Wednesday, September 14, 2011

walk on by...

Ok... there is something unassailable about a great pop song. They may not be daring or edgy... but they are to music what Frank Lloyd Wright is to visual art. And if Dylan is Van Gogh… Bacharach and David are certainly Wright.

I saw Dionne Warwick perform last night. My wife called her the original Diva and she meant that in the most flattering and honoring sense of the word. At 70+ years and certainly with number one hits and platinum sales long in the rear view mirror, the legendary singer reminded me that sales and awards and magazines covers are not the point. The point is, as it has always been, the songs. And my god… what songs.

We say that familiarity breeds contempt and maybe it is true; but not with these songs… not with these melodies.  From the opening notes of “Walk on By”, she had me. I could not resist a smile. Maybe it’s because these songs take me back to my childhood or maybe it is simply because they are so perfectly crafted and, after 40 years, still delivered with an unbelievable ease and joy. It’s not that her voice is as strong as it was in 1968… or even 1988… it is because these songs belong to her. They were composed by master architects who knew so intimately the eventual resident who would make these songs her home. They knew where to put the corners and the long hallways. They knew where best to let the light in and where to embrace the dimness of evening. They knew what type of staircase was needed to make the house beautiful and yet allow the lady of the house to move effortlessly up and down the stairs.

Is there a more hopeful ode to failed love than “What Do You Get When You Fall in Love?” Is there a more heartbreakingly beautiful melody than “Alfie”?  Is there a more irresistible sing-a-long than “What the World Needs Now”?  And is there another voice who more perfectly indwells these melodies?

My high-school buddy, Rob, has played and toured with Dionne Warwick for over 20 years. I went to the show last night because he lives a world away and it was a rare opportunity to see him face to face. I went to see my oldest and closest friend and to reconnect with a younger and less cynical version of myself. I am not sure I’d have gotten there so effortlessly without those songs and that voice. Thanks, Ms. Warwick. Thanks for taking care of my buddy Rob and thank you for taking care of and watching over these songs. They both remain in good hands.