I remember watching Bobby Darin from time to time on television when I was a kid. I think it was on The Ed Sullivan Show or maybe on Darin’s own television show, which he hosted for a couple years before his death in 1973.
Mostly I remember that he sung the songs “Splish, Splash” and “Mack the Knife.” When I was a kid, I thought he was cool. Not as cool as Elvis, maybe, but there was something about him that caught my eye.
As an adult, I have a deeper appreciation for him. But that’s only since I watched his performances on the new DVD, Bobby Darin: Seeing Is Believing. When the disc came open for review, I volunteered because of Darin’s name. I remembered the song from the 1950s and thought it would be a fun review to do. What I hadn’t counted on was being more intrigued by him now than I ever was.
The world hasn’t forgotten Bobby Darin. His music is still with us on oldies stations and in movies. Kevin Spacey was so taken with Darin that he did a bio-pic about him, Beyond the Sea, and there are five of Darin’s songs throughout American Beauty. McDonald’s underscored an ad campaign with the song “Mack the Knife.”
But when I watched the DVD of the performances, some of them from Darin’s early years and a few only months before his untimely death, I saw something in him that I hadn’t seen as a kid. Or maybe, something that I truly hadn’t recognized for what it was but had responded to on a kid level and just accepted without thinking.
When I watched Darin on the DVD, he came alive. His performances are good, entertaining, and very watchable. But the thing that caught my eye was how much Darin enjoyed what he was doing. When he was up there on that stage in front of an audience, he was having the time of his life. I saw it in his eyes, in his easy smile, and the way he just reached out to an audience and captured them with just a few lines of song.
That’s magic. Most people don’t realize it for what it is. Humphrey Bogart had the same thing in his acting. Bret Michaels of the metal band Poison had it. There are a lot of other people who have it too, and many of them are people I do business with who are plumbers, carpenters, writers, and musicians.
When someone loves his or her job, I know it. And it brings something out in me, gives me that little bit extra that lightens my step for a while and makes everything seem a little more doable.
That’s what Bobby Darin was about. I saw it all through the twenty performances on the DVD. While he was up there on stage, in front of a group of people, I really feel that he was more alive than at any other time.
The sound on the DVD is really good, but it’s not Dolby Digital 5.1. Still, Darin croons through the sets and the music is pure. The older, black-and-white sequences are little more rough, but it’s Darin that really captures the attention, not the sound.
His life was a mixture of tragedy and luck. Born Walden Robert Cassotto in The Bronx, New York, to a young mother out of wedlock, Darin never knew his father. His early years were made difficult by poverty. When he was eight years old, he contracted rheumatic fever that eventually left him with the heart disease that finally stole his life in 1973. He had an artificial heart valve. While he was still a boy, he heard a doctor tell his mother that he would be lucky to live to be 16.
Even under a death sentence, maybe more driven because he knew his life was going to be a short one, Darin pushed himself all the harder to do what he wanted to do. He’d been graced with a love and talent for music, and a genius-level IQ. He started college, working as a busboy in some of the nightclubs in the area, but the stage called to him. He put a band together and started playing, keeping both jobs.
He got his first record contract at age 20, in 1956, continued his music career at another company two years later, while also arranging music, and wrote “Splish, Splash” as a lark and because he was challenged by DJ Murray the K (Murray Kaufman), a pioneer in the music industry. In 1959, he released “Dream Lover” (also included on the DVD) and sold millions of records, which gave him the financial security that allowed him to pursue other interests in the music business.
He became a nightclub sensation, and as I saw from the performances in the DVD, it wasn’t just the songs or the singing ability, it was about Darin’s skill at entertaining an audience. He could walk into a room of people and own them. I felt the same way as I watched the DVD. He played the harmonica and the xylophone, sang, danced, and cracked wise with a disarming ease. Everything thing that Darin did on stage that I saw on the DVD came off as fluid and relaxed
He was the youngest headliner at the casinos in Las Vegas, and as the years passed, he sang big band songs, rock and roll, and folk songs. He soon put more butts in the seats than Frank Sinatra had. And he still pushed himself to develop not only more avenues for himself, but for others too. Entertainment historians credit Darin for giving comedians like Richard Pryor, Nipsy Russell, and Flip Wilson their opportunities to become successful. And Darin is even given credit, at least partially, for the discovery of Wayne Newton.
He worked in movies and nearly got an Academy Award. His talent, from singing to entertaining to arranging to acting, was immense.
In his final years, Darin hosted his own show on television. Even though his health was failing, he had to be in front of an audience, doing what he did best: entertaining. He was often given oxygen before and after shows. In fact, after his last performance, which is on the DVD, he was rushed to the hospital emergency room for treatment.
If you only remember Bobby Darin as the guy who sang the rock and roll hit “Splish, Splash,” rent or pick up a copy of Bobby Darin: Seeing Is Believing to get a whole new take on him. The package is great to see him in action, to get a sense of the songs he covered, and the magic he brought to a room. He was a classy guy who never forgot his roots and always gave an audience what they came there to see.