Relay: Don’t Pass Me By

Yes, I’m still pretty hung up on those Beatles

“Tuesday afternoon is never ending, Wednesday morning papers didn’t come.” But that was okay, because I was sitting in front of a computer that Wednesday morning, and the news came to me.

How I came across the website I don’t recall, but instead of scrambling to meet another deadline I spent a few minutes on a page devoted to Beatles-related news. And there it was: Ringo Starr was to make a personal appearance at SoHo Contemporary Art on the Bowery in New York on June 20.

“June 20,” I thought. “That’s tomorrow.” The inner dialogue continued: All right, son, keep calm. This can happen.

The first “Relay” I wrote for The Star recounted a meeting with John Lennon, in Montauk, when I was 9. Another included a passing mention of a brief chat with Paul McCartney, last summer in Amagansett. Yet another was a clumsy meditation on the joy and sorrow of living, and not living, on the South Fork that, predictably, referenced Beatles lyrics and whatnot.

Yes, I’m still pretty hung up on those Beatles. I’ve even met Pete Best, the drummer sacked in favor of Mr. Starr in 1962. Alas, I never met George Harrison, and will be content to meet in his next life, or mine.

As it happened, Cathy and I were already going to drive to the city that day. Also, crucially, I knew Ringo’s publicist from my years at Billboard. I sent an urgent message: Is there any way my girlfriend and I can attend? Please?

It is for top art buyers only, was the reply. That said, a “red carpet” event would take place, “but it’s a hassle.” Still, she conveyed a noncommittal promise to try to slip us into the event. “We can play it by ear tomorrow” — was that musician jargon, I wondered — “but again, so far it is not possible.” It was good enough for me.

No, it was better than good enough. I’ve been listening to the Beatles from birth, probably, and am still knocked out by their magnum opus and remarkable story. It would be a good thing to convey my appreciation and gratitude to another of the demigods responsible.

We set off for New York and as spring turned to summer were standing on the Bowery under the late-afternoon sun. A glass of beer a few doors down from the gallery, and then we stood again among the gathering crowd and waited, and waited.

And then a big black van pulled to the curb and Ringo’s All-Starr Band stepped out and into the gallery, a pungent odor close behind. We waited.

And then, later, a big black S.U.V. slowed, and there he was. I saw his publicist among the small entourage that walked toward us, and then they disappeared inside and we waited some more.

In time, we too were ushered inside, a woman I did not know instructing us to remain by the door until further notice. The rear of the long room was abuzz, people and movement and noise and wine and music. He was there, though we could not see him.

And then, quietly, “He’s going to leave in about 15 minutes.” And then, “He’s going to leave in about 10 minutes.” And then the publicist approached and told us, firmly, to stand immediately inside the door, from which we had drifted.

The All-Starr Band in tow, she led Ringo toward the door. She turned to him and told him my name, and he turned toward me.

“Hi Ringo thank you so much I love you.” I think that’s what I said. And then, “Hare Krishna.”

Ringo, who I don’t think had said anything to that point, brightened. “Hare Krishna!” he replied, beaming.

What does that phrase even mean? In my very limited understanding, it is part of a mantra, a “transcendental vibration” that, when chanted, brings consciousness of the energy of God.

I haven’t gotten very far with the chanting, but I have found God consciousness in 212 sound recordings created between 1962 and 1970 and disseminated worldwide ever since. From the sweet harmonies to the jangling electric guitars to, yes, the rock-solid rhythms and supremely creative drumming of one Ringo Starr, they are all the transcendental vibration I’ll ever need.



Christopher Walsh is a reporter for The Star, and a musician himself.