Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bobby Cole & Steve Lawrence - and the Lonely & Sad

"This is how the lonely spend their time…" writing blogs for free while a greedy giant company called Google makes billions.

No, no, let's try that again. That's a line from a Bobby Cole song, because it's that time again….

My friend Bobby Cole, best known as a singer and songwriter, was also an arranger and conductor, and for a while led the orchestra for Judy Garland's concerts. Her opening act (for a while) was offbeat comic Jackie Vernon. Jackie's sense of humor was both subtle and weird. It didn't work for Garland's impatient audience, and after silence on a few punchlines, Jackie looked down at the orchestra leader in the pit, and said, "My, my, Bobby, where does the time go?" Jackie cut his set short, and Bobby played him off. Some years later, Bobby was again conducting an orchestra, and Jackie was once more up on stage. Jackie's opening minute of jokes went nowhere. Jackie looked down and said, "My, my, Bobby, where does the time go?"

Bobby doubled over with laughter (the only laughs Jackie had gotten) and led the orchestra in a rousing send-off for Jackie Vernon. For fans of comedy (of which none were obviously in the audience that night except Bobby), Jackie had to leave too soon.

And so, December 19th, the blog acknowledges that Bobby left the world too soon. (September 8, 1932 – December 19, 1996). You can find more on Bobby via this blog, and Wikipedia (which sources this blog!). A rumor, corrected here and at Wikipedia, was that Bobby had somehow slipped on ice, hit his head on the sidewalk, and died. No, Bobby was a heavy smoker and drinker. He had serious heart problems towards the end. It almost never snows in Manhattan before Christmas, and the streets were clear that year. An eyewitness, (a bartender, appropriately enough) was idly watching the scene in front of his club's big picture window. He noticed a gray-haired gent holding on to a lamp post, seeming to be in some distress. The man slowly lost his grip and sank to the sidewalk. And that was about it. The ambulance came, and Bobby went.

And he was missed. For one thing, there were at least three instantly grieving women, if not more. Few guys of his age could claim such devotion. There was the woman with whom Bobby had flings through the years, another who had lived with Bobby and despite all the problems, wished he was back with her, the current girlfriend, and…oh, let's throw in a few more ex-loves and a woman who carried a torch while claiming to have only been "a good friend." For many years after this, fans of Bobby spent their time piecing together his last weeks, declaring themselves part of his in-circle, and getting a bit crazy in their attitudes to some of his other friends. He did have a pretty big cult following, including fans, guys who were members of his various trios, and other singers and songwriters who admired his talent. I was probably among the youngest in his circle, having not known him in his wild days of Vegas clubs, "Ali Baba" and Garland. Nostalgia about Bobby continued over the years, until some adjusted to the loss, and others simply died. These days I rarely get a call from any of the old gang, and who knows how many ex-loves, former band members, and other friends recall December 19th specifically…or make the calls that used to be made, to talk about old times. 1996 is a long time ago.

"My my, Bobby, where does the time go?"

The song to remember him by this time, is one never released in his lifetime: "This is How the Lonely Spend Their Time." Just when this demo was recorded is uncertain, but most probably back in the late 60's when there were a lot of commercial ballads of this type. For proof, I've tossed in the Landesman-Wolf classic, "Ballad of the Sad Young Men," via Steve Lawrence. It has some similarity to Bobby's, in terms of style. The popularity of this type of torch, came from Sinatra (a friend of both Bobby's and Steve's) who sold tons of albums with titles such as "No One Cares" and "Where Are You?" Frank made it manly to sing sensitive ballads about loneliness and loss. It wasn't just for McKuen. The illustration above is of Steve's album (containing the track below) and Bobby's lone solo album, used because it has a pretty nice drawing by his friend Jack Lonshein (who I think funded the recording session).

Sinatra's grim albums, issued around the same time as those ring-a-ding-ding "Come Fly With Me" releases, reflected the dark side of the swingin' lifestyle of booze and broads and nightclubs. Bobby, like Frank, knew what it was like to wail into the late hours of a Saturday night at a hot spot, but end up alone on a sober, gray Sunday afternoon in the park.

STEVE LAWRENCE All The Sad Young Men

BOBBY COLE This Is How The Lonely Spend Their Time