Thursday, August 25, 2016

A ‘mind-gripping’ song, and some 'never quite hits'

Harry, age 91, having lunch with friends in June 2012
In an article Harry wrote for his community newsletter in January 2013, he described a song as having “a mind-gripping quality.” While some of his music-themed stories covered Big Band songs not familiar to many of us, this more recent tune (from my era) I’ll bet you all know.


A movie theme-song success

The 1968 film “The Thomas Crown Affair” starred Steve McQueen as a bored millionaire who engineers a bank robbery just for kicks and then has a whirlwind love affair with Faye Dunaway, the insurance investigator trying to nail him for the crime. The prolific French composer, Michel Legrand, was asked to write the musical score for the movie. His assignment was to try to capture in music the kind of thinking that would motivate a sophisticated, successful businessman to turn to crime for excitement. He succeeded beyond all expectations with “The Windmills Of Your Mind”. Not only did the music fit perfectly with the movie’s theme of intricate planning to commit a criminal act, but the superb lyrics, written by the husband-wife team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, captured and built upon the theme.

In 1999 Hollywood produced a remake, as it almost always does with films that are highly successful, with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo in the leading roles. It had the same basic plot of the bored millionaire looking for excitement; only this time, instead of robbing a bank, he steals masterpiece paintings from a museum. In the original movie, the song was performed by Noel Harrison. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year (1968). In the remake, Sting performed it.

Michel Legrand has written more than 200 musical scores for movies and television programs. Among his better known works are “I Love Paris”, “C’est Magnifique”, “The Summer Knows”, “The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg”, and others too numerous to list. This song, “The Windmills Of Your Mind”, is another of those unique blends of words and music that has a mind-gripping quality. Once it enters your consciousness, it’s hard to let go. Let these words simmer in your mind just a little while and you’ll find yourself going over them again and again and again.

The Windmills Of Your Mind (Lyric)

Like a circle in a spiral, Like a wheel within a wheel, Never ending or beginning, On an ever spinning reel, Like a snowball down a mountain, Or a carnival balloon, Like a carousel that’s turning, Running rings around the moon, Like a clock whose hands are sweeping, Past the minutes on its face, And the world is like an apple, Whirling silently in space, Like the circles that you find, In the windmills of your mind.

Like a tunnel that you follow, To a tunnel of its own, Down a hollow to a cavern, Where the sun has never shone, Like a door that keeps revolving, In a half forgotten dream, Or the ripples from a pebble, Someone tosses in a stream, Like a clock whose hands are sweeping, Past the minutes on its face, And the world is like an apple, Whirling silently in space, Like the circles that you find, In the windmills of your mind.

Keys that jingle in your pocket, Words that jangle in your head, Why did summer go so quickly, Was it something that I said, Lovers walk along a shore, Leaving footprints in the sand, Was the sound of distant drumming, Just the fingers of your hand, Pictures hanging in a hallway, Or the fragment of a song, Half remembered names and faces, But to whom do they belong, When you knew that it was over, Were you suddenly aware, That the autumn leaves were turning, To the color of her hair? Like a circle in a spiral, Like a wheel within a wheel, Never ending or beginning, On an ever spinning reel, As the images unwind, Like the circles that you find, In the windmills of your mind.


Hammerstein’s ‘never quite hits’

More than two years earlier, in November 2011, Harry titled his community column “Songs That Never Made It To Number One But Made it To Number Two Or Three.” If you’re familiar with old musicals, you’ll recognize the Number One hits. New to me are the “never quite hits”, but I can see why he described his last example as one “that sort of grows on me.”


One of the finest lyricists of our times, who worked with many different composers and wrote Number One hits with all of them, was Oscar Hammerstein II. Just to name a few of his hits that reached the top of the charts: with Jerome Kern, “Ol’ Man River”; with Richard Rodgers, “People Will Say We’re In Love”, “Some Enchanted Evening”, and dozens more from all those musicals –“Oklahoma”, “State Fair”, “Carousel”, “South Pacific”, “The King and I”, etc. Number One hits in all of them. Not only was the music magical, but the lyrics he wrote were sheer poetry, words that touch our hearts and express our feelings.

