Nick walked up to the stage with shaky hands. He'd been on stage a thousand times, but this time he was nervous. Frankie and Bob sat back watching expectantly. They'd elected Nick to this job…no, that wasn't the right word. They'd elected Nick to this honor. Nick knew he had just one shot to do right by Tommy.
After what seemed like a long walk, but was in fact only seconds, Nick reached the podium. He took a deep breath and tried to swallow the flood of emotions that kept threatening to overtake him.
"Good afternoon," Nick started with a trembling voice. "I am sure most of you know me, but for those who don't, I'm Nick Massi, I was Tommy's partner and good friend for many many years." Nick felt himself relaxing a bit as he started his speech.
"I am up here today to say good bye to a dear friend, and I am also speaking on behalf of two of Tommy's other friends, Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio. Tommy was like a brother to us. Like a brother, he knew how to be a difficult pest," Nick laughed as tears started to fill his eyes.
"Tommy teased me every day of my childhood and inspired me every day of my adulthood. Tommy was a good producer, golfer and a talented musician. Whether he was working solo, with the Varity Trio and as a Season.
You may not have known that Tommy left school after eighth grade, but Belleville High made him an honorary graduate. Also, you may not have known, but Tommy was one of the most generous people. He donated thousands of dollars to cancer research and education." Nick paused to lick his lips and glanced at his friends. Bob gave a slight nod and Nick continued on.
"You always saw Tommy looking a little wrinkled, but I am here to tell you that this man took two showers every day and using a new towel or two each time, often creating a damp pile on the floor. Some might think that he was slob; he was usually just too focused on his next big project or idea.
You know if Tommy were sitting here now he'd have his hand under his chin, as usual, and he'd have his serious face on. He'd be studying everyone who was speaking. Probably he'd be wearing his blue tie that he saved for funerals and weddings. As soon as the service is over Tommy would rip off the tie – he never was comfortable in ties – and rush to Valentino's for a glass of cabernet or out to the golf course, we're having such good weather. Oh, and if you saw him at home you know where he'd be sitting – on that great big recliner, with his two cats laying next to him and he would be reading USA Today and the TV would be on but he'd have no idea what program he was watching.
Last month Tommy and Bob, Frankie and I went back into the studio one last time. Not anything too huge. Just a few new songs. Tommy had no intention of writing a whole album, but he enjoyed writing one song and being back in the studio. He wanted us to share the excitement of the work he was doing in Vegas. I actually was surprised Tommy was writing but it was clear that my friend was in all his glory singing, playing guitar, talking with producers and sound technicians. Tommy also liked to drag us out to play golf with him. He could spend hours talking with the pros in the pro shop, inspecting new clubs and hitting balls on the range. Now that he's gone, I hope I don't start feeling a need to go play a round of golf.
"Though we fought like brothers, we also loved him like a brother. I'll never forget what Frankie once said about Tommy: He was an easy guy to love, but hard to understand." Nick shot a look to Frankie who nodded as tears streamed down his cheeks.
"This was so true. On the surface, Tommy was a fun guy who always knew how to have a good time. A little bit deeper he was a difficult person to be around, especially to room with as I would know, remember what I said about the towels... Still, beneath all of that, if you really knew Tommy, you knew that it was all an act and was a true and loyal friend. I mean, yeah, he could some dumb stunts," Nick gave a watery chuckle as did the crowd.
"But at the end of the day, he was still a friend and brother that I would do anything for. He uhhh…" Nick felt his emotions getting to the better of him. He turned from the podium to gather himself. After a few moments, he turned back to the audience. "Sorry. Tommy, he umm…" Nick felt heat rise up his neck as he tried to remember what he wanted to say. "Tommy was...I've got to be hoest here. He could be brutal at times, but he always seemed to have a reason, if you were patient enough with him to find it out. There is an italian proverb that describes Tommy perfectly; coloro che sono senza cuore, una volta curato troppo. For those whose Italian isn't so good, it translates rought to: those who are heartless once cared too much."
There was gentle laughter and quite a bit of nodding from the audiance, encouraging Nick to continue.
"As you know, Tommy really valued loyalty. He cared about his friends, even though he didn't always show it or express it very well. He said to me once that he thought that he was less than some people preferred him to be. For the few people Tommy truly trusted to let in, they knew that he was so much more than what everyone saw.
Tommy is in a good place now. I know he's with his parents and Anita, his sister and Marco, his brother and I know he'll be watching over all of us. I'm going to miss his Sunday morning phone calls – we spoke to each other every Sunday morning for as long as I can remember. I feel so lost and so bereaved right now. I can't imagine going about my daily life without my friend and brother." Nick felt himself almost losing control again. He gripped the sides of the pulpit tightly and took a few deep breaths.
"Because of Tommy I feel guilty if I don't take the time to appreciate a good bottle of wine, I feel guilty if travel and don't bring my clubs. I learned how to be a good musician and how to enjoy all that life has to offer every single day, by watching him.
In addition to shooting a birdie, Tommy taught me to be proud of who I am, and take responsibility for whatever needed to be done. This may surprise some of you, but he did try to always be a responsible person, taking the difficult tasks that others didn't always want to think about. By observing his life I learned how to be a decent man and a hard working musician. Thank you, Tommy." Nick paused and took a couple more deep breaths. He knew he just had to hold it together a little bit longer.
"Tommy went through a year of serious illness and he almost never complained. Instead, he got busy with new projects. He wrote music, he tried new wines, he started cooking. He told us not to feel sorry for him. He wanted us to be as close as we once were. We now have an album nearly complete and a case of thirty year old wine.
Tommy's brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, by blood or not, are amazing people and deserve so much recognition for all they did during these past months. I know you will all join me in wishing Linda, Nick, Paulie, Georgio, Stefania, and Carlo and the rest of the DeVito family an easy road through bereavement and a life filled with good memories.
This has all happened so quickly it's hard to believe that at last Christmas dinner none of us thought about Tommy's death or illness. I think I am still stunned. Everyone's perspective of Tommy is a little different. Everybody's truth, even though there may be similarities, is just a little different. ... We may both remember the exact same thing about Tommy, but you get something totally different from it than I did. We will all remember Tommy how we need to. Thank you."
With a final nod, Nick stepped down from the stage, back to his seat next to Frankie and Bob. The priest stepped back up to say a few words, and minutes later, Tommy's service was over and it was time to go to the cemetery.
- 10 YEARS LATER -
Frankie, Bob and Nick stood just off stage. The applause was still deafening. They all looked down at the plaque in Bob's hands.
"This is great," Frankie exclaimed breathlessly.
"I still can't get over that we're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," Bob shook his head.
"We should turn in early tonight," Nick suggested in a tone that clearly showed that wasn't in the cards. "We do have a meeting tomorrow morning to start talking with Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman."
"Yeah," Frankie nodded. "All work and no play…"
"I still have a few bottles of Tommy's wine. Why don't you both come over, we'll pop one open and have a quiet celebration. It'll be like Tommy's with us."
"Sounds great," Bob grinned and put an arm around Nick and Frankie's shoulders and headed out to the waiting cars.