LEAVING A MARK (Verna Bloom and Clydie King, R.I.P.)

It seems cruel somehow: Dean Wormer’s wife in Animal House and Bob Dylan’s backup singer. Reflected glory in the headlines announcing their deaths.

Never that. Their real achievements will last as long as anybody cares what happened to us.

Massachusetts born-and raised, Bloom’s first-movie performance in Medium Cool, as a semi-literate Appalachian woman trying to make a life for herself and her ten-year-old son in Chicago while the 1968 Democratic Convention riots burn the city around her, is among the most heartbreaking and bottomless in American cinema. It burned so deep there was really no place for her to go. She worked with Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorcese and other heavy hitters over the ensuing decades. And yes, she was in Animal House. When all of that has burned away, the thing she’s barely being remembered for tonight will be left standing. By then, the losers will be winners, and things we have to keep under the rug now will be what interests anyone who comes looking for us the most.

Texas born, L.A. raised, Clydie King’s moment came in 1974. Though she sang on literally dozens of classic records (“City of New Orleans,” Exile on Main Street, like that) and recorded duets with Ray Charles and Bob Dylan (there’s her headline–reflected glory), she had the most impact on Linda Ronstadt’s breakout hit “You’re No Good,” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s career-defining anthem “Sweet Home Alabama.”

They weren’t necessarily records that screamed for gospel-raised black women like King and her partners (Sherlie Matthews on “You’re No Good,” Merry Clayton on “Sweet Home Alabama”). Plenty of people walking around right now, fans and haters alike, find it hard to believe Ronnie Van Zant hired black women to sing “Boo, boo, boo!” in George Wallace’s face right before he went on tour in front of a Confederate flag. But it hardly mattered. It was a moment for complicated interracial visions in both sight…

…and sound.

Half-visible or invisible, heard but not seen or seen but not named, Clydie King, shouting from the shadows, was as much a key ingredient of the last time we will be together as any of the great singers she backed and bonded with on stage or record.

’68 and ’74.

Good legacy that.

Rest well.

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