariably want to “bomb Cuba” and “assassinate Castro...” I always wondered if she drank to get over the fact that she came from a divorced family. In the ’30s and ’40s, in an Italian Catholic family, divorce was a cardinal sin. I also think my mother was always worried that her marriage would fall apart—a fact that would become a huge factor in my ﬁrst brush with fame, as you’ll see later in my story. But as I said, my parents stayed married for ﬁfty-ﬁve years! My mother was always very proud of this accomplishment, and nowadays, I think that’s a really big accomplishment. When I was seven years old, I woke up to my father saying, “Chuckie, Chuckie, c’mon, wake up! We’re moving to our new house today. Your moth- er is already making the eggs and sausages. So wash your face, brush your teeth, and let’s go.” is was another rude awakening, and I found myself a little upset and uprooted. I went to the kitchen and saw my furniture being vacuumed out through the front door. I didn’t like it. My mother also looked pissed. She was staring down at her framed paintings of dainty little ballerinas. Uh-oh. She noticed that I had boldly decided to enlarge their breasts to magnani- mous proportions with my Crayolas. It was only the beginning of a lifelong breast fetish. My mother proceeded to embarrass me by confronting me with the three ballerinas. So I put on my sincerest puppy-dog eyes and said, “I didn’t do it…must’a been Santa Claus.” She didn’t hit anything or me be- cause, fortunately, the movers were still inside the apartment, and my mother was too caught up with the whole experience of the new house. She realized that the pictures belonged to the past. e next thing I knew, I was lifted into the front seat of a large moving van on my way to Long Island, where every New York City kid seems to 14 S TAR L UST eventually escape. Years earlier, Long Island had been primarily a summer retreat for some of the very wealthy families at places like Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton, and Watermill—all places I later discovered and enjoyed— but in the Fifties, Long Island was developing into an upper-middle-class haven for city dwellers. My parents were no exception. I quickly got over being grumpy because this was deﬁnitely an adventure. For anyone, young or old, the feeling of moving, of traveling to new adventures, is what keeps life exciting and even just plain bearable. at’s not to say when you’re bored you should pack everything up and move, but take a trip, get out of town, or just visit a good friend who’s only a plane ride away. I bet if a person was de- pressed and thinking there was “no way out” and all options were exhausted, and then someone handed that person a plane ticket to let’s say Tahiti, that person’s life is surely saved, even for a little while at least. Anyway, the ride to our new house in Malverne was bumpy, but it was neat being seven years old in 1958 and driving in the front seat of a big ol’ truck followed from behind by my father’s white Oldsmobile. “We’re almost there,” my mother said, wide-eyed. en she said, “ ere it is, Ross Court. at’s it—thirty-three Ross Court!” My mother’s excitement was contagious and I think the number thirty- three became a symbol of some sort to her because she was also thirty-three years old at the time. I heard her say several times through the years, “You know, I was thirty-three when we moved to Malverne and we lived at thirty- three Ross Court, and Jesus Christ was cruciﬁed at thirty-three.” ough I never got the connection, to her it meant something. In fact, throughout the coming years I would hear something about the number thirty-three being a master number of the universe or something like that, so Mom’s enthusiasm wasn’t completely oﬀ the mark. Rude Awakenings 15 My father beamed as he got out of the Oldsmobile. I could tell this was a very proud moment for him because he was providing well for his family. I knew that many terriﬁc things were in store for us at our new house, and all I could think of was, what would my room look like? Was there a backyard? Could I get a new dog? I was going to get to live a picture-book existence, but while 33 Ross Court to this day remains my longest stay in one house, still it never really felt like home. It did witness two of my attempts at stardom, and for me, both are memories ﬁlled with disappointment and betrayal. e best part about our new house, however, had to be that I had my very own room. It wasn’t the ideal location, but it was my sanctuary. It was situated at the top of the stairs between my sister’s and parents’ bedrooms, so I deﬁnitely felt in the middle of it all. If my parents were hard on my sister, she’d run up the stairs, crying and screaming, and veer to the left. If my par- ents had an argument, one of them would invariably run up the stairs while shouting and make a right turn. Yes, being in the middle left something to be desired. I would fantasize about raising the roof for a private apartment. ere was another distinct disadvantage to this house. Every Sunday there would be several relatives moving about in the downstairs kitchen, mostly older women wearing cooking aprons with bold patterns and colors, speaking in Sicilian dialects. I’d say the noise decibel level started to rise at seven in the morning along with the unmistakable smell of garlic. It would snake underneath my closed door as if programmed, like radar, to upset my unsuspecting stomach. For some, the smell of garlic in tomato sauce would be a tantalizing treat to be greeted with at any time of the day, but to “little Chuckie,” it was torture. So there I was at eight years old, being assaulted by early morning garlic attacks, harassed by my big sister, who was experiencing the growing pains of midpuberty at age ﬁfteen, and my dad waking me up every morning with 16 S TAR L UST “Rise and shine, the weather’s ﬁne.” ey say that every refuge has its price and that’s a universal fact. From top to bottom of the socioeconomic scale, every human being is forced to deal with the cards that the good Lord has dealt him or her. Some learn how to deal with the cards early on in life, and some just never learn. Confrontation with life’s ups and downs can make the diﬀerence between a good life and a life of unnecessary hardships. “Be here now,” a phrase synonymous with the early Seventies, has grown to be impor- tant to every living human being, every second of every day. e hand of cards I was dealt was deﬁnitely a mixed one. I had a father who was extremely protective, handsome, rather generous, and very caring. His ego would sometimes become overinﬂated and he had a tendency to overanalyze things, but he was my safe harbor. My mother was a brunette and a great homemaker, chef, and hostess, but sometimes I think in an earlier incarnation she must have been a marine drill sergeant who possessed a few sadistic tendencies to punish me emotionally and physically. en there was my sister, an intelligent, attractive girl who might have felt a little displaced by my arrival as her little brother. While as a child I never felt threatened by her, I did as I got older. She and my mother never really did understand my talent and that I wanted to become famous. While I was blessed with all my faculties, I also had a lot of “something else”—unmitigated talent, a whole attic full of talent. Talent, as deﬁned by Webster’s, means the abilities, powers, and gifts bestowed upon a person: natural endowments; the stewardship of your time and treasure; that which God has given you as a divine trust. And while I didn’t know early on that I had a talent for playing the guitar and writing songs, I knew I had a lot of energy that needed a creative outlet. I also needed nurturing and admiration, something I didn’t get enough of from the two women in my early life, my mother and sister. Rude Awakenings 17 Meanwhile, not only was I the last born, but also I was informed early on by my mother that she had suﬀered a previous miscarriage. She told me that if my brother “Jerome” had been born, I wouldn’t have existed. e news never quite sat well with me; in fact, as the years progressed, I felt more and more that my mother, my father, and my sister seemed bonded together, leaving me on the outside. It was them and me, and me and them. Last born, ﬁrst forgotten. And while it did at times make me feel like an intruder, an invader, an unwelcomed guest who overstayed his visit, I also learned how to put it to good use. I would tell myself that it didn’t matter anyway, and my feelings of being an outsider added fuel to the ﬁre that was brewing inside. It is a fuel most lone or lonely children possess and that very often can drive them to high levels of performance. It’s like super hi-test petrol put in race cars, and for a creative person, loneliness can be a turbo-charge into their restless soul as a way to soar, higher and higher, above and beyond all the friction, rejection, insecurities, and imperfections. When I was eight years old, perhaps because I was feeling alone, I was touched by the desire to lift, ﬂy, and soar like a spaceship moving at imperceptible speeds. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to ﬂy away; it was more of a desire to get a diﬀerent perspective on the world. Even though I was young, I was becoming aware that I was really a witness to this world. I could participate when I wanted, but I could always pull back at will. On one early summer evening of that year, I remember sitting on the toilet of the upstairs bathroom and having an “out-of-body” experience. I distinctly remember my spirit rising out of my body and ﬂoating up to the corner of the ceiling, remaining suspended. I realized, right then, that I had the ability to travel, at will, without my body. (I also found out that I could do it better when I slept. It’s made for some fun nighttime adventures.) Sometimes this 18 S TAR L UST made me feel alienated, but it did allow me to look at the grand picture of life. In fact, as I made my way into adulthood, I really worked to develop the capacity to look at myself from an outside viewpoint, and, for any artist, this is an invaluable skill. In movie terms, it’s called the third eye, and it is a heightened form of self-awareness. e third eye is always aware, always watching from an in- visible lens. For me, it seemed like everyone had a camera centered on his or her forehead, but instead of being uncomfortable about it, it has always intrigued me. I’m constantly seeing myself in a movie, and the mise-en-scène (the mirror within a mirror) eﬀect gives me great perspective on the grander picture of things. is has helped me through some of the tougher times, like when I lost my recording contract or was screwed over by someone who had previously oﬀered help. It has given me a more compassionate view of others and why they do what they do. It has also helped me to understand something fundamental about us artist types. As I have watched people who don’t have this ability to see themselves objectively, from a camera’s point of view, I’ve come to understand that it is something that anyone who is called to the performing arts possesses. Whether you are an actor, singer, dancer, or a musician like me, you are probably acutely aware of this focused third eye. You know your performance is going to be judged by an exterior audience and the better the performer, the costlier the ticket—to your audience. It took me a while to really ﬁgure this all out, and in my quest to under- stand my ability to separate myself from my body, I sought other answers, other avenues of illumination. What I found was that we really are just human beings wandering around, and I constantly searched for deeper realizations about life. I was thirsty for understanding, but I didn’t have any teachers to help guide me. I wish I did, but I had to search for myself. And the more I learned, the