Well, they are gone. It seems they only just arrived and they are gone already. ‘They’ being of course our daughter Liz, son-in-law Greg and wee babe Russell, who at five months has already begun to be a world traveler, having been to Paris, Malaysia and Amsterdam.
Christmas is always a difficult time for us. All the expats go home so there are precious few people to socialize with and all the people you really want to be with are impossibly far away opening presents, going out to movies and eating dinners with family and friends. Lord help my envious spirit!
So when our youngest ‘child,’ now a grown woman with a husband and child of her own, decided to make the long (24 hours, door to door) trek to Malaysia to visit us, we were more than just grateful; we were ecstatic!
We were fortunate in that close friends Jim and Karen were willing to allow us the use of their apartment while they were in Canada, so Greg and Liz had plenty of room to relax and a place they could call their own while they were here. Pam had rented and bought a few things to make life a little easier for Russell, such as a baby walker – now unfortunately banned back home, much to every child’s loss of mobility and joy of exploration – and a pool float which got a lot of use. Liz and Greg brought their own stroller/car seat which was invaluable.
Suitably equipped we went everywhere that we were collectively inclined to go. We drove out to Genting and took the longest cable car in Asia across the ancient tropical rainforest and tended Russell while Liz and Greg climbed up to see the Batu Caves at Thaipusan. We saw our local supermall/theme park, Sunway Pyramid, strolled through the lovely KLCC park, designed by famed Brazilian landscape artist Roberto Marx, and ‘window shopped’ in Pasar Seni and Jalan Petaling. But mostly we hung out at our own elevated pool where we got a nice breeze to cool us down while watching Russell work out the logistics of forward motion.
While Liz and Greg checked out the sights in Singapore and the sands of Langkawi, Pam and I – well c’mon, mostly Pam! – entertained our grandson with more local walks and occasional splashes in the pool. It was great to get to see Pam with a baby in her arms again. She was a wondrous mother when our kids were little and I remember being very much in awe of her understanding and care for our kids. It was nice to be reminded of that again after so many years!
After a final meal at the Oasis where Greg and I got in a couple of games of pool and Pam and I got to dance, it was time for Liz and Greg to go back to Calgary and more familiar surroundings and weather, and for us to get back to our regularly scheduled lives. We made a final run to the airport to see them off and drove back home in complete silence just thinking through all the joys of the last two weeks. It was a glorious visit and very much appreciated.
What is it about Phil Everly’s death that has such a grip on me?
It is not just that I am getting old and all the people I grew up listening to are dying. It is more like a way of life is passing. I know this will be hard to capture in this post-modern age, but there was a time when Western culture wasn’t fractured. Could you imagine the tsunami that the Beatles caused happening today? It would be impossible. It was impossible even for the Beatles themselves towards the end of their career, because what I am referring to had already passed by the end of that decade.
But there was a time shortly after the war and lasting for perhaps twenty years at most, when Western culture was unified. We all listened to the same music, read the same books. When Catch 22 came out in ’61 we were all reading it. You’d ride on the subways with people reading the book, listening to them laugh out loud. It was like everyone was in on the joke. We all knew what they were laughing at. West Side Story came out the same year. Everyone was humming along. There were no country music stations or alternative rock stations. We all listened to the same music.
There was a good deal of schlock back then, for sure. Not everything was good. There was a veritable deluge of ‘Bobbys’ for a couple of years and most of them died deservedly quick musical deaths. But there was a brief spell, from maybe 1955 to 1965 where there were incredibly good songs by gifted musicians, and The Everly Brothers were among the best. Elvis was king, of course, and there were as many as two or three dozen solo, quartet and group artists that could compete on any one song. But no other group were anything like Phil and Don.
To my mind they had not only the best sound – pure, sweet, full of soulful longing – but they were the best ambassadors of that age; sweet boys who really seemed to care for the music they were making, with the most delicate harmonies that matched meaning, cadence, intonation, phrasing, tonality and musical colouration in a way that none of us had ever heard. It was like there were two people with one soul, breathing perfectly in harmony.
If you think I am just being nostalgic, have a listen and especially a look at this video of their 1983 reunion concert at Albert Hall. I am happy to admit that the first half of the concert is a little ragged (although you may not be as much of a perfectionist as I am and not notice), but the last half is a close to musical brilliance as you are ever likely to hear this side of glory. Watch how carefully Phil pays attention to every phrase that Don sings, matching and soaring above in absolute harmonic perfection. I read one comment on this YouTube page likening Phil to a human Stradivarius. That’s a pretty good metaphor for his technique. That sound didn’t just happen; they were singing harmony on their father’s radio show when Phil was six.
This sweet sound and thoughtful care for one another characterized the age in which I grew up. We wanted to have a little fun, to be sure, but we were good kids, and we seemed to share a culture of caring for one another. Something happened to fracture that. Perhaps the cracks were already evident and I didn’t notice. We had gangs, or there would have been no West Side Story that sought to portray them. There were even drugs back then, but so marginalized as to be almost insignificant. There was the threat of polio, but that was being beaten back. There was even the threat of nuclear war. But leaders of courage and integrity were facing the threat. I suppose that came to end in on Nov 22, 1963, although perhaps we didn’t know it at the time. Somehow with Kennedy’s death we were aware that dark forces were at work in our world to shatter our innocence and thrust us into the fractured and cynical age which we now struggle to make sense of.
With Phil’s death I am confronted by the sweetness of a world that is long lost and largely unknown by most of those reading this blog. My memories of its loss are bittersweet. I long for those days, as one might long for a glimpse of heaven. It was a kinder world: gentle, melodic and sweet. I will never see it again in this life. And neither will you. Here is a taste of what it sounded like: