Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The summer song inspired by war

Ken Burn’s recent series on PBS about Vietnam brought back all manner of memories about those distressing days. It got me thinking about high school friends who were sent there to fight and never came home. And friends who did return but were never quite the same.

Vietnam has been called the first rock and roll war. Certainly many of the tunes we heard on the radio during mid to late 60s came to be connected with the era.  The The Vietnam War soundtrack contains 120 songs from artists including Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Pete Seeger, Wilson Pickett, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. 

Some, like Marvin Gaye’s“What’s Going On”, were inspired by stories of family members who were serving at the time. 
One song not on the soundtrack also has a link to the Vietnam War –  “Mr. Dieingly Sad” from the summer of 1966. At the time, none of us listening knew the catchy beach ditty came to be as a result of the conflict.

I recently learned the writer, Don Ciccone, penned the tune just before shipping out to Vietnam. His girlfriend at the time had an unfailingly sunny disposition while he was frightened and worried about what was to come. He was Mr. Dieingly Sad.

Just a breeze will muss your hair
But you smile away each little care
And if the rain should make you blue
You say tomorrow is anew
Blue be your eyes, blonde your hair
You realize beyond a care
Life's in a hurry, but
You've got no worry, you're
So mystifyingly glad
I'm Mr. Dieingly Sad.”

Don Ciccone was born in 1946 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He started playing the guitar at age 12 and was performing two years later.  At 15, he auditioned for a popular Jersey band, The Vibraphones. At the time, the band was looking for a rhythm guitar player who could also sing.  

In 1964, the band changed its name to The Critters to sound more like other popular acts of the day such as the Animals, the Byrds and of course, The Beatles.

The band’s first single was “Younger Girl”, a cover of Lovin Spoonful original. While taking a break during the recording of John Sebastian’s tune, Don started rehearsing a song he’d written. The band’s producer Artie Ripp overheard Don practicing “Mr. Dieingly Sad”.  Ripp was so impressed, he stopped working on “Younger Girl” and went immediately into the studio to record “Sad.” 


“Sad” is a hauntingly wistful song that seemed to be about a boy in love who wishes his girl would adore him as much as he adores her. And time is running out! Summer is almost over, fall is on the way and the romance will likely end.

But in a 2010 interview with Goldmine magazine. Don Ciccone said it wasn’t about love gone wrong at all.  “The whole story is I knew that I was going to get pulled into the military. We were at war, and the draft was happening. So that was the reason for the lyric of the song. Everything was great for her, and I said it in a nice way. I was glad that it was great for her. But it wasn’t so great for me, because I could see myself going to war.”

The “Younger Girl” album was released while Don and two other members of The Critters were in Vietnam. “Girl” only made it to #42 on the charts but “Mr. Dieingly Sad” topped out at #17.

After release from the Air Force, Don went on to join the Four Seasons for ten years. He sang lead vocal on “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)” and “Who Loves You”. He later toured with Tommy James and the Shondells. 

Don passed away after a heart attack last October. We’ll never know if he ever saw his beautiful, lighthearted summer love again.

Did she write to him? Did she wait for him?

As for me, every time I hear the song, the melancholy melody takes me back to Miami Beach the summer before I started 11th grade. I can hear my friends talking about what a new school year might bring. I can hear the sea gulls cackling. I can almost smell the salt spray and the Coppertone.

And before long, a gentle ocean breeze will muss my hair.