Let me give you a couple that never quite hit the top. Most of the singers recorded them because they were so good – so singable – but then they faded away and you never hear them anymore. For a musical called “Music In The Air”, he wrote a half dozen songs. The one that hit the top of the charts was “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star”, and you still hear it occasionally today, but the one that I prefer by far is “The Song Is You”. It was one of the loveliest melodies ever written by Jerome Kern with the epitome of poetic lyrics by Hammerstein. It was reported in all the Hollywood fan magazines that Frank Sinatra’s recording alone led to many, many marriage proposals.

When he was working with composer Sigmund Romberg writing songs for operettas back in the 1920s and ’30s, one of his songs that hit the top was “Lover Come Back To Me”. Every now and then you still hear that one. But the song I prefer, that should have hit the top but did not, is “When I Grow Too Old To Dream”. Now, maybe it’s an age thing, but at my time of life this is a song that sort of grows on me. I wish we had a sound system here so I could play some of our music in the lobbies and the elevators.

The Song Is You (Lyric)

I hear music when I look at you, A beautiful theme of ev’ry dream I ever knew,
Down deep in my heart, I hear it play, I feel it start, then melt away.
I hear music when I touch your hand, A beautiful melody from some enchanted land,
Down deep in my heart, I hear it say, Is this the day?
I alone, have heard this lovely strain, I alone, have heard this glad refrain,
Must it be, Forever inside of me? Why can’t I let it go? Why can’t I let you know?
Why can’t I let you know the song my heart would sing –
That beautiful rhapsody of love and youth and spring,
The music is sweet, the words are true, the song is you.

When I Grow Too Old To Dream (Lyric)

When I grow too old to dream, I’ll have you to remember,
When I grow too old to dream, Your love will live in my heart,
So kiss me, my sweet, And so let us part, And when I grow too old to dream,
That kiss will live in my heart.

Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What school kids don't learn about Congress

Harry in 1996
On Dec. 14, 1995, at age 74, Harry wrote the following piece and filed it on his computer. It could be from an email he wrote to someone he knew, or maybe a letter to the editor of a publication. Obviously agitated, he was speaking his mind – in writing.


Young elementary school students who are taught that the Congress exists to enact legislation that benefits the public are being taught lies. The men and women elected to the House of Representatives have little or no interest in passing laws for “the good of the people” or for the “good of the general public.” If anything they do redounds to the “good of the general public” it is purely accidental or coincidental. The truth is, Representatives, when first elected, are interested in only one thing – serving the needs or meeting the demands of their constituents, no matter how narrowly based their constituency may be or how selfish their motivations.

After serving for the first year of their two-year terms, the primary goal for most of them is to do whatever they think they have to do to be reelected. Often this means carrying out the bidding of their financial backers, even if it means enacting laws that do genuine harm to the general public. So, nine times out of ten, when you hear some Representatives sounding off about something that will “get the government off our backs” or that will benefit the people, don’t believe it. They are lying through their teeth.

Case in point:  Every day you hear some Congress persons talking about cutting the budget, stopping the wasteful government spending, and putting an end to the notion that people should depend upon government handouts all their lives. But who are they talking about? Are they talking about the cattle industries, who want the government to provide them with free grazing lands? I think not. Are they talking about the mining industries, who want the government to give them free rights to mine the precious minerals on federal lands? No, I think not. Are they talking about the timber industries, who want freedom to harvest the wealth of our forests? Certainly not. Are they talking about the dairy industries, the tobacco industries, the peanut industries, the sugar industries, and a host of others, all of whom depend upon government subsidies in one form or another to reap their swollen profits? Of course not. So who and what are they talking about when they say they want to cut wasteful government spending?

* * *

Campus conversation

On a lighter note, I came across the following writing from nearly a year later, September 1996. It captures a dining-hall conversation at the University of Maryland, where Harry audited courses – and made friends – post-retirement, from 1987 to 2002. He titled this “An overheard assignment”.  


Two dark-haired girls, one with brown eyes and one with green eyes, sit close together at a large round table in the South Campus Dining Hall munching on chicken fingers. A single observer sits halfway around the table, ostensibly reading a newspaper while eating a sandwich.

