Reflections on Nick Ashford–Part Five

Christians have Lent, and Jews have any number of solemn holidays. Muslims have the month of Ramadan.

I have August.

Today begins the second August without Nick Ashford. I think of him all the time, as I’m sure everyone who knew him does. He died August 22, 2011.

I was coming back from L.A. that day. I’ll be in L.A. again this year on Aug. 22. But I’ll think of him then, as I do now.

I thought of him a lot last Thursday when I brought Corky Siegel to the Sugar Bar, along with Barry Goldberg. They were in town for a screening the next night at Lincoln Center of Born In Chicago, the acclaimed documentary that tells the story of the pioneering middle class white kids in Chicago—Siegel, Goldberg, Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield, among the most famous–who learned to play and live the blues directly from its most legendary practitioners like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

Bob Merlis, himself a legend as a veteran music business publicist, moderated a panel discussion following the screening, speakers including Siegel and Goldberg. A big friend of the Sugar Bar who’s there whenever he’s in town, Merlis had accompanied the pair there the night before, and at the panel noted that when they sat in with the house band for a little Thursday Open Mic night blues bit, it was “déjà vu all over again” in that once again, they were performing at a predominantly black music club, sitting in with all black musicians.

If only Nick were there.

He would have loved it so much, and loved Barry and Corky. Indeed, Nick loved the blues so much that he started the Tuesday night Nuttin’ But The Blues open mic series, and even hosted it himself.

Of course, there was nuttin’ Nick—and Val–wouldn’t do to help other musicians, other people. And God bless Val for keeping it all going.

It’s raining today, August 1st. Otherwise I’d run out to Nick’s bench at Bryant Park, the bench with the plaque “Nick Ashford Slept Here.” Me and Bob went there a couple months ago and took turns taking pictures of each other sleeping on the bench next to the plaque. I always remember the time a few years ago, when CBS Sunday Morning did a feature on Nick and Val, and taped a few minutes at the bench. Then were filming Nick as he walked to the bench, but when they got there, a rather filthy homeless person was sleeping on it—much, perhaps, as Nick had done when he first came to New York.

Roused from his sleep, the bum rolled over and sat up—and Nick almost fell over laughing. It was me.

So it will be a sad month, somewhat, full of reflection. But as we enter it, the Israelis and the Palestinians are talking again for the first time in years. John McCain is suddenly working with President Obama. And the Pope asks, in regard to gays, “Who am I to judge?”

Back in May, the Pope even declared, “The Lord has redeemed all of us … even the atheists.”

I don’t believe in God, I like to say, but I do believe in Ashford & Simpson. And I’m reminded of a song you’ve probably never heard, since it was part of the songs Nick and Val wrote for An Invisible Life, the unproduced musical based on E. Lynn Harris’s novel about a young man’s discovery of his sexual identity, from which “Born This Way” was released as a single (with the great Broadway star Terry Lavell singing) just ahead of the Lady Gaga hit of the same title.

The song was to have been the show’s “11 o’clock number,” an intense gospel-like showstopper with “that big A&S sound,” as Nick once described a key Ashford & Simpson song characteristic to me.

The song was, “God Has Love For Everyone.”

Nick Ashford, too, had love for everyone. That is what I will think of most for the rest of this month, and hope to keep it in my heart, with Nick, every day thereafter.

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