Thursday, June 2, 2011

Big Sur ... And Bobby Darin

>>>Fans walked in Darin's footprints in the sands of Carmel and Pfeiffer beaches, and the redwood forests of Big Sur, serene and contemplative places that meant a great deal to him during his brief but meaningful lifetime.  Yellow rose petals were tossed into the Pacific in tribute to Darin, as his rendition of Beyond The Sea murmured in the breeze. Trips to local attractions such as the acclaimed Monterey Bay Aquarium and Carmel mission rounded out the weekend's day travels.  The Darin fans ranged in age from 18 to almost 80 and came from all parts of the country. They exchanged thoughtful Darin-themed gifts such as goodie-filled tote bags, jewelry, imprinted Wayfarer style sunglasses, and decorative bottles in which to collect Pfeiffer beach sand. Because Darin escaped to Big Sur in the late sixties to reprioritize his life and ponder his work as a peace and civil rights activist.  (Jamie Ney) 

This sounds like it was a blast! I've hiked all of these places numerous times and keep returning every few years. Johnny Rivers wrote this song about the most surreal beauty found in the USA, and it appears on his personal favorite LP. 
David Lewis

After hearing all that Bobby Darin had to say about Big Sur ... and Al Jardine of The Beach Boys as well ... Frannie and I just had to see it for ourselves.  We took the long (and, I might add, somewhat treacherous) drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles one weekend, stopping at Big Sur and Carmel along the way.  While we didn't get to spend much time at either location (the trip, normally about 7-8 hours, I'm told, took closer to 12 or 13 due to intense heavy fog and rain ... and, thanks to the single lane highway running along the mountainside ... with signs every half mile or so warning "Beware of Falling Rock" ... we were admittedly being more than a little cautious!!!), I would love to see both again under less stressful circumstances ... especially Carmel, which seems to be one of the most charming towns I've ever visited.
In addition to the Johnny Rivers song submitted by David Lewis (which I had NOT heard before, by the way), I've also included a couple of Al Jardine / Beach Boys tracks ... along with ... as an extra special bonus ... another excerpt from our still-unposted Bobby Darin piece.  (kk)

After the hits stopped coming at Atlantic Records, Bobby decided to form his own record company.  (Why not ... he had already been a successful music publisher!)  As such, in September of 1968, Direction Records was formed.

Bobby had released a wide range of material in his short term back with Atlantic.  Whereas "If I Were A Carpenter" and "Lovin' You" were reaching a more folk-oriented audience, he was still putting out albums like "In A Broadway Bag", "Bobby Darin Sings 'The Shadow Of Your Smile', and, perhaps strangest of all, "Bobby Darin Sings 'Doctor Doolittle'".
However, inspired by the loss of his friends Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, Darin 
felt he had more important things to say in his music than would probably be allowed by a mainstream record company ... it was with this thought in mind that he started Direction Records.
"Events in the past eight months have affected me deeply and it's only through my music that I can express myself," he said in a press statement.  "The purpose of Direction Records is to seek out statement-makers."  Prior to the release of his first album for the label, "Bobby Darin, Born Walden Robert Cassotto", his spokesman Ed Burton said, "For years, Bobby Darin has had a reputation as a finger-snapper, but his first album on this label will establish a new image."  And that it did ... the tuxedo and toupee were gone ... and, while not a hit with most of his old audience, songs like "Long Line Rider", "In Memoriam", "Change", "Questions" and "The Harvest" certainly showed a much deeper, thought-provoking Bob Darin than the Las Vegas show-machine.

Bobby's point may have been best-proven when CBS Television refused to let him perform his new single "Long Line Rider" on "The Jackie Gleason Show" unless he edited out the lines "All the records show so clear, not a single man was here.  Anyway, anyway, that's the tale the warden tells as he counts his empty shells by the day, by the day.  This kind of thing can't happen here ... 'specially not in an election year."  (The song was based on a real-life incident that happened at an Arkansas State Prison where the skeletons of a number of prisoners were found buried underground ... the event was followed by a subsequent attempted cover-up by the state prison officials.) 

