Saturday, August 9, 2008

Last date

For those of you who have always wondered what this haunting, bittersweet piece of piano-music is called, that's the title.

Etched in my memory, I have visions: A young man with a DA haircut accompanies a young woman with a poodle skirt... neon signs reflecting in dark puddles, late at night, as the couple leave the bar to cuddle in the warm car, motor idling. Maybe they turn on the car radio, and hear this song.

They were my parents.

Not sure how I got the memory, unless it was just so strongly conveyed by their presence. No matter how nasty they brawled, even after they divorced, they would be brought together by the song. (Yes, they continued to see each other long after they were divorced and married to other people, plural. I'll get around to writing about THAT convoluted and complicated state of affairs, one of these days.)

When my mother heard the song, even decades later, she would always politely excuse herself to go to the restroom. (And shed tears for my father, no doubt.)

This song, recorded in 1960, was used in country-and-western-bars (and maybe still is, in some areas) as a "last call"--a signal the bar was closing; time to drink up and leave. Folks would often dance this song with their ex-lovers, or someone they believed they would NEVER have as a lover. They would dance with their best friends' wives, in full view of the best friend. Women would also dance with each other (men never did). The song was transcendent; it said "We have shared this space and time together, and now, this night is over." Something about the wistful melody made the saloon-denizens suddenly thoughtful, quiet, melancholy, sentimental, aware of their mortality. People might break out in fights during rowdier songs... but never this one. Last date signaled a graceful 'good night'--an always-tender parting of the ways.

I just love it.

It's best listened to VERY LATE on a Saturday night... maybe 2:30 am, when the bars in my hometown closed.


Floyd Cramer - Last Date


jk said...

My husband's a musician (keys) and for a while in the 80s played with a country band in Augusta, GA. It was a fine band, great musicians, very popular, earning their money in a house gig that seemed to go on and on and on, and you were grateful for that steady money until you couldn't stand it any longer.

They used to play this song but with them it was toward the end of the night.

I even phoned my husband to help refresh my memory and he recalls it was a song that they would do 2nd to 3rd from the end of the last set, but not as the closing song, he says. For them, the intent of the closing song was to clear out the place and not get people on the dance floor.

He says that an R&B band he used to play with also did this song, a nice last set song, and that many non C&W bands he's been with have played it as a last set song. So it crosses genres.

But there is an air of great nostalgia that comes with this song. I used to go listen to the country band because of my husband being in it, would chat with the patrons (god, they were loyal), and I remember well how this tune tended to be one that attracted great flourishing touches on the small dance floor, daring a few grand finale sweeps and backbends.