Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday Night in East Flatbush: Ruben Studdard at Wingate Field

On the hottest night of the summer - which, admittedly, is not saying all that much, given that today, August 10, was the first day it reached 90 degrees in New York City all season - we went to Wingate Field in our childhood home of East Flatbush to see Ruben Studdard, the first performer in tonight's Martin Luther King Jr. Concert, which later featured Jeffrey Osborne and Teena Marie.

We're sorry we couldn't stay for them, but we have to get up early tomorrow and needed to be home by 10 p.m. We still feel we got more than our money's worth - okay, the concerts, which have been sponsored by Marty Markowitz since the early 20th century, are free. Ruben Studdard was much more than all right, and we enjoyed the show.

We lived in this neighborhood from when we were 2 until when we were 7, but our great-grandparents and both sets of grandparents lived here until we were 16 in 1967. Here we are at age three in 1954 in our j.d. leather jacket and cap, with a fellow gangbanger, chalking up the sidewalk on East 43 Street by Linden Boulevard, about ten blocks from Wingate Field.

After leaving Dumbo Books HQ in Williamsburg at 6:45 p.m., we got to Winthrop Street in about 40 minutes via the G train to Fulton and the 5 train from Atlantic, We got off the IRT (yeah, we still call it that) by the Parkside Avenue exit, where the old Linden Theater used to be (it closed in 1961, but you can see its remains in the film Alice's Restaurant in a scene where young Arlo Guthrie gets off the subway to visit his father Woody Guthrie, dying of Huntington's disease in Kings County Hospital).

In August 2007, we saw Anita Baker at Wingate Field and wrote about it for our first-person MySpace blog, and last August, we saw Patti LaBelle here and also recounted our experience.

We could hear Marty going on, as usual, as we walked through the roundabout lines to the entrance, got frisked perfunctorily by a member of the Nation of Islam, and arrived at the back of the Wingate track oval, the grounds of the field and the bleachers in the back filled with several thousand people.

Marty was introducing some of the sponsors that come up every week - from Macy's, Citibank, Applebee's, etc. - but during his long talk, he also dropped that he'd had breakfast this morning at Junior's with Spike Lee and that Brooklyn might expect an extravaganza celebrating Michael Jackson's 51st birthday.

Then Pastor Harvey Jamison Jr. of Glorious Trinity Baptist Church gave pretty much the same all-inclusive invocation that he's been giving every week at these concerts for years. We love the Rev, but some of us in the crowd could by now fill in word for word if necessary - if only we could recall all of it.

He did seem to ask the Lord to give our young people, in the usual alliterative list, "Christ instead of crap" rather than the usual "Christ instead of crack," although possibly we misheard it. ("Manners instead of marijuana" remained, but recent accounts of Woodstock 40 years ago seem to indicate the two are not incompatible.)

WBLS's night DJ, "Doctor" Bob Lee

- the radio station, of course, is one of the concert series' sponsors - introduced the night's events and finally Ruben Studdard, who came out looking remarkably cool in a very light gray suit over a white shirt. He's gained back some of the weight he'd lost, and perhaps more, but was in fine fettle for the hour or so he was onstage.

Accompanied by two female backup singers in slinky black gowns, he came out singing "Flying Without Wings," which he performed on American Idol:

"Did you all come out to have a good time tonight?" he shouted, telling us to get out from our chairs (most people brought their own) and put our hands up. Then he did the self-referential "No Ruben":
From hangin' out late in the Elma
To Beverly Hills, California
From heatin' up the leftovers
To becomin' a restaurant owner

From a little block, from a little hood
To the whole world and it's all good
And if ya didn't know
I was a star before the show but if it was

No block, no Ruben
No hood, no Ruben
No boulevards, no Ruben
No corner spots, no Ruben

No stayin' up late nights
Tellin' mama everything gone be alright
And if it was no you
There would be no Ruben

Plugging his new album, Love Is, Ruben asked, "Anybody wanna be in love? Anybody wanna stay in love?" A murmur ran through the crowd, but we couldn't quite discern the response. Ruben began singing "Together":

The audience was pretty mellow and seemed mostly in their thirties, forties and fifties, though we did spot some teenagers, including a Chinese-American girl who we heard say, "I like this," sounding surprised.

Basically, what's not to like about Ruben Studdard? His songs were a pleasant way to enjoy a sultry summer evening. We've always liked, and loved tonight, Ruben singing the old standard "Superstar":

We're pretty sure we would have really enjoyed Jeffrey Osborne and Teena Marie, whom we recall fondly from the 1980s, but we had to get going. Along Winthrop Street, we bought a bottle of cold water from one of the vendors and took it down to the subway, where we sat waiting for our train while cops were putting handcuffs on a teenager who they said had an outstanding warrant.

He said it was a case of mistaken identity and asked to call his mother. We minded our business, since the cops seemed to be treating him respectfully and said they'd straighten it out in the station and then the 2 train came. Grateful for the air-conditioning and being able to see Ruben Studdard tonight, we'll be coming back again this way, baby.

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