Charles Farrell : Musician, Former Boxing Promoter

Charles Farrell was born to a sophisticated middle class family in Boston, but at age 12, he left home and came of age on the street, joining “low-life culture”, the underbelly of boxing, and avant-garde piano playing.

This episode is a co-production with the fantastic podcast: Everything is Stories.

Charles is currently working on his memoir, “Lowlife”, and a TV series called “Fixed and Forgotten” with Tony Roman.

Everything Is Stories

(in order of appearance)
Artist – Title – Album
Painted Caves – Loft Life – Surveillance
Jan Jelenik – Moire [Strings] – Loop- Finding – Jazz – Records
Charles Farrell – I Love This Place – Charles Farrell Weekly Concert Series
Charles Farrell – 10-26-2012 – Charles Farrell Weekly Concert Series
Louis Prima – Buona Sera – Louis Prima And His Orchestra
The Bad Plus – Bronze Medalist – These Are The Vistas
Charles Farrell – Suspended 4ths Pentatonics and part of A Love Supreme – Charles Farrell Weekly Concert Series
Charles Farrell – Suspended 4ths Pentatonics and part of A Love Supreme – Charles Farrell Weekly Concert Series
Raime – Your Cast Will Tire – Quarter Turns Over a Living Line + OC – Time’s Up Instrumental – Time’s Up
The Caretaker – Mental Caverns Without Sunshine – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
Jan Jelenik – Moire [Strings] – Loop- Finding – Jazz- Records
Charles Farrell – He Was Barking at the Two Men Who Were Gambling in the Dark + Charles Farrell – You Can’t Blame Us – Hope Springs Eternal
Ash Ra Tempel VI – Echo Waves – Inventions for electric guitar
Boards of Canada – White Cyclosa – WARP
Jan Jelenik – Moire [Strings] – Loop- Finding – Jazz- Records
Delia Derbyshire – The Delian Mode – BBC Radiophonic Music
Charles Farrell – The Killers – Hope Springs Eternal
Charles Farrell – Two Jazz Standards Reconfigured – Charles Farrell Weekly Concert Series
Charles Farrell – You Can’t Blame Us – Charles Farrell Weekly Concert Series
Charles Farrell – He Was Barking At The Two Men Who Were Gambling In The Dark (music mix) – Hope Springs Eternal
Charles Farrell – Problems for Freddie – Hope Springs Eternal
Charles Farrell – The Killers – Hope Springs Eternal
Charles Farrell – Ralph Rosen Slow Piece 10-13-13- Charles Farrell Weekly Concert Series
Tortoise – Four-Day Interval – TNT
Charles Farrell – In Puerto Rico – Hope Springs Eternal
Charles Farrell – You Can’t Blame Us – Hope Springs Eternal
Charles Farrell – 10-26-2012 – Charles Farrell Weekly Concert Series
Charles Farrell : Musician, Former Boxing Promoter

The biggest bet I ever made in my life would’ve been a life changing bet. I made a bet of $425,000, the win would be $1,250,000. I was sort of trying to get out of being a gangster, which I’d been at that point in a number of different ways, and I thought that was the thing that was going to be able to make me be legit for the rest of my life. I could stop being a gangster.

I flew into Santo Domingo in a private plane that was arranged for me, and landed on a cane field. I had my bodyguard, and they had these two enormous Samoan guys, and they had their money and I had my money. So, I made the bet.

It was for a middle weight championship, a guy named Stevie Collins and a guy named Reggie Johnson. Both good fighters, both guys who didn’t punch very hard, and both guys who were never knocked out in their entire career, so it’s going to be a close fight.

[I mean, this can go either way. I’ve got Reggie Johnson barely ahead by one point, 96, 95…]

Oh man, my life is flashing before my eyes, because I’m either going to lose more money than I’ve ever envisioned losing, or I’m going to make enough money so I’m out of this thing. And I lost. I just thought I made a bad decision and I was wrong, and that really that was the end of it. But it was fight that was a real fight between two real fighters, or at least I always thought it was a non-fixed fight, and only recently have I started to rethink and wonder if I just got completely outplayed by somebody who really, really knew the game.


