Saturday, October 2, 2010

Exiting on a High Note

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, of course. But I got there another way. For my one and only appearance in this hallowed hall, I was the guest of a stand-up comedian and rather good impressionist who had won two tickets by convincing a local radio talk show host that he was indeed the real Regis Philbin.

After this man of myriad voices was turned down by a couple of ladies—attempts at real dates—he tried to entice his limited fraternity of male friends. Again, no luck. Time to tap into the acquaintances. In the early 1990s, I fit this bill—but don’t anymore—and accepted this chance of a lifetime to get to Carnegie Hall and to experience live and in-person a songster with whom I knew next to nothing about: Gene Pitney.

Actually, Pitney was mega-popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and something of a teen idol for a spell with bona fide hits to his credit: "Town Without Pity," "Only Love Can Break a Heart," and "Twenty-four Hours from Tulsa." He even recorded a memorable song for a memorable movie, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," although it wasn’t used in the film.

Anyway, Pitney gave a bravura performance that night in the hall and I became a fan. The man’s adenoidal tenor and vibrato proved quite compelling—a wholly unique singing voice if ever there was one. I know of no Gene Pitney sound-alikes—past or present.

In April 2006, Gene Pitney died suddenly at the age of sixty-six, only hours after a concert performance in Wales. He wowed those in attendance that evening and received a protracted, well-earned standing ovation. His manager found him in his hotel room several hours later. He was fully clothed and lying on his bed, with no evidence of any sort of death struggle or frenzied last gasp. A subsequent autopsy revealed that atherosclerosis caused his death.

When I read the account of his untimely passing, I couldn't help but feel that Pitney had somehow ideally departed this earthy plane. While still on the top of his game, the man delivered his special brand of art to appreciative fans and then, on this adrenalin-filled high note, peacefully exited life's stage. We should all be that lucky.

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