Friday 3 June 2016


Ringo & his All-Starr Band and answered media questions today,before his Lakeview Amphitheater show in Syracuse

In 1971, not long after the breakup of the most famous rock band in history, there were serious hopes for a reunion of at least three of The Beatles …
In Syracuse.
“It was the jam that never happened, the one that got away,” said David A. Ross, a young museum assistant at the time who’d go on to a distinguished career as a museum director, curator and writer.

Ringo did a little news conference Friday before he and his “All-Starr Band” – Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie, Steve Lukather, Richard Page, Warren Ham and Gregg Bissonette – began a tour Friday at the new Lakeview Amphitheater on the shoreline of Onondaga Lake, near Syracuse. The tour moves on Saturday to the Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino, in Salamanca. Ringo is 75 now – if you’re a Baby Boomer, that’s a number that is hard to contemplate – but I wanted to ask him about that Syracuse gathering, long ago.
I wrote a piece about it in 2005 for The Syracuse Post-Standard, and the guys who told me the tale were Ross and James Harithas. Harithas is a former curator of the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston, while Ross - chair of art practice at the School of Visual Arts, in New York City - has served as director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art.
They shared this recollection: In 1971, when Yoko Ono did her first major art show, “This is not here,” at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, part of the dream was assembling The Beatles – at least Ringo, John Lennon and George Harrison - for an impromptu midnight concert at the Everson in honor of Lennon’s 31st birthday on Oct. 9 of that year.
“God, it would have been amazing,” Ross said Friday.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon at the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, 1971; photo courtesy of the Everson.
Yoko Ono and John Lennon at the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, 1971; photo courtesy of the Everson.

Ringo was there. He came to the opening of the show with his then-wife, Maureen Starkey Tigrett. But George Harrison couldn’t make it to Syracuse that night, choosing to visit Ono's show later. Harithas once told me the early dream involved inviting Paul McCartney, but Paul and John at that moment were estranged, their emotional collision at the core of the disintegration of the band.
At the time, Ross was a young aide to Harithas, then-director of the Everson. Ross recalled how Apple Records, The Beatles recording label, flew in a chartered plane on the morning of Oct. 8, a plane loaded with fabled musicians. Ringo was on it, Ross said, as were such renowned sessions musicians as keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, drummer Jim Keltner - and Klaus Voorman, who’d collaborated musically and artistically with several of The Beatles.
Also on hand: Phil Spector, the famed “Wall of Sound” producer now doing prison time for the killing of actress Lana Clarkson, and fabled Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Several accounts say Eric Clapton was in Syracuse, and Lennon and Ono wrote a song – “Attica State,” inspired by the prison uprising – in the hours before the birthday celebration.
Ross said he was instructed to find guitars and other instruments that could be used in a midnight concert in a small auditorium at the Everson, a surprise gift for Lennon in a magnificent building designed by fabled architect I.M. Pei.
It didn’t happen. Word got out about the potential show, and fans tried to push their way into the museum. In the end, Lennon, Ono, Ringo and all the guests retreated to a room in the nearby Hotel Syracuse, where they did an impromptu jam while sitting in a circle, Ringo using  any object he could find for percussion.
The Beatles had dissolved the previous year, and the band remained the focus of international attention: “An extraordinary phenomenon,” as Ross put it. Ono and Lennon descended on Upstate New York with the force of a celebrity comet. The Beatles never played an Upstate concert, and the appearance of Lennon and Ringo was as good as it could get for countless fans in this region who revered them.
John and Ono were also political dynamite, long-haired symbols of the counterculture at a time when those divisions – the fabled “Generation Gap” – ran fierce and deep. Lennon made no secret of his opposition to the war in Vietnam. When editors at The Post-Standard wrote an editorial that described Ono’s art as “hokum” - an editorial that questioned the wisdom of Everson administrators for staging the show - Lennon and Ono responded with a letter that compared the editors to “grey people” or “blue meanies,” the shortsighted bad guys in an animated Beatles film, “Yellow Submarine.”
The idea of a Syracuse reunion was reinforced years later by May Pang, who was Lennon’s romantic partner for a time in the 1970s. In several interviews, she recounted how Lennon and McCartney spent some time together in California in 1974, and how they daydreamed about the idea of again writing some songs together.
They discussed doing it in Syracuse, Pang said, because it was relatively close to New York City, yet outside Manhattan's media spotlight – and perhaps because Lennon had warm memories of the time that he spent there.
As for Ringo, legendary rock critic Robert Christgau made mention of the Syracuse visit in Christgau's 1980 eulogy for Lennon in the Village Voice, after the rock genius was murdered in New York City. Christgau recalled a visit with Lennon and Ringo in a room at the Hotel Syracuse just before the 1971 birthday party, and how Ringo expressed frustration about a long wait for room service. John told the humble and low-key drummer to tell the staff he was a Beatle, and that he wanted faster service.
“You’ve got the fame,” Lennon said, folding in a profanity. “You might as well get something out of it.”
That wasn’t Ringo’s style then, and it wasn’t Friday.
At the news conference, he was funny, self-effacing and complimentary about the beauty of the new amphitheater. He spoke of loving music since he was a child, how he bought his first drum set at 17 and almost immediately turned it into his full-time passion. "I'm just so grateful I'm still at it," he said, emphasizing that every performance is a thrill. He used the word "love" in describing how he feels about the musicians in the All-Starr Band, a reverence they clearly returned, and he showed little interest in talking about the "other band" that made him famous.

When asked about the 1971 gathering in Syracuse, Ringo said: "I remember absolutely nothing," not even visiting Syracuse at all. He was warm and gracious about it. He laughed and said he could stand on the stage and make something up, but it was deep in the past and he had no memories of the event.

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