Monday, November 4, 2013

The Girl We Left Behind

Of course, there were more than two Rosemary Clooneys. This lovely and emotionally complicated woman had many rooms to her mansion, creatively and privately. Yet there was a dividing point in the forward movement of her life that most people can agree upon -- her 1968 breakdown, coming after years of a Catholic holding-together of a marriage to the brutal and ever-cheating Jose Ferrer (a marriage and remarriage, resulting in five children) while falling ever deeper in love with arranger Nelson Riddle -- the final breaking point her presence at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, June 5th, 1968, witnessing the National Security State elimination of her close personal friend Robert F. Kennedy.

For years after she did not perform. In 1977 she came back - dramatically different look, dramatically different sound. Most jazz fans seem to prefer the post-breakdown, slatternly, husky, wearied Rosie. Not a chance.

The young Rose was a blue ribbon for blonde ladies in black. Her eyes were blue with a pannier of diamonds, wistful, looking out with tenderness, offering up, timidly, a little love. And they would glow. It is not common for blue eyes to glow in the dark of modestly-lit rooms of bars or clubs or recording studios, but Rose's light came from within. Her sound back then was full of red cheeks and Christmas, the color of it on most songs as startling as a view of wild red berries in a field of snow. And something more, a warning: with each song she seems to be burning a piece of the distant past, ash deep within her purity thickening from a membrane to a shroud. If love is a state of grace and must be protected by sacramental walls, then Rose did all she could to do the protecting.