I preface what I am about to write by professing my undying love of and admiration for Frankie Valli and his music…
It was unusually cool for a Friday afternoon in mid-September in North Texas. The temperature dipped into the 80’s and the skies, mercifully for our drought-stricken part of the country, were threatening rain. My wife, her parents, and I left the kids with my sister-in-law and headed north. We drove the hour and a half to a place just across the Oklahoma border. Our destination: a little outpost called Thackerville — home to the Chickasaw Nation of Indians and their incredibly successful casino-resort, Winstar. Who does’t like to play some slots now and then? But our true purpose in going to Winstar was the entertainment. This night, one of my all time favorites was performing. This night, it was Frankie Valli!
Frankie and I grew up in the same neighborhood in Newark, NJ forty years apart. Many times when I tell people where I’m from they insist that I must be a fan of Bruce Springsteen or Frank Sinatra. Um, no. Neither one of those men can I really stand. No, for me, the man who “kept it real” all these years has been Frankie. Don’t get me wrong, I’m also a fan of other Newark natives like Queen Latifah. But the music of the Four Seasons is so timeless and so real and so much fun.
What I didn’t count on was that the icy hand of death had apparently also been a big fan of Frankie for some time now. Of course, why else would he be performing in Oklahoma? Death would never find him here and if he did; well, Frankie can carry a concealed weapon in these parts and not look out of place. Having sated ourselves at that festival of American bounty, the all you can eat buffet (don’t judge me), we proceeded to the theater. “I don’t think this one holds a candle to the buffet at Dollywood”, I said to my wife. Good Lord, when did we become one of “those” couples? Now, I’ve been to casino theaters before. They generally mirror Broadway houses in every aspect. They just happen to be situated inside a casino complex. Not at Winstar, baby. Oh no… Chief Redcorn, in his desire to get the place open for business and insure that no space not serve at least two purposes, had gone out of his way to make a theater venue out of a conference room.
“Honey”, I said as we entered the double doors, “I hope our seats are close to the…” Just then I realized that our seats were rows of folding chairs facing a makeshift stage. “…Stage?”, I said, my mouth hitting the floor. “OK…” Looking around, I noticed that Karla and I were the youngest people there. In fact, as my mother-in-law pointed out: “I bet you two are the only people under 50 here! Ha!” Thanks, Wilma. ‘Preciate that. But it was true. You know what, who cares? It does not matter how old one is. Anyone can relate to good music. As I was pondering this two things happened to make me question the rationale of my thought process. First an old man across the row pointed out to his wife that Frankie Valli is 77 years-old. Wow, I don’t know why I didn’t think that. Second, an old woman zipped past us in a jazzy scooter with a flashing headlight and streamers hanging off the handlebars. She was clutching an old LP of Frankie’s Greatest Hits. OK, I knew where I was now and what I was up against. Surely, though, this couldn’t be that bizarre.
The lights went down. The band took their places. Out walked four fairly young men in black suits, skinny black ties (ala 1960), and very Jersey haircuts. What was going on? Must be the opening act. Not a chance. These were Frankie’s backup singers. I became aware of this when they were followed onto the stage by a rotting corpse. We weren’t that far back from the stage but my eyes aren’t that great either. I looked at the video monitors next to the stage and noticed that rotting corpse was… Frankie… Valli!
Some people gasp when they are shocked. Some people react in stunned silence.
I laughed so hard I fell off my chair. Karla, my wife, sank down next to me. She, too, was laughing. The man had clearly had a stroke. The man had clearly cheated death one too many times. The man clearly thought he was still 30 years-old. “Cool trick” said Karla. “Huh?” “Surrounding himself with those younger guys so they do all the work.” Looking up I noticed she was right. Frankie literally stood motionless in the middle of the stage, his right hand clutching a microphone, his left hand dangling, nary a twitch of life while the faux Four Seasons did their signature side step, clutch the mic stand, and clap routine for two hours.
And then he opened his mouth. I should say he opened the half of his mouth that still works. “Dawn!” he bellowed. “Go away I’m no good for you!” I’ll give him this much, the voice was still there. Clear as ever. I settled down a bit and Frankie continued. He moved on through Opus 17 and My Eyes Adored You and then stopped abruptly to speak to the audience. He drew a deep breath, paused, and then shouted: “Hello Thackertown!” Boy, this was going to be a fun night. He kept looking over his shoulder as though Death was lurking and he knew it. The octogenarian in front of me was salaciously stroking the head of her even-older husband. I vomitted a little.
And so our evening progressed. He sang all the hits. Grease, Oh What a Night, Who Loves You… Then he started to say words that I detest from an artist in concert. “We recently recorded a new album…” Don’t you dare, old man. Fortunately the “new stuff” was actually covers of other music from his own era that I didn’t mind so much. A Rose in Spanish Harlem topped that set. It’s amazing to me that he sounded as good as he did because I swear it looked like flesh was going to fall off of his face. He even walked off the stage at one point for a costume change. When he returned twenty minutes later he was wearing the same black suit except now with a black tee shirt. The couple in front of us were now in full make-out mode. Frankie crooned on. I took my right index finger and scratched my corneas. He even got the whole crowd to sing Let’s Hang On with him. Frankie, the only thing these people are hanin’ onto is their Geritol and the hope that God will be merciful at the hour of death.
All in all it was a fun evening. After the lights came on I remarked to Karla that this was cool because I don’t think Frankie will ever make it back to Thackerland. “No, he’ll be dead soon.” She noticed a group of people hanging around the curtain separating the seating area from backstage. “Hang on”, she said. “What are you doing, Karla?”, I asked. “You’ve got to meet him.” She went up to one of the women and asked her what the deal was. Seems they were high rollers who had been given bracelets guaranteeing them a meet and greet after the show. We hung around until they finally kicked us out. One of the women walked past me having just met her idol. She was in her fifties and clutching a vinyl record. She was shaking. “Can I have your bracelet?”, I casually asked from my seat as though I didn’t really care. “I would but I can’t touch this hand ever again”, she replied. Ah yes, Frankie’s oozing liver spots must have come in contact and she needed to scrub.
Oh well, a few hundred penny slots later we handed in our valet ticket and waited for our minivan. Oh what a night…