/ College /
My freshman friend David Levy introduced me to all sorts of oddities. Maybe I should post a list of such. But first let me tell this one story: of going to a dance at Sarah Lawrence, riding with David and his band — David had his alto sax, also present on reeds (and flute) was the great lyrical Pete Heim. I was baggage. And so was Jean, a catatonic out of Rockland on a weekend pass.
Rockland Psychiatric Center
to hell and gone
I’ll try to recall some details of that evening, fifty-eight years ago: I could have lots wrong, but I don’t doubt that my core is right, or right enough.
I’d already heard of Jean. Jean Bellevivier, brother of William: Guillaume Bellevivier, jazz musician. “Black”. Jewish! Little brother Jean was additionally handicapped by being short, extremely short, and catatonic. He wouldn’t move or utter a word for long periods. It was an exciting evening for me to meet this famous (in David’s circle) black Jewish dwarf: not lest because Jean’s best friend had been Richie Powell, the famous kid brother of the great great Bud Powell, a co-inventor of bebop. All the way from Morningside Heights to Westchester Jean talked of how great it would be to call up Richie and get together. No one in the car, least of all me, had the guts to tell Jean that Richie was dead: car wreck, killed the bulk of the great Clifford Brown band. Who survived it? the drummer, Max Roach. He was napping in the station wagon, amid the musical luggage, under the metal-framed vibraphone. (Damn, what was the name of that vibes guy? Lloyd something, something Lloyd.
The band played, the dance danced. I loved my friends’ music, I loved Pete’s flute; but I’d looked forward to meeting Jean, and here I was, in direct company with him: blabbing on about Richie Powell, when all of a sudden: Jean was speaking of Richie in the past tense! “He’s dead, you know”, he quietly confided. “Yes”, I said: “I know”.
An idea for a story came to me, actually I first imagined it as a play; but I never wrote a word of it. I’m just as glad: who knows what might have come of some effort, a few drafts, but as it was it was puerile, didn’t deserve much trust. I’d be embarrassed by it today. Still, when I saw The Connection years later, author Jack Gelber lived across the hall from Hilary’s and my first apartment on Riverside Drive. I thought, ridiculously, that Gelber was plagiarizing me. Never mind that you were first: I should have been first!
That evening was memorable for another reason: David had wanted to introduce me to his hometown friend, I’ll get her name right in a minute, Mitch Miller’s daughter, a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College. I didn’t ask her to dance, I’d given up dancing years before: jazz fiends listened, like Puritans, they didn’t move. Tapping your feet, dancing, was vulgar, showed you were not elect. She ignored me, quite right. A minute later her nickname still hasn’t come back to me: I’ll add it when it does.
I attached myself to Jean, focused on him, thought I’d witnessed something mystical when he admitted that he knew Richie Powell was dead. But while I was thus tuned to the heartbeat of the cosmos I was actually dwelling on Jean’s brother. David loved to tell me weird things: and Guillaume Bellevivier’s story was totally weird. He was married to a nut case. Their child was several years old by then but was not yet according to David weaned. The mother didn’t believe in it. Apparently she didn’t believe in toilet training either or in cleaning up the poop.
Now I remember: Myron must have been there too, Myron Schwartzman on piano. On the drive back south he led the stopping by the road side to pass the pot bong. Usually I was the only one to pass it bye, no thank you. But that time Jean too may have abstained.
In no time Myron and Peter were terrible helpless junkies, couldn’t complete a sentence in English. David smoked, a lot, but also functioned.
Here’s an installment on additional David Levy weirdnesses:
In the mid-fifties New York State was building it’s Thruway. Eminent domain was condemning this and that in the path of the road. One building ready for the trash was a church, a nice, white, wooden, Protestant church, with a steeple. David’s whole family was weird: talented, individuals, artists. David insisted that his father, Edgar, was a great artist. He explained Edgar Levy’s lack of recognition in terms of never having allowed his work to be shown, in ways acceptable to the world and to him. Yes: that would do it. What was true was that Edgar’s friends were all famous modern artists: Edgar alone had dodged all the bullets of fame.
Edgar did teach art: at the Art Students League.
David’s mother was a successful artist, mostly illustrated children’s books, under her own professional name: Corcel, or some such.
My favorite Levy weirdness was their New City, Rockland County home. The bathroom was large. A full length nude portrait of his mother hung over tub. David assured me that it was the family gathering room: his mom would be in the bath, his father sitting on the john, David and his brother would play on the oriental rug.
