Monday, September 29, 2014

Dori Anne

"The Leader of The Pack" and "Dead Man's Curve" are two of the more well-known "dead teenager" songs (also called "teenage tragedy songs" or even the morbid "splatter platter").

These are songs that drum up pathos by creating an angst-y teen character, often one in a societally disapproved relationship, and usually a "bad boy" or "bad girl" archetype... and then killing them off.

This Simon-as-Landis song, performed by David Winters. In this case, the doomed teen is another archetype, the pure-as-driven-snow one, who of course did not deserve to die.

While most dead teenager songs seem meant as cautionary tales by adults, and James-Dean tragedies to teens, this one is just plain sad. The song starts with a contradiction: “I'm all by myself, but I'm not alone.” How so? “Dori Anne, you’re always with me.” How tender. Is she out of town, perhaps after a move, or attending a distant school?

“I walk along the shore and sit beneath our tree,” the speaker continues, yearningly. “You were 16, my most precious queen.”

“Were”? Oh, no. Well, break-ups happen. Best not to keep revisiting your old hangouts and move on.

“Then came that fateful day.” Suddenly, the song takes a darker turn… The speaker (actually speaking this time, as in “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’”) tells of the tragic death: “A blinding headlight, a crash in the night/ Took my Dori Anne away.” Truly awful.

“The rest of my life, my love will be true/ Dori Anne, I’ll always love you.” True, there is little getting over a trauma like that when one is in the throes of adolescence. (A better line however, would have been “I am always with you,” to invert the earlier “You are always with me.”

Also, there will be difficult times ahead for whomever falls for this boy, as they will have to compete with the memory of a dead teenage—and thereby perfect— romance. No less than James Joyce, in his short story “The Dead,” explores the impossibility of a fulfilling life for the person who marries one who, in turn, pines for a tragically lost teenage love.

So very many teens die each year. Today, it could be gunfire or an overdose or a bully-provoked suicide, but once parents mostly worried about illnesses and accidents, causes of teen death also still prevalent. While it is easy to dismiss or even mock songs like this for preying on teens’ hyperbolic emotional states, teen death does, sadly, occur. And when it does, teen survivors and mourners can turn to such songs to help them cope. Simply knowing that others have endured such pain can be healing, as is music in general— it is part of funeral services in most cultures, after all.

A co-worker of mine is actually attending an annual memorial service for a teen he knew who passed away. The young man was in a band and loved music; every year, attendees are asked to bring a song lyric to read at the memorial.

We’ll never forget him, the Leader of the Pack. 

Musical Note: David Winters began acting on TV as a kid, then moved to Broadway, playing Baby John in the original Broadway version of West Side Story, switching to the role of A-rab for the movie version. He then became a dance teacher and choreographer (Viva Las Vegas), then a director and producer, both on stage and onscreen. Through it all, he never stopped acting.

Next song:  Please Don’t Tell Her

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