New Year's Eve, 1993. I'd been seeing a woman named Anastassia, a cabaret singer, for a couple of months and she was singing that night at the Mason Street Wine Bar. I got there around 10 PM- the place was pretty packed but I managed to catch her eye as I walked in door. She growled a line of "My Funny Valentine" and gave me a wink.
I looked around for a place to hang fire for the next couple of hours. Not much room, then I noticed a guy standing at the bar in a white dinner jacket- an act of old-school defiance I could appreciate. There was an empty space next to him. Anyone with the balls to where an outfit like that in this town was someone I could be friends with, so I introduced myself to Charlie and asked him what a finely-dressed fellow like himself was doing there on New Year's Eve.
It turned out he was hoping to meet Anastassia. He wanted to start singing around town and the bar's owners, with whom he was long friends, suggested he try to charm her into accompanying him on a couple of songs if not this night, then sometime in the future. I told him I'd be happy to facilitate an introduction. Thus started a legendary friendship which continues to this day, albeit in greatly altered form, which in its early years revolved around three things- booze, women, and music. God, I miss those days.
Charlie could do a near-perfect imitation of Robert DeNiro and sing like Tony Bennett. He also liked the Rolling Stones and when Voodoo Lounge came out and started appearing on jukeboxes in the bars we frequented across the City he would always include "Love is Strong" when he put some money in, and then sing it like DeNiro doing Jagger and to this day I can still see his ridiculously curled-up sneer vividly in my mind, relishing the lyrics, "You make me hard, you make me weak," to some dame on a stool. It worked absurdly well, because it was designed to be nothing more.
Months later we went to see the Voodoo Lounge tour when it came to Oakland. We ended up with seats right near the little stage that popped-up somewhere near 2nd base. It was the best Stones show I've seen to date. In fact it was fucking amazing.
The video for "Love is Strong" is delightfully stupid nonsense directed by David Fincher before he started making films. High on style and completely devoid of substance, it perfectly mirrors the song in that way, which has typically banal lyrics but some incredibly incendiary guitar work. Those four piercing notes on each side of the line "What are you scared of, baby?" just could not be more perfectly placed.
But it's the 100 feet-tall version of the Stones traipsing across New York City in the video that link Charlie, the Oakland show, and the song in my mind. On the way home that night, I met a girl on BART. From where I was seated she looked to have been at least 6' tall (in fact she was 6'3") and she had on boots with four-inch heels. I've always admired such statements, but it was Charlie, drunk, who prodded me to chat her up. I had dismissed the thought as soon it entered my mind because while she really tall, she also looked really young.
And she was. 10 years younger than I in fact, but that turned out to work in my favor that winter as I spent most of in the company of that tall, young, traveling nurse, who had a thing for shorter, somewhat older guys. We made a beautiful team. Charlie and I, that is.