“This much I know”
Tony Bennett, singer, 82, London
* Interview by Michael Odell
* The Observer, Sunday 23 November 2008
My mum had to raise three of us after my father died. All my uncles and aunts and nephews and nieces would form a circle round us and I would sing. I’m still doing the same thing.
When I saw my mother struggle it gave me ambition. It made me want to be rich enough to buy her a better life.
When I stopped being an elevator guy and started as a singing waiter I thought: ‘I can do this for the rest of my life.’ I thought I’d risen as far as I could go.
Frank Sinatra saw me and said: ‘That kid’s got four sets of balls.’ That changed my life completely. A word from him and people listened. I started having hit records. I owe him so much.
I was sent to Germany for the last two months of the war. Being shot at while I cowered in a slit trench nearly ruined my career! I ran for my life.
I had a great friend at art school called Frank Smith. He was a black man. When I ran into him in Germany I was stripped of my rank for having a meal with him. I’ve hated prejudice ever since.
War will make a pacifist of any sane man. War is the lowest form of humanity. We’re all here. Let’s get on with it.
The producers of The Sopranos offered me a fortune to use my records. I said no. I don’t like stereotypes. Italy has produced 50 geniuses – we don’t need to be depicted as mobsters.
I paint every day. I sign my work Tony Benedetto because that’s the real me.
In the Seventies I made some bad decisions. Cocaine is a bad drug. But what I learned is: don’t sin against your talent.
I’ve been coming to Britain for 50 years. The food is good now.
I play nice concert halls. Intimate venues. It was Liberace who started the trend for huge stadiums. Now everyone does these huge events like Hitler did.
Divorce is terrible. Thinking I would lose my children was the scariest time of my life. Any man who says ‘I get along with my ex-wife’ is lying.
My wife now is 40 years younger than me. I met her through her parents. She was a big fan. We’ve been together 23 years and it works because we know how to value life.
Young people keep me going. When I played at Glastonbury they set up hay bales so I could walk through the mud without getting my silk suit muddy. That was so kind.
Singing is like no other job. I like to make people feel good. And they make me feel good. It’s a virtuous circle. You don’t get that working in a bank.
The touch of human hands. You cannot live without it.
We should help people, not destroy them. Abraham Lincoln said we have to feed America and then Africa and the Middle East. What do we do? We sold weapons to them.
Progress is great, but it’s so uneven. I like the Walkman that plays a tape so you can rewind to the bit of the song you like. It was perfect. And what do they do? They get rid of it!
How long do you listen to someone before your attention wanders? Someone told me 16 minutes. In this life, if you can’t explain yourself in 16 minutes you’re in a lot of trouble.
If you ever find yourself irate or angry about something, remember: ‘This too shall pass.’
I’m a bit slower than I used to be. But I love life. You only get 100 years. Why rush it?