Friday, November 6, 2009

Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight

My best friend from childhood lived just down the street from me in a brown and gray stone house with a large basement. Her birthday came in the first week of September, which meant that, at that time in our lives, it more often than not fell on Labor Day weekend. She would have large birthday sleepovers which always found a number of us sprawled on our sleeping bags on the basement carpet late at night, still talking despite exhausting our usual topics, talking, talking, despite the struggle to stay awake.

Of course, Labor Day weekend was always the Jerry Lewis telethon. Even at two o'clock in the morning, the teevee was still on, with Jerry pushing himself to continue, half asleep, to make funny, or when he ran out to comic energy, exhort and beg people to call in with pledges. At the same time, a fifties retro doo-wop singing group* was on tour, and the commercial breaks came around regularly even during the telethon. The commercials I remember from that time were always about the greatest hits album of somebody, and this group, asking you to *call now* to get tickets for the concert.

*Sha Na Na

The commercial always started the same way. A guy in greased back hair complete with ducktail and muscle shirt, shown from the waist up and backed by colorful lights, would intone the opening bass lyric a cappella:
Duh DOO-ah, duh DOO-ah, duh DOO-ah, duh DOE

and swiveling smoothly to show off his muscled arm from various angles, whereupon the camera would start to pan across one singer after another - greasers and boppers - as they soulfully kicked in with all harmony:
Goodnight Sweetheart, it's time to go.
Goodnight Sweetheart, it's time to go.
Goodnight Sweetheart, it's time to go.
I hate to leave you,
But I really must say,
Goodnight, Sweetheart, goodnight.

Even after seeing and hearing that same commercial for months, it seemed as if the singers didn't belong up that late, even though the lyrics clearly said it was three o'clock in the morning. It was incongruous to see them singing their hearts out, wooing the camera with each hair flip and sigh, and the announcer telling you to *call now* to order tickets - show times extended. It was as if they were begging us to buy tickets, as if when we saw the commercial one more time, we would be convinced to come to the show.

I almost felt sorry for them, all dolled up in their retro costumes, reduced to hawking themselves to the uncaring late night viewers. Didn't they get to rest? Didn't they get to perform their concert and go home? It seemed like I had been seeing them for months, and here they still were, brightly vamping, with the pale light from the teevee washing over the drowsing lumps of preteen girls and the insistent announcer with what felt like an unseemly loud voice for that hour.

That night, the lyrics dug themselves into my brain, and some thirty-some years later, I've never been able to extract them.

And also the sadness, and the polish of the irresistible tune stays with me. It's wistful but sincere, optimistic, even promising. There will be more times. We will always croon and sway and sing goodnight, Sweetheart, goodnight.

1 comment:

Joy! said...

This guy, Bowzer: