Not these women

February 5, 2012


The first night club singer I saw naked. Was my friend Terry’s sister. She used to sing in a lot of clubs in Toronto. I remember her pink bum sticking out from beneath the sheets. Of her bed. Her bedroom door was open. Terry said she always got home late and just crashed. Years later I found out that she died of lung cancer. Second hand smoke from all the smoke in those rooms. Where she used to entertain.

I have a soft spot in my heart. For those women who pried their trade. Late at night. In rooms filled with men and women. Drunk. Smoking. Having fun. I wrote a book about it called The Saints of Jazz. These aren’t the women the Church celebrates. They prefer the recluses. The gentle ones. Fragile. Without a voice. Not these women. They took on life. Drank. Ran with men. Laughed and cried their nights to the full. And still sang. Poets of loneliness. And joy.

They began their careers in small clubs. And cat houses. In choirs. And minstrel shows. They were applauded. Made famous. At times they were loved. They made a lot of money and spent it. On booze. On drugs. On men. And became famous. Some died in small rooms without family. Some in the arms of their children. They were all different. They were the Saints of Jazz. And they loved to sing.

…………………………………….

Peggy Lee (May 26, 1920 – January 21, 2002)

Eyes can be beautiful. So gay and young. Peggy’s step-mother had eyes. As black as coal. As hard as iron. The back of her hand. Across Peggy’s cheeks. Don’t think your daddy is going to save you now.

Peggy sang for her meals. In small joints. With fast cooks. And red necks. And the chorus of bacon and burning violins. Peggy joined the dreamers. Dancing into heartache. To the City of Angels. Where children were begging to be born.

300 Dutch ice cream salesmen protested. The shortage of appetite. While their wives organized their socks. And ironed their shirts. And while the salesmen marched on the parliament. Shoes were left at the doorstep. Curtains closed in haste. And Peggy sang about the neighbourhood boys. Who risked their lives. To appease. The appetite of salesmen’s wives.

An airplane crashed into the Empire State Building. The pilot begged the mayor. It was an accident. And 1942. No one doubted that he was telling the truth. Until they found his plans. And sweet Peggy almost died. A fall in a New York hotel. She was tripped. At the top of a set of stairs. By a man with no legs. He leaked a secret. Don’t be in such a rush.

Peggy sang. Quietly. Her voice simmered. Everyone leaned. Forward. The waiters hesitated to wait. No one dared slam a door. In the kitchen. Or in the parking lot. In the hotel rooms. Lovers held their breath. If silence were a dance. Singing was a substitute for love.

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