Thursday, February 2, 2012

Beyond the songs: Bobby Darin

Every once in a while, we come across an artist whose creativity is a little ahead of their time. In Bobby Darin’s case, it was time that caught up to him before his success. Walden Robert Cassottto was born in 1936, in the Bronx, NY. If you look up Rock n’ Roll singers or Doo Wop groups, you’ll notice that a lot of them started their careers while in their teens. When Bobby’s 1958 Splish Splash hit #1 in the R&B charts, he was already 21. Today, it’s probably a pretty normal thing for an artist to start making success in their early 20’s. But in a time where a lot of the groups had baby-faced members, it might have been a bit strange for somebody of Bobby’s age to be a teen idol. Right after that, Queen of the Hop also hit the charts. Although not a mainstream hit that you’ll hear much today, it’s a song that you can easily imagine playing on car radios at the time.

In the following year, Darin recorded Dream Lover and one of his most famous hits, Mack the Knife. The latter song was a daring adaptation of an old ballad called Moritat, and was his only song that reached #1 in the US and the UK. So every time you listen to Frank Sinatra singing Mack the Knife, remember Bobby Darin. This was also the song that made him part ways with Rock n’ Roll. He never really wanted to be a R&R star, and from the moment he won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and was voted Best New Artist on, his main audience started to change from teens to adults. Instead of being compared to teen idols, he now entered the realm of Frank Sinatra and other internationally famous singers.

Bobby and Sandra Dee
In 1960, he set himself firmly in the adult market by recording Beyond the Sea. After that, there were some more hits, but none that repeated the initial success. While his singing career stagnated in the 60’s, he was very active in other areas. Since 1959, Darin started acting in movies. Some even with his wife at the time, Sandra Dee. In 1963, his performance in Captain Newman, M.D. earned him an Oscar nomination. He also dedicated a lot of time to campaign for Robert F. Kennedy.

The late 60’s was an emotional rollercoaster for Darin. He divorced Sandra Dee, Kennedy was assassinated, and he finally found out that his “sister” was actually his mother, and his “mother” was his grandmother. His self-esteem took a blow and he fought depression for some time.

Elvis and Bobby Darin

Frankie Avalon, Darin, Pat Boone, and Paul Anka
But Bobby Darin was a fighter from his early ages. This was blatant in his early career days, when he made a statement to Life Magazine in 1959: “I want to be a legend at 25”. In the early 1970’s, he wowed crowds in Las Vegas, receiving standing ovations, and starred in two NBC variety TV shows. He was making a grand comeback, and offers for shows were pouring in. Unfortunately, now time was really catching up to him. During his childhood, he had rheumatic fever, which forever damaged his heart. At 13, doctors said that one day he would need open-heart surgery. He had delayed this until 1971. Although it seemed that he would be OK, two years later he forgot to take antibiotics before a routine dental procedure, and an infection set in. That made a second heart surgery a necessity. But this time he did not recover.

Bobby died at 37. Too young for somebody who was much more than a singer or actor. Above all, he was a human being, who loved doing benefits and supported charities. He was a performer who stood out among the many names of entertainers of the 50’s/60’s. Not because of his songs, but because of his heart. Bobby Darin has no grave, because he donated his body to the UCLA Medical Research Center. Nevertheless, he will be remembered for a long time. Every time that one of his songs plays, we will listen to something much warmer than his melodies. 

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