more I knew I needed to keep searching. As I went, Rude Awakenings 19 I did ﬁnd the truth in the fact that ignorance really is always the ﬁrst step toward destructive thinking, judgment and action. But what is worse is a little knowledge that can be even more destructive if taught by treacherous teachers who distort and manipulate knowledge for their own selﬁsh, ulterior gains. An evil teacher, and I had my fair share of those, can take pieces of knowledge and paint a slanted picture. Conversely, a great teacher—some- thing that I’ve always longed for—can open up the mind and guide it to examine the larger picture for greater understanding. If you are a parent of a child who is bright, eager, and talented, help them. Find them the right guides to channel their creativity. Nurture their talent and their dreams so they are more prepared to realize them when they are older. I didn’t have that. My father was a manager, but he wasn’t a nurturer, and my mom wasn’t really equipped, not educated intellectually and spiritually enough, to guide me. She fed me well, and she was generous, but she didn’t know what to do with her child who had stars in his eyes. While all that stuﬀ is rather heavy, I did also have another important real- ization that day when I watched myself sitting on the john, one that brings things back to the lighter side. I remember thinking, as I looked down at my- self, “Hmm, I guess you’re trapped in that body for the duration. You might as well make the best of it.” Even though I was only eight years old, I decided right then that I would have the best relationship possible with myself in whatever arena I would enter. I also made a lifelong pact with myself to excel and achieve in whatever undertaking in which I might be involved. It’s that kind of commitment to excellence that pushes you to the top. And while the pact still remains, stronger than ever, the remainder of this book is about the many times when I counteracted my own intentions. I wouldn’t listen to the impulses given to me by my spirit, and I would make bad or even sometimes downright stupid decisions. I often didn’t trust 20 S TAR L UST what I was thinking about, no matter how wild and “out there” it seemed, and I often experienced the “I-am-my-own-worst-enemy” syndrome. e re- sulting battle that raged inside me, that my poor friends would have to witness, led me down some self-destructive paths. I’m sure many readers can relate to that, but I’m getting ahead of myself. It was the last year of the Fifties, 1959. e best was yet to come. DISCOVERIES CHAPTER TWO A s I was happily discovering how to zoom in and out of my body, I also was discovering something else—girls! You might say that I was a bit precocious when it came to girls. For most third-grade boys, girls have cooties and they don’t want nothin’ to do with ’em, but I loved them. Nancy Jackson was actually the ﬁrst “real live” girl to capture my fancy outside of the sultry image of Peggy Lee. She had straight, beautiful hair, naturally cascading down upon her shoulders. She was also a fashion plate, wearing tight skirts and blouses. I was smitten, and as a healthy, young Amer- ican boy, what else could I do to win her immediate aﬀection but go home to Mom’s jewelry box and pick out a few sparkling trinkets as gifts? I ﬁgured 21 22 S TAR L UST my mother had so much she’d hardly notice a three-carat diamond cocktail ring missing or any of her exquisite platinum bangles. Well, I wouldn’t want to appear less than generous so I threw in Mom’s emerald necklace for good measure. Nancy, of course, was thrilled with her gifts that signaled my aﬀec- tion, and she couldn’t keep this news to herself—with presents like that, what woman could? But did she have to show her mother? Well, it was curtains for me. is wasn’t just defacing a forgotten print of pretty ballerinas. My mom was beyond pissed; when I arrived home she ﬂew down the staircase with rage written all over her face. What else could I do? I immediately ran away and bolted down the street to my new friend Ricky’s house on Woods Avenue. “Sanctuary, sanctuary,” I pleaded from beneath Ricky’s upstairs bedroom window. I had to scream at the top of my lungs because Ricky, a rock-and-roll aﬁcionado, was seldom without a hun- dred decibels of drums and electric guitars swirling around his stereo cavern. Ricky Shutter was three days older than I, and not only did we share the same astral sign, Virgo, but from that day he had tremendous inﬂuence on my life and mine on his. After I yelled my head oﬀ, he ﬁnally stuck his head out the window and I saw what looked liked thousands of ﬂying musical notes rushing out in a steady stream from behind him. “Hey, Louis. What’s doin’?” he yelled down to me. “My mother’s on the warpath,” I yelled back. e music was still blaring. “I gave some of her jewelry away to Nancy Jackson. Can I come up and hide out with you for a little while?” “No problem, I’ll be right down to unlock the back door,” he said, ﬁnally turning down his music. A few more minutes passed and I realized I had a good friend here, not only because I happened to like him, but I also had a comfortable hideout from any future parental backlash. Discoveries 23 e ﬁrst room I entered in the Shutter house was the kitchen, which was tastefully done in black and white. en I followed Ricky through the rest of his home, passing a small brown studio piano at the foot of the staircase, a neatly arranged formal dining room, and an even larger living room area. e staircase to the second story was steep, and there I discovered three bedrooms and a bathroom shared by his older brother, Stuart, and his kid sister, Barbara. When we ﬁnally landed in Ricky’s bedroom I noticed he had only a few pieces of a drum set sitting on his bed so I asked him, “Taking drum lessons?” Ricky nodded and said, “Yes, sir,” and then reached for his drumsticks to show me how well he could bang on his snare drum and cymbals. I thought if I ever played the drums in my house, my parents would send me to “ e Home,” the place for misbehaved children where they’d threatened to send me as far back as I can remember. e visual I had about “ e Home” was a little like the Home for Orphans in one of the Spanky and Our Gang epi- sodes. ere, all the children had to eat was mush, and the old couple in charge were mean, craggy people who were more concerned about their sala- ries than for the children that they were in charge of looking after. In fact, my perception of “ e Home” had horrible creatures living inside it. My parents probably caused me to endure an untold number of traumas by laying this trip on me. To make matters worse, they even threw in the “bogeyman” and described him as an ugly creature who lurked around “ e Home,” looking for disobedient children to drag into his dark cave to bite them until they screamed for mercy. Sound familiar? But I was safe from that, for now. e clock struck 5:30 p.m., and after I witnessed Ricky’s percussive performance, he invited me to stay for dinner. I told him I should probably go home and face my parents, but suddenly a piercing voice penetrated the whole house. “Ricky, Ricky, come down here right now!” 24 S TAR L UST e voice sounded much too old to be his kid sister, so as I peeked around Ricky’s bedroom door, there stood a small buxom woman whose penetrating blue eyes matched Ricky’s identically. Mama, of course! “Who’s your cute little friend?” she asked with an almost ﬂirtatious look in her eyes. “Louis Gibaldi,” Ricky said. “He’s in my third-grade class at the Corona Avenue School.” I was asked to stay for dinner, and I politely accepted. Ruth, his mother, called my parents to let them know I would be dining with the Shutter family and that Ricky’s dad would drive me home directly after dinner. Knowing my father, he probably agreed that it would be better if I stayed there for a few more hours until my mother cooled oﬀ. I’m sure my mother’s knives were in the process of being sharpened for my murder anyway. And I could just picture the scene. When my parents were caught oﬀ guard, there could have been ﬁre with smoke coming out of their nostrils, but if a stranger called or somehow interrupted their display of raw Sicilian temper it always amazed me how their voices could drop down to a controlled, more civilized tone, with an almost British air of dignity. People have such amazing powers but lack the skills to communicate their true emotions. What transpires behind closed doors between family mem- bers, husbands, and wives and lovers makes life interesting. e sterile set- tings of the Fifties’ television sitcoms like Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, and Make Room for Daddy gave us youngsters who watched a skewed idea of what was real. I think the disconnect between the heat and pressure of our “real lives” and the avoidance of truth we witnessed daily on the television left a generation of psychotic viewers trying to ﬁgure out why their families were not as together as the Andersons. e constant “Yes, sirs” and “No, ma’ams” were part of the concocted fantasy between children and Discoveries 25 their parents, and I came to the conclusion that the writers preferred robots instead of kids. I thought about these things on my way home from my ﬁrst dinner at Ricky’s. I was glad to be going home even though the life that I thought I wanted, the one I watched on TV, was nothing more than a conjured-up version of a life that could never be. My mother didn’t kill me; Nancy was forced to give the jewelry back, and the last few years of grammar school were uneventful. It was toward the end of the ﬁfth grade that I learned my grandfather was preparing to go on a trip to Sicily with his second wife, Katie. I loved my grandfather very much and always enjoyed his company. He was full of life. He loved to dance, sing opera, tell funny stories, and I felt especially close to him. When my parents asked me if I’d like to go to Europe with Grandpa and Katie, I didn’t hesitate for a second. Of course I wanted to go! I remember my father visiting with the principal of my school to get her permission for me to leave before the semester was completed. I’m sure my father argued that the trip to Europe would be educational, an opportunity to broaden my cultural horizons and to experience the roots of my heritage. I was going on ten at the time and after getting over the fact that I would be traveling thousands of miles away from my home and family, I got really excited about my trip. I had never ﬂown in a plane and now, in one trip, I would be ﬂying to Paris, have a stopover in Rome, and then board my ﬁnal ﬂight to Palermo, the capital of Sicily. Wow! When the day came for our de- parture, I recall boarding a TWA jumbo jet. Wearing a black suit, white shirt and yellow vest, I waved good-bye to my parents while the Gene Pitney song “Who Shot Liberty Valence” played over the in-ﬂight radio. I was feeling a 26 S TAR L UST bit scared as I peered out the small airplane window to see my parents, sister, and some other friends and relatives waving good-bye. I suddenly became frightened and was crying inside for fear that I may never see my family ever again. en the engines roared and I fell into a deep sleep, waking up to the attendant’s voice over the intercom announcing the plane’s descent into Paris. From Paris we traveled to Italy and ﬁnally made it to Palermo. While most of the trip was tedious, the reception on our arrival was fantastic. ere must have been over ﬁfty or sixty relatives awaiting their American kinfolk, and many came especially to greet me, the second generation in America of their own bloodline. It was like entering a vivid part of history, another world. e sights, sounds, and aromas were like being in the 19th century. While Rome was a modern metropolis, Palermo still had horse-drawn buggies clip-clopping around over cobblestoned streets with mandolin