Pass the Wavy Gravy, please.

After I’d imagined myself as the next international rock star, only to have those hopes smacked down by reality, I moved on.  If only I’d moved in a slightly different direction, I might have ended up behind a microphone doing something other than speaking to yawning audiences of professional colleagues, expounding on topics of grave interest to my fellow librarians.

“You know, VisiCalc* will soon become the tool we use to manage entire library budgets and expenditures.” I’d prophesize from the podium.  Another gem was, “BITNET** is going to revolutionize the way we exchange information.”  Who knew I was such a prodigious prognosticator?

What I would rather have been doing during those speeches was spinning some records and talking about the bands whose songs I was playing.  So, it’s no surprise that sometime between the introduction of VisiCalc and the unleashing of the Internet, I’d submit my name to a local radio station contest in hopes of being selected to guest DJ a three-hour “classic rock” program.  Contestants were asked to submit a short list of songs they proposed to play.   To my surprise and delight, I was selected.  The person who called, suggested bringing enough music on vinyl or CD to fill three hours.  Counting commercial breaks, station IDs, local news and weather reports, it amounted to what seemed like only twenty minutes, though I’m sure it was quite a lot more.

On a crisp Saturday morning in October 1989, I was the guest DJ on that classic rock radio station in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  I brought along a crate load of LPs and CDs containing twenty-year old music to play and chat about on air with the show’s host.   About an hour into the program and much to my surprise, Wavy Gravy walked into the studio.  Wavy, whose real name is Hugh Romney, was the iconic “Hog Farm” operator at the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival in 1969.  A perpetual peace activist and counterculture clown, he had performed a stand-up show the previous night at the city’s fine arts venue, the Pump House.

The host interviewed him while while I contributed an occasional meaningless comment.  When the interview ended, I shook his hand and asked for an autograph.  Searching around for something on which to do the honor, Wavy spotted my Jimi Hendrix CD, Are You Experienced?   He grabbed it off the console, pulled out the cover insert and scribbled this on the back of it:

891014 Wavy Gravy autograph copyIt says, “‘Scuze me while I kiss the sky” and is signed “Wavy G.”  After he left the studio and we queued up another song, my host asked if I’d been to Wavy’s show the night before.  Embarrassingly, I had to respond that I hadn’t.  He smiled and then explained why Wavy chose those words from the song Purple Haze.  During one part of his act, when he was describing Jimi Hendrix’s early morning performance at Woodstock, he stepped in front of a loudspeaker, accidentally causing a couple seconds of screeching feedback.  He paused, looked up toward the rafters and uttered, “‘Scuze me while I kiss the sky,” resulting in wild cheers and applause from the audience.

Now, whenever I hear a Jimi Hendrix song, I think of meeting Wavy Gravy and wonder how in the world I was lucky enough to capture a personal moment with him.  I chalk it up to experience.  Mainly the one I missed.

“But first, are you experienced?  Have you ever been experienced?  Well, I have.” –Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced?

*VisiCalc was the first spreadsheet computer program for personal computers, originally released for the Apple II. It is often considered the application that turned the microcomputer from a hobby for computer enthusiasts into a serious business tool, prompting IBM to introduce the IBM PC two years later. VisiCalc is considered the Apple II’s killer app. It sold over 700,000 copies in six years, and as many as 1 million copies over its history. (Wikipedia)

**BITNET was an early world leader in network communications for the research and education communities, and helped lay the groundwork for the subsequent introduction of the Internet, especially outside the US. (


Best Singer in the Business…

I shook the hand of “the best singer in the business.”

That’s a bold claim that was brought to mind while watching the Frank Sinatra 100th Birthday Tribute televised last night.  No, I never shook Sinatra’s hand.  Nonetheless, it was something he said in the 1960s that supports my claim today.  Back then, I’d hear an occasional Sinatra song on the radio or see him perform on a late night variety show.  Was he egotistical enough to claim the title “best singer in the business” for himself?  He certainly had the swagger, the impeccably tailored suits and, most importantly, the talent that had earned him nicknames like “The Voice,” “Chairman of the Board” and “Ol’ Blue Eyes.”  But he wasn’t referring to himself, even though he perhaps really was the best.  He was talking about Tony Bennett.  Sinatra had once said of Bennett, “For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business.”

Sylvia and I saw Tony Bennett perform with Diana Krall at Ravinia on their “Two for the Road” tour during the summer of 2000.  By that time, having known his real name was Anthony Dominick Benedetto, we’d begun referring to him as “Uncle Tony.”  Before the Ravinia concert I’d only seen him perform on television, including an appearance on MTV Unplugged in 1994.  For my birthday later that year, I scored a CD soundtrack recording of the MTV show.  It won a Grammy the following year in 1995.

When his autobiography, The Good Life, was published in 1998, I wanted an autographed first edition.  Luckily for me, Uncle Tony was appearing at a Barnes & Noble bookstore signing event nearby.  The line waiting to buy his book from one of several tables stacked high didn’t appear nearly as long as the line that coiled around the store aisles, fans like me pursuing an autograph.  A sales clerk handed me a book as I completed signing the credit card receipt.  Then I joined the slow-moving snake of shuffling feet winding their way around bookshelves to a low platform where Tony Bennett was signing autographs, flanked by men in dark glasses looking like Secret Service agents.

He appeared almost trance-like until, catching him off guard, I greeted him in Italian, “Zi’ntonio!  Come stai?”  His eyes blinked a couple of times, then he smiled broadly and responded, “Sta bene!”   He signed my book as well as the MTV Unplugged CD I’d brought along.  Looking me in the eye he said, “That Unplugged CD is my favorite recording.”  I replied that it was my favorite too as he grasped my extended hand.

So, I’d have to agree.  Uncle Tony is the best singer in the business.  Just ask the Chairman of the Board.