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Sense of Life

On First Hearing Mario Lanza
by James Kilbourne



Because you speak to me ...

The warmth started somewhere in my chest and slowly spread throughout my body. At first it was the power; then came the feeling of intensity. It was Christmas of 1951 or 1952 - I canít remember, although the difference to me is profound. 1951 was my last Christmas with my mother; 1952 was my first without her. Death took her from me in April of 1952, when I was seven years old. I was standing in a circle of relatives at my grandmotherís house at 68 Berkeley Avenue in Yonkers, New York. We were all silently listening to this new recording of Guy díHardelotís Because, a song, which had been sung at my parents' wedding and was deeply loved by many in my family. It was my brother Donís newly purchased record. The record was his, but what was on it became one of the most precious gifts he would ever give me; and he has given me many.

I remember exactly how I felt. As I stand at the threshold of my seventh decade, I grasp at my center a thread that weaves back from this moment to that seven-year-old boy. Its somewhat frayed but strong essence contains a feeling of security and a sense of communication with what I was, what I am, and what I will always be. The child I was is very well known to the sixty-year-old who I am, and as anyone who knows me will attest, he continues to make many appearances in my life. Perhaps a thread through the cloth of my life is not the best metaphor. Perhaps it is better described as a lifeline to hold onto to keep from drowning in the sea of living. And to re-experience that feeling, all I need to do is play the record:

Because you speak to me ...

Yes. The same goose-bumps. The feeling is identical, but my understanding of the phenomenon that is Mario Lanza constantly grows. The philosopher Ayn Rand talks of a personís "sense of life": the summation of how one views the universe, life, and how he, as an individual, fits into it. Are we ants crawling around in the dark, only to be accidently stomped on by some marching pair of empty boots heading ... nowhere ... or are we lions seated on a throne high on a precipice overseeing a lush and friendly jungle filled with thrilling future conquests, heading toward greatness and fulfillment? All that a man becomes can be gleaned from knowing how he internally answers this question.

If anyone ever personified a bounteous, ecstatic sense of life, it is Mario Lanza. It radiates from every cell of his being and every note he sings. There is nothing important about him that anyone can reveal to me; everything important has come to me through his songs - from his heart and mind, through that incomparable voice, directly to my heart and mind. For those who canít seem to hear him, let me tell you why, besides that obviously prodigious voice, he is so great.

Think of the famous line of Sunset Boulevardís Nora Desmond when someone says to her, "You used to be big," and she responds, "Iím still big. The movies have become small." Now contemplate the thought she expresses. Mario Lanza is big and too much of the world around us is small. Every emotion he expresses is huge, every word important, every thought immediate and honest. When he makes you cry, you donít sniffle and dab your eyes with a lace handkerchief; you fall on the floor and weep - oceans of tears! And when you love, you donít just respect your partner and hold his hand; you love completely, eternally, lustfully, spiritually. You are lost in each otherís souls! The period was invented to describe the conclusions of most people; the multiple exclamation point belongs to Mario Lanza!!! In For You Alone, the rose is "the rarest flower in all Godís garden fair," and his heart is "fashioned ... for you, for you alone." You are standing before God or the universe when you hear these vows. You are standing before your reality filled with self-worth and reverence for life.

The world through Mario Lanza is serious, important and most of all, joyful! Your life and your feelings are meaningful; and so very, very important. Donít speak to me of his flaws; I know them better than you do. But I would be afraid to change anything. Afraid of killing what to me is the miracle of Mario Lanza. I often wish I could have a few seconds with him; not to tell him he had a great voice or that I am "your biggest fan," but to thank him for breathing so much life into my world. I would love to say to him the line from Because that says it all:

A wider world of hope and joy I see ...
Because you speak to me.

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