Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Lili Marlene" -- The International Hit Song of WWWII

The lyrics to “Lili Marlene” were written in 1915 by a young German soldier named Hans Leip. The female to whom the lyric is addressed was a compilation of two women to whom Leip felt an attraction and one night, after having had momentary encounters with both of them while on his way sentry duty he wrote a five-stanza poem called “Song of a Young Sentry”:

In front of the barracks
In front of the large gate,
There stood a lantern,
And if it stands there still,
Let’s meet there once again,
Let’s stand underneath the lantern,
Like once before, Lili Marlene.

Both of our shadows
Looked like they were the same,
We held each other closely,
You’d think that we were one.
And the world will see it again
When we stand underneath the lantern,
Like once before, Lili Marlene.

Leip’s poem was published in 1937 within a collection. The following year, composer Norbert Schultz encountered the volume of poems, set a few of them to music, and asked German cabaret singer, Lale Andersen, if she’d be interested in recording his rendition of Leip’s “Song of a Young Sentry.” At first they couldn’t find an interested studio – the song was all wrong for the burgeoning militancy of the Nazi regime – but after adding a bugle call to the beginning, Electrola made Schultz and Andersen a deal. “Song of a Young Sentry” aired over German radio for the first time on November 9, 1938, the night that became known as Kristallnacht. The sweet little song died amid the rubble of the Nazi’s first large-scale, organized attack on German and Austrian Jews.

Three years later, a German radio broadcaster named Karl-Heinz Reintgen, who’d just been ordered to initiate a military radio station in newly-conquered Yugoslavia, was scrambling to fill 21 hours of news and entertainment with only 54 records. His young assistant came back from Vienna with a pile of discarded records, one of them Andersen’s recording of Leip’s poem. It was transmitted over the airwaves of Reintgen’s new Soldatsender Belgrad (Soldiers’ Radio Belgrade) on August 18, 1941, becoming immediately and immensely popular all over Europe.

Nazi Propaganda Minister Goebbels was furious – the song was obviously anti-military – and he tried to have it banned. However, Rommel and the other German military brass, whose men all adored the song, politely reminded him that as a civilian, Goebbels had no jurisdiction over military matters; Soldiers’ Radio Belgrade was, after all, a military radio station.

If Goebbels couldn’t keep German soldiers from listening to the song, he could at least ban it on civilian radio (he allowed an instrumental-only version) and make life miserable for singer Lale Andersen, who was eventually caught trying to leave the country and who was, at one point, forbidden from performing at all.

But the soldiers were free to enjoy it every evening at exactly 9:57 when Reintgen would play the song they all knew as “Lili Marlene.” In North Africa, those few minutes actually initiated a nightly cease-fire; the British troops stationed there loved the song too. In fact, they began spending so much time listening to either Radio Belgrade or the broadcasts of Axis Sally (who interspersed her demoralizing propaganda with the song) that an English version of “Lili Marlene” was recorded by 14-year-old Anne Shelton and broadcast over the BBC in order to bring the Tommies back to the fold.

Why a particular song becomes beloved at a certain point in history is one of those inexplicable but fascinating pop culture mysteries but Liel Leibovitz and Matthew Miller, in their enlightening and immensely readable book on the subject, “Lili Marlene: The Soldiers’ Song of World War II,” have this to say about the song’s hold on WWII soldiers:

“Exhausted from combat and marching, caked with sand and burnt by the sun, the soldiers of the Afrika Korps gathered to listen, as they did whenever they could, to Radio Belgrade and their haunting “Lili Marlene.” The familiar song was a gateway through which they could return to the sweetness of their faraway homes and loosen the war’s rigid trip on their minds, if even for a few minutes.”

Did “Lili Marlene” cause the downfall of the Third Reich? Don’t underestimate the power of music. Aside from the nightly North African cease-fire, there has been at least one recorded incident where a single performance of this song kept one German from fighting. In an interview, 90 year-old US WWII veteran, Jack Leroy Tueller, recalls an evening in France, one week post-D-Day, when he played “Lili Marlene” on his trumpet, knowing that a German sniper was in the area.

Captured the next morning and asking for the trumpeter, the German sniper burst into tears when Tueller approached him; in broken English, he admitted that the song had stopped him from shooting: “’Lili Marlene’ reminded me of the tune that my fiancĂ©e and I got married to in Germany,” he said, “and I thought of my mother and father and I thought of my brothers and my sisters . . . I couldn’t fire, I couldn’t fire.”

And a British WWII nurse, Brenda McBryde, stationed at one point in Bayeux, Normandy, witnessed a fascinating musical moment when one of the German prisoners she was nursing suddenly began to sing “Lili Marlene.” In her memoir, “A Nurse’s War,” she relates the incident:

“One of the young German boys tentatively started up a song, while his comrades waited nervously to see how it would be received before joining in. We had no seriously ill men in the ward at that time; the boy had a pleasant voice, and we realized how long it had been since we heard anyone sing. We did nothing to discourage him. It was the catchy German marching song, ‘Lili Marlene,’ which had become as popular with Monty’s troops in Normandy as in Rommel’s African campaign where it originated. The rest of the POWs, emboldened, now took up the song, singing in well-rehearsed harmonies that were a joy to hear.

