It’s because it’s Mother’s Day and Bobby Darin’s birthday, and my oldest daughter, a new mother, I swear if you hear her voice without seeing her face, you think my mother has come back to life. Jazzy mezzo-soprano: strong-minded, filled with dry humor, and... tinkly. Anyway. My timey-wimey detector went off today.
But I don’t know quite where I want to begin except you should know that no one sang “Lazy River” better than my mother. I never heard anyone else do it well, until I got a Bobby Darin record when I was about 17, and that was the B side.
Before Bobby Darin and later Frank Sinatra records, my knowledge of vocal standards came from a) what my mom might have sung, though she was way more into 50s rock and roll, early Motown and disco, and b) whatever happened to be floating around on TV variety shows that I didn’t pay much attention to. They were just kind of there.
Anyway. I heard “Mack the Knife,” and then I heard “Beyond the Sea,” and I realized this guy, who I thought sang only dumb pop tunes, sang all this other much better stuff, and made it interesting. And what he did with “Lazy River,” which starts slowly and simply, and gradually builds, well, Mom did that, too. As I said, did it better, but that’s another track for another day. Mom had a few Saturday morning lessons at the Met when she was a child, so she knew better what to do with her voice than most people.
This is meant to be about firsts, and kind of about lasts, I guess. Circles, maybe. The last Mother’s Day I spent with my mom was when my oldest daughter was two, and we went to that restaurant in Martin City, you know the one, except of course you don’t, but if you were there then, you would and still do.
Now my daughter is thirty, and she has a teeny tiny baby, and when she speaks, my mother’s voice comes out of her mouth. It was similar before, but has become downright astonishing. It’s pretty fantastic. She has the same hair, too, actually. Some of these things skip a generation, I guess.
So Bobby Darin introduced me to the understanding of how people took vocal standards and made them their own. Then around ten years later, when I was in the hospital with our first child, my husband brought me a Frank Sinatra cassette tape, Reprise: The Very Good Years. And around five years after that, I bought Mack the Knife: The Best of Bobby Darin Volume Two. (sound off for All Music reviews; they auto-play ads and won't show you the page if you adblock.) Those two albums were my Bible testaments for what a singer could do with good songs. I learned from them like I was learning a language. It took me awhile to adapt to all the songs on the Bobby Darin compilation. I wasn’t used to the slow stuff. But they captured me eventually and held onto me, note by note. I can recall each note in each song, in both that album and the Sinatra one, because they both mastered every syllable they sang, and I drank it all in, over and over again.
Darin had a better voice, considerably. But what Sinatra could do with a song made up for that, and then some. I tend to think of Darin as my young love, and Sinatra as my more mature one. That's probably a subject to take up and examine another time.
Next there was Limewire. I remember spending hours looking up the names of all the albums a former in-law stole from me and finding copies to download. I had a conscience about this; I didn’t want to take anything I hadn’t already paid for. Only at some point I realized there was also a lot of music being shared that literally could not be purchased in any format except through foreign sales, and a certain amount of happenstance. And I decided to see what other Bobby Darin music I’d never heard.
Do you remember that just 15 years ago and more, we couldn’t hear just anything at all we felt like hearing? It’s true, children. We didn’t even have YouTube yet. The world wide web was expanding rapidly—like the Old West, lawless and free—but very limited in scope compared to what we have now if we’re willing to concede personal ownership…
I remember the light in the room and the temperature of the air the day I ran across Bobby Darin’s version of “Call Me Irresponsible.”
It changed the way I hear music, the way I listen. I was so young, how old was I? 36, 37? Darin was 37 when he died. I was just getting started. I’m still just getting started. I hope. But that song, this song:
arrested me. Sinatra’s award-winning recording is nicely crafted and touching. It fits the movie, I suppose, though it was written for Fred Astaire, and wouldn't he have put a marvelous spin on it? This recording, though, is something else altogether. It’s something I wanted to know, as intimately as it could be known. I hope you really listen to it, at least once, please.
So, 15 years have passed, size 4 is a tender memory, there’s a lot of grey in my hair to cover, and I have really the most splendid grandchild to be had, that is, until my second daughter produces her first child later this year.
And today people were sharing pictures of time spent with their moms. Most years I really enjoy seeing that, but this year it felt kind of painful. I can’t quite say why. I am tired of the internet telling me relentlessly for an entire month each year that I should think of Mom, when I’ve been one longer than I had one. But the same was true last year, so I can’t say why this one felt different.
My youngest son came home from work with these two ragged tomato plants and said, “You better plant these before they die. I got this kind because I like how yellow tomatoes taste.”
He’d never gotten me a Mother’s Day gift before, but was told at work this is a thing to do. So downstairs waiting for me as well, was a nice hanging planter of miniature petunias. I trimmed the tomato plants, gave them a good root soaking, and set them on the counter. They’re lovely now, and ready for a planting in the morning. (He was told to give me a card, too, but his reply was, "I think she'd be confused and wonder why I was giving her a card." He's right.) Also, I received a big lovely bouquet of lilies via Federal Express from one daughter, and a fun pair of shoes in the mail from another. I felt loved.
I read earlier the reminder that the original intention of Mother’s Day was for women to support each other as needed. Women should do that, should lift each other up whenever and wherever possible. But honoring our own mothers as we each do is a lovely tradition, as well. And so, this is how I am honoring mine, twenty-eight years gone now. She gave me “Lazy River,” and thus, Bobby Darin, and thus, so much more, and I pass it all along in my own way, and I guess it’s all energy that changes form now and then but never really disappears, like "a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey ... stuff.”