Posted on June 25, 2014 at 3:24 am
There are several stories in this picture, beyond the obvious one of a piano-playing songwriter standing onstage at Radio City Music Hall with one of his greatest inspirations. But this is the story that is most important to me:
Carol Klein grew up in the late forties and early fifties in a brick, two-family house in Sheepshead Bay. Her upstairs neighbors were the Browns, Irving and Chickie, who had three kids, Michael, Terri and Stuart. Carol was a year older than Stuart, but he always remembered her and her little brother, Richard, who had been born deaf and severely mentally retarded.
Carol changed her name to Carole King some time during her years at James Madison High School, and thereafter became … well, she became Carole King.
Stuart Brown grew up, joined the Navy, married Deborah, and had two boys, the younger of whom – me! – begged for a piano at five years old. Dad used to tell me about his old neighbor Carole King, and I played the LP of Tapestry over and over again until the notes and rhythms and words became as familiar, and as elemental, as the letters of the alphabet.
But Dad and Carole never saw each other once they left Brooklyn, and I wouldn’t guess that Stuart Brown crossed Carole King’s mind all that often.
At the end of the Tony Awards this year, Hugh Jackman invited all the winners up to the stage, and while I was standing there, feeling a little dazed and out of place, I noticed Carole King standing about twenty feet away, talking animatedly to Jessie Mueller, and while I am generally very wary of approaching celebrities, I felt like I had a debt to pay here.
I tapped Carole on the shoulder very gently, and when she turned to me, I very quickly told her my name and said, “I’m a huge fan, but more importantly, I’m Stuart Brown’s son.”
I suspect, though I can’t be sure, that I started crying when I said my Dad’s name, as I generally do, but then I imagine that Carole’s used to people crying when they meet her. At any rate, she seemed shocked, so amazed to be brought back to a two-story house she left over fifty years ago, while standing on a stage celebrating all the life she’d lived ever since. She turned to the woman standing next to her, who I think worked with her, and said, “Oh my God, this is Stuie Brown’s son, his family lived right above us when I was a kid!” The other woman looked perplexed, and Carole said, “A LONG time ago!” and she laughed. And then, not without my share of mortification, I asked her if I could take this picture, and she smiled radiantly with Stuie’s son and the circle closed, and I don’t imagine I’ll run into her again.
As I walked away, she took my hands and said, “Please give all my best to your family … “, and, as though she knew something, “… wherever they are.” I smiled gently and thanked her and walked off the stage to where my beautiful wife and mother were waiting for me.