[Charles, I know you’re in Puerto Rico as you told me, but I want you to get ahold of me some which way, I’m setting up this thing with Don. I’ll set it up for Monday or Tuesday, probably at Boca Raton, or wherever his office is at, Ft. Lauderdale. He knows the principals, I had a good talk with Don, and I’m going to set it up, you know what I mean?] [I really went all out, I give him a rundown with Don, let him talk, we’ll sit down and see which one. They had originally tried to come in with something else, but they never succeeded in what they did. Now, you’re going to get a shot to do it, and you also, because you got the people, naturally. So, they want to talk with the principals, he don’t want any other bullshit around, he said. So, that’s the whole thing. Charles, try and get back to me.] [Your message will be saved for 20…]

Lowlife culture, you’re an outsider, for whatever reasons, and there are all kinds of reasons that we can think of that we’re outsiders. If you add to that someone who lives on or outside of the margins of the law, and an antipathy toward authority, which I have to a great, great extent, probably an unhealthy extent. Those are probably the things that best define lowlife culture.

Lowlife culture is really a kind of affinity for the way disenfranchised people live, people who don’t have anything, the kind of pleasures that they take, and what their options are, what delures are for them. Hustling plays into that. It is seeing the world as either getting over or being gotten over. You’re either a mark or you’re playing people. One of the ways I hustle is I use language creatively. Okay, this is what you do if you’re hustling to put yourself in an advantageous position, you speak their language, whatever the language is, it suggests a mutual sympathy, point one. Point two, you speak a language that no one else in the room can speak. The term is sesquipedalian. It means given to using big words. Words that people say, “Oh, what the fuck?” But then you use phrases like, “Oh, what the fuck?” So, you have connected and you’ve elevated. Then, you look to flatter and you look to exploit any insecurities and you bounce those things back and forth. If you’ve done all of those four things, the chances are you’re going to get pretty much what you want. I could get people’s trust, and at that point I would in various ways take advantage of their trust. That’s really all I did for my whole life.

I grew up in lowlife. The people I loved most growing up were in lowlife, that’s part of my DNA. The challenge for me from now on is, and has been for years, is how not to hustle, how to behave ethically. It’s very easy for me to take advantage of people and I have to work hard not to do it. One of the things that you do when you don’t have an education, if you’re relatively bright, is you mask. You show your strong hand, and I’m pretty good at that. I only know how to do a few things, and that’s what I show. I was born playing piano. I started to play piano at three, and I could play from the moment I sat down. I had a very bifurcated childhood. My father was a graduate of Harvard Law School, and my mother comes from a show business family as far back as we can trace. My maternal grandfather was a really great orchestra leader, great piano player. Since it was a family profession, it was understood that that’s what I would do to make money, playing piano.

I was impatient, I really wanted to start my adult life, so that’s what I did. I left home when I was 12, I dropped out of school very early. For a 12 year old to be living on the streets now means something a lot different from what a 12 year old living on the streets in 1964, 1965 would have met. I lived in Boston, a particularly sophisticated and cultured town, and really not a dangerous town, but living on the streets made me learn fast. It made me aware of opportunity. For example, I found that I could get unbelievably high SAT scores. I wasn’t going to school myself, so those scores wouldn’t do me any good, except I realized that there was a real premium on being able to get great SAT scores. I don’t know if this is still the case, where they would divide it into two categories, English and Math. Perfect score was 800 in each, and my ongoing guarantee was that nobody would get less than 750 for either one, nobody would get less than 1500, and I’d get paid 500 bucks. Which, when I was 13 or 14, was a lot of money, so I did that a lot.

I got started performing in public in general by walking in off the streets to various hotels and various clubs and just sitting down and playing, and I could play. I started out being the intermission pianist, and those were great gigs for a kid because you got to be an adult. I would have to wear a suit and tie and show up on time, and the money was good. Boston had a lot of mob clubs, and they were terrible jobs. Great learning experience, because they were exhausting and the audiences were unbelievably demanding and you had to play a wide range of stuff. Some of these clubs were very tough clubs. The ones where the IRA kept guns. Whitey Bulger had something to do with some of them.

