Saturday 7 May 2011
Dylan Jones: 'Bobby Darin was a sickly child, and his weak heart coloured pretty much everything that he did'
"Beyond the Sea" was the "Stairway to Heaven" of its day, beginning quietly, almost casually, and then building into something of a euphoric crescendo. Bobby Darin's swinging version was definitive – it's one of the greatest singles of its year (1959), a record that sounds as wistful today as it probably did when it was released.
The song "La Mer" was originally written by Charles Trenet, just after the end of the Second World War, although the English lyrics weren't written until a few years later (by Jack Lawrence). Trenet's French version was an ode to the changing moods of the sea; all Lawrence had to do to turn it into a torch song – "Somewhere waiting for me, my lover stands on golden sands..." – was add the word "Beyond". Darin's version is a jaunt, a visual journey that more than hints at the possibilities of redemption.
For his sins, Darin was born Walden Robert Perciville Cassotto, in 1936, in the middle of the Bronx ("My crib was a cardboard box"). A sickly child, Darin's rheumatic fever left him with a weak heart, a condition that coloured pretty much everything he did (he was administered oxygen during his performances). Driven by ambition, he worked his way through the Catskill resort hotels, borrowed his new name from a Chinese restaurant (Mandarin Duck), and eventually broke into the music business. He had hits with anodyne pop such as "Dream Lover", but it will be for his version of Kurt Weill's "Mack the Knife" and "Beyond the Sea" that he will be remembered.
Darin experimented with folk, but was dragged back into Light Entertainment in 1972, starring in his own TV variety show, The Bobby Darin Amusement Company (an enthusiastic chess player, the show included an occasional segment in which he would explain a particular move).
On 11 December 1973, Darin entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in LA for surgery to repair two artificial heart valves he had received in a previous operation. Eight days later, a five-man surgical team worked for over six hours to repair his heart. Darin died minutes later in the recovery room. He was 37.
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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