Subscribe To our E-Newsletter
And the Beatles Goes On
It took a rock 'n' roiler, a mogul mover and shaker, to modify the answer to "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" from "Practice! Practice! Practice!" to "Sid Bernstein! Sid Bernstein! Sid Bernstein!"
Indeed, the nonagenarian mopped up with the Mop Tops, introducing the Beatles to America at his 1964 Carnegie Hall concert before going to bat for them at Shea Stadium, where the band beat the Mets 2-1 at home attendance.
Just who is this Jewish gent who gave the Beatles more "Help" than they ever thought possible?
Just like a Rolling Stone -- yep, he brought Mick and his magpies over, too -- Bernstein is the burning bush of band aid, bringing the Brits to America and riffing his way into royal rock history in the process.
These days, he's home in New York, hitting on a piece of herring, as he watches outside the window for "Rain," the "Beatles Experience" criss-crossing the country on its way to the Academy of Music, where it's set up its sound check for a run through Jan. 20 as part of the academy's Cadillac Broadway Series.
But Bernstein has always been the rock and Rolls of music. And now, as his own reign continues, he waxes lyrical over "Rain," the Beatles avatars with guitars and drum whom he wouldn't mind being in business with.
"Rain" drops a whole load of memories on him. Of course, early on, he was more attuned to "Mein Yiddishe Momme" than "Eleanor Rigby." The son of Russian émigrés Israel and Ida, he always had his eye on a good time, which is why, maybe, Sid was known early on as Simcha.
"I'm an exponent of that," the native New Yorker says with a loving laugh of just letting the joy happen.
Maybe he should have been called freilach; he's had a frisson of that fun throughout his career, which is infusing his next autobiography, to be called The World As I See It.
It's a small world, after all -- jam-packed with the Stones, the Beatles, Tony Bennett, Fats Domino and Judy Garland, whose garland-laden comeback concert was his to manage, made notable by his attention to the heart and soul music of his muses and mates.
Do you want to know a secret?
"I play hunches," says the sure bet.
Bet this: "I want to make some changes," says Bernstein of the fire inside, burning to amend a world he sees as "not a pleasant place, because of all the killing and lootings."
He has already been a change for good, not in the popular political way the term has been bandied about, but by banding up with rockers to stage benefits.
On his fast-dial list is some mensch named McCartney.
"It has to be a world event," Sid says of the charge he'd take of a charitable function.
To Sir, with love? He's been trying to reach his old friend, "who, you may have heard, is busy with other things," he says slyly.
But, finally, the call did come -- and Bernstein wasn't home to take it. How does he know? "My wife said to me that I got a call from a Paul and she answered, 'Paul who?' "
It gets better. "When he repeated 'Paul,' she said, 'May I have your last name?' He was exasperated. He finally said, just tell Sid an old friend called."
But that was yesterday. And, surely, Bernstein believes in tomorrows more than yesterdays.
More important, he believes in himself. When he first booked the Beatles, "I had not heard a note of their music. I had just read about them in the British papers and called to book them."
He and their managers weren't on the same page; Bernstein was met with resistance from the Beatles' handlers since they feared "nobody in America knew about them, and they didn't know if their sound" would translate trans-atlantically.
That long and winding road wound its way to the Hall of Fame, of course. And "Rain," says Sid of the show at the academy, which he is happy to promote, "brings it all back to me."
A self-confessed "foodnick" and fun guy -- and family man, with a beautiful brood of six kids abetted by his adoring wife -- Bernstein runs while others walk.
Well, maybe not today. "I fell about eight months ago; hey," says the funster raising cane these days, "I'm not a shicker. My strongest drink is egg creams."
Which he just had at New York's renewed 2nd Avenue Deli, where a fan told him, "I owe you so much."
"And I told her, 'I owe you.' After all, these events enabled me to educate and feed my six children."
Make Love, Not War?
If this career seems tailor-made, it wasn't always so. His father wanted him to continue in the family business, a tailor shop. Instead, the son went seamlessly into show business after making a name for himself as a promoter during World War II.
Make love, not war? Make music!
It was in Dijon, he acknowledges, where Bernstein learned to cut the mustard of musical entrepreneurship, establishing a "G.I. nightclub."
These days, he schmoozes with knights named Mick and Paul. Not bad for a kid who grew up a totskele under the tutelage of his Yiddish-speaking family.
"My grandmother knew only two words in English -- hello and goodbye."
Hey, wasn't that a Beatles tune? Not all the Beatles marched to the same beat. There's an anecdote in Bernstein's first book, Not Just the Beatles, in which John Lennon referred to his good friend in what could be construed as anti-Semitic terms.
"I didn't say hello to him for four months," recalls Bernstein of his reaction.
The big chill thawed over some chow mein. "We did get together eventually at a Chinese restaurant, but the topic was never brought up."
After all was said and done, the semitic slap "may have just been his humor."
Funny, broadcaster and writer Larry Kane -- author of Lennon Revealed -- revealed a similar incident, traveling as the lone reporter invited to cover the band's initial American tours at the time they were brought over by Bernstein. He had overheard what he perceived to be a not so-fabulous anti-Semitic comment from one of the Fab Four while on a plane ride and confronted the group.
Was Lennon the lemon of the sour comment? No, notes Kane, without acknowledging the guilty party. "But John came up to me afterward and wanted to apologize on behalf [of the group], saying nothing was meant by it."
Mention Kane's name and it means something to Bernstein, who has traveled in somewhat similar circles as the Philly guy. Come together: "We were interviewed on radio together [about the Beatles], and he was so good. Much better than me," he laughs.
But nobody really gets the best of Bernstein, the best in the business. As for the Beatles burgeoning popularity 44 years after Carnegie and Shea -- they are also the subject of Cirque du Soleil's "Love" in Las Vegas -- the sun won't set anytime soon on their musical empire.
"Nobody can stop their music," says the main man who helped introduce it.
And nobody can stop Bernstein from enjoying what he does. From Abbey Road to Broad Street, he is rich in memories ... and music. But the money? Can't buy him love, but it all has bought him a whole bunch of bonhomie.
"I'm not a wealthy man," he says of his fab trip across the universe, "but a happy man."