Today, we’re looking at Pat Campbell. Pat was perhaps best known for ‘Deck of Cards’, to which I’ll return at a later date, but given that babies and delivery rooms are currently at the forefront of my mind as my wife toils towards the end of her third trimester, today I bring you the jaw-dropping tale of misery and woe that is ‘The Deal’. It is a narrative of staggeringly poor judgement told with all the sentiment of a really bad episode of Touched By An Angel. The lesser of stomach amongst you would be advised to proceed with caution, although the lesser of stomach amongst you really shouldn’t be reading this blog in any case.
A quick sniff of Pat Cambell’s biography – such as it is, the details on the web are scant – shows that this sort of rubbish is perfect for him. The back cover of his 1970 album, Just A Quiet Conversation, reads “Pat Campbell was born in Ireland, but it might just as well have been Nashville. He’s been there many times and he’s welcomed as a friend by the biggest names in the world of country music. On each visit he brings a little piece of Nashville home with him, but also leaves a little of Pat Campbell there in return.” He was trying to avoid passport control, then.
There’s no voiceover on the link I’ve embedded, but if you can’t bring yourself to download the original I invite you to experience the drudgery of ‘The Deal’ by reconstructing your own. For reference, Campbell delivers the song in the form of a spoken monologue, with a vague sense of cadence at the end of what you might consider to be ‘verses’.
I guess it was about midnight when we arrived at the hospital
The Doctor was waiting at the door and they carried my sweet wife to a delivery room
and I was left alone to walk the waiting room floor.
I, like all first time fathers, I guess I was nervous
For my long awaited son was about to arrive in this world.
I even cocked myself a little chuckle as I thought,
“You know something, it could be an old girl”.
But I could feel the worriedness and tension mounting in me
as I paced the room time and time again
and finally I reckon it got to me an’ I sat down and
placed my head in my hands, and then I looked up as the whole
door swung open and the doctor entered with his head bowed low.
And then he told me of the complications and the decisions only
I could make, and urged me not to be too slow…
Oh for a long timeless moment I stood there, staring at him in
shock and disbelief, I mean, how could I tell him to save my wife
or save my child when they both mean the whole world and
everything to me…
I excused myself and walked off down the little hall and my
footsteps carry me to the chapel door, with an aching heart I
entered and with head bowed low I just knelt down on the floor.
“Oh you must love them an awful lot Lord,
Maybe even as much as I do because you can’t make up your own
mind which one to extend your welcome hand to… now I know I
never ask for very much Lord, but if I could make you a deal,
well I guess you know what it would be… let them both live
their lives and if you gotta take one, please, please let it be me”.
And then somehow I got to feeling a little better and I hurried
back down the hall an’ the doctor wasn’t there… and as I wondered
where he was, WHY! my legs gave way and suddenly I began to fall.
“What was wrong?” I wondered, “Why was I lying there on the floor?”
Gosh it seemed like an eternity until I looked up and I saw the
Doctor come running through the door… Well he’s bending over me now
and his eyes tell me that soon my life will be gone and the only
thing I can think of is that now, he’ll have to make that decision
alone, but then he turns to his nurse and he says, “It’s too bad that
he won’t know of the miracle that’s happened and that somehow they’re
both going to be alright”.
And I tried to force a last little smile as I think, “It’s too bad he
don’t know of the deal I made with my God tonight”.
A little commentary, reproduced from a blog entry I wrote back in 2009.
The concept of Campbell’s dilemma is akin to the episode of The Simpsons where Ron Howard, in an obvious parody of his real life persona, pitches a movie to a bored executive by suggesting that there’s “this robot, he’s got a heart-breaking decision to make about whether his best friend lives…or dies.” When the executive appears nonplussed, Howard swiftly adds “His best friend is a talking pie!”, which gets him a huge bag of cash and a reprise of the Happy Days theme. Even before this, things are pretty grim: left alone in the waiting room while his wife goes through the labour without him (this was the 60s, don’t forget) Campbell (yes, I know he’s only playing a character, but his delivery is so revolting I am going to permanently weld him to the song) describes his nerves about the impending arrival of his “long-awaited son”, before allowing himself a chuckle with the realisation that “it could be an old girl”. (A very young one, actually, but let’s not go there.) You can almost visualise his thought process: “Ooh, it’s going to be a boy! Except I don’t actually know.” It’s like Carousel’s ‘Soliloquy’ condensed into fifteen seconds, with none of the emotion.
It’s in the chapel that things get much worse. It’s worth noting, purely as an aside, that none of my whinging about this would amount to anything if the song had been delivered with even a trace of irony, but that’s not the case – the implication throughout is that we’re supposed to take ‘The Deal’ absolutely seriously The pleading, heartfelt anxiety of Campbell’s prayer to his heavenly father is undermined somewhat by the fact that this whole thing makes no sense at all. I really don’t want to get too theological here, but in the first instance I take great issue with his assertion that “You must love them an awful lot, Lord…because you can’t make up your own mind which one to extend your loving hand to”. What, there wasn’t room for both? That’s not evidence of a loving God. That’s evidence of a sadistic bastard who delegates to avoid the guilt. Why Campbell isn’t pacing the floor shouting at the ceiling in his hour of need is frankly beyond me, but I’m willing to let that go, because he’s undergoing emotional trauma. That being said, his crowning moment of stupidity is his decision to offer himself in order to save his family.
Now, I’m all for the idea of laying down your life for your friends. I’m not sure I’d ever be able to go through with anything quite so unselfish, but there can’t be many more noble ways to go out. If you do it well enough, they name a high school after you. Nonetheless, Campbell’s actions here aren’t an act of glorious self-sacrifice akin to the untimely execution of [spoiler] in 24, or the guy who chucks the wounded colleague over the lava, destroying himself in the process, halfway through Volcano. Because Campbell’s decision to save his wife and child and ask for himself to be taken in exchange entirely fails to take into account the fact that he’s leaving them to manage on their own. It could be that it’s actually a blessing in disguise for his wife, given that she can presumably now raise their boy / old girl in comparative peace without the threat of one of his mawkish monologues every time they experience a momentous event, or even worse, a trivial one. “Look, Celia, these are playing cards. Did I ever tell you the story about the time I was caught playing cards in church…?”.
But still. It’s the principle here. If you really want to strike any sort of deal with the Almighty, you don’t offer yourself in exchange. This isn’t Watership Down. You say “Dear Lord, if you have to take someone…take Oscar, who I know has been embezzling the company for months even though I can’t prove anything. Or take my mother-in-law. No, please, take her. Or the chap who cut me up on the A46 this evening.” But oh no. Not good enough for our Pat. Far better to say “It’s fine, God, I don’t mind the pain of the sudden coronary and the inevitable blast of guilt that will catch me in my final moments, with the realisation that I’ve left my wife as sole breadwinner and my baby boy / old girl without a father. I’d rather go out knowing I’ve made the supreme sacrifice. And widow’s benefits really aren’t that bad these days.” Campbell isn’t a Captain Oates. He’s a frigging idiot.