Your song Edith. But what melody of the broken heart wasn't your song? Chevalier named you the Little Sparrow, and so you were . . . small, petite, easily unnoticed in the world of glamour . . . fragile yet so indomitable. What demons haunted your life??? what angels sang in your heart? Were you constantly forced to choose between the angels and the demons? Did you know the difference? Did you believe you were putting angeles in your arms? And, perhaps you were, for surely it quieted the demons for a while ... for a while and though the demons always returned, it was worth living with the angels for a moment, looking at life through rose-colored glasses.
But even when those glasses were shattered, and the demons ripped at your tattered heart, the angels sang from your throat and stirred our hearts, helping us see a glimmer of light where none was thought to be. How did you do that, my Piaf? How did you turn the pain and agony of constant tragedy into the songs that gladden our hearts?
And did you mend your own broken wings over and over so you could fly to yet another nest. . . only to once again fall so hard against the pavement that gave you birth?
Yes, you were a Little Sparrow, yet when you sang the Nightingale blushed, and marveled at your distinct ability to transform your pain with a lightness the nightingale doesn't know . . . because it does not know the heaviness in your heart.
I never saw you, but feel such a kinship. I never saw you, yet we are sisters . . . brothers . . . one in the heart. I never saw you, but I know you were so slight, so pale . . .
Yet so like Lady Day who was black. And, like you, when Billie sang she transformed hundreds of years of tragic history into a towering victory of spirit. She too carried on a tradition, one in her blood, and one she learned from Bessie, and so many others. As I love your pale fragility, so I love Lady's black strength. But who could think of color when she sang, or you, because the music went right to the heart and resonated with the love from the soul.
The Little Sparrow, Lady Day, and me. Different arms, different tracks, same path. We took the journey together and I know what manner of tortured heart beat under our blue-dotted flesh.
There were times when Lester Young would play behind Billie. She'd stand at the edge of the stage, swaying, getting ready for the next tune . . . and the Prez would swish up behind her and put the bell of his axe against her bottom and play, LOVER MAN, and Billie would wiggle her cute little thing, smiling, and sort of croon kind of deep and throaty, 0000000 PREZ. It was always like the phoenix rising from its ashes as the indomitable spirit rose from the tragedy of its existence.
Billie's gone, Little Sparrow. And to the end it seemed like the TREES THAT BORE A STRANGE FRUIT were determined to strip her of every vestige of dignity before she could go quietly into the much needed night. Friends would bring her a little dope, something to sniff so she could thumb her nose at the generic pneumonia that was killing her. A nurse saw the white smudge on Billie's nose, easy enough to see, and blew the whistle, and so the visits were cut off, those allowed in searched, and a police officer guarded the dangerous prisoner as she slipped into the comfort of the sleep where those concerns no longer exist, and she could sing her song in the light. Lady had her day, but it seems like her nights were so despairingly endless, and now both have joined to shroud her with sleep.
How many days did you have, Little Sparrow? A few, here and there, but always swallowed by the darkness. It seems the sunshine came only on a man’s shoulders…and it seems it was always inappropriate…and ill fated. Then Marcel Cedan entered your life. He too fought his way up from the streets. Yours were Parisian, his Algerian. His streets became a ring, and then cheering thousands of fans, as with you, and his hunger clobbered men into submission. As with you, he fought his way to the very top, and into your Sparrow’s heart. Another inappropriate liaison, but this time it seemed to be blessed. But you had your nurse and guard too and a routine flight to Paris, and you ended in strewn wreckage and black headlines. And once again the Little Sparrow is alone, seemingly abandoned and rejected by the very angels that gave her the song she sang. And in time the angels defeated the demons and you too were free of the struggle. And another part of me is gone.
Yet I somehow continue, not knowing, from time to time, if it’s the mercy of the angeles that keeps me going, or my defiance of the demons. There have been so many songs cut off in mid verse, so many seemingly lost bridges.
I was locked up with Bud Powell shortly before he died. A man I used to see, and hear, almost weekly at one time, along with so many others like Prez, Bird, and countless others who walked our path. But was one of the greatest musical geniuses of the 20th century, and when I think of him the image that comes to mind is not of him at the old Roost or Birdland, but leaning against the wall in the psyche ward at King County, eating a candy bar and grinning the grin of a man separated from himself. So many times I have seen him hunched over the keyboard, a quart container of beer on the piano, with imagination and brilliance, creating music second by second. But that’s not the image of Bud that comes to mind, but rather Bud hanging over the piano they rolled into the ward, that same grin on his face, hunting, hunting, hunting across the keyboard, unable to find what he had many years before found and had already given to us.
So many are gone. I loved them . . . and still do. And so many of them are gone. Have been for many years. And yet I remain. Here. Now.
And from time to time, I think.
Not why I’m here and they’re not. Not a case of: They were so much more talented than I. I am far beyond wondering and/or comparing. I think about finishing their song by singing mine. I believe not only that I can, but that I must, or what is heaven for? I believe there is only one song in the Universe, and we are the song. . . . You, me, Billie, Piaf, Bud all singing the same song in our own way. Only one song . . . so we must keep singing.
O God, help me . . . help me to sing my song so theirs can go on and their nonexistent flesh cast off its scars, those blue-dotted cries of pain. O my dear, sweet God, I love my friends as I do You and would sing their songs for them so their spirits can rejoice and cast off the habitual shackles that kept them chained in their cells. I pray that no pain goes unsoothed, no fear unloved, and that I will continue to hear Your song sun by Your kids, and we will all rejoice in the Spirit that continues to see not beauty in ugliness, nor joy in pain, but Infinite Possibilities in each other.
The Sparrow showed us it can be done. As did Billie, Bud and millions of others who everyday sing. Your song through endless heartbeats of pain. I thank all of you . . . all of you. . .
And every time I managed to get one more breath into this body I will sing a song of thanks to you my brothers . . . my sisters . . .my friends . . .
May your sleep be peaceful and angels sing sweetly in your ears.