Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Susannah McCorkle - Anti-Suicide Song from a Suicide

Your download, a cheery cheeky smooth calypso "I Don't Think I'll End It All Today." But...
On May 19, 2001, Susannah McCorkle jumped from 16C, the top floor of her Manhattan apartment.
Among the things that can keep an artist alive, is being wanted. Her record label, Concord Jazz, didn't want her anymore. The market for indie jazz was, and is, a tough one, and a few thousand sales can make the difference between renewal or release.
Even without digital sales, we're told artists can make a living off live performances.
McCorkle's biggest source of revenue for over 10 years was her season at the Algonquin Hotel, but they informed her that she wasn't welcome there anymore, as there were now many other hungry artists, a bit more famous or younger, or with new CDs to promote, to fill her spot.
These things happened shortly before her death. She had tried other means of staying in the music world, and her website mentioned how she conducted musical workshops for children, and that she was available for bookings at private parties. Does that sound glamorous to you? Or lucrative?
Susannah often talked about suicide, and in your download she even sings about it. Typical of "dark humor" in cabaret, "I Don't Think I'll End It All Today" describes "so many sweet things still on my list. So many sweet lips still to be kissed. So many sweet dreams still to unfold. So many sweet lies still to be told!"
And so, "Away with the river, away with the razor, away with the pearly gates, away with barbiturates, away with the Seconal, the fall from the building tall..."
The fall from the building tall.
The chronicle of Susannah McCorkle's life and the depression that she could not shake, even by recording a light-hearted anti-suicide song, can be found in "Haunted Heart," the biography written by Linda Dahl.
Let's back up and remember Susannah McCorkle ((January 4, 1946–May 19 2001) in her prime, when she had recordings to make, concerts to give, and was able to keep her demons at bay. Here's what Stephen Holden in the New York Times said in a review of her show, June of 1998:
"(Her) sweet, smoky voice and insinuating delivery suggest Billie Holiday filtered through Julie London by way of Lee Wiley," and in covering Gershwin and Jobim, she "finds a common strain of erotic longing in both songwriters...grounding her interpretations is a sexiness that veils everything in a light mist."
Her own take: "I was once called by People magazine a 'bruised romantic.' It's a great description of me."
Susannah had a tremendous love of music and composers, and in surfing the Internet, she favored sites that shared the love. If you go over to JohnnyMercer.com, you can still see her comment in the guest book:
Name:Susannah McCorkle
Date: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 at 22:36:43
Congratulations on a wonderful website! It's clear that this is a real labor of love, and I'm sure I speak for many people when I tell you how much it is appreciated. I wish every great songwriter could have someone as devoted as you designing and maintaining a website...Thank you for helping to keep these marvelous songs alive, and for helping those of us who perform them to have access to information and songs it might take weeks to find without your help. Verrrrrrrrrrrrrrry sincerely yours, Susannah McCorkle
The "office" you see in Susannah McCorkle's e-mail address (smccoffice) was also her home address, a common practice for any struggling musician. With travel and hotel costs eating away at the income from live shows, and flattened music sales, a surprising number of seemingly popular artists are struggling. The downside when the office is the home, is that people can call any time. Even more of a downside is when they don't.
Maybe she could've booked herself into one-night gigs, staying in crappy lonely hotels, negotiating every concert date, making sure the locations matched up so she wouldn't be zig-zagging across country. After a show, she could sit, alone and humiliated, at a table selling autographed CDs or t-shirts after each gig instead of resting or celebrating the show by visiting with backstage friends and then going out. Oh yes, and the woman would've had to look after her wardrobe and luggage and spend hours booking costly flights...jobs an agent or manager would only do for a chunk of the profits.
No, her next flight was 16 stories down. The woman's depression had become too exruciating, the rewards too few. The answer might've been "Get a day job, like the rest of us, and give up your dream of being a professional musician." She gave up entirely. She was 55.


Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.

Anonymous said...

She suffered from severe bouts of depression.

Anonymous said...

I only found out about her recently, through her rendition of 'The Waters of March'. It was such a beautiful rendition: beautiful in its simplicity and without the fluff and over-the-top adornments so many contemporary female singers employ for effect and wow factor.

A real shame to learn of her death. But when one thinks it's time to go, it's time to go. Safe journey, Susannah.

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Unknown said...

Susannah and I were friends in our teens and early twenties. No romantic interest as she was a bit my senior at an age when that makes a difference. That was before she went into music as a life career but she was a great singer then as well. I remember her fondly and was shocked when I learned of her sad death, having lost contact with her many years before. I didn't found out until many years after the event. I miss her greatly. She was a good friend! Rest in peace dear Susannah.