“Then the moment enlarged to provide one of those memories that stay forever. From the adjacent British ward came the same song, sung in English. The surprised Germans responded to the compliment with even more enthusiastic singing, and Soutie and I stood between the two wards listening to a performance that would have done justice to a male voice choir from men who, until recently, had been doing their level best to kill each other.

“‘Just shows how daft war is’ said Soutie.”


The English translation of initial two stanzas of “Lili Marlene,” “Lied eines jungen Wachtposten,” (“Song of the Young Sentry,”) appears on page 17 of the book, “Lili Marlene: The Soldiers’ Song of World War II,” by Liel Leibovitz and Matthew Miller, and was translated from the original German by the authors.

“For the common soldiers . . . “ Leibovitz and Miller, page 115.

German sniper quote:

Hospital quote: “A Nurse’s War” by Brenda McBryde, pages 121-122.


Lili Marlene: The Soldiers' Song of World War II by Liel Leibovitz and Matthew Miller.

"The Official Lili Marlene Page"

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Every Songwriter Should Read This

While researching a blog article on "Lili Marlene," the international hit song of WWII, I encountered the following brilliant observation on the marriage of words and music:

"These pleasures -- a sweetheart's kiss, say, or a country sunset -- are too elusive for ordinary speech. They evade even the most sensitive of writers. Put them in a sentence and they sit listlessly, deflated of all meaning. But put them in a song and they glow. The music charges the words, guiding the simple images to those compartments of the mind that store wild emotion. It is there that a song's significance and its potency lie. As Lale Andersen herself witnessed when she toyed with alternative compositions to "Lili Marlene," it was only Norbert Schultze's music that made the song a crowd-pleaser, only his tune, a wedding of folk songs, military marches, and a children's ditty, that managed to capture the true spirit of the poem. Hans Leip's words alone weren't enough; "Lili Marlene" needed a melody and a memorable voice to translate its essence from the private language of one man to the international idiom that captured the hearts and minds of men of all cultures and tongues."

Excerpt from "Lili Marlene: The Soldiers' Song of World War II" by Liel Leibovitz and Matthew Miller, page 211.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Dixie" -- Theme Song of the Confederacy, Born in NYC, Beloved by Lincoln

“Dixie” may have been the theme song of the Confederacy, but it was born in New York City. Daniel Emmet was a performer and composer with the NYC troupe, Bryant’s Minstrels, who, upon leaving the theater on a Saturday night in 1859, was asked to come up with a new “walk around” (finale) by Monday.

On the rainy Sunday that followed, Emmet couldn’t get one lyric line out of his head: “I wish I was in Dixie.” Dixie, a synonym for the south, was possibly somewhere he’d have rather been than in rainy NYC and he may have been recalling the exact line his wife had once spoken while complaining about northern weather, but what is certain is that “Dixie” soon became a massive hit with minstrel troupes in the north. It also soon found its way to the south, via two productions in two consecutive years: Charleston in 1860, and New Orleans in 1861. Then the war broke out.

As the tune became a rallying cry for the new Confederacy, it correspondingly fell out of favor in the north; no respectable Union man or woman would want to be accused – as Emmet was, eventually – of being sympathetic to the rebels living in “the land of cotton.” But a few creative northerners found a way to keep singing the catchy tune without belying a trace of Confederate sympathy (by spoofing the lyrics, Union-style). And after Lee’s surrender, President Lincoln, who loved the tune, ordered a band to play it, giving the following reason:

“I had always thought “Dixie” one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. I presumed the opinion to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. I now request the band to favor me with its performance.”

“Rousing Songs and True Tales of the Civil War” by Wayne Erbsen.

“Songs of the Civil War” by Irwin Silber.

“All the Years of American Popular Music” by David Ewen.

Lincoln quote: “Dan Emmett – The Man Who Wrote Dixie” by Wayne Erbsen.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rallying Cry of the Union: "The Battle Cry of Freedom"

If “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was the song the Union took away from the Civil War, something that gave purpose and meaning to the destruction, post-war, “The Battle Cry of Freedom” was its number one inspirational song during the conflict. Prolific Union composer George Root began to write it on May 3, 1861 after hearing of Lincoln’s call to increase the number of Union troops by 175,000. He “thought it out” that afternoon and finished it the following morning at the offices of his Chicago publishing house, Root & Cady.

The ink was not dry on the manuscript, literally, when the Lombard brothers (one source identifies them as Lumford) appeared at the door, looking for a war song to sing at a patriotic rally scheduled for July at the courthouse square just opposite Root’s offices. The brothers liked it and so did their audience, who were moved to join in on the chorus after several repetitions.

When the Hutchinson family, a popular activist northern singing group, sang it at a New York rally a few days later, the song was fixed as the foremost rallying cry of the Union and its effect took on legendary proportions. One Union soldier said that “Battle Cry of Freedom,” sung to a camp of dispirited and defeated northern soldiers in 1863, “put as much spirit and cheer into the camp as a splendid victory. Day and night you could hear it by every campfire in every tent. I shall never forget how the men rolled out the line, ‘And although he may be poor, not a man shall be a slave.”