There was a club in Lawrence, Massachusetts called The English Social Room. I love that name, The English Social Room, you expect little pinky to be up. It was a whore house, the mob owned it, and it was a club where there were no rules, the cops were all bought off. You could do anything you wanted there. Back then, musicians worked with strippers, they would use live musicians, and I wound up working with a famous stripper at the end of her life named Sherry Champaign, who’s whole thing when she was on stage was to try and get me to stop playing the piano. I would say to her, “I don’t care what you do, I’m not going to stop playing the piano. I’m not going to freak out.” She would put my head between her legs, and you know, fine. Anyway, one day at The English Social room, a guy went into the men’s room. Blew his brains out. Blood everywhere, all over the walls, every place. We had a 20 minute break and we started our next set on time. I did that for a long time. I did it from the time I was 14 until I stopped playing in public when I was 27.

I started watching boxing when I was a kid, I’m 62 now. I caught the very tail end of a really golden age of boxing, so I got to see extraordinarily good fighters on TV all the time.

The first time I walked into a boxing ring, the thing that struck me more than anything was that it was in color. When they bled, it was actually a color and there was a lot more of it than appeared on television. What I found was that I could read boxing in this very sophisticated way. There was something about the combination of preparing really well and then being able to improvise under circumstances where nobody, really, could improvise that I just found admirable. As I got a little bit older, that led me into spending a lot of time in the gyms and betting on boxing, which I did well. From there, I wound up getting involved with people who wanted to bet on boxing. I got involved with the mafia in boxing because I was in Gleason’s Gym in New York every week and both the Russian and Italian mobs would see me working. They would just ask for advice, and eventually that expanded. They said, “Can you come with us? Can you be with us?” And I said, “Yeah, sure.” I was pretty optimistic about it. They had capital.

The first time I made a big bet and collected enough money for it to be a transformative experience, I thought I might be able to do this for a little while and have so much money that no one knows about and then live exactly the way I want to live for the rest of my life. There’s a kind of feeling that nothing could possibly stop you, you’re flying into Vegas, you’re flying into Atlantic City, and you’re in a plane that you’ve essentially taken over, bringing in whole carts of fighters who were all undefeated, who as a group all win in the first and second rounds, it’s easy young guys who are on the way up. That feeling is incomparable, it’s like this ride is going to go smoothly and everything that we set up is going to work. Then I wound up getting involved with fighters.

Around 1991, I became friendly with a guy named Mitch Bloodgreen. Mitch Bloodgreen, if you ever saw him you’d never forget him. He’s 6’6″, about 250 pounds now, when he was fighting he was about 225, jheri curls way past his shoulders, and a toothpick in his mouth all the time. He’d been the leader of a street gang in New York, he’s called the King of Riker’s Island because he loves going to prison where he’s a celebrity.

[He’s been arrested for illegal drugs, robbing a gas station, refusing to pay bridge tolls, and has had…]

He was a five time New York state golden gloves heavyweight champ, incredibly talented fighter. Tall, reaching, fast hands. Never off his feet. He fought Mike Tyson without training for him, and Mike Tyson was still Mike Tyson, and went 10 rounds without even being close to off his feet. He got into a very high profile street fight with Mike Tyson that he initiated.

[Who threw the first punch here?]

Mike Tyson: He did, he sucker punched me.

Charles: There are two different stories about who won that fight.

Mike: I charged that man, he ran from me like a little sissy. He ran from me, by that time he’s…

Charles: Depends on who you ask. Mike Tyson said, “I was scared to death of him.” He’s a big man.

[Are you going to file criminal charges against Mike Tyson?]

Mitch Bloodgreen: You know me, the streets are like this, you know I went for him, but that dude said, “don’t just get mad, get even.”

Charles: I managed him, he was the first guy I officially managed. Mitch Bloodgreen was a good fighter, but he was an incredible fuck up. The first thing that happened to him when I managed him is he got shot. Somebody challenged him on the Tyson thing, and Mitch, who’s a big guy, slapped this guy. The guy ran back into his house and got a gun and shot Mitch once in the Achilles’s tendon and once right behind the knee. That put him on the shelf, but I was still his manager and I still had plans for him. It was something we knew he’d recover from, so I’m spending a lot of money on Mitch Green. I bet Don King’s director of boxing, a guy named Al Braverman who was my closest friend in boxing and a guy who literally saved my life once, that I would get Mitch Green back into the ring.

