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Allyson’s Story

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

The poet Sara Teasdale wrote a poem called “A Prayer” which has always reminded me of Dad. The poem’s main character looks back on her life and says that she “sang as children sang / Fitting tunes to everything.” That sums up Dad in a nutshell—enlivening the most proper of dinner parties with his silly songs, such as “Paassss the salt on down the table.” In short, Dad turns the mundane into something musical.

The story of my life is closely intertwined with the story of Dad’s love of words and music. Even the unusual spelling of my name, Allyson, was Dad’s invention. He named me after one of his favorite actresses, June Allyson. Every time I hear my name, I picture how Dad surely said it over and over, almost 32 years ago, listening to the music behind the vowels and the consonants.

In honor of my name, Dad wrote a song about me called “Allyson Blue.” Its lyrics go:

Allyson, blue looks so good on you,
You brighten the colors of my world.

That phrase “Allyson Blue” has become a Bourkeism in our family’s vocabulary. Growing up, Mom would keep Kelley’s and my clothing and accessories separate, by chanting “Allyson Blue, Kelley Green” like a mantra. Even today, I always buy blue toothbrushes in honor of my dad.

My tiny role in music history is thanks to Dad. He wrote another song about me called “Your Love’s Been a Long Time Coming” which was recorded by Elvis Presley. The song was about how happy Dad was to finally have a baby daughter. Of course, Elvis thought he was singing about some hot 17-year-old, but that’s our secret!

I always knew Dad was a fabulous songwriter, but I really learned this lesson the year before I got married. I had been to the Bluebird Cafe a few years before and had heard Dad’s dear friend Charlie Black sing a song Charlie had written called “Lights of Home.” I absolutely fell in love with the song’s words and message about the magic of love and family. When I began planning my wedding, I really wanted to dance to one of Dad’s songs, but Charlie’s song kept playing itself in my mind, and I didn’t want to hurt Dad’s feelings by dancing my first dance with my new husband to a song Dad hadn’t written. It just seemed that with as many hits as Dad had written, I could come up with one song out of the Rory M. Bourke catalog that was as good as Charlie’s “Lights of Home.” This dilemma ate at me for a couple months until I finally mentioned it to one of my sisters, and she said, “You idiot! Dad co-wrote that song WITH Charlie!!” I should have known that a song as beautiful as “Lights of Home” would have Dad’s fingerprints on it. So at my wedding, Charlie played his and Dad’s song as Chris and I danced our first dance to this chorus:

Show me the lights of home
And tell me what could ever shine as bright
Only the love that’s in your eyes
Could make me feel the way I feel tonight.
I’ll take the times we’ve known
And the lights of home.

Thanks, Dad. That’s pure poetry. Oh, and by the way, Dad and I danced the Father-Daughter Dance to “Allyson Blue.”

A final sentiment: The year I studied in England, I got terribly homesick on several occasions. This was homesickness the way only England can dish it out, with its cold nights, drizzling rain, and empty streets. To cheer myself up, I would pick a new record shop, go to the small country music section, and look for Dad’s name on an artist’s CD. Invariably I could locate a George Strait Greatest Hits CD or a Country Music Greatest Hits CD, and there I would find what I was looking for: A tiny “R.M. Bourke” typed under “You Look So Good in Love” or “The Most Beautiful Girl.” Instant homesickness relief. It was like Dad was right there with me. So if anyone is looking for a unique tour of the British Isles, I recommend the Rory M. Bourke’s-Name-on-Music Tour. He can be found from Bath to Inverness, London to York. And I would know.

So that’s my story of growing up as the daughter of a world-class songwriter. I wouldn’t be who I am without Dad’s career and passion for music. Thank you, Dad, for always “Fitting tunes to everything.” You wrote the soundtrack to my life.

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