Saturday, July 19, 2008

Jo Stafford: She's "Home Again" Now

Jo Stafford died on Wednesday. May she rest in peace in a heaven of beautiful, sultry music. My parents had a compilation album of "songs from the fifties" that had her “You Belong to Me,” and it was the first adult song that I learned all the words to when I was very young.

She had that agile, clear, distinctive voice, dripping with depth and expression. Her commanding downbeat to "Seeeeeee" those pyramids, still gives me chills. It's powerful and sexy, and later "fly" is sung with such abandon. But what really captivated me about the song were the words—all that exotic travel. It never crossed my mind that the woman singing the song was the one staying home, and it was the man “flying the ocean in a silver plane.” That had to be learned later.

See the pyramids along the Nile
Watch the sun rise on a tropic isle
Just remember darling
All the while
You belong to me

It was also the way she sang “darling”—it was the epitome of grown-up love to me. I didn’t know that by the time I would be old enough to say darling, it would be all but gone from the modern lover’s lexicon, thrown to the rubbish heap of the affected.

See the market place in old Algiers
Send me photographs and souvenirs
Just remember
When a dream appears
You belong to me

And I'll be so alone without you
Maybe you'll be lonesome too

Fly the ocean in a silver plane
See the jungle when it's wet with rain
Just remember till
You're home again
You belong to me

Many have covered the song, from Bob Dylan to Rose McGowen, I'm sure drawn to it by Stafford herself. But she owns it, now and forever.

Update August 3: Well, Stafford's signature song is back in the spotlight, thanks to the astonishing First Lady of France, Carla Bruni. Her album doesn't release here until Tues, August 5, but she was interviewed by Barbara Walters Friday night, and performed Jo's song, via Dylan. It has the hypnotic, sixties spin to it, stuck on the first verse as it is. But Jo was a woman who knew men well, and I think she'd be thrilled with the update so soon after leaving us.