Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Old Man River

SONG Old Man River

WRITTEN BY Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern

PERFORMED BY Paul Robeson, William Warfield, The Temptations, many others

APPEARS ON Songs of Free Men (Robeson, 1997), Show Boat: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1951, remastered 1995); In A Mellow Mood (1967, The Temptations)

NOTE "Old Man River" was a standard part of Robeson's repertoire and appears on many of his albums. It also became William Warfield's signature song.

Show Boat's 1927 premiere announced the advent of a new kind of musical. For the first time, characters developed and matured. Show Boat used popular music to treat serious thematic concerns, exploring issues of domestic desertion, miscegenation, and racism, the last in the musical's signature number, "Old Man River."

But it was 1927, and the inadvertent racist tone of Hammerstein's original lyrics worked at cross purposes to the theme of oppression; the lyrics were recast through the years to eliminate Hammerstein's minstrelsy conception of southern black dialect. The opening line, for example, morphed from "Niggers all work" to "Darkies all work" to "Colored folk all work" to "Here we all work." Singer Paul Robeson, a genuinely protean character and one of the most fascinating figures of his age, took the lead in rewriting the lyrics, refining them so that the faux dialect did not detract from the considerable power of the melody or the meaning of theme.

"Old Man River" has an almost Marxist sensibility: An anonymous ("...them that plants 'em is soon forgotten...") black workingman oppressed by the inscrutable and relentless force of racism is stuck in a backbreaking dead-end job. He lives only for getting drunk on the weekend and because he fears the alternative of death. His days are robotic, mindless, and never ending: "Don't look up and don't look down...tote that barge, lift that bale." In the end, there is simply weariness and endless effort, while the uncaring "Old Man River just keeps rolling along."

Here we all work 'long the Mississippi
Here we all work while the white folk play
Gettin' no rest from the dawn 'til sunset
Gettin' no rest 'til the Judgment Day

Don't look up and don't look down
You don't dast make the white boss frown
Bend your knees and bow your head
And pull that boat until you're dead

Let me go 'way from the Mississippi
Let me go 'way from the white man boss
Show me that stream called the River Jordan
That's the old stream that I long to cross

Old Man River, that Old Man River
He must know somethin', but he don't say nothin'
He keeps on rollin', he just keeps rollin' along

He don't plant taters, he don't plant cotton
And them that plants 'em is soon forgotten
But Old Man River, he just keeps rollin' along

You and me, we sweat and strain
Bodies all achin' and wracked with pain
Tote that barge, lift that bale
You get a little drunk and you lands in jail

I gets weary and sick of tryin'
I'm tired of livin' and scared of dyin'
But Old Man River, he just keeps rollin' along

Paul Robeson sang "Old Man River" in the 1936 film of Show Boat. The first two verses are moved after the chorus. The montage in the middle of the production emphasizes the theme of racism, including an unforgettable and prophetic shot of an agonized Robeson behind the bars of an overcrowded jail cell:

William Warfield sang "Old Man River" in the 1951 film of Show Boat, eliminated the first two verses, a bowdlerization that greatly diminished the song's main theme.  Here, Warfield sings over a montage of photographs of Paul Robeson:

The Temptations, with the initial verses intact. However, "white" has been changed to "rich":

Kenneth Anderson, sings first the first three verses as written, with the "Here we all work" introduction:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Born Under a Bad Sign - Albert King and others

SONG Born Under a Bad Sign

WRITTEN BY Booker T. Jones (music) & William Bell (words)

PERFORMED BY Albert King, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Cream, Jimi Hendrix

APPEARS ON Albert King, Born Under a Bad Sign (1967); Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw (1967); Cream, Wheels of Fire (1968); Jimi Hendrix, recorded with the Band of Gypsies in 1970 but not released until the compilation Blues (1994)

This song reached iconic status from it's first release by Albert King in 1967. As a Blues number it's pretty straightforward; while there's really nothing special about the lyrics (I can think of maybe 10 other Blues tunes with almost the same lyrics right off the top of my head), that driving pentatonic bass line is hypnotic, almost threatening, much like the driving bass loop of Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy". Still, though, it's fairly straightforward. What's special about this number is its delivery; this song was blessed with performers who took the song and ran with it.