Finally, he’s ready to come back, and I put him in against a guy who is a career loser. There are guys who know how to fight really tough guys without getting hurt, and their fights aren’t exactly fixed per se. It’s implied, and they infer that they’re going to lose a fight. That’s how they make a living. What they wind up doing is they go a couple of rounds and then they bow out, and they’re able to do it over and over again because they don’t take a beating, but in the case of the guy who I brought in for Mitch Green, I didn’t tell him to fall down. Mitch Green went out and he just stood there with his hands at his side, looking at who knows where, thinking who knows what. Didn’t throw one punch, so the referee stopped the fight and Mitch Green lost on a TKO.

I won “Sucker of the Year” award from Boxing Illustrated or Ring Magazine, for managing him. The most money I ever made on a Mitch Green fight was the fight when he got into the ring where I won my bet with Al Braverman. Anyway, I did get him back in the ring. That’s the first time I went to the trouble of actually getting a license, and from there that’s what I did for a living for about a decade or so. If you’re managing fighters, the meter is running. You’re going to be spending a lot of money, and anything that goes wrong, you’re still going to be spending the money but it derails any income capacity. You start to think in terms of short cuts. You think, “Okay, well I could move a fighter to a title shot by having him fight 10 or 15 tough guys and work his way up the ladder, during which any kind of thing might derail him. He’s certainly going to get hurt and he’s going to hurt other people, and there are all kinds of things that can go wrong. Or, I can take matters into my own hands.”

There are a lot of different ways to do it. Here’s the most common way, you speak in code. You go into a gym where there’s a trainer or a manager you know pretty well, it’s got to be somebody you know. You say, “I’ve got my fighter here and I’m looking to get him some work.” Say, “He could use a few good rounds.” Now we’re talking about a fight that we know your guy is going to win, and we know it’s going to be my knock out. The guy on the other side will traditionally say something like, “I have this other guy, he’s a good fighter,” which means he can make it look good, “but he’s not in shape, he’s only good for three rounds. Two rounds, four rounds.” Okay so, we have the winner of the fight, we know it’s a knockout, we know essentially how long the fight is going to go. If you need to fine tune from there you can say, “You know, I’m not sure if I want my guy to go four,” in which case he can either say, “I said four, but my guy can’t really go four,” or “I’ve got this other guy who really hasn’t been in the gym at all,” and you’ve just fixed the fight.

[He said he got me a fight. Atlantic City, Taj Mahal, made their bets for $1,000.]

The majority of fights are real, and the majority of decisions in knock outs are legitimate, but there’s this machinery at play at every level of boxing.

[Listen man, I need your help, man, you’ve been fighting.]

The machinery has to do with figuring out how to move a fighter into money. Money can mean anything, to a title, to losing a title, it can mean to contention. There was a whole code of behavior structured around being able to do that, fight fixing in various forms.

[Yo [inaudible], I need that fight, man. One of them fights [inaudible].]

Rather than not disappointing me, I found boxing immediately much more interesting because it worked in conjunction with what I already knew about the world.

[The trouble today is, somebody ought to speak from out there, that’s why we’re having problems getting across to these people, they’re all fucking liars.]

There’s an argument for fight fixing being had, I mean, people are paying to see a legitimate contest and they’re not seeing one, so they’re being cheated. You can certainly make a case for that being bad, I have no problem with that. I think I can make an ethical case for fixing fights, and again I’m not going to say that my reason for fixing fights was purely altruistic or that I’m an angel. Neither is true. But professional boxers fight for money. There’s some pride involved, there’s some ego involved sometimes, but they’re trying to earn a living with very few other options. The majority of guys who get to the pros have one or two fights, they get knocked silly, and they’re out of it. But if you’re talking about fighters who have a dozen or more fights, their prognosis is lousy. Bad things are going to happen to them, that’s the truth. They’re going to get beat up, they’re going to wind up with no money, and they’re going to have irreparable brain damage, that’s going to happen almost all of the time.