music ﬁlling the air. It was a lush place with trees lining the avenues and piazzas, and the people had much darker complex- ions than mine, even though we were of the same ethnicity. It also seemed like I had just landed in the place where all the pigeons of the world were born and bred. But they were beautiful—thousands of birds in ﬂight against a magniﬁ- cent sky. It all added to the tapestry of that enchanted Mediterranean island called Sicily. ere I was, Chuckie Gibaldi, amid the spectacular beauty and history of this ancient island with my Grandpa Joe and Grandma Katie. I felt special to be the only one in my family to be a part of this journey. And while still young, I was already proud that I was an Italian through and through, so this was a homecoming of sorts, a link to my true past. It also set the stage for my future. Our ﬁrst stop on the grand tour of Gibaldi relatives was a quaint little town known as San Geparello, the birth- place of my Grandfather Guarneri. It was another world. e town stood Discoveries 27 on the remains of a WWII air raid attack. e houses all looked like they would break apart and fall down into a small, rocky valley. I should have known things would be very diﬀerent, especially when we arrived at my rela- tives’ house and were greeted by a mule! I couldn’t believe it. e rest of the house was extremely clean, but there she was, an actual mule, kept inside her own cubicle behind a clothesline with some material draped over it. I hadn’t recalled ever meeting a mule, let alone living with one named “Josephina.” Opposite her homemade stall were six large wine barrels, a small kitchen, and a large dining room table that accommodated the entire family—nine people in all. Chuckie Gibaldi and “Josephina” in Palermo, Sicily, 1961 What an adventure! I was rudely awakened every morning at 5:00 o’clock by an old man who herded his goats and sheep under my window. All the animals wore bells around their necks, and those annoying tinkles, compounded with the tramping of their hooves against the stony, rocky streets, caused me to think how diﬀerent this setting was from the quiet 28 S TAR L UST motor hum of the milkman’s truck as he delivered orange juice and steril- ized bottles of homogenized milk to our house on 33 Ross Court. Here in Sicily, the goats were hand-milked right at the buyers’ doors to their delight. Yuck! After the goats passed, I knew that it was futile to go back to sleep because at 6:30 a.m., an old man driving a horse-and-buggy would come along screaming at the top of his lungs, “Olives and potatoes! Olives and potatoes!” His voice resonated loudly oﬀ the rooftop. I thought only opera singers could shatter glass. e ﬁrst time it happened I ran to the front upstairs window and screamed back at him, “Shut up, shut up. People are sleeping,” but to no avail; the old man just ignored me and kept peddling his goods. Welcome to life in Sicily! It wasn’t all bad, though. I had two younger cousins to play with named Paolo and Giuseppe, ages three and eight respectively. Despite our obvious language barrier, Guiseppe was terriﬁc company for me especially when we decided to go on explorations to nearby villages. We watched people, wan- dered through small factories around the town, and like most young boys, visited the local candy store and bought comic books, gum, and chocolate. At ﬁrst, like any stranger in a strange land, the language was the ﬁrst neces- sary challenge I had to master. I learned one phrase, “How do you say this?” (Come si dice questa?), in Sicilian. From there on I rapidly built my new Italian vocabulary. It was either that, or I would simply have to rely on sign language. My next challenge was territorial domination by defending myself against the local town bullies. I’ll never forget the day Paolo and I were walking to the ice cream shop and four local boys close to our own age called me dirty names and started to crowd the two of us. “Babbo Americano, Babbo” was all I remembered, but the wham with my ﬁst in the leader’s face was all they had to forget. In true Discoveries 29 Italian tradition, I needed to assert my power. Besides, those boys needed to learn to use better manners with visiting foreigners, and they never did bother us again. I gained the respect of the local bullies and I never had to fear wandering about the village for the rest of my stay. ere was one other time when I was confronted by physical violence, but this time, I was able to step back and look at the scene with that third eye. One evening my grandfather and I were walking through the local piazza of the town when suddenly, a stranger pulled backward on my shirt collar. He was red-faced, obviously drunk and angry and sputtering choppy Sicil- ian profanity, when his ﬁst kissed my unsuspecting face. Boy, did my grand- father come to my defense fast! He instantly pulled me out of the stranger’s clutches, yelled at him in rapid-ﬁre Italian, and then kicked him squarely in the rear end. e man went on his way. e problem, my grandfather told me, was that the stranger had mistaken me for another boy. Apparently he had been looking for “my twin” for several weeks, but I was the one who went home that night with a fat lip. Whatever my alleged twin did I don’t know, but the shock of being reprimanded by a violent stranger—even though I was innocent—granted me more compassion toward others who ﬁnd themselves in similar circumstances. I still wonder how many people have been unjustly convicted of crimes because incompetent witnesses mistook them for someone else. But the whole experience helped me to realize that we all have these kinds of twins, and I’ve always wondered about mine. After several weeks in the country, my grandfather suggested we pack lightly for a trip to the Isle of Sardinia to visit a brother he hadn’t seen in many years. So, oﬀ we went on a prop plane to another small airport. When we arrived, the reception was even larger than in Palermo. I didn’t even know I had so many relatives living so far away across the Atlantic Ocean. 30 S TAR L UST From Sardinia, we continued back to Sicily to another beautiful seaport city, Marsala. Here the relatives were far more sophisticated than the ones in Palermo. It was obvious who had the money because their homes were stocked with several modern western conveniences, including appliances. ey had ultra sleek furniture and I knew I wouldn’t be greeted by mules here—espe- cially ones named Josephina. Marsala was grand, and it was here that I made one of the most important decisions in my life. ese relatives were very glad to have me and my grand- father visit, and I was especially taken with two of my teenaged cousins, Manual and Philip. ey took me to various places around town that I’m sure they thought I’d enjoy, and Philip immediately became like an older brother to me. We traveled around town on his Vespa motor scooter, and I could tell he was the “Romeo type.” Anytime he spotted a pretty girl, he made a funny signal with his eyebrows and jutted out his chin. But I found that the girls loved him. He was striking, with red curly hair, perfectly coiﬀed, and he played the guitar! When we went to the town’s square, he would stand with his guitar propped up on his leg that he placed just so on a rock, and he would start sing- ing. e girls would ﬂock around, and they were all enchanted. Here was an Italian Elvis, and as I looked at him, I thought, that’s it. at’s what I want to do with my life. I want to have that same eﬀect. Now at that time, I wanted the girls’ attention. Everyone knows that the guy in the band always gets the chicks, and if you’re good-looking, you’re unstoppable. But it also turned out I wanted something more. I wanted to have that eﬀect on all people. I didn’t say anything about this at the time to anyone. I just followed my cousin around, but I swear he was reading my mind. At one point, he took me to a men’s hair salon and showed the barber how to style my hair. It was Discoveries 31 a little too puﬀy for my own taste, but it did look good. en he bought me a beautiful sports shirt that made me look much older. My grandfather must have approved because only a few days later he arranged for me to have my photo taken by a professional portrait photographer so he could send the pictures back to my parents in New York. e experience was ﬂattering and my modeling debut lasted ﬁfteen minutes—my ﬁrst “Andy Warhol” fame moment but not the last. I enjoyed being the focal point in front of that camera, even for only those few minutes. While I was posing before the lens, I fantasized about becoming a movie star or a famous singer. is was the beginning of my dream. It was diﬃcult saying good-bye to the many special people I’d met dur- ing the summer of ’61, but I missed my home and family, and everything else about America. If I hadn’t learned anything else, my trip to Sicily did allow me to appreciate who I was and where I came from all the more. A few days before we left, a party of Communists held a rally in the village of San Gepallero and gave speeches aimed at converting the local residents to their way of thinking. Just seeing all the Communist symbols posted on the war-torn town walls was enough to frighten me. America was well into the Cold War at that point, and I had been indoctrinated in school to fear the Communists. I truly believed that if it was discovered that I was the only American kid standing in the crowd, I could have been kidnapped by the Communists and taken to Russia as a hostage or something. I was so scared, in fact, that I ran through the streets on that late summer night and ended up on the rooftop of my relatives’ house. But I wasn’t alone. On top of that beautiful house, to my great surprise, were dozens of chickens nesting on the ﬂoor. ey obviously had been there a long time because the whole thing was covered with piles of straw. 32 S TAR L UST I stayed hidden for two nights and two days behind an empty wine barrel and slept on a straw bed until I thought it was safe to show myself. I think my grandfather must have thought that I really was taken hostage by the Communists because he wrote my parents about what happened. He said that I scared him so bad that his blood turned to water. It’s funny because I can actually imagine my dear grandfather, may he rest in peace, writing those words. He truly was a great person. He had such a warm, sensitive disposition. I recall him telling me stories about his own parents, and his emotions would swell right up through his eyes. We came home the ﬁrst week in September 1961. My anticipation to see my parents and sister had to be one of the greatest in my life. In fact, I hope there are still many moments ahead of me that give me the same level of intense anticipation about people and places that I experienced that day. I couldn’t wait to get oﬀ the airplane and see the beautiful faces of my family. Oh, my God! ere they were. “Mom, Dad, Lee, we’re back,” I screamed as the fear of never returning ﬁnally let itself go. ere was a lot of ﬁerce hug- ging going on that special day of our homecoming. I told my father, “I’m so happy to be back home that I could kiss the ground,” and I did. After our luggage was loaded into the family cars, I watched as everybody kept talking all at once. We ﬁnally returned home to 33 Ross Court and continued to tell stories of our colorful events all through the night. I was internally documenting every moment because I never felt so close to my family. e gift of unity abounded that night. I joyfully watched my grand- parents laugh and cry while they told my parents all about our trip. I think that the biggest surprise of the evening came when I began to speak in ﬂuent Sicilian. My parents were in awe, realizing that no longer could they speak in their secret Discoveries 33 language around me anymore. You know how adults create a language to try and shut their kids out