Let's do the lyrics first, and afterward explore what the performers did with it.

Born under a bad sign

I been down since I begin to crawl

If it wasn't for bad luck,

I wouldn't have no luck at all

Hard luck and trouble is my only friend

I been on my own ever since I was ten

Born under a bad sign
I been down since I begin to crawl

If it wasn't for bad luck,

I wouldn't have no luck at all

I can't read, haven't learned how to write

My whole life has been one big fight

Born under a bad sign

I been down since I begin to crawl

If it wasn't for bad luck,

I wouldn't have no luck at all

I ain't lyin'

If it wasn't for bad luck

I wouldn't have no kind-a luck

If it wasn't for real bad luck,
I wouldn't have no luck at all

Wine and women is all I crave

A big legged woman is

gonna carry me to my grave

Born under a bad sign

I been down since I begin to crawl

If it wasn't for bad luck, 

I wouldn't have no luck at all

Yeah, my bad luck boy

Been havin' bad luck all of my days, yeah
So, what did the individual interpreters do with this song that made it such an icon. Albert King had a pretty workmanlike approach, but he drove the song, to a point where it feels like he's pushing it ahead of himself. It has the typical Chicago-style horn line-up and even some back-up singers, but you feel as if they're trying hard to keep up with King. King puts a lot into his voice; you believe him when he sings that bad luck follows him everywhere. And of course there's the inimitable Albert King guitar style, played on his signature Flying V. Here he is in 1980 in Sweden:

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band is a different story. Butterfield slows it down some and makes it even bluesier, if that's possible. Elvin Bishop's guitar is less flashy than it is impulsive here, and like Albert King he seems to be pushing the band along. Butterfield's expressive voice fits this song well, and the horn section seems so much more lush than King's. This is a classic track, but there was nothing on YouTube with it, so here's the original album track from The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw:

Cream's treatment of "Born Under a Bad Sign" was how many in my generation first heard the song. They slow it down much more than Butterfield did, and under Jack Bruce's voice and Eric Clapton's guitar this song becomes almost menacing, even spooky. Their treatment makes this sound as if the subject of the song isn't just a guy who can't get any breaks, he's a downright harbinger of doom. Here's Cream at their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:

Finally, there's the Jimi Hendrix version. He never released this on an album, although he played it at the two live gigs with the Band of Gypsies. This is an instrumental, and like the Cream version it's slow, menacing, and spooky; Hendrix was good at setting that kind of mood. On this tune Jimi's more into creating that mood than playing guitar gymnastics. As I said, it was never released on an album in Jimi's lifetime; this YouTube video uses the track from the 1994 CD Blues, a compilation of Jimi playing Blues covers.

So there you have it - one of the iconic tunes of the Blues and the four performers who made it the icon it became.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dusty Springfield: I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself

SONG I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself

WRITTEN BY Burt Bacharach & Hal David

PERFORMED BY Dusty Springfield

APPEARS ON Dusty (1964) The Very Best of Dusty Springfield (1998); many others

NOTE "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" is an essential Dusty Springfield song. Any anthology without it is incomplete.

The greatest white soul singer bar none was an Irish Catholic lass born in West Hampstead, England with the unlikely name of Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien. Nicknamed "Dusty" as a child because of her tomboy ways, Mary changed her last name to Springfield in 1960 when she helped form a trio that wanted to call itself The Springfields. (No member of the trio was actually named Springfield, but they must have thought it sounded good.) In 1962, The Springfields decamped from England to Nashville with the hope of making, of all things, an authentic American roots album.

