Trying To Get To You

Monday, March 05, 2007

How I Came To Terms With "You Light Up My Life"

A couple of weeks ago I came across of this incredible video clip of Patti Smith singing the schmaltz classic “You Light Up My Life” on the late 70’s/early 80’s TV show “Kids Are People Too.” Initially, the clip felt vaguely surreal to me; Patti Smith, Priestess of Punk, singing Debby Boone! But I was taken in by the sweetness of Patti’s performance (even though she pretty much butchered the ending) and then I found myself actually being moved by the song – a song I have very concrete memories of.

In the summer and fall of 1977, I was living in Plainfield, NJ with my dad. My mom had died suddenly in a car accident a few months previously and our house was enveloped in sadness. My dad, God bless him, refused to sit around mourning. He started dating a few months after the accident, and he would sometimes play “You Light Up My Life” before he would go out for the evening. And he would get REALLY emotional when he listened to it; he would sing full guns blazing, tearing up on occasion. I was six, and it was really tough to see my dad get that intensely emotional and I started to dread when that song would come on the stereo. So when I began reading rock criticism in my teens, seeing the universal scorn that the song inspired in the rock community made the dread I experienced as a little boy feel justified in some way – not on emotional grounds, but on aesthetic ones.

But watching this video of Patti Smith first speaking lovingly of the song and then singing it, without giving a damn about how it would look to anyone else, I allowed myself to drop my past experience of the song, and the criticism I had read of it. I just listened and watched the open heartedness of Patti’s performance, the sweet (if somewhat maudlin) simplicity of the lyrics and the utter lack of cool in the song (I mean that as a complement). There’s no emotional mask in the song or the performance – it’s totally naked. It’s a song about having someone who gets you thru when you didn’t think you were going to be able to. Yeah, it’s kind of corny, but thanks to this video, I get what my dad got out of putting that song on the record player. Even if the singer was Debby Boone.

It’s amazing what someone putting something up on YouTube can do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

that was just great-thank you. And good for you on the connection with what it meant for your Dad. That's a real gift.