Friday, June 26, 2009

The Curse Of Frankie Lymon by Paul F. Etcheverry

"I'll never forgive Modigliani for dying so young." Oscar Levant

"There's two basic laws: treat your creativity with humility and treat your success with grace... or you will be in trouble." Quincy Jones

"Tell me why, oh why, oh why, why do they fall in love." Frankie Lymon

Since, without a doubt, everybody and his brother and sister, all around the world, have already blogged about the untimely passing of Michael Jackson, you, dear reader, ask what, pray tell, is The Curse Of Frankie Lymon and how does it relate to the fallen King Of Pop?

Said curse is an inexorable path to tragedy and senseless loss that pre-dates Frankie, goes back to vaudeville legends (Bert Williams), early jazz musicians (Bessie Smith, Bix Beiderbecke) and such silent movie stars as "Madcap Mabel" Normand, Olive Thomas and Rudolf Valentino. The curse has a knack for striking music icons and mega-celebrities, all of whom - Bird, Billie, Prez, Elvis, Marilyn, Judy, Jimi, Janis, Morrison, John, Freddie, Tupac, Cobain, etc. - started with a luminous spark that was beautiful to behold. It is an occupational hazard of child stars and other prodigies in particular.

Which brings us to Frankie Lymon (1942-1968), the post-Sammy Davis Jr. and pre-Michael Jackson kid dynamite wunderkind. He wrote the doo-wop classic "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" at 12, and followed it with several other hits for his band The Teenagers. Here are clips of Frankie, a dynamic entertainer - and more than a tad reminiscent of Michael in his Jackson 5 phase - in his all too brief heydey:

Frankie met the hard knocks of show business, discovered heroin - and that was that.

To say that the territory where pop, rhythm & blues and international stardom meet have been lambasted by the curse is quite the understatement. Consider . . . Frankie Lymon, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Bob Marley, Jackie Wilson. I especially think of the brilliant songwriter, bandleader, arranger, vocalist, lyricist, recording producer and guitarist Curtis Mayfield, who was hit by a lighting rig during a 1990 performance. James Brown alone made it into his 70's.

Never had the pleasure of seeing Michael perform (think I had not yet entirely emerged from my youthful "modern jazz and prog rock snob" phase during his 1979-1987 peak), but sincerely hoped he would, like Brian Wilson and the late Arthur Lee, emerge triumphantly from his troubles and make a comeback. I particularly wanted to see an older Michael revisit the music of his roots - the aforementioned Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke - and just sing those great old songs with all his heart. . . but that's not going to happen.

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