And on one occasion, at least, “Battle Cry” struck terror into the heart of a Confederate officer, who, after Lee’s surrender, had this to say about his initial encounter with the song:

“I shall never forget the first time I heard ‘Rally ‘Round the Flag’ (the prevalently-used title of “Battle Cry”.) It was a nasty night during the Seven Days fight and if I remember it rightly it was raining. I was on picket when, just before taps, some fellow on the other side struck up the song and others joined in the chorus until it seemed to me the whole Yankee army was singing. A man with me said, ‘Good heavens, Cap, what are those fellows made of anyway? Here we’ve licked them six days running and now on the eve of the seventh they’re singing ‘Rally Round the Flag’! I am not normally superstitious but I tell you that song sounded like the death knell and my heart went down into my boots; and though I’ve tried to do my duty, it has been an uphill fight with me ever since that night.”

Was “Battle Cry of Freedom” responsible for the defeat of the Confederacy? Its composer was deemed a national hero by no less than Abe Lincoln himself and if what Jeff Daniels -- aka Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain -- opined in the film “Gettysburg,” is true, that the American Civil War was one of the only wars in history fought over an idea, then “Battle Cry” paints the northern set of ideals -- freedom and national unity -- with bold and winning strokes, set to a simple, upbeat, and extremely catchy tune.

Yes we'll rally round the flag boys, we'll rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom,
We will rally from the hillside, we'll gather from the plain,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

The Union forever! Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Down with the traitor, up with the star;
While we rally round the flag, boys, rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

We are springing to the call of our brothers gone before,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And we'll fill our vacant ranks with a million freemen more,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

We will welcome to our numbers the loyal, true and brave,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And although he may be poor, he shall never be a slave,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

So we're springing to the call from the East and from the West,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And we'll hurl the rebel crew from the land we love best,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

The song was so catchy that the Confederacy tried to get in on the action, changing the lyrics to suit their particular set of ideals. Here is one of several versions:

We are marching to the field, boys, we’re going to the fight,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom
And we bear the Heavenly cross for our cause and for the right,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

Our rights forever, Hurrah! Boys! Hurrah!
Down with the tyrants, raise the Southern star,
And we’ll rally ‘round the flag, boys, we’ll rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

We’ll meet the Yankee hosts, boys, with fearless hearts and true,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom,
And we’ll show the dastard minions what Southern pluck can do
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

We’ll fight them to the last, boys, if we fall in the strife,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom,
Our comrades – noble boys! Will avenge us, life for life,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.


“All the Years of American Popular Music” by David Ewen.

“Rousing Songs and True Tales of the Civil War” by Wayne Erbsen.

“Songs of the Civil War” by Irwin Silber.

Union soldier quote: “Folk Songs of North America” by Alan Lomax.

Confederate officer quote: “Stories of Civil War Songs” by Ernest Emurian.

Union and Confederate lyrics: “Songs of the Civil War” by Irwin Silber

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Tune That Nearly Killed Dorothy Fields

It won the academy award for best film song in 1936 but when composer Jerome Kern first played "The Way You Look Tonight" for his lyricist, Dorothy Fields, she ran out of the room crying. “The release absolutely killed me,” she later told Max Wilk in an interview. “I couldn’t stop, it was so beautiful.”

Composer and critic Alec Wilder was particular about what songs he liked and didn’t (and he had musical credentials enough to objectify this most subjective of studies), and he had this to say about the song: “It’s a lovely, warm song, with a lovely, warm lyric . . . the song flows with elegance and grace. It has none of the spastic, interrupted quality to be found in some ballads, but might be the opening statement of the slow movement for a cello concerto . . . “

Debuted by Fred Astaire in the film, "Swing Time," it was subsequently covered by artists as varied as Frank Sinatra and Rod Stewart and was featured in films as recent as "My Best Friend’s Wedding."


Dorothy Fields quote, page 56 of Max Wilk’s "They’re Playing Our Song."

Alec Wilder quote, page 74 of his book "American Popular Song."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lorena: Born in Ohio, Beloved in the Confederacy

Was “Lorena” responsible for the defeat of the Confederacy? To give that much credit to a song is a potent idea and one harbored by several Southern generals but I tend to think that the Confederacy’s doom had more to do with numbers – bullets, canons, men -- rather than the loss of fighting spirit caused by southern soldiers singing a song that made them yearn for the girl back home. But they certainly did sing “Lorena,” so much so that hundreds of young southern girls (not to mention a steamship and two pioneer settlements) were christened with the name during the song’s lengthy post-war shelf life. So it may come as a surprise to discover that the song was born in the north in the year 1856 (or 1857), several years before the firing on Ft. Sumter.

To begin at the beginning: in the year 1849, an Ohio preacher named Henry De Lafayette Webster fell in love with a member of his congregation, 19 year-old Ella Blocksom. Her family didn’t approve and pressured the couple to separate. Webster vented his sorrow in a poem that spoke of their lost love, changing Ella’s name to Bertha. There is disagreement over whether Joseph Phillbrick Webster, the tunesmith of the hymn “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” was a relative or just a friend of H.D. Webster but what is beyond a doubt is that when H.D. handed his lyrics to J.P. in 1857, “Lorena” was born.

How did an Ohio-made song become so beloved in the Confederacy that it was reprinted there in at least nine different pirated editions and found a home in every pocket songster (utilized by singing soldiers – and they were ALL singing soldiers) south of the Mason-Dixon Line? That is one of the fascinating inexplicables of pop music history.

The years creep slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the grass again.
The sun's low down the sky, Lorena,
The frost gleams where the flow'rs have been.
But the heart throbs on as warmly now,
As when the summer days were nigh.
Oh, the sun can never dip so low
A-down affection's cloudless sky.