The group disbanded a year later, but not before Springfield had begun to absorb the innovative and accessible African-American sounds that would hit the popular music of the 60s with as great an impact as the British Invasion and psychedelia:
Only when I first went to the States and heard black pop music that I discovered...that was the music I wanted to hear.
Springfield's voice reflected a wistfulness, a sense of personal tragedy and loss hanging over everything she sang. She often transformed pedestrian lyrics into something intimate and deeply personal, while at the same time conveying her feelings so that she very nearly melded souls with her listeners. She found all the sad places within people, connected with them, and said, "I understand." In her hands, languorous ballads opened up with each line as she peeled away emotional layers until nothing remained but the deepest private core.

"I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" is a polished but standard MOR Bacharach-David ballad about the aftermath of a breakup. Springfield's interpretation of it demonstrates her ability to find something real in each note of a song and then build on that to satisfying and true conclusion. She locates and expresses with deep empathy the pain and suffering of the discarded one who prefers loneliness and the dim hope of reconciliation to moving on. Somehow, we believe that the dislocation of not knowing what to do is worth continuing to be "still so crazy for you." In the end, she'd rather risk the humiliation of her lover witnessing her angst than give him up altogether.

Springfield's career faded with the 60s, although she recorded right up until her death in 1995. A tumultuous  and sad personal life included recurring battles with drug and alcohol addiction, self-cutting, and at least one instance of hospitalization for injuries from domestic violence. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994, she passed away the next year.
I just don't know what to do with myself
Don't know just what to do with myself
I'm so used to doing everything with you
Planning everything for two
And now that we're through

I just don't know what to do with my time
I'm so lonesome for you it's a crime
Going to the movie only makes me sad
Parties make me feel as bad
When I'm not with you
I just don't know what to do

Like a summer rose
It needs the sun and rain
Oh, I need your sweet love
To balm all the pain

I just don't know what to do with myself
I just don't know what to do with myself
Baby, if your new love ever turns you down
Come on back, I will be around
I don't know what else to do, no, no, no
I don't know what else to do
I'm still so crazy for you, no, no, no
I don't know what else to do, no, no, no
I'm still so crazy for you

The White Stripes' cover of "Just" is more tribute to Dusty than reinterpretation of the song, as Jack White channels her angst through the sound and technology of his generation:

Cameron Diaz' off-key -- and I do mean off-key -- screech in My Best Friend's Wedding helped make her a star and introduced the song to a new generation (it starts at about a minute in):

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Rolling Stones: Get Off of My Cloud

SONG Get Off of My Cloud

WRITTEN BY Mick Jagger, Keith Richard

PERFORMED BY The Rolling Stones

APPEARS ON  December's Children (And Everybody's) (1965); Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass (1966); Hot Rocks, 1964-1971 (1972); Forty Licks (2002); others.

NOTE 1 "Get Off of My Cloud" is an essential Stones song. If you are only buying one Stones anthology, get one that includes "Cloud."  2 Stupid and Contagious has more about "Get Off of My Cloud" here.

'Ere I am sittin' in me apartment lookin' out the window and finkin' about fings. Big fings, important fings. When wot 'appens but a bloke comes on the telly actin' like I'm no' a bloody Englishman if I don't use 'is detergent to wash me dishes! Wash me dishes? That's wot I've got a maid for, innit? Anyway, leave me alone, mate. You go your way and I'll go mine. Know wot I mean? Bloody 'ell.

So I'm 'avin' some of me mates over and we're all 'avin a good time talkin' 'bout important fings and there's some girls too and we're all drinkin' and smokin' and mindin' our own biz when the phone rings. It's a bloke from maybe the 'undredth floor or some place who says we're makin' too much noise, know wot I mean? 'E just wants me to invite him down so 'e can be part of the 'ole 60s party, but I ain't 'avin' it. Leave me alone, mate, I tell him. You go your bloody way and I'll go mine. Know wot I mean?

The party's gettin' to be a bit much wif the phone calls and the music and the boys and the girls and all, so I go out for a drive. The girls will be there when I get back, y'know? So I drive and drive and drive and find a car park and kick back and relax and fink about fings and it's so nice and no one's there. No one sellin' me dishwashin' soap or bovverin' me wif phone calls or wantin' to know wot I fink. It's all nice and peaceful like so I doze off and when I wake up me Bentley is covered wif parking tickets.

