Cynthia Doyon
Cynthia Doyon

Tribute to Cynthia Doyon



  The Swing Years

At the age of 48, Cynthia shot herself on a summer night lit by a quarter moon. Her body fell near the end of a lonely dock. In the morning it was found by a passerby.

I didn't know her personally but, like thousands of others in Seattle over the past 24 years, I had heard her voice between songs one night a week on the radio. She specialized in popular songs of the middle decades of the 20th century. Her program, “The Swing Years,” I had always sensed, without knowing quite how true it was until her death, was her life.

We are told she was having financial problems and felt “stalled in her career”. She worked only 20 hours a week at the public radio station, or was only paid that many. It was her only job. She was not married and had no children. Everyone agreed she was devoted to this period in musical history and it showed in her nuanced enthusiasm for the songs she played.

We are told she adored Marlene Dietrich and indeed, in the only picture I have seen of her, Cynthia did her hair in the style of her idol.

It happens she started her Saturday night show the year I first came to Seattle—a young law school dropout, “loveless and without an umbrella,” sure I had something important to do but not sure what. She was a year younger than me but she knew what she wanted to do. A student of history (as I had been) she wanted people to remember the richness of the recent past of our culture.

I listened to her show Saturday nights when I was almost always home reading or working. She did her work with elegance and grace those nights, too. I have to confess that I was not a great fan. I listened to her because there was nothing else half so decent to listen to at that hour. I usually preferred baroque and sometimes jazz ballads, both of which were not to be heard anywhere on the dial on a Saturday night. The classical station's conception of “classical” was too “top 40” and the jazz station was a bit too raucous for me. The music of the 30s, 40s, and 50s was sometimes amusing and sometimes genuinely sweet. It was just enough before my time—and Cynthia's—that I didn't have to feel guilty about nostalgia. For it wasn't that to us (as no doubt it was for many). It was an expression of another, forever gone, time. It was vaguely melancholy even when silly. It might have been camp but for the seriousness of Cynthia's devotion. Recently, I had stopped listening to her. I had developed a probably fleeting taste for movie music and started listening to the classical station for a change. I was unfaithful to her. So, yes, I am a bit guilty about that.

She felt “stalled in her career,” the newspaper reported. 24 years of the same old thing. They thought at the station she would retire doing this. She had become an institution. She had a large stable following. But it was not growing. The station had been moving more and more away from music and more towards talk in recent years. Where could one go with a program like hers? It was quite literally stuck in the past, as she was, her life was.

She may have had male-like ambitions of making a bigger impact on the cultural scene. No family to divert her, she may have put all her eggs in one basket, then dropped it. She did what she did better than anyone. But it was not enough. It was not about money. Suicide never is about money. In a materialistic world, that excuse comes too handy. It is about significance whatever we might say not to disturb others… Even the dead tell the living in their suicide notes white lies.

I don't know the full story now. There was some loss in her life they didn't talk about. Some perceived failure. I suspect. I would listen to her voice in the interstices of dance music more carefully now. Women rarely use guns to kill themselves with. Pills, slashed wrists, a leap off a bridge, etc. allow for the possibility of redemption, of a “cry for help”. A bullet in the head means business…

Three nights ago it was warm. She must have stood on the dock listening to the wavelets lap the shore, the lights across Portage Bay reflected in the water, and heard perhaps a distant ship's horn in the city by the sound…

August 8th, 2003
Victor Muñoz

Copyright © 2003 Victor Muñoz


Marlene Dietrich

Marlene said once, "When you're dead, you're dead. That's it."

     Cynthia Doyon
Cynthia Doyon