John du Feu “...I think of this song every time a friend of mine dies”
News of John du Feu’s death reached me as one of his disks was turning on my record player. I heard it through and then the second disk. He named one ‘Sky Blind’, and that was right. The brightness of the living day had always filled his eyes. The other he called ‘Naked Heart’. That was right too. I can imagine him hesitating, wondering if the phrase wasn’t too worn with use and then deciding, ‘What the hell, heart is what the words were all about’. There’s no better way to remember and honor John than to ponder the songs he made of his poems and the confidences he left us in his notes to them.
That there are two disks was also right and fitting. On one John who as an actor and writer had worked closely with others, a team player, is joined by astute Italian musicians. On the other disk he is stark, alone with his guitar, following the impulse of his later years to find a home as a solitary artist. “And now/ It’s time/ To head/ For home”( ‘Morton’). ‘Home‘ comes up as often as ‘love’ although John assured us, “Love was always very important to me. So women were very important to me.” They “tell me who I am” (On ‘Geraldine’).
One thing was certain. Home was none of the addresses he had ever had. It was the place he was forever going to and never reaching. It was in that sky that blinded him. “There’s an end to home/ We all call the moon/ We visit it only/ When our hearts are full“ (‘Torn Umbrella’). Beware false homes, “You wait like a fool/ To be shown the way home/ When home is full of strangers/ You’re better off alone” (‘When people make their way alone’).
Living was movement, an imperative journey, “Watch me go, Mama” (‘Watch me go). It could be lonely, “When people make their way alone/ Step by step/ Day by day/ And the past weighs like a stone (‘When people make their way alone’). Moreover, it’s “Hard to change/ Hard to stay”. But “I’ve got plans to go far away” (‘The lovely Miss Smith’). John’s muses were his travelling companions. “A bag/A flask/ A chocolate bar/And the lovely Miss Smith”.
It wasn’t easy. “Ceaseless thud of weary footsteps/ Sings the lonely traveller’s song/ If I stop to rest a moment/ Will I ever, ever move again” (‘Little Roads’). He needed more than a hand to hold. “Rejoice in a world of difference and change”, John urges. “Make it a world of imagination”. Like him we can ask for help. “Hand me down a way to go/.../ Hand me down a pair of wings/ So I can get some elevation/ Revel in a revelation/ Soar away to better things/.../Hand me down some make-believe/ I’m tired of being tied to trouble/.../Hand me down my sailing shoes/ I’ll be just a dream by midnight/ Sailing down a beam of moonlight/ A firefly flickering out of sight” (‘Road Song’).
“When it’s over/ It’s over/ It’s finished/ It’s over” (‘Slow to Go’). Or is it? We can read and listen to John still. We can follow his lead in ‘Road Song’: “Life should be a crazy bubble/ Floating on a barmy breeze”.
John du Feu’s manuscript, Theatre by Storm, speaks for itself. A polished memoire with striking illustrations, it has yet to appear in book form. After touching on it in a talk to the Berkeley Circle, John sent me a copy and said he would be happy to see it Online. After his death the copy remained with me. Lest it go astray, the Berkeley Circle has decided to post it. Historians of the theatre will be able to consult it and general readers take pleasure in its warmth and wit.
Lecce, June 24, 2021