Brown Eyes speaks:  “You’ll never believe what happened to me last night?” (All sentences, no matter how firmly declarative, end on an interrogatory note.)

Green Eyes:  “What? What?”

BE:  “Well ... first you have to promise me that you’ll never breathe a word of this to anyone – especially not to Laurie?”

GE:  “Laurie? Your roommate?”

BE:  “That’s right. Laurie, my roommate!”

GE:  “You know I never will, don’t you? C’mon, tell me, what happened?”

BE:  “Welllll ... y’know when we were at the beer hall last week and Laurie’s boyfriend, he goes to Gerogetown, y’know, he’s goin’ t’law school? Wellll ... anyway, I thought they were almost engaged or something, y’know? Anyway, she introduced him to us, y’know, and I thought he was kinda cute, y’know?”

GE:  “Yeah, me too. So ... what happened?”

BE:  “Wellll ... he called last night and I thought he wanted to talk to Laurie, but she was at the library, y’know? But, guess what? He wanted to talk to me, not to her.”

GE:  “No kidding? What did he want?”

BE:  “Welll ... he asked me to go to a party with him next Saturday night. Can you believe it?”

GE:  “Wow! Soooo ... what did you say?”

BE:  “Wellll ... honestly, I didn't know what to say, y’know? I mean, what could I say to Laurie, y’know? And then, before I could answer him, y’know, he says to me that after all, he’s not married to Laurie, y’know, they’re just good friends, that’s all.”

GE:  “Ohhh sure. The way he had his hands all over her, I thought they were gonna do it right there, y’know? Y’just can’t trust those guys who go t’law school, y’know? Sooo ... what’d y’tell him?”

BE:  “Wellll ... honestly ... I didn’t know what t’do, y’know? I just wasn’t thinking. So I said yes. But I just can’t tell Laurie, y’know. Promise me you won’t say anything to her?”

At that moment, a tall, willowy blond girl approached the table with a tray of chicken fingers and sat down next to Brown Eyes.

BE:  “Hi, Angie, how y’doin?”

Angie:  “Same old, same old, y’know? What’s new with you?”

BE:  “Angie, you’re not gonna believe what happened to me last night?”

Angie:  “What happened? You won the lottery?”

BE:  “Oh, honestly, I’m serious.”

Angie:  “Okay, so tell me, what happened?”

BE:  “Wellll ... first, you have to promise me never to breathe a word about this to anyone, especially not to Laurie?”

At this point, the observer folded his newspaper, picked up his tray, and departed.

Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Reflections on the military-industrial complex

On June 30, 1994, Harry last edited this document in his computer files. I would think he wrote it for a publication. Similar to other essays on this blog, he talks about lessons from World War II.


Ever since President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office in January 1961, critics of military spending have cited his comments about the “military-industrial complex” to challenge the cost of national security. By quoting him they lend a measure of dignity and authenticity to their critical comments, even though they distort his intent by quoting him out of context. It is important to understand the context.

From the time the United States entered World War II in December 1941, it took more than two years of all-out effort to gear up our ill-prepared military and industrial resources. The whole country became what President Roosevelt called the “arsenal of democracy”. The production record achieved by industry in providing the weapons for the armed forces enabled the United States and Allies to forge a winning team.

There was an important lesson in that experience, one that George Washington had enunciated so clearly in the dawn of our nationhood. If we would prevent war, he said in effect, we must be prepared for war. We forgot this lesson after the war. Demobilization became the name of the game and the great arsenal of democracy not only fell into disrepair, it was substantially dismantled. When the Korean war started in June 1950, we found ourselves largely unprepared to conduct extended combat operations until our industrial resources could once again be geared up to produce the needed weapons. We must never be caught unprepared again.

President Eisenhower, tempered in the crucible of war and by eight years in the crucible of presidential pressures, brought wisdom, insight and perspective to his farewell address. Ponder these words, delivered in January 1961:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of ploughshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. …

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, and even spiritual – is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.         

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. ...