from knowing what they’re talking about? My parents had used Italian as the default language, but now they were busted. e stories went on and on, and I vaguely remember being carried up to bed by my father. I do remember feeling very happy to be back in my own bed once more. I silently said my prayers to God, thanking him for protecting us on our journey and returning us safely to our homes and family. I quickly drifted oﬀ to sleep, but I recall one last image that stirred in my mind. It was of my handsome redheaded cousin playing his guitar like Elvis. I was home only a few days when I started bugging my dad to buy me a guitar. I had to have a guitar, but I didn’t think it was just because I wanted to be like my cousin. I didn’t really know why, but it seemed like an emergency. en ﬁnally, after a couple of weeks, my dad gave in and brought home a Har- mony acoustic guitar, donated to me by my cousin Stephanie. Although the bridge was a little high and the strings were a little too stiﬀ, I was determined to learn how to play. And I needed my own space in which to do that. While I was in Europe, my parents ﬁnally ﬁnished the basement in our house. I didn’t really think about it too much until one day my mother asked me to get her something from the basement. I walked down the stairs and discovered the perfect room. It had twenty cedar closets with rich, cherry wood exteriors. It was cozy and masculine, the perfect space in which I could embark on my new project—preparing me for the future. I still couldn’t have told you what exactly I wanted to be, but as I set up my music stand, a desk, and a weight set, I knew that music and muscle were important. is was the beginning of the 1960s. I didn’t know that these two particular subjects would become the absolute rage in the future, and I didn’t care. I set about on my business. I was getting ready for “Fly Me To the Moon”—the very ﬁrst song I learned to play on the guitar. 34 S TAR L UST e Gibaldi Family, circa 1940 Grandfather Camilo and Grandmother Leonora with the six Gibaldi sons Louis Gibaldi, second from the left with white jacket MUSIC IS THE MAGIC CHAPTER 3 T he body of my ﬁrst guitar, that Harmony acoustic, was too big for me at ﬁrst. Its length and width actually forced me to stretch the muscles of my upper torso, and as I grew physi- cally, I learned how to ﬁt around her and she around me. My guitar became my passion. She was the nurturing mother who would soothe my troubles. She became a true friend with whom I could laugh, sing, cry, and think. While cradling my guitar, I felt powerful, and I progressed in my abilities. As I observed my improvements, as subtle as they may have been, I developed a very special relationship with music. Here was something that responded sincerely to my innermost feelings and desires. One evening, my father was walking down the ﬁve steps to my sanctuary 35 36 S TAR L UST in the basement and seemed quite impressed with my dedication to the gui- tar that he’d brought home to me. “How would you like to take lessons, have a teacher?” he asked. I just sat thinking in front of my little chrome music stand with the beginner’s version of “Fly Me To the Moon,” to see if he really meant it or not. I looked up at him a minute later and said, “You know Dad, I would really love to have a teacher.” “Well, there’s a fellow I met in Valley Stream who has his own studio where he teaches during the day. At night he plays professionally with his own band. His name is Joey Polaris,” my father spouted with conviction. “I’ll set it up one evening this week, okay?” “You got a deal,” I replied with enthusiasm. My father, a very agile person, quickly vanished, leaving me to continue practicing my song. A few days later my father came home and told me, “Tonight we’re gonna meet the guitar teacher, Chuck. Be ready after dinner.” My father had a pecu- liar twinkle in his eye—one I had never seen before. As we pulled out of our garage I felt as though I was beginning the ﬁrst stages for something in the future, something big and very exciting, something I had never experienced before. After a couple of weeks of lessons, I felt comfortable with Joey, and my father was glad my lessons proved worthwhile. Joey even started coming to my house for the lessons. After our ﬁfth session, while we were going over ﬁngering techniques, scales, and bar chords, my father came downstairs to the basement and asked Joey if I was a worthy student. Joey replied without reservation, “Lou, your son is not only my best student, but this kid is a natural. In a few more weeks he’ll be playing as well as me. How’s that for a reference?” Music is the Magic 37 My father was delighted and probably felt that his money was well spent. I, of course, was pumped with enthusiasm and motivated to continue until I stumbled upon a tremendously important question: Was I to continue learn- ing to perfect playing other people’s music, or was I to expand my imagina- tion and create my own melodies and compose my own songs? I reﬂected back to that day when I returned home from summer camp, asking myself out loud, “Are there any more songs left to be written?” e answer, I joy- ously decided, was a deﬁnite Y-E-S! With that revelation, my hands were untied and my mind was totally free to create any conﬁguration of notes I desired as long as it didn’t resemble any other sixteen bars that already existed. I was blessed like a painter with a palate full of unlimited colors, which could be blended and brushed on an unlimited number of canvasses. My guitar had an unlimited supply of notes that I could manipulate into something that sounded good to me. And I was thrilled. I could excel at this. I had a purpose in life that went beyond merely wanting to impress girls—even though that has always been one of the best side beneﬁts of playing the guitar. Now I could write music. I could create wonderful music on this instrument. I didn’t want to do anything else. I went to school and sometimes played soccer afterward because it was my favorite sport. I lifted weights, but other than that, I stayed noncommittal about my free time so I could practice…and practice…and practice some more. is justiﬁed my new loner status a bit because I was never a quick volunteer for any setup or cleanup committees; I had little desire to get involved with school politics. But I was willing to work at getting better as a guitar player. It consumed me and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Anyone who has an artistic talent must take the time to hone the skills necessary to make the talent shine. If it comes at the price of not joining 38 S TAR L UST sports teams or participating in the school play, so be it. Sometimes, I think most parents have a preconceived idea of what their kids should be doing after school or how well they should be performing in school, but if they just want to sit in their room and write or play guitar, let them. I also received another huge beneﬁt from all my practice. When the sev- enth grade rolled around and I entered Valley Stream North Junior High School, I felt a lot more secure about myself than ever before. at’s invalu- able for any adolescent. I had already been to Europe. I wasn’t some scrawny kid because I was working out and had a nice, toned body—something every boy wants. And, best of all, I had the ability to play a musical instrument really well. I was heading into my teenaged years with a high level of conﬁ- dence—something that not everyone can say for himself or herself. Boy, did it pay oﬀ with the girls! Junior high oﬀered a much larger selec- tion of girls, and I became infatuated with the very ﬁrst one I met. Her name was Merrie Wittingham and she was a cute little redhead with beautiful big blue eyes. And, much to my delight, she was developing nicely. I was turned on and each time I got near her I felt shy and my heart raced. One special day, Merrie and I had a chance to be alone for a few minutes. Our grade was having a picnic when I saw an opportunity. I followed Merrie into a densely wooded section of the park, grabbed her hand, and leaned her up against a tall tree and kissed her right on the mouth. I remember the softness of her face while her ﬂickering tongue danced in unison with mine for those few stolen moments. I hugged her tightly, and it was as if one of my mother’s old ballerina paintings, which I had so charmingly endowed with breasts, sud- denly came to life. “Louie, Louie, what are you and Merrie doin’?” my buddy Dennis Kaplan knowingly whispered. “You better break it up. Mrs. Newberry is coming this Music is the Magic 39 way.” e warning came just in time to save me from any embarrassment by my teacher, but the sensation of my ﬁrst real kiss lingered on and on through the years. God bless you, Merrie! I have to admit, although my guitar sang sweetly to me, my arms did feel a bit more comfortable wrapped around that youthful body. One day soon after my ﬁrst kiss, Ricky Shutter and I were walking home from school, and I asked him if he was still playing the drums. “Does a bear shit in the woods?” he replied. An hour later, we were standing in his bed- room. I immediately noticed that in place of his stereo system, he now had a small arsenal of drums and percussion equipment. “You know, Ricky, I’ve been taking some guitar lessons and my dad just bought me a real good, electric Gibson guitar. Why don’t I come over this weekend with my amp and jam, okay?” I asked. “You’ve got it, bloke,” Ricky replied with an English accent. At that time, American radio was being bombarded with the sounds of the British Invasion—rock groups coming over from England. It started with the Beatles, of course, but there were groups like Herman’s Hermits, Freddie and the Dreamers, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and the Animals. It was an end- less stream pouring through the radio waves and dominating the charts. Of course, America still had the Beach Boys, the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, and a strange-sounding folk singer named Bob Dylan. Elvis Presley, or course, was already a huge star. In a way, he paved the way for the Brits because they were informed by good old American rhythm and blues. Music, and the music business, was exploding all around us. While I liked listening to the Brits, I was into playing Wilson Pickett, Jerry Butler, and the Stylistics, old-school black rhythm and blues, so my guitar-playing developed into a funkier style. I was also ﬁguring out a strum- 40 S TAR L UST ming technique that I developed to create a sound in which I could keep the chords ﬂoating or sustained and still play individual notes inside the drone of the guitar strings. It was eﬀective, especially when Ricky and I started to play together down in his basement. Since there were only two of us playing, we compensated for the lack of other instruments, like a rhythm guitar, a piano, or even a bass guitar, by creating a lot more sound using my strumming tech- nique and his cymbal and tom-tom work. Not only did we sound good, we discovered our perfect outlet, and as we continued to jam together over the weeks our friendship grew. On the weekends, we began to hang out. We’d shop the record or music stores with all the wonderful musical instruments begging to be played. And of course we enjoyed watching girls together. Ricky was somewhat small and a bit shy in 1963, so I would try to build his conﬁdence and motivate him whenever I could. In our early days, we dreamed of having our own band, being on television, having girls throw themselves—or even their bras and panties—at us. It seemed like only a pipe dream, something that was never going to happen, until one special day. I was walking down the hallway at school, and I met a new kid. For some reason, I asked him if he played the bass guitar. He answered, “Sure do!” and I had a feeling after talking with him that he