A Mind’s Journey by Way of Song

Scenario

My dad was a farmer. We once lived in northeast Iowa on a homestead farm that my paternal grandparents owned. Dad used to have a small dairy herd of cows and milking took place two times each day—once in the early morning, and again in the afternoon. The cows were brought into a large old barn with wooden stalls for milking. In the back portion of this old barn was a hay area and loft. The barn was so old that some of the poles holding up the barn were made out of trees with the bark still on them. I always wondered whether they were still growing, or just never had the bark removed. I fell asleep in that hayloft area once while Dad was milking. My parents couldn’t find me and had the entire countryside searching for me. “You’ll find him dead,” my great grandpa Cronbaugh callously assured everyone. I clearly remember my crying, hysterical young mother grabbing me as I was waking up in the hay and hugging me as she wept with relief.

I mention this because that was the scenario I recall snippets of when I was very young, perhaps two or three years of age. I remember Dad bringing in a new radio for the barn at that time. It was a big wooden cabinet model. Apparently the cows liked listening to music. It also gave Dad something to listen to. To this day, I imagine the door of that old barn being open as dusk sets in, perhaps the moon is out, fresh air abounds, and that radio, with its hot, glowing tubes, is blasting forth Frankie Laine singing his sybaritic rendition of “Black Lace.”

Emotion

I want my introduction to demonstrate how a singer such as Frankie Laine, who sang with such feeling and emotion, can generate within the listener an awakening of the senses by triggering feelings of happiness and wonder. The introductory story here is true; however, Frankie singing “Black Lace” may or may not have happened. But, even now, whenever I listen to that 1950 recording by Frankie, I still create a visual in my mind of that big wooden radio in that old barn, many years ago. That is powerful. That is what a great singer can deliver to a listener. Strangely, the lyrics in that recording don’t have anything to do with a little boy looking at the moon from his father’s barn, but the feeling in Frankie’s vocal rendition compels me to create my own vision.

To Frankie Laine and his musical peers, the songs were the emphasis. Whether performing live, or recording in a studio, the music and vocal delivery were what mattered to these artists. If one of these artists became known for certain histrionics while they performed, it was icing on the cake. After all, most of these artists were entrenched in the vocal delivery. These feelings surfaced, becoming part of the performance. Sadly, the musical performers of today seem to place the emphasis on image—not vocal interpretation.

It was at this time of year, in October 1985, that I was avidly enjoying my Frankie Laine recordings. Helen Snow, who was with the Frankie Laine Society of America, and I had begun communicating. Helen would send me Frankie’s songs on audio cassette tapes. I remember how wonderful it was to hear songs by Frankie Laine for the first time. I was to meet Frankie in November of that year. All the Laine recordings I was listening to just before and after meeting Frankie left an indelible mark in my mind. When I hear those songs today, my mind recreates the magical feeling I had when meeting my singing idol for the first time and being able to spend the day with him.

Frankie had the vocal command of emotional rendition. His recordings continue to pass that art to new generations of true music lovers. Frankie’s voice and emotion continues to transport me to special places within my mind. The journey back can be to 1985, or all the way to that big wooden radio in that old barn.

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About the Author:

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Craig Cronbaugh, Director of the Legislative Information Office with the Legislative Services Agency at the Iowa State Capitol. As famed singer Frankie Laine’s special friend and a collector of Laine’s recordings and career memorabilia, Craig has written articles; has written, produced, directed, and hosted a distinctive radio program; and has appeared on Iowa statewide television regarding his Frankie Laine avocation. Craig has been highlighted briefly and has been given a research screen credit in the 2003 internationally distributed documentary Frankie Laine: An American Dreamer. Craig’s book, a memoir, Reaching for a Star, featuring his friendship with Laine, was published in 2005.