Author Harry M. Zubkoff

There is, indeed, a warning in these words, but it does not constitute a condemnation of the military-industrial complex, as the critics charge. On the contrary, it constitutes recognition of the essential nature of this new phenomenon in the American experience. President Eisenhower understood, better than most, the absolute necessity for military preparedness in today’s world and for the industrial base upon which preparedness rests. Implicit in his warning is the acknowledgment that the military-industrial complex is a necessary element of American life in our times, brought about by the nature of the world we live in.

So, to the men and women who inhabit that military-industrial complex, whose daily efforts insure that the United States will always be ready to defend its interests, this country owes a profound debt of gratitude.  

Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The music that kept Harry going


Harry wrote the two articles on this page for his community newsletter in February and April 2012. Now that I’ve posted a wide variety of his writings on this blog, I’m starting to believe that the greatest tribute we can give him is to listen to the songs that made him happy. When you see the song titles with hyperlinks (in blue) on this page, and in all the other music-themed articles on this blog, just click and listen. Enjoy!

Photos of Harry in June 2012. He encouraged others to appreciate the music from his youth through articles like these.


Unknown songwriters

It has always been a puzzlement to me why some songwriters remain relatively unknown. Take, for example, Harry Warren. Starting around 1918 until he died in 1981, he wrote more than 800 songs and actually published more than 500, more than most of the popular music composers of the 20th century. Certainly more than George Gershwin, more than Hoagy Carmichael, more than Jerome Kern, all of whom are considered giants in the field. He had more hits on the Hit Parade than any of them, including even Irving Berlin, the king of them all, and many of his songs became standards in the popular music business. How could he not be widely recognized as the musical genius he was? (And besides, anyone named Harry has got to be good.)

Harry Warren’s problem was that he worked on the West Coast, not the East Coast, in Hollywood, not New York, writing songs for movies, not for live theater. As a commentator of his era wrote, he was one of an army of invisible writers who cranked out good songs for bad movies. His real name was Salvatore Guaragna, one of eleven children of Antonio and Rachel Guaragna, immigrants from Italy. His father changed the family name to Warren while Harry was still a child growing up in Brooklyn. In Hollywood he worked with many of the great lyricists, some unknown, some famous, including Al Dubin, Mack Gordon, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, Leo Robin, Harold Adamson, and others. Just to give you an idea of the enormous range of songs he wrote, I’ll list a few of my favorites – not all of them, by any means, just a few.

Lullaby of Broadway, Jeepers Creepers, On the Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe, Chattanooga Choo-Choo, I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo, That’s Amore, You’re my Everything, I Found a Million Dollar Baby, You’re getting to Be a Habit With Me, 42nd Street, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, I’ll String Along With You, September in the Rain, You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby, My Heart Tells me, I Had the Craziest Dream, The More I See You, I Only Have Eyes For You, and dozens more. And the two I like best because the poetry and the music are perfect blends – You’ll Never Know and There’ll Never Be Another You. The lyrics for both were written by Mack Gordon.

You’ll Never Know (Lyric)

You’ll never know just how much I miss you. You’ll never know just how much I care. And if I tried, I just couldn’t hide my love for you. You ought to know, for haven’t I told you so a million or more times. You went away and my heart went with you, I speak your name in my every prayer. If there is some other way to prove that I love you, I swear I don’t know how. You’ll never know if you don’t know now.

There’ll Never Be Another You (Lyric)

There will be many other nights like this. And I’ll be standing here with someone new. There will be other songs to sing, another fall, another spring, But there will never be another you. There will be other lips that I may kiss, But they won’t thrill me like yours used to do. Yes, I may dream a million dreams, But how can they come true? If there will never ever be another you.


A song remembered

I had just heard a news report on the radio and the announcer said, “We will bring you updates as time goes by”, and the memories came flooding in. “As Time Goes By”, one of the greatest songs of our times, and “Casablanca”, one of the greatest movies of the 20th Century. The song was written by Herman Hupfeld, a moderately successful songwriter who often wrote songs tailored to specific musical shows or films. In 1931 he wrote “As Time Goes By” for a Broadway show called “Everbody’s Welcome”. It worked in the show but it was not a big seller. Rudy Vallee, singing star of the 1930s, featured his own recording on his radio show, but it was soon forgotten. Hupfeld had a more successful song with “Let’s Put Out the Lights and Go To Sleep”, which Rudy Vallee used as his theme song on his radio show. In the mid-1930s, Hupfeld retired to a quiet life in his hometown of Montclair, New Jersey.

