Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart, Lost and Found

Everyday Notecards, by LuccaPaperworks on etsy

I admit that I have moments when I wonder why on earth I spend my scant free moments blogging when I could be, you know, scraping play-dough bits off the floor  or watching television or whatever it is people do to relax. Then the other night I got an email that made me so happy that I do keep this silly blog after all. It was from the composer Norman Bergen, in response to a recent post in which I mentioned a song he wrote! I mean, don’t you love the internet sometimes?

As I mentioned in a recent post, Alton’s go-to lullaby is the hit-that-never-was, “Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart.” In the hospital, right after he was born — which was a wild experience, as he really was almost born in the taxi on the way there, and so maybe we were in even weirder states of mind than after a more, say, relaxed birth experience, if that’s possible — a nurse with a beautiful, soulful voice sang “Only a fool breaks his own heart” in the elevator. Adam, being Adam, immediately looked up the song, and we became acquainted with its various versions. The lyrics make no sense for a lullaby of course, and I hope it doesn’t give Alton any bad ideas about relationships or anything. (Girls of the future, please be nice to our Ollie! OR I WILL MURDER YOU.) We just loved it, and the way, unexpectedly, in that sterile cube zooming us through NYU Medical Center, it came to us.

And same goes for the email Norman Bergen sent me! Look:

I am originally from Brooklyn.  My lyricist Shelly (Sheldon) Coburn (now deceased) and I wrote the song in 1964 and it was first recorded the following year.  The first recording by Arthur Prysock did not do well in the U.S., but after a while, we started hearing about cover versions in other parts of the world.  We knew the song had been successful in a few places but I never knew about its great success throughout the world until getting on the internet 10 years ago.  Bit by bit, information came out.  Today the song is a true standard in 3 parts of the world, now with more than 70 versions. 

For years, the irony had been that the country in which the song was written is the only place where it is virtually unknown, although in recent years a few things have begun to turn things around.  One of the song’s most successful areas has been the Caribbean Islands.  [ed. note: Halloo, Caribbean nurse! I get it now!] The part of Brooklyn where I grew up (East Flatbush/Crown Heights), now has a large Caribbean population, so the song is now known among those residents – right where I came up with the melody so many years ago.  It is one of the biggest hits by Calpyso artist Mighty Sparrow who performs it often, including a recent concert at Brooklyn College where my son works.  Also, Dion DiMucci who is originally from the Bronx, recorded the song in recent years.  These are the two reasons that I have felt more complete about the song finally ‘coming home’ after all these years.
Now your blog!  That truly made my day since there is documentation of the song currently being sung by people in Brooklyn; something I had always hoped for.”
Isn’t that just perfect?
I love the story of the song, because it’s Alton’s song of course (!) but also because it reminds me to take the long view when thinking about my own creations. (The writey ones I mean, not the currently-sleeping-thank-goodness ones in the other room.) A work might not find its audience right away, or in its first iteration. (Under-performing first novel, I’m looking at you, buddy.) And that’s okay. Eventually, probably, it will find its way home.
So anyway, thanks Norman Bergen, for writing the song that makes our baby sleep.
And for emailing me too. That was pretty sweet.

7 responses to “Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart, Lost and Found

  1. I love the Nick Lowe version (and the whole album, The Convincer).

  2. Just fabulous.

  3. This is so cool! Love the song, love the story, love NB’s generous and sweet response.

  4. Arthur Prysock was an excellent baritone in the style of Joe Williams. And I really was a fan of Joe Williams. At the risk of old fogie-dom where are the great baritone Jazz and pop singers of today.

  5. This is an excellent reason to continue the Internet.

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