“Love is the answer to everything. It’s the only reason to do anything. If you don’t write stories you love, you’ll never make it. If you don’t write stories that other people love, you’ll never make it.” Ray Bradbury
For those who were teenagers and in their early 20’s in the 1970’s, those words are instantly recognizable as belonging to the song Sister Golden Hair – one of the musical group America’s two songs to hit the top of the Billboard charts.
The song was released on March 19 and took the number one spot on June 14, 1975.
Written by Gerry Beckley – one of the three original members of America – it was a song which seemed to find him. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Beckley says ‘There was no actual Sister Gold Hair.’ The lyrics were largely inspired by the works of Jackson Browne. Beckley commented, ‘[Jackson Browne] has a knack, an ability to put words to music, that is much more like the L.A. approach to just genuine observation as opposed to simplifying it down to its bare essentials… I find Jackson can depress me a little bit, but only through his honesty; and it was that style of his which led to a song of mine, Sister Golden Hair, which is probably the more L.A. of my lyrics.’ Beckley adds that Sister Golden Hair ‘was one of the first times I used ‘ain’t’ in a song, but I wasn’t making an effort to. I was just putting myself in that frame of mind and I got those kind of lyrics out of it.’”
Beckley succeeded in creating a song which was a bit depressing. And yet it resonated because of its naked truth. He conveys to the nameless ‘sister golden hair’ that he likes her; heck, he might even love her. But commitment is not in the cards and, what he seems to hope is that she will be willing to accept his terms.
Not exactly a recipe for a successful relationship.
In my journey as a novelist, this song – perhaps more than any other – has provided perspective into the emotions of the male protagonists and antagonists of my stories. But also the psyche of the heroines.
It encapsulates the journey we humans are on. Women and men frequently find themselves at odds with each other because one or the other is not in an emotional place where they are ready for a lifetime commitment… and, yet, the yearning to be loved and cherished persists.
This particular song came out the spring before my 18th birthday. I had recently become involved with a young man in what was my first serious relationship. At the time we thought of ourselves as being so mature, certain we knew everything we needed to know.
But there was Sister Golden Hair to suggest, perhaps, that we had not experienced enough of life to qualify us to be making life altering decisions. We simply did not know what we did not know.
I was Sister Golden Hair in more than one relationship, its lyrics returning to my head when things didn’t work out:
Unless you married your high school sweetheart, the chances are you’ve either been in the position of the singer or a Sister Golden Hair at least once in your life. This song continues to resonate some 47 years later precisely because it captures what it means to be human.
Now, 86 years after the fact, the musical Anything Goes is showing its age. One thing about it has aged well, however, and that would be the music of Cole Porter. For those unfamiliar with the musical, here’s some background from the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Anything Goes is a musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The original book was a collaborative effort by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, heavily revised by the team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.The story concerns madcap antics aboard an ocean liner bound from New York to London. Billy Crocker is a stowaway in love with heiress Hope Harcourt, who is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Nightclub singer Reno Sweeney and Public Enemy Number 13, ‘Moonface’ Martin, aid Billy in his quest to win Hope. The musical introduced such songs as ‘Anything Goes,’ ‘You’re the Top,’ and ‘I Get a Kick Out of You.’
Since its 1934 debut at the Alvin Theatre (now known as the Neil Simon Theatre) on Broadway, the musical has been revived several times in the United States and Britain and has been filmed twice. The musical has long been a popular choice for school and community productions.”
The best way to describe Anything Goes is as a wild adventure with hidden identities, love triangles, and a whole lot of sexual innuendo. It was, in its day, considered inappropriate. Hence the title.
Despite its racy themes, Porter’s lyrics are masterfully written and crisp and so very sing able.
My readers will be forgiven if they’ve never heard of the show.
I had never heard of it either until December of 1974 when my high school choir director, Mr. Jim Durado, announced that our spring musical would be Anything Goes.
To be clear, I never had a shot for any sort of solo singing role in the production. In fact, Mr. Durado was legendary at our high school for somehow selecting musicals which seemed to ‘fit’ the students who filled the leads. That was, I’m certain, by design.
