In 1956 during the first wave of Elvis’ popularity—after “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” and “Love Me Tender” were number one on the Hit Parade–a Jewish girl from Philadelphia pushed Elvis down the list.
Myrtle Audrey Arinsberg, the eldest of six children born to Russian-Jewish parents, took the number one spot from the King. Between Elvis first chart topper, “Heart Break Hotel,” and the above-mentioned classics, Ms Ginsberg, better known as Gogi Grant, reigned for five weeks at number one with “The Wayward Wind.”
Sixty years later the songs timeless beauty endures. It is one of the best, most tightly told and evocative “story-songs” of all time. Ms Grant’ spot on performance of her classic at age 80 (above) is a remarkable achievement.
In recent years I have seriously considered the contrast between ‘the wayward wind’ of the song and the “’wind’ (spirit)’ of God” that hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:2) at the beginning of the Torah’s creation story.
The wayward wind is a random breeze that sweeps up those who follow it and symbolizes a life of aimless selfishness. And of course the bottom line in the song is that because of it, as Ms Grant so plaintively sings, “I’m now alone with a broken heart.”
By contrast the wind of God that hovered over the primordial waters presages the story’s vital lesson that God does not want the wind or spirit within us to be random.
The whole point of the creation story is that life is not an accident and that we should live with purpose and meaning. Everything in the story is created in an orderly fashion and with great purpose. The message is our lives should have purpose and direction. Only we human beings (Genesis 1:26) are created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. That means of all creatures on earth we have the most power. As intelligent as our pets or the chimpanzees or the dolphins are, they are not going to perform life-saving brain surgery. They are also not going to build bombs or bullets whose only purpose is to kill or to maim.
Indeed the overarching message of the creation story is that God wants us to use the awesome power we each possess to positive purpose and for each of us to contribute in some small way to the creation of a more just, caring and compassionate society.
But God doesn’t make us do that. We have a choice.
We can allow the wayward wind to swirl us around aimlessly through life or we can find the “wind of God” deep within our souls and make our lives a blessing to those with whom we interact.
Gogi Grant sang of the wayward wind but seems to have heeded the “wind” of the Eternal one. She honed her vocal gifts so that critics hailed her as “one of the premier vocalists of the 1950s and 1960s, is known for her crystal clear voice, perfect pitch, and a strong vocal range.”
After Riding the top of the charts and starring as the voice of Helen Morgan in the 1957 movie biography of the 1920”s singer, she made 15 LP albums.
She also weathered the stormy winds of two failed marriages.
In 1967, when her son Joshua (actor Joshua Beckett) was an infant, Ms Grant stepped away from the performing world for 20 years to focus on raising her children. When she launched her comeback, the critical verdict was that she had not lost a beat.
Gogi Grant died last month at age 91. She harnessed the wayward wind that beckons to all of us and lived a life of purpose and meaning, a life that enriched her loved ones and enriched her many fans.. May her memory endure as a blessing!