HAPPY NEW YEAR!
So the end of the civil year is nigh upon us, and I wanted to look back on some New Year’s Eves throughout my history. Whatever its non-Jewish or pagan roots are, it is still a way of marking the passing of time in the modern world. So here are the most notable ones:
Sometime in the early 70s, uncertain of the exact year. Christmas and New Year’s coincided with Chanukah and we were at my grandparents’ house in Wilmington. On one TV commercial, the Eyewitness News team (probably Philadelphia's Channel 6) was wearing party hats and singing “Auld Lang Syne.” When they were done, instead of yelling “Happy New Year,” they yelled “Eyewitness News!” And shortly afterwards, I went to bed in my grandparents’ room, threw myself belly-flop on the bed, and yelled “Eyewitness News!”
1977 into 1978. My father, my sister Chany, and I spent Chanukah week at the Saxony Hotel in Miami Beach. There was a New Year’s party in the hotel’s top-floor lounge, and my father refused to let Chany or I participate. He said it wasn’t for us—whether that meant as kids or as Jews, I don’t know. And whether he actually attended, I don’t know either. Leave it to my father to use the not-Jewish argument, even though it was a Jewish hotel and all the participants would be Jewish. And regardless—I’ll never know, once again, if he attended, Jewish or not. I’ll have to give the benefit of the doubt here.
1978 into 1979. This time my parents had gone to a New Year’s party and left the kids home, at 10 W. Beech in Long Beach, with a babysitter (for the younger siblings, I'll assume). Chany and I stayed up to watch the ball drop. The headlining act at Times Square that year was the Village People. I remember them singing “Macho Man,” and I remember the cop. Not much else.
1979 into 1980. By now we had moved to Israel. A very low-key New Year's Eve, with Chany and I listening to the top 100 songs of the 70s on the Reshet Gimmel radio station. “Hotel California” was #1—Song of the Decade, per the Israeli pop/rock pundits. No doubt “Sultans of Swing” was not far behind, but I don’t remember the rest of the countdown.
1982 into 1983. Stayed up in my high-school dorm room, watching the display on my digital calculator watch turn from 12-31-82 to 01-01-83. Thrills.
1983 into 1984 was spectacular: The Tel-Or gig in Jerusalem with the ill-named and ill-fated “Woodstook,” with me on lead vocals, Yonah Lloyd and Izzy Botnick on guitars, Emil Leuchter ז״ל on bass, and Jeff Schiff on drums. Our one gig ever. It was actually a bad time in my life for a number of reasons; the gig served as a major distraction and diversion from what was going on elsewhere, separately involving a psychopathic yeshiva roommate and a bipolar girlfriend. Fortunately I was able to extricate myself from that whole nasty mess, though it took some time. All that being noted, though, the gig was great, even if the one original song, “I Don’t Mind,” was practically an afterthought (we had loaded our setlist with covers of well-known rock songs). The audience loved us and didn’t want to let us off stage, yelling “Wood! Stock! Wood! Stock!” long after the MC, local celebrity DJ Gidi-Yon, ended our set and called up the next act—a belly dancer, who turned out to be from Long Island herself (go figure). My father—my FATHER, for heaven's sake, who was attending one of my gigs for the first time in his life!—was very impressed by the way I commanded the crowd as a frontman. He only let me know months later, though, and he had a way of making it sound like criticism, in his usual manner. (Couldn’t you just be happy for me just once, Tati, and say you actually LIKED something I did, instead of looking at it with disapproval? ... All these years later and I’m still battling that disapproval demon. [sigh]) Anyway, the next day, New Year’s Day 1984, said bipolar girlfriend took me to a salon near the center of downtown Jerusalem, not far from where the JBR Club once was, called either Shampoo or Bubbles—don’t remember—and had my Jewfro restyled into a mullet. Welcome to the 1980s, Heshy.
1984 into 1985. Amazing how things change so radically, in the space of a year. By now I had endured the pain of both being with and losing said bipolar girlfriend, spending the summer recovering and becoming myself again. And now, on New Year’s Eve, a certain old flame was in town for the first time in awhile. This was the juncture at which she and I made the transition from friends into lovers. I had gone to see The Blues Brothers with the usual gang at Cinema One and for the first time, I could not keep my mind on the movie. When I got back to the house where I was staying, I called the person in question at the hotel where she was staying in town and asked whether or not she'd mind an overnight guest. She said yes, and the rest was history.
