A friend (left) with my mother (right) at Lawton's Hot Springs
In this month that has become an annual remembrance of my mother for me -- she died in October 2000 -- songs are in my head. It interests me how, each year, without any particular prompting or planning, certain particulars about her scurry ahead of other memories to predominate. In 2009 it is the music she loved, so I'll be sharing some of these songs at Writerquake in tribute to her and as a means to afford myself the time and space to let what memories come flow out with the tunes.
I'm calling this series Songs My Mother Taught Me, but that isn't altogether true. She taught me many, but some I learned because I lived them as she lived in them. The songs played.....over and over.....and I listened and made up my own stories about what they meant. I watched her emotional reactions to the music, and studied her to try to figure out what they meant to her, why her eyes got that foggy, far-away look, why her red-lipsticked mouth would take on that crooked smile leading to a self-inflicted bite to her lower lip as the tears began to fall.
The English translation of the poem by Adolf Heyduk that Antonin Dvorak set to music in 1880 are a 99% fit for many of her favorite songs (the 1% being that I don't have children to play them for.....but I have you):
Songs my mother taught me,
In the days long vanished;
Seldom from her eyelids
Were the teardrops banished.
Now I teach my children,
Each melodious measure.
Oft the tears are flowing,
Oft they flow from my memory's treasure.
Ivory Tower. You will see below that the song was recorded by three separate artists in 1956. Learning the year helped me to understand why the song was so mysterious to me. I was five. She was single (and would later that year marry for a fourth time, settling for a man she thought would be a "good daddy" for my sister and me). But she swooned over Ivory Tower for the unattainable married man, a boss at Harold's Club where she was a blackjack dealer, the man who had been instrumental in helping her through the hell of her divorce from my father, the man who lived with his family out Mayberry Drive parallel to old Highway 40 with the Truckee River snaking in between them on its way from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake. I remember her taking us on our "country drive" on Mayberry, always in the gloaming of evening, and that there was a ranch-style house with a huge front lawn where we always slowed down and we would ask why. She told us JH lived there, saying his name with adoration - so we also adored him...or the name of him. Once or twice we saw his children at play and I wondered why we couldn't stop to play with them, since she knew their dad.
My mother had one day off per week, amazing to think of now. No paid vacations, no sick leave. Those days off were treasures to her, especially in the summertime. She'd pile us into the convertible and off we'd go to Lawton's Hot Springs or Reno Hot Springs, depending upon which way she felt like driving. I loved both places: Reno Hot Springs for the stark sagebrush surroundings and the refuge of the cafe on the same property, and Lawton's for the tall diving tower and shady park along the Truckee River.
Lawton's Hot Springs (air view of the place here) had popular music playing out over the swimming pool from giant speakers that covered the far reaches of the picnic area. I remember many of the songs that played at Lawton's, and Ivory Tower was one of them. In my mind the song had something to do with the tall diving tower at the deep end of the olympic-size pool. That, and also I thought of elephant ivory because I'd heard that was what piano keys are made from.....and the piano in the song was pleasing to me, so it seemed there was a connection.
To read about Lawton's Hot Springs directly from the book The Rise of the Biggest Little City: an encyclopedic history of Reno gaming, by Dwayne Kling, click here. I think I must order this book because my mother always wanted to write about the early days of casino gambling in Reno. Somewhere in her papers are essays she wrote as a start on the project, never completed. But I'm not looking at her papers this October. This year, around the ninth anniversary of her death, I'm listening to those songs my mother taught me, the soundtrack to parts of her life and her heart (which was her art).
CORRECTION REGARDING ARTIST: The singer is not Gogi Grant, but, in reality is Gale Storm singing this version of Ivory Tower. Gogi Grant (famous for other 1950s songs) never recorded Ivory Tower. The correction is noted at comments after this particular video at youtube. Where there were other videos of the song with actual photos of Gale Storm, I selected this video to post here because of the interpretive photos.
There were three versions of Ivory Tower recorded in 1956. First by The Charms, then Cathy Carr (#2 hit), and Gale Storm (#6 hit). Click on links below to hear the different versions. I am not totally sure whether the 45 rpm record that my mother played at home was the one by Gale Storm or Cathy Carr. Maybe she had one by each of them.
waynebrasler left comments after a youtube video of The Charms version, correcting some information there that said the black group, Otis Williams and The Charms, weren't the original artists of the song. They were.
Gale's version actually was a cover of Cathy Carr's cover of the Charms' original. Cathy was on Fraternity Records, Gale on Dot but both versions were done at Universal Studios in Chicago with the same engineers. Gale covered many black artists, including Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers' "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." For an artist who was a classically-trained soprano she did amazingly well with this music, mostly because she respected much. With her perfect pitch, Gale was a dream to record.
Another person commented about the different black and white artist versions:
I always bought the black originals, except for Gale Storm, because she was so good on 'My Little Margie' I bought both versions.After reading the comment about her death, I checked. Gale Storm died on June 27, 2009. Her interesting obituary at The New York Times included what, for me, is a special tie to the woman behind the voice - because my sobriety anniversary is October 15:
Gale Storm passed away . . . 2 days after Michael Jackson and almost no one noticed.
Gale was an unappreciated talent both as a singer and actress, she made 50s TV worth watching.
After her decade of television fame, Ms. Storm turned to stage work in Las Vegas and to regional theater. But she also battled alcoholism in the 1970s and wrote about her struggle in her 1981 autobiography, “I Ain’t Down Yet.”
“I was the star of my own cornball B movie,” she wrote, alluding to her success and her stable, happy home life, “and suddenly it turned into a horror story.” She gave the credit for her recovery to a California hospital’s aversion-therapy program.
I stole the captivating photo of Gale Storm from the blog Inner Toob, where there is a great post written about her in memoriam.
Gale Storm bio