Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

My Quest for “Firefly”

November 26, 2002

If you are of a certain age, maybe you know the anguish of searching in vain for a favorite song of your youth on compact disc. You look everywhere, as for a lost love, but you can’t find it. Will you ever hear it again, except in your imagination?

My lost song is “Firefly,” by Tony Bennett. To be precise, it’s his first version I can’t find. He recorded the song several more times, but he never did it with the glorious abandon of the first one, with Ray Ellis’s orchestra. It sounds like a music-hall song, the sort of thing Al Jolson might have done. And Bennett in those days had better pipes than Jolson or anyone else. It has been estimated that, over his long career, Bennett’s voice has raised 7.3 trillion goose bumps worldwide.

I first remember hearing the song around 1958. I was at Boy Scout camp in Michigan on a chilly Saturday morning, and somebody had one of those new transistor radios that you didn’t even have to plug in. Out of that radio came the happiest, most thrilling sound I’d ever heard: “I call her Firefly ...”

Later I laid out a dollar I’d saved up (it took a few days back then) and bought the 45 RPM record. To today’s youth, a 45 means either a drink or a gun, but ancient mariners will recall when it meant a little vinyl record that revolved 45 times per minute, as opposed to the old 78s, the newer 33s, or even the 16s (which never caught on). It had a big hole in the center, into which you had to snap a little yellow plastic doohickey to make it fit the skinny spindle on most turntables. You played it with a metal needle, so it wore out fast. And it was easy to scratch or crack. This is my chief memory of the Eisenhower era.

A couple of years after that, “Firefly” was also released on a long-playing 33 RPM album of Tony Bennett’s greatest hits. I bought it again in that form. The song really hadn’t been that much of a hit, except with me.

But devouring time took its toll on my LP collection, also sadly subject to scratches, and in my maturity I had to buy the album again on audiocassette in order to hear “Firefly.” But, wouldn’t you know, I lost the tape.

When the compact disc came along, I resumed the quest. I bought several Bennett albums and collections that included “Firefly.” But alas, none of them carried that priceless original version. My adult life has been a period of unbroken disappointment.

[Breaker quote: My favorite lost song]Finally, last weekend, I found a new, two-CD collection of Bennett classics. It included “Firefly”! But the jacket didn’t say whether it was the 1958 recording I wanted, my personal Holy Grail. Should I risk $25 to find out? Inevitably, I did.

I rushed home and spent the long hours it takes to open a CD — John Ashcroft must be in charge of packaging these things — and stuck it into the player. I pressed the remote. In a second, from the first note, I would learn whether I had the 1958 “Firefly” at last! Could it really be?


It wasn’t as disappointing as the other subsequent versions Bennett has done, but it just wasn’t the one I wanted.

So that’s my life. Here I am, a bitter old man, with a large collection of Tony Bennett records to show for my long years on earth. My sole consolation is that I love Tony Bennett, but there is a lot of redundancy here. After all, how many copies of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” does a man need? I must own at least eight by now.

As far as I know, nobody else has ever recorded “Firefly” — or “San Francisco,” for that matter. Or “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Most singers have too much sense to invite comparison with Tony Bennett in his prime. His voice was so commanding that the very memory of it can drown out anyone who sings a song he has put his stamp on.

The only one unwise enough to risk this is Tony himself. He has repeatedly competed with the Tony Bennett who recorded “Firefly” in 1958, and he has lost every time.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of Griffin Internet Syndicate

small Griffin logo
Send this article to a friend.

Recipient’s e-mail address:
(You may have multiple e-mail addresses; separate them by spaces.)

Your e-mail address

Enter a subject for your e-mail:

Mailarticle © 2001 by Gavin Spomer
Archive Table of Contents

Current Column

Return to the SOBRANS home page.

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive | Back Issues of SOBRANS 
 WebLinks | Scheduled Appearances | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas | Notes from the Webmaster
  Contact Us | Back to the home page 


SOBRANS and Joe Sobran’s columns are available by subscription. Details are available on-line; or call 800-513-5053; or write Fran Griffin.

Copyright © 2002 by The Vere Company