Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wayne Newton's Altamont



Nostalgia for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock hung over this summer. Woodstock itself has been insidiously branded and commercialized like shaving cream, beer and everything else. And so we were also reminded of the fatal Altamont concert, headlined by the Stones, which followed later that same year. Four people died (a homicide, a drowning, two hit-and-run car accidents). But few remember the Summer of Newton. This disaster at the World Trade Center preceded Al-Qaeda by 18 years. I was the only one to cover the event, in my weekly
Naked City column for Screw, reprinted here.

from
Screw, July 25, 1983:

There were some old maxims that the great novelist Nelson Algren used to impart, like “Never play poker with guys named Doc,” or “Never eat in a restaurant called ‘Mom’s.’” I’d like to add to this simple but surefire list of warnings: Never trust a company that uses the word “Integrity” in its title.

For my own morbid journalistic reasons, I purchased two tickets, for 50 bucks, to see Wayne Newton under the stars at the World Trade Center on July 9th. The show was billed as “The premiere of the ‘I Love New York Concert Series,’” presented by Integrity Productions. Thousands of actual Wayne Newton fans showed, in Vegas formal, and thousands waited to be seated with tickets that, incredibly, designated non-existent seats.

Brawls, screaming matches, even catfights between jewelry-bedecked old ladies broke out everywhere you turned, like a tower of Babel, while a few were rushed out on stretchers, alleged victims of heart attacks. Young Italian men, whose business maybe you shouldn’t ask too many questions about, grabbed front-row seats over the protests of those who’d paid $125. (Though anyone who pays $125 to see a Wayne Newton deserves to get ripped off.) Women with plunging cleavages and pockmarked faces brought necklaces to shower upon the king of Vegas Soul, as well as hankies they hoped he’d wipe his brow with, then toss back; but most unsettling were Wayne Newton manqués with open-shirted tuxedos and pompadours, unable to pull off an Elvis, roaming for seats. These were Secretary of the Interior James Watt’s type of folk, as opposed to the “bad element” he feared The Beach Boys would draw, when recommending Newton to play Washington on July 4th.

The show began 90 minutes late, while scores of angry ticket holders left in futility. The boss of the usher service paced by the exit, wondering whether his 20 men would be paid. The promoters, Integrity Productions, were nowhere to be found. “They told me there would be four to five thousand people,” he said, “so I brought 20 ushers. But I estimate the crowd at 10-to-12,000, in which case you’d need 60 ushers. Furthermore, they changed the whole seating arrangement without telling me, and provided no floor plan. Security’s so bad, I had to call back my men before they were attacked.”

Integrity Productions milked this show till the last second, with heavy promotion on TV and in the papers, using airplane overbooking techniques to gluttonous proportions without regard for the consequences. I personally lost $50 for two seats, in a row that didn’t exist, and left 20 minutes into Mr. Excitement’s show. Newton had emerged on stage out of touch, his every word a lie or cliché (“Wow, what a really great audience, we got a hot crowd tonight!”). And it is precisely this calculated Big Lie that all his fans buy to the hilt, and which came back to choke them; Mr. & Mrs. Wayne Newton Fan U.S.A. had a disastrous evening.

The Vegas idol tried to apologize briefly, then dismissed the affair, which wasn’t really his fault. Wayne may not own the Big Apple, and have to settle for less in a promoter, but what kind of integrity does it take to pick Integrity Productions? The city should impound the company, bring in a Ron Delsner, or cancel the series before the next schlock star, Paul Anka, appears.


© 1983, 2009 Josh Alan Friedman