could be just the right “third man” in our band. He said he could play really well, so I called Ricky that night and told him I met a guy named Steve Wagner. We made a plan to audition him. “Let’s just see if we can get along with him,” I told Ricky. e next day I rode my bicycle over to Steve Wagner’s home, put him and his bass guitar on the back of my Schwinn, and oﬀ we went to Ricky’s house. When Ricky answered the door and invited us to go down into the basement, I was really excited. e budding entrepreneur in me thought, “We might have something here.” I hoped the three of us could blend well Music is the Magic 41 enough to start sounding like a band. With expectations high, both Steve and I plugged our guitars into my ampliﬁer. Nothing blew up, thank God, and with Ricky ready on the drums, I said, “Let’s play ‘Wipe Out.’” It was an easy instrumental tune popular at the time. I did the count, one-two-one- two-three, and Ricky took the lead as Steve and I joined in. It was only a matter of seconds and voilà, a band was born on that spring afternoon. Not just any band, but three twelve-year-old boys, wishin’, hopin’, and dreamin’ of becoming rock-’n’-roll stars straight out of a basement on Long Island. As I mentioned, this all happened during that magical time in the Sixties when rock-and-roll came into its own. And while I said the Beatles started it, what they really did was rip through the clouds like thunderbolts. ey shook the earth by the tail, quickly dominating the pop music scene like nothing ever before. e Beatles eclipsed everyone, covering everything in sight. ey were more like fantastic media conquerors, dominating everything: radio, television, magazines, newspapers, movies, and records. ey even had toys, dolls, and games. A marketing campaign like this had never been seen before. It was in this milieu that we incubated our band. It was because of this inva- sion that Ricky, Steve, and I were even more motivated to practice, practice, and practice some more. We played at my parents’ house just to see what the reaction would be. Somehow my father, who was also amazed by the Beatles, thought we might have the makings of something big. My dad was a natural manager, and he had always told me that I was destined to be someone special. Maybe he saw this as his way of helping that prophecy come true, so he got involved with our group and began to handle the business of promoting us. Well, the strides that took place for our little band were nothing short of phenomenal. It is a rare occurrence for a group of boys to be down in a basement and then only six months later ﬁnd them- selves appearing as guest stars on their favorite TV show. 42 S TAR L UST But that’s exactly what happened. e notion of a twelve-year-old boy, accompanied by his two teenaged friends, rising into celebrity status, is far from normal. It’s an incredible high, beyond drugs. It was beyond imagination. But being so young, with no ex- perience to lean on and new avenues of reality to deal with, made it a little rough. My father, Lou Gibaldi, the self-appointed manager and impresa- rio, became an instant sensation within the entertainment industry as well. Without his input, including giving us the right name, nothing would have happened beyond a few local engagements. My father became the fuse and the ﬁre to ignite a series of the most unusual experiences I have ever seen. Fame is deﬁned in the dictionary as “a general recognition for outstanding achievement; popular acclaim.” Lord Byron once said that fame is “the glory that is the thirst of youth,” and it came knocking hard on my door at 33 Ross Court. It was six years to the day after we moved into the house that my father christened us “ e Young Executives.” I even got a stage name, “Lou London.” I was thirteen years old, and I was savvy enough to know that I didn’t want to be confused with my dad, Lou Gibaldi, and, of course, the city of London was very hot at the time. My father’s concept was nothing short of brilliant: three handsome thirteen-year-old boys, well-groomed, uniformly dressed in three-piece English pinstripe suits with black derbies perched on top of their little heads. Since the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were swoop- ing up the youth of the world with their outlandish mod hairstyles, my father wanted to counter that eﬀect by playing on the British theme with a clean- cut appeal. Bingo! Music is the Magic 43 Birth of e Young Executives, 1963 e Young Executives Photo by James, J. Kreigsman My father was also smart. He was a private banker by trade, but he was a promoter at heart. While our musicianship, believe it or not, was extremely professional and modern, “Big Lou” intuitively knew that to improve our 44 S TAR L UST sound, we needed to hear what we sounded like. Before he did anything else, my father ﬁrst wanted to develop our musical self-awareness, so he booked us in a local recording studio. Again, it was brilliant. A recording studio, for a musician, is the “mirror of sound.” After you lay down a track, the engineer plays it back instantly and if anything is out of place, it is very obvious. ere is no place to hide a mistake. Everything good and everything bad are found under the “audio microscope” of a recording studio. Big Lou bought us time at a local studio in Hempstead, Long Island, called Ultra-Sonic Recording Studios. Boy, were we impressed! Our band was actually going to record with professional microphones and a real live engineer. Wow, we were excited and nervous all at the same time! e three of us were all eyes and ears, but we were there to play, so I asked, “Ready, guys? Ricky, Steve?” e tape was getting ready to roll, and they nodded back as they listened to their instruments over the large set of earphones sitting oversized on top of their small heads like big, black Mickey Mouse ears. It was the ﬁrst time we actually got to hear ourselves playing music and it was grand! e engineer peered out through the large, see-through window from the control booth and spoke to us through our earphones. He tried to sound like an old friend or an older brother and sincerely tried to make us feel com- fortable. He asked us if we’d like to “put one down,” and this began our ﬁrst exposure to studio jargon. Everything was very natural from that point on. We shook our little heads and I gave the ol’ count of one-two-one-two-three and out came our ﬁrst recording, which was “Wipe Out,” of course. e ﬁrst sound we heard was Ricky on the drums sounding like a dozen thoroughbred horses bolting out of the starting gate onto the racetrack. His skinny arms pounded the drum- sticks against his tom-toms with such youthful adrenaline that when Steve, on bass, and I, on the electric guitar, joined in, it felt like we were trying to Music is the Magic 45 jump aboard a fast-moving train. We successfully jumped on board, however, and with that we were oﬃcially crowned. e Young Executives were out of the shoot, and we were running full tilt toward fame. My ﬁrst real brush with the music business had me dumbstruck. Being in the recording studio and making records was deﬁnitely one of the most addictive experiences I’ve ever had. ere were the instant-playback, giant studio speakers, the engineer, and trade magazines like Billboard, Cash Box, and Record World strewn about. e charts, the glitter—I’ll never forget the humble beginnings of our journey. And best of all, I had my own father right there by my side, smiling away as my buddy. It was one heck of a great feel- ing! As I recall, our ﬁrst recording endeavor in 1963 was pure inspiration. We recorded “Wipe Out,” “Tequila,” “Please, Please Me,” and “Talk About Boys” by the Beatles. I think my father got more of a bang out of the experi- ence than any one of us. As we laid our tracks, I caught my father staring into space. He had a look of utter amazement, and I’m sure he was reﬂecting that it had been a short time since he brought a guitar home and gave it to his son. As we ﬁnally wrapped up our ﬁrst session, joy abounded throughout the studio and it continued inside the car as we drove away. We were all thrilled, and the invisible thread of unity grabbed ahold of us very tightly. It was then that the four of us realized that something special was happening. If I could only bottle that feeling of wondrous anticipation, then I’d surely be the rich- est man in the universe. After my father dropped the other boys oﬀ at their respective homes, I couldn’t wait to share the experience with my mother and my sister. But it was the ﬁrst of many disappointments. ey acted a little excited, but I could tell that neither of them really took this new development seriously. As the months progressed, I could tell that my mother was deﬁnitely intrigued by 46 S TAR L UST the fact that her son was progressing into a Young Executive, the twelve-year- old showman and musician. But as that ﬁrst summer progressed, I began to sense that there was also something bugging her. Perhaps she was a bit jealous since my father had now become preoccupied with his new toy, our band. I understood why my mother and sister felt a little left out. ey weren’t directly involved with the band, and they couldn’t contribute musically to the band. I mean, I couldn’t picture my mother playing the saxophone or my sister shaking the tambourine. My father was also relentless about our practicing, which along with our busy engagement schedule was inconvenient for my mother. Whether it was preparing breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or maintaining her dominance over her domestic duties, my mother’s whole world was disoriented because of my father’s new schedule with the band. Dinner was especially trying for her. She was a gourmet cook, and preparing dinner was her true labor of love. Before the band, my job was to watch her cook. My mom lived for those joyous “mmms” and “ahs,” which she always received because her cooking smelled and tasted so good. But now, when there were extended lengths of silence from her husband and son, she wasn’t happy. e lack of praise drove her insane. I can’t recall how many times my father would ask me to tell my mother how terriﬁc the dinner was. I guess I was becoming a bit too pomp- ous for my own good. I was too caught up with what was happening in my own life to remember my poor old mom. is self-indulgence is a problem many people acquire when everything seems to be rolling along in perfect order as if no wrong could possibly ever happen. And rolling we were. After our ﬁrst recording session, summer vacation was drawing near and my father had booked the whole summer in advance for us with engagements all over Long Island. We were going to perform at Music is the Magic 47 country clubs, beach clubs, and shopping malls. We were also scheduled to entertain at exclusive, private parties in the Hamptons, Manhattan, and as far away as Greenwich, Connecticut. It wasn’t long before we had our ﬁrst celebrity engagement. It was with Sammy Davis Jr. at the Overseas Press Club in Manhattan. Sammy was do- ing a press conference to announce his NBC children’s special, and my father, through our press agent Bud Hellawell, booked us on the show. When my father told us, we were ecstatic to say the least, and we performed well at the Overseas Press Club. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to perform on Sammy’s children’s special because we were intercepted by another three-piece youth band called “Dino, Desi, and Billy.” Dino was Dean Martin’s son, and Desi was Desi Arnaz’s son. Yes, the same Desi Arnaz married to Lucille Ball and made famous on the I Love Lucy show. At thirteen, I learned what nepotism was, and I didn’t like it—favors for friends’ children, but c’est la vie! e en- gagement at the Overseas Press Club was all we needed. Just like that we were booked to perform at a secretive, “closed party” in Manhattan and hosted by the impresario Steve Paul. Sammy Davis Jr., with “Lou London” 48 S TAR L UST e world of high-society greeted the Young Executives with open arms. Tradition and charm became our winning combination, and we weren’t afraid to ﬂaunt it. e location was a hip underground club called the Scene. It was certainly a long way from Ricky’s basement. e subterranean club was dark and cavernous inside with a labyrinth of exposed brick walls and arches. e Young Executives were the main act. