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151: Otis Redding, ‘(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay’

Posted by jeff on Feb 19, 2019 in Rock, Song Of the week

Otis Redding — ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’

This week we’re starting a series of postings on spookily existential posthumous hits. You might not think that’s a genre unto itself, but I know of three such songs, humdingers each, memorable, moving and eerily prophetic.

We’re going to start this week with Otis Redding’s great “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of a Bay”. I’ll keep you in suspense as to the identity of the other two.

Like all insecure males, I enjoy being flattered (“The way to a man’s heart is through his ego”), but when some nincompoop occasionally tells me that I know everything there is to know about music, I glow for just a short moment and then I cringe. (Maybe you could call that a glinge.) They couldn’t be more wrong. There’s a long and very impressive list of major artists about whom I know virtually nothing: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber. The list is endless. Country swing, Chicago blues, The Carter Family, Richard Strauss, Burl Ives. From the underwhelming Rolling Stone list “The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time”, I’ve never listened seriously to Bob Marley, U2, the Ramones, Nirvana, Prince, The Clash, David Bowie, Public Enemy, Patti Smith, Dr Dre, Funkmaster, Aerosmith, The Sex Pistols, Al Green, AC/DC, the Stooges, Eminem, N.W.A, Black Sabbath, Tupac Shakur, Guns ‘n Roses, Nine Inch Nails, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Roxy Music or Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Or, to tell the truth, Otis Redding.

Until this week, that is. You see, there are SoTWs that I pretty much have up my sleeve. I admit that I do in fact know a song or two. But more often than not I do some research, both dedicated, careful listening to the artist’s oeuvre (gotta use some fancy words here to rehabilitate my reputation) and background reading.

So I did know a very little bit about Memphis and Stax and Booker T & the MGs, and how R&B got a makeover and evolved into Soul.

Otis Redding (1941-67) was one of the most popular singers of The Day. At his peak, he was earning $35,000 a week for concerts. He is said to have sold more records in 1967 than Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin combined. The comparison is not arbitrary.

We think of 1967 as ‘The Summer of Love’, the year of  The Beatles (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Magical Mystery Tour”), The Doors (“The Doors” and “Strange Days”), Jefferson Airplane (“Surrealistic Pillow” and “After Bathing at Baxter’s”), Love (“Forever Changes”), Cream (“Disraeli Gears”), The Rolling Stones (“Their Satanic Majesties Request”), The Who (“The Who Sell Out”), The Velvet Underground (“The Velvet Underground & Nico”), Procol Harum (“Procol Harum”), and The Jimi Hendrix Experience (“Are You Experienced?” and “Axis: Bold As Love”).

In fact, if you look at the charts, the white boxer-short Republicans were still the main album buyers (top 3 sellers of the year were “Dr Zhivago”, “Sound of Music” and “A Man and a Woman”, followed by “More of the Monkees”, “Sgt Pepper” and “Surrealistic Pillow”).

But the college crowd was dancing to Motown (The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Little Stevie Wonder, Smokie Robinson and The Miracles, Martha and The Vandellas). And everyone was listening to the Soul Sound of Stax (Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, William Bell, Booker T. & the MG’s, Eddie Floyd, The Bar-Kays) and their parent company Atlantic (Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Aretha Franklin, and Aretha Franklin).

To tell the truth, Back Then I personally was nurturing my snob persona and listening much more to The Mothers of Invention, Laura Nyro, Randy Newman, and The Band. But if you asked Dylan who he’d like to come back as, he’d have said Woodie Guthrie. If you’d have asked McCartney who he’d like to come back as, he’d have said Buddy Holly, hands-down. Keith Richards? I’m guessing  that even before Chuck Berry, he’d have said Steve Cropper. But if you’d asked Mick Jagger—no question: Otis Redding.

It was my loss. Otis Redding was a true auteur, writing and arranging almost all his own songs from the beginning of his career, at a time when the Brill Building ruled the pop charts. Motown (Holland-Dozier-Holland) would remain a Brill Building in blackface almost till the end. But Redding was first and foremost a singer whose over-the-top energy got a whole generation of all colors picking up good vibrations.

He grew up in Georgia, singing and playing piano and guitar, first making a mark on local talent shows. He cut his chops as a Little Richard-style shouter on the Chitlin Circuit. He started recording albums in 1962, and by 1964 was a leading star on the Soul Circuit, playing for black audiences across the US and recording for Stax in Memphis.