Boxing doesn’t hurt. You’re not feeling the things that are happening to you while they’re happening. Fighters almost inevitably wind up neurologically damaged, it just happens, and it doesn’t matter how good they were. I cannot see an argument to be made for not fixing fights on their behalf. Their lives are mostly post-boxing. There’s the small picture, and then there’s the big picture and as much as I love boxing as boxing, and I really do love boxing as boxing I was drawn to it for what it is, the more you know about it the more valid the argument becomes. I think more than anything this is probably the most important single thing, if you’re in business, you’re in business for the long haul in boxing. Which means that your behavior in a strange way has got to be admirable, because if you don’t do the things that you say you’re going to do, you’re out of business and sometimes worse.

As that sunk in, my priorities changed. My first priority became protecting the health of the fighter to the extent that I could do it, which is not a great extent. It’s what can be done. Then my second priority was getting paid.

Was there any sense of guilt from your side of things? Because there’s this hierarchy and they’re obviously at the bottom, and you know they’re disposable. Do you ever feel for the kid? Do you let them know?

It’s a great question. It’s sort of like asking, “Well, should they be in boxing?” That’s not my business, and it’s not my business to tell an adult what he, or she nowadays, can do. There’s this cultural hierarchy that we as informed often white guys can know best what disenfranchised people should and shouldn’t do. I’m not comfortable with making that decision for anybody, I can’t do it. The do-good-ers, the altruists, the crusaders, are almost inevitably white guys of wealth and power. It’s a kind of paternalism that I find incredibly offensive, and it comes from people who don’t really even know what they’re talking about.

What happens to a fighter if he is slated in to lose and sometime during the course of the fight, or even before the fight, decides that he’s not going to go along with the script? Depending on who is involved, who fixed the fights, the consequences of the fights, the stakes involved in the fights, the penalties for not doing what you’re told can run anywhere from not being paid, not being paid and having a very tough time finding work at all, to getting badly hurt, to getting killed.

I had a fight that I bought that was a fixed fight, and the matchmaker tried to double cross me by taking all of the money and coming up with a guy who couldn’t fight, which is not the same thing at all. I found out while The Star Spangled Banner was playing. I went into the place where they were getting ready to do the announcements and I said, “Hold up, I’ve got to take care of something.” I went into the other guy’s dressing room, “Who’s telling me to stop the fight?” And I said, “I am.” He didn’t know that the fight was supposed to be fixed. I took him outside to the parking lot with his manager, and I said, “I want you to watch me, this is what’s going to happen. You better do exactly what I tell you,” and there were consequences to his not doing it, which we won’t talk about. He put his hands up, and I’m no fighter.

I was in good shape at the time, but I’m no fighter. I said, “Put your hands up,” and he put his hands up and I hit him as hard as I could. I said to his manager, “Now you watch me,” and I hit him again, and I hit him a third time which bloodied his lip. I said, “When my guy does that to your guy, and he’s going to do it a lot harder.” The towel comes flying in, and it was the fastest knock out in the history of that state and people loved it. I’ve had fighters who didn’t want to take the odds. That’s fine, they don’t have to.

The Tyson fight was a real fight.

Mike: Hi I’m Mike Tyson, watch me beat Peter McNeeley on TCI cable vision.

Charles: We’re talking about Mike Tyson and Peter McNeeley fighting.

[Tyson versus McNeeley, our main event is next. We are moments away from the much anticipated return of the former undisputed heavy weight champion.]

The Tyson fight was not a fixed fight. Neither fighter was aware of anything going on.

[For Tyson, this is the first step on the road back to prominence. For McNeeley, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.]

Tyson has been in jail for three years. Prior to going to jail, he’s already dissipated terribly as a fighter, he’s nowhere close to the fighter he had been, regardless of how he was being promoted. He’s self destructing. Putting him on ice makes him much more desirable to the public. Tyson, when he comes out, is the biggest deal in sports history. Everyone wants to see this guy, but you can’t put him in with anybody who can really fight, so they figure Tyson doesn’t have to fight for the title in his first fight. They’ll pay to see him against anybody, so we’re going to put him in against Peter McNeeley who can’t fight even a little bit, but who’s got a good record.