A hundred months have passed, Lorena,
Since last I held that hand in mine,
And felt the pulse beat fast, Lorena,
Though mine beat faster far than thine.
A hundred months, 'twas flowery May,
When up the hilly slope we climbed,
To watch the dying of the day,
And hear the distant church bells chime.

We loved each other then, Lorena,
More than we ever dared to tell;
And what we might have been, Lorena,
Had but our lovings prospered well --
But then, 'tis past, the years are gone,
I'll not call up their shadowy forms;
I'll say to them, "Lost years, sleep on!
Sleep on! nor heed life's pelting storms."

The story of that past, Lorena,
Alas! I care not to repeat,
The hopes that could not last, Lorena,
They lived, but only lived to cheat.
I would not cause e'en one regret
To rankle in your bosom now;
For "if we try we may forget,"
Were words of thine long years ago.

Yes, these were words of thine, Lorena,
They burn within my memory yet;
They touched some tender chords, Lorena,
Which thrill and tremble with regret.
'Twas not thy woman's heart that spoke;
Thy heart was always true to me:
A duty, stern and pressing, broke
The tie which linked my soul with thee.

It matters little now, Lorena,
The past is in the eternal past;
Our heads will soon lie low, Lorena,
Life's tide is ebbing out so fast.
There is a Future! O, thank God!
Of life this is so small a part!
'Tis dust to dust beneath the sod;
But there, up there, 'tis heart to heart.


“All the Years of American Popular Music” by David Ewen.

“Rousing Songs and True Tales of the Civil War” by Wayne Erbsen.

“Songs of the Civil War” by Irwin Silber.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review: "Stardust Melodies" by Will Friedwald

How potent cheap music is.
–Noel Coward

I believe that Will Friedwald included the Noel Coward line about the potency of cheap music in the introduction to his "Stardust Melodies" simply to see those two words – potent and music – in the same sentence. There is nothing “cheap” about the popular songs featured in his book, but they are all undeniably “potent.” The power of popular music, according to Friedwald, is its ability to “move us on a deep level, and in a way that few other artistic mediums can.” Friedwald has obviously been moved – profoundly so --and his book is a phenomenally entertaining biography which encompasses the creation, debut, musical intricacies and recording history of a dozen American pre-rock popular songs.

I had to keep reminding myself that Friedwald wasn’t actually alive when these songs first launched (he is a tail-end “boomer” and most of the songs in his book were written in the 1930's) because he relates the details at his disposal in such an electrifyingly cinematic way, you’d think he had been inside each composer’s head (or at the very least, sitting in the composer’s living room with a video camera) when the songs came to birth. When George Gershwin said to his friend Kay Halle “sit down, I think I have the lullaby” (for Porgy and Bess), she was immediately moved to tears at the raw beauty of "Summertime." Cole Porter raced over to the piano to finish the introduction to his latest (and ultimately, greatest) composition, "Night and Day," after he heard his hostess, Mrs. Astor, complain about the “drip, drip, drip” of her broken drain pipe.

Arguably the most dramatic “you were there” incident portrayed in "Stardust Melodies" not only illustrates the birth of a song (and a star) but stunningly represents an entire musical epoch as well: the golden musical era when pop music and jazz were inexorably linked. When Friedwald describes Ethel Merman first belting out "I Got Rhythm" “with all the subtlety of a tornado descending on a trailer,” he also narrates what was rumbling beneath her feet – a genuine jazz orchestra. Gershwin had insisted on having one and it was a stunner: future luminaries Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey and Gene Krupa, were all accompanying Ms. Merman on the night "I Got Rhythm" made her a star. That’s some orchestra.

Each chapter includes a section on the musical intricacies of the particular song featured and here Friedwald gets out from behind the camera, so to speak, and beckons the reader into the classroom – an intermediate-to-advanced music theory classroom. Some readers might get lost in the minutia of these details; if you don’t know your tonic from your dominant, you won’t have a clue. The lessons aren’t longer than a few paragraphs, however, and for those fairly well versed in music fundamentals, it’s fascinating stuff. Friedwald explains why every note, chord and corresponding lyric works. Did you know, for instance, that Star Dust contains a 32-bar chorus and that its melody is basically composed of thirds, some major and some minor? I’ve played and sung the song (never actually thought to count the bars), but now that he’s mentioned it, the thirds do switch back and forth from major to minor, probably why the melody possesses such a wistful, bittersweet feel – a good fit for lyrics about a lost love.

One of the criteria by which Friedwald judged a song worthy of inclusion in his book is the sum and variety of its recorded manifestations and he lists these recordings in assiduous detail (and he is a writer of such wit and lucidity that a grocery list would sparkle in his hands). The recording history of one song in particular – "As Time Goes By" – illustrates how truly insightful and entertaining his approach to the material is.

Long before "As Time Goes By" provided the backdrop to Rick and Ilse’s ill-fated love affair in Casablanca and even shortly before Frances Williams introduced it in the 1931 Broadway show "Everybody’s Welcome," Rudy Vallee made a recording of it that was broadcast over the radio. Because of conflicting recording contracts, the very talented Williams was unable to record the song herself, but Dooley Wilson (Sam in Casablanca) – who couldn’t play the piano as his cinematic character could – did make a recording following the success of the film.