1988 to 1989. I was married to my first wife. This was the night we moved from our first apartment in Allston to a better place in Brookline. My father paid for the move after he saw an incident on our street involving three police cars. It was a perfect night to move because everybody was away partying. Our mover was a guy who converted [presumably from Irish Catholicism, this being Boston and all] to Kahanist-Orthodox Judaism, and so for him, working on New Year's Eve posed no problem whatsoever. The whole operation took a few hours, beginning right after Shabbat ended until just before midnight. Our stuff was strewn all over the place, our beds were in pieces, and so we slept on the mattresses on the floor. It was this night that my older daughter was conceived.
1990 to 1991. At my friend Allan's houseparty in Queens. First-time social exposure in the NYC area as a newly divorced male. Met my friend Ben Bo for the first time. Got royally toasted. Several women interested, but none “stuck.”
1991 to 1992. Went to see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the Ritz in NYC with she who became my second wife several years later. This was the show where Little Steven showed up—he announced that Bruce became a dad for the second time. Then, during “It’s Been a Long Time,” he proceeded to crank up the volume on his guitar till he blew out the power to the stage. While the techs were frantically scurrying about fixing the short, Southside brought the horns to the front and kept singing the song’s refrain, not missing a single beat, till the lights and power came back on. That, and the Stone Pony show almost a year later, were the most memorable Southside shows I had ever seen.
1992 to 1993. Another of Allan's parties, this time in a bigger apartment. I attended with my girlfriend, but we ended up taking our leave early.
1999 to 2000 (“Y2K”). I was living in Caldwell, in north-central New Jersey. By now I was married for the second time, but my wife was on call, so I was at home with my younger daughter, then just 9½ months old. It was Friday night so I couldn’t be out partying anyway—or would I? Who knows. Shortly after midnight some firecrackers got tossed off. I listened to the party in NYC on the radio. 2000 came and the world didn’t end. That only began a year, 9 months, and 11 days later.
2004 into 2005. I was divorced again. Who’da thunk it. I was living in Los Angeles, and a whole bunch of Happy Minyanites got together at a private home. It was a Friday night, so we did the usual Happy Minyan–style Shabbat dinner thing, and then we stayed up till midnight and did the New Year's countdown, very un–Happy Minyan (and un-Jewish) style. But it was all in good spirits, pun intended. My younger daughter was there too, and I let her stay up till midnight; it was a special occasion, right?
2006 into 2007. I had moved back to the East Coast in the aftermath of the divorce. I had just gotten off my shift as a limousine driver and went to a friend's house on the way home, and rang in the new year with her and her family. Not exactly the kind of thing I was expecting, but much better than being alone.
2010 into 2011. In Los Angeles again, at my friend Shifra's house, with assorted friends ... none of whom live in LA anymore. Some of us aren't even among the living anymore. Enjoy life while you have it, friends.
2011 into 2012. I was in Israel! One of the rare times in my adult life when I had the time and the money to get there. I went to the Khan Theater's nightclub in Jerusalem, but the friend I was with, who had just moved to Israel from Long Island, had wanted something more spiritual and uplifting than a "Sylvester" party with loud music, booze, and dancing. I left shortly after midnight.
2012 into 2013. Several months after Hurricane Sandy had slammed the northeast, I took my girlfriend at the time and went to see Southside Johnny (again) at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, NJ. A full house, with balloon drop and champagne toast, but I wasn't feeling so well.
2013 into 2014. Another year, another Southside show in Red Bank. Another girlfriend, too—this time, the one who is now my wife. So she got a taste of the type of music and shows I like to see (best to get this out in the open at the beginning of a relationship!) and what it's like to go to Red Bank on New Year's Eve. I have to say, though, that the last few times I saw Southside play, New Year's or other times, he can't hit the high note like he used to—he even has the band play some of the tunes in lower keys!—but he still kicks ass.
2014 into 2015. A private houseparty in Monsey, NY, my wife's old hometown. Karaoke, singer-songwritering, shmoozing, food, drink, and a certain kind of baked goods ... 'nuff said. ;)
And that brings us to tonight. I'm actually getting over an illness that precludes the possibility of being anywhere where the music is loud. Where am I in life these days? Working hard on getting the first draft of my novel done, finally, and sketching the beginnings of the next installment of my Soul In Exile saga, all while working a full-time day job. Here's to a creative and productive 2019 to all!
Happy new year. In this country we say happy new year.