August 16, 2013

Love and Eydie Gorme

Last Friday, a chill went through me when I learned that Eydie Gorme had passed away at 84.  Celebrities die all the time, and sometimes it gives us pause, and more often we say, "who? Oh....right. Her/Him."

But sometimes we get a little misty and take a longer pause, like the last time I was inspired to write about music.  If George Jones was the artist who most reminds me of my dad (for so many reasons), than it's probably the sound of Eydie Gorme who most makes me think of my mother. Well, her and Johnny Mathis.

Eydie Gorme reminds me of so, so many things. Of being a child in both my parent's and grandparent's homes, sitting and listening to their stacks of albums.  Of late Sunday brunches that my dad worked over all morning, eggs benedict with creamy cheese sauce and Bloody Mary's (for them) and Sunny Delite for me, both served in tall glasses that he'd chilled first in the freezer. And Eydie Gorme and her Amor album on the hi-fi. 
It's the Amor album that we all loved best, and by "we all" I mean most of the members on my mom's side of the family.  As I have (or haven't?) mentioned here before, I'm half-Mexican American, on my mom's side. If I mention this, people who aren't familiar with the cultural makeup of Southern California will ask, Ohhh. So where's your family from?" implying that my mother was born in Mexico or a Latin American country. But no, my mother's family are from here, from this native ground of Santa Ana winds and palm trees and balmy Christmas mornings.

(If you are from SoCal, or have at least lived here long enough, you know that half-breeds like me, who don't look or sound at all Mexican, are a dime a dozen. Turn over any Mission tortilla, and there we are.)

What this all has to do with Eydie Gorme is that I find it funny and ironic, how a white girl from New York City produced an album that’s so beloved in so many families like my own.  What this all has to do with me is that, in a way, Eydie Gorme is the reason I'm writing a memoir, rather than sticking to my first love, fiction. 

Here are the opening lines from a short story that I wrote while in my MFA program:
A crackle and hiss as the needle falls and I watch the album spin, black and grooved as the comb marks through my grandfather’s oiled hair. Now come the guitars, nearly as high, sweet and mellow as the female voice that follows, all surging through the box speakers on either ends of the couch.
This time, I’m sitting cross-legged on my parents’ hardwood floor, but I could just as easily repeat this scene, with this same record, on the floor of any of my relative’s homes. Like my grandparents, for instance, who live only minutes west of here across the dry concrete riverbed of the San Gabriel, tucked against the rolling foothills miles east of East L.A. Many afternoons I’ve laid on my belly my grandma’s carpet, her raised blue shag burning its pattern onto my bent elbows, studying the album cover of her copy of Eydie Gorme and the Trios Los Panchos Sing Great Love Songs in Spanish, a 1964 recording that’s about the closest thing we have to an heirloom in this family. Each household has a copy – my grandparents, my mother, assorted aunts and uncles. In each house I’ve sat and studied the album cover as the familiar notes fill the air: Eydie with her Liz Taylor-Cleopatra eyeliner and fake eyelashes, her glossy black beehive and turquoise turtleneck; a lovely Jewish girl singing a flawless “Sabor A Mi” that makes my mother’s eyes well up.
 So what’s she singing about? I ask, after she turns the volume down, and with her spotty second-generation Spanish she attempts to translate the lyrics:
It’s uh…the taste…a taste of me. 
A taste of me? Seeing my skeptical frown, she finally waves her hands before her face and says, Well, it’s hard to explain in English. You know, love. What else is there to sing about?
The story in its entirety is a blend of fiction and non-fiction, but those opening lines above are pure memoir. And while the story garnered lots of praise and hand-written "almost there!" kind of notes from over-worked editors of lit journals, the most thoughtful notes accurately pointed out that "this piece probably needs to be a memoir."  (A no-brainer that I resisted for a long, long time.)

Also: another story that I did get published is titled "Don't Go to Strangers." Which is the name of the title track from this album, another fixture in my household:
That album, and my story, which is also thinly-veiled memoir, are another story altogether. Which is why I'm finally writing that memoir. So many stories to tell.

For now, here's "Piel Canela", that first song on the Amor album that starts playing when the record needle drops into the grooves.  I know all the songs by heart and sing along --- phonetically.  I still have no idea of most of what she's singing about.  Except, you know, love. What else is there to sing about?


R.I.P., Eydie. 

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