As we sat in the theater seats waiting for the show to begin, I looked out across the rows and the advancing attendees and said, “It’s a sea of gray hair, Paul!” Ever quick with a comeback, my husband dryly responded, “What did you expect? The singer is 77 years old.”
Yes, there we were waiting to hear an aging pop star sing her greatest hits and to share in a moment of suspended animation with our peers, the gray-haired masses we so easily blended in with.
Darlene Love, a name you either know immediately or have to have its owner’s claim to fame explained to you, recently performed at the Zeiterion Theater. I knew her name from accolades she has received in recent years, primarily from a documentary that received an Academy Award and a soundtrack that garnered a Grammy.
Love was, for nearly 50 years, a backup singer to groups and solo artists we all know on a first name basis— Elvis, Marvin, Bruce, to mention a few. She along with her group, The Blossoms, provided rich vocal harmonies on hundreds of records, toured the world with famous musical stars, and even scored a couple of one-hit wonders back in the day. Does the song “He’s A Rebel” sound familiar? Or how about these lyrics, “Da Doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron…” That was Darlene Love.
It would take many years and the promotion of more modern-day musical masters such as Bruce Springstein and Bette Midler to get Love and her Blossoms the recognition they so rightfully deserved. All of that is now history, and Love at age 77 is lapping up the applause from adoring fans that find the strength to leave their homes after dark and attend her concerts.
Love’s peers and those who appreciate music with a syncopated rhythm and words that you can actually sing along with are slowly vanishing. Once the hair has turned grey or left the dome it once covered so completely, fans will be singing in heavenly choirs. Amen.
But for now, a few of us – those who remember when pop and rock music was born and have lived long enough to see it evolve into something less pleasing to our ears – well, we were clapping and singing the rafters off that old theater. It ain’t over until the last senior citizen sings.
Love’s performance was a tour de force – period – and certainly regardless of her age or ours. Wearing shockingly high-heeled shoes and an arm-bearing off-the-shoulder crushed red velvet jumpsuit, this rather petite performer came out swinging. Her voice is very strong, maybe sounding a bit mature, but strong and true and tireless.
Love’s vocals were backed up by three young, very fine singers, two keyboard players, her longtime saxophone man, a bass, and of course, a powerful young-blood pounding a massive drum set. The sound was big, poured through the body, and made old hands and feet keep time. We were transported.
I hadn’t expected anything other than a very tight sounding band, and maybe Love could pull off a couple of her well-known hits from the early ‘60s. Certainly, her ability to move around the stage in those shoes was worth witnessing. In other words, I had underestimated Love. Shame on me.
From the very soles of her feet that stomped and propelled Love back and forth across the stage for more than 90 minutes, albeit with one short break, she sang not only her classic hits that sent the audience into riotous rapture, but she also covered many hits from artists for whom she had performed back up vocals back in the day. She sang tunes for a new album recently released, as well as gospel that made us feel like we were in church, and love songs that reminded us that age doesn’t matter when it comes to matters of the heart. Love made us forget our worries for a few precious moments and reminded us that there are still things to enjoy while we are on this side of the grass.
Unlike other concerts we’ve attended over the past few years, Love’s audience wasn’t jumping up and down in their seats making it difficult for those of us less inclined or unable to stand blocked from viewing the stage. That’s one good thing about an audience filled with senior citizens. Still, Love’s audience was jubilant, respectful, and grooving all at the same time without being obnoxious. We might be aging: we might be wobbly on our feet: we might sing off key, but we still know how to have a good time.
And that was the point – having a good time.
Love is having a good time in spite of it being the autumn of her life. You can almost see the flaming brilliant colors of yellow, gold, and red radiating off her body as she delivers everything she has to share, the very fibers of her being. She left it all on stage.
In a word, Darlene Love is an inspiration. Yes – she can sing. Yes – she has musical talent aplenty. Yes – she is generous in sharing the stage with others because she was once “20 feet from stardom,” but, moreover, she reminds us to live. She reminds us that each day that we awaken and find ourselves still breathing is a day to find joy and share it.
That point was driven home as the band revved its engine for the last song of the evening, “River Deep, Mountain High.” This song was written for Tina Turner, but Love made it all her own, inviting us to climb her mountain of love. Everyone who could was standing up clapping, singing, diving into the wall of sound that permeated the room. The people, making us one united group undivided by politics or illnesses, together, for a moment, one with the music – “Oh how I love you Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby!”
This Mattapoisett Life
By Marilou Newell