As a junior high student in the late 1960s, I spent a lot of Saturdays hanging out at the Record Hunter.
Jay Flaxman — owner of that funky store, right next to the equally funky Remarkable Book Shop (most recently the site of the not-funky Talbots) — introduced me to music that helped get me through my adolescence.
Artists like Phil Ochs and Van Morrison reached my soul. But none was more important than Richie Havens.
I answered without question: “Mixed Bag.”
I still think it’s the best album ever made.
I didn’t see Richie Havens the 1st time he played in Westport, with the Blues Project, and Jeremy and the Satyrs.
I would have seen him at Woodstock. I was all set to go, but — well, it’s a long story.
A few years ago, I saw Richie Havens at Green’s Farms Elementary School. His voice had lost some range, and he forgot a line or two. But the sold-out audience — most of whom held him in the same awe I did — didn’t care. We were swept along by his genuine enthusiasm, his wonderful smile, and the songs he and we loved.
A few years earlier I had been in the WOR-AM radio studios, for an interview about one of my books. A tall man, with a long white beard and wearing a colorful dashiki, walked regally in. He gently placed his guitar case next to me, and sat down.
Richie Havens was the next guest on the air.
I stuck out my hand to shake his. His famous hand — with several rings, astonishingly long finger nails, and countless tales to tell — enveloped mine. It was the warmest, most sincere handshake I’ve ever felt.
I told him how interesting it was that we would meet in the WOR-AM studios. For a couple of years, back in the heyday of free-form radio, WOR-FM had been the soundtrack of my life. I said that one of my enduring memories of 8th and 9th grade was listening in bed as Rosko — “in stereo” — played Richie Havens songs.
I thanked him for all the joy he and his music had brought me, for so many years.
I am sure Richie Havens heard similar expressions of gratitude, many times each day. But he held onto my hand. He put his other hand on top of ours. He looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you for saying that. Thank you. That makes it all worthwhile.”
Richie Havens died this morning at his home in Jersey City, of a heart attack. News reports said he was 72 years old.
They were wrong. He was timeless.
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