Singer/songwriter/pianist Johnnie Ray’s heyday was before my time. He sticks in my mind mainly due to a reference in one of my favorite 80s songs, “Come On Eileen” by Dexie’s Midnight Runners (Poor old Johnnie Ray sounded sad upon the radio/he moved a million hearts in mono)
Johnnie Ray, born in Oregon in 1927, was a fellow American, but he seems to have been a much bigger star in England and, later, in Australia. Ray became famous in the early 50s due to a couple of songs, “Cry” and “The Little White Cloud that Cried.” Johnnie was known for his on-stage histrionics, sobbing into the microphone, tearing at his hair, falling to the floor as if in pain. Adults were shocked to see a white male singer showing so much emotion on stage, but the teenagers ate it up.
Here he is singing his biggest hit:
So, why do I bring up this singer who has, it seems, been largely forgotten? Because I am currently reading a novel set in the mid 1950s, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets and its young narrator, Penelope, is English and absolutely besotted with this singer.
I don’t think it was just because Johnnie made me want to faint and fall over . . . it was more to do with the spark of his performance, the newness of his movements. He looked to me like the man I wanted to marry, and when he opened his mouth and sang, the whole world could have stopped and I would not have noticed.
I left the cinema in a daze, stirred with yearning and desire for the first time, jittery and disoriented by the sudden, stomach-flipping adoration for a real man, and not one of Inigo’s friends with Johnnie, this vision of loveliness, this American dreamboat . . . when it came down to it, his emotion, his heartache was something I understood. ~ Eva Rice, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets
Does this sound in any way famliar to you? It did to me. I felt a smile tugging at my lips as I read Penelope’s words, waxing rhapsodic about this performer, and, in a later passage, how relieved she was to discover her new friend Charlotte shared her admiration for Mr. Ray, “as if we spoke the same secret language.”
We all seem to speak the same secret language of Richard Armitage.