Bobby was infuriated ... he had already performed the song unedited on both ABC and NBC without incident ... and it was a regular part of his stage act.  And, Jackie Gleason, of all people ... these two went back to "Stage Show", Bobby's first television appearance EVER back in 1956!!!  He stormed off the show (and ultimately sued Gleason and CBS for damages, stating that they had not given him enough time to prepare another song to substitute in its place.)  Bobby publicly announced, "I don't care if I never do another TV show in my life" and then flew off to make his other nightclub commitments.

The "new" Bob Darin wasn't going over very well with the nightclub crowd, however.  They bought tickets expecting to see the guy in the sleek tuxedo singing "Mack The Knife" ... 
instead, they got some balding, mustached guy in blue jeans and a denim jacket singing folk and protest songs.  Bobby had lost his connection ... and his identity.  He didn't know where to go from here.
In 1969, Bobby chucked it all, sold or gave away nearly all of his belongings, and took off for Big Sur.  He bought a 14-foot house trailer and began a life of seclusion.  He withdrew from his friends, his family, his fans and ... perhaps as some sort of self-help therapy ... began to sort out what his life had become.

One can only imagine what Bobby Darin was feeling at this time.  He had just found out that his real mother had denied him his whole life ... the men he most believed could change the world for the better were both gunned down in senseless fashion ... his audience only wanted the OLD tuxedoed, toupeed Bobby Darin ... he hadn't had a hit record or a hit movie in years ... his remaining days were numbered due to his health ... and you thought YOU were having a bad day!!!

Once he settled in, he wrote to Nina:  "I am now a turtle.  Virtually everything I own is on my back and suffice it to say I am one ton lighter and therefore 2000 pounds happier.  All the houses are gone.  All extraneous items have been sold and I am out from under.  I wish all of you the serenity of this area and the peace of these mountains."  It was the only letter she ever received from Bobby the entire time he was there ... although he would call from time to time just to let her know that he was all-right.

It is said that Big Sur is one of the most beautiful, breath-taking spots on earth.  (Having visited there last year to see what all the fuss was about, Frannie and I can also add "one of the most nerve-wracking, treacherous places to drive" to that description!)

Bobby spent his days chopping wood, reading, listening to music, strumming his guitar and relaxing his mind, trying to sort out all the pressures that had built up over the years.  He says that he gave up his mind and his body to the earth's beauty and was able to relax as he never had before, seeing things clearly for the first time.  He had very few visitors and seldom ventured out of the area surrounding his new trailer home.

According to biographer Al DioRio, Bobby spent his time analyzing and contemplating the fates of the world, jotting down ideas to resolve the starving in India, the political problems in Africa, the erosion of the relics of Rome and the threat of communism.  If he did leave home, he would visit the library in Carmel and read Nietzsche and Dickens ... he would listen to the music of Mozart and Tchaikovsky ... he would stare endlessly at the water and the rocks surrounding him.  Best of all, he had absolutely NO contact with the press.  (But this, of course, had OTHER repercussions ... soon, the tabloids were writing about the acid trips and orgies that were going on up at Bobby's place in Big Sur!  He was often portrayed as a "freaked-out hippie, undergoing one psychedelic experience after another.")  Of course, none of this was true ... but that didn't stop the rumors from circulating.  Whatever he was doing, it seemed to be working ... for the first time, Bobby seemed at peace with himself and his surroundings.  He enjoyed his private connection with the mountains, the trees and the sea.

Out of the blue, Bobby was offered a small acting role in the film "The Happy Ending", 
starring Jean Simmons, John Forsythe, Lloyd Bridges, Dick Shawn, Nanette Fabray and Tina Louise.  He traveled back to Los Angeles to film the movie, the only time he was ever billed in a film as Robert Darin.  Inspired by working in the movies again, he began work on his OWN film, called "The Vendors".  (As we told you earlier in this series, Darin's motion picture never saw the light of day.)