They won't leave you be, know wot I mean? Like Phil and Don sang, all I want to do is dream, right? But no, no one, not the telly, not your neighbors, not your friends, not the Establishment, no one will leave you to yer cloud so you can just fink. Why is that? Well, all I have to say is, "Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!" 'Coz two's a crowd, know wot I mean?
I live in an apartment on the 99th floor of my block
And I sit at home looking out the window
Imagining the world has stopped
Then in flies a guy who's all dressed up like a Union Jack
And says, I've won five pounds if I have his kind of detergent pack

I said, Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!
Don't hang around 'cause two's a crowd
On my cloud, baby

The telephone is ringing
I say, "Hi, it's me, who is there on the line."
A voice says, "Hi, hello, how are you?"
"Well, I guess I'm doin' fine."
He says, "It's 3 a.m., there's too much noise
Don't you people ever want to go to bed?
Just 'cause you feel so good, do you
Have to drive me out of my head?"

I said, Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!
Don't hang around 'cause two's a crowd
On my cloud, baby

I was sick and tired, fed up with this
And decided to take a drive downtown
It was so very quiet and peaceful, not a soul around
I laid myself out, I was so tired, I started to dream
In the morning the parking tickets were just like
A flag stuck on my screen

I said, Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!
Don't hang around 'cause two's a crowd
On my cloud, baby

Mick looks to be checking out the girls at about 1:20--

Saturday, March 13, 2010

We Shall Overcome

SONG We Shall Overcome

WRITTEN BY  Guy Carawan, Frank Hamilton, Zilphia Horton, Pete Seeger

PEFORMED BY Joan Baez, Mahalia Jackson, Pete Seeger, SNCC Freedom Singers, many others.

APPEARS ON Joan Baez in Concert Part 2 (1963); We Shall Overcome (Mahalia Jackson, 1999); We Shall Overcome: The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert (Pete Seeger, 1989 release of 1963 performance); many others.

Perhaps no anthem of the Civil Rights movement resonated as acutely with white liberals as "We Shall Overcome." While the reason remains elusive, a relatively easy transition from spiritual to the folk idiom surely helped, as did the song's early identification with the post-War labor movement. At any rate, the melding of an inspirational melody with a trenchant articulation of the tactics, values, and aims of the Civil Rights movement also expressed the values of liberalism at large. The song lives still, translated into languages around the world and recorded by such prominent artists as Bruce Springsteen.

It isn't exactly known when "We Shall Overcome" began its hundred-year tortuous trek from the bitter cotton fields of the slave holding South to bellwether song of the Civil Rights movement and centerpiece of a memorable presidential address. In 1867, The Atlantic's Thomas Wentworth Higgenson wrote about a spiritual called "Many Thousands Gone" (also known as "No More Auction Block For Me") that is now thought to have supplied the melody of "We Shall Overcome." This began a complex time line that looks something like this:
  • 1900: Charles Albert Tindley writes "I'll Overcome Someday," which becomes the template for the lyrics to "We Shall Overcome." Tindley uses a different tune.
  • Stock religious music phrases like "deep in my heart" are absorbed into Tindley's lyrics.
  • 1900-45: Tindley's lyrics are melded to "Many Thousands Gone" and the new song becomes a labor movement standard.
  • 1930s: Tobacco workers bring "I Shall Overcome" to the Highlander Folk School, which trains labor activists and later Civil Rights movement activists.
  • 1945-56: Highlander music director Zilphia Horton hears the song either from students or while marching in a picket line.
  • 1947: Pete Seeger, a founder of Highlander changed, changes the chorus from "I'll overcome" to "We shall overcome" ("I think I liked a more open sound") and adds new verses.
  • 1959: New Highlander Musical director Guy Carawan makes the song a standard part the school's new focus, that of training students in techniques of nonviolent resistance.
  • 1959-60: Police raids on Highlander results in jail time for many students. They sing "We Shall Overcome" as way of boosting morale, and in doing so add the final touches of lyrics and rhythms.
  • 1960: Carawan leads a performance of the song at the initial meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. From there, it disperses throughout the Civil Rights movement and becomes the movement's most well-known song.
  • 1963: Joan Baez sings "We Shall Overcome" before hundreds of thousands at the March on Washington.
  • 1965: In the  violent wake of the Selma-to-Birmingham march, a determined President Lyndon Johnson uses "We Shall Overcome" as the rhetorical fulcrum of an address to Congress calling for Voting Rights legislation:

