I met Ahmet Ertegun at my very first press party in New York back in the dark ages. It was at Raffles, the club that’s now called Doubles in the Sherry Netherland Hotel. I was still in college. The man who turned “race music” into all-American music was introducing his latest signing, the country music star Willie Nelson. Later, I would profile Ertegun, and have the chance to get to know him and his wife Mica a little. I saw immediately that incongruities were like oxygen to him.
Keith Richards signed off with those words in the message he sent to Ertegun’s memorial Tuesday evening at the Rose Theater in the Time-Warner Center. It was, as Rush & Molloy note today, a star-studded event, as memorable as the man himself. Richards’ partner-in-crime Mick Jagger, who was wearing black sneakers with red racing stripes, called Ahmet his “wicked uncle.” Today, Styles of the Times eulogized another greatie in her eighties, Pat Buckley, who died earlier this week. “The smoking section is wherever Mrs. Buckley is sitting,” Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque told me shortly after smoking in New York restaurants was first regulated. I don’t remember where I first met her, but I always loved her for her incandescence and irreverence (traits she passed on to her son, the great satirist Christopher Buckley). Per Styles, Buckley’s death represents the end of an era, “a time when wealthy women actually paid for their own clothes and were not generally available as props to be hired along with the cocktail glasses to dress up the openings of designer boutiques.” True enough. But the era shared by Ahmet and Pat was much more than that. Here’s the real headline: An entire generation of wicked aunts and uncles is dying off. And it’s a damn shame.
Eddie Brigati of the Young Rascals sat next to me at Ahmet’s memorial. When Henry Kissinger walked by Brigati bristled, but you don’t have to like the former Secretary of State to appreciate how special his presence there was; or rather, how special the man who brought us all there was. I had a Rascal on one side, E. T. Williams, the African-American-art-collecting real estate mogul on the other, and Diane and Barry von Dillerberg right in front of us. A few rows in front of them were Kissinger and his wife Nancy, Oscar de la Renta and his wife Annette, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, David Geffen, Barbara Walters, and Jagger and his great big beautiful girlfriend L’Wren Scott. Mrs. Buckley’s circle was just as wide as Ahmet’s, her taste just as catholic-with-a-small-c. Today’s insecure, narrow-minded, blinkered prop socialites could learn a lot from these two indomitable tastemakers. They both embodied the old adage that living well is the best revenge.