Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Passings: Eartha Kitt--Chanteuse, Actress

You were completely and totally into me, and I into you. I know that now. And that thought, that fleeting instant of magical chemistry, consoles me as I think of your voice being silenced forever.

We met a decade ago, but the night reverberates in me with the heady urgency of the last breath that just escaped my lips. I waited for you jadedly, with no more expectation than mere entertainment--just the amiable passage of an hour or two passively listening to you. But you elegantly strode out and bewitched me and everyone else in that dimly-lit little class-A joint. Cheekbones so haughtily elegant and defined that they could cut diamonds; gams too perfect to have any right gracing the body of a 35-year old, never mind that of a septuagenarian; hourglass figure poured into a gold lamé dress by God in one of his most continental moods...That utterly unique and enchanting package alone was enough to have the whole lot of us eating out of your hand that night.

Then you opened your mouth and sealed the deal, tossing bon mots at us all with a subtly-erotic synthesis of purr and growl. With an arch of that slender back and a fluid twirl of your arm you crooned out everything from Edith Piaf to Brecht/Weill to "I Will Survive," rewriting even the most familiar throwaway tune in your own image--an organic sculpture at once magnificently sophisticated, wryly humorous, soulfully powerful, and exquisitely feminine. Once or twice you looked my way as you sang, and once or twice the vibrato in your divine voice hit me to the very core...And I knew, with all my heart, that you were looking at me; that you were singing only to me.

The spotlight dimmed, and the house lights came up. Divorced of the cabaret accoutrements, I fretted that you'd be somehow diminished, but no. Even the assembly-line cattle-directing luminescence seemed to be bowing in your homage. Those dark feline eyes still sparkled. Prisms of light refracted from the gold lamé draped over you like twelve-thousand compact suns. Then you stepped down from the stage and walked towards me.

Do you remember? I can almost hear your kittenish chuckle, for I know I'm just one of a mountain of enchanted broken hearts that you've left in your wake. But that night, you made me feel like the most blessed man on the planet. You walked straight in my direction. I stood, just one of a crowd of admirers, but you parted that sea of humanity like a sleek blade until no one stood between the two of us.

All of my surroundings lapsed into a diffuse, fuzzy haze: All I could see was your captivating eyes and playful smile as you grasped my right hand, shook it in the most firm-yet-ladylike manner, and purred, "Thank you for coming." Every internal organ in my body turned to jelly, but somehow I stayed on my feet.

Then you continued to glide past me and into the hallway. A crowd gathered between us; all as smitten as I, all eager to bask in your effervescence. You were gracious, and ever the lady, as you signed autographs and accepted the barage of compliments. But when I humbly strolled forward, your eyes widened playfully. You remembered me, from all those many minutes previous.

My memories of what I said to you have faded like old newsprint in the sun, but your response never will: "Thank you, Darling."

Darling, you called me, in that same velvet purr that you wrapped around Kurt Weill's melodies. You signed your name in sophisticate's cursive for me, glancing up with that feral twinkle in your eyes. It was like an anointment from Venus.

Farewell, Eartha Kitt. Your exit aches immeasurably within me. But we'll always have Jazz Alley.

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