Parts of the day are as clear as the lines on my face. Other aspects are more obscure and faded, harder to access across the decades. And many years have passed since that day in late-60s Los Angeles. What I vividly recall is driving with my Mom in our big white 1964 Chevy Impala down to Topanga Plaza, driving to Wallach's Music City to buy a phonograph record. It was just me and her in the car, me and my pretty, stylish Mom. I was home from school sick that day, which was unusual. I was in elementary school, in 6th grade, and I rarely missed a day because I was fairly healthy and I liked school. It was 1969.
Not only was I home that day but my Mom was home as well, which was unusual. She very often wasn't home during the weekdays because she was in law school, and she had class most days. She also had my brother and sister and me and my Dad to deal with in the evening, so on top of law school she was a very busy and remarkable woman.
Other kids that I knew, or many people that I've met since were neutral or even ashamed about their parents. Not me. I was proud of my law student mom, very pretty, with her unerring eye for style and Canadian manners, she was quite chic. My father cut a dashing figure as well. Tall and good looking, he was Dean of International Students at UCLA. I idolized my parents and couldn't show them off enough.
So it was quite special for me to be home with my mom when this song came on the radio, it was probably “Boss Radio” KHJ, 93 on the Dial. It probably came up after the Stones or Temptations. Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. I'd heard it before. It had an instant appeal to me not only melodically but the word play and the optimistic anything-is-possible attitude of the song. I loved it.
When I heard it come up and called my mom in to listen, I did not know that she also liked the song, loved it in fact. She had heard it a bit too, because she had just seen a movie with my Dad called Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. She loved that movie. Everything about it; the plot and dialog, Redford and Newman in their prime, Katherine Ross, all of it. “Butch Cassidy went on to win several Oscar’s that year, including Best Song for “Raindrops”..
My mom and I connected over many things, but one of them was that song that day. Like me, she liked the melody and the message. Once when I was very young she told me over some upset that some people were more sensitive than others. And that she felt sure I was one of those sensitive people. When she told me that I felt an indescribable sense of connection, of solidarity, because I realized she wouldn't have said that to me if she didn't feel it about herself as well. Many times since that day I've reflected on her comment and found myself wondering why she hadn't told me the magic secret of how to be less sensitive. But I imagine the answer was that she really didn't know herself.
My mom and I were very close. I thought she was very special and she was, and we really bonded over that song that day. I remember her comforting me when I was sick that day and making me feel better. She always could do that, with her confidence in me. She was a role model to me and one of my heroes. She was in law school at a time when most of my friends' mom's were home watching soap operas. Later that year she took the California State Bar. She passed on the first try (it even took my Dad twice) and she became a Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender. She went on to an accomplished career and had many honors come her way.
My mom was not only good looking, she had impeccable taste, beautiful manners and was really quite elegant. Her hands and fingers were slender and delicate, the hands of a pianist. And she did play. Chopin, Bach and Debussy. She also loved Broadway show tunes. I particularly remember one of her favorites, “Baubles, Bangles and Beads”, a standby she played until the end of her life.
Burt Bacharach too, had more than a touch of elegance and glamor about him. It seemed that he led a charmed life, but I think there was a lot more hard work and talent than charm. He definitely had some fateful encounters that were important to his career. He was very fortunate indeed in meeting Hal David, the man that wrote the words of all his most famous songs; “Raindrops,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, “The Look of Love”, “Say A Little Prayer”. Many of these songs helped interpret and explain the mysterious zone of love and romance that exists between men and women. All those and many more were imagined and written by Hal.
In another fateful encounter, Burt Bacharach found in Dionne Warwick an artist with an uncanny sense of pitch and a phenomenal range in her voice that would allow her to handle his soaring tunes. He knew it, he identified her amazing talent. And it was that combination of Hal David, Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach that went on to produce and record a string of top 10 and immortal tunes. Dionne Warwick became Bacharch’s muse.
There is a temptation in writing about the past to imagine or remember it through a filmy gauze that may minimize harshness or emphasize a softness of somehow better old days. And it has been said the memory is an uncertain friend. But it would be an error to believe that the sixties were totally cool graphics and music and that everything was cool and happy. A lot of things were. But a lot of things were really screwed up. There were wars and there were rumors of wars. There were political assassinations. There were some really bad people running through the hills of LA. Iit was a scary time as well as a happy time.
But to listen and to understand and appreciate a song like “Raindrops” or “The Look of Love”, well that requires belief. It requires and inspires belief in something greater and better than what we have here and now in front of us. Raindrops is a song about hope and optimism. It seemed a bridge between the reality of the world and what I hoped and dreamed things could be.
That song certainly connected my mom and me. I shared a special smile with her whenever that song came on, ever after, we understood what it meant our whole lives. Until the day she died when that song came on, we knew what it was about. It raised the bar and gave me something to hope for.
That song taught me, and I'm privileged and thankful to have learned it. God bless you Mom, and thank you Burt.
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