A Special Song of Meaning

1986

The year 1986 was a dreadful year for me. My youngest brother, Scott, was killed in an auto accident in June. Then our mother, Helen, died of cancer in October. Scott was only 25, and Mom was just 50. During this time, I was playing in a band that was working seven nights a week—every week. I had no time to contemplate my life because I was constantly working. I was literally at my lowest point.

I fondly remember a day not long after I had first met Frankie Laine in November 1985. I was at my parents’ house. My little brother was watching the scene I was showing him (from my collection) of Frankie Laine singing “Georgia on My Mind” from the 1950 Columbia movie When You’re Smiling. As Frankie was singing on the TV screen, I placed a framed photo of Frankie and me together into Scott’s lap. The picture was taken during my recent visit with Frankie. Looking at the photograph, Scott smiled seeing his big brother with Frankie while watching a younger Frankie sing.

For the rest of her short life, Mom was always very proud that her son traveled to San Diego and met Frankie Laine in person. She used to brag to her friends and other family members about it all the time.

Mom was especially traumatized when Scott was killed in June. Nobody told her so, but I believe she knew the cancer that she had been diagnosed with was terminal. She had two reasons to be utterly devastated.

When Scott died in June, I went with Dad to pick out a casket. The day we undertook this grim task also happened to be Father’s Day.

Mom died in October. I held her hand as she died. I saw the light go out of her eyes and a tear run down her face. It is an image forever burned into my mind.

The Concert

Frankie’s singing always reflected a portrait of life. His musical interpretation of a song simply didn’t portray the goodness of life—it also dealt with life’s realism. Frankie told a story of life or love in every song he sang. Through his singing talent, he converted stories of life into music, making them more palatable for us, the listeners.

Uncle Bob, Mom’s kid brother, required a ride to the airport in Des Moines two days after Mom’s funeral. He lived in Arkansas. I volunteered to drive him. Ironically, an advertisement appeared in the newspaper proclaiming that Frankie Laine was scheduled to perform in Des Moines on that same day. Frankie was touring with his “Frankie Laine and Kay Starr” show and would play at the Civic Center on October 29.

My plan was to drop my uncle off at the airport, then to stay and experience my first Frankie Laine concert.

The concert was wonderful. Kay Starr took to the stage first. She was an incredible singer. Frankie’s show was the finale. I reveled in watching him perform in person. I enjoyed hearing him sing several of his hits.

Once again, Frankie had brought me out of my gloom. I was happy, not sad—with one exception. A poignant couple of minutes occurred when, thinking of both Mom and Scott, I silently shed tears as Frankie sang the famous song he’d written with his late musical partner, Carl Fischer, “We’ll Be Together Again.”

 

 

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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.