The Explanation
(for those who require one)

And, of course, that is what all of this is -- all of this: the one song, ever changing, ever reincarnated, that speaks somehow from and to and for that which is ineffable within us and without us, that is both prayer and deliverance, folly and wisdom, that inspires us to dance or smile or simply to go on, senselessly, incomprehensibly, beatifically, in the face of mortality and the truth that our lives are more ill-writ, ill-rhymed and fleeting than any song, except perhaps those songs -- that song, endlesly reincarnated -- born of that truth, be it the moon and June of that truth, or the wordless blue moan, or the rotgut or the elegant poetry of it. That nameless black-hulled ship of Ulysses, that long black train, that Terraplane, that mystery train, that Rocket '88', that Buick 6 -- same journey, same miracle, same end and endlessness."
-- Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

Before and After #162: Sammy Davis, Jr.




chuchu353 said...

"Someday I'll have me a chauffeur
And a block-long limousine;

Robert Fiore said...

Possibly the greatest disparity between chops and taste in the history of entertainment.

Tommy O'C said...

Oh? And where did you read that?

Robert Fiore said...

I didn't read it anywhere. It's my personal judgment. I can't think of anyone who combined so much talent with so little instinct for what would be a worthwhile use to make of it.

Tommy O'C said...

There was only one Sammy. The Reverend Jesse Jackson said at Davis’s eulogy, “He’s not the last of a kind. There was no Sammy before Sammy. Sammy was the only of a kind.”

Davis faced lifelong adversity and setbacks that would have caved-in lesser mortals. Through it all, he was, to quote the New York Times, “a versatile and dynamic singer, dancer, and actor who overcame extraordinary obstacles to become a leading American entertainer.” This is not the epitaph of an also-ran.

In addition to being a one-of-a-kind entertainer, Davis was a true and generous humanitarian, and a gutsy, stand-up trailblazer who did what he felt he had to do, however unpalatable that may have been, at times. Lord knows his Rat Pack buddies Frank and Dean made their share of career mistakes (not to mention Peter Lawford’s benighted later life).

This is not to deny that Davis’s “triumphs were punctuated by sometimes ugly controversies,” including a lifelong battle with alcohol and drugs. Some African-Americans criticized his allegedly “white” lifestyle. His life was threatened for his affair with Kim Novak and his marriage to May Britt. Davis was also criticized for his conversion to Judaism and his support of Nixon in 1972 (which he later renounced).

If you just can’t dig the man and his work, that’s one thing. But to suggest he fell short of his potential is to overlook the obstacles he overcame and the dearth of opportunities he often faced. Hearing someone complain about discrimination, Davis supposedly responded, “You got it easy. I'm a short, ugly, one-eyed, black Jew. What do you think it's like for me?"

To say that Davis made the most of what he had is an understatement. Dick Schaap wrote, "Some people think Davis has a God complex but this is absurd. On the seventh day, he works."

Davis was often billed as “the greatest entertainer in the world.” In my judgment, he was certainly one of the greatest.

Robert Fiore said...

I agree completely about the magnitude of his talent, but the problem is what he achieved with it. Overcoming adversity and humanitarianism are not artistic achievements. To make a comparison, for all his personal vulgarity and character flaws, Frank Sinatra was more responsible than any other individual for taking a catalog of old pop hits and forging them into a body of art song. Sammy Davis Jr.'s artistic achievement is closer to Dean Martin's

swac said...

Now don't go disparaging Dino...he managed some fine achievements before the ennui really took ahold of him.

But Sammy...well, he has his moments. Great entertainer, no doubt, but as for a lasting body of work...I guess that would be his life.

(Still holding out hope for an eventual reissue of Porgy & Bess though...I'd like to see his Sporting Life some day.)

jacquefrost said...

has everyone forgotten Sam's Song?
with both dino & sammy

Peter L. Winkler said...

Most of my impressions of SD are irremediably colored by the schlocky Vegasization of his music from the '70s onward, exemplified by the lachrymose "Mr. Bojangles" and "The Candy Man," matched by his horrendous attire and jewelry.

He actually cut some nice versions of standards with Billy May for Capitol and somewhere I have a CD reissue of an album of duets with either Dinah Washington or Sarah Vaughn that's very nice. I think his membership in the Rat Pack was his undoing. He embraced the worst of the Vegas style and it undid him.

swac said...

I have that Capitol Collector's Series CD, and there is some lovely material on it. There's also some choice stuff recorded with Buddy Rich and Count Basie, but the Mike Curb Congregation I could do without.

Mac said...

"Sammy Davis Jr. Sings, Laurindo Almeida Plays" (Reprise 1966)

And, of course, the stuff Linda Lovelace wrote about him...

swac said...

I think you can get that Reprise record with Almeida on CD, I'd like to hear it.