The Song: “24 Hours from Tulsa”.
1963 Gene Pitney tune penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, whose undeniable skill didn’t prevent them from unwittingly interweaving an unspeakable undertone into their Dustbowl ditty.
“Told her I’d die before I would let her out of my arms.”
Gene’s got a girl in Tulsa, someone to keep the home fires burning while he’s out on the road doing his thing. But trouble is brewing, because it turns out that part of Gene’s thing is hooking up with a roadhouse vixen who doesn’t mind a bit of dinner and dancing—possibly the horizontal kind. Overcome, our hero gushes the offending lyric.
While this Oklahoman Odysseus’ confession of extramarital gymnastics is sure to make his Tulsan Penelope anything but genial, the true horror is reserved for his amour du jour.
On the surface this seems a typical example of what guys think girls like—a declaration of love incorporating some element of mortality. “I’d die for you”, “lay down my life”, or, if you’re Bruno Mars, “catch a grenade for you”.
Noble, if somewhat overblown, sentiments that in no way include the girl.
This is where Gene has got it so very wrong.
For him, the girl is fundamental. He will not release her until death claims him, seemingly worried that given half a chance she’ll make a run for it. Gene’s not a bad looking guy—surely he doesn’t need to resort to appendicular imprisonment? Alas, the vow is made…so what does their future hold, besides holding each other?
The Conjoined Crooner.
He’s got to put food on the table, still take the stage every night. There’s long days on the tour bus, meetings, interviews…all conducted while groping an increasingly exhausted woman.
And what of her? Subjected nightly to the same songs, one of which describes how she came to be locked in this hideous situation in the first place—it’s a pretty safe bet that after a week she’d start nodding off at the opening G, which leads us to another problem.
The illusion of sexual availability is integral to a pop-star’s success; surely it’s a mood-killer to be relentlessly cuddling a semi-conscious woman whilst attempting to serenade your audience. Sadly, Gene’s malfunctioning career barometer is the least of their woes.
Anything but ‘armless.
“Only one day away from your aaarrrrms!” he hollers to his wife in the chorus, before deciding that a girl in his arms is worth two in a Tulsa bush.
Arms again. The man is clearly obsessed, an unreconstructed Cuddlophile. But he’s already proven he can’t commit to one woman—is the vow any deterrent to Gene making the scene when this passion fades and he feels the urge to poke the Pitney Persuader at another? You’d think pitching woo is hard enough without your arms wrapped around the woman you’re cheating on.
A Gene for Every Occasion.
Some women find possessiveness a sign that he cares. But even the most insecure woman would find the “romance” of his vow wearing thin after her first trip to the ob/gyn with Gene gamely hanging on, wedged between the stirrups, making life difficult for all concerned.
Driving, childbirth, lunch with the girls, housework—all requiring Cirque du Soleil contortions, and he’s not helping with any of it because his hands are full, he’s clinging on for all he’s worth. Even if he offers to unblock the InSinkErator or do the vacuuming, she’s still getting sprayed with carrot peel or tangled in the hose.
Then there’s the need to constantly explain his presence, to apologize at social events for this maniac hanging off her neck like the Tingler in that old Vincent Price film. “Never mind Gene, just try to pretend he’s not there…”
Why not simply wait for him to fall asleep, extricate herself and run screaming into the night? Ah, but Gene made a vow, and sleep is the principle threat to its fulfillment—one can only assume, therefore, that Gene never sleeps.
No Rest For the Wired.
Katydids, Hill House, and Gene Pitney—America’s great insomniacs. The only possible way Gene can overcome the need to catch forty winks is clear—drugs. Cocaine, caffeine, those sodas with guarana that taste like battery acid…Gene needs ‘em all, and in heroic quantities.
Scientists and Shirley Jackson have proven that life without sleep is the fast route to insanity. Add a gram of Bolivia’s finest and a triple-shot affogato to this mix, a passion for orthopaedic shoes and endless renditions of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and you’ve got a recipe for a well-cushioned trip to the rubber room.
Her only consolation is that under such physical duress it can’t be long before he’s playing that Great Gig in the Sky, leaving her free…forever scarred, perhaps, and unable to visit a cocktail lounge in Branson without breaking into a cold sweat, but free.
“We live, we die and death not ends it.”
So said Jim Morrison, something of a serial cuddler himself. What if this is literally the case for Pitney’s prisionero de amor, who has been waiting for the day the Rockville Rocket burned up in re-entry? If she doesn’t move quickly enough before rigor mortis—a condition that lasts about two days—sets in, she’ll be in for a profoundly unsettling Weekend at Pitney’s.
Let us pause and reflect upon this whole disquieting scenario…Branson, insanity, uppers, post-mortem cuddles…it seems inevitable that at some point during this bedlam the Jaws of Life would be demanded, and so we say Lyricbusted!