Tommy Page, a romantic songwriter with a straight face and brown hair who rocked our youth, we – the children of the 90s, with his interplanetary piece « I’ll Be Your Everything » passed away a few weeks ago. Those who have been lucky enough to rub shoulders with him in their career as an interpreter or a composer will remember the benevolent evanescence that was his charm and his signature, which were so often highlighted as: « Your friend to rely on ». But for many, the one who is now based at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Caldwell, a city that saw him growing up and in which he attended high school until 1985, is now a symbol of heartbreak. A symbol of these artists, familiar or not, who have known, for a time, the glory, and who have since ceased to reinvent themselves… Symbols of all these artists who, despite the effervescence and the Excitement due to a new artistic project, leave us « anyway » in the most unexpected and incomprehensible way… Mid-January, Tommy published a photo of him working on his circa 1870 grand piano and assuring: « You have not seen the last of me yet » …
It is 3:00 pm and I am quietly resting when a strange thought crosses my mind: it has been a while since I have seen a post from Tommy Page on his social networks. I sent him my album a few months ago, sure that one of my songs (Under a Blue Moon) would please him. Of course, he is no longer the marketing singer that he could be. He is a man now. He evolves in a world of less glitter. He has reached his artistic maturity. I do not expect anything in return. Just an exchange in the name of the love of music and this art so demanding and devouring that is sometimes the composition, art that allowed me to discover through its own creations the year of my sweet 15 years… The news falls like a cleaver on my smartphone: Tommy Page is dead. Panic on board. I burst into tears in my husband’s arms. I even called my parents. I must say that I have a « past » with Tommy. I discovered him at a record store in Charlotte, North Carolina, in May 1989. The dreamy girl and already artist that I was ignited for the title « When I Dream of You ». The perfectly made melody. Words that go straight to the heart. As I never do things halfway, I buy everything I find on the emerging singer: magazines, newspapers, every publication containing an insert mentioning Tommy, I will buy it! This will bring me an overweight suitcase at the time of embarkation for New York. Back in France, I try with my friend Catherine, a fan of the NKOTB for whom Tommy wrote and with whom he will even sing, to set up a French fan club. The project will not take place despite an announcement launched in the only magazine that then links with the US and California: Ciné Télé Revue. A few dozen fans are not enough to drop a project associative, and to make known Tommy in France is a challenge for the new casual high school students that we are. I keep today a few words of encouragement addressed by the official fan club including some signed Tommy.
For years, I will keep in my hopes of returning to the USA only to meet him because he has, over time, become more accessible. He reinvented himself. After returning to Stern, NY, he became an « executive » in the musical world, worked for Billboard, Pandora, Cumulus and others. Lately, he worked at The Village Voice, a popular New York newspaper. Nevertheless, fate is fierce every time I set foot in the United States; something prevented me from carrying out my project. When I was 20, I even contracted the chickenpox, and I put myself in quarantine in a campsite of Arizona! Little by little, I let the American dream fade with my soul in passing… Then when we are moms, travel to the USA become real expeditions… A kind of precautionary principle begins to gnaw me. I travel less than before.
I have lost so many artist friends, all of them suicidal before the delicate course of the fifties, probably worn out by the lack of recognition (when a project is concretised, everything is to be redone, nothing is ever acquired) Speaks so easily in a psychoanalysis that helps me keep my feet on the ground (it is necessary when working in the artistic milieu since I was 16 years old), I felt overwhelmed. Overcome by the death of this founding creature of my adolescence, of this brown with a soft and intense look, full of empathy and dynamism, which inspired me so much with his madly dandy side and his lascivious poses. He was also surpassed by the brutality of his gesture, a gesture of despair on the part of the one who was so admired and remained a real star in Indonesia where he had found a second family. Understand? What’s the point? I am well placed to know that to seek to understand suicide in the artist-in second-half-life-would amount to penetrating an unfathomable nebula without possessing a single map.
I sleep very poorly lately. I feel shattered. Broken as a woman and as an artist. I feel that I have come to the end of my own desires. Yet, I do not feel depressed at all. I go through a period of mourning, which is all, that of all these artist friends who decided, after years of fighting, to give up, not to stay, and to leave before the final 50 years… I am fulfilled in my life as a wife and mother. I manage my life as an artist as I wish. I do not really have any money problems. It is just infinitely complex for me to imagine this unrecognised but admired being whom I praised as a teenager, end his days without appeal for help. To imagine him being carried pale to work, by simple text, to commit suicide, far, in his secondary residence, there in a town of Pennsylvania… It is a terrible crush-heart when I remember this. When the radio station of the TWA aircraft broadcast its hit in a loop. To wrap myself in a plaid that promised me America and listen, among the clouds, to Tommy’s slightly tough but soft voice, there wrapped in my seat. Who was I then? A young aspiring artist-author? A French on vacation? A dilettante who persisted in living the head in the USA when her friends were content to attend the high school of Noisy-le-Grand? With Tommy in my ears and my feet on the same continent as him, I was Me. Quite simply. He is the one who defined my type of man. My first love, at first sight, Gareth an Englishman met in Malta one spring evening, was Tommy Page’s perfect look-alike. His complexion was clear, his hair was brown, and his eyes were dark. The velvet in his voice perhaps had it too… I do not remember… It was the poetics of Tommy Page that I was looking for in each of the men I met then, never despairing me. To find someone at the height of this beautiful ice image that the record company Sire had sold us so well, we midinettes of the 90s… Yes, I am aware that this disappearance represents, beyond Tommy and this mourning that I experience, in spite of myself, that of my own youth, of that filiform body, without care for health, which it was so easy to transport everywhere, to denude, to hide, to offer, or to take back. Whether the missing person is close or not, it is a mourning before all. That is why Tommy’s face scrolls every night in front of my closed eyes and why his songs still haunt my daily life. Rewind… What if we finally admit that the stars are much easier to follow than our own parents are?
That night I got up. I let my husband sleep with our 15-month-old baby, the big one, 11 years old, dreaming in a room. I went down to listen to « From The Heart ». I hesitate in the days and days. Of course, I burst into tears. All of a sudden, I realised that the last dream that still held my heart and that I had been pushing back for years, going to the USA to present my new music to Tommy, was definitely dead with him. I also realised that I had no more real dreams to achieve, that everything I wanted personally, lovingly, musically, and professionally speaking had already materialised. What is left when there are no more dreams? The routine, serene and comforting. That to all aspirants except the artists precisely!
I realised that Tommy and his melodies had shaped me as I am and dictated some of the clichés that clutter my life as a woman today and sometimes make life so bloody-blue: cross an American campus and lean on. An antique column copy looking into the vague, walking in Central Park flamboyant in the fall, living in a large Victorian house, installing a white piano in front of a bow window and playing street facing the winter, walking in the Californian sand under the jetty, turn your back on the Eiffel Tower of the Sun full of the sight… To expose oneself, to be overexposed perhaps, sometimes dangerously. For the gaze of the other is the very executioner of difference. All artists know this.
So here, monologue coming to an end, now is the time we say goodbye. I will simply have your autograph framed and put it on my piano. I will learn to play Minetta Lane as best I can, in memory of you. I will compose new songs, of course, trying to find myself another dream than that of haunting my steps – profoundly regret – the streets of Caldwell, New Jersey. Yet I will not forget you. You will remain, Tommy, this part of me escaped, cancelled in less time than it is necessary to say, that part of me that will continue to wander. Probably.