Then, in 1942, Warner Brothers Studios made a movie called “Casablanca” starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. This long-forgotten love song was revived for the film. A relatively unknown singer named Dooley Wilson was picked to sing it in the movie and his vocal rendition, accompanying himself on the piano, became an immediate worldwide sensation. 

Suddenly, Herman Hupfeld was plucked out of retirement and through the WWII period made countless appearances on radio and television shows to play the piano and sing his song. After the war, he retired again. He was only 55 years old when he died in 1951. In an ironic footnote, Dooley Wilson, whose performance made the song an international best seller, could not play the piano. He fingered the keys in the movie while the music was dubbed in.

As Time Goes By (Lyric)

You must remember this, A kiss is just a kiss, A sigh is just a sigh. The fundamental things apply, As time goes by. And when two lovers woo, They still say I love you, On that you can rely. No matter what the future brings, As time goes by. Moonlight and love songs, Never out of date, Hearts full of passion, Jealousy and hate. Woman needs man, And man must have his mate, That, no one can deny. It’s still the same old story, A fight for love and glory, A case of do or die. The world will always welcome lovers, As time goes by.

Let’s Turn Out the Lights and Go to Sleep (Lyric)

No more company to feed, No more papers left to read, What’s to do about it, Let’s turn out the lights and go to sleep. No more anything to drink, Leave those dishes in the sink, What’s to do about it, Simply night-night and go to sleep. You’re waiting now for me to say, I love you more and more and more, dear. You’re looking younger every day, You never were so sweet before, dear. No more money in the bank, No cute baby we can spank, What’s to do about it, Let’s put out the lights and go to sleep.

Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, July 28, 2016

When Harry taught grad students

Harry in his post-retirement college days
Harry was like an advertisement for "intergenerational" programs. Those are organizations that pair school kids with elderly mentors, or connect young adults with seniors who want computer lessons. For my dad, it was natural to reach out to people in younger generations, to improve communication, to help bridge the gaps. In the following email to one young friend, in October 2009, he wrote personal details about his volunteer work with grad students at the University of Maryland.


There is so little communication between my generation and yours that, whenever there’s a breakthrough, as between you and me, it’s like a shot in the arm of hope and encouragement.  …

Some professors are quite adept at bruising the egos of young students. Later on, some bosses are even more adept at doing that. As a boss, I was never good at that; instead, I tended to soothe and massage young egos, and over the years I had a lot of young interns work for me each summer while they were in school and while we had an active program of hiring young interns. But I had a different kind of experience after I retired. For fifteen years after I retired (I retired in 1986 when it was fashionable to retire at age 65), from 1987 to 2002, I took courses each semester at the U. of Maryland. At the same time, I worked as a volunteer on campus teaching English to foreign students and for seven of those years, remedial English to American students working on advanced degrees.

Would you believe that Young Americans in their early to mid-20s, studying to obtain Masters and PhDs, had to learn basic English composition and even language skills, as well? That’s when I learned how to bruise egos and do some verbal spanking, so to speak. I could not understand how they could graduate from high school, nor could I believe they had actually obtained undergraduate degrees. And I let them know in no uncertain terms how backward I thought they were and what they had to do to write a thesis or a dissertation.

Incidentally, I had an intern one summer – a boy – whose job most of the time was filing newspaper articles in an alphabetized index system. We did not realize until after he was gone that he actually did not know the alphabet and had misfiled almost everything. When I realized it, I got in touch with his school and they (whoever) were smart enough to figure out that he was dyslexic and was really smart enough to cover up well enough to fool everyone through high school and get into college by faking his way. He really was a bright kid and talking to him you’d never know he had real difficulty reading and writing. As far as I know, they treated him – there is a standard treatment for dyslexia – and that worked out okay.

But, to get back to the kids I was talking about, they had no such excuse. They weren’t dumb kids. Most of them were pursuing advanced degrees in a scientific subject – physics, chemistry, math, electronics, engineering, etc. – they just had never been taught the fundamentals in English or had never been pressed by their teachers to do the work required.  

