In October 2002, I was flying from St. Louis to San Francisco to attend the annual meeting of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). I was more than an attendee; I was also an official delegate to the PRSA Assembly, which met the day before the annual meeting began. I was flying on a Friday; the assembly met on Saturday.
I don’t recall what the in-flight movie was, but whatever it was, I didn’t watch it. Instead, I flipped through the various music channels, until I happened upon this incredible tenor voice singing.
The voice belonged to the Greek singer Mario Frangoulis. I hadn’t heard of him before, but I listened as the host of the program interviewed him in between songs. He sang in multiple languages – Greek, Italian, English, French and Spanish (he’s also fluent in all five languages). I was impressed by the quality of his voice and his multilingual singing ability. The program was a promotion of his recently released album “Sometimes I Dream.”
At some point in the musical program, Frangoulis sang “Luna Rossa,” or “Red Moon.” The song as he sang it at a concert in Thessalonika in Greece is, I’m fairly certain, the version I heard on the airplane.
The song evoked an image in my mind: a priest dancing on a beach at night. And it wasn’t a Catholic priest, but an Episcopal or Anglican priest. He wasn’t dancing by himself but with others, possibly part of a tour group. They were all dancing near a large wood fire.
The in-flight program ended, but the music kept playing through my head. The album included several other songs that would later become important for the writing. It also had “Buongiorno Principessa” from the movie Life is Beautiful and “Nights in White Satin” sung with Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues (a stunning version of the song).
When we landed in San Francisco, I made my way to my downtown hotel and then went looking for a music store. I found a Border’s Bookstore nearby and rode the escalator to the music department on the fourth floor. Just as escalator arrived on the floor, straight ahead of me I saw a large display for the Frangoulis CD. I bought the CD.
I have likely listened to the CD no fewer than 250 times. Every time I heard “Luna Rossa,” the image of the priest dancing on the beach came back. I couldn’t shake the image. And then one day, the image changed. The priest and the people he was traveling with, including a young American woman, walked from the beach into a restaurant for dinner. At that moment, the idea of a novel was born.
Several songs on the CD helped to frame the novel. The title song, “Sometimes I Dream,” is the song I had in my mind as the music for a very early scene I still refer to as “The Last Tango in Edinburgh.”
But while the idea of the novel was born and began to take shape, I would not put pen to paper (or words to computer screen, to be more exact) for three more years.