Civil Rights movements around the world adapted "We Shall Overcome," including movements in Bangladesh, Czechoslovakia, Northern Ireland, and South Africa. As recently as 2009,  Joan Baez recorded a version for the Iran protesters, with lyrics in Farsi. It has also been translated into Bengali, Hindi, and Malayalm.

How does one account for the international success of a hybrid song that combines a field spiritual melody with lyrics written by a turn-of-the-century hymn composer and a radical white folk singer?

For one thing, there is the nature of the song itself, which struck a note of liberation from its very beginnings in those brutal fields. Lindley's lyrics added key elements of faith and transcendence and Seeger's adjustments returned the song to its roots of freedom and justice. He also introduced a critical element of community by changing "I will" to "We shall." The melody itself is irresistibly hypnotic and lends itself to circumstances as intimate and frightening as a jail cell to the comfort and solidarity of a mass gathering. Tragically, one South African prisoner sang it on the gallows.

Moreover, each verse iterates a tactic and value of the movement and of core liberal values at large. "We shall overcome" speaks to the conviction that injustice will be defeated and the world made better. "We'll walk hand in hand," "we are not alone," and "the whole wide world around" reflect the belief that solidarity of action will encourage sympathizers outside of the movement and eventually everyone else to join the cause. And "we shall all be free" of course identifies the ultimate aim of the movement.

Taken as a whole, the the lyrics of "We of Shall Overcome" offer a world in which persistence, solidarity, freedom, courage, compassion and human love, unity across color and class defeat injustice, poverty, bigotry, and despair. It is the fundamental liberal vision in which society, country, and law exist to advance the welfare and equality of a community of all, regardless of race, religion, or political belief. Or, as President Johnson put it in the speech above, "to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man." In this sense, "We Shall Overcome" reflects core liberal values in a way that no other song does, or is ever likely to.

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day

Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
That we shall overcome some day

We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand some day


We shall all be free
We shall all be free
We shall all be free some day


We are not afraid
We are not afraid
We are not afraid today


We are not alone
We are not alone
We are not alone today


The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around some day


We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day


Joan Baez sings to audience of rapt British young people in the BBC studios:

Pete Seeger brought this version with him from the Highlander School:

Martin Luther King, who credited "We Shall Overcome" with helping unify the movement, incorporated it into a 1968 speech, one of his last:

Mahalia Jackson, from the late 60s:

The SNCC Freedom Singers reprise "We Shall Overcome" at Chicago's Woodson Regional Library in 2007:

Joan Baez again, dedicated to the Tehran protesters and with some verses in Farsi:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Arlo Guthrie: City of New Orleans

SONG City of New Orleans

WRITTEN BY Steve Goodman


APPEARS ON Hobo's Lullaby (1972), The Best of Arlo Guthrie (2007)

NOTE Clay Eals, author of Steve Goodman: Facing the Music, is the source of the account of how Steve Goodman and Arlo Guthrie met.

Late one 1971 evening in a Chicago club, the club owner and a then unknown singer-songwriter named Steve Goodman approached Arlo Guthrie, who just finished performing. The owner asked Guthrie to listen to a song Goodman had written. A reluctant Guthrie agreed to listen for as long as it took him to drink a beer. And Goodman had to buy the beer.

