In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Songs For Aging Lovers
Well, now, school is nearly over for another year, and it’s time for us kiddies to go rushing off into the wild blue yonder, or to Wheatsheaf Close, whichever is the further. As a final treat, Teech has allowed us to give free rein to our expressive selves, to scribe as we please. It was suggested, no suggested may be too strong a word, hinted that we may wish to achieve something funny. Well, maybe my Ying and Yang are out of kilter, or perhaps it is simply the wrong time of the month, but when I put pen to computer, I wasn’t feeling all that funny. Funny, as in ‘comic’, ‘humorous’, or ‘droll’, as opposed to weird or strange. I was also reminded, gently, that we have had enough history lessons.
So, I thought that I would take a slow ramble down a musical path. Music is, and has been for many years, important to me. Don’t get me wrong, I like jazz and classical music. I can listen to Handel, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Ravel and Wagner with the best of them. Wagner does worry me a bit, as I believe he was Hitler’s favourite composer. I am comfortable with folk and country. In my distant youth I played a tea chest bass in a skiffle group. Lonnie Donegan I wasn’t. I admit it, my tastes, while generally catholic, are mostly plebeian.
I was perhaps fifteen or sixteen when I got a prized present, a Dansette record player. My parents had a huge steel needled gramophone, which seemed only to have Joseph Locke and Roy Fox records to scratch. Big old 78’s were the order of the day. My first purchase was a 45-rpm single by Tommy Steele, ‘Singing the blues’. My second was similarly but not identically titled, but worlds away in style. It was Frank Sinatra’s ‘Learning the Blues’. I was lost, and still am.
Francis Albert Sinatra may have been, on occasion, a very bad man. He may have had Mafia friends, and he was a notorious womaniser. But he was a sufficiently talented actor to win an Oscar, and he was supreme as an interpreter of a love song. I was sixteen, shying discovering the wonders of girls, and with many of my generation, I grew up and fell in love to FS. Frank was recently voted as the Voice of the 20th Century. I would not disagree.
Now, I do have a patriotic shiver down my spine when I hear Land of Hope and Glory, and I join in with that, and with the National Anthem, even if I am a tad sketchy on all the words. I get all misty eyed too over the March Past of the Royal Air Force, which was also my march, one of the many items borrowed by the Australians at the start of the Second World War, and still in use in 1972. Maybe it is still used today. Eric and I will hum it for you over lunch.
So here commences the stroll, in no particular order. An early memory was watching the start of The Blackboard Jungle and being totally riveted by Rock around the clock by Bill Haley. Astounding stuff which made my hair stand on end. Many years later, I got onto an aircraft in Brussels, and stood transfixed as Jennifer Rush assaulted my senses and sensibilities with The Power of love.
Perhaps the most beautiful love song I have experienced is the sad and poignant I can’t make you love me, hauntingly expressed by Bonnie Raitt. I hadn’t known until recently that the late John Raitt, star of the Pyjama Game in the fifties was Bonnie’s father.
The most moving musical memories are connected with people. Danny Boy is a song from my homeland, Ulster, which my parents would sing. Well, mum did, in a high sweet voice; Dad mumbled down in his boots somewhere. It is about a father singing to his son, who is going off to the war. Many singers do not seem to understand this, in my view, and sing it as a love song between a man and a woman. Despite that, the late, much missed Eva Cassidy gives a chilling rendition. Her Over the Rainbow may even be superior to Judy Garland’s.
Sadly I can think of no songs with which I connect my ex wife. She was right to divorce me. I thought I loved Kathy in the late eighties, a bright comet which blazed across the skies for a year, before burning out without trace. Lady in red used to reduce me to tears. It still does sometime. Chris de Burgh also produced a very beautiful daughter.
Jeanne was, is and always will be the love of my life. Her comet burned for five years and left indelible scars on my being. Roberta Flack’s The first time ever I saw your face sums up what I felt; still feel. A little sixties rock tune, Sweets for my sweet, was translated into French as Biche oh ma Biche. Biche is a doe, a female deer, and a much-used name of endearment for children or ladies you love. It was also my pet name for Jeanne.
All my choices so far, except one, have been American. So let’s hear it for the warm voice of Matt Monro, who, alas, died too early. On days like these has the lines ‘singing songs and drinking wine while your eyes played games with mine’. This was in the film The Italian Job, the older, better version. Perhaps we have all been there, and can remember with mixed joy and regret.
To return to Frank for a moment, between 1935 and 1993 the man put down some 1400 tracks but I will mention only two more. In 1957 he recorded Lonely Town which came from the stage and film musical, On the Town. The theme is familiar. You can be very much alone in a large city, if you have no one who cares. For me, it is perhaps the most perfect of all his many records. The second song is The game is over, composed by John Denver. Recorded in 1972 just before Sinatra’s short-lived retirement, the song was not released until 1996. It is about the failure of a relationship with Sinatra accompanied only by a guitar. Spine tingling!
I have not mentioned Neil Diamond, whom I discovered in the 1970’s. His Hello again is very moving, and The Story of my life, written as a tribute to his dead father, is also poignant. Neil writes most of his own material.
So, I have come to the end of my musical stroll. Had I explored all the side roads and tangents we could be here until Michaelmas. My father had little time for my choice in music. Inevitably perhaps, I think most of today’s offerings are forgettable and disposable. As Sinatra once sang, ‘when I hear lonely singers making noise, not melody, then you will be my music, you will be my song.’ For those who were, and for the last sixteen years Jeanne has been, you are my music. You are my song.
Written by B.M