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was a hush-hush party for the Rolling Stones, who had just arrived in New York. Man, this was truly a major reality jump from quiet, little Malverne, and to my pleasant surprise, the place was jam-packed with celebrities. In fact, a vir- tual sea of celebrities and paparazzi surrounded us. I immediately recognized Andy Warhol and his socialite protégé Edie Sedgewick. ey were making their infamous movie Ciao Manhattan. ere was Liza Minnelli and her husband at that time, Peter Allen. I saw Oleg Cassini, Wendy Vanderbilt, a woman called the “Barefoot Contessa.” Right then, as we were in the middle of jamming out the Stone’s classic hit “Satisfaction,” with my foot just about to step down on my fuzz box, I felt my heart begin to pound. I spotted Mick Jagger and Keith Richards peeking out from under one of the dark archways. ey looked at us in amazement. Here we were, three thirteen-year-old boys in three-piece suits and black derbies reproducing their music. at must have really blown their minds. “Ricky, did you see who I was just shaking hands with?” I said. “No. Did you see Mick Jagger while we were playing ‘Satisfaction’?” Rick asked. “Ricky, I was just rapping to Murray the K, the ‘ﬁfth Beatle.’” “Louie, I just got Andy Warhol’s autograph,” he yelled above the blaring disco music. Ricky and I would have many “screaming-through-the-crowd” conversations. We couldn’t stop narrating to each other while we stood in the middle of “ﬂashbulb ﬂurries.” is was our ﬁrst intense celebrity event, and Music is the Magic 49 it wasn’t going to be our last. I also remember signing autographs for the ﬁrst time in my life inside the crowded nightclub while ﬂashbulbs were popping at the speed of light. Everywhere, everyone was doing interviews with reporters, posing for pictures, being “groovy,” doin’ their “own thing,” and “letting it all hang out.” Even Monty Rock III appeared, with his long, black shoulder- length hair and large hoop earrings. He was showered with attention and the night became as close to a living animated fantasy as I can remember. Ricky and Steve were equally in awe, but the three of us still acted very professional under my dad’s supervision, and we loved every minute of the experience. In fact, the night could have lasted forever because we were starstruck and stand- ing in the middle of a dream—a dream shared by the three of us, one we had wished for only months before. I could see that my father was also deﬁnitely caught up into the ether of our meteoric beginnings, realizing that he was the catalyst that transported us into the reality of our fantasy. It must have been two or three a.m. when my father, after ensuring that our equipment was packed safely and securely, took us to an all-night res- taurant to enjoy some supper. Over burgers, fries, and milkshakes we raved about our latest victory. I think we got home around four-thirty or ﬁve that next morning, but who cared, especially at that age? It was a blast! e next day we were in for the best treat of all. THE NEWS. THE MAG- AZINES. THE PICTURES. All a magical documentation of “our” presence, of “being there” and “performing” at such a fantastic event. Steve and Ricky were sleeping in the Gibaldi den while my father stood in front of my bed, smiling. I woke up to the sight of him holding ﬁve or six newspaper clippings in his hand. He said “ e Young Executives” were written about inside the society columns. Wow, what a trip! Imagine being twelve or thirteen years old and reading about yourself in the society news. What could you make out of that? It was our ﬁrst experience with a very old addiction. Fame! 50 S TAR L UST e telephone began to ring that afternoon, call after call, each voice ask- ing for Mr. Gibaldi. e receiver nearly rang oﬀ the hook and my father was thrilled that his boys were becoming a hot commodity. Secretaries, producers, agents, record company executives and TV show coordinators all called and left messages with my mother. Even Joan Collins called to book our band for a surprise birthday party she was planning for her then-husband, Anthony Newley. I guess it was that particular phone call that alerted my mother to the heights that we had so quickly ascended to in the celebrity world. Not only did we have a magniﬁcent time at these various soirees but we were also paid a substantial amount of money to perform. Ricky, Steve, and I took to this lifestyle like ducks to water. But I don’t think too many people, especially young teenagers, would ﬁnd that too diﬃcult. We were always treated with great respect, served excellent food, bought new custom-tailored clothes, chauﬀeured around everywhere, and written about very kindly. My father always had everything beautifully arranged, ﬂawlessly coordinated, and it spoiled the hell out of us. It’s interesting to look back on this period in terms of the economics of the situation. At the time, I didn’t stop to think about whether or not I could actually make a living at being a musician. I was a young teenager, for heaven’s sake! But it is a question that most students of the arts ponder when tempted to create their own product. Can new painters create masterpieces? Can writers sell novels that took hours and hours of work? Can dancers be paid for their endless practice? Can actors live by their ability? Can any of these people sustain their own independence with their crafts? While we don’t like to think about these realities, the economics of any situation must be considered—and the earlier the better. We creative types don’t like to con- front the hard facts of economics, but ﬁnancial stability is essential to one’s creative life. Before musicians had labels to support them, they were carried Music is the Magic 51 ﬁnancially by wealthy patrons, and the patronage system for artists still ex- ists in various ways. In fact, I think that the realization of economics is the fast-track reality, and by that I mean, when you consider how much money you need to make to be successful at whatever venture you’re embarking upon—whether that be an artistic career, a budding romance, or a new busi- ness—you’re able to judge how far you have to go to get your desired result. Unfortunately, as a child I wasn’t taught one useful thing about the true value of money. We were making fantastic amounts of it, and my father, a private banker, had the perfect opportunity to use our success as a way to show me how to make good investments or how to spend my money wisely. Instead, he handled the money and I just naturally considered that every- thing that came to me because of the Young Executives was there because I deserved it. Ah, the stupidity of the young. My parents did encourage me to pursue higher education after high school, but I was taught nothing about the ﬁnancial realities of the future. During my life I’ve had fabulous amounts of money, but I also know what it’s like to worry about my next meal. ese experiences have taught me one thing—money is a necessity. And if you don’t believe me, try living without any and see what happens. e ﬁnancial factor is always present as you translate your talents into a successful money- making venture. But during those glorious three years that I was a Young Executive, I didn’t have a care in the world except lusting after girls and occasionally kissing one of them. And I was always wondering who I’d get to meet next. “Lou,” my father called over to me during one of our engagements. “Lou, I’d like you to say hello to Leonard Bernstein.” I looked up and there he was, the great maestro in living color. “How do you do, Mr. Bernstein?” I responded, still a little starstruck from wandering around the celebrity hot spot called Arthur’s. It was a famous 52 S TAR L UST nightclub owned by Sybil Burton-Christopher, ex-wife of Richard Burton and newly married to the rock singer Jordan Christopher. e party was thrown by Warner Brothers Seven Arts Productions and we played alternat- ing sets with a group known as the Wild Ones featuring Jordan Christopher as their lead singer. e interior was rather small and dark but the place was packed with fabulous people and many celebrities. My father also introduced me to Lauren Bacall, who asked me to sign an autograph for her daughter! I was ﬂattered, and I loved doing it. Between sets, I was also introduced to Eli Wallach and his wife, Anne Jackson. e list went on and on. I loved the atmosphere. I loved the people, and I loved being in Manhattan with my friends and my father. Who could complain? “Lou London” with his Fender Jaguar guitar THE RISE AND FALL OF LOU LONDON CHAPTER 4 I t was like a ritual. After each one of our performances, my father would empty his suit pockets full of business cards and make a list of future dates he had booked while our band was on stage performing. It was a fast, furious, nonstop carnival ride and none of us wanted to come up for any air. While most kids were busy passing a ball around somewhere, we were busy playing music and watching people dance to our youthful, high energy. We were hooked—the hype, the adulation. Signing autographs was the easiest part of the game, and it was paradise. 53 54 S TAR L UST My dad even hired a tall, muscular black man named Calvin B. He was a large, intimidating-looking guy, and perfect for the role of bodyguard over us boys and our expensive equipment. Calvin was a very responsible gentle- man and always performed his duties with the utmost care and concern. And thank God for him because the technicalities of running a band, even a com- pact three-piece ensemble, are complex. Items to maintain included guitars, drums, ampliﬁers, miles of cords, extensions, microphones, mike stands, and various other pieces of hardware to lug around, set up, break down, show after show, place after place. ere were times when we’d be performing on and oﬀ, for a period of up to three or four hours, that Calvin B. was totally indispensable. At the end, we would be exhausted, and our clothes were so soaked with sweat they looked like rags straight out of the washing machine. We all loved Calvin and were glad he was around to help and protect us. Fortunately, we were so young that after a single hamburger and a Coke we’d be as good as new and waiting for the next exciting event to come along. One morning, my father woke me up by laying a piece of crinkled sta- tionery on my chest. “Good news,” he whispered. I immediately sat up and read the letter. “Wow,” I yelled. e Young Executives had been invited to perform at the New York State Pavilion at the World’s Fair. My father was particularly overjoyed by this invitation and proceeded to call the other boys’ parents to let them share in the good news. I was excited but not that excited. I mean, I guess the World’s Fair was something special but not exactly like an invitation to dinner with the Beatles. I didn’t appreciate it until my mother pointed out later that Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York’s governor, signed the invitation. en I realized why my father was so delighted. e The Rise and Fall of Lou London 55 Young Executives were becoming the darlings of New York’s chic, jet set, and making waves into the celebrity world. Now we were crossing political boundaries as well. In fact, not only did we play after the ﬁrst invitation, but we were invited back to perform a second time and received a beautiful plaque