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Whatever Works

His Secret Is to Have Fun--and Stay Cool

Whatever Works is a weekly column about working. In it, we will feature a well-known person discussing a little-known aspect of his or her career, early working life or special project. Today's columnist is singer and painter Tony Bennett.

November 09, 1998|Tony Bennett

Question: What's the worst job you've ever had?

Answer: I was working at a place where they cleaned Navy pants, you know, for the Navy, when I was a young boy. You'd line up in the steam room where it was 150 degrees to clean the uniforms. It was a horrible job, I couldn't believe it.

Also, when I was in the infantry in Germany I had to collect the dead bodies. That wasn't too nice.

Q: Who was the worst boss you ever had?

A: I had an Army sergeant that was terrible. He always would pick on me. He was a Southerner, and he didn't like Yankees.

Q: What's the most fun you've had at work?

A: I always have fun. To me that's my secret, that's why I still like it so much. I have fun when I paint and when I sing.

Q: What was your first job?

A: I worked in a commercial art studio as an apprentice cleaning up the paints and paper, putting things in order for the artists who worked there. I was 14.

Q: Most people probably don't know you once worked as a . . .

A: . . . singing waiter at a place called Ricardo's in Astoria on Long Island. I never liked any job so much. I loved it so much, I said, "I'm going to do this for the rest of my life."

Q: What do you love about your current work?

A: I'm a very hard worker, but I love it, so I can't wait to learn more about it. I've been in show business for 50 years, and I've done 200 performances a year throughout the world, and I paint every day. I paint under my family name, Anthony Dominic Benedetto, and could make a living just doing that.

Q: What do you hate about your current work?

A: I only hate when it doesn't work. But I've never in my whole life said I'm gonna throw in the towel and quit. No matter how discouraging the creative process gets, I just say I'll go get some rest and start over the next day.

Q: What's the hardest part of your work?

A: Being consistent. To get into concentration when you paint. The more focused you are, the better the painting becomes. For singing, the hardest part is only when I have a cold.

Q: What is your current project?

A: I have two. I just came out with a children's album called "The Playground," and it's doing very well; early reviews have been very good. It's on Columbia / Sony Records. I also have a book out this month called "The Good Life." It's an autobiography.

Q: How do you deal with the stress of your job?

A: People that know me can't believe how cool I am. I think about it an awful lot. I've learned the more relaxed a project is the more successful it will be--to take something difficult and make it look easy.

My grandfather was like a guru to me, although I didn't realize it at the time. When I was a young boy, I would sit at his feet on the stoop. He wouldn't say anything all day long. He was very meditative. It taught me to be the same way. I didn't have to be uptight about things.

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

A: I've always known what I wanted to do as far back as I can remember. I've always loved to sing and paint, and I've done it every day of my life. And I'm 72 now.

Q: What drives you to keep working?

A: I just like it. I love entertaining people; I love to perform for them. It makes me feel good to know I'm making them feel good. I just enjoy it.

Q: What's something most people don't know about you?

A: I play a lot of tennis. I'm a bit of a duffer, but I love the game.

Q: What kind of work did your father or mother do?

A: My mother was a seamstress, and my father died when I was 10 years old. He was a grocer.

Q: What do you want to do when you retire?

A: As long as I'm healthy, I'm gonna keep going. Like my favorite line from George Burns when they asked him about retiring. He said, "Retire to what?"

Tony Bennett will appear on VH-1 and Nickelodeon in a simulcast of "Tony Bennett: Storytellers for VH1 Save the Music Featuring the Backstreet Boys" on Nov. 29 at 8 p.m.

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