Crooning, Catering, and Changing Careers:
Anne Tyler’s and Don Cherry’s Bands (and Bonds) of Gold
References to the popular music of assorted eras in U.S. history, along with specific titles of former “top tunes” of late twentieth-century America, are frequently cited in the novels of Baltimore, Maryland, USA-based novelist Anne Tyler. Tyler’s selection of Don Cherry’s 1955-56 hit on the Columbia label, “Band of Gold,” as the musical background for a key plot point in her novel Back When We Were Grownups (2001) serves as the point of departure for this essay. Whether or not Tyler’s choice of this particular song to supplement the narrative was conscious or coincidental, it is remarkable that the lyrics of other Columbia recordings, by vocalist Cherry, are relevant to narrate other segments of this novel’s storyline. Even more worthy of attention are the parallels between the life of the novel’s protagonist and that of this vocalist. This paper will argue and examine these shared commonalities.
Music in Anne Tyler’s Novels
Songs of one kind or another are ubiquitous throughout the pages of Anne Tyler’s fiction. For example, the music of the day serves as a major plot element in her 1970 novel A Slipping-Down Life, in which teenager Evie Decker falls in love with rock musician Drumstrings Casey. A popular ballad singer (Pat Boone) and a novelty dance (the bunny hop) from the 1950s are mentioned in 1974’s Celestial Navigation. Tyler’s novel from the following year, Searching for Caleb, cites the 1950 hit “Good Night, Irene” and utilizes various blues songs as part of its soundtrack as the setting moves to New Orleans, Louisiana; these range from the traditional “Stack O’Lee” to the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer composition “Blues in the Night.”
Tyler’s penchant for connecting songs to plot is as evident in her more recent work as it was in her earlier novels. In Tyler’s 2009 novel Noah’s Compass, Kitty Kallen’s 1940s big band recording of “It’s Been a Long Long Time” and Jan and Dean’s 1960s hit “Surf City” trigger memories for supposedly amnesiac protagonist Liam Pennywell. And in Digging to America (2006), the classical (Handel’s Messiah) and American traditional (an Appalachian song entitled “I Wonder as I Wander” and “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”) are partnered with Broadway music of the early 1950s (“I’ll Know When My Love Comes Along” from the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls); pre-British invasion American rock and roll (“Big Girls Don’t Cry”); an early Beatles B-side (“I Saw Her Standing There”); and a classic rock song of the 1980s (“Waiting for a Girl Like You”). All of these titles support the focus of the novel’s plot—the adoption and acculturation of adopted daughters from Asia.
Arguably the most “musical” of Anne Tyler’s novels is her Pulitzer Prize-winning book from 1988, Breathing Lessons. An early funeral scene in this work includes performances of songs that would be essential to a “greatest film hits of the 1950s” compendium: “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” “True Love” (fromHigh Society); “Friendly Persuasion,” and “Qué Sera Sera” from The Man Who Knew Too Much). Several other songs from the mid-1950s (post-Big Band, pre-Rock and Roll) era are proposed as part of the potential repertoire for the funeral. As seen in Tyler’s work published both before and after Breathing Lessons, readers encounter both pre- and post-1950s song titles within the pages of the novel under discussion here.
“Gold” in Grownups
The ballad “Band of Gold,” a paean to monogamous love and the traditional requisite token of same, was released in September of 1955 and harkens from this mid-twentieth century era, a time in American music when the brassy big band sounds were superseded by lush instrumentation and softer, string-tinged arrangements, yet at the same time, stylistic hints of rock and roll could be detected in some of those soft orchestrations. Readers of this article who are well versed in latter twentieth-century popular music must not confuse the song under discussion here with a different one of the same name recorded fifteen years later by Freda Payne describing a far less idyllic relationship.
Cherry’s song can first be “heard” in Back When We Were Grownups when heroine/protagonist Rebecca Holmes, seemingly happily engaged to her college sweetheart Will Allenby, attends the engagement party of her roommate, Amy, at a home that doubles as a catering hall called the “Open Arms.” While “Band of Gold” spins on the turntable, she meets Joe Davitch, a dashing older man whose family owns the catering hall. In a matter of weeks, Rebecca breaks her engagement to Will and becomes Mrs. Joe Davitch, jilting Will abruptly and marrying rather impulsively into a ready-made family, as Joe is divorced with three young daughters.