signed by Governor Rockefeller. e Young Executives performing at the 1964 New York World’s Fair Life during 1963, 1964, and into 1965 was fantastic. e Young Execu- tives truly blossomed into a professional act with solid industry representa- tion. I wish I’d known how good we had it. Mercury Records signed us at the time when Quincy Jones was the artist and repertoire man for the label (the guy who chooses what songs go onto albums). en we signed with an up-and-coming agent named Sandy Gallin who worked for General Artists Corporation. My father continued as our personal manager and he moved us so far, so fast, that only in hindsight am I able to appreciate the incredible success we enjoyed in such a relatively short period of time. 56 S TAR L UST Eighth and ninth grade seemed to ﬂy right past us, and so did our early puberty, for that matter, being as we were so preoccupied with the band and all. ere really wasn’t any problem balancing the two worlds of school and show business. Our direction and discipline were kept very much in check by my father; he used to tell us that he would stop our careers cold if we didn’t keep up with our academics. It was the perfect carrot to dangle: if our grades began to slip in school, it was curtains for the Young Executives. And I am very glad that he did that, because fame can be ﬂeeting, and you must have a solid base to fall back upon. Education, I want to emphasize, is so important because it is true that “Education may be expensive, but try ignorance.” No one at school and in the community noticed what we were doing until the local papers traded us up to the larger newspapers like Newsday, the New York Post, and e Daily News. We even made it into the color magazine section in the Sunday paper. We also started making weekend ap- pearances on children’s shows like Wonderama, hosted by Sonny Fox. On the Clay Cole Show, we once co-starred with an emerging new singer named Neil Diamond, who debuted his ﬁrst hit, “Solitary Man,” on that same show. It was at this point that our schoolmates and teachers realized that celebrities were growing in their midst, and our popularity, helped by the power of the media, quickly grew. Photographs, TV, radio appearances—the whole pub- licity machine was unifying into a meticulously orchestrated campaign by “Big Lou.” When it came to beneﬁts and fundraisers, my father urged us to perform for the spirit of the gathering, as opposed to just the money factor. e appearances usually resulted in a great amount of free publicity anyway, which was far more important to us than money. All we cared about was that we keep performing so that we would become famous. The Rise and Fall of Lou London 57 Lou London on the Joe Franklin Show, New York (Fannie Flag, author of Fried Green Tomatoes, on right next to Joe Franklin) Our escapades through the New York, Long Island, and Connecticut countryside featured us in everything from shopping mall openings to more private parties of the rich and famous: J.P. Morgan’s estate in Greenwich; a Christmas party for an article in Glamour magazine and hosted by the internationally acclaimed photographer Francesco Scavullo; a beneﬁt spon- sored by the Franklin Roosevelts at the Southampton Yacht and Tennis Club, which was featured on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily; jet set parties at Betty Milliken’s estate in Watermill; and a Harold Robbins book launch party for two thousand people in the heart of Manhattan. We even did the occasional radio-sponsored teen hops in Queens. Whew! e carousel of life was mov- ing at fast-lane speeds. It was potentially addictive to someone like me with a penchant for extraordinary people, special places, the glitz, and the glamour. It was no diﬀerent for Steve and Ricky. I can’t remember any one of us want- ing to go AWOL. No matter how much my dad made us practice, no matter what the demands were on our time, we were willing to go the distance. But with any fast forward movement, gravity seems to come into play and the opposing forces inevitably cause friction to rear its ugly head. 58 S TAR L UST One day my mother sat down and reminded my dad that he still had a wife, a daughter, and many other people who missed his company since he took up the project of making the Young Executives famous. Ross Court used to be a quiet example of upper-middle-class suburbia with its perfect family. Now, there stood a tense sanctuary of a home imbalanced by its ab- sentee patriarch and his precocious son. I’ve seen it happen over and over. When fame happens to a family, everything is sacriﬁced, even the core struc- ture that made fame possible in the ﬁrst place. My father wasn’t the ﬁrst to get caught up into the frenzy and energy of show business, and he certainly won’t be the last. Everyone who is working to create stardom gets caught up in the whole game, and all too often, the secondary people get shunted to the side. is is detrimental because no one makes it to the top alone. Every star needs a support system. So, my advice to anyone seeking fame: include everyone. Make everyone feel like they’re part of it all because if you don’t, your loved ones may feel alienated, or worse, they won’t understand what’s going on and therefore stop you, even if it’s not their intent. I know, because that’s exactly what happened to us. As the Young Executives continued to climb the ladder of success, my father dealt with a growing number of thorns on his rose bushes. ere were several loud anxiety arguments between my parents about my father’s dwindling presence at home and that a “show business life” was probably very destructive to my future. My sister was engaged to be married and she and my mother were busy planning her wedding, and I’m sure my mother was upset that my father wasn’t around for that. So I felt like the Young Ex- ecutives were under attack. I can still hear my mother saying, “Lou, break up the band, there’s no future in it,” and “Send him to military school, he needs discipline.” The Rise and Fall of Lou London 59 Well, that was too much. If any word at all clearly did not apply to me, it would be discipline. Didn’t my mother realize how “disciplined” I already was? e rehearsals were primarily repetitions of each song until they became semiautomatic. Memorization of all the lyrics was tedious, plus the added amount of time listening and dissecting all the chord changes and patterns of every song in our repertoire required a great deal of discipline, if nothing else. I saw my mom’s cry for discipline as simply a reason to break up our glorious act. It was nothing more than a directive to pack me up, get rid of me, and let the old man return home to his husbandly duties. December of 1966 arrived, and our ﬁrst record was being prepared for re- lease. It was called “Everybody Do the Duck” on the Mercury Records label. I was given my ﬁrst arrangement credit, “arranged by Lou London,” and in my heart I knew we had come a long way since I picked up my ﬁrst acoustic guitar and played “Fly Me To the Moon.” I was proud of our meteoric rise into show business and I knew that it had much to do with the camarade- rie between Ricky Shutter, Steve Wagner, my dad, and me. At last, we had our own record and a product to promote and we were ready to “go to the show,” literally. Most television variety shows did not allow bands to appear unless they not only had a recording contract but a record on the charts as well. e Young Executives were ﬁnally “there.” All of our practice, all of our appearances paid oﬀ. We were polished pros with conﬁdence, and this gave us great stage presence—vital ingredients for any successful performing act. And I was well aware that our youth was my father’s greatest selling point, no matter what. It took a year and a half for our record to go through the process of pro- duction and distribution. When the record hit the industry trade magazines, the reviews were all really good. In fact, we received “picks,” which were en- 60 S TAR L UST dorsements by the trade magazines to the radio program directors, predicting that our record would receive strong positive reaction by their listeners. Even at that time, I knew the only way we would truly be successful was when our records were playing on our favorite radio stations. So I set up four radios in my bedroom and had them all going at the same time, twenty-four hours a day. at really drove my family crazy, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to miss any airtime that record got. For anyone not familiar with the record and radio business, there are ap- proximately one hundred singles released each week. Out of the hundred records reviewed, only ﬁfteen to twenty records make it to print inside the trade magazines for a possible recommendation. e next step in the process is that the record is promoted to secondary radio stations in various regions around the United States to gain airplay. e hope is that the station’s listen- ers will call in and request the record to be played again, which will gener- ate sales. While regional promotions are underway by the record companies’ in-house marketing people, the trade magazines monitor and track sales in record stores directly resulting from radio airplay. I had been told all of this, so I knew how important airplay was to the success of our band. So, back in my little bedroom, at the top of the staircase on 33 Ross Court, I was lying on my bed with great expectations. A dream was beginning to manifest into a state of reality so hungered for, so urgently desired, so much in focus that anything or anyone who came between a man and his dream was sure to be an enemy. Sometimes while lying down, my mind would wander into thoughts about all the pretty girls I met in Italy, and I’d wonder what they were do- ing. I thought of how proud all of my pretty cousins would be of me, their American friend, if they knew that I was performing for large audiences of important people and celebrities. None of them knew I sang or played the The Rise and Fall of Lou London 61 guitar. Five years ago I hadn’t even held a guitar, let alone dreamed of making my own records or appearing on TV shows. All of a sudden my thoughts were interrupted by loud voices and cursing coming from downstairs in the kitchen. Oh boy, Mom and Dad were at it again. My mother was complaining that she was fed up with the whole situ- ation. She didn’t like that we were gone all the time and more committed to the band than to the family. is made me feel deeply confused about what was happening. I mean, I truly loved and appreciated all the wonderful mo- ments we had shared as a band, and now we were just on the verge of national prominence. Who needed any conﬂict? Unfortunately, the constant negativ- ity growing from within my house was the kind that makes your stomach turn sour. I experienced all the symptoms of anxiety: shortness of breath, palpitating heart, and a dry mouth. To think that something as unique as the Young Executives would have anyone, let alone my mother, become destruc- tive toward the process was terribly upsetting. But the trouble grew more intolerable with each passing week. e excitement was being dampened, the fun diluted, and our innocence was swiftly being replaced with hardened realities about life, love, marriage, and the price of fame. It was awful, far worse than the petty jealousy my friends felt. I could deal with that. And besides, who cares what my friends felt when I had audiences smiling and clapping their hands in appreciation? e warm introductions, the giggles recorded on tape while we were recording, the autographs, the parties, the celebrities, the ability to watch my performance on my television from the privacy of my own bedroom—it was magical. But something deep inside was preparing me for a terrible letdown, for an ending. ere was a little angel inside me that was tugging on my heartstrings to keep