I’ve been catching up on old issues of The New Yorker. John Colapinto wrote a nice piece on Paul McCartney in the June 4, 2007 issue. McCartney turned 65 last year. That’s one year past his wondering if we would still love him. Colapinto writes, “it’s a milestone he finds difficult to contemplate. “The thought is somewhat horrifying,” he told me. “It’s like, ‘Well no, this can’t be me.'”” I can’t believe it either. How did this happen? How is it also that my hippest cousins are his senior?
I understand something of Woody Allen’s obsession with death and that’s not necessarily a good thing. I have witnessed wonderfully vibrant souls die and realized again and again, that when someone dies, it’s before their time. Even when you can say it was time or they tell you they are ready, you’re not. There is always loss.
The deaths of three public figures touched my heart last year and two recent ones are front of mind in 2008.
Phil Rizzuto, August 13, 2007.
Growing up, I remember the shortstop pitching for “The Money Store” on WPIX in New York. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDQHQkuv9l0. The commercials aired late at night and in between innings of Yankee games. Broadcasting was Rizzuto’s second career, where he was at different times paired with Frank Messer, Bill White and Fran Healy. He always called them by their last name. “Holy cow!” was his signature cry signaling a Yankee hit or rally. But what sticks in my mind are memories of the small things he talked about during games that reminded you he was a person and not just someone with a function. Whether he was talking about Cannoli, his need to “get over the bridge” (GW) or his fear of lightning, he let the broadcaster’s veil fall. On the periphery were lessons that life is bigger than the job you do.
Luciano Pavarotti, September 6, 2007.
His rendition of Nessun Dorma was his trademark. Say what you want about his career or talent, his voice had a special quality, an ability to bear and hold emotion like few others. I was listening to a podcast of the WBUR show, “On Point” the day he died and a caller to the show, identified only as David from Hoptkington, said it better than I can.
“Pavarotti was one of those people who as a human being could produce a single tone, a single tonality of such amazing power and grace, that you don’t have to understand the language, you don’t even have to hear much of what’s coming before then. But when that note strikes you it’s like, um, well it’s, in Pete Townshend’s words it’s “there once was a note pure and easy playing so free as a breath rippling by, the note is eternal it hears me, I hear it, it sees me, forever we’re blended, for ever we die” and as a singer I’ve always looked in my own part to achieve that single note that for me would be like, sort of like the true voice of God coming through a human being. And I’ve never seen Pavarotti, I’ve never really paid a lot of attention to opera, but when I hear those notes, it literally brings me to tears. So this morning I’m driving to work and I’m sitting there and bang, with no other prompting it was just–it’s just that powerful.”
The lyrics to that song are as beautiful as the melody itself:
No one sleeps! / No one sleeps! / Even you, oh princess, / in your cold room, / look at the stars / that tremble with love / and hope!
But my mystery / it is locked in me. / And my name, / no one will know! / No, no!
On your mouth / I will say it, / when the light / will shine!
And my kiss will break the silence, / that makes you mine!
His name no one will know… / And we shall have, alas, to die, to die…!
Disperse, o night! / Vanish, oh stars! / Vanish, oh stars!
At daybreak, I will win! / I will win! / I will win!
Joe Zawinul, September 11, 2007.
I saw him in concert in 1978 or 1979 with his band Weather Report. As with Pavarotti and Nessun Dorma, there is something wonderful about Zawinul’s music. A stillness that reminds me of the importance of pausing and giving witness to the moment. A Remark You Made is a tender tune of his from Weather Report’s 1978 album Mr. Gone.
Jim McKay, June 7, 2008.
I grew up listening to him as he hosted ABC’s Wide World of Sports and the Olympics. In 1972 I didn’t understand what was happening at the games in Munich. They were an Olympics of Frank Shorter, Steve Prefontaine, Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut. They were an Olympics of terror. McKay reported the news of the hostage-taking as well as event results. The gravity and tragedy of those games came through in the negative contrast of his reporting. Here’s a video that will give you a sense of McKay at those games:
More than two decades later his voice cracks as he recounts the tragedy at Munich. That’s his heart. He pulls us together as he shares it, in the way people are brought together through their own woundedness.
Randy Pausch, June 25, 2008.
His “Last Lecture” message for his children went viral. I missed it early on and only caught up with it in April. This message has a richness that compares to Pavrotti’s singing and Zawinul’s compositions. He speaks plainly like Rizzuto and from the heart like McKay. So much so that when I heard it I was convinced that I’d met him here in Pittsburgh. It’s that honest and plain. It’s mystical. Here’s the Carnegie Mellon University news story: http://www.cmu.edu/homepage/beyond/2008/summer/an-enduring-legacy.shtml. There is a link to the last lecture at the bottom of the page.
At my parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary party in June, the love in the room was palpable. I’m not just talking about my parents. The grace of marriage is carried through friends and family. Those that gather to witness two people proclaim their love for each other and those who enter their lives after. These all commit to accompanying the couple on their journey wherever it might lead. I think that happens whether they know it or not. Fifty people joined my parents at their party. Hundreds if not thousands more shared in the journey.
During the party I found myself looking for people who weren’t there. People who I grew up with. People who helped raise me simply by loving my parents. Some had schedule conflicts or couldn’t come. Others would only attend in our memories. They’d moved on.