Tuesday, October 23, 2018

My Log 654 October 23 2018: Chronicles from the Tenth Decade: 90 My survey of the past fortunately reveals some humour in popular songs, a humour that saves them from their bathetic earnestness

I’ve been sitting here for a while listening to a tune on YouTube that really impressed me  years ago. I’m wondering how I could have been so impressed:

For all we know, we may never meet again
Before you go, make this moment sweet again
We wont say goodnight until the last minute
I’ll hold out my hand and my heart will be in it….
Wow! It goes on from there to say “tomorrow was made for us,” but it adds, inevitably, that “Tomorrow may never come for all we know.” 
Well, I’ve always agreed with whoever it was said that a great pop song should sound as if it has always existed. But this one falls short of that simply from the bathetic nonsense of the words, however much it may have been given a superb rendition by Roberta Flack and Donnie Hathaway in a duet in days long gone by (it was 40 years ago, after all). 
Mind you, many of the greatest popular songs have equally bathetic words, but maybe time has accustomed us to them. After all, no one has ever expected profundity from them. How about Harold Arlen’s great songs?
Its a Barnum and Bailey world
just as phony as it can be
but it wouldn’t be make-believe
if you believed in me.

Or, more familiarly:
Its quarter to three,
There’s no one in the place except you and me,
So set em up Joe, I’ve got a little story you oughta know
so make it one for my baby, and one more for the road.
Or how about Frank Loesser: who could ever forget the Bob Hope and Shirley Ross duet?
Here we are
out of cigarettes
holding hands and yawning
look how late it gets,
two sleepy people by dawn’s early light
and too much in love to say goodnight.

Or Cole porter, regarded by many as the master of them all:

Night and day, you are the one
Only you beneath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me or far
It's no matter, darling, where you are
I think of you

Or, alternatively, a song originally written by Cole Porter in 1928, and updated 30 years later by Noel Coward, who thereafter became falsely recognized as its creator:
Birds do it
bees do it
even educated fleas do it,
let’s do it
let’s fall in love
The Dutch in old Amsterdam do it
not to mention the Finns
Some Argentines without means do it….

 And again, from Cole Porter:

I love the looks of you, the lure of you I love the arms the eyes the mouth of you, the east west north and the south of you, I ‘d love to gain complete control of you … so love at least a small percent of me do, for I love all of you…
Sometimes I have thought I would give my right arm if I had been able to write even one song like Yip Harburg:
Say, its only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believed in me
Without your love….

 Or even:
I never knew the charm of spring
I never met it face to face
I never new my heart could sing
I never missed a warm embrace
Till April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the trees
April in Paris, this is a feeling….

I started out on this survey of past triumphs convinced that it would show how meretricious and idiotic are the words of great popular songs, but what I have noticed is the best of the songs have one thing in common: the perspective on life that goes with a sense of humour.
I began to think of these past wonders because I have recently been able to whistle up some old movies. And I have to tell you, most of them move so slowly, or their dialogue is so pedestrian that one wonders how anyone ever decided these particular films  are still worthy of attention all these decades later. In particular this is true of two foolish movies directed by Orson Welles, who also acted in them (if you could call what he did in the films acting.).
I think the only thing I have revealed by all this is my low-brow taste in music. I can still remember the first discs I ever bought, during a brief six months I spent in Kenora in 1955 soon after arriving in Canada. They were by Edith Piaf, Harry Belafonte and Odetta Felious, as the later great folk singer Odetta was known at first. Later I added some heroes and heroines of early black folk-singers in the United states such as Josh White, Leadbelly. Lizzie Miles, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday.
A year or two ago I had a cultured friend staying with me who loved to go to symphony concerts, became an aficionado of the Place des Arts, and the Musee des Beaux-arts. I tried once to keep pace with her, bought tickets for five shows and was stuck with a $700 ticket price, to attend concerts in which I had virtually no interest.  While she was staying here I worked up a ludicrous  routine about two musical greats  whom I said I really  greatly admired, namely Moussie and Racky, more  familiarly known as Rackmaninoff, and Moussorgsky. Somewhere or  other I had gotten the idea that Rackmaninoff was for some years conductor of the Cleveland orchestra, and I invented a story that it was a  lighted cigar carelessly thrown by Racky into the Cuyahoga river, that set it on fire (It was on fire, that river, but that didn't happen until 1969, 25 years after  Racky’s death.) 
Never mind, I never broadcast my crazy scenarios beyond the ears of my friend, who, probably as a matter of self-defence, has now retreated to the more cultured refinements of Europe.  As I said I am a cultural low-brow, and have always jibbed at the fact that the great cultural temples of Western civilization, especially those for opera, ballet and classical music,  are built with the taxes of the people, yet their performances are priced so as to exclude the poorer taxpayers from enjoying the fruits of their investment. I may not have been serious about Racky and Moussie, although I did make a lot of jokes about Opus 94 in D Major, allegretto, or whatever it is, but I am seriously against these highly priced snobbish palaces of culture that provide amusement only for the well-to-do.  

1 comment:

  1. Harry Belafonte was the first record I ever bought too. Switched to classical soon after and stayed with it, getting my music from LPs, CD, and opera DVDs. Couldn't justify the high price of concerts to myself either, in consideration of getting the best performances to keep for far less than middling live ones.