Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Von Tilzers

        I'd wager a hefty sum that if I asked a dozen people at random if they ever heard of the Von Tilzers, they'd say "no". They were a family in the music business, composers, lyricists and music publishers starting with the oldest brother, Harry, around the turn of the last century. (Anyone named Harry cannot be all bad.) Actually, there were five brothers and their family surname originally was Gumm. It was Harry who used his mother's maiden name, Tilzer, and then added the Von in front of it because he liked the sound of it and thought it added an air of distinction. (Just as an aside, by the way, those who are trivia buffs may recall that Judy Garland's real name was Frances Gumm, but I don't know if she was kin to the Von Tilzers.) Anyway, Harry was a piano-playing composer and vaudeville singer in the `1890s and so good at it that he was offered a partnership in a music publishing firm. That firm published his hit "A Bird In a Gilded Cage" , lyrics by Arthur Lamb, which sold several million copies of the sheet music and put Harry's name on the map.

        In 1902, Harry went on to found the Harry Von Tilzer Music Company, which became one of the most important publishers in the history of American popular music. In addition to publishing Harry's songs, It also listed songs by George Gershwin and other composers. (We'll talk about Gershwin another time.) Among Harry's most successful songs, with sales in the millions, were "On a Sunday Afternoon", "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie," and "I Want a Girl, Just Like the Girl, That Married Dear Old Dad." Four of Harry's brothers adopted the Von Tilzer name and also went into the music business. Jules became President of Harry's Company. Will Von Tilzer became head of the Broadway Music Company. Jack Von Tilzer co-counded and directed the York Music Company. And younger brother Albert Von Tilzer wrote some popular songs that swept the country.

        It was Albert who wrote the music to the most popular sports song ever written, "Take Me Out To the Ball Game" (lyrics by Jack Norworth in 1908) which everybody in America who has ever attended a major league baseball game has heard. It is usually played during the seventh inning stretch. In a story written about him in his later years he revealed that he had never been to a ball game until twenty years after he wrote that song. Among his other songs was "Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey" with lyrics by Junie McCree, in 1910. But the song we remember most fondly, the one that emerged as the most popular song of the WW II era, is "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time", with lyrics by Neville Fleeson, written in 1920. Even today the fabulous recording by the Andrews Sisters, some 70 years since they recoded it, and more than 90 years since Albert composed it, is still in demand.

I'll be with you, in apple blossom time,
I'll be with you to change your name to mine,
One day in May, I'll come and say,
Happy the bride that the sun shines on today.
What a wonderful wedding there will be,
What a wonderful day for you and me.
Church bells will chime, you will be mine,
In apple blossom time.

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd,
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame,
For it's one, two, three strikes you're out,
At the old, ball game.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Love Song

        Of all the thousands upon thousands of memorable popular songs ever written, the great majority of them were love songs. And of all the romantic songs of love and devotion, some of the most enduring and endearing were the songs of parting and separation. One such song came to my attention with a back story that tugged at my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I first heard it when Larry Clinton's orchestra recorded it with his songbird, Bea Wain, on the vocal in 1939. It didn't get much play at the time but later, when millions of GIs were going to war overseas, it became a little more popular and again in 1952 during the Korean War it enjoyed a revival with a rendition by Jane Russell in a movie "The Las Vegas Story".
        It never attained great popularity in the top ranks of recordings, but the words grabbed me from the start and prompted me to look into it. What happened was that someone sent this poem to Hoagy Carmichael and asked if he thought it could be set to music. Hoagy worked on it, made a few changes to the lyric to fit into his melody, and then forgot it. That was in 1937. A couple years later, in 1939, looking through his files he found it again and arranged to publish it, but nobody knew who had written the poem. He and his publisher started a search and advertised in newspapers and magazines to find the author. It turned out to be Mrs. Jane Brown Thompson of Philadelphia, who had written it as an ode to her deceased husband and had it published in a magazine. It was introduced to the public on a network radio program by Dick Powell, one of the foremost singers and movie stars of that era. But Mrs. Thompson never heard it. She had passed away one day before the broadcast.
        Here is the lyric. Can anyone read these poignant words and not feel the sadness and the deep grief that lonely widow was expressing?

I get along without you very well, Of course I do, Except when soft rains fall,
And drip from leaves, Then I recall, the thrill of being sheltered in your arms,
Of course I do, but I get along without you very well.
I've forgotten you just like I should, of course I have,
Except to hear your name, or someone's laugh that is the same,
But I've forgotten you just like I should.
What a guy, what a fool am I, To think my breaking heart could kid the moon.
What's in store? Should I try once more? No, it's best that I stick to my tune.
I get along without you very well, of course I do,
Except perhaps in Spring, but I should never think of Spring,
For that would surely break my heart in two.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Iran: The Growing Threat

        The Soviet Union used to boast that it was the "worker's paradise", a phony claim that the free world saw through. In the same way, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Republic claims to stand for the oppressed of the earth, while it oppresses its own people mercilessly. Early in 2010, when it appeared there would be May Day demonstrations in Tehran, the regime rounded up and jailed trade unionists to forestall any such actions. Labor Unions in Europe and America, who usually object to such suppression of workers' rights by a repressive regime, said nothing.

        After the growing problem of Iran's threat to its neigbors in the Middle East and to the world at large and, most especially to the state of Israel, became apparent, there were dozens of articles in the media on this subject. All agreed that Iran's government is a theocratic dictatorship, that it ruthlessly stamps out dissent, that it represses women and violates all the principles of human rights, and that it continues its efforts to acquire nuclear waepons and to develop long range missiles to carry them. Since then, however, the emphasis on Iran's threat has diminished and the public's attention has drifted to other subjects. Well, lest we forget, let me remind you of some recent developments in Iran's insidious quest for world recognition and acceptance.
         The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations has recently elected Iran to a seat on the Women's Rights Commission. Actually, that group was formerly called the Commission on the Status of Women, but it was getting a bad press so it changed its name. It now describes itself as the UN's principal global policy making body for, get this, "gender equality and advancement of women...." Even the US Mission to the UN, which in previous years could be counted on to point up the irony of such inappropriate  acts, raised no objection to this travesty. It did not call for a vote but went along with Iran's election by acclamation.
        In addition, Iran was one of sixteen new members elected to four-year terms on the UN's Commission on Science and Technology for Development, and one of fifteen elected to the governing council of UN-Habitat, which is the UN's Settlement Agency.  Venezuela, that stalwart champion of democracy under Hugo Chavez, was also elected to this body.  And the UN's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has seated four members by acclamation, including Iran.  It should be noted, too, that Iran sits on the governing council of the UN Environment Program and on the Executive Boards of UNICEF and the UN Development Program.        
         When, not if but when, Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it will become the most powerful regional force in the Middle East.  Not only will it dominate the Middle East, it will become a dominant power in the United Nations, as well. It can then be expected to increase its overt support for the terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and it will most likely try to control shipping in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, through which nearly half the world's oil exports flow. There is also a genuine fear that Iran, which has proven its willingness to supply arms and munitions to those fighting the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, may also be willing to provide nuclear weapons and/or technology , together with missiles, to those same enemies of the US, as well as to Hugo Chavez in this hemisphere. Such a move would greatly affect the entire political structure of the Americas.      

        Until now, neither Europe nor the US has met this challenge head on, but time is growing shorter when the issues surrounding Iran's quest for nuclear weaponry will have to be confronted squarely. There is increasing speculation by many international pundits as to the possibility that Israel may feel compelled to take military action, since it is threatened most directly and specifically by Iran's acquisition of nukes. The lack of action by Europe and the US makes that possibility more likely.