By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
Deckers, a Belgian nun whose life was immortalized in the 1966 bio-pic The Singing Nun (Debbie "Tammy" Reynolds in the title role!), had checked out of her Dominican order almost 20 years earlier when she checked out of this world via a suicidal OD of sedatives in March 1985 at age 52.
Sakamoto, who'd continued to enjoy pop-star status in Japan, perished almost five months later, one of 520 people who died when a Japan Airlines flight crashed near Tokyo. He was 43.
Now Modugno. Born in Polignano a Mare in southern Italy in 1928, he studied at Rome's Experimental Cinema Center, then pursued an acting career before switching over to pop tunesmithing in the early Fifties. And while he pumped up the volume on the Italian charts from 1953 to 1976, he owned the pop charts everywhere in 1958. That year his "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu" (Modugno wrote the music and co-wrote the lyrics with Francesco Migliacci--the title "In the Blue [Sky] Painted Blue" inspired by the illustration on a pack of cigarettes) won top prize at Italy's huge annual San Remo Festival, copped a Grammy for best song in the awards' debut year, and sold 30 million copies worldwide. As a New York Times correspondent covering the San Remo fest wrote, "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu' exploded with the violence of a bomb."
Despite that it was sung in Italian, with few people outside Italian-American communities in New York City and Philadelphia understanding what Modugno was on about, U.S. pop fans ate it up. That chorus, that amazingly hooky chorus--Volare, oh, oh! Cantare, oh, oh, oh, oh! (Flying, oh, oh! Singing, oh, oh, oh, oh!")--sucked up everything in its path and whirled it through the ecstasy cyclotron. In his book The Rockin' 50s, Arnold Shaw writes, "The catchy melody expressed a feeling of joy and freedom so complete and infectious that people burst out singing whenever and wherever they heard it." For a blink in the summer of 1958, it seems Modugno tapped into the music of the spheres. "Volare" mania seized the U.S. pop industry, with a gaggle of cover versions, both vocal and instrumental, tumbling out of recording studios. Capitol rush-released one by Dean Martin (born Dino Crocetti, so he could get away with it) that peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard charts the same week Modugno occupied No. 1. Record-biz foot soldiers tramped desperately through Italy in search of other songs that could be exported to the U.S. But no other Italian songs caught on.
And although Modugno remained a star in Italy, winning two additional awards at subsequent San Remo fests and cranking out hit records, his U.S. chart days ignited and burned out with "Volare." In a somewhat bizarre footnote, seven years ago he was elected to a seat in Italy's national Chamber of Deputies (their Congress) as a member of the Radical party. Then he suffered a fatal heart attack on August 6. "He passed away at sunset," his widow, Franca Gandolfo, told the Italian news agency ANSA, "on the edge of the land he loved more than anything else." Meanwhile, "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu" has endured. In addition to its ineffable, transcendent melody, its original Italian lyrics evince a surreal splendor, full of dreamlike imagery of cosmic flight: "I think a dream like this will never come back again/I was painting my hands and my face blue/Then suddenly a swift wind took me away/And I started to fly into the endless sky. . . . I was flying, happily, always higher, higher than the sun, even higher/While the world was slowly, slowly disappearing way down below/A kind of music so sweet was playing only for me."