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