He also flew to Las Vegas and Los Angeles periodically to fulfill previous engagement commitments.  One trip to The Sahara (for which Bobby was paid $40,000 a week ... not bad wages for a hermit!!!) was a complete disaster.  Bobby erected a life-size figure of the new Bob Darin in the lobby, decked-out in a Levi suit and cowboy hat.  His audience that night was not the LEAST bit interested in Bobby's peace songs or lyrics about dead convicts.  After a couple of songs, quite a few members of the audience began to walk out.  Bobby had never experienced this sort of reaction before ... he had always KILLED in Vegas ... he lit up the Strip!  This had to be more confusing than ever, coupled with his newfound peace in Big Sur.  He refused to compromise and would not put any of his old songs back in the act, stating at one point (when requested to perform "Artificial Flowers"), "That was yesterday."  More and more he began to lose his audience.

He finally called his old friend Dick Clark for advice.  Clark called him "a latter-day hippie."  When Bobby argued that this wasn't an act ... this, finally, was the REAL Bob Darin ... "that other guy just wasn't me ... the super-showbiz character I've been playing for years is dead and gone" ... Clark pooh-poohed it.  He told Bobby that he was simply going through an identity crisis ... it happened to ALL performers at some point in their careers ... Dick had seen it a thousand times.  "Go back and put on the tuxedo and go to work," he told his friend ... "Do what the people expect of you.  They don't want to see a balding hippie sitting on a stage in Las Vegas."

After returning to Big Sur ... and some deep soul-searching ... Bobby thought that maybe his friend was right ... maybe he could do BOTH ... sing "Mack The Knife" AND some of his new, deeper peace songs.  His appearance at The Sahara was a disaster ... his film "The Vendors" had never gotten off the ground ... and he missed the stage ... he missed the feeling he only got in front of a live audience.  Maybe putting on the tuxedo and the toupee was the costume he needed to wear to please his audience ... and, if in the process he could do some of his new material, perhaps he could please himself as well.  When The Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas asked Bobby if he was interested in appearing, this time he said "Yes."

TOO BAD:  It sounds as if Bobby simply overdid it with his new protest material.  After recording "Earthy!" and "Golden Folk Hits" in the early '60's, Darin successfully moved some of that material into his stage act ... in fact, reviews I've read say that some of THIS material was the most moving part of the show.  Had he simply mixed-up the material a little bit more in the later years, he might have found more acceptance from the Vegas crowd.  Instead, he refused to compromise ... and tried to force his new style down the throats of the folks who paid good money to see him.  Bobby finally realized that he was, first and foremost, an actor ... and an actor has to put on his costume, go out and do his scene, and leave the people wanting more.  If Bobby's costume was the tuxedo and the toupee ... and the crowd-pleaser was "Mack The Knife" ... then that's what he needed to do.

NEW RELEASES:  A recent CD release titled simply "Bobby Darin:  Songs From Big Sur" features some of the hard-to-find music that Bobby recorded during this period, including a couple of previously unreleased tracks.  It's available on the Varese Sarabande label.
Bobby's return to the Las Vegas stage was triumphant ... his two-week stint at The Landmark Hotel was extended to six weeks ... the mix of old and new material was working.  Bobby's newer songs like "long Line Rider" and "If I Were A Carpenter" played well alongside his standards like "Mack The Knife", "Beyond the Sea" and "Splish Splash".  "Simple Song Of Freedom" became his closing anthem, bringing the audience to their feet night-after-night with its moving crescendo becoming the fitting finale to each performance.  ("Variety" even ran a headline that read "Bobby Darin is back ... and he brought Mack The Knife with him!")

Soon Bobby was in demand again ... in 1970, he filmed a television special for Canadian TV called "The Bobby Darin Invasion" (now available on DVD).  Everything seemed to be on the upswing for Bobby again ... and then his health took another turn for the worse.

Backstage at the filming of the Canadian television special, Bobby had collapsed.  His old friend Harriet Wasser happened to be visiting when she found Bobby sitting on the floor in the corner.  He looked terrible ... his skin was gray and pasty and he was shivering uncontrollably.  "Bobby, what's wrong?" she demanded.  With tears in his eyes, Bobby finally replied, "Hesh, I've been sitting here for half an hour, doing nothing, and my heart feels as if I've been running a marathon.  I'm scared ... I'm really scared."  While waiting for the doctor to arrive, he whispered to her, "No one must know, Hesh ... if my family hears about this, I'll know where they found out."

