Seconds - Gladys Knight and the Pips
In my last post, I mentioned that two friends had recently died, and remembered the first of these, the actor Bernard Strother. The second was Peter Warne, popularly known as "Warnie" or just "Pete".
I met Pete as a result of a nomad cricket team, the Gustavus Adolphus Memorial Cricket Club (GAMCC) that I and my friend Scott had set up in 1983. We were a band of brothers and sisters bonded by friendship rather than by our ability to play cricket. Alas, the women didn't play, or rather weren't expected to play and therefore didn't, regarding the game as the folly of the men to be tolerated as it afforded a context for good company and interesting visits to the countryside.. At a certain point, Scott, aware of the need for new, younger blood, invited one Mathew Crane to join us for a match. It wasn't long before Matt brought Pete along and the duo were a godsend, revitalising the team, and lowering the average age considerably.
Most importantly, everyone liked them because they were lovely guys, always good company, always fun to be with, but sensitive and considerate too.
When someone dies that you once knew very well, a strange thing happens: you find yourself thinking about them a lot, but the memories take weeks to slowly return. Looking back, I realise it's rare to come across a pair of friends who were as close as Matt and Pete. At first, some members of the GAMCC thought they might be a gay couple, but, as someone once said, "they were even closer than that", in that they were the best possible friends, no more, no less, "bosom buddies" as they say.
Whenever I was marooned in town, having missed the last train, they wouldn't just put me up, they'd make me feel welcome, crack a bottle open. And, when my job demanded, as often happened, that I stay overnight in London, working on a concert or festival, they waited up waiting for me with a meal and too much wine, like a pair of charming but corrupting aunts .
At matches and on the various cricket tours, of all the team members, they were the ones that played with my kids, and, twenty plus years later, are still remembered by them.
Matt and Pete had met as students on a holiday job in a burgher bar in Canterbury and become close, perhaps because they had both lost their fathers in their teens; they became inseparable, working in jobs together at other cafs and burgher joints, and later, hilariously, securing cars on the cross channel hovercraft, before obtaining university places at Warwick and Manchester respectively, with Matt making almost weekly trips north to partake in the culture of Madchester and the Hacienda.
Once relocated in London, they shared a flat in Clapham. When I stayed there, I would sleep on Pete's floor as he had the bigger room. This room always reminded me of Pat Gavin's brilliant animated film "Erik Satie Passing Through" wherein the musical composer Erik Satie lives in a room which just contains his piano, loads of sheets of lined music score paper, his 12 identical velvet corduroy suits, his starched collars, cuffs and white shirts, his bowler hats, black shoes and black umbrellas. Pete had an impressive double bed, but I had no need to borrow a mattress as the floor was always covered in discarded black suits, white shirts and starched collars all carelessly discarded after hard days in court among a scattering of legal case papers. Every morning he'd don a new set fresh from his wardrobe and go off to court and he claimed he had a cleaning lady who came in and took them all to get washed and cleaned once a week. I didn't complain, they were comfortable enough to sleep on.
Mathew was into American literature and would talk late about Pyncheon and Donna Tart, while Pete was more into film. They both were crazy over all sorts of music, resolutely loaning me underground 12" vinyl for my disco set, to "bring it up to date". One track in particular was their favourite, and at a chosen moment after midnight Pete would come over and say "it's time" and he was always right, everyone would hit the floor, whereas if I played it too soon it would clear as though struck by a bee swarm. I wish I could recall which track it was, but with both of them now gone, no-one seems to know.
Pete often enthused to me about his love for the plays and films of Neil Simon, favourites being "The Sunshine Boys", "The Goodbye Girl" and "California Suite". It seems obvious now, and must have been obvious then, but I can't remember ever teasing him about the irony in this: looking back, he and Matt could have been the original inspiration for Simon's "The Odd Couple"; while Matt was definitely the more Lemmonish of the two, Pete was almost a dead ringer for Felix, the character acted by Walter Matthau. Not only did he bear some physical resemblance to Matthau, he almost gleefully adopted Felix's casual domestic habits, even down to the boozy card nights with his mates.
In good time, they both married and moved out of London, Matt to Tunbridge Wells, Pete to Macclesfield. Matt died seven years ago, from cancer. I'm not sure if Pete ever recovered from the shock of Matt's passing and this was almost certainly a factor in his descent down the treacherous slope of alcoholism, to his death on February 22nd of this year. Either way, as the days since Pete's funeral in April have passed, both of them have been haunting my thoughts, always making me smile despite myself, they were such good and amusing people. Coupled with the sadness that they both died so young, in their fifties, much of their lives unfulfilled.
Finally moving off Barrett Strong who died on January 28th of this year (see previous posts), we move forward eleven days to February 8th when songwriter Burt Bacharach died at the age of 94. While most of the many hits for which Bacharach composed the music were written with Hal David, he did compose one song with Neil Simon. This was written for the Broadway show "Promises Promises", a musical version of the great Billy Wilder movie "The Apartment" (curiously starring Jack Lemmon). Bacharach and David wrote the music and Simon wrote the "book", adapted from the original Wilder/Diamond film script. The show, was a minor Broadway hit, running for just over a thousand performances, and had a short run in London's West End, which was to be followed by a film version. In the meantime Simon, who'd always wanted to turn his hand to lyric writing, had got together with Bacharach to write "Seconds" intending it to be included in the film, but the project was abandoned, leaving the song to find its way onto Side One of Gladys Knight and the Pips' 1974 album "I Feel a Song".
Once Pete had gotten over the fact that you couldn't dance to this, he'd have loved the words because they were by Neil Simon. And of course there is a dance after all, the dance between the wordplay, and the sadness in the meaning of the song, that life is fleeting, and time is short:
"Seconds, I missed him just by seconds I missed him in the moment that it takes a door to open, all the plans that I had dreamed of, all the dreams that I was hoping for were shattered by the movement of the little hand that ticks away the seconds. That's all it takes, it's seconds- the rain has stopped the traffic and it seemed my hopes were fading - nothing moved across the city, while I prayed he still was waiting there, knowing that my life was riding on the hand that ticks away the seconds. I've got more now than seconds, I've got myself a lifetime, I've got all the time I needed, I can sit here with this letter, nothing else to do but read it, nothing else to do but listen while the ticking clock keeps ticking, having left my life with nothing else, no, nothing else but seconds and all the men I've met since then were seconds."