Thursday, October 15, 2009

This Day in Pop Music History (Cole Porter Exits Into “Still of the Night”)

October 15, 1964—The bon vivant spirit and workaholism that sustained Cole Porter through two decades of unrelenting pain had vanished six years before, after his right leg was amputated. When the end finally came for the composer-lyricist of more than 800 songs, many of which were pop standards, it was in as dreary a setting as he could imagine: a Santa Monica hospital, where he had undergone kidney surgery, at age 72.

A horseback riding accident in the summer of 1937 abruptly altered the pattern of Porter’s life. The seemingly endless round of high-society parties halted because of his two shattered legs, not to mention the more than 30 operations required to deal with the resulting bone disease chronic osteomyelitis. His relationship with wife Linda had been on the rocks because of his affairs with gay lovers, but she saw him through his nightmarish medical rounds until she herself died in 1954.

In contrast to his early, life-of-the-party image, Porter’s last years were spent in reclusion. In The House That George Built, his history of the Great American Songbook, Wilfred Sheed memorably summarized the composer’s post-amputation period: “Most of the time the host just mutely stares at his dinner guests, of which he never invites more than two at a time. Any bright conversation has to come from them.”

There was, for anyone who cared to peek beneath the surface, more to Porter than charm and insouciance. You can catch glimpses of this in the wistful longing of one of his classics, “In the Still of the Night,” hinting at a lonely ending:

“Do you love me, as I love you
Are you my life to be, my dream come true
Or will this dream of mine fade out of sight
Like the moon growing dim, on the rim of the hill
In the chill, still, of the night.”

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