Sunday, May 09, 2010

Lena, How I Loved You ...

Love can be a moment's madness
Love can be insane
Love can be a life of sadness and pain

How she tore into the song like no other. And how my heart opened wide when she did. She belted it perhaps with the same ferocity that marked her passionate connection to civil rights. She fought against stereotypes, refused acting offers for that reason, and for her outspoken views born of racial injustice, she was blacklisted in the 1950s.

Love can be a joy forever
Or an empty name
Love is almost never ever the same

When I saw her perform at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco in the early 1980s, I could not wait to hear her sing those words. Maybe those words were her life. I did not know if she would sing them. How could she not? She was born to sing them. She would have to! And ... she did.

Lena Horne. She passed away on May 9. To me, she seemed alone in her exceptional talent. And maybe alone most of her life.

Despite all the hardships, imagined or real, that she faced and fought down -- now, who in show business does not face hardship in the form of rejections, setbacks, betrayals? -- yet her sultry voice and steamy personality helped to advance the cause of her people. Lena and Sammy, Ella and Nat and all the others made a lasting contribution by merely reaching deep into our souls through the power, the luster, the sass and the beat of their music.

I have one of her albums from my teenage years, the one above, that I played over and over again. And tonight I think I will play my cast album recording of the Broadway show Jamaca, in which she starred.

It can be ecstasy
But it’s true
It doesn’t always happen to you

I'm not sure if it ever happened to her. I recall once hearing her talk about having "learned" to love her second husband, Lennie Hayton, a man with important connections in music at MGM whom she later admitted she had married essentially to advance her career.

So maybe she chose a career over love? Maybe love had done her in, beaten her down one too many times along the way, leaving her an expert on the subject, leaving her with a lingering anger that gave birth to a great voice, to a great performance of a great song.

Had she been spared the professional insults and the rejections that hounded her through the early years, the demeaning requests to be this a little more, that a little less, might her talents not have hit the heights they did? Who can ever know exactly how an artist's work is shaped by the pains they suffer on the way to success?

It can be ecstasy
But it’s true
It doesn’t always happen to you

Love can be a dying ember
Love can be a flame
Love pledged in September
May be dead in December
You may not even remember it came

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