Friday night I finally made it to Catalina Bar and Grill to see Jane Monheit. After picking up some dinner and a bottle of wine from Joan's On Third and a few goodies for New Year's eve I put on ice in the cooler in the back of my car, I headed over to a friend's apartment where we caught up on the last few weeks of our lives over a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, spicy snap peas and several dips and crostini. After a few glasses of wine we headed down Sunset for the 10:00 show.
I've been a fan of Monheit for about 10 years and always told myself I was going to catch one of her shows and Friday night she didn't disappoint. She has a lovely voice and backed up by a pianist, a bass and her husband on the drums, she put on a very entertaining show. She covers a lot of the old standards from some of my favorite composers, but the killer for me was when she sang "Over the Rainbow." She sings a very slow and melancholy version that breaks your heart to hear. It did me in the first time I heard her sing it on one of her first CD's and her version of it is what made me a fan those many years ago.
Several years ago, when my sister A's health started deteriorating, whenever I had to take her to the doctor or somewhere in the car, she would sit in the passenger side. I would fasten her seatbelt and hold her hand because she had developed a fear of riding in the car. Anyone who had known A in her prime would know she loved speed. When she was in my car and I would drive fast or go down a hill, she would smile and show her pleasure by shouting out "wheeeee." Now, with the advancing Alzheimer's, any motion or sudden moves terrified her and that joyous "wheeeee" had turned to fearful whimpers. The one thing that would calm her down was me putting on the CD and skipping to Monheit singing "Over the Rainbow." She and I softly sang it together with Monheit while I drove. She felt the message of that song on a deep level and the tears would roll down her cheeks.
Well A can no longer form words. She looks at me and tries, but they don't come out. She's locked in her own world and only music brings her out a little and what's left of her long term memory registers a sad kind of recognition. In the car, when I would play it, I knew she was thinking that she had always been trapped in her "borderline Down's syndrome" mind and body and that she was never going to fly over the rainbow like she dreamed doing. The thing was that she knew I knew it...even though I would always tell her that she and I would see the world together. She well understood she had to live with mom. She was mom's constant companion after Dad died and the two had never separated. But to A, I was her salvation, her ticket to the world she might have lived had she not had her handicap. She wanted to live with me and live my life.
So it was so bittersweet, that lovely version, sung Friday night, with the same melancholy cadence I remembered...and the memories it evoked for me of my sister through the progression of her illness broke my heart all over again. We all want to fly away from our troubles and over the rainbow is where the dreamers go.
I talked to Ms. Monheit after the show. I didn't take a photograph or ask for an autograph (although I did buy a new CD). I just had to share that little thing with her and she genuinly seemed pleased I did. I only took a small moment, but it meant so much to her that her voice had reached out and really touched both my sister and myself.
Music is a universal language and at its best it enriches us and helps us make indelible little moments special. Music allows us to relive those moments long after they are gone. We fall in love to music, we remember our losses over music, we celebrate life through music and each song creates a feeling within us that takes us to a certain place or a certain person. Music makes us dance with joy at the celebration of being alive and still able to go with the "vibrations" that make us feel alive!
Those in the arts can sometimes be annoyed by cloying fans, but Monheit's sincerity was palpable when she spoke with me and I had a "need" to let her know that she had shared something very personal with both of us in the form of her voice and her interpretation of the song.
Monheit sings in a very sensual and personal manner. She is able to interpret a song as she "feels" it and when you see her in person you "get" why it comes across in the the audio alone. That is the best thing I can say about a singer. Good voices are sometimes a dime a dozen and it seems like everyone "screams" a lot these days to reach the higher octaves. She has lovely control, but it is her nuance and her own style with the songs that make them special.
If you haven't heard of her, look her up. If you get to see her, she's a treat. Her musicians are right there with her on the journey she takes. I've put the new CD in my rotation of five in the car. I will download it to my iPod. I've got so much to download into my *iPod, but for now I will enjoy her singing everytime I get in my car. And every time I hear that particular song, those bittersweet moments I shared with my sister A when we both sang along with Jane Monheit will always live in my heart.
Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate
*There is an especially lovely song on the new CD that has become an instant favorite because it touches me. Below is a link to the very evocative "piano only" duet with Peter Eldridge"It's Only Smoke."
Over the Rainbow