Sid Bernstein, the inventor of the stadium-venue concert and promoter of The Beatles in the United States, has passed away after 95 years of living. People who knew him are already paying tribute, reminding the world of those he touched by pushing out the music of a generation, that he was a friendly fella, in addition to being a pioneer, promoter and prince. Colleague and collaborator, Judith Furedi, whose coffee-table book, John Lennon: In Their Own Write, a Loving Tribute from His Friends and Fans, befriended Sid over a decade ago. As she went on tour to promote her book, Sid was kind and generous with his time and words for the tome, showing up for her Big Apple debut when the book went into the flagship retail store, Bloomingdale's. Sid wrote the foreword to that book, as well as the enhanced eBook version, A Lennon Pastiche: Expressions from Fans of John Lennon, which we worked on together for release on the iPad just last year.
What strikes a chord is that people in the music business today still speak kindly of Sid, but are quite forthright about how a man of his character would not survive in the industry today. Sid wasn't so much a rule breaker as he was a trendsetter. He didn't take no for an answer simply because something hadn't been done before. That's the short story of how The Beatles ended up at Shea Stadium and Carnegie Hall.
Documentary filmmakers, Jason Ressler and Evan Strome, put together a feature-length film entitled, Sid Bernstein Presents, which debuted in 2010, a decade after they started working on the project at the DocNZ Film Festival in Auckland, New Zealand. In the documentary, a panoply of music giants parade pass the camera, relating tales of Sid that paint a picture of a man who had kept and respected friendships his entire lifetime. Words of wisdom from Tony Bennett, Dick Clark, Paul Anka, Shirley MacLaine, Tito Puente, Lenny Kravitz and many other notables, cascade across the lensed landscape, with a somewhat somber tone. Sid can be seen shuffling through his dimly lit apartment, but when seen up close, he's got a twinkle in his eyes and a smile that infectiously opens your heart and just stays there and warms it.
Sadly, despite the legendary nature of Sid Bernstein and his groundbreaking accomplishments, when the filmmakers caught up with him in 2000, they were shocked to find out that Sid had been threatened with being evicted from his apartment in New York City. The man who introduced The Beatles to America which clearly propelled the band to stellar heights worldwide, who orchestrated massive stadium events, concerts and benefits with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits, James Brown, Ray Charles, Jethro Tull and The Dave Clark Five, had lived so long (81 years at the time) that his financial resources had been tapped out.
Bernstein's family saga of raising six kids and a loving wife are also chronicled in the film. It is evident the fruit didn't fall far from the tree as each of Sid's children are introduced and interviewed as if they are the Bradyberg Bunch. One of Sid's sons relates the story of how his Pop borrowed $1995 from his hidden savings of $2000, leaving a simple note with the fiver that, some day, the loan would be repaid. But that's what family is all about -- supporting one another as evidence of a profound love for each other, which is present on the faces of the whole family.
Aside from the Sid depicted in the documentary, those who knew him knew that he was a Mensch. But he also had a strong drive toward excellence and attaining success. Sid was compelled by his gut, and certainly his instincts were right for the times, despite not being the most rewarding for him fiscally. (Maybe if he had accepted representing Barbara Streisand, things would have turned out differently; he recollected turning her away because of her bad taste in clothing). Sid was also known to be a foodie, too, (with a special soft spot for White Castle), an under-control hoarder, and a lover of New York City. As Judith knew, like a true New Yorker, he always answered the phone, was a man of his word, and never made promises he didn't keep.
Perhaps, in the passing of Sid Bernstein, there is a message for our times: despite the odds, Sid packed people of all colors into venues to listen to music that was all about sending out the simple message of "love is all you need." Contrary to his economic reality, Sid stood with dignity, honor and grace -- a triumvirate that stayed at his side through his entire life. He nearly attained the American Dream -- and continued to live through what has become, if not a nightmare, a wake-up call, about surviving in America during tough times at an elderly age. As a testament to the American spirit, the drive of entrepreneurship and the unending belief that it's not over till the fat lady sings in Shea Stadium, Sid released books, audio tapes and CDs, embraced the internet, online radio chats, fed tweets to his fans and never gave up. He attended events, dinners, banquets, opened his doors to strangers, answered calls from old friends, right up to the end. Turns out the American Dream is all about the pursuit. Sid Bernstein chased it -- and given his life's accomplishments, he's still going for it.
Sid Bernstein would be a headline to me today, were it not for Judith Furedi, who introduced me to his wit and good cheer several years ago. Her stories of Sid are best captured now in her online remembrance, which she penned and posted to FaceBook, shortly following the news-breaking tweet from May Pang, about Sid's passing. Here are the heartfelt words that she wrote:
Thank you, Sid.... I will never forget your kindness and generosity: How you read my inscription to you on your terrace after you told me to 'come into my office' and then pointed to a picnic table on your rooftop and made me feel like a million dollars.
From the first time that we met at the Imagine Circle and danced and sang with friends while we listened to Beatlestock to the time you came up to me at The Baggot Inn, downtown, while one of your tribute bands was playing and you mentioned to one of your friends 'Now, she's what I call a real Beatle.' I wasn't quite sure what you meant, but it was a great compliment, coming from you.
We were united in spirit. I can't forget all our chance meetings from Barnes & Noble with Sir George Martin, to the way you took a cab to meet me at the deli on First Avenue, sliding with determination out of the Yellow cab. Telling me you didn't want to keep me waiting -- since you don't own a cell phone. You didn't want to keep me waiting, because you were a gentleman -- and that was so you.
Thank you for all the beautiful memories, Sid: the endless phone calls, waking me at 5:30 AM, to say 'This is Sid Bernstein calling (just like the title of one of your books) to tell me that you loved my book, and exaggerating to make me feel good, telling me, 'You created a masterpiece.' Telling me to take a taxi, as soon as I can, to see your friend at Bloomingdale's, so we could do a joint book signing together.
I felt like I stepped out of reality and into a movie. You did that for me. You made me feel like I had arrived.
But, most of all, because you we're bigger than life -- and always full of hope -- you gave me the courage to dream big, again. I am indebted to you.
I love you so.
-- Judith Furedi, 21 August 2013
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