Peter McNeeley: You’ve reached Hershel’s Hotline. Home of [inaudible] Peter McNeeley, and yes, we are going to fight Mike Tyson. August 19, 1995. Please leave a message or phone number, and I’ll try to get back to you later.

Charles: It was the biggest fight in history because of Tyson, it doesn’t matter who’s on the other half of the equation.

[Thank you Jim, it is difficult to remember when a non-title fight caused this much of a stir in an arena. We may be about to witness one of the greatest fist matches since 1961.]

Charles: I’m the one who actually brought McNeeley to Don King through Al Braverman. I flew him in to make that fight.

Mike: Don’t discriminate against the white guy, give him a chance.

Charles: Peter McNeeley was an interesting kid. He’s a local to Boston.

Peter: Keep laughing, keep laughing.

Charles: From midfield.

Peter: Real funny, huh?

Charles: Very game.

Peter: If any one of you…

Charles: Rugged kid.

Peter: Doesn’t respect me…

Charles: Who would fight anybody…

Peter: I’m going to do what I’ve been doing for the last three months since we’ve been announced.

Charles: All kinds of courage.

Peter: Going against a guy like this, you’ve got a big dump in your pants.

[Let’s talk about his manager trainer, Vinnie Vecchione.]

Charles: Vin Vecchione was a consummate boxing professional. He really understood the ins and outs of boxing in a very sophisticated way. He learned that from my friend Al Braverman who was a great fight fixer. Vecchione constructed a career because he didn’t have money, so he had to manufacture a way to maneuver this [inaudible] but limited fighter. He did that by astute match making and fixing, and making connections, political connections. Whatever it took.

[Vinnie had second mortgaged his house in order to support Peter’s career, and it was finally paying off. Peter, who averaged just around $40 for his previous fights was about to get his first real pay day.]

Tyson is getting a reported $25,000,000. If he wins, so what?

I have no idea how much money that fight generated, but I know that there was a million dollar bet, and I know that that was not an even money bet. So, somebody made 10 million or more on it.

[Mike Tyson is now a 15 to one favorite, many are simply wondering, “How long?” How long will it take for Tyson to end it tonight given the opposition?]

Vinnie Vecchione, with a last bit of instructions from [inaudible].

Let’s get it on!

The debt I know about, I was down in Puerto Rico and I got a phone call from somebody who I vaguely knew but I didn’t know well, who said, “I just thought you should know, somebody just made a million dollar bet that this fight doesn’t go on to the first round. I thought you should know about it.” That was it. It turns out that it was not the first round, that it was a 90 second bet, so…

[Vinnie Vecchione’s in the corner as well…] […the corner, as Vinnie Vecchione his manager…] [What’s going on here?] [Said that was it.] [The fight is over, surely.]

Then Vecchione stepped between the ropes at 89 seconds to force a disqualification.

[That is black and white not legal.] [They’ve pulled him out!] [The corner jumped in to stop the fight.]

That’s been seen a lot of different ways.

[The corner man had come in and called it all off.] [That really was plain weird. I mean, McNeeley was in trouble but he certainly didn’t look as if that was the end of the argument, did he?] [Peter, first of all, were you ready to continue and did you want to stop?]

Peter: I was definitely ready to continue, as you saw.

[Are you aggravated with Vinnie for stopping the fight?]

Peter: No, I love this guy.

[Why did you stop it? Why did you do it?]

Vinnie Vecchione: I just thought that this young fighter is 26 years old, he’s got a long way to go, and [crosstalk 00:31:03].

Peter: We can’t cry now that it’s over. It’s done. We can’t go back in there and do it over again. It’s done.

Charles: I’m going to say that all I have for Vin Vicchione for having done that is admiration. The kind of nerve it takes to do something like that, to me, is just incredibly impressive, and I wound up getting paid really well for that fight by Vecchione. Think about it. Here’s an event that generated more income than any other event in the history of sports. It’s not just for the event itself, it’s all the ancillary money that are brought in from gambling, from hotel revenue. You’re talking about something that generated an astonishing amount of money, and allowed there to be more money down the line.

