Until a few days ago, I hadn’t given much thought to Burt Bacharach and his music in many years. But now that he’s gone, all those melodies and lyrics have come rushing back on a flood tide of memories. Joni Mitchell, another of my own music icons, was right: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
Burt Bacharach was one of the most important and influential composers of our time. His music was characterized by unusual chord progressions, influenced by his background in jazz harmony, and notable for his uncommon selection of instruments for small orchestras. He arranged, conducted, and produced much of his own recorded output. His accolades included three Academy Awards, six Grammy Awards, and an Emmy. Bacharach’s songs have been recorded by more than a thousand different artists, and seventy-three of his songs made their way onto to Billboard’s “Top 40” music charts, including “This Guy’s in Love With You,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” “Arthur’s Theme,” and my own personal favorite, “That’s What Friends Are For.” Rolling Stone magazine ranks him at number 32 on their list for “The 100 greatest songwriters of all time.” (Who’s number 1 you ask? Bob Dylan.)
But back to my favorite Bacharach hit: “That’s What Friends are For.” The movie “My Best Friend’s Wedding” included a schmaltzy version of the song, complete with dancing lobsters, but even that silliness couldn’t hide the musical genius and the heartfelt message of that song. We’ve all been there: asking for friendship to comfort us in times of crisis or need or sorrow; sharing treasured moments; even just being present in the warm glow of friendship.
I know this because I count my friends among the most important of my many blessings. I have known some since childhood, grade school, prep school, and college. Some are more recent, but by no means less dear. Even as I’m writing this, I’m spending a golden week in Jamaica with four close friends and four new friends who, by the time this week is over, will, I’m sure, be added stars on my personal wall of friendship.
And, sadly, I’ve lost friends. Some to time or distance, some to diverging paths, even a few to death. I rue their loss; sometimes it was my fault, sometimes it was theirs. Maybe some of those friendships could have been saved if only I had been more kind, patient or understanding, but I take comfort in the knowledge that for all the friends I’ve lost along the way, I’ve been able to replenish the supply and then some. As we come to know ourselves better, we find new stars in the sky to help us steer our course.
Maybe you’re reading this on Valentine’s Day. I know that February 14 has been coopted by Hallmark and its minions to celebrate those we love, but why not expand that circle to include all those we hold dear? Sometimes, love, by its intense nature, can be a blaze that quickly dies, but friendship—true friendship—lingers beyond time and passion, warming us over the years, holding us in the delicate balance between past, present, and future.
So here’s to Burt Bacharach and to all my friends, far and near, old and new. I know just what you are for.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.
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