OK. So Edgar and the Levy’s bid on the doomed church. They got it. They disassembled it and reassembled it: not as a church, not as a prayer room … David said that his family was at one with him in being staunch atheists. I believed him. I was used to fundamentalist Calvinists; I got a kick out of aggressive Jews being militantly atheist! They converted the Protestant curch into their atheist dining room. I’m telling you, it was beautiful, truly. My favorite detail was the whale-oil lamp as chandelier above the dining table: something straight out of Moby Dick.
Btw at the time I believed my own Christiantiy to be devout: and so secure that neight I nor God was threatened by blasphemies of ritual.
Smutty Levy Lyrics
David and I made friends the first day of Freshman Week. David was intense, scowled all the time. Ugly son of a bitch, I loved him. David presented himself, we were all freshmen, all around eighteen years of age, as sexually experienced. He told jarring stories of his high school girlfriend, Peggy. I was a virgin but a virgin who’s had his hands on a lot of pussy, girls having also had a lot of hands on me, fondling my scrotum and so forth, since age six. But I didn’t talk about it: not yet, not then I didn’t.
Peggy, My Dear
dirty lyrics by David: Music: Peg O’ My Heart
Peggy, my dear, you’re sexy.
Peggy, my dear, don’t vex me.
When we’re alone
I raise a bone.
Get your titties off the rafter,
It’s your hairy hole I’m after.
Peggy, my dear …
Junior year he invited me to his wedding. I went. He pretty much ignored me.
I must say: a lot of my Jewish friends, most of my Columbia friends were Jewish, however much they were rebelling against this, that, and the other thing at eighteen, were beginning to come to heel as we became upper class men. Also, nothing wrecks havoc on male friendships like new girlfriends.
Sixteen, eighteen, we male friends stuck together. College raped us away from our highschool friends. But then new females were jigglinhg us loose from our male friendships. Mothers bitched about goyim friends, about Jewish friends, about schwartzer friends: guys banded together against mom, then, suddenly, David, for example, who vociferously insisted, “I am not a Jew! I’m an atheist.” Funny. Sad. Typical. Of course you’re Jewish: Judeism isn’t just a theology: it’s least a theology. There’s no commandment in Judaism to believe in God! Anyway, there I was a David’s wedding. he’s wearing a yarulka. He’s stamping on the glass wrapped in linen.
I don’t thin his wife ever spoke to me: before, during, or after.
She though of herself as a person, a mench: her father had discovered penicillin: New Jersey doctor.
One bond between David and me from the outset was we both adored, worshipped, Count Basie. But the next thing I know Davis is founding a big band at Columbia: promises he’s going to “cut” Basie: that is to say, translating hip talk: to best him, to be better than the best. Best band in the world? best in history? My band, formed last week, in going to ber better, by next week. Fucking idiot.
David rented a big apartment up on W 125 Street, rent controlled, $20 a month (of so: very low), phone humber had been Monument 1234. David proceeds to move in his art collection, including Gottlieb’s (his father’s old buddy), including an original Daumier!!! David, do you have it insured? You’re in Harlem for crisakes.
David says No way, the second I insured it, every thief in the world would know that I had it and figure out where I have it. No, the museums of the world don’t even know this Daumier exists.
David is the only person I knew who had a job lined up while still and undergraduate. I knew he was hardworking; now I know he was ambitious. I knew one of his ambitions was to own a Bentley.
A Canadian artist friend of the 1970s visited me in Long Beach around 1979, drove me around in his Bentley. Actually, he wanted to borrow $10,000 from me: showing me the Bentley was showing me that he could offer security.
But what else he was showing me was its champion pick-up power: every thirteen year old girl we passed immediately showed that her panties were removable.
Anyway, I didn’t see David for a while, then I did. I thought I’d kid him. “Where’s your Bentley”, I asked.
“My wife shops on Monday. So she has the Bentley today, I took the Porche.”
Jesus, David. He wasn’t kidding.
I soon learned that not only did he commute in the Bentley, the Porche, but he had his own private parking space on Fifth Avenue and eleventh Street: the only such between the Bronx and Washington Square.
David had started working for Parsons School of Design. He became its Stalin. (Myron, no longer a jailbird junkie, confided, David is mad for power.”) David sold Parsons to the New School, then became the New School’s Stalin.
The one time I saw him there he was running the New School like a shinny new corporation, all the latest art-tech gadgets.
Fire Island stories next
My permanent fractures with the Levys are drug and Fire Island related, more then.
When we were freshmen I loved everything David Levy said. He was an actual musician, played jazz, real jazz, or real enough for teen agers. By the time we were juniors I hated everything he said< and did. By the time were were seniors we hadn't spoken in a year. When I had him up for a drink in 1971 or so all that were exchanged were insults.
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