That same year, Aretha Franklin pulled out one of the greatest musical performances ever televised when she subbed for Luciano Pavarotti to sing "Nessun Dorma". Pavarotti, who was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award that night was too sick to attend.
That same year, I got a frantic call from a friend of mine who is a makeup artist. She was in charge of the make up crew at that year's Grammy awards, and neglected to hire an assistant for herself for the night. She said, "I need someone that isn't going to be *starstruck* around the celebs, and I thought of you right away. You are the quintessential blase New Yorker. Here's the catch - I don't have any money left in my budget, so I can't pay you, but I can give you all the M.A.C. makeup you desire, and we'll have a lot of fun."
"I'll do it because I bet I'll get great stories out of it."
She didn't lie. I got an huge bag of makeup, we had a great time, and I got a LOT of stories out of the experience.
Including this one:
If you are going to do someone a favor, I believe you should do it well, so I was busting my ass to give 100% if not more. At one point, one of the makeup artists' walkies went out, and they wanted to touch base with her to make sure she had everything she needed. She was located on the other side of the theatre, and I volunteered to run over there and check up on her. I took off through the backstage maze of Radio City Music Hall, and nearly knocked over Fiona Apple as I burst out of the Shakespeare doors into the house. (I barely missed her - Sting was not so lucky - later that evening, I crashed full stop into him at one point, looked up and said "Hi Sting!" and then took off again.)
As I made my way down a row of orchestra seats, the first strands of Nessun Dorma began, and there, standing a few feet in front of me on the stage was Luciano Pavarotti. It stopped me dead in my tracks, and a voice in my head, clear as a bell whispered, "Wait. Luciano Pavarotti is about to sing, and you are RIGHT HERE. When is something like this ever going to happen to you again? Nothing is more important than this." I took a deep breath, pushed every other thought aside, settled in a chair and let the aria wash over me. Recordings do not do him justice. Did not do him justice. Even now, when I hear him singing in my head, I tear up. It's a blood thing. Once again, Mom was right. As a child, my mother explained to me that I was Italian, and therefore *HAD* to like Opera. "It's in your blood", she said. It wasn't dictated, it was just a fact.
The aria ended, I applauded, jumped to my feet and picked up where I had left off - running, thinking, "She said she couldn't pay me, but she just did."
Later on, watching the live feed of the show in Kelsey Grammar's dressing room with Erykah Badu, her new baby and entourage (another story for later), I was very confused to see Aretha performing Nessun Dorma instead of Pavarotti during his slated time. There where whispers about the reasons that caused him to bow out at the last minute, and how amazed the producers were that Aretha was gracious enough to offer to step in and sing the aria in his place. Which, if you've ever seen this performance - she sung the hell out of.
And now, today, with tears in my eyes, I thank God for my moment of clarity. My private concert. A parenthesis around a brief and extraordinary experience in the story of my life.