In early 1971, Bobby began to experience more heart problems ... his heart was beating at "double-time":  140-160 times per minute instead of the normal 60-80 times.  With these "fibrillations of the heart," surgery really became the only option.

Bobby was booked at The Desert Inn in Las Vegas for a four-week stint, scheduled to begin on January 10th.  He told his doctors, "You give me these six weeks to work ... the first six weeks in 1971 ... somehow, you keep me alive by remote control ... and the moment I close, I'll go home, spend four hours with my son, and then I'll check into the hospital and give myself to you."  Bobby's biggest fear was that he wouldn't survive the surgery ... or, even if he did, he'd be unable to perform afterwards.  He wanted to hear the crowds one last time.

Amazingly, the audience never even knew.  He was sneaking oxygen between songs to keep himself going.  After the first show, he'd eat a bowl of spinach and a large steak to bolster his energy and then do another show the same night.  He kept this routine up for 28 straight days ... and his on-stage performance was never better.  If deep down in his weakened heart he felt this would be the last time he ever performed before a live audience, then he wanted EVERY show to be sensational ... and they were.

Once Bobby finally agreed to have the heart surgery, he timed the operation to coincide with his closing at The Desert Inn in February of 1971.  Backstage, on the night of his final performance, he told his lifelong friend Dick Lord in complete seriousness, "Well, Dick, this was the last time we'll ever perform together.  I'm going into the hospital tonight for open heart surgery.  The doctor said my chances are one out of ten.  I called the hospital and they said the last nine people lived, so I guess this is it." 

Last week we printed a report about the West Coast Celebration of what would have been Bobby Darin's 75th Birthday, courtesy of Jamie Ney.  (Scroll back to 5/29/11 if you missed it.)

Today, we've got a special report from Laura Rice about the East Coast Sanction!  (Thanks, guys ... I'm sure that a number of our readers would have LOVED to have attended one of these special tributes.  Please keep us posted regarding any other up-coming Bobby Events so that we can help to spread the word!)

This past May 14th marked the 75th anniversary of Bobby Darin’s birth.  Fans on both the East and West Coasts gathered to remember and celebrate the life and career of this remarkable entertainer. 
The East Coast fans met in New York City and spent a jam-packed weekend exploring sights associated with Bobby Darin’s life and career.  The weekend began on Friday, May 13th, with a visit to the Bronx High School of Science, from which Bobby graduated in 1953.   This was not the building where Bobby attended school, which the group did get to visit later in the weekend, but a new location to which the school moved in 1959.  The group met with the Alumni Director to discuss the Bobby Darin Scholarship that is given to the most promising graduating student in Music each year and to view a display on Bobby showing a copy of the Class of 1953 yearbook and other memorabilia that is housed in a case outside of the library.  Later that afternoon the group visited the Paley Center (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio) for a private screening of rare Bobby Darin video, such as episodes of the Bobby Darin Show from 1973 and the Edie Adams Show from 1964 that are not currently commercially available.
On Saturday, May 14th, the group toured the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem where Bobby appeared early in his career in 1957 with Alan Freed’s Rock ‘n Roll Revue.  In the evening a celebratory dinner was held at Patsy’s Italian Restaurant which was a favorite of Bobby’s and located right next door to the original location of the Atlantic Records studio where Bobby recorded his first top ten hit, “Splish Splash” in 1958.  Guests partook of Patsy’s legendary Italian fare and exchanged Bobby-themed gifts to add to the birthday party atmosphere.
Sunday, May 15th, saw a four-hour custom tour of sights important to the life and career of Bobby in Manhattan and the Bronx.  Everything from Bellevue Hospital where he was born in 1936 to his first apartment on West 71st Street to the original Copacabana where he played to sold-out crowds several times during his career was visited. 
This group of dedicated fans was sad to see the weekend come to an end, but is looking forward to future commemorative trips like those that have been held every year since 2006 in such varied locales as New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Big Sur. 
-- Laura Rice
Thanks, Laura!!!