Vinnie: I trained my boy McNeeley to go toe to toe with a champ, and he did but he denied seconds. He didn’t back down from any abomination thrown at him, and he ain’t backing down from this one.

[The new one two combination, cheese and pepperoni stuffed crust pizza!] [Hey McNeeley, how many slices?]

Charles: If you officially call that result into question, you’re calling the motor that moves boxing into question. You’re closing down your major revenue source to make a philosophical point. You know, fuck that.

Can you just talk about why did you have to get out of boxing?

I can’t talk about that.

[Charles, listen, all right? I’ve been having a little problem.]

What I’ll say is that I was doing business with some very bad people, and some bad things happened.

[If I don’t hear from you in two weeks, we’ll have to resolve this in a different way.]

There are people who I don’t want to get angry at me, and there are statute of limitations considerations.

[I really hope that we can resolve this the right way.]

Did you feel like you were in danger?

I know for a fact I was.

So you just cut ties? Was it a clean break?

Can I talk… I can talk about a little of it. I can’t talk about much of it. As I said, some bad things happened and…

[I know you’re in Puerto Rico, please call me.]

There were people who were looking for me, guys who could certainly do things. I got out of it because the guy who was hired to kill me liked me, and he said, “You better take care of this.”

[I really don’t want to go into this any further…]

What he said is, “Look, I don’t want to do it. If they send me, I’m going to.”

[If I have to take a trip to Puerto Rico, we can discuss expenses. That’s entirely up to you.]

What happened next?

Once again, Al Braverman, Don King’s director of boxing, was a very good friend. Brokered a deal where we met, I flew in from Puerto Rico. He brokered a deal where we sat down and he said, “Look, Don King can do a lot for your guy, and we’re willing to. But, this bullshit stops here and now, and nobody looks for anybody anymore and that’s the end of it. If that doesn’t happen, your kid won’t fight anywhere in the world, and if he does fight anywhere in the world, I promise you, you will wish that he hadn’t. It’s up to you guys.” That was it.

I never stopped playing music, ever. Even during all of this stuff. There’s not much interest in my playing, although it’s really what I do best. I think I’m the best improvising piano player in the world. That’s the fight, there. I’m competing, I’m the champion, but what I do is difficult and there’s no market for it. I couldn’t do everything I needed to do in music just by playing music, and I had reached a point where I couldn’t play what I needed to play just using musical language exclusively. I thought there’s got to be a way that people can accept a hybrid that’s not music, that’s not text, that’s not spoken word, it’s some other thing. I thought, all right, well I’ve got all these answering machine messages, they’re all real, they’re all from real people and they’re from everybody from gangsters to champions to managers to promoters. Partially, I kept them for reasons of self preservation. I thought, maybe I can do this piece that articulates what the boxing business is like.

The project is called “Hope Springs Eternal.” They’re very radical remixes done in the studio. There’s one that’s entirely about fight fixing.

One has to do with the way the boxing business is structured between fighters and managers and promoters, this kind of hierarchical meditation.

One has to do with a former world champion named Freddy Norwood, and these seemingly neurological problems that he might or might not have had.

Portia Robinson: Yes, hello Mr. Farrell. This is Portia Robinson, Fredrick’s fiancee…

Charles: And one is a death threat.

[I mean, if I have to take a trip to Puerto Rico, we can discuss expenses. It’s entirely up to you.]

I’ve been a hustler a lot in my life. A lot. And it’s only maybe in the last decade that I work with all of my resources not to see weakness, and not to take advantage of it. Very difficult.

Why is it hard?

Because I see it so easily. It’s like…

You seeing it is one thing, but acting on it is another. Why does it bother you to act on it now? Why was it different back then?

Not sure I can tell you why. I’m not sure if I know. I saw some mysterious things, I don’t know. It’s not voodoo or anything, it’s not mumbo jumbo. I was living out in the mountains, I was living in rural Puerto Rico.

The mob guys we’re looking for, this is where I walked off.

