The one time I saw Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme perform in person was when I was assigned to review them for a local newspaper – “resigned” more accurately describes how I felt, although, as a freelancer, there was 25 bucks in it for me. And I’m sure my piece (my memory of it is completely gone by now) dripped with appropriate dollops of snark that I, in my under-30 years, felt it necessary to bring to any discussion of this beyond-satire, cufflinks-and-sequins duet that my parents, with that odd pride of a common Jewishness, would have kvelled to have seen. Frankly, except for casual but pointed mention now and again in conversation, referring obliquely to a kind of generic, Vegas-y, Rat Pack-y form of entertainment long since departed (the seismic shift in taste and demographics tilted the continent, rolling all such acts to Branson), I hadn’t given much thought to Steve and Eydie, not presuming that they were dead, exactly, but simply no longer “here.”
So, then, how to explain, to my surprise, my getting misty at the news of Eydie Gorme’s death, at 84? For one, I suppose I felt sorry for Steve Lawrence’s loss of his partner of more than 55 years. (Couples like that should go together, in some freak mid-song microphone electrocution accident, with no survivor left to look unbalanced and incomplete – “Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Steve and” – or uncomfortably stapled to a new and younger partner – “Please welcome, Steve and Gaga.”)
But that wasn’t enough to bring tears. Nor was my latter contention that Gorme was a decent and powerful singer who was diminished by the style and patter of the duo’s act, and choice of songs, placing her in the same kind of novelty niche in which one could find Keely Smith, another exceptional singer lost in assumed persona. That Gorme perhaps never got the full respect that she deserved was enough to make me sad, but not wet-eyed.
What I think it was that affected me was the sound of another door slamming to the past, and the loss of another beachhead that my parents held on the current shore. Gorme’s death made me feel like my parents were, in a smaller sense, dying again, too. As each touchstone of their lives goes by the wayside – be it a person, or place, or action – my parents recede. Saddening, too, is the realization that the past is getting bigger, like the universe expanding and, like the universe, with increased velocity. Don’t believe that the past is set and that the future is mutable; it’s just the reverse. The past is a place, and its placeness is altering by the minute; since so much of it is forgotten or confused, and so much of it we make up to suit our needs, the past is a place with rubbery borders, malleable signposts and a populace that looks different every time we look to them for something we need.
To watch video clips of Steve and Eydie young is to see my parents young again, and to be reminded that they are gone, along with Eydie now, and their time. And to realize that we were young like that, too, and that the slippery slope between now and then is greased daily. As I watch the touchstones of my parents’ generation disappear, I notice the unraveling at the edges of my own. I would like to think my review of Steve and Eydie was kinder than I think it was; it being in the past, I can alter it to make it so, even if only in my mind. I think I will.