Making Music In Manhattan

I was born at the dawn of the Space Age in a nation not yet formed, subject of an Empire that no longer exists.

I remember staring starstruck up at Sputnik, that first resounding Soviet shot across our technological prow, watching it glide silently past so impossibly high overhead, glittering bright but tiny against the vast black of the night sky, far far beyond my grasp.

I craved then the futuristic modernity that tiny man-made satellite symbolized so powerfully, a Jetson’s jet-pack future light-years removed from my own unadventurous life spent playing in the woods and building forts.

But many years have passed since then, and all early indications to the contrary, I too eventually managed, like Sputnik, to reach an escape velocity capable of sending me soaring far up and away from that quiet gravel lane on a few revolutions of my own.

For two of those decades I lived in Manhattan with Tom, now my husband, and this is the first in a series of tales about my life there working with some of the greatest (and not-so-great) performing artists of the world.

When I first arrived in the spring of 1986, New York wasn’t the clean, touristy playground people visit today. Ed Koch was Mayor, the crack epidemic was peaking, Times Square was squalid (but more fun!), Hell’s Kitchen was infested with gangs (not an up-and-coming gay neighborhood) and Central Park was anything but safe.

Tommy Thompson (L) with actress Dana Ivey (R) and friend.

I was there to start a new job as Managerial Assistant to Tommy Thompson, a Senior VP of Columbia Artists Management Inc. To help get me settled, Tommy had reserved a room at the 60th Street YMCA at Lincoln Center for my first few nights in the city. It was convenient, just a few blocks from our offices at 57th and Seventh.

But it was so old, so grey, and so grotty! Like a set from a 1950’s zombie film, and that includes the inhabitants! At least upstairs. Later friends told me I’d missed out on a Bacchanalian fantasy down in the swimming pool locker rooms, but all I ever saw was the alte kochian dystopia upstairs and I couldn’t get out of that place fast enough.

I didn’t know anyone in New York, but I had one name and number scribbled on a piece of paper by David YH Lui, thrust into my coat pocket as we said goodbye. David said he didn’t know Andrew well, but thought he was involved in the theatre.

I called Andrew within days of arriving to find him frantically getting ready to leave for London. “Would you be interested in a temporary sublet?,” he asked.

Sean with David YH Lui (L) & Donald Gislason (R) 1985

I raced over immediately and couldn’t say “Yes!” fast enough. It was a spectacular apartment in a new 52-story doorman building just blocks from Lincoln Center. And they were so desperate to find someone to keep an eye on things that I could afford it even on my pitifully small $18,000 salary.

It’s a truism among young New Yorkers that it’s only ever possible to have two of three things: the perfect job, the perfect lover or the perfect apartment, but never all three at once.

When I landed in Manhattan, I already had the perfect job, despite the low salary. Two weeks later I found myself moving into the perfect apartment.

But it wasn’t until I jumped off the roof of that 52-story building that I found true love.

To be continued …