Actually, when the film was nothing more than a newly purchased play, Sam and the song were the only two irrefutables in the project, which greatly irked hired composer Max Steiner. He had nothing against Sam, of course, but initially thought "As Time Goes By" was too “square.” When he finally saw the light, he made it the musical focal point of Casablanca. This would have probably won composer Herman Hupfeld an Oscar if it hadn’t been for a strange, just-laid-down rule about Oscars being granted only to songs specifically written for a film. Hupfeld wasn’t too upset; his song was a becoming a phenomenally popular recording vehicle that would ultimately be immortalized by artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and Tiny Tim. Not bad for a little song protesting the march of progress.

Although "Stardust Melodies" is bursting with passion for the musical era that produced its songs and is replete with a sense of time and place, because Friedwald is able to infuse his book with a sense of immediacy, it never falls prey to nostalgia. Rather, it is a celebration of songs that have managed to outlive their composers, their performers, many of their recording stars and have embedded themselves deeply into the American consciousness.

“Though I dream in vain, in my heart it will remain
My stardust melody, the memory of love’s refrain.”
("Stardust" lyrics by Mitchell Parish)

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Hit That Amost Wasn't: "Over the Rainbow"

“Over the Rainbow” sits at the top of two impressive lists: The American Film Institute’s “100 Years, 100 Songs” and the Recording Industry Association of America’s “Songs of the Century.” So it may come as a surprise to know that the song was almost cut three times from the film in which it debuted.

To begin at the beginning: although there were many eager songsmiths waiting in the wings to write the music to the newly updated musical (there had been a Broadway version produced in 1903) the team of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg was the surprise choice. Apparently producer Arthur Freed thought that their “a sweet little ballad” (Arlen’s description) called “In the Shade of the New Apple Tree” made them ideal to compose music for a film featuring a little girl at its center.

Arlen and Harburg, however, initially disagreed about the type of song the little girl should sing. Harburg thought “Over the Rainbow” was a grand tune for the likes of Nelson Eddy, not Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale from Kansas. “It’s not a little child’s nursery song” he said later. “It’s a great big theme that you could easily build a symphony around.” Arlen and Harburg asked Ira Gershwin for his input and he proposed a quicker tempo and a simpler harmonic structure. Harburg was satisfied.

But there was trouble at the studio. The song was deleted from the film three times (something about the story line coming to an abrupt, albeit musical, halt) and each time producer Freed argued it back in. Good thing because it went on to win the Academy Award and the hearts of millions for years to come, becoming the show stopping personal theme song of the actress who first sang it so poignantly on the screen.

Why does “Over the Rainbow” continue to move us so? Harburg put it like this: “I’ll admit that at first the song bothered me because it was so powerful. But then we brought it down with those colorful and childlike words. I don’t think there’s more poignancy to anything that is adult than there is in a child’s idea. Children are so clear about life.”


"All the Years of American Popular Music" by David Ewen.

"They’re Playing Our Song" by Max Wilk. Quotes taken from page 146, 147.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dear Ms. Mitchell: Scarlett and Rhett Couldn’t Possibly Have Waltzed to “Weeping Sad and Lonely.”

Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” is a sweeping, Pulitzer-prize winning historical fiction that struck a powerful chord with Depression-era readers when it was published in 1936. It also can be read as a treatise of the Confederate mindset and here’s why: Mitchell was born in Atlanta in 1900 and was raised by an extended family that included many war survivors. As well as providing one of the most beloved love stories (sort of) in American literature, GWTW provides an accurate, fascinating – if occasionally disturbing -- portrayal of southern life and attitudes during and after the war. But what is clearer to me than the fact that Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful (but men seldom realized it) was that Margaret Mitchell was not a musician. I know this because in chapter nine, she has Rhett and Scarlett waltzing to a song written in 4/4 time.

Rhett has just paid $150.00 in gold to dance with the newly-widowed Scarlett at a Confederate fund-raiser when they have the following exchange:

“Captain Butler, you must not hold me so tightly. Everybody is looking.”
“If no one were looking, would you care?”
“Captain Butler, you forget yourself.”
“Not for a minute. How could I, with you in my arms? . . . What is that tune? Isn’t it new?”
“Yes, isn’t it divine? It’s something we captured from the Yankees.”
“What’s the name of it?”
‘When This Cruel War is Over.”
“What are the words? Sing them to me.”
“Dearest One, do you remember when we last did meet?
When you told me how you loved me, kneeling at my feet.
Oh, how proud you stood before me in your suit of gray,
When you vowed from me and country ne’re to go astray.
Weeping sad and lonely, sighs and tears how vain!
When this cruel war is over, pray that we meet again.”

“Of course, it was ‘suit of blue’ but we changed it to ‘gray.’ . . . Oh, you waltz so well, Captain Butler. Most big men don’t, you know . . .”

Scarlett wasn’t the only civil-war era person to think the song divine: it sold approximately one million copies in several editions. But one modern critic of Civil War verse had this to say about it:

“There is nothing in this sentimental song that enables one to read the riddle of its remarkable popularity during the Civil War. It has no poetic merit; its rhythm is commonplace, and the tune to which it was sung was of the flimsiest musical structure, without even a trick of melody to commend it. Yet the song was more frequently sung, on both sides, than any other . . . The thing was heard in every camp every day and many times every day. Men chanted it on the march, and women sang it to piano accompaniment in all houses. A song which so strongly appealed to two great armies and to an entire people is worthy of a place in all collections of war poetry, even though criticism is baffled in the attempt to discover the reason of its popularity.”
(From “Songs of the Civil War” by Irwin Silber.)

