Miss Patti Page: strength from the flip side

I at first felt sad at the news of Patti Page’s passing, even though I hadn’t even been thought of when Tennessee Waltz and Old Cape Cod topped the charts. In fact I was an adult, watching one of those PBS specials where silver-topped fans weave and sing on waves of memories poured forth from performers who looked nothing like their album covers but still captured hearts in the sweet embrace of nostalgia and song, when I saw Patti Page perform Tennessee Waltz for the first time. “That’s Patti Page?” I wrinkled my nose. I had grown up listening to Patti Sings Golden Hits of the Boys, her Mercury album release from 1962. I’m Walkin’. Big Bad John. Mack the Knife. Now those were songs worth listening to, not some boring dance love song thing. I knew she was a cover artist, but in my mind, those sings were hers, too. “Tennessee Waltz was her biggest hit,” my mother confirmed. I couldn’t see it, or hear it.

Age has relaxed my ears to a broader range of music, and I confess the Tennessee Waltz is indeed lovely. However, the song itself still doesn’t intrigue me as much as the story of how it became a hit. The song was a literal Plan B, the flip side of a Christmas single that was a sure-fired hit, a filler song to support the release of the real gold mine: Boogie Woogie Santa Claus. The executives had it all planned.

But Patti’s talent was destined for other things. Tennessee Waltz floated above the jazzy horns and driving beat to outscore Santa himself on the charts, its gentle mournful sway drawing couples together by the thousands on dance floors and in living rooms across North America. Christmas is a guaranteed seller, but so is love – sweet, simple, longing desire.

Patti Page has left this world after 85 years, and while it is easy to mourn the loss of her voice and sparkle, it is difficult to deny that she has earned passage to a place where she will never age, lose her voice or be forgotten. The beloved author Erma Bombeck once said: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say ‘I used everything you gave me.’ ” Patti was still going strong in the entertainment world. She gave up her name and her life to give the world the gift of music. She used everything she was given, without using up herself.

As an author, I take heart in her example. You can give yourself to your craft without losing yourself in it. The world still appreciates a good love story. And it is possible to be lovely, active, and a respected force in the world at age 85.

My books may find their audience yet. There is always Side B.