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Authors: Tony Bennett

The Good Life

BOOK: The Good Life
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THE GOOD LIFE

POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
www.SimonandSchuster.com

Copyright © by Tony Bennett

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

ISBN 13; 978-1-4165-7366-1     ISBN 10; 1-4165-7366-6
eISBN-13: 978-1-4516-3499-0

First Pocket Books hardcover printing December 1998

10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1

POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.

Designed by Laura Lindgren

Photograph on pages ii-iii: © Herman Leonard

Printed in the U.S.A.

The author has made every effort to identify the source of all photos reproduced in this book.

Dedicated to my mom

[Sincere jazz, musicians] aim at excellence and apparently nothing else. They are hard to buy and if bought they either backslide into honesty or lose the respect of their peers. And this is the loss that terrifies them. In any other field of American life, great reward can be used to cover the loss of honesty, but not with jazz players—a slip is known and recognized instantly. And further, while there may be some jealousies, they do not compare with those in other professions. Let a filthy kid, unknown, unheard of and unbacked sit in—and if he can do it—he is recognized and accepted instantly. Do you know of any other field where this is true?

J
OHN
S
TEINBECK

P
RELUDE

On April 4 1906, fifteen miles south of Naples, Italy, an ominous cloud of black smoke billowed from the mouth of Mount Vesuvius, turning day into night The volcano erupted, releasing a torrent of boiling sulfur, massive boulders, and thick ask The flowing, flaming lava divided into two rivers and poured down the slope of the volcano, decimating the farms, orchards, and villages unlucky enough to lie in its path
.

The force of the eruption was so great that huge quantities of water were pulled away from the shore, causing the coastline to recede as far as a mile. Many ships were suddenly stranded on the sand
.

Just two days before, a steamship had set sail from the port of Naples. On board were hundreds of Italian emigrants who were leaving their homeland in search of a better life in America. Among the passengers was a widow whose husband had died before the birth of his youngest child, now eleven years old and clad in a little girl’s bonnet and a dress of ragged calico. They
huddled together on the deck of that ship and watched in terror as the beginnings of a huge tidal wave rolled toward them. The wave hit the ship broadside, tossing it dozens of feet into the air
.

Lucky for me the captain was an able seaman, who managed to gain control of his vessel, because that woman was my grandmother, and the young child she held so close was my father. In those days, families who traveled steerage class were not allowed to stay together: men were separated from their wives, boys from their mothers. Since my father and grandmother were traveling alone, she refused to let him out of her sight, so she dressed him in girl’s clothing to keep him by her side. My father endured twenty-one days of seasickness before finally reaching New York harbor.

This is the story my father told to me, and it scared the hell out of me. He said that if the ship had capsized, I wouldn’t be here today, because neither would he! He made light of it, but the joke only caused me, at a very young age, to contemplate the delicate balance of my own mortality.

I’ve been asked many times why I haven’t written my life story before. To be quite honest, I’m not the type of person who likes to look backward. I’ve always felt compelled to move forward, and I’ve never been one to dwell in the past. All the people I’ve met, all the places I’ve been, and all the things that I’ve done have simply been part of who I am.

Now that I’m seventy-two years old, I find myself having a different experience. The pieces of my life have begun to fall into place like an intricate mosaic. I’m able to step outside myself and look back at all the unexpected twists and turns of fate, at my sorrows and my successes. I finally understand
the Zen teaching that the cool, flowing waters of a stream will tame the rough edges of the hard rock lying in its path and shape it into a beautiful form: over the seven decades of my life, I’ve learned that no matter how tough the struggle of day-to-day living, with enough dedication and patience I will persevere and accomplish my goals, no matter how unattainable they may at first seem.

My most vivid memory from my childhood is of myself as a ten-year-old boy during the Depression, sitting at my mother’s side in our modest home as she worked as a seamstress. Her salary depended on how many dresses she could make and I remember the constant hum of the sewing machine that stopped only long enough for her to cook our dinner. The more dresses she completed, the more money she made—which even for that time wasn’t much money at all I loved her so much, and I felt so sorry for her because she always seemed worried, and I could sense how much she suffered to make a meager living. To this day the most devastating memory I have is of my mother getting her finger caught beneath the sewing needle. It passed through her thumbnail and into her flesh, and she screamed out in pain, I felt as if it were happening to me. It was then that I made up my mind to become successful enough so that my mom would never have to work again.

But I never imagined I’d be fortunate enough to become as successful as I have. To think of where I started and where I landed! Benedetto means “the blessed one,” and I feel that I have truly been blessed.

C
HAPTER
O
NE

My paternal grandfather, Giovanni Benedetto, who died before my father was born, grew up in the small, isolated village of Podargoni in Calabria, Italy.

Because the Benedetto family originally came from the north of Italy, they were fair-skinned and fair-haired, like northern Europeans, and quite unlike their fellow dark-haired, dark-skinned Calabrese. My father’s mother, Maria, was so fair that she was known as “La Germanesa,” the German woman. The Benedettos were essentially poor farmers, producing olive oil, figs, and wine grapes. My mother’s side of the family was named Suraci, and they also made their living farming in Calabria. Like everyone else in the region, they were unable to read and write.

BOOK: The Good Life
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