I can personally attest that when performing this song during our “Songs of the Civil War” program, the interest level of the audience plummets palpably every time the second verse begins. We have now cut it down to one verse and one chorus (the great Margaret Mitchell did no less) but we will not completely excise it although there are many catchy Civil War tunes we could use as replacements. Sometimes a song becomes a mega-hit because touches a chord in a certain time and place. This song, published in 1863 when body counts were rising and there was no end in sight, gave voice to a divided nation’s yearning for peace.


“Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell, MacMillan anniversary edition, 1975. Quotes taken from pages 177-178.

“All the Years of American Popular Song” by David Ewen, Prentice-Hall, 1977.

“Songs of the Civil War” by Irwin Silber, Bonanza Books, 1960. Quote taken from page 117.

Book Review. TV a-Go-Go: Rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol

According to author Jake Austen, televised rock music is in some ways an
impossible combination . . . and one that he absolutely adores. Rock music
is essentially "wild, raw, and dangerous" but when Bo Didley first
performed it on the Ed Sullivan show in 1955, television and rock music
began a long partnership which proved, according to Austen, that "one of
the best ways to present [rock's] energy is to impose structure, make it
adhere to the laws of entertainment." His delightful book, TV a-Go-Go
explores the myriad manifestations of this partnership.

Austen, who produces his own children's television dance show called
"Chic-a-Go-Go," has a feel for what worked and what didn't and his
intelligent opines are a delight to read. His opinion of the Monkees was
not only wonderfully affirming for me - a die-hard Monkees fan, married for
18 years to a 60's garage band rock purist who has always despised the
"pre-fab four" - but it also clearly illustrates his general opinion of
televised rock: "as far as I'm concerned, any documented band . . . is far
more real than a gritty brilliant band that rehearses in a garage but never
records or plays a show . . . in my opinion every band that has ever
appeared on a record or a TV show or a movie is real."

Besides covering famed televised artists, such as the Monkees, the Beatles,
Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, Austen's book spills a large amount of
ink on lesser known shows such as kiddie rock cartoons. Having spent my
1960's childhood in a home where a juke box - kept well stocked by older
rock 'n' rolling siblings - vied for maximum electrical wattage with a
constantly running television, I often watched, not only the prime-timed
Monkees, but also an animated, Saturday morning show called "The Beatles."
I seem to recall that the theme song was "Hard Day's Night" and because
Ringo kept insisting that "droppin' a G never hurt anybody," of course a
giant G kept falling on his head.

Until reading TV A-Go-Go, however, I didn't realize that the animated
mop-tops show was a sign of a seismic cultural shift. "The Beatles," which
was the first of many successive cartoons to market rock to kiddies, was,
according to Austen, a sign that "the old guard," - the adults who thought
"that the Rat Pack in tuxedos was running the show" - were no longer a
serious cultural influence." Rock 'n' Roll was here to stay.

Austen's self-described "absurdly broad book" has almost negated his
introductory claim that "a comprehensive overview of all rock on TV is
impossible." TV A-Go-Go has come profoundly and entertainingly close to
attaining that impossibility and is a delightfully informative read for
anyone with the slightest interest in televised rock.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Original Lyrics Created and Sung by Personnel of the 16th General Tent Hospital During WWII

Section of the U.S. Army 16th General Tent Hospital posted in Liege, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge.

(Sung to the tune of "Oh Tannenbaum")
First there comes a little scratch, arsphenamine, arsphenamine!
Then comes along a mucous patch, arsphenamine, arsphenamine!
The Wasserman came back four plus, the verdict was unanimous,
Arsphenamine, arsphenamine!

(Sung to the tune "Pepsi Cola Hits the Spot")
Oh, penicillin hits the spot,
Four c.c. is a helluva lot
Twice as much for syphillis too
Penicillin is the drug for you.

(Sung to the tune "I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad")
I want a beer just like the beer that pickled dear old Dad
A good old fashioned beer with lots of foam
It took six men to carry Daddy home.
I want a beer just like the beer that pickled dear old Dad.

A man without a woman is like a ship without a sail,
It's like a boat without a rudder, it's like a kite without a tail.
Now a man without a woman is the sorriest sight to see,
But there's one thing worse in the universe
And that's a woman, yes I said a woman
I mean a woman without a man.

Thanks to Muriel P. Engelman, former U.S. Army nurse with the 16th and author of the memoir Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock, for providing these lyrics.

Songs Sung by the Nurses of the 16th General Tent Hospital During WWII in Honor of Their Air Corps Friends in the 48th

U.S. Army Nurse Muriel Phillips of the 16th General Tent Hospital during the Battle of the Bulge.

Songs Sung in "Honor" of their pilot friends in the 48th Fighter Group

You've got to be a fighter pilot to get along with an army nurse
You've got to be a Jerry getter, you bet.
If you want to get your nursie to pet
The fact that you are rich and handsome won't get you anywhere, my dear.
You've got to be a 48th pilot
To get along with a nursie this year.

(Sung to the Tune of the WWII hit, "I'll Walk Alone")
I'll walk alone because the Air Corps' afraid of the Buzz Bombs
I'm not afraid of the Buzz Bombs but I can't get away so here I stay.
I'll walk alone because the Air Corps' afraid of the ack, ack.
I don't mind being ack-acked --eek! Flak!

