Biff America: A fine ride and good intentions (column)
Nick Cappa was a “no sweat babe” type guy.
He smoked Tiparillos during a time where you could smoke almost anywhere; and he did.
Nick drove a 10-year-old Cadillac, wore thick, yellow tinted aviator glasses and a leather jacket that looked to be made of Naugahyde. He moved to Denver during the mid-’80s for his health. It was unhealthy to owe money to some folks back in New York.
Nick explained, “It was the worst snow storm on Long Island in 10 years, no one was going to come out in that weather. If they could have fronted me some more cash for my next show, I would have made good.”
Nick was a rock concert promoter during an era of debt and self-abuse.
He was almost always broke or flush. When he was the latter, he would not let not you pay for breakfast or a drink. If he was broke he might ask, “Hey Biff-er, can you spot me a 50? I’ll pay you back, no sweat Babe.”
Nick had a stack of Polaroids of him and many of those same famous rock stars whose albums I loved in high school. I got the impression that he was once a big shot.
I’m guessing most promoters would pay what was required in the way of deposits and retainers — Nick would pay what he had and make up the difference with ticket and beer sales, with (hopefully) a little cash left over for himself.
At that point in my career I would do almost anything for money, so I worked for Nick for about a year.
Nick would secure a venue and book a band. At the time, I had friends in the electronic media who like me were broke and open for suggestions. With tickets and gifts I would entice them to plug the show.
I will say, I’m pretty sure this wasn’t exactly legal so let me add, “I’m just kidding.”
I would also write and voice ad-spots for any advertising that Nick could afford and on the night of the show I’d introduce the bands.
Our agreement was Nick would pay me first off the top of ticket sales and he never once stiffed me.
Nick and I parted company as friends. After a hot streak of sold-out shows, he was getting a reputation as a reliable promoter in both Colorado and Utah. I wished him well but I also realized that he could be one snow storm away from ruin.
It was many years later when I bumped into Nick again. I road my bicycle up Loveland Pass on a beautiful day in July. On top, sitting in a brand new Caddy, all four windows open, smoking a Tiparillo, same glasses and similar jacket, was Nick.
There was no mistaking him. I rolled up and said something like, “Business must be good Nicky.”
Nick seemed unsurprised to see me. He said he was done with the music business. Referencing the Caddy he said, “Can you believe this ride Biff? A grand down and no payments for 90 days.” I leaned my bike against the bumper and sat in the passenger seat while he bragged about the sound system. The sounds of Charley Musslewhite and Tiparillo smoke poured out the windows. I noticed the stink eye from some other Lycra-clad cyclists as they moved away.
Had I known that Nick was dying, I would have stayed in that car longer.
About two months later I got a call from Nick’s wife who lived in Florida. I had no idea he was married. She told me Nick didn’t have long to live, but she didn’t seem that concerned. She added that she couldn’t make it out to see him but knows he would like some visitors.
The next day I drove to Denver. On the way to Nick’s room I bumped into a nurse I knew. I asked of his condition. She said she’d let him tell me and also said I was his only visitor.
When I walked into the room Nick didn’t seem surprised. He only asked if I had a cigarette and how I knew he was there. He was yellow and bloated.
Without further preamble he said, “Biff, I’m dying.” Nick had hepatitis. He thought he might have caught it in Korea during the war. He told me the doctors didn’t give him much hope, but he was hoping to make it to Christmas. I told him if anyone could do it, he could. Fighting tears, I added, “No sweat Babe.”
Nick died alone in that same room a few days later.
The old proverb says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Nick Cappa had the best of intentions and sometimes he made good on them. I truly believe that, like most of us, he did the best he could. For a year or so we spent a fair amount of time together, but there was much about him that remains a mystery. When I heard of his passing, of course I was sad but I had to smile knowing he hadn’t made one payment on that Caddy…………
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul.
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