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September 02, 2009

So Many People We Remember: Senator Kennedy to Ellie Greenwich

Ellie_Greenwich One of my friends has created a twitter hashtag #summerofdeath because of the number of people we've lost since the weather got warm.  Think about it.  Ted Kennedy, of course, and Walter Cronkite, and 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt.  New York Magazine published a list late in August declaring 2009 "officially" the summer of death.  Here's their list:

May: Dom DeLuise, Chuck Daly.
June: Ed McMahon, Ed Thomas, Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays, David Carradine.*
July: Karl Malden, Steve McNair, Robert McNamara, Dash Snow, Walter Cronkite, Frank McCourt, Merce Cunningham, Gidget the Chihuahua.
August: John Hughes, Les Paul, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Robert Novak, Don Hewitt.

There are a few of those you probably haven't heard of and many of them were quite old, which mutes the public reaction somewhat.  Of course, this list preceded the death of Senator Kennedy, and one other person of particular importance to me.

When our kids were little, we used to sing.  All the time.  And early on, many of the songs they loved were written by Ellie Greenwich. She was a tough cookie I think.  She was also one of the great song writers of her generation.  Ever heard Be My Baby? ("Bee my, bee my bay bee, my one and only baybee...")  Chapel of Love? ("Goin' to the Cha pull and we're gonna' get ma a a reed") ?("Do I love you my oh my, river deep, mountain high" that was Tina Turner.)  Ever hear of girl groups?  Then you've heard of Ellie Greenwich.  There's a reason she's in the Song Writers Hall of Fame.  She died August 26, the same day as Senator Kennedy, so I'm a little late, but I have a lot to thank her for.

Freshman year we lived in a dorm with a big porch facing Seelye Hall, the main classroom building.  We'd put our stereo speakers in the windows over the porch and blasted  whatever we liked at the time, especially in the spring, as the snow melted and spirits rose.  One of our classics was "Leader of the Pack."  All of us, the Gang of Four as we were then, could re relied upon, for no reason, to belt out "Hey there, where'd you meet him?"  to which another would reply (in song, of course, and I know you know this) "I met him at the candy stoh - ore."   It sounds so silly, doesn't it?  But it wasn't. 

The tribal music Greenwich gave us was alive with the spirit that was all of us, before the War tore everything apart, when we just had fun and our minds were full of ideas and ambitions, and songs, and romantic daydreams, and songs, and learning how to be grown ups (slowly) and songs.  And her songs were so universal, so full of a love of living and living for love - way before we even heard of our sister alums Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.  Somehow, as things became more serious, Doo Wa Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Doo didn't flow off the tongue so easily.  That's why I was so glad when a Broadway musical, Leader of the Pack, opened in the 80's and gave us another chance - and a great cast album, full of many of her greatest songs.

My own favorite is all tangled up in a memory.  It was a sunny fall day and my six-year-old and I were walking down a street someplace in the Village.  And we were arm-in-arm.  And our walk had a rhythm - right feet at the same time, left feet at the same time, just the two of us.   And the rhythm?  It came because, together, crossing the nearly 30 years between us, together, we were singing Da Doo Ron Ron.   It's a small but somehow cherished moment in my life with the child who was married just two months ago.  The song made it happen, and I'm grateful.  So thanks Ellie, and Godspeed.

A version of this post appeared on Cynthia Samuels' personal blog Don't Gel too Soon.  Cynthia Samuels, in addition to her life as a blogger, is Managing Editor, Causes, for Care2.