The song that the owner had in mind was called "City of New Orleans," which was inspired by a ride Goodman and his wife had taken on the train of that name to visit her mother (a trip Goodman had also taken many times as a student at the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana). Rife with nostalgia for a long ago America of rail travel and club cars, the song depicted a near-deserted train with more mail than passengers. As Guthrie listened to the song, his mood must have softened. Had he known that "City of New Orleans" would eclipse "Alice's Restaurant" as his signature song, he might have jumped for joy.

Guthrie transformed the guitar-based folk song that Goodman romped through by slowing the tempo and singing it from behind a piano. In Guthrie's elegiac rendition, "City" transcended nostalgia; listeners found themselves on the train, imagining themselves as one of the "fifteen restless riders" on a "southbound odyssey" to the past, pacing nervously from one car to another, kibitzing or sitting in on the penny a point card game in the club car.

Goodman seemed to know that his beloved Midwest was fading, and Guthrie captured perfectly the pathos of nameless trains, auto graveyards, and the rumbling gentle beat of a disappearing way of life that "still ain't heard the news." At the end of each verse comes the haunting and ironic chorus, with the City of New Orleans optimistically greeting the country and the new day knowing full well that it will be long gone when the "day is done," five hundred miles further on its inexorable journey "through the Mississippi darkness rolling down to the sea."

"City of New Orleans" changed at least three lives. For Goodman, the royalties from Guthrie's #20 hit meant that he could quit his day job to become a full-time prolific songwriter. Highly respected by his peers, Goodman attracted a cult following and went on to write many more songs, including David Allan Coe's #8 country hit "You Never Even Called Me By My Name" (written with John Prine) and the Chicago favorite "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request." Steve Goodman died of leukemia in 1984 at the age of 36.

Before "City of New Orleans," Arlo Guthrie was known as a performer of novelty songs and as the son of America's greatest folk singer. "City" revealed Guthrie as an artist of great depth, insightful enough to take another writer's song and improve on it. It anchored his 1972 album Hobo's Lullaby, an electic mix of traditional and modern folk, country, blues, Hawaiiana, and ragtime. Guthrie looked back to the work of his father and his father's contemporaries while simultaneously reinterpreting modern songwriters like Goodman, Hoyt Axton, and Bob Dylan.

"City" informs Hobo's Lullaby throughout. Images of solitary travel abound: "I'll come back home to you," "On a long lonesome journey I'm going," "Take a trip with me to 1913," "I've been to wild Montana," and, from the title track which is also "City's" poignant companion piece, "let the town's drift slowly by" and "can't you hear the steel rails hummin'." "Lightning Bar Blues" and "Ukulele Lady" sound like songs a lonesome passenger might pick out on the guitar that travels everywhere with him. The title of "Mapleview (20%) Rag" evokes New Orleans itself, the home of ragtime. And the fragile community of conductors, porters, passengers, and engineers finds its expression in
Every day another man reaches out his hand
Every moment there's a shifting in the sand
It's my favorite Guthrie album, one I still listen to several times a year.

Which leads me to the third person whose life "City of New Orleans" changed: Me. I liked the song when I heard it on the radio and bought Hobo's Lullaby when it came out. I was 17 at the time, and it opened my ears to a new musical vocabulary. For the first time, I heard a country song ("Shackles & Chains") that I wanted to sing along with instead of ridicule, and my love of classic country began. I had never heard the blues played acoustically; eventually, this led to the discovery of Robert Johnson and his mystical world of hustlers, fast women, and uncompromising demons. Hobo's Lullaby forced me to recognize that there were songwriters other than the sanctified Dylan and Lennon-McCartney.

Growing up, my family moved many times until settling in South Texas in 1967. Every summer the seven of us piled into a station wagon made the trek from Texas to Pennsylvania and Massachusetts to visit relatives, a trip that made us international wanderers by the lights of South Texas. Until I listened to "City of New Orleans," it never occurred to me that one day I could travel by myself to wherever I wanted to go. The romance of that notion held me then, and still holds me today.