my fall safe with a parachute. I know my dad sensed the same jeopardy about our rise to stardom because in the coming weeks, the twinkle was beginning to fade 62 S TAR L UST from his eyes as well. New Year’s Day, 1966, came and went but time for me was suspended. It felt very strange to be at home. My mother’s constant grip- ing must have had an eﬀect because I was home far more than I had been in recent months. It was like the Young Executives were violently halted like a steaming locomotive engine halted by robbers in the middle of nowhere. One afternoon the phone rang. I remember it well because it was like a sharp dagger cutting through all of my anxiety. I answered the phone. A man’s voice asked for Mr. Lou Gibaldi. My father wasn’t home yet so I replied, “No, but I can take a message?” “Sure, this is Craig Terry from e Merv Griﬃn Show calling, in reference to the Young Executives. Please have Mr. Gibaldi call us back ASAP. We would like to book the boys on an upcoming show.” at was all I had to hear and the good news broke the silence throughout the house, as if a hundred-piece marching band had just entered through the front door. I knew this would lift everyone’s spirit, even my mother’s. Imagine being booked on e Merv Griﬃn Show, coast to coast, just when you think your career is over. Up until this point, nothing had prepared me for the roller-coaster ride show business tends to take people on, but as my spirits instantly lifted, I began to feel great compassion toward every actor, actress, singer, and just about anyone who has creative talent and wants to do something with it. I was ﬁfteen years old, and I had a major revelation standing there: nothing stands still in life. Changes were unstoppable like the seasons. ere was no pause button for the show of life. I hoped when my dad returned home that evening that he would be just as excited about the good news. And, thank God, he was. “Terry, can you believe it, the boys were invited to appear on e Merv Griﬃn Show,” my father yelled as if everything was ﬁne and no friction ever existed. The Rise and Fall of Lou London 63 My mother just shrugged. “So? e Young Executives have been on TV before,” she said. “But, Terry, this is a national show, coast to coast with an audience of almost thirty million people watching. is could be the week we have been looking forward to. Yippee!” My father was overjoyed; a feeling of conquest emerged through his blanketed eyes of late. “What was the fellow from the show’s telephone number?” he immediately asked with his usual urgency. I gave him the number and he quickly vanished to his upstairs telephone to verify my message. From the top of the stairs, in front of my bedroom door, like Pavarotti, my father sang the conﬁrmation in a baritone voice. “ e Young Executives are booked on the Merrrrrrv Griﬃn’s show on March four- teenth. You’re gonna be a real star. irty million people are gonna be glued to their television sets. La-la-laaah!” I can’t really capture his excitement in words, but it was palpable. e proclamation resounded throughout the house while streams of animated characters were diving down oﬀ the balcony. I, too, was beyond excited. I actually went up to my room and did a silent scream for at least ten minutes. We had worked three long years for this, and we were ready to graduate to the big time. At that moment I felt like nothing could alter our date with destiny. Nothing could stop us now. I would have more reporters coming to my house, like they had a year before. I would have even more press in Glam- our, Time Magazine, the New York Post, and the New York Times. But...I guess my mother wasn’t the only one who was negative about this whole experi- ence. My father, after informing Ricky’s and Steve’s parents about the Merv Griﬃn date, looked stunned with disbelief. He got oﬀ the phone, looked at me, and said, “We’ve got a problem.” “What do you mean, Daddy, what problem?” I nervously asked. 64 S TAR L UST “Your buddy Steve can’t make it. I just spoke to his mother, and she said, ‘Steve’s got a dentist appointment and he has to go.’ Can you believe it?” he asked as if it were an aside to an invisible audience. Steve’s dad wouldn’t budge. e Merv Griﬃn Show couldn’t reschedule. It was a nightmare. It was like no one else connected to the band really understood how huge, how really famous, we could have been, right at that moment. Merv Griﬃn would have meant we would have had a national pres- ence. We could have sold a million records. But stardom is scary for some people, and I learned that in spades that day. It was a devastating blow. e people who aren’t in show business have no clue what it takes, and like my mom, I don’t think Steve’s dad wanted his son to cross the line of anonymity into fame. at was the straw that broke the camel’s back, my father being the camel. I knew at that very instant it was all over. Steve Wagner was ﬁred and that meant that one third of our band was gone. Where were we going to ﬁnd a fourteen-year-old boy who could ﬁll the void in a matter of weeks? After a few attempts at dealing with agents and managers, we came up empty- handed because most professional kids our age were theatrically trained for the stages of Broadway. ey were straight singers with private voice coaches. No one ﬁt the bill, and to make matters worse, most of the kids we met had barracuda stage mothers—dominance plus. It was over! So, what looked like the opportunity to ascend the staircase to “show biz” heaven suddenly became nothing but a mirage, an illusion, and a major tease. Looking back, it should have been a major wake-up call. It was deﬁnitely a kick in the pants, a test of our sanity. I should have recognized the insanity of it all, and I wish that I had made better note of the fact that everyone who is involved in your rise to the top needs to be always “in the loop.” While my mother spit daggers over the fact that Steve’s father couldn’t—or wouldn’t— The Rise and Fall of Lou London 65 change the dentist appointment, I know that deep inside she was secretly happy. She got her wish. Her husband was simply her husband again—her son was just a son. PRIVATE LESSONS CHAPTER 5 M good for me. ilitary school is deﬁnitely out,” I screamed down from the balcony. ere was no way I was going to be ordered around by puppet soldiers and march up and down grass-covered ﬁelds with a riﬂe against my shoulder. No way! I didn’t care how much my mother thought it would be My Virgo, analytical self tried and tried to rationalize my feelings of rest- lessness and frustration that there was no more Young Executives. But since the Executives no longer existed my world seemed empty and boring. ere was no more excitement and anticipation because I wasn’t preparing for the next show. ere were no more shows, and I felt like I was drifting. My guitar 67 68 S TAR L UST sat in my bedroom cradled on its chrome stand motionless. e ampliﬁer stood dead, ice cold. As I stared at it, I began seeing short montage clips of our past glory days and nights on its square black cloth front. e name Vox stared back at me with Beatlesque hallucinations. Each time I went down into the basement of our house I’d see a four-foot by ten-foot billboard of the Young Executives leaning abandoned against the wall. at was me in that picture, but it wasn’t. at was someone else, Lou London. It never ceases to amaze me how disembodied you feel when you look at yourself on billboards or in big blown up pictures. It’s you, but it isn’t, and the only thing that makes it real is that you know that thousands of people once stared at these frozen images with the promise of being entertained by the three kids. And the whole experience of being that close to “famous” can only be played over and over in your head, and all you want is to have it back. Everything was real and unreal, and my mother’s constant harping on me to go to military school brought me back to earth. It went on for months un- til my sister told my parents about one of her friend’s brothers who attended a private, coed prep school in Jamaica Estates. It was called “ e Highland School,” an old mansion converted into a small-roster high school. It adver- tised that it was for exceptional kids, but I later found out it really meant ex- ceptionally rich kids. My father set up an interview for me and I was accepted based on my past scholastic scores and my unusual early life in show busi- ness. I was relieved because I wasn’t going to have to endure military school and because I knew that this would give me the quick change in my life that I desperately needed. Because the Young Executives were now history, I at least had the summer to shed the last eﬀects of the late Lou London. But no matter how much I tried to shed him, I realized that the last three years had made an indelible impression on me, for life. In trying to readjust to a somewhat “normal” life, I felt left out, lost on some sort of plateau alongside Private Lessons 69 a large desolate mountaintop. e only way for me to feel “normal” again was to be back on stage, but that didn’t seem to be in the plans. No one in my family ever really paid much attention to the disbanding of the group. Life went on. My mother went right back into her regular groove and my sister was all wrapped up with her fall wedding plans. I was excited for her and her ﬁancé, Tony, and I know my mother was thrilled because she had my dad by her side to arrange this wedding party that seemed more like preproduction for a major motion picture. I looked forward to the grand event because I knew she would be leaving her much larger bedroom for me to move into. I may have lost a sister, but I gained a bigger bedroom, and it was one bedroom farther away from my parents’ door. e increased privacy did oﬀer some consolation. But what do you do after you’ve had an experience like the Young Execu- tives? What does a ﬁfteen-year-old boy do after that kind of life? What could I do but live? I was going to high school in the fall, and I had a whole sum- mer full of beaches and babes. Puberty was raging, and I gladly accepted the Playboy magazines my future brother-in-law, Tony, gave me. Tony was watch- ing out for me. He even asked me if I’d like to be a busboy at a Westchester country club. I told my father, “No way.” I knew it would be demeaning, but my dad thought it might be a good opportunity to establish a friendship with Tony. It was then that I discovered something intrinsic within me. It wasn’t that I was a snob, but I did feel I was above being a busboy, having to serve other people. I was an entertainer, for God’s sake. But I wasn’t working as an entertainer at that point, so I decided to be a “go along with it” guy. ere I was at the Fox “something” Country Club, taking the empty dishes and dirty ashtrays oﬀ the tables of gloating strangers. I rationalized to myself that somebody’s got to do this, but it was a thoroughly humiliating experi- ence for me, and I only made thirty dollars. e juxtaposition to what we 70 S TAR L UST had been paid as band members was too depressing. In and out, in and out of the kitchen, dumping all the dirty dishes in the bin for the head dishwasher or whatever they called him. God help me! I thought. To make matters worse, there were tons of pretty girls my age, but how could I impress them in my starched white busboy jacket and side towel? I hated it and I realized that I never wanted to have that kind of job ever again. Had I been a “normal” kid who went to school every day, played a little ball and applied for a summer job, without ever experiencing a bit of the limelight, yeah, maybe. But the dichotomy was too apparent. I had performed for high-society parties, TV shows, and recording dates, where I was paid premium rates (rates that, by the way, were set by my father and depended on his mood). Now, here I was,
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