Don Cherry’s original recording of “Band of Gold” has been posted on YouTube and can currently be accessed at the URL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErNu66JKPVE; readers of the novel can rest assured that Tyler is referring to Don Cherry’s version of the song, rather than the less successful, competing recording by female singer Kit Carson, since Rebecca describes the Ray Conniff Orchestra arrangement precisely to her two grandchildren from Minerva (“Min Foo”), her only biological child with Joe:
I bet neither one of you have ever heard of “Band of Gold”
… Well, it’s not as if you missed anything … A simple-mindedsong; it was out of date even then. With this silly chorusbehind it, baba, bababa … (37)
The validity of Rebecca’s negative assessment of this song in retrospect is debatable. Rebecca could be dismissing this song as corny and forgettable to demonstrate some degree of “hipness” (albeit minimal) to her grandchildren. Also, the youth music genre of rock and roll had already made its mark on the popular music charts by the time “Band of Gold” was released, as reported by Laura Schooling:
… rock ‘n’ roll was the main soundtrack for fifties’ youth culture. … The sound reached new popularity when [Bill Haley and] the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” spent eight consecutive weeks atop the Billboard charts [in mid-1555, prior to the September release of “Band of Gold”] … (5)
Yet at the same time, it can be argued that the release of “Band of Gold” is emblematic of an early attempt by a mainstream recording studio (Columbia) to co-opt the rock and roll subgenre of 1950s “doo wop” street corner singing, and hence attract more youthful music fans to its product. The song’s introduction of meaningless syllables, pointed out by Rebecca in the aforementioned quotation, is highly characteristic of “doo wop” lyrics and arrangements, and the chord sequence (tonic > relative minor > subdominant > dominant > tonic) and four-beat rhythm also typify many of the early rock and roll “slow dance” ballads. Often anthologized on compact discs featuring “oldies but goodies” of various artists, “Band of Gold” was included on one such collection entitled “Rockin’ and Rollin’ Wedding Songs.” Finally, the “B” or flip side of the original “Band of Gold” single featured Don Cherry’s formidable baritone belting out “Rumble Boogie,” a tune featuring a highly danceable rock beat and, like the “A” side, a vocal introduction consisting of meaningless syllables: “Ha diddley bop, ha diddley bop, ha diddley diddley diddley bop, we’re gonna rumble tonight.”
The “Band of Gold” motif takes on added significance as Back When We Were Grownups progresses. This recording is reprised as part of the novel’s “soundtrack” as it is played at the wedding of Rebecca’s youngest step-daughter Elinor (“NoNo”) Davitch. The “Open Arms,” arguably the principal setting of the novel, hosted many wedding receptions and, hence, served as the site of celebrations of countless exchanges of gold bands. In addition, bands of gold take on an additional tangible, visual presence, as Rebecca Holmes had once “worn her hair in a crown of braids” (15). When Rebecca, who became a widow six years into her marriage to Joe, reconnects with Will Allenby, one of his first questions to her is, “What happened to your long golden braid?” (153). On a subsequent date when Rebecca invites Will to dinner at her home, he reminisces about a cloak she used to wear: “It matched your hair exactly. You wore your hair coiled in a braid on top your head” [my emphasis added] (218). In addition, Will’s daughter Beatrice sports an unorthodox gold band: “a thin gold ring in one eyebrow” (241).
Cherry’s Columbia Recordings as Novel Narrative
Not to be confused with the Canadian hockey sportscaster or the late American jazz trumpeter of the same name, Texas-born singer Don Cherry carved out a respectable recording career over the latter half of the twentieth century. After a stint as a radio and band singer through the late 1940s, he signed with the Decca Records label in 1950; that same year, he scored two top-ten hits with his recordings of “Thinking of You” and his own version of Nat King Cole’s classic “Mona Lisa.” Four years later, he signed a contract with Columbia Records, where he would turn in his most popular vocal performance (“Band of Gold”) as well as record a handful of less successful yet chart-making hits through 1956. In addition to the singles spanning his contract with the label, he recorded one Columbia long-playing album in 1956. Entitled “Swingin’ for Two,” this was a collection of twelve songs, none of which were released as singles, that “ran the gamut from original standards, like “I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine” and “So Rare,” to some newer bouncy numbers, [like] “My Future Just Passed” (Cherry 112). Columbia continued to release Don Cherry singles through 1959, but as Cherry, in his autobiography Cherry’s Jubilee (2006), explains the status of the music business at the close of the decade:
Columbia … wanted to concentrate more on their [sic] newer artists [e.g., Johnny Horton and Johnny Mathis] … and the competing record labels were hurting Columbia Records, who missed the boat during the rock and roll transformation. (133)
After taking a hiatus from recording to pursue a career as a professional golfer, Cherry returned to singing in 1965, reinventing himself as a Country and Western artist on the Monument Records label.