Riding on the City of New Orleans,
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail.
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields
Passin' trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Dealin' card games with the old men in the club car.
Penny a point ain't no one keepin' score.
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor.
And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Nighttime on The City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.
And all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his song again,
The passengers will please refrain
This train's got the disappearing railroad blues.

Good night, America, how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.
I saw this tour in 1978. Arlo amassed five guitars for "Comin' into Los Angeles." Here, he sings an assured version of "City of New Orleans":

Steve Goodman, "City's" author, with Jethro Burns of Homer and Jethro on mandolin:

Wille Nelson and Sheryl Crow essay a rollicking country version that seems to have benefited from passing the paper bag that holds the bottle:

Arlo, once more:

P.S. If you watched the Coe video and thought the guitarist looked familiar, that's because he's Warren Haynes, the guitar hero who went on to revive the Allman Brothers and lead Gov't Mule.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Some Enchanted Evening

SONG Some Enchanted Evening

WRITTEN BY Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein (lyrics)

PERFORMED BY Ezio Pinza, Giorgio Tozzi, Paulo Szot (with Kelli O'Hara)

APPEARS ON South Pacific (OBC, 1949; film, 1958, Broadway revival, 2008); covered many times

When South Pacific opened on Broadway in 1949, critics approvingly cited its call for racial acceptance. Although South Pacific wasn't the first musical to deal with miscegenation (that would be Showboat), its pre-Civil Rights movement sensibility must have seemed almost daring at the time. Today, the musical's racial plot elements seem mild and even safe, given that they took place in a locale far from the United States and did not concern relations between whites and blacks.

One contemporary writer has vehemently criticized the show's Orientalist subtext,
although he gets so many facts wrong that his argument loses steam and becomes overwrought. While there is self-satisfied aspect to the book, a musical in 1949 was not an ideal venue to address a theme that most white Americans didn't know existed. If nothing else, South Pacific deserves credit for raising the subject, even if gingerly.

What few deny is the richness of the soundtrack of one of the first great post-War musicals. "A Cockeyed Optimist." "Bloody Mary." "There Is Nothing Like a Dame." "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair." "A Wonderful Guy." "Younger Than Springtime." "Happy Talk." "Honey Bun." "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught." "This Nearly Was Mine." One after another they come, a showstopper panoply of wit, farce, romance, and social commentary.

The greatest and most famous of all is, of course, "Some Enchanted Evening,"
the Broadway love-at-first sight song. Oscar Hammerstein reportedly wanted to write a song with the strong presence of an active voice, and he succeeded: "Evening's" verbs "see," "know," "hear," and "sing" emphasize the senses and as such give the song its powerful sensual appeal. Other images of romance and sensuality abound: A stranger emerges from a crowded room, laughter sings in dreams, and love is found in the mysterious, enchanted night.

It's not a passive love, either:
When you hear her call you
Across a crowded room
Then fly to her side
And make her your own
And what great love is passive? The night may beckon and the stranger may await, but you still have to cast aside caution and fly to her side. Only "fools give you reasons," but if you don't, you will pay the price and "dream all alone."

Some enchanted evening
You may see a stranger
You may a see a stranger
Across a crowded room
And somehow you know
You know even then
That somewhere you'll see her
Again and again

Some enchanted evening
Someone may be laughing
You may hear her laughing
Across a crowded room
And night after night
As strange as it seems
The sound of her laughter
Will sing in your dreams

Who can explain it?
Who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons
Wise men never try

Some enchanted evening
When you find your true love
When you hear her call you
Across a crowded room
Then fly to her side
And make her your own
Or all through your life
You may dream all alone

Once you have found her
Never let her go
Once you have found her
Never let her go
A dashing Paulo Szot and a wholesome Kelli O'Hara headed the superb 2009 revival:

Opera basso Ezio Pinza's led the original cast and initiated the tradition of casting an opera singer in the role of Emile. Pinza's 1949 rendition became a hit and made him an unlikely national celebrity:

Perry Como's somewhat languid version was nonetheless hit #1 in 1949: