It was a bright beautiful Saturday. I was to meet Pete for brunch and, as was customary, I walked the handful of miles to our usual diner. This time, though, as I walked through the parking lot, he called me over to where he was parked and asked if I had time to take a ride with him to the car dealer. Someone had smashed one of the car's outside mirrors and he had to get it fixed. As far as I was concerned, the only time constraint that afternoon was that he had a radio show to do up in the Bronx, so off we went.
The car ride was like our walks, except it rolled along at a much faster clip and it covered a longer distance. Pete had an unusual way of walking. He walked in a way that I've seen only a few people walk. He walked with a "bop". It was characteristic of him, his gait was like a Pete Fornatale grin -- it had a smile to it. And just like our walks, there was rarely any silence in the car. He spoke and told stories, much like he did on-the-air except the topics were just slightly different. We laughed the gamut of laughter, from short guffaws to outright belly laughs. And somewhere along the way, in the back of my consciousness, I wondered just where the heck this car dealership was; I knew there was none in town. The road he took brought us into town and then quickly out of it. We traveled north, then east, then south, east again and then north yet again. Where the heck was this dealership? Did he even know? It didn't matter, really. As long as the stories kept coming, and come they did. Along the way, we passed the location of "My Father's Place". Every time I pass that spot now, I flash back to this particular Saturday.
Yes, this particular Saturday contained a lot of memories.
It took about an hour or so to get to the dealership and now that I knew where we were, once he mirror was fixed, I got us back to the diner in less than fifteen minutes. I only wish now we had taken that same long road back; it's an opportunity that is forever lost to me. But I was hungry and Pete had to get to the Bronx to do Mixed Bag in a little while [he had proudly shown me the canvas tote bag filled with CDs for the show that day].
Over lunch our conversation took a different tone, a somewhat more serious tone. It was peppered with a few "just between us" prefaces and a couple of "not for broadcast" reminders. Looking back, I now realize that was the day Pete chose me to be his friend. He gave me a glimpse of the private side of Pete and, of course, it changed nothing of the image I had of the public side of him. But all the more now, I regret not having made myself more available and more open, regret not having taken more walks or given into more late night phone conversations with him.
"Much as I'd love to, I can't live in the past," Tom Paxton once said. "It's all right to look back as long as you don't stare."
I tend to follow that quote. Much of my past is just that, in the past and since it has passed, I let it go. I rarely "stare". But the memories of this Saturday with Pete is an exception I allow. I miss him. A lot. I miss his posts on the old Mixed Bag Board. I miss his themes on Mixed Bag. I miss his book tours and the dog and pony shows.
I miss my friend.
There are constant reminders.
The main reminder is the empty space.
It's the space that was occupied by someone who went from being a mentor whose voice came to me over the airwaves, to being a dear friend who used to get lost on the way to my house, no matter how many times he had come to visit.
It's the space that was occupied by my 'partner-in-crime', who I laughed with as we drove around looking for the many libraries and theaters where we would do our multimedia program. Sometimes - usually only when it was absolutely necessary - we would drive to our gigs separately. And that probably meant that I would nervously be giving him directions twenty minutes before our start time because he would either be stuck in traffic somewhere ... or he had made a wrong turn. His best friend lovingly nicknamed him 'Magellan'. And what was so great about him was that it would make him laugh every time he heard that nickname. But when he arrived at those gigs it was magic, and he would never fail to delight his audiences.
This was a man who many thought they knew intimately because of the time he had spent in their living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms. A man who had been with them at parties, in their cars, and through some of the best and worst times in their lives and in our country's history. The great thing to witness was when, amazingly and refreshingly, these folks would find out upon meeting him 'live and in person' that he really WAS the warmhearted, funny, kind soul that they 'knew' so well. It turned out that the 'barrier' of a microphone and radio speaker between him and his audience was, in many ways, an imaginary one. And he would make all of those 'friends he had never met' laugh, think, reminisce and recapture a piece of their (sometimes 'misspent') youth.
It blows my mind to think that I'll never Pete Fornatales's familiar voice saying 'Hey Tony, it's Pete!' through my telephone ever again. I'm not ashamed to admit that I saved a few of his voice-mail messages. And his rendition of 'Happy Birthday' stands among one of my favorites of all time.
Oh, and did I mention that there are other constant reminders?
There are the many friends that I met directly and indirectly through Peter: dear, dear folks like Don and Linda Thiergard, the altruistic musical entrepreneur Alan Marzelli and his wife Ellen, Rex Fowler, Neal Shulman and Bobbi Dickerman from the Aztec Two-Step 'camp', Pete's son Peter Thomas, the complex but still wonderful Art Garfunkel, the delightfully talented and VERY funny Henry Gross, the 'Songman' Jim Dawson, the charming and thoughtful John Batdorf, the incredible Richie Furay (whose work with Poco and as a solo artist Pete so rightfully championed!), and many others who I have stayed in touch with. And we still, and will continue to, exchange stories about Pete - since he was such a 'presence' for all of us - whenever we find ourselves in one another's company.
And there is the music. There are the CDs that I would blow his mind with - like the time I pulled over on the highway to retrieve some obscure Tommy Roe album from my trunk that he had just happened to mention. There is the music of Woodstock and Simon & Garfunkel, forever linked to our presentations.
And there are the people who I see during the course of my day-to-day life - some of whom know that I worked with Pete and some who do not - who will mention 'Mixed Bag', WNEW or WFUV and the influence that Pete had on them. He was their friend, too. And so I smile with them - a sincere smile - and share in the reminiscence.
But ... despite all of that ... there is still always going to be this empty space.
And there's one thing I'm wondering ...
Did he get lost on the way to that interview with Jimi Hendrix that I'm sure he lined up pretty quickly two years ago?
Or, did his reputation precede him, and did Jimi come see HIM at that fully equipped radio studio - complete with turntables and a full collection of Poco albums?
When I get there, I'll ask him.
Tony Traguardo here ...
That phrase from the Simon & Garfunkel song "Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall" has been coming to mind quite a bit lately. I have isolated it from the rest of the lyric, but I believe that we (and by ‘we’ I mean those who pay attention to the words of songs, as most of you who are visiting this site probably do) all grab on to snatches of verse here and there when we 'need' them. I’ve needed this one for a while lately … but, thankfully, it continually becomes more positive in its meaning as time goes on.
Opportunities to continue to promote Pete Fornatale’s legacy have been making themselves available to me in recent weeks. And I recognize them as chances to once again enjoy - and to ‘perform’ for the first time - the programs that Pete and I produced together for “Back to the Garden” and “Simon & Garfunkel's 'Bookends'”. They will offer me the opportunity to work again – even more closely - with some of the incredible people who I have had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with since Pete and I began what we assumed would be our own version of the ‘never-ending tour’ in 2006.
It seems that the outlines that Pete and I put together for our shows are adaptable. And as the newly reworked versions comes together I can still hear Pete’s “voice” – literally and figuratively – in the presentation. And that is the goal, really. So, I am excited to continue the “Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock” presentations here in the New York area, and to be able to relay the aspects of Pete’s ‘amazing journey’ in the early years of FM radio that were incorporated into our show. I am also grateful to have the emotional support of members of Pete’s family and a number of Pete’s close friends in this endeavor. It should be a lot of fun.
Pete always appreciated my deep love of the music that we valued so highly. And I was always moved by the unique and great respect and warmth that he reserved for his listening audience, many of whom came by to say ‘hello’ (and to reciprocate that warmth and respect) when Pete and I were ‘on the road’. Sure, Pete and I were friends on many levels, but we spent an awful lot of time together pondering the deep meanings of old songs, filling each other in on what happened to long lost one-hit wonders, and giggling like kids over ridiculous music-related puns that we thought only WE could possibly get. Well … maybe, deep down, we realized that a good number of people who had been listening to him for forty-plus years would get them as well.
I began this note with a line from a Simon & Garfunkel song. As many of you know, Pete was an integral part of the “Simon & Garfunkel Songbook” live show with Aztec Two-Step (Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman), a continuation of the work they did together on their collaborative CD “Time It Was”. It was also a logical extension of their 40+ year friendship. And, coincidentally, the S&G “projects” were still going strong for Pete and me over five years after the initial print publication of his book “Bookends”.
We were delighted to have been ‘visited’ on a few exciting occasions by Art Garfunkel during our presentations in 2011, and were looking forward to a few more ‘surprise’ encounters with ‘Art the G’ in 2012. Instead, I have some amazing memories to cherish. But it gives me a smile to see Art back on the road, and I give a wink and a nod skyward, knowing that Pete played a role in helping to get this great singer back in front of live audiences.
Now, I am honored and delighted to have been asked by Rex and Neal – two amazing musicians and singers that have become friends in recent years - to join them in presenting a (slightly) redesigned version of the “… Songbook” show. I will be appearing with Aztec on a few occasions during the remainder of 2012, and beyond that, I am open to their ideas. I know that together we can potentially create something fun that will continue to feature Pete’s work, and their own, in a unique way.
Pete and I kept saying that there was always still so much to do. And so … I’ll continue to continue. And I hope that some of you will come by and say ‘hello’ if you have the chance to join me (and Aztec Two-Step) on one of these upcoming musical adventures.
At 10:55 on a winter’s night in 1969 I backed into a car parked across from my driveway. The car actually belonged to a friend of Peter’s ex-wife Susan Fornatale’s. After exchanging the required insurance information I remained for another 2 hours talking with Peter about anything and everything. Thus began a lifelong friendship that I have treasured for over 43 years.
Six months after I met Peter he began a life at WNEW that would change not only his life but the lives of countless thousands of listeners. Peter became many things to many people. To some he was a confidant, to some he was a musical genius, to some he was an inspiration, to some he was a writer. He played countless other personal and professional roles. But that’s not the gift he gave to us. It was profoundly simpler and more personal. It wasn’t a gift you could buy or give to someone. It was uniquely his gift to us.
Peter became a precious work of art that had to be experienced on the grandest of all stages. But it wasn’t on a stage or at a concert that most of us met and loved him. We met sitting in front of a radio while he was having a musical conversation with us. He did most of the talking. It wasn’t a call-in show, but he simply knew what we were thinking and feeling. He weaved music into our lives. He made connections for us and brought our minds and emotions to places where we could laugh, ponder, or cry. You see, Peter always told me that radio was intensely personal. He played and spoke to each one of us as if we were actually the only one listening. We all came to believe that he knew who we were personally, cared for us individually and he became our best friend. Such was his legacy, such was his gift to us all.
Because of his gift, each of us will remember him and cherish him for the rest of our lives. He and I both loved the song “Old Friends” on the S&G album “Bookends”. When I turned 70 last year, Peter was insistent that we find someone to take a picture of us sitting on a park bench. We did! He felt it would celebrate the lyric from the song which read:
Sat on their park bench like bookends
Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench, quietly
How terribly strange to be 70.
I don’t know how to say goodbye to my old friend. As for all of us, it is an intensely personal and soulful act. I thank Paul Simon for giving me the words from last lines of the Old Friends song:
A time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.
Goodbye my dear, dear friend. I love you. Until we meet again.
Don and his wife Linda are two lovely, giving people who were always there for Pete. The love and support that they have given to Pete's family has been invaluable during this difficult time. It is an honor to now be able to call them my friends as well. Some of the many photographs that Don took, and accrued, of Pete throughout his life and career adorned the room where the services were held for him. They were a huge part of the celebration of Pete's amazing life. In the future, I will try to get some of them up on this site for all of us to enjoy.
I have been alternately smiling and tearing up while reading all of your thoughtful comments and posts. I am so sorry for the delay in approving them to the site. Pete's family has been quite moved by the outpouring of affection and love for Pete and his work. And rest assured that many of the people close to Pete are making sure that his work and legacy continues.
Sad news today.
Pete Fornatale, a legend in New York and one of the originators of progressive FM radio, has left us.
To those of you who knew Pete but were unaware of his passing, I am sorry to bear such news. For those of you who never had the chance to meet Pete, or were unaware of what he meant to so many radio listeners ... or of his significance in my life ... I am sadder still that you will not have the pleasure to know him.
Right now, his friends and family are asking for prayers and positive energy from everyone who knows Pete, and from those whose lives were ever touched by his words or the music he played for them in the 40+ years that he has been on the air in New York and on Sirius/XM. Peter deserves the most graceful of transitions.
Over the course of the past six years, Pete Fornatale became a dear friend to me. He also became my 'business' associate, though developing and presenting our programs together could never have been called 'work'. He got my jokes ... all of them ... even the most intensely geeky music-related ones. And those of you on this list who know me well all realize that this made Pete 'a member of the gang'. And he was. Those of you who met Pete during our own version of the 'never-ending tour' picked up on that right away. He was also, truly, 'one of the good ones'. And every person who I watched meet Pete during the course of our travels walked away thinking the same thing: "Wow, he's the same nice guy in person that he is on the radio!"
Pete holds a unique place in my life. He is someone who has inspired me since my childhood. He was a voice on the radio that was seemingly ever-present. I remember my sister's 'hippie' friends grooving to the words he said, and to the music that Pete and his fellow jocks played in the early days of WNEW when I was a small child in the Bronx. Going forward, I also remember how Pete and his station-mates were there to comfort a grieving generation of New Yorkers when we lost John Lennon on that horrible night over thirty years ago. (And who knew that he left the station each night - or K-Rock each afternoon - to come back to the same town I lived in? In fact, some of the friends I grew up with who are reading this probably knew Pete, or members of his family, and may not have realized who he was at the time!)
Pete Fornatale was one of the radio personalities who, along with the likes of Denis McNamara, Harry Harrison, Dan Ingram, Bruce Morrow and Dennis Elsas, inspired me to pursue a degree in Broadcasting. That decision shaped many aspects of my life that would follow ... and for that I am grateful. Pete continues to inspire me. He always will. We had things left undone. And I am going to move forward on a number of those things, carrying with me the energy borne of the trust and confidence that Pete placed in our ideas, and in how we approached achieving our goals. It won't be the same in any way. But it will, I believe, be a help to me, and to the many friends - those he knew personally and those who he never met - who will miss him.
After many, many years, the Beach Boys - one of Pete Fornatale's all-time favorite groups - have reunited and recorded a new album. The lead-off single is called "That's Why God Made The Radio". Pete didn't have the chance to hear that new single while he was still here and fully aware. But somewhere he is smiling. Pete is one of the people who made it quite clear to us ... time and time again ... just exactly why God made the radio. To spread music, warmth, humor and love.
In the spirit of Peace, Love and Music to you all ...