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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

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News + PoliticsRemembranceA Tony Bennett Sunday kind of love

A Tony Bennett Sunday kind of love

His timeless voiced filled my childhood home on California Street, articulating what it meant to be human

There are those among us we think will never die. These individuals have a timeless quality that seems to bend time, to shape it and interpret it according to their special gifts and, in the sharing of these gifts, transcend fad, fashion, and constraint. Perhaps this comes down to style, true style that is the antithesis of fad.

Tony Bennett, who passed away last weekend at the age of 96, personified this quality. I grew up listening to him. His voice filled our home—a two unit flat on 4444 California Street—with true emotion emanating from my father’s record player. In our household, Tony Bennett’s music was played on Sunday—a tradition. I was 10 or 11 years old. My Sundays were filled with songs that included “I Wanna be Around,” “Who Can I Turn To,” “For Once in My Life,” “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” “If I Ruled the World,” “When Joanna Loved Me,” and many others.  

I remember the record jacket—it was Tony’s Greatest Hits Volume III. On the cover is a black and white image of Tony Bennett, white shirt with the high collar, his pose is both defiant and graceful, looking upward as if accepting judgement but not rendering judgement but with the resolve to fight onward and to accept his fate as a singer of the human condition with as much humanity as can be mustered—through blood, bone, shadow, and light.  

Those Sundays were not spent in church, yet the music of Tony Bennett imparted sounds and words and rhythms that moved the spirit.  

You sinners, drop everything
Let that harmony ring
Up to Heaven
Sing, you sinners!

As a child I didn’t understand the lyrics of the songs. To my young 10-year-old mind, a song like “Who Can I Turn To?” was somewhat comical. The lyric, who can I turn to, when nobody needs me, made me think, this guy must be a useless individual (Which made me think of my father’s description of such a person—someone who only eats, sleeps and… well, you know). A proverbial bump on a log. But to my father the songs held deep meaning in that they addressed his dreams, not only addressed them but validated them—the fears and desires—giving illumination to the dark alleys of his mind, articulating what it means to be human. Songs of dreams such as in, “If I Ruled the World”:

If I ruled the world
Every day would be the first day of spring
Every heart would have a new song to sing
And we’d sing of the joy every morning would bring

A powerful theme that we can all grasp and hold through the power of song—a pause, a time to reflect and recalibrate.

Tony Bennett in 2017. Photo from London’s Royal Albert Hall via Wikimedia Commons

In my first book of published poems and short stories—Cool Don’t Live Here No More: A Letter to San Francisco—I included “An Open Letter to Tony Bennett.” He was being honored with a bronze statue by the city in celebration of his 90th birthday. My letter sought to honor him as well, but it was also a reminder that the city that he so lovingly sang of in his signature song was losing its soul, its spirit; that the golden sun that shined for him did not shine for many as it was covered by greed, arrogance, and indifference. Another lyric from one of his timeless songs resonates in the quandary the city finds itself in.

With you I could learn to
with you on a new day
But who can I turn to
if you turn away?

This resonated deeply with me as I watched the city turn its back on its elders like Ron Likkers, Elaine Turner, Kathy Galvez, and Iris Canada. But despite these things, I appreciated the music and its message of hope.

And maybe tomorrow
I’ll find what I’m after
I’ll throw off my sorrow
Beg, steal, or borrow my share of laughter

I have moved out of the city and now make my home in Western North Carolina. But I cannot forget the city whose fog has followed me 3000 miles away. I dedicate my Sunday mornings to Tony Bennett, posting his songs on Sunday mornings on my Facebook page. Tony Bennett Sunday is a chance to reflect and be immersed in the richness of a voice that embraced the sincerity of the lyrics that brought us closest to the heart. I share those songs that meant so much to my father, songs he shared with me on Sunday mornings; songs that stayed with an 11-year-old kid who, now at the age of 59, shares as his father did in a flat on 4444 California Street. The lesson of hope he gave to me remains.  

If I ruled the world
Every day would be the first day of spring
Every heart would have a new song to sing
And we’d sing of the joy every morning would bring

From one Tony to another, thank you for the music and memories. In the words of Housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca: Grazie, mio paesano, per la musica. Iiposa in pace.  

Thank you for the music and the memories, sir.

© 2023 Tony Robles

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