And so it was for Anything Goes. The lead role was for a female and he had a very talented vocalist who he cast as Reno Sweeney. More about that a bit later.
My role, however, was also a rather important one and I was selected by Mr. Durado specifically for it as surely as he picked any particular cast member.
It all began the previous spring when he asked me if I would be his Teacher’s Assistant (TA) for the following year. It required me to have TA as one of my classes. I said yes.
During the course of that year, I ran every errand, copied copious amounts of sheet music, tracked down students, kept attendance records, and made sure things happened on time. If there was a job to do, he gave it to me to get it done. When it came time to start rehearsals, my post was to sit at the mid-point of the theatre, three rows back from the stage, and follow along in the script. If someone needed prompting, I was the one to do it.
Every day after school – for three months – we rehearsed. I swear it became a muscle memory thing because to this day I can sing most of the songs without missing a word. For a number of years I could even say all the lines of every character.
It was a great experience and I am forever indebted to Mr. Durado for trusting me to do the job.
For Mr. Durado, however, 1975 turned out to be a time fraught with conflict. As a student, I was not privy as to what was going on his life. All I know is that there were moments when I would wonder what I had done to make him so sullen and incommunicative. It took months to learn the truth.
We were only a couple weeks in to rehearsals when the lead he’d chosen to portray Reno Sweeney told him she couldn’t take the role as she was very uncomfortable with the innuendo and believed it violated her faith. Thus the scrambling began to find a replacement. Another senior, Jennifer, was quickly selected and her part was then given to Mr. Durado’s own daughter. There was some amount of complaint from the cast who felt that a different girl deserved the role.
But the show, as they say, must go on. The next couple of months saw the production come together and, on March 19, 1975, Anything Goes opened. The page in my yearbook states:
“The eighty member cast worked three months in preparation for the standing ovations they justly received. Mr. Jim Durado proudly produced and directed his tenth musical production, one which originally opened on Broadway in 1934.”
By April, the intense schedule of rehearsals and a successful musical behind us, it was time to focus on recruitment for the next year. In addition to the main choir, there was a 16 person four part harmony swing choir, called Lancers. It was THE premiere vocal group at the school and dozens would vie for a coveted spot. Tryouts were looming for that and several performances by both groups were on the schedule.
One morning in mid-May, however, Mr. Durado was not at school. I cannot to this day recall exactly how I heard the news. It was probably announced to the whole choir when we arrived for class. But Mr. Durado had been shot by his wife. The bullet hit near his shoulder. He was alive and was in the hospital and that was all we were told.
That afternoon – in spite of the shock – the entire choir went to Franklin Junior High to perform a scheduled show. Somehow we got through it with a substitute teacher. The memory which sticks in my head from that day is that a group of a half dozen girls were walking out of the Junior High after the performance and everyone was talking about it; some of the girls were crying. All of us were upset.
I did go see Mr. Durado in the hospital a day or two later. He was making jokes about how bad a shot his wife was. It was surreal.
Less than a month after I graduated and heard little more about my teacher. The next year there was a new choir director who had huge shoes to fill. From Mr. Durado’s first musical production in 1966 until his last in 1975, he had built a dynasty.
Being in choir was cool. Those who were selected for Lancers were the coolest (I was not in that group!) It was getting to participate in the musical, however, that was everything. My oldest brother was in Funny Girl – which was Mr. Durado’s second production – in 1967. My cousin Susan was selected for the role of Mrs. Paroo in 1973’s The Music Man. That was also my sister’s first of two years in the cast; in 1974 both my sister and I were in The Most Happy Fella. I closed out our family participation with Anything Goes.
Mr. Durado moved back to his home state of Montana after he recovered from his wounds. From an adult perspective I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult the whole situation must have been for the family, especially for his daughters. No shortage of victims in this story but it seems as if it’s often the kids who are most hurt.
Mr. Durado lived out his days in Montana, taking his final bow on March 19, 2013…38 years to the day from the opening night of the last musical he produced and directed, Anything Goes.