Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the late legendary singer Etta James performing this Cole Porter classic, The Very Thought Of You.
Torch Songs, various artists, 2 CD set, Capitol Records, 2004
Some days are just Cole Porter days. No not a “Love for Sale” day kind of saucy and salacious, portending of adventures or dreams of adventures, like he could do with a two-termed turn of phrase, No today, well actually since today’s brood has turned in night, tonight is a low-down blues day. So, like I have done on more occasions than I care to confess to, I headed off to Jack’s Jazz Joint over in the Camelot House across the street from Hoby’s in Harvard Square. (Harvard Square for the three people in the world who are geographically-disadvantaged is in blues-etched Cambridge which is in Massachusetts. None of that information enters into the story, not at all, but with the blues you could be in Timbuktu for all the locale mattered). Jack’s, my favorite shucking the blues watering spot. Ya, good old Jack’s.
Okay, you have probably figured it out by now anyway. All day (and night) blues, a tumble down smoky jazz- joint filled with more torch singer blues memories than one could shake a stick at, and some booze can only mean one thing- a dame (oops, Cambridge, woman). It also takes no rocket science either to figure out it was my very own Joyell, companion of a thousand love battles, big and small, and of nine hundred and ninety-nine armed truces that has me blue, blue all over… And that is the problem- the watering hole to be solved problem. This latest battle is without a current truce and it has been a week now.
Naturally, for the first day or so, it was all good-bye and good riddance but the past six days well, they have been hard. And that is also where the problem lies. Neither of us has had a good track record on giving in, letting bygones be by gone, and move on. In short everything takes on the character of a civil war and just now I am like the Confederates in early 1865- on my last legs.
And the dispute, the substance of the dispute? Who knows? Do you love me more than the whole wide world? Why don’t you get a better job? Why were you practically drooling over Lorraine at that party last night? Why didn’t you put the laundry away? Jesus, who knows at this point, although a week probably has eliminated the laundry battle as the reason for the fight.
Ah, there’s Jack’s. I wonder who is on the floor tonight. The sign said Rita Radley, a torch singer. Don’t know the name but Jacks’ is a showcase for lots of up and coming talent. Hope she can sing these blues away. As I took my seat (my usual seat when these love battles run their course) at the bar in front of Tommy’s station and ordered my first whiskey neat (I stopped throwing in a beer chaser when I started making enough dough to drink good whiskey, good enough not to be need a chaser and get a better buzz too.) I notice that Rita (recognized from the photo out front) was getting ready to hold forth.
Now this Rita was nothing but a frail (oops, again Cambridge, gal), a thin gal but with a shape, wearing an evening gown that had guys, including me, thinking about this and that and that line to work on her, and with that tussle of Irish red hair that I knew from primordial times meant Irish (and eight million tussles, novena beads and catechism tussles, for some slight lip kiss and slapped cop feel, jesus never again). I’ve had enough Irish redheads to last a lifetime (Joyell is brunette, my hair color of choice the past few times out, except that slight pass at blonde Lorraine of some battle past). But I also know, eight hundred years of English tyranny know, Easter 1916 know, struggle in the north now know, that some of these , ah, gals can sing the blues with the best of the black singers of the past like blessed Billie (Holiday), like blessed Dinah (Washington), like blessed Nina (Simone).
And as Rita gives her intro and starts up on her first song I know that eight hundred years, that 1916, that struggle in the north now sorrow drives her voice, drives her voice to that place where those aforementioned black singers live. That life’s sorrow place. For that one moment I am at peace, at peace with myself. And the next minute, after she is done, I call out to the bar-tender, “Tommy, one more here and one for the torch.” She gives me a smile, a professional kudos smile, and moves on to her next song. That next song, “The Very Thought Of You," really brings down the house, shades of Billie, shades of Etta James. But also shades of Joyell when she tears into “the mere idea of you” line of the song. And so, respectfully waiting until she finished her number, I head to the telephone out in the lobby. Thanks, Rita.
Labels: Torch singer