Neil Sedaka At The North Fork Theater
In 1958, Neil Sedaka was busy playing his hits on the piano at the Esther Manor Hotel in Monticello, NY, while I was learning how to stay afloat in the Pine Lodge Hotel’s swimming pool just up the block from him. Later on I became a busboy and a waiter en route to college, while Neil Sedaka became a world famous singer and songwriter. I’m not lamenting my karma here, but rather trying to connect with his… and I did, at his August 4’s performance, here in 2005, at the North Fork Theater in Westbury.
On the stage with his 5-piece band, Sedaka’s tunes began to connect me with the memories of what I was experiencing all those years ago: “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen” reminded me of all the crushes I had on the grand-daughters of my hotel guests; “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” created flashbacks of all the dishes I had dropped as a clumsy busboy. Neil Sedaka speaks to the audience about those times. He seems to know what we’re going through. His smooth cajoling salesman-type delivery has us holding out our memory-bucks, which he collects gladly for each well-crafted melody, to which we find ourselves singing along.
“Oh Carol” was a hit tune from the days when he was dating Carol Klein (a.k.a. Carol King). He acknowledges the fact that “in the 1950s the lyrics were perhaps a little naïve, but you could understand all the lyrics!” Modesty is not one of his strong suits and he leaves himself naked as he name-drops all the artists who have recorded his songs (Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Connie Francis, etc.). But he has every reason to brag. He’s written (on his own and through collaboration) over 1,000 songs. He has survived the 1960s British invasion of the Beatles et al by going over to Europe, South America, Australia and the Orient, and managed to remain popular and productive.
One of his biggest comebacks in the states was with the thumping tune “Love Will Keep Us Together,” made famous by the singing group Captain and Tennille (the words “Sedaka is back” are sung somewhat subliminally at the end). Elton John was also instrumental in providing Sedaka with a re-energized venue.
At one point during the show, Sedaka got up from the glitzy transparent piano as one of his band-members took over the keyboard. Sedaka leaned on its edge and projected a melancholic stare into the audience’s psyche as his face took on a new pallor. There was something stirring inside him, something he avoided talking about but the familiar strains of the Borsht-belt’s gospel, “My Yiddishe Moma,” radiated from his crystal clear vocal chords as the audience is riveted by the unexpected treat. After the song, I heard some of the audience members whisper “I didn’t know he was Jewish… !?” A loud applause lingers from one section of the audience as Sedaka acknowledged, “Oh, the mishpacha’s (family) here!” Sedaka’s roots hail from both Turkey (Sephardic father) and Russia (Ashkenazy mother), a combination that has provided him with the necessary tools to sing not only in Yiddish, but other languages also, a talent that served him well during the years when he had to go abroad to make a living.
In high school, Sedaka was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious Juilliard School by none other than Arthur Rubinstein. To this day his training in classical music is still strong, as he proved in playing a piece by Puccini. But new songs are constantly being composed as well. The night’s treat was his rejuvenating, optimistic tune “You,” a really pretty song that’s looking for a Broadway show or a movie to be wrapped around it. The lyrics of “Give Me One More Chance At The Midway” pulled us into a sentimentality that we shared as audience members -but we also know that it’s a time that has passed. And so we realize that we need to enjoy the present day, the here and now, the Neil Sedaka performance that will create new associations with our present circumstances. Sedaka will always have good music and good karma to share with us.