Unlike so many holiday albums of the era, A Winter Romance stands as a masterpiece that offers much more than just another singer's versions of various Christmas standards. Although Martin does take a beautiful spin around "Winter Wonderland" and puts an inebriated bounce into "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the album works best when it focuses not so much on the holiday, but the season in which it falls. You could argue that "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "Canadian Sunset," and "Out in the Cold Again" aren't even Christmas songs at all, and you would be right. Cue them up as December 25 approaches, though, and they define the romance of the season just as well as any other smoochy Christmas hit you care to throw on the holiday fires.

They also define the eroticism of Martin's artistry as capably as any of his more renowned hits. Taken with the highlights of his career -- "Memories Are Made of This," "Volare," "I'd Cry Like a Baby," "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" -- the songs on A Winter Romance help create an aural portrait of a love-struck crooner who defined his passions as much by how he sang a line as what the line said. That he could do this so convincingly made him a sex symbol, a beacon of virility and raw sex appeal for young girls and older women alike. That he did it all with natural grace and a complete lack of pretension made him seem like a regular guy, someone that other regular guys like my grandfather could call their own. Everyone, it seemed, loved Dean Martin.

Dino, on the other hand, loved no one. It is only after you read Nick Tosches's Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, the writer's 1992 Martin biography, that you discover the distance that separated Dean Martin the man from Dean Martin the image. At the root of Martin's personality was an utter lack of interest in the people around him: the two wives he would torment through silence and emotional distance; the musicians, producers, and arrangers who helped him perfect his art; Jerry Lewis, his stage and screen accomplice from 1949 to 1959, who told Tosches that Martin "had a wonderful way of putting up a faaade, and that kept people at bay." Even Sinatra -- one of Martin's Rat Pack buddies and frequent costar in clubs and films -- was thought of by Martin as a Mafia groupie and a mama's boy, stone-drunk on power, influence, and ego. Throughout the book, countless acquaintances of Martin's say the same thing: He was incapable of communication, of intimacy, of fostering friendships, of sharing thoughts, of displaying the emotional traits he so gracefully celebrated in his work. In contrast to the yearning romantic of his finest music, the real-life Dean Martin did not care about anyone or anything.

My grandfather died in 1983, nearly ten years before Tosches's book revealed the disturbing enigma that was Dean Martin. I don't think he would have liked the book anyway. Most of the time he was a pretty quiet guy who respected his privacy and the privacy of others. Aside from showing me how to handle records without leaving my fingerprints on the grooves, the only advice he ever gave me was something like "Keep your nose the hell out of other people's business." Perhaps he let his music -- Dean Martin's music -- speak for him. On holidays and family gatherings, he would twirl my grandmother around the living room, offering off-key vocal accompaniment as "Volare" flooded the room, surely not the least bit concerned whether Dean Martin was a lousy husband or a pillhead or an alcoholic or a crummy human being. Instead, he heard a voice of unflagging optimism, a voice that explored the wonderful dimensions of romantic bliss, a voice that continues to extol the virtues of amore.

It's the voice memories are made of.

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