I was wrapped up in learning the many secrets contained in my new jewel of a geek toy when Brenda called. She was going to Hoboken, with me or without me, to catch Ernie’s act.
At a little after 8:00PM, I decided to at least try and catch the last bit of his act, and as I got off the PATH train at my old haunt—Hoboken Terminal—I could hear a muted singing voice…
Frank Sinatra was singing in his hometown, before a small crowd, assembled at the amphitheatre in the park that bears his name. OK, so it wasn’t Old Blue Eyes. But Ernie Contri is one hell of a Sinatra impersonator.
I first caught Ernie’s act on the Fox News, the day of Sinatra’s death. Several news crews had descended on Hoboken, NJ—Sinatra’s birthplace and hotbed of Sinatra fandom—in search of live accounts of the local bereaved, and there was Ernie, dressed in a black tuxedo at 8:00AM in front of Sinatra’s childhood home. A brief Q&A about the impact of Frank’s passing was really just window dressing, an intro to Ernie’s true reason for camera time:
The newsidiot said “I understand you’d like to sing a little tribute for us now?” And Ernie, standing in front of what appeared to be a yellow Lincoln Town Car said “That’s right”, and spun around and quickly hit ‘play’ on the boombox sitting on the hood of the Lincoln. A tinny orchestra weakly filtered out of the box, and Ernie took the reins:
“That’s life (that’s life), I tell you I can’t deny it,
I thought of quitting, baby, but my heart just ain’t gonna buy it, And if I didn’t think it was worth one single try,
I’d jump right on a big bird and then I’d fly”
With uncanny timing, the newsidiot began to move back into the frame, sensing that somehow that was enough time. But Ernie was just hitting his stride. He began to saunter, so help me god, there he was, sauntering on Monroe Street in a black tux at eight o’clock in the goddamned morning, throwing caution to the wind:
“I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king,
I’ve been up and down and over and out and I know one thing…”
Well, the sound engineer eventually won the battle, and the cameraman quickly brought Billy Blow-dry back into focus, and Ernie’s moment was over. But I knew I’d just seen genius.
Turns out, Ernie’s been doing this for quite a while, and for the last few years he’s been doing a free concert at the lovely waterfront park in Hoboken. (The place really has come a long way since the days when Johnny Friendly and Charlie Malloy ran things down there.). We checked it out a couple of years ago, and he really was great. He has a professional karaoke rig and pretty much all of Frank’s stuff loaded in. He takes requests, and in his black tux he belts them out with the Manhattan skyline in the background. It’s a nice way to spend an evening.
I got there late this time, meeting Patty & Brenda about twenty minutes before the end of the show. But I was quickly informed that today was Ernie’s bitrthday (75th), and that he hadn’t taken a single break since seven. He was on. And, he had yet to do “Luck be a Lady”, which is one of my favorites because he has some great moves—miming the throwing of the dice, etc—that I have used myself when I do my own Sinatra bits at karaoke.
And so it was, at 8:55PM, with the sun going down and the buildings of Manhattan beginning to twinkle and glimmer, that I screamed out “LUCK BE A LADY!!!”, along with a few others. We got our request. He did not disappoint.
If you close your eyes, you’d swear it’s Frank himself singing the tunes (most of the time). The odd thing is, when he talks to the crowd between songs, he sounds a lot like Tony Bennett. Hmmm.