So I was helping them write papers on subjects far beyond my grasp, and if I was exasperated by their lack of English skills, they were exasperated by my lack of comprehension of their subject matter. I had to explain everything about composition to them and they had to explain verbally everything they were trying to say in their papers. I must say, while I learned a lot from them about those sciences, I don’t think they learned a lot from me about writing. I blame our education system from grammar school on up through high school for not doing an adequate job of teaching English and the associated skill of composition writing. Also reading, because in my experience, the person who does a lot of reading, books and essays of all kinds, learns how to write almost by osmosis. Reading is essential and I’m glad to see that you’re a reader and even like the same authors that I like. 

About writing, you (that’s a general you, not so much specifically you) have to cultivate your writing skills in many different ways, no matter what profession you choose to follow. One way to do that is to keep a journal. There are other ways, but I like a journal best. Not a bound journal – a loose-leaf notebook journal, in which you move pages around so you can keep subjects together. Thus, if you write something about say, the weather, one day, and then have some different comments about it a week later, you put the pages next to each other and wind up with different thoughts on the same subject in one place. You need not make comments in the journal every day – it’s not a diary. But you should make entries fairly regularly. And, those entries are for your eyes only – unless you want to share some of them with someone else – like your parents, or your grandmother, or maybe even me.

The purpose of writing your thoughts in a journal is not only to hone your writing skills, but to get into the habit of writing, of noting your observations on the world around you, on people or events, on your thoughts and feelings about yourself. Doing so has certain benefits, too – it clarifies in your own mind your thoughts and feelings. Often, we think we know how we feel and what we think about something or someone, but it’s all unclear in our minds unless we enunciate it or write it down, and then it becomes clear. And sometimes, when you write something like that, it may even surprise you because it does clarify your thoughts and you come to a realization about something that you were not fully aware of.


Idioms to ponder

While were on the subject of Harrys teaching, in September 2007, he wrote this brief article, I believe for his community newsletter.

I taught English to foreign students at the University of Maryland for fifteen years after I retired. The ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Program at the school consisted mainly of graduate students who were fair at reading and writing, but needed a great deal of help in speaking and listening. Those of us for whom English is our native tongue simply don’t realize how many idiomatic expressions are sprinkled through our everyday, normal speaking language, or just how difficult it is for speakers of other languages to grasp the meaning of phrases that cannot be taken literally. Here are just a few examples of words or phrases whose meaning has no relationship to their literal meaning:

No doubt writing this article put a smile on his face
Barnstormer
Cheesecake
Double take
Fire eater
Handwriting on the wall
Make a scene
Out of line
Play second fiddle
Pull strings      
Top banana
Hanky-panky
High horse
Let your hair down
Life of Riley
Read the riot act
High hat

That’s enough to get the idea. Can anyone think of more? Actually, there are hundreds of such idiomatic expressions. It’s easy to think of them, but try explaining their meaning to someone who only sees the literal words.

Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, July 21, 2016

For the love of old pop tunes, one story at a time

Harry on his 92nd birthday, June 16, 2013.

Earlier on this blog I posted some of Harry’s music-themed articles for his community newsletter in Leisure World, Silver Spring, MD. Here are two more he wrote at age 92. He would have been thrilled to know his stories would spread his love and appreciation for these songs to a wider audience.


June 17, 2013
Maybe You’ll Be There


Some songs become popular because of the melody. Some because of the lyric. And some because the lyric and the melody comprise a perfect blend. Here’s one where the words grabbed me and the melody was only secondary. It’s one of the great “torch songs” that lament a love lost and the never-ending hope that it will return. I strongly believe that this kind of song, and these words in particular, could only be written out of personal experience. The words were written by Sammy Gallop, a successful lyricist who had written the words for a great many top-rated songs, including such gems as “Elmer’s Tune”, “Holiday for Strings”, “Somewhere Along the Way”, and many others. He committed suicide in 1971, which is why I believe that this song truly reflects the anguish of a man who has lost the love of his life.

The music was composed by Rube Bloom (1902 – 1971), a multi-talented entertainer who was a music arranger, a singer, a band leader, an author and a recording artist, as well as a composer. Among his most successful songs were “Day In, Day Out”, “Fools Rush In, Where Angels Fear To Tread”, “Don’t Worry ’Bout Me”, and many others.