While Cherry’s talent for career retooling and longevity (he was still performing into the twenty-first century) is unquestionably admirable and has been matched by very few of his contemporaries, his work at Columbia remains the high watermark of his recording career, with “Band of Gold” the song for which he is best remembered. On his web site, www.doncherry.us, he identifies himself as “Mr. Band of Gold” as the opening bars of this recording are heard upon entering the site. Also, “Band of Gold” experienced a very recent renaissance of public attention, as it was featured in the background of the first scene in the debut episode of the acclaimed American television drama Mad Men. Yet, the plot of Back When We Were Grownups lends itself to rediscovery and analysis of Cherry’s lesser-known Columbia recordings as well, many of which could comprise a soundtrack or parallel narrative of the novel.
Cherry followed “Band of Gold” with “Wild Cherry,” a song in which the vocalist laments the freewheeling, resisting ways of the girl to which he is attracted; in the first stanza, Wild Cherry is described as “living high” in the sense that she has positioned herself above and apart from the rules of conventional living. In addition, the object of this song (and the singer’s unrequited affection) is perceived as rather unbendable (“If I only could reach you…”); in the second stanza the singer inquires, “Why are you so contrary?” Within the pages ofBack When We Were Grownups, readers encounter several “Wild Cherries” who demonstrate that same sense of free-spiritedness, often accompanied by a fair share of petulance. One of these women is part of Davitch history, discussed but not met: Joe Davitch’s second cousin Sophie. At one of the family gatherings in the novel, NoNo informs her stepmother Rebecca that “Cousin Sophie was three times divorced. And this was back in the 1920s, when nobody got divorced” (263). Joe Davitch’s first wife Tina, who “abandoned her three children for a career as a New York nightclub singer” (29), demonstrates a similar wild streak; her marriage to Joe was precipitated by premarital pregnancy at a time in America when this was far less acceptable. When Tina returns to Baltimore for biological daughter NoNo’s wedding, she is accused by her daughter Patch of “coz[ying] up to the bridegroom, Barry: “she made a fool of herself over him; she behaved just shockingly, linking elbows with him at every opportunity and laughing her throaty laugh directly into his face …” (121).
One could argue that Cousin Sophie’s genes were passed on to the aforementioned Minerva (“Min Foo”) Davitch Abdulazim, Rebecca’s daughter with Joe, who also qualifies as a “wild cherry”-like figure. Min Foo has been married three times (and has had one child with each spouse) within the relatively short period of ten years. She ignores her mother’s request to leave the children at home for a party Rebecca throws to introduce Will Allenby to her family, and she proceeds to shock the guests by publicly breastfeeding her newborn son, Abdul, at this gathering. As the novel progresses, Min Foo registers a series of petty complaints about her third and present husband Hakim; these range from “squawk[ing]” about his placement of Abdul’s carrier on the floor at the party (257), to criticism about his driving, to finding fault with his lengthy toast at the centennial birthday party for Poppy, Rebecca’s uncle-in-law and the longest surviving Davitch. Min Foo’s behavior evokes Rebecca’s apology to Will after the party breaks up: “You didn’t see Min Foo at her best, I’m sorry to say. She’s not usually so short tempered. I’m worried she’s beginning her same old pattern: have a baby, ditch the husband” (266). Rebecca later reiterates this concern to her stepdaughter Elizabeth (“Biddy”) when she states that she is “worried to death [Min Foo’s] going to get another divorce” (287). This commentary may suggest to readers as well that Min Foo’s third union is on shaky ground and that she has yet to absorb what her mother has come to believe—that “apparently you grow to love whom you’re handed” (186).
