Saturday Single No. 710

I saw this morning that Sean Connery has died. With that news, another bit of my youth has gone as well. Connery, of course, was the first James Bond,  playing 007 of the British Secret Service in seven films, inhabiting a role that came along with him for the rest of his life, despite fifty-some more films and an Academy Award for the 1987 film The Untouchables.

Here, with a few changes, is a piece I posted in 2007 about my mid-1960s Bond fascination. Though that fascination was anchored as much by Ian Fleming’s books as by the Bond films, Connery’s work in those films – which I still watch at least in part when I stumble into them on cable – remains a potent link to the boy I once was.

And I say, not at all for the first time, Connery – formally Sir Thomas Sean Connery – was Bond, and of the other actors cast in that role, only Daniel Craig has come close.

I had a huge James Bond jones when I was a kid.

I was eleven in 1964 – in sixth grade – when the growing popularity of the novels by Ian Fleming and the first two films based on those novels, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, burst into full-blown Bondmania with the release of the third film, Goldfinger.

I wanted badly to see the movie, but my parents weren’t sure. After all, the ads looked like they showed a naked woman painted gold. I won’t deny the attraction that held, but it was truly the story of 007 saving the world – or at least the world’s gold supply – that grabbed me. But my folks said no, a little regretfully, I’ve always thought.

They also weren’t sure if I should be allowed to read Fleming’s novels; Dad bought a copy of Goldfinger to see if it would be appropriate for the somewhat precocious urchin I was, but he read it in the evening, just before retiring, and he read at most four or five pages at a time. I despaired as I saw his bookmark make slow progress into the middle of the book.

Then the Minneapolis Star, an evening paper that no longer exists, began to print excerpts from The Man With The Golden Gun, the final novel Fleming completed before his death in August of 1964. My parents saw how avidly I read the twelve or so excerpts, which had to be okay for kid consumption – after all, they were in the evening paper. And I think they began to think that the books might be okay for me, after all.

But the bookmarker still moved slowly. Then, one day, I heard on the radio the main theme to Goldfinger, with the vocal performed by Shirley Bassey. We belonged to a record club, so I ordered the soundtrack to the movie, and once it arrived, I would sit by the stereo, trying to imagine the scenes that went with John Barry’s sometimes lush and sometimes sparely powerful music. I especially liked the instrumental version of the main theme, with its lead and rhythm guitars, its surging horns and its insistent percussion.

Eventually, Dad’s bookmark reached the end of the book, and with a sigh at my impatience and a shrug, he handed me Goldfinger, which I devoured in only a few days. (It was, like almost all of Fleming’s Bond novels, only 191 pages long.) I moved into seventh grade and met a classmate named Brad, who was also a Bondhead. The film version of Thunderball came out; we went to it and I bought the soundtrack. We spent an afternoon at a double feature of Dr. No and From Russia With Love. We devoured movie magazine pieces about Sean Connery. And we saw Goldfinger when it was re-released.

At the local toy store, where we raced model cars on the big track – we did have some interests beyond Bond – we looked at the items marketed under the 007 license: toy guns, board games, secret agent kits, trick briefcases, and more. As we looked, we wondered in part who would buy such things, and in part, we wanted them.

Secret agents were so cool. Not just James Bond, but Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, the men from U.N.C.L.E. And John le Carré’s Alec Leamas, who was The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, as well as Len Deighton’s nameless agent in The Ipcress File.

My dad took me to see the film based on Deighton’s book, and I read a few “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” books. A copy of Fleming’s Dr. No showed up in my Christmas stocking, and I devoured that as rapidly as I had Goldfinger. And I started to read the rest of the books.

I got two more records: one a low-budget item titled Thunderball, which had a bunch of jazz guys performing themes from all the various secret agent movies and television programs, and one called Sounds For A Secret Agent, on which David Lloyd and his London-based orchestra (a jazzy group, despite the word “orchestra”) offered their versions of themes from the four existing Bond films as well as themes for those Bond titles that had not yet been made into films (excluding Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, evidently because films based on the books were in production at the time Lloyd was recording the project). Brad and I thought that was a great idea, and the music was pretty good, too.

And then, it ended. When eighth grade began, Brad had moved out of town; I never knew where. And although spies and agents were still cool for a while, by the time 1967 rolled around, other things – the rise of the hippie, for one – captured the public’s imagination. I finished reading Fleming’s novels, and I enjoyed them, but about the time I finished the last one, my sister brought home a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and I had a new world to explore.

Bond’s exploits and the music that backed them have come along with me, fifty-some years later. I have digital files for all of John Barry’s Bond work and for the two other LPs I got back in 1964-65. I also have files of numerous other LPs that capitalized on Bondmania back then. I’ve not re-read any of the books since the mid-1970s, but I remember the plots, the villains, the women and many of the individual scenes (of the novels, at least; I’d be a little spotty on the five short stories in For Your Eyes Only).

And coming along with all those memories are memories of the kid who read the books, saw the movies, and listened to the music, the kid whose favorite piece from all the John Barry soundtracks was the instrumental version of the theme to Goldfinger. That 1964 track is today’s Saturday Single.

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