I was invited to contribute an essay to a publication called “Once Upon a Brand” – a short reverie about a brand I believed in. My dear friend Dom, its editor, wrote: “… We are now working on Volume Two. The hundred or so contributors will be leaders, achievers, influencers and game-changers from all (well many) areas of life. Would you care to contribute with a story about a brand that has touched you, connected with you in personal and evocative ways? First thought, obviously, is Anne Frank, but your choice of course.”  I said no to Anne Frank, disregarded Dom’s flattery, and wrote the following short piece. I’m posting it today (30 June) as a tribute to two memorable drinks consumed forty-three years ago at 10:30 in the morning at a White Rose Bar on 3rd Avenue. One was a double vodka martini, the other a double Jameson whiskey. I can almost taste them still …. drippingly racing down my throat …


Alcoholics Anonymous at first sight: ruby-haired, sultry Susan Hayward (playing torch singer Lillian Roth) drinks too much in the 50s movie “I’ll Cry Tomorrow.” She drags her mink coat along the floor while wailing/slurring “Sing, You Sinners.” Helping her rise from collapse, stalwart Eddie Albert (as Burt McGuire, once also brought to his knees by whiskey), offers a steadying cup of coffee, guides her to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. More meetings follow. When renewal, along with a happy, sober life results, Susan changes her tune, sings “When the Red, Red Robin …” in a clear, majestic voice:

Wake up, wake up, you sleepy head
Get up, get out of your bed
Cheer up, cheer up; the sun is red
Live, love, laugh, and be happy*

Affected by Susan/Lillian’s transformation in my raw youth, the power of Alcoholics Anonymous lodged in the back of my mind though I hadn’t even gulped the first of many gin and tonics, nor dragged my own coat across a dance floor. Time passed, destiny danced, quietly waiting in the wings hovered the cost-free fellowship that remains apolitical, international, multiracial, interdenominational, intergenerational. As it had for Susan/Lillian, its long open arms remain ever-ready to enfold all in need of help. Including oneself.

Begun in 1935 by a failed stockbroker and a doctor, AA has since provided sanctuary for many millions of shaky folks in more than one hundred-eighty different countries around-the-world. The organization’s covenant with privacy/anonymity at a personal and public level discourages self-identification, but, as “Sing, You Sinners” warns, if one is

…wicked and depraved
And you’ve all misbehaved
If you wanna be saved …

earthy Alcoholics Anonymous – its always empty chair, its offer of support by those who came before, its never-empty pot of coffee – is there. In the same way that a Life Saver promises a fruit-flavored circular candy, Alcoholics Anonymous (its triangular brand logo – service, unity, recovery – enclosed within a circle) envisions a life raft upon a tumultuous river; the brand reflects the culture, aims and overall integrity of a unique, ego-free, self-help organization.

I’ve been a witness to AA’s miracles, seen ruined lives salvaged, the sick get well, watched the hopeless find hope, outcasts come in from the cold. Had it not been for the modesty of anonymity, I might describe the pale-yellow silk lampshade I wore on my head, the golden child I neglected because another martini took precedence, the amorous inappropriateness undertaken on the S.S. Christoforo Columbo, the seizure had in a Greek island pine grove, but, I needn’t. Suffice to say –

Sobriety is a jewel

That I do much adore;

And therefore keep me dancing

Though drunkards lie and snore

O mind your feet, O mind your feet

Keep dancing like a wave

And under every dancer

A dead man in his grave.

 [“Red, Red Robin” words and music by Harry Woods, 1926]

[Sing, You Sinner music by W. Franke Harling, lyrics by Sam Coslow, 1930]

[William Butler Yeats, 1869 – 1939 – “A Drunken Man’s Praise of Sobriety”]