Many of the well-known singers of our times recorded this song, from Frank Sinatra to Diana Krall, but perhaps the best one was by the Gordon Jenkins orchestra and chorus.

Maybe You’ll Be There (Lyric)

Each time I see a crowd of people,
Just like a fool I stop and stare,
It’s really not the proper thing to do,
But maybe you’ll be there.

I go out walking after midnight,
Along a lonely thoroughfare,
It’s not the time or place to look for you,
But maybe you’ll be there.

You said your arms would always hold me,
You said your lips were mine alone to kiss,
Now after all those things you told me,
How can it end like this?

Some day if all my prayers are answered,
I’ll hear a footstep on the stair,
With anxious heart I’ll hurry to the door,
And maybe you’ll be there.


August 20, 2013
The Way You Look Tonight


My husband and I have been practicing the Fox Trot to Michael Buble’s version of the song my dad talks about here. Now we know the backstory.

In the field of popular music song-writing, which has long been dominated by men, one woman stands out. Dorothy Fields (1905 – 1974) was one of the very first successful female songwriters for both Broadway musicals and Hollywood movies. She was born into show business. Her father was Lew Fields, an immigrant from Poland who rose to stardom as a vaudeville comedian and later became a Broadway producer.

Her career as a professional songwriter began in 1928 when she started working with composer Jimmy McHugh. Together they wrote “On the Sunny Side of the Street”, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby”, and “Exactly Like You”, among many others. In the mid-1930s she started writing lyrics for other composers, most notably Jerome Kern. She worked with him on the movie version of “Roberta” (“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”) and, in 1936, on the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie “Swing Time”, for which they wrote “The Way You Look Tonight”. That song earned the team of Fields and Kern an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Dorothy Fields wrote the lyrics for another song that Astaire and Rogers sang in “Swing Time” called “Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off and Start All Over Again”, which President Obama used in his first inaugural speech in 2009. He said, “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of rebuilding America.” I wonder if he knew where that phrase originated – in a lyric by Dorothy Fields.

After her stint in Hollywood, Fields returned to New York and wrote the books for a number of Broadway shows, including “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” with Arthur Schwartz and some of the Cole Porter shows. She also wrote the book for “Annie Get Your Gun” for which Irving Berlin wrote the music. All told, Dorothy Fields wrote more than 400 songs over a period of 50 years, and the words she wrote have been sung by every recording artist of our times. Many of her songs are still on the air waves today, including such perennial favorites as “I Won't Dance”, “Lovely To Look At”, “I Feel a Song Coming On”, that sarcastic gem of a love song “A Fine Romance”, and, one of the most often quoted love songs of all time, “I’m In The Mood for Love.”

The Way You Look Tonight (Lyric)

Some day, when I’m awfully low, when the world is cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you, and the way you look, tonight.

Yes, you’re lovely, with your smile so warm, and your cheeks so soft, there is nothing for me but to love you, and the way you look tonight.

With each word your tenderness grows, tearing my fears apart, and that laugh that wrinkles your nose, touches my foolish heart.

Lovely, never never change, keep that breathless charm, won’t you please arrange it ’cause I love you, and the way you look tonight.

Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thoughts on bridging communication gaps

Harry in 2011
In emails my dad saved in his computer documents, he wrote about communication – or the lack of – between boys and girls, parents and children, generations, and cultures. Below youll see excerpts from several emails he sent between 2007 and 2012 to four different young women. I do believe he could have authored a thought-provoking column for young folks in addition to his music column for old folks.


To my cousins who are about to be Bat Mitzvah girls, a few words of not exactly advice, not exactly counsel, but just a few random thoughts.

You are about to enter the weird world of the teen-age girl, where you will be locked in for the next six years. These teen years are different for girls than for boys, since girls grow and mature at a faster rate than boys. So you must be kind to boys who, though they are the same age as you, may seem to be much younger and less mature for the next few years.