Coincidentally, another “Wild Cherry” in Tyler’s fruit bowl of characters in Grownups turns out to be the biological child of the man she threw over for Joe Davitch. Prior to her introduction to Rebecca, Will Allenby describes his teenaged daughter Beatrice as “bewildering … I never have understood the first thing about her” (205). In the sole scene in which Rebecca interacts with Beatrice, the rationale for Will’s response becomes apparent. Her appearance can be considered wild and offbeat: her “black leather attire” suggests “no determinate gender”; her skin is described as “stark, chalky white”; her “black hair had a dead look”; and in addition to the aforementioned gold ring in her eyebrow, she wears “a gold stud in her nose” (241). Beatrice’s decorum matches her demeanor. As soon as she is introduced to Rebecca at Will’s planned dinner for three at his home, she asks to be excused: “Okay: we’ve met … Can I go now?” (242). She openly declares that she is “not speaking” to her father for reasons related to her parents’ separation and divorce (244); she “roll[s] her eyes” when asked to pass a dish across the table; and after shooting a “scornful stare [at her father] down the length of her studded nose,” she exits the apartment, stating that she will follow up the next day about the e-mail account Will promised her for showing up that evening (247). Much as we are left to conjecture about Min Foo’s future, we can only guess Beatrice’s fate, as this scene constitutes her first and only appearance in the novel.
The radical shift in message, from the promise of monogamous bliss in “Band of Gold” to the capricious faithlessness portrayed in “Wild Cherry” could be seen as emblematic of the contrasting perspectives on love and romance that continue to pervade American popular culture. Much as Don Cherry addressed secure and tenuous love respectively in his first two hit singles for Columbia Records, Anne Tyler presents a comparable spectrum of mindsets among the character ensemble of Back When We Were Grownups. Rebecca Davitch’s proven belief in mating for life (cemented by her second rejection of Will), a belief she shares with uncle-in-law Poppy, who deeply laments the death of his “Joycie” (27), is juxtaposed with a gallery of broken or vulnerable pairings.
In July of 1956, after “Band of Gold” and “Wild Cherry,” Columbia released Don Cherry’s recording “Ghost Town,” which “made it to 22nd place in the all-time sellers of [that year]” (Cherry 119). A charming fox trot number that is rarely aired and barely remembered today, this song describes the change (from the singer’s perspective) in a metropolitan area that accompanied the loss of a love: “When I walk up Main Street/it isn’t the same street/to me it’s a haunted avenue/the crowded ballroom seems empty and blue/this town’s a ghost town without you.” Ghost town imagery, with the attendant abandonment, is used to describe many settings ofBack When We Were Grownups. The block on which the Open Arms catering hall continues to do business is described by Tyler as follows:
It was true: this peaceful old street, once the height of elegance, was taking on a sort of toothless look. The house next door had turned into a meditation center, with a banner bearing a mandala flying above the front stoop. Around the corner, dignified mansions sported signs for bail bondsmen, palmists, and cut-rate car insurance. A place with an imposing columned porch was undergoing some kind of remodeling, and when they stopped to investigate they found a placard in the window announcing the arrival of a body-piercing parlor. (54)
During Rebecca’s visit to her girlhood home in Church Valley, her mother, Mrs. Holmes, advises her daughter of the town’s transition to emptiness: “Church Valley isn’t like when you lived here, Rebecca. After they built that mall … why, seems we just got hollow at the center. Downtown isn’t even downtown anymore” (64). Later, Rebecca’s mother adds to the motif of emptiness: “the library isn’t open but three half-days a week” (69). When Rebecca suggests that she meet Will for dinner at Myrtle’s Family Restaurant to catch up on each other’s lives, Will informs her that “Myrtle’s is long gone” (143). After deciding to dine with Will at a restaurant near Macadam College, where they attended college and Will is now Chairperson of the Physics Department, Rebecca, through the third-person narrator’s voice, registers the following threadbare impressions of the outskirts:
She passed the same tall, stern houses, most of them transformed into offices or shops or cheap apartments. She veered south into a stretch of Laundromats, Chinese restaurants, liquor stores, boarded-up grocery stores. … She stopped at a red light where a boy was peddling cellophane tubes of single, imprisoned-looking roses. At the next light a cadaverous man in a winter jacket held up a placard saying he was hungry, sick, tired, and sad. A child approached with a dirty rag and a bottle of Windex, but Rebecca shook her head. (150-51)
Along with the imagery of the literal ghost town as a reflection of the novel’s settings, the lost love theme in the lyric of “Ghost Town” matches Will’s emotions subsequent to his sudden break-up with Rebecca, emotions that prevails decades after the event. During their disastrous initial reunion dinner, Will interrupts Rebecca’s reminiscences with, “You broke my heart … You never gave me the slightest warning … I thought everything was fine. I trusted you” (159). While Will makes it clear that at this point he is not willing to “go back to the old days” (161), as the singer of “Ghost Town” would like (“If only we’d make up/these shadows would break up … so darling come back/I need you I do”), Will’s failed marriage, estrangement from his daughter, and isolated life style in a converted boarding house, strongly suggest a “ghost town” emptiness in his existence.
The “B” side of “Ghost Town” was a doo-wop interpretation of “I’ll Be Around,” a standard written by Alec Wilder that was introduced in 1942. The theme of this song is true, lasting affection regardless of how long it takes its object to recognize and return it: “I’ll be around/no matter how you treat me now/I’ll be around when he’s gone/You know that your latest love/can never last/and when it’s past/I’ll be around when he’s gone.” This particular song could serve as a theme for Zeb Davitch, Joe’s younger brother who arguably was attracted to Rebecca from the very beginning. It was Zeb who placed “Band of Gold” on the turntable upon seeing her for the first time, and he “stumble[s] over the rug on his way to greet her” when Rebecca comes to the Davitch home for a dinner early in her relationship with Joe (85). Perhaps the never-married Zeb is only half-joking when he tells Tina that he is “still waiting for Rebecca” (110). Zeb comments to Will about how “cute” Rebecca was at that initial meeting, and can even remember exactly what she wore at that engagement party (213). He conveniently shows up at the Open Arms when Rebecca invites Will over to watch a video, and he asks Will the highly inappropriate rhetorical question, “Can you imagine where we’d be if Rebecca hadn’t shown up [i.e., jilted you for my older brother]?” (229). When Rebecca breaks off with Will for the second time, Will remarks that Zeb is “obviously my competition” (271). Furthermore, Zeb and Rebecca present Poppy with a 100th birthday gift from the two of them: a restored portrait of Poppy and his late, much beloved wife Joyce. Zeb’s willing assumption of the role of long-term platonic confidante/counsel to Rebecca, manifested by the chaste kiss he bestows on her at the close of Poppy’s party, suggests that he will “be around” when Will and any subsequent suitors are long gone. In typical Tyler fashion, this plot point constitutes yet another unanswered question at the novel’s conclusion.
Other plot/narrative parallels to Don Cherry’s Columbia recordings are worth mentioning here. One side of his single release immediately prior to “Band of Gold” included a big band-flavored ballad entitled “What Am I Trying to Forget?” This song is comprised of inventories of memories of a lost love (“What am I trying to forget?/Is it the way your eyes would sparkle every time you’d laugh/The place I put your graduation photograph/Or the way you held your cigarette?”). The culminating memory is the most heart-wrenching: “the way you left without regret.” This climactic line in the song matches Rebecca’s actions towards Will, and its message speaks for Will’s feelings as revealed on their first reunion date. An additional link between this song and the plot of Grownups is discernible in two nostalgia-based listings embedded in the narrative. The first of these, conjured up by Rebecca, harkens back to her abandoned academic research:
… the musty smell of the Macadam College library; the sweetly rounded o’s of her history professor, who came from Minnesota; and the thrilling experience of brand-new textbooks and spiral-bound notebooks purchased from the school store. (175)
Tyler also treats us to a list related to Will’s college days, as the furnishings in his apartment are perceived by the narrator as remnants of that era in his life: “a cheap blond coffee table, a matted office shag rug, a wheeled, adjustable chair meant for an office desk” (239). The fact that neither Rebecca’s nor Will’s list, while similar in format to the lists in the song lyric, is connected to memories of their aborted courtship, could be perceived as foreshadowing that their romantic past will remain just that. Finally, one of the lyrics of “I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine” is parroted in the novel. One of the lines of this song salutes the after-dark trysts between the singer and his beloved: “That’s when we kiss and kiss and kiss and then we kiss some more.” Compare this to Rebecca’s recollection of her courtship with Will: “At the end of every evening, they kissed and kissed and kissed …” (80).
In conclusion, Anne Tyler has not identified Don Cherry’s repertoire of Columbia recordings as an influence upon this novel. In a conversation with the author which is published in the trade paperback edition of Back When We Were Grownups, Tyler describes the inspiration for this work:
I plotted Back When We Were Grownups just after emerging from a year in which there had been several losses and serious illnesses in my family. I wanted my next novel to be full of joy and celebration, which is how I ended up with a main character who earned her living throwing parties. (277)
Yet one cannot dismiss the close narrative and thematic connections between the two, which inspire close reading and careful listening of both Anne Tyler’s and Don Cherry’s distinctive contributions to American literary and musical culture.
