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                     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

Morgan James Publishing, LLC                   Cover photo credit:
                                               Dick Zimmerman
1225 Franklin Ave Ste 32
Garden City, NY 11530-1693
Toll Free 800-485-4943

           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

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.

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

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

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

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
                                                              Los Angeles, CA

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

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

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

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

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

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
                               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

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.
                             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

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
                               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

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-
   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
           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.

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

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

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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