Thanks to Muriel Engelman, WWII Army Nurse with the 16th General Army Hospital and author of the memoir Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock, for providing these lyrics. She explains the latter song in this way:

"We nurses dated some pilots who's air base was at St. Tronde, Belgium, I don't remember how far they were from Liege, somewhere like a 45-60 minute ride away but they weren't getting buzz bombed and when they came to see us they weren't comfortable with the bombs coming in every 12-15" and they would want to take us to their air base where it was peaceful, so we teased them about it with that song."

Two Songs Sung During WWII by U.S. Army Nurses

ANC (Army Nurse Corps) Song

Once there was a young girl who joined the ANC
Soldiers were as nice to her, as nice as they could be.
First she met a shavetail fresh from OCT,
He wooed her and pursued her but too naive was he.

Singing khaki and olive drab, brass and eagles too,
Soldiers wil be soldiers, there's nothing they won't do.

Then she met a captain with fire in his eye.
He took her to his barracks and filled her full of rye.
He wanted to show her his etchings, but she was far too wise,
For she had seen the etchings of all the other guys.

Then she met a major who promised to be true,
But he had made the promise to wife and kiddies too.

Then she met a colonel who promised to raise her rank,
But when she didn't come across she found the rank was blank.

And then she went overseas for glory and for fame,
But to her disappointment she found all men the same.
Now the moral of the story is plain as you can see,
Treat all men like children, but treat them tenderly.


They say that in camp you will have a good time,
We've heard that all before.
You drink Coca-Colas and play the Victrolas,
But oh how we'd like to do more!

Bless us all, bless us all,
The long and the short and the tall.
Now bless all the nurses for they rub your backs,
That's a lot more than you'll get from the WAC's.

So we're saying good-bye to you all,
As gaily we answer the call.
No silk hose or girdles as we take the hurdles,
So cheer up my lads, love us all!

Found on page 55 and 56 of the memoir of Muriel P. Engelman, WWII Army Nurse, "Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock." Muriel says that these songs "made long boring trips by truck or train go a little faster and raised our spirits too. Singing does that."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Nobody Sang "Moon River" Like Audrey

Growing up with music-loving parents, I often had the misfortune to walk through the family room whenever Andy Williams was opening his variety show with “Moon River.” Maybe it was because my parents liked the show or maybe Andy Williams just seemed like a cornball but I grew to dislike his theme song with a moderate intensity that always drove me quickly out of the room.

Fast forward to the 1990’s. For one of our in-home date nights, I checked out the library’s copy of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” When I saw Audrey Hepburn sitting on the fire escape in her jeans, singing the song that had somehow become simultaneously powerful and fragile during her lovely, inimitable performance, I had a complete change of heart. I was already in love with Audrey. Now I was also in love with her song.

Henry Mancini won an Oscar for “Moon River” along with lyricist Johnny Mercer. And although it has been recorded over 500 times since Audrey first debuted it on the fire escape on the set for “Tiffany’s,” no one, in Mr. Mancini’s opinion, has ever come closer to capturing the essence of the song, as he mentioned in a newspaper interview from the 1970’s:

“It’s unique for a composer to really be inspired by a person, a face, or a personality, but Audrey Hepburn certainly inspires me. She not only inspired me to write “Moon River,” but also “Charade” and “Two for the Road.” If you listen to those songs, you can almost tell who inspired them because they all have Audrey’s quality of wistfulness, a kind of slight sadness. Normally, I have to see a completed film before I’ll compose the music. But in this case, I knew what to write for Audrey just by reading the script. Then, when I met Audrey the first time, I knew the song would be something very, very special. I knew the exact quality of her voice and that she could sing “Moon River” beautifully. To this day, no one has done it with more feeling or understanding.”

Amen. Be sure to check out Audrey’s performance.

Quote source: “Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit: A Son Remembers” by Sean Hepburn Ferrar, page 83.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Wildly Popular Hit from 1892, "After the Ball"

[Sentimental: (of a work of literature, music, or art). Dealing with feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia in an exaggerated and self-indulgent way.]

“After the Ball” is a very sentimental song. Sentimental 19th century song lovers had hundreds to chose from, so why did this particular song debut to a standing ovation in 1892, find a permanent home among John Phillip Sousa’s repertoire (after he played it at the 1893 Columbian Exposition), and sell over five million copies of sheet music (the 19th century equivalent to CD’s)?

Here are the lyrics:
A little maiden climbed an old man's knee,
Begged for a story – "Do, Uncle, please.
Why are you single; why live alone?
Have you no babies; have you no home?"
"I had a sweetheart years, years ago;
Where she is now pet, you will soon know.
List to the story, I'll tell it all,
I believed her faithless after the ball."

After the ball is over,
After the break of morn –
After the dancers' leaving;
After the stars are gone;
Many a heart is aching,
If you could read them all;
Many the hopes that have vanished
After the ball.

Bright lights were flashing in the grand ballroom,
Softly the music playing sweet tunes.
There came my sweetheart, my love, my own –
"I wish some water; leave me alone."
When I returned dear there stood a man,
Kissing my sweetheart as lovers can.
Down fell the glass pet, broken, that's all,
Just as my heart was after the ball.

