In a town without Pitney….
Yesterday morning I was saddened to learn of Gene Pitney’s passing alone in hotel room in Cardiff while on tour, a turn of events which has received shockingly little mainstream media coverage in the US.
Pitney is one of the greats in the American songbook – given his trademark sensibilities (vulnerable, sensitive, and searching – an outsider, complicated - not exactly the legend-making confident cock-rock appeal associated with Elvis and the recently mainstream hot Johnny Cash) it seems somewhat fitting that his departure has been virtually ignored in his home country.
Indeed, while we still hear his better known hits like “The Man Who shot Liberty Valence” and “A Town Without Pity” on the oldies stations, appreciation for the genius of Gene – as with many of our better exports like Scott Walker, Lee Hazlewood, and Nina Simone - has in recent years been stronger in Europe and Asia, where a certain sensibility, artistry, and iconoclasm is more widely understood and celebrated. That Antony & the Johnsons garnered this year’s Mercury Prize is telling.
Subtle is perhaps the wrong term to describe Pitney’s music, since his delivery is decidedly melodramatic, but beneath what many would dismiss as schlock there are poignant underpinnings of yearning, heartbreak and textured readings of the human experience – perhaps sublime is a better word.
In the early part of the last decade – at the height of David Lynchian hipness, The Crying Game and Lounge faddishness - Gene Pitney was championed by contemporary artists like Nick Cave, Mark Almond, and Morrissey, and I’m hoping the richness of his body of work will be re-examined and given appropriate treatment some time soon – box set, biography, biopic... anyone?
Guardian UK tribute here.