Mind and Matter Over Time by Angela Caldin
It’s April the world over and that means that here in the Antipodes we’re moving inexorably into autumn. Not for us white and pink blossom foaming on the trees and showy daffodils trumpeting their yellow gaudiness under trees and on grassy slopes. We can’t rejoice at new shoots poking their heads through the soil to reach for the gentle sun and we don’t enjoy lengthening days with light balmy evenings and the smell of barbecues in the air. We have violent winds and driving, teaming rain and daylight saving bringing darker evenings with the message of winter to come. Flights are grounded because of the weather and ferry crossings cancelled too; the rough seas prevent travellers making the voyage to the islands.
As autumn takes hold, Aucklanders must look around for indoor entertainment to brighten up the chilly evenings. The good news is that “Jersey Boys” is coming on at the Civic Theatre. It’s a hugely successful show which tells the story of the origins and the enduring fame of the group the Four Seasons, one of the original boy bands, and their lead singer, Frankie Valli.
Considering Frankie’s background, it’s a wonder he achieved the success which has endured for more than 50 years. Born Francis Castelluccio on May 3, 1934, he grew up in a public housing project on the tough streets of Newark, New Jersey. As the character of Tommy DeVito, Frankie’s friend and fellow Four Season, says in Jersey Boys: “If you’re from my neighbourhood, you got three ways out: you could join the army; you could get mobbed up; or—you could become a star.” At an early age, Frankie chose route number 3. When he was seven, his mother took him to New York City’s Paramount Theatre to see Frank Sinatra. “I saw Sinatra coming out on stage,” Frankie recalls, “and the way he was lit up, it was like he had an aura around him. I decided then and there that’s what I was going to do—be a successful singer.”
The first big hit was “Sherry” with its amazing falsetto chorus, followed by two more No 1 hits: “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk like a Man” which both capitalised on Frankie’s fantastic vocal range from bass to falsetto. Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe, who wrote the songs, went on to become one of the most successful song-writing partnerships in pop-music history. Around the same time, Gaudio also formed a special partnership with Valli. With a handshake and not a hint of a contract, Bob agreed to give Frankie half of everything he earned as a writer and producer, and Frankie agreed to give Bob half of his earnings from performances outside the group. That partnership remains in force 45 years later, still sealed only with a handshake, not a written contract in sight.
From 1962 to 1978, Frankie and the Four Seasons sold more than 100 million records, until the invention of the compact disc encouraged fans to buy the hits all over again. For decades after their heyday, Frankie and the Seasons continued to be a top concert attraction, and their hits were always playing on radio, not to mention the new remixes that kept surfacing. In 1990 Frankie and the other original Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, only five years after it opened.
For as far into the future as anyone can see, the hit musical “Jersey Boys” will introduce the music of Frankie Valli to new generations. Frankie himself is well into his seventies but he is still performing in concert and shows no sign of slowing down. By a juxtaposition which may or may not be a coincidence, Frankie is performing in Auckland during April at the Vector Arena just down the road from the Civic. The night should be a great precursor to the opening of the musical about his life. The legendary singer appears on stage singing his greatest hits, while his life story is told just down the road. As his character says at the end of “Jersey Boys”: “Like that bunny on TV with the battery, I just keep going and going and going.”
Three cheers for the older people who are still going strong like this, still plugging away at the thing they know and do best. Engelbert Humperdinck is a contemporary of Frankie Valli and achieved success just as he did in the 1960s and 70s. Even after his fame waned somewhat, Engelbert continued to make recordings and give concerts all over the world. On 1 March 2012, the BBC announced that Humperdinck would represent the United Kingdom in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, to be staged in Baku, Azerbaijan, in May. When his participation was announced, Humperdinck was set to become the oldest singer ever to participate in the contest at the age of 76; however, it was announced shortly afterwards that Natalya Pugachyova, who was already 76, would represent Russia as part of the band Buranovskiye Babushki, and would take the record as oldest singer in the contest, but Humperdinck would still be the oldest male singer.
However, it’s all very well for the rich and famous; what about ordinary mortals who want to carry on working or doing something in society? Make way for Diana Gould who, nominated by her granddaughter, is the oldest among the 8,000 people chosen to carry the Olympic flame. At the moment she’s 99 years old, but by the time she carries the flame, she’ll be 100. Since being selected, she’s been preparing for the 300-yard walk: “I am walking up and down holding a candlestick,” she explains, “ I’ve seen the torch now – I think the design is lovely and it’s fairly comfortable to hold. As long as the walk is on the flat I think I’ll be OK. The biggest challenge will be the weight of the torch. I can’t walk quick because I walk with a stick. About halfway I think I’ll have to change arms because of the weight of the thing!”
And her message to her contemporaries is clear and uncompromising: “It’s up to each person to make sure they keep themselves active – in mind and body. Don’t think old, just get on with it.” I’m absolutely sure that’s what Frankie and Engelbert are doing, putting the fact that they are 76 to one side and just getting on with doing what they know best.