Long years have passed child, I've never wed.
True to my lost love though she is dead.
She tried to tell me, tried to explain;
I would not listen, pleadings were vain.
One day a letter came from that man,
He was her brother – the letter ran.
That's why I'm lonely, no home at all;
I broke her heart pet, after the ball.

When we perform it now, as part of our “Greatest Hits of the 19th and 20th Century” program, although the song is quite lengthy, audiences stay with us to the end because the tune – especially that of the chorus -- is extremely catchy. There is a sharp divide among audience members, however, when it come to lyrics-listening on this one. Those who have been paying attention give us “ah-ha” smiles during the last verse while those who zoned out sometime after the first chorus give us only vacant ones. This is a powerful contrast to the song’s official debut (during the actual debut, the singer forgot his lines!)which composer Charles K. Harris memorialized in his memoir:

“[Libbey] went through the second verse and chorus, and again complete silence reigned. I was making ready to bolt, but my friends . . . held me tightly by the arms. Then came the third verse and chorus. For a full minute (really??) the audience remained quiet, and then broke lose with applause . . . The entire audience arose and, standing, wildly applauded for five minutes” (again, really??). Harris may have exaggerated the time involved but there was no exaggerating the cold hard facts of five million copies sold. He never again would write something so wildly popular.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Redd Griffin's Brilliant, Historically Connected (Read: Civil War) Remarks Given on Memorial Day, 2011, Oak Park, IL

Photo by Debby Preiser
(Sorry that I don't have a photo of Redd but since this was the same event, it was as close as I could come visually!)

Memorial Day, 2011, in Scoville Park, Oak Park, Illinois
Remarks by Redd Griffin

Today events of the distant past and recent present near where we meet link us with Memorial Day. The only three men mentioned in our State song, John Logan, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, helped make these connections possible across time and space.

What became the national observance of Memorial Day began with John Logan, a Civil War general and commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (Union veterans of the war) from downstate Murphysboro. Logan in May, 1868, proclaimed the Day’s forerunner, “Decoration Day” be observed nationwide to honor those fallen in the Civil War. This day survivors would decorate their graves. Last month the Illinois State Historical Society began its commemoration of that war’s 150th anniversary with a conference at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale with a side trip to Logan’s home nearby.

Events triggering the beginning and end of that war happened along a route at the bottom of this hill, where Oak Park began on the U.S. frontier in the 1830’s. What we call Lake Street extended from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. Less than ten miles east of us on Lake Street in Chicago, the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for President 151 years ago this month. That event led to the South’s secession and the outbreak of the Civil War. Last year, several Oak Parkers were among the hundreds who celebrated the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s nomination in the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center.

One hundred fifty miles northwest of us on Lake Street’s extension as route U.S. 20, Ulysses Grant joined the army exactly 150 years ago today. His leadership along with Lincoln’s and Logan’s led to the Union winning the war, preserving the nation and freeing the slaves. Today civil and religious leaders are gathered in Galena to commemorate Grant’s leaving civilian life for the army.

After the Civil War ended in 1865, Oak Parkers who had served under Grant, stayed together. In 1887 they organized the Philip Sheridan Post of the Grand Army of the Republic (the GAR). Among them was Anson Hemingway, one of Ernest Hemingway’s two grandfathers who served in the War. He was photographed in his dark blue uniform with young Ernest, and with his fellow veterans in front of Oak Park’s first library, a few yards southwest of us.

Besides the grand sweep of historic forces and patterns are the more immediate, intimate, moments of those who served democracy in the Civil War and the centuries of our history.

Their terrors and triumphs were captured in their diaries or the writing of authors like Ernest Hemingway, who had heard such stories from Civil War veterans as a boy growing up in Oak Park. He would write of his own intense war-time experiences in non-fiction and fiction, including his widely-read novel about World War I, A Farewell to Arms.

With trend-setting candor, Hemingway made clear his view based on his own wartime experiences that “Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene besides the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.”

Hemingway saw such abstract words as empty, especially when cynical leaders used them to manipulate the masses. But he found the values these words stood for to be very real when people lived by them.

Those living by these values include our fellow Americans in the service and their loved ones, who have unselfishly supported them and their cause. Their heroic sacrifices led to growth in character and higher levels of being.

These protectors of our democracy need solidarity with each other, with their community and their nation. But why do they give up part--and sometimes all--of their freedoms and lives to defend ours? How should we civilians utilize the freedoms and lives they allow us to enjoy? Positive answers might be found in lessons from history, which clarify where we came from, where we are and where we should be going.

John Logan, for example, turned from opposing Lincoln to supporting him, even to the extent of risking his life for his cause in war. On his first Decoration Day, flowers were placed on Confederate as well as Union graves in Arlington National Cemetery. Such tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation are as essential to healthy individual lives as to the just life of a nation.

Among possible responses, the arts and religion often provide direction, motivation, meaning and hope. Of the thousands of songs and hymns written to do this during the Civil War, few better linked individuals, their country and a greater cause than “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with Julia Ward Howe’s inspired words. The History Singers, John and Kathryn Atwood sing it here today. They invite you to join them and sense the spirit that it brought to Americans during the Civil War as it has brought to them ever since.

[Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath or stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on.

Chorus: Glory, Glory Hallelujah, His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence in the dim and flaring lamps,
His Day is marching on.

Chorus: Glory, Glory Hallelujah, His truth is marching on.]