Listening To Ourselves

Ok, so I admit it. In the past, I’ve made fun of Jerry Vale. “Who the hell is
Jerry Vale?” you might ask. He was a pop vocalist, Wikipedia says.
Jerry Vale was an American singer and actor. During the 1950s and 1960s,
he reached the top of the pop charts with his interpretations of romantic ballads, including a cover of the Eddy Arnold hit “You Don’t Know Me” and “Have You Looked into Your Heart”. He had a successful career, and I read somewhere that Frank Sinatra loved Jerry, thought he had one of the best voices anywhere.

Well, maybe he did, but I’m old enough to have heard Jerry many times,
and to my ear, he was totally one dimensional… always medium to full
voice. Yes, his vocal texture was unique and one could recognize it a
mile away. But did it move me? No. Not even a little bit. I never heard a
hint of emotion in his singing. He moved enough people, though, that he lived well, had an apartment in NewYork, a home in Palm Desert, and owned a minor league baseball team in Florida for a time.

Now that you know the object of my somewhat mis-placed mirth, I’ll
explain it to you. Years ago I read an interview with Jerry’s wife. They
were in New York at the time, and some magazine was asking her
about her, and Jerry’s, life, now that he was retired. And that right there,
my friends, is the reason for my Jerry Vale rant. The interviewer asked his
wife what Jerry did these days. She replied, “He sits in his music room
and listens to all his records all day.”

For some reason, that cracked me up! What a self-indulgent dufus… sitting
there listening to yourself! I shared what I thought was my humorous
Jerry Vale story with several friends, who smiled. Little did I know that
they knew me, and knew that before long, I’d be doing the exact same thing! And they were right.

I have since looked more closely at Jerry Vale’s life, and am embarrassed that I ever poked fun at him. For in comparison, which is fair to do here, he was an international singing star, and I was a jingle writer in Atlanta. Jerry sang on some of the music in the films of Martin Scorsese. ’Nuff said.

This is being written right after I’ve spent two hours listening to my own
recorded music on headphones, with a fat glass of wine, late in the evening.
What a self-indulgent dufus! I’m now Jerry Vale, and I’m doing the same
damn thing I thought was so funny several years ago! Actually, I’m not
even Jerry Vale… Frank Sinatra never even knew who I was. I never
touched the heights Jerry reached, never traveled the world and performed
in front of the crowds he drew… what the hell was I thinking, to poke fun
at a man who reached the hearts of millions??

So yes, I’m embarrassed, and somewhat ashamed. But I also understand
now. When we get old, there’s a natural tendency to take a look back at
what we did with our lives, what we accomplished… what tiny difference
we might have made in this swirl of life insanity. Were we any good?
Did we do anything that might still stand out as quality, worthwhile? Is
there anything out there right now that we can still lay claim to, still be
proud of?

These questions become important when one is over seventy. I wonder
almost every day if I could have done more if I’d tried a little harder…
then I remember how hard I went, how late I worked, how driven I was.
I was a small town boy, and the big city inspired me to almost kill myself
trying to prove myself. If I have nothing else, I have the knowledge that
I gave it my all, was the best that I could be, and left some quality music
out there on the table. None of my musical contributions were earth-
shattering, nor necessarily memorable, but they were “what was needed”
at the time. That has to count for something. It doesn’t take much, after
all, to justify our existence here. If even one or two people that are still
alive can say to us, “Yes, I remember that recording session. That was a
good piece you wrote, and you wrote it under a hard deadline… sure,
I remember that!”

And right there, that means the world to me now. Sure, I know I busted
my butt back then to do well, but it’s so strange… just one person
acknowledging it makes a world of difference! Somehow, it completes me.
And so, Jerry, I tip my hat to you. You were one hell of a singer, you
touched the hearts of millions. You rose from humble beginnings and
made it all the way. And I laughed at you, because I was jealous of what
you accomplished in your life. I didn’t understand that when we’re done
with our careers, there’s not much left to do except look back on it at
some point, examine it and try to see if we made any difference…
any difference at all.

Steve Hulse

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