Thursday, October 8, 2009

Songs My Mother Taught Me . . . Ivory Tower

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):

English Translation
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.

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 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:
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


Anonymous said...

I'm trying to imagine what it must have been like - hot springs with a diving tower and that amazing old song (and I'm sure, many others just like it) playing. What a wonderful atmosphere!

Sounds like your mother was a hardworking and caring woman.

Love the Gale Storm photo!

Maggie May said...

What a lovely post! I love love that Lawson pic of your mom and friend. Cute bathing suits too :)

Jennifer said...

There is something so powerful about music -- it really conjures up a person and a particular time. Listening to the song and reading your wonderful writing about that time in your life brought your mother to life.

It's funny how mixed up a month can be, too, memories of your mother's death and marking the anniversary of your sobriety, a decision to be fully alive.

I'm looking forward to reading and listening to more.

Nancy said...

Oh my, we come from the same place in so many ways. My mother worked for Harold's Club around the same time. In fact, when she got breast cancer, Harold Smith Sr. paid her salary, and many of her hospital bills. No such thing as insurance in those days. My mother died in 1960. I wonder if our mothers knew each other? She was also a blackjack dealer.

We just drove through the Mayberry neighborhood the other day after attending a wedding in the California Building. I remember it being a high end place to live while growing up. It's now a nice neighborhood of very old homes. Mostly kept up, however.

Lawton Hot Springs is just a huge building - unoccupied. I have always wondered why - because it's such a pretty spot. An investor in the late 70's put a bunch of money into it and then went bandrupt. Nothing has been done with it since. It's just a big, hulking building. They must of covered up the hot springs because there is not a pool there now.

Your mother was beautiful. How charming that you are remembering her by the music she loved. It tells so much about a person, doesn't it?

Ahhhh - memories!

Darlene said...

I'll bet that photo was taken with a Polaroid camera that had utilized the first technology of taking colored photos. I have some old photos of that era and they have that same yellowing. Maybe you should have it restored before the color disappears.

I thought I was familiar with all the 'oldies' but Ivory Tower is new to me. I wish I could hear it.

Lydia said...

@svasti- After reading your comment I added a hot link to an aerial photo of the Lawton's property. What a beautiful setting. And those natural hot springs! Wish I had something like that nearby now! My mother was that and more ...and check out Nancy's comments: mindblowing!

@Maggie May- Yup, weren't those suits fetching? I've seen those "boy-type" pants in some new swimsuits lately...

@Jennifer- Thank you for capturing the essence of what October's markers have for me. It's a potent period for my brain! And this glorious autumn weather around here makes me celebrate living all the more!

@Nancy- This is getting more amazing all the time, when all we thought we had in common was having been raised in Reno! And to discover our shared paths via blogging.....all the more unique! We must email our mother's names to one another. They would have ad to know one another; "The Club" was such a small community in itself. Also, I have remained friends with a girl whose mother also was a dealer there at that time, and went to her mom's surprise 80th birthday party a few years ago where all the old Harold's Club employees still in the area were there. Remarkable experience.

@Darlene- You sure pegged the source of the photo. In an album full of nothing else but b&w photos, there is this one all yellowed. I did some tweaking with my Nero program but this is as good as I could get it. At least the water no longer looks like urine!
I'm sorry you can't hear the song too. :(

Looking to the Stars said...

This is such a lovely post, kiddo. What a neat way to remember your mom. I know it doesn't seem like 9 years have gone by.

I remember Gale Storm, that's a neat pic of her.

I'll be looking forward to reading more :)

Buddha said...

Your post just opened up a flood gate in my heart.
I lost my mother too a couple of years ago and it is still something I can't accept.
I have the same experiences where songs, smells or places we use to go trigger an instant memory recall.
I turn around and expect her to be there...
Such a wonderful post.
Thank you!

Lydia said...

@Looking to the Stars- You're right that it doesn't seem like nine years. Because she had followed me to Oregon after retirement her home is here in Silverton where I live. The couple we sold the house to after her death are still there. It looks very different now; they haven't maintained it well. But the drapes in the formal living room are the same ones my mom had put in. So strange to see them...

@Buddha- I am sorry for your loss, and it's easy to tell from your loving comments that you and your mother were close. I hope your daughters were able to know your mother. Now she lives on in your memories.

Lee said...

Gogi Grant did record Ivory Tower. You can find it on YouTube. I am just about to email it over to a friend of mine.

Lydia said...

Sorry, you are mistaken. The vid at YouTube is mislabeled as being sung by Gogi Grant. Take a moment and read the chain of comments to see the corrections.
Read her Wikipedia bio and note that Ivory Tower is not listed as one of her songs.
Also, go HERE to see a CD recording of all her songs from the 50s. If she had recorded Ivory Tower it would be on this compilation CD. :)



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