I can't quite explain why I feel so sad about the death of Willy DeVille, who passed away of pancreatic cancer at the age of 58. If you don't know who he is (like me, you may have missed the defining acts and a couple of the future legends who played at CBGB's circa 1978), or think you're unfamiliar with his music, you may be wrong about that.
If you're a fan of Mickey Rourke, you may recall one of his earliest movies, The Pope of Greenwich Village. One of my favorite scenes in that movie - in a film full of favorite scenes and memorable dialog - shows two characters, Charlie and Diane, enjoying a balmy summer night in a New York City park, dancing lovingly in each other's arms to the soft alluring music coming from the local band playing nearby, who was none other than Mink DeVille featuring Willy. They played "Just to Walk that Little Girl Home" and as I watched the scene for the first time - and every time ever since - it struck me as such a gorgeous, simple, sweet little melody full of desire and love.
It's possibly the perfect combination of piano, accordian, guitar, violin, harmony and lyrics. As a woman, you want to be the woman in the song because she sounds confident, loving, and approachable. As a listener, you want the guy singing to "get the girl" and walk off into the night, arm and arm with the woman he loves.
Skip ahead a few years. The Princess Bride? A little film that may just be a touchstone for a generation? While Mark Knopfler may have performed the song that has become synonymous with ROUS's, six-fingered men, vengeful Spaniards, vile Sicilians and kind-hearted giants - and oh yes, true love - Storybook Love, the title song was another of Willy DeVille's masterpieces. Who doesn't love this song??? Who doesn't find himself or herself at least humming along, at least during the chorus???
I know. This post makes me sound like the least committed fan ever since I have almost no reference points beyond DeVille's music in films. No, I don't own his catalog and I can't claim I danced to his punk songs in the late '70s. If that prevents me from being a true DeVille fan, so be it.
His music brought me joy. Isn't that enough?
Somehow, my sense of the man and his music is that everyone is welcome, that all that mattered were the songs. That he never missed nor craved the enormous fame and everything that accompanied it; the kind of fame that found its way to contemporaries of his during his lifetime.
Just weeks after the world nearly stopped on its axis to mark the death of Michael Jackson, we have another extremely talented musician leave us with barely a minor chord struck in the media. So celebrate DeVille's life and work more quietly. Listen to "Storybook Love" or "Just to Walk That Little Girl Home" and sway in the dark with someone you love tonight. Now that's a real tribute.