Along with the ties that bind Don Cherry’s Columbia songbook to the plot/narrative of Back When We Were Grownups, it is interesting to note the similarities in the lives of the fictional Rebecca Davitch and the singer Don Cherry himself. These similarities fall into three categories: (1) Early childhood; (2) Physical appearance; and (3) Career trajectories.
Both Rebecca Davitch and Don Cherry, as young children, were closer to their mothers than their fathers. Rebecca’s father died when she was a child, and Don Cherry (b. 1924), in his autobiography, informs readers that he “really didn’t know [his] father, since he left at the start of the Depression, never to return home” (3). In addition, readers of both Back When We Were Grownups and Cherry’s Jubilee learn that both Rebecca and Don faced hairstyle challenges with the passing of time. Rebecca’s aforementioned long gold braid of her youth gives way to her less impressive “usual look … two beige fans at her temples” (149). Singer Don Cherry, in response to “prematurely thinning hair” (48), began wearing a hairpiece when singing in front of an audience: “I always wore it when I performed on stage, and the minute the performance was over or after my last show, I would always take it off” (116).
The career-related commonalities shared by Rebecca Davitch and Don Cherry focus on two factors: (1) abandonment of one career for another; and (2) service to similar markets. Tyler scholar Robert W. Croft observes that “What to do in a world of change becomes a critical question for Tyler’s characters” (11), and Rebecca Davitch of Back When We Were Grownups is no exception. Responding to the transformation in her personal life, Rebecca abruptly abandons her promising academic research—on General Lee’s decision to support the Confederacy in the Civil War—when she marries Joe Davitch and plunges into the career of homemaker/mother, and later that of caterer. Don Cherry also made a major career shift, from professional vocalist to PGA (Professional Golfers Association of America) golfer, largely because of his achievements on the amateur golf circuit, but also as a result of the aforementioned youth-oriented shift in American popular musical tastes that began to take hold in the mid-1950s. As he describes it, “I let my recording career die. I was too busy running in another direction” (Cherry 133).
Coincidentally, at one point both Rebecca Davitch and Don Cherry’s talents were targeted at the same consumer market: couples about to be married. In Back When We Were Grownups, readers learn that the Open Arms was the site of many wedding celebrations and engagement parties (including the one that changed the course of Rebecca’s life). Don Cherry, in his autobiography, tells this story about the specific appeal of some of his later recordings for the Columbia label:
Session time was booked for me again at Columbia’s busy sound studios. This time the executives had an idea to put out “The Last Dance” and “14 Karat Gold” on separate records. I soon discovered that the biggest buyers turned out to be wedding consultants and matrimony planners [my emphasis]. Those two songs (along with “Band of Gold,” of course), were, and still are, added to countless wedding reception playlists. It makes me wonder how many couples listened to my voice just hours before consummating their vows. (119)
In addition to those real-life couples to whom Cherry refers, the heroine of Tyler’s novel was admittedly “Swept off [her] feet by a fully grown man” to the strains of Don Cherry’s most popular recording (160).
Both Rebecca Davitch and Don Cherry provided products /services that foster the perfectionist, often idealistic notion of eternal, monogamous love to which Rebecca appears to subscribe. Yet throughout the novel she is constantly faced with examples of challenges and threats to this convention. And it should be mentioned that Don Cherry found lasting happiness in his third marriage. Hence, we witness here the struggle between cultural expectations of marital perfection (reinforced through popular music, tradition and ritual) and the potential harsh reality of less fulfilling matrimonial outcomes played out within literary, musical, and biographical contexts.
Anne Tyler’s references to particular songs in her novels may or not have been hand picked. Whether or not she brought a soundtrack strategy to her narratives, one cannot dismiss the links between the plot, characterizations, and narrative of Back When We Were Grownups and the life and career of Don Cherry, who is most closely connected with the song that exerts the greatest impact on the life of the novel’s protagonist. Drawing these parallels opens the door to intriguing interdisciplinary study which in this case focuses new attention on two talented artists who have made outstanding, if at times underrated, contributions to American culture.
Acknowledgment: The author wishes to thank Francine (Mrs. Don) Cherry, for her time, generosity, and valuable input in answering questions about her husband’s singing career.
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