Your role during the teen years is to torment your siblings and to drive your parents crazy. (You must know that insanity is hereditary; parents get it from their children.) Your parents’ role is to tell you every day what you are doing that is wrong and how to do things right. No matter how tough they are on you, however, always remember that they love you very much and everything they do to you is for your own good. Of course, when it sometimes seems that they’re too tough, you can always count on your grandparents for some extra tender-loving care. Their love is unconditional and in their eyes you can do no wrong, whereas in your parents’ eyes – well, we just went through that, didn’t we? Regarding your siblings, while you may take great delight in tormenting them now, mark my words, when you are full grown adults you will suddenly discover that your siblings are your best and forever friends. Keep that thought in the back of your minds, always.

I wish I were wise enough to give you some advice on how to get through the teen years, without some misery and agony, but no one is that wise. Everybody has to work his or her own way through this period. The best advice I can give is to tell you to enjoy this time of life, every minute of it, through the good times and the awkward or embarrassing moments that are sure to happen. It’s all part of the growing process that you’re starting on now. And as you move through these teen years, always remember that everyone grows older – that’s inevitable, a fact of life. The important thing is to grow up while you’re getting older, and that’s entirely up to you.

  * * *
 
You should know that it’s very hard for parents to really communicate with their kids. Questions and answers are usually perfunctory between them, not substantive. It’s also very difficult to understand the deep feeling of love, unconditional love that parents have for their children. And, it’s very hard to communicate to kids just how much that love grips your soul. So, oddly enough, real communication between children and parents very often has to start coming from the kid to the parent, not vice versa.

 * * *

If I haven’t said it clearly before, parents usually find it difficult to engage their children in adult conversation or discussions. Neither parent nor child listens to the other, especially on subjects where they disagree and most especially when the parent is trying to tell the child to do something or not to do something. But – and this is a big but – in my experience, you’d be surprised to know that your parents are eager – would be delighted – to engage you in a thoughtful discussion on any subject you choose. And you’d probably be surprised at how smart they are and how much they know, just by virtue of having lived twice as long as you and having learned by experience.

Experience is one thing that each generation tries to teach to the next one but can’t. No matter how much experience I have, I cannot transmit it to you or your generation. You have to learn by your own experience. I can only tell you about my experience and hope that you can take some lessons from it. I’m not talking about you and me personally. I mean I – the old generation – and you, the young generation. ...

Like I said before, I wish I could transfer some of my experience and knowledge to you personally and a few others like my grandchildren and all the young people I know in your age-range. But I can’t. The best I can do is what I’m doing now – trying to transmit some of it to you and hope enough of it rubs off on you to make the effort worth it. 

* * *

If you take parenthood seriously, you attempt to instill in your children the values that you held and that your generation took for granted. They are the values that formed the foundation of our entire civilization. The values that the Bible taught us to live by – faith in God, honesty in dealings with your fellow men, generosity, charity, love, and the attitude that is embodied in the simple phrase: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Beyond the basics, however, there is very little that most of us can teach our children, and too many of our generation, far too many, have not even taught our children these basic values. How else to explain children killing other children? How else to explain the crime and corruption that pervades our society? Too many children have never been taught to respect others; consequently, they have no respect for themselves.
   
I wish I could communicate with children; not only my own children and grandchildren, but others, too. The problem is more than just a generation gap – it’s a communications gap. And the gap is not only between generations, it’s also between nations and cultures. And within nations it’s between tribes and sub-cultures and even, in some cases, between families.

Even where there’s a common language, there is all too often a failure to communicate. And the fact that there are so many different languages adds to the difficulty of communicating. Did God foresee the consequences of His action when He destroyed the tower of Babel and created all the different languages? We humans have been babbling at each other ever since. What we need is a helmet that will automatically translate words or thoughts so that we can all fully understand each other, like the different civilizations from different worlds in the Star Wars movies. 

If only we could transmit our thoughts and our true feelings to our children. For most of us, it is not possible to do so – that is, not by talking to them. There is only one way, inadequate as it may be, and that is by writing – a medium that can reach not only our own children but all children. Our hope is that they and others will read what we have written and thus glimpse what is in our minds and our hearts, and, if we write with passion and with clarity, they will understand what we say to them. This is why I write. What remains to be seen now is what I write.

Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman