Last 2023 Open Thread: Last Waltz for a Century

New Year’s Eve, as you may have heard but not recalled, has been Waltz Day — 123123 in the month, day, last two digits of the year format, the likes of which we won’t see until 100 years from tonight — and we celebrate that 3/4 time dance it with a little thought association. It leads to a question I’d meant to write about this year — and just finished researching today! Let’s see if we can get there in five nostalgic steps.

First, The Last Waltz was the name of a concert by The Band — four musicians from Ontario, Canada and one Arkansan — which backed up Ronnie Hawkins as “The Hawks” and then Bob Dylan as his unnamed backup players who he referred to by that generic name. Probably more importantly, it led to a concert movie directed by Martin Scorsese, which was one of the two best concert films of the 20th century. (Go ahead, fight me on that.) It was in the news in 2023 because of the death of its guitarist and main composer, Robbie Robertson, who came up a little short in an odd trend of the members of The Band’s original lineup, dying once every 13 years. Richard Manual died in 1986, Rick Danko in 1999, Levon Helm (the Arkansan) in 2012, and now Robertson just eleven years later. We wish the sole remaining member Garth Hudson that extra two years, and may he live until 2042, when he will be 105. (He’s still active despite having been the oldest of the group.) You probably know The Band’s music even if you don’t know their name: primarily The Weight, Up on Cripple Creek, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (a commonly misunderstood antiwar song written by Robertson).

Second, and that reminds that the other best concert movie of the 1900s was “Stop Making Sense,” directed by Jonathan Demme — an academy award winner for The Silence of the Lambs — which was spiffed us and re-released this year as well. Talking Heads’ front man, David Byrne, spent the year by, among other things, taking over Broadway.

Third, much of both directors’ best work — in Scorsese’s case, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and the list goes on — reminds us of Organized Crime, for which Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather saga (at least the first two) is the only major competition. And you know who was big and loud about his taking on Organized Crime?

Fourth, yes, of course, it’s former Manhattan District Attorney Rudy Giuliani, who made his names as a fighter of organized crime when he was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (which includes the Bronx and Manhattan) from 1983 to 1989. He lost to David Dinkins in his first run for Mayor of New York City but won the 1993 rematch, serving from the start of 1994 to the end of 2001. I’ll concede: Giuliani did legitimately help comfort the country after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. I’ll also note that he and NY Police Commissioner Chief Bernard Kerik used an apartment in a nearby building that had been set up to serve first responders as their site for extramarital affairs.

Fifth, that leads to the question I’ve been thinking about throughout 2023: was Giuliani — by now demonstrably a man of rotten character, not just regarding the Trump election fraud, but during his own dealings with Ukraine — ever an honest person? I had presumed so — but 70 or so is an unusual time of life for someone to “break bad.” Would it be worth revisiting the prosecutions that he made back in the 1980s to get a sense of whether his prosecutions might have been a bit … selective?

This could occur in one of two obvious ways: first between crime families and second within them. If all five of the big crime families but one were wrecked through aggressive prosecutions, the remaining one might be able to take over the business of the others, to at least some degree — which could have been a real boon to the guy making those prosecutorial decisions. But a complete shutout of one crime family would probably have become pretty obvious, so this would be unlikely.

More likely, perhaps, would have been creating relationships with people one, two, or three levels down from the bosses that could be used to replace their leadership with people more indebted to Giuliani. That leads to the question of who was left out of the prosecutions in Giuliani’s famous RICO cases?

That was the speculation I’ve had for years. But it turns out to be baseless, because Rudy Giuliani, for all of his self promotion, did not have a major role in setting up the prosecutions — and, contrary to his assertions, was not the person who had the bright idea to apply RICO to the mob leaders.

This fine 2023 article on the NPR website notes that the brunt of the work on the prosecutions was done by the previous SDNY US Attorney’s administration. Giuliani just came along and put that good work, and other people’s plans, into action — and then took the lion’s share of the credit for the Successes of the Mafia Commission Trials of 1985. Mafia figures were actually fairly supportive of his administration once it decided to focus on fighting crime by persecuting Black youth as part of the “broken windows” theory implementation, which was racist from its inception, but that’s another sad (and familiar) story.

It is a little disappointing for me, in the process of researching this piece, to have had my theories of Giuliani as sophisticated self-dealer dashed, but he’s still a big-mouthed piece of crap and it’s wonderful to see him suffering under the weight of RICO. Regardless, I hope that you enjoyed the ride along this shaggy dog tale; make 2024 the year that you listen to The Band’s fantastic album Music From Big Pink! And if you might wonder whether I’ve really been leading up to this song — well, maybe!

This is your last Open Thread of 2023, which pretty much also makes it the first Open Thread of 2024. Talk about that or whatever else you’d like within generous bounds of discretion, dignity, and decorum.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)