Monday, 3 August 2015

Goodbye, Cilla

I was mildly shocked to hear about Cilla Black's death. Only seventy-two! She died much too early. Of 'natural causes', they say, subject to the results of the Spanish post-mortem.

You immediately think of cancer, don't you? Well, maybe. She might have simply slipped away. I fancy life held less meaning for her after the early death of the love of her life, husband Bobby Willis, in 1999. He was then only fifty-seven. She was very badly hit. He was irreplaceable. And then, like all performers who get old, she might not have wanted to linger on, withered, feeble and half-forgotten, into her late eighties. Perhaps a little voice inside had said 'time to go', and she just switched off.

She was only nine years older than me. That's the thing I find so hard to face up to. We weren't the same age, but she was nevertheless pretty young when she first hit the pop charts in 1964. I was aged twelve. She could have been my big sister, if I'd ever had a sister.

Here's a genuine memory now: I remember seeing her sing her dreamy second hit, Your My World on Top Of The Pops in 1964. I was completely entranced. I so much wanted to be her, voice and all. I yearned for it. That was an acute moment. Evermore I associated singing with what I most wanted to be. And, now, fifty-odd years later, I still can't sing properly. Oh, but I will before my end comes!

Cilla's death was not the only one recently. There was Lynn Anderson's the other day, for instance. It's as if 'my generation' of singers and other kinds of well-known people are now dropping off the end of life's conveyor-belt, one by one. The people who populated my world, particularly my younger world, all now going.

I've always found this process disturbing. I noticed it first in the 1960s, for instance in 1968, when Louis Armstrong died. He'd been part of an earlier era, but had survived as the Grand Old Man of Jazz, gravelly voice and all. Then he was gone. 1969 was the year Frank Sinatra's My Way hit the charts. And I was struck how old he seemed, despite being only fifty-four at the time. The backward-looking lyrics of the song did not help - this was an old man's review of his life and career. No wonder he didn't care for it much. He actually died twenty-eight years later on, in 1998, aged eighty-two. He'd been around for forty-six years of my life. Unfashionably, I like Frank Sinatra's style of singing very much, or at least his downbeat stuff like One for my Baby (and One More for the Road) (1947, and later versions) or It Was A Very Good Year (1966). And his 'serious' films too - such as The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

The casualties of superstar pressure - and there have been so very many - have usually never touched me unless they had time to become part of my background. Thus I was much sadder to hear about the deaths of of John Lennon (1980), Michael Jackson (2009), Andy Williams (2012), and Acker Bilk (late last year), than I ever was when Jimi Hendrix died (1970), or Amy Winehouse (2011). I'm not saying I loved and cherished Armstrong, Lennon, Sinatra, Jackson, Williams, Bilk and Black, but they formed part of my background musical experience, and their departure tore a hole in a rich tapestry that cannot be repaired. And there must be millions who can say exactly the same thing. You don't have to like any of these people for them to colour your life; and their erasure makes your own life that little bit greyer.

One final thought. There is I suppose a certain positive feeling to be had at the thought that, while all these people fall by the wayside - claimed by drink, drugs, or sheer old age - one lives on unscathed. I see it as a sign that one's time isn't up yet. The period of grace has been extended. So make the most of it.

It's certainly not a matter for gloating. There's that German word, isn't there - schadenfreude: being gleeful or smug at the misfortune of someone else. An unworthy and unbecoming response in my view.


  1. I also have an fondness for Cilla, as 'Anyone Who Had a Heart' was No.1 when I was born. I was disappointed to read and hear that she could be quite difficult to deal with and was very different from the girl/mum next door she seemed to be, so perhaps we're mourning the passing of a character called 'Cilla', rather than Priscilla White.

  2. Doubtless very true, Steerforth. Most performers have a quite different private side, most often ordinary but sometimes not very attractive. It doesn't matter. The persona called Cilla Black was there in my background, and now there is just a blank patch.

    Latest news talks about a fall on the sunny Spanish patio, and a stroke for the coup de grace. It's still unexpected and a great pity.



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