I had a bunch of dogs, five wild dogs, and I had five dogs that I had brought in from the states. These were animals I loved very dearly. The dogs brought in from the states contracted some kind of virus that the wild dogs were somehow immune to. A couple of them died, horribly, one night. Suddenly there was a pool of blood. One of them we rushed to the hospital, and he didn’t make it. Horrible night. Terrible thing. Still one of the things that bothers me most in the world. The vet said to me, “I want to show you something.” He took me inside, and it was a farm van for transporting animals. He opened up the van, and in the van there was two headed calf in adolescent. It was alive and well. The calf looked at me, two heads, and it radiated this vitality. It was as if it was talking, might as well have been talking. “I want to live. I want to live.” That’s it. And I understood the vitality in things in a way that I never had before. It’s this really profound force. It’s got nothing to do with religion, there’s nothing like that. It’s a life force. I thought, maybe there are things that I do that I don’t want to do anymore.

I don’t want to make too big of a deal about any of this. This is slow in coming, it took me a long time and it didn’t happen over night, but I thought, in a way we’re all animals. We’re all vulnerable in ways that I didn’t want to acknowledge before. Nobody thinks of themselves as a bad person. People are really just trying to live their lives as much as possible. I decided if I could live with more equanimity, that’s what I would do. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. It’s partially seeing people as more like animals. It’s not a good answer. There’s no logical, “Okay, you’ve been a bad guy and then you saw this thing and now you’re going to be a good guy.” That didn’t happen.

I love boxing, there’s no question I love boxing, but I don’t like to use terms like “immoral.” I don’t think boxing is immoral, it’s amoral, but many more bad things happen in boxing than good things, and very few boxers get out of boxing okay. Although I tried my best to look out for my fighters, I tried to be as ethical an agent for boxing as I could, in a sense it can’t be done. If you’re involved in it in an active way as part of your profession, you are going to cause damage to people’s lives, it’s inevitable. I think at one point, you just decide you’re in or you’re out. If you’re out, you’re out. If you’re in, you’re in without trying to con yourself into believing that you’re a party to something that’s morally defensible. I don’t try to do that anymore.

A lot of what I did when I was younger, certainly in terms of victimization, I was able to construct a narrative that allowed me to rationalize what I was doing. I’ve got nothing, they’ve got everything. I’ve had a tough life, I’m angry, I have a right to be angry. Those are convenient, and they work. But you know, they’re not true. I used having a lack of options as a justification for doing whatever I felt like doing. I’ve got all kinds of options, and the thing is, I always did have all kinds of options. In the long run, it’s healthier to try to see things from every perspective than just from your own. If you’re a con artist, the difference is you see all the angles and you’re only concerned with one. Life is a lot better, that’s justification right there. I’m not an angel.

What if somebody took advantage of someone?

Well, in a sense… I just did another radio show where I said a bunch of things that I… Words that were put in my mouth, certain ones I didn’t want to be, but certain ones I sort of weighed them, I thought, “Okay, I can live with this, I can live with that. Those are all business decisions for my own advantage.” I’m certainly going to do it again. I’m dealing with people in television, but that’s what it is.

I have to say, I feel really comfortable talking with you right now, but it makes me wonder, how are you leading me astray?

You know, it’s a great… I have a friend who is a great writer, and he came to hear one of my concerts. He wrote an article about it afterwards and he said, “I was really impressed and moved, and then thought ‘Am I getting hustled?’ Because I know Charles, and I know that’s what he did.” This is in regard to my piano playing. It’s very abstruse language, so he thinks maybe it’s just double talk, maybe it’s just nonsense. He went and talked to two experts, and of course the experts he talked to were imbeciles, but they both said, “Oh no, he’s real. He’s a great player.” That was enough, apparently, to placate him, but he went to idiots. Talk to my colleagues, see what they have to say, but also just use your ears. So I don’t know. Am I hustling you? I’m going to say no, but isn’t that what a hustler would say?



Charles Farrell

Nick van der Kolk, Host, Director & Producer
Brendan Baker, Producer
Mike Martinez, Producer
Garret Crow, Producer
Tyler Ray, Producer

Special thanks:
Karen Duffin

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