The Nat King Cole Inside My Head

I am obsessed with The Beatles, I adore Belle and Sebastian, I’ve seen They Might Be Giants five times in concert, and I can’t stop playing the new Fiona Apple CD… but Nat King Cole is the musical comfort food for my soul.

I have read a few biographies about him over the years, and as amazing of a life he had, it’s always hard for me to connect him to his voice. Frankly, his voice is so engrained into my own life, it is hard to think that it once even belonged to someone else, as strangely as that sounds. I don’t feel his struggles against racism in his career and his growth from jazz pianist to just a singer fronting a band in a studio, lost in the business of just singing singles hoping for a hit, when I listen to his music.

I hear my own life in his voice, in his performing, making each recording I adore something akin to a special gift.

The Christmas Song

This song is more than about Christmas, this performance is a collection of memories for me. When I hear this song, I think of:

  • My grandmother’s house, the tree she always had near the organ with ornaments that seemed lost in another decade, the giant plastic glowing nativity scene on her front lawn, and the model train that never quite makes it around the tree but is still magical nonetheless since we weren’t allowed to touch it, being too delicate for our dirty young fingers.
  • I think of my other grandparents, decorating their tree in their family room with the wood paneling and the ugly dark plaid carpeting. It was a little fake tree, nothing spectacular, but I always loved watching it rise each year.
  • And I think of my mom and her elaborate Christmas arrangements that seem to tastefully grow with each year.

My Mom loves Christmas, she shines each year during the holidays and her joy of the season always begins with the music and many times with this song (possibly even before Thanksgiving arrives). This is the song that plays as she decorates, as she prepares for her annual Christmas Eve party, and it is the song that played each and every year that I ever rushed down the stairs to find the presents left by Santa.

If anyone was to ask me I would say it is a perfect recording, one of the few, and I would not consider changing a single second of it, from the almost hypnotic two notes played on jazz guitar to the quiet strumming of “Jingle Bells” as it fades away.

I cannot get enough of this recording. I’ll even go so far as to say that when I am on my death bed someday and if they are allowed to play music for me, I would want it to be this song… Yet, that is a long way’s off (fingers crossed), for the time being I am focused on carrying this on, making sure the recording is part of the holiday traditions for my children.

I can’t imagine seeing a snowfall without Nat King Cole.

After Midnight

I was given After Midnight, Nat King Cole’s last album with his trio, as a gift. It was 2000, shortly after the new year had hit and I was about to start my drive to Los Angeles to begin, what I thought would be an education in film that would transform into a career. I saw myself at the end of the tunnel becoming something between Woody Allen and George Lucas, but none of that came to pass.

My father loves rock music from his youth. Whenever I think of my dad, usually I hear Neil Young’s Harvest and Steely Dan in the background of my thoughts, so for my dad to give me a copy of After Midnight is a surprise by itself.

I was about to back up my 1999 Pontiac Grand Am for the trip, when my dad handed the CD to me with a hug. He pointed out that “Route 66″ is on it and I will be on that famous drive for part of my trip.

Of Nat King Cole’s albums this is his best. From the opening piano chords of “Just You, Just Me,” there is an energy in Nat’s playing and singing that I feel  is nonexistent in many of his ballads and love songs that he is known for. Frankly, he is having fun in the album and it is obvious. Just listen to his performance and singing in “Caravan” and you’ll see what I mean.

This album has become a staple of my life as a dad myself in my own house, maybe bringing the moment full circle, playing it on Sunday mornings and at the occasional dinner.  This is one of my favorite records of all time, any artist.

“L-O-V-E”

I don’t own a best of CD of Nat “King” Cole. That’s not how I roll. His hits, as it were, don’t interest me. I don’t even have “Mona Lisa” on my iPod. Those songs just aren’t my thing. So while others swooned over his daughter’s Natalie’s salute to him back in 1991, I didn’t feel it. Yes, that part of his discography is forgettable for me.

Every now and then I will track down a box set or a CD I have not heard before (and he has released a lot throughout the world, even a series of fun albums in different languages), but usually they are with mixed results, maybe one or two songs finding their way into my everyday listening. I try to fight back the disappointment of some, like his embarrassing later attempts at country. What always reassures me and brings me back when I find a track that obviously doesn’t fit my mold for a Nat song is his last album L-O-V-E.

His voice is not where it once was in this album, could it be the hint of the cancer that will take his life sneaking in? But the record is still a welcome return to his jazz roots with a big band backing him up, maybe giving a hint of where Nat would have gone if he had had more time. At least that is what I would like to think.

Nat King Cole like many artists I hold dear to my heart left this mortal coil before I arrived. So for those that say I am living in the past, I can’t be, since there is no past there I can relate to. I have taken his voice and put it on my time, my own world; and I hope someday my kids will do the same. There is comfort there, from his light piano playing to his soft, smooth baritone, finding old memories and creating new with each track’s beginning.

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A Jane Austen DaydreamIf you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had three novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!

One thought on “The Nat King Cole Inside My Head

  1. Pingback: The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard | Five Things I Am Into Right Now, July 2014

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