I have a long and intense history with the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Burt & Angie Dickinson are still my illusionary romantic ideal. This has been covered in depth here, and this back story is what makes the following story so monumental. Oddly enough, the back story ends on the same note that becomes a climax of this story.
My friend Jim Staicoff had been talking of an amazing project he was working on in Tacoma, Washington, the Hotel Murano. When he came into St. Louis in December 2007, he told me that for the grand opening of the hotel on March 8, Burt Bacharach would be playing in its ballroom. He then casually mentioned that Hal David would make an appearance that night.
My head exploded.
In their 40-year history as a songwriting team, they had never appeared together on stage. Hal is 87 years old. How is this possible?! And if it happens, I must be there.
Jim said he would do all he could to get me into that show, which would take some doing, as it was a $500-a-plate charity event for the Tacoma Art Museum that was already sold out. The whole concept was so surreal that I had to let it go. But Jim worked miracles and found a way to, literally, sneak me into the event.
The Hotel Murano is absolutely fabulous. Read about that experience here. But as fabulous as it is, it can't top what happened in the ballroom.
That's me with Hal David, above.
Yeah, that's me with Hal David!! My inner voice repeats this constantly; it will become an annoying tick in my senility.
As we drove up from Portland, Oregon on the day of the show, Jim gets a call from his design partner, Denise Corso. Eunice told her that the Murano is the most beautiful American hotel she's ever been in.
"Who is Eunice?" I ask.
Eunice is Hal's wife. They checked into the 24th floor the day before.
Is it OK to be first name-only with a musical god? My head exploded.
Since Jim met Hal & Eunice earlier in the night, once we got into the ballroom, Jim dragged me (because I was petrified) over to the table for an introduction to Eunice & Hal. How I managed to speak while my soul was in orgasmic turmoil is still a mystery, but I somehow told him (in a hopefully coherent manner) exactly why this moment was so special for me, and for music history in general:
"Ira Gershwin never came to the gigs of his brother George. Bernie Taupin has never stepped on stage with Elton John. Lyricists just don't usually do such a thing. But you are an exceptional man of words, and this is an exceptional moment in time. I am deeply honored to meet you."
Hal David seemed happy to let me have a picture taken with him. For this photo, I touched greatness. He even touched me. I did not faint, but my disbelieving heart was breaking with happiness.
Then came the concert.
I have seen Burt Bacharach probably 8 or 9 times, starting when I was 9 years old, when he appeared at the St. Louis Muny Opera with Anthony Newly. I have seen him with Dionne Warwick and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, twice. Every occasion is special because, as Hal David wrote on his website, "Burt is a man of many talents - a masterful arranger, an outstanding conductor, but first and foremost a brilliant composer. Among songwriters there are many tune writers but just a handful of composers. He is one of the few."
Along with the selections one would expect - and never tire of - he and his band and 3 singers did "God Give Me Strength" from his collaboration with Elvis Costello and a selection from his 2005 politically-minded record At This Time.
What made this concert a tear-stained event was that Hal David was sitting at a table behind us (how did we get better placement than him?), and I could look at Burt and turn to look at the man who wrote the words. And get this: Hal was mouthing along with the words he wrote! I could never have even imagined such an event, much less this occurrence at the event. My head exploded.
Near the end of the show was the moment I couldn't fathom happening: From the stage, Burt announced Hal was in the audience and confirmed that it was the first-time ever that Hal would come up on stage and sing!
Hal David sang "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." I captured this mind-bendingly historic moment using the video setting on my camera, thus the quality is not the best (it's a bit shaky because I was a lot shaky), but it is captured.
Here is Part One.
Here is Part Two.
My head exploded.
And then Jim says we're heading up to the 25th floor for an invite-only reception for Burt & Hal.
No, I can't take anymore. I met Hal David, had my picture taken with him, watched Burt, watched Burt and Hal together... I had spent my limit of good fortune and was emotionally spent.
Yes, you're going, and he steers me to the elevator where we ride up with Eunice and Hal David!
My head exploded.
"Hanging out" in a room with Hal David was unsettling. Rather than liquor to calm my nerves, I go over to the banquette to pour a cup of coffee. At this point, Hal & Eunice are seated at tables behind me, and I can hear them having casual conversation with people they know.
During the show, Burt introduced "Arthur's Theme" as being written "with ex-wife Carole Bayer Sager" (because we were so close to the stage, I politely refrained from hissing at the mention of her name). I overhear a lady at the table say she didn't realize "Burt and Carole were divorced. When did that happen?"
Eunice answers that it was "long ago," (1992, to be precise). The lady asks what became of Carole, to which Eunice answers in a politely dismissive tone, "Oh, she's married to, oh, Bob... I can't recall his last name."
I'm overhearing casual conversation about Burt from the mouth of Hal's wife! That the pouring coffee didn't wind up all over the countertop while my head was exploding is a minor miracle. I slammed down the coffee, surreptitiously took the photo above and left because my head hurt from all the explosions.
I was barely back in the room when Jim calls: Get back here now. Burt's here!
Oh shit. Is there any head left to explode?
And here's Burt Bacharach. I adore that he left the stage, went back to his room, peeled off the suit and changed into clothes that looked Sunday morning casual when contrasted with the surrounding formal attire. Good for him.
And here is what one looks like when their head is exploding while standing near Burt Bacharach.
Here's where everything turned into a dual existence in lightening speed slow motion, of being detached from the body while overwhelmed from being in the moment.
Once again, Jim stepped in where Toby feared to tread. He took my camera, walked up to Burt (gasp) and said there was someone here who came all the way from St. Louis just to see this show, and then he introduced to me Burt. I truly don't remember what I said to him; maybe I just blubbered like a lunatic. But I did manage to ask him if I could have my photo taken with him and Hal David. He said "of course."
With the audacity borne of an out-of-body experience, I peered across the room to spot Mr. David, and called out, "Hal!" Hal looks at me (probably thinking, "Oh, that head trauma victim from the elevator"). I ask, "Can you come over here for a picture with me and Burt (me and Burt, how fucking rich!)?" And he comes over!
With Hal next to us, I swear to you it's true that Burt says this: "Let's have Toby (he remembered my fucking name?!) stand between us, since she came all the way from St. Louis to see us." Burt moves me into place between them (Burt's touching me!) and flashes start popping.
I could feel my hands on their necks (yikes!) and with my head pounding, I leaned my head onto Burt and whispered in his ear, "Thank you." I leaned my head onto Hal and whispered in his ear, "Thank you." And I can't recall anything else because, well, my head exploded for the final time.
Here's me looking like a hurricane victim dragged from the wreckage. It is, without a doubt, the worst photo ever taken of me, but screw that. Look at Burt and Hal! They are god like! Anyone who had a heart could look at me and know this is the look of love. A lifetime of musical devotion culminates in a final moment I never conceived of. And I floated out of the room, into the hall and into the waiting elevator.
And I'm sharing it with Eunice and Hal David!
By now, I was completely emotionally spent. I fell back in the corner with my hand on my heart and waved my hand at them in surrender. They smiled sweetly, and luckily had to go down only one floor to escape this shipwrecked fool.
I went back to the room and stood in perfect silence, staying right in the moment because it was so exquisite. I met Burt Bacharach & Hal David! I had my picture taken with them! I will be the most annoying person in the old folks home from constantly muttering this.
To have left this room to go back to the party would have been a series of diminishing returns (and Jim said Burt left shortly after I did), an anti-climactic trek back down Mount Olympus. So I crawled under the covers, turned off the lights and say a little prayer for you, Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Hotel Murano: A Sleepover Art Museum