LtR: Donald “Duck” Dunn, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Al Jackson

The Stax label was partnered with big brother Atlantic Records. It was in that studio, with house bands the Bar-Kays and Booker T & the MGs that The Memphis Sound was created. The music is marked by strong raw vocals, a distinctive mix of funky organ, bass and drums, and the handprint of guitarist/producer/songwriter Steve Cropper, who wrote ‘Dock of the Bay’ with Otis Redding, and whose contrapunctal guitar line gives the recording so much of its beauty. The studio owners were white, as were some of the musicians (Cropper included). Most of the musicians, most of the audience (at least in the beginning), and almost all the singers were black.

But soon the white boys started taking notice. The young Rolling Stones recorded two of Otis’s songs (‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ and ‘Pain in My Heart’). When he flew to England in 1966, The Beatles sent their limousine to the airport to pick up the band. By late 1966 he was touring Europe and performing successfully at The Fillmore West in San Francisco.

The Monterey Pop Festival (June 16-18, 1967) drew 90,000 people (inside and outside the site). It marked the first major appearance in the public eye of the hippie counterculture, a harbinger of the much larger Woodstock Festival (two years later). It was not only a celebration of the new Haight-Ashbury psychedelic music (Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Mamas and the Papas), it also introduced to the American public at large such major players as The Who, Ravi Shankar and Otis Redding, who closed the Saturday night festivities.

He performed Sam Cooke’s “Shake” and his own “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,”  “Respect” (written by Otis, already a hit by Aretha), his nod to the Rolling Stones with “Satisfaction”, his own “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (complete with a love call and response), and ending with his own compelling “Try a Little Tenderness” (here from the fine documentary “Monterey Pop”) dedicated to all the girls wearing minidresses.

Otis stole the show. In August, he took a break from touring. Steve Cropper:

Steve Cropper

Otis was one of those kind of guys who had 100 ideas. Anytime he came in to record he always had 10 or 15 different intros or titles, or whatever. He had been at San Francisco playing The Fillmore, and he was staying at a boathouse, which is where he got the idea of the ship coming in. That’s about all he had: “I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again.” I took that and finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I wrote with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. He didn’t usually write about himself, but I did. “Mr. Pitiful,” “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)”; they were about Otis’ life. “Dock Of The Bay” was exactly that: “I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay” was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform.

He recorded ‘Dock of the Bay’ on November 22, 1967 at the Stax Studio, with Cropper and the house band. On December 10, back on tour, the small charter plane carrying him and most of the Bar-Kays crashed into a lake near Madison, Wisconson, killing all but one. ‘The Dock of a Bay’ was released in January, hit #1 on both the R&B and Pop charts, #4 on the Albums chart, and won two Grammies. BMI named the song as the sixth-most performed song of the 20th century, with about six million performances. Rolling Stone ranked it #28 on The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Who of us hasn’t sat on the edge of the ocean and wondered what it’s all about? Who of us hasn’t sung to himself :

Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun, I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ come.
Watching the ships roll in, and then I watch ’em roll away again.

I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away.
Sittin’ on the dock of the bay, wastin’ time.

I left my home in Georgia, headed for the ‘Frisco bay.
I’ve had nothing to live for, looks like nothin’s gonna come my way.

Look like nothing’s gonna change, everything still remains the same.
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do so I guess I’ll remain the same.

Sittin’ here resting my bones, this loneliness won’t leave me alone.
Two thousand miles I roamed just to make this dock my home. 

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

028: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, ‘The Tracks of My Tears’
034: Dionne Warwick, ‘Walk On By’ (Burt Bacharach)
062: Martha and The Vandellas, ‘Heat Wave’

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149: Antony & the Johnsons: ‘Epilepsy is Dancing’

Posted by jeff on Feb 14, 2019 in Other, Song Of the week

Antony & the Johnsons — ‘Epilepsy is Dancing’

Antony & the Johnsons — ‘Cut the World’ (video) Caution: Disconcerting content.

Within each of us is both the bully and the victim.

You see someone, on hir knees, crying from pain. You walk past. Or you snicker. Or you throw something. Or you tie hir to a fence and beat hir to death. Or you stop and open your heart and and through hir pain embrace your own pain. And perhaps you feel just a bit more in harmony with your own personal universe.

It’s too easy to guffaw at Antony Hegarty (b. 1971) – his ‘questionable sexuality’, his naked candor, his queerness – a British>Californian transsexual who creates  minimalist art vignettes of pain and death and spirit and the universe as Antony & the Johnsons.

Art isn’t created by adhering to conventions, and Hegarty is an artist to be reckoned with. Since 2001 he has composed a heavenly host of ephemeral miniatures, which he plays on piano accompanied by a small string section, singing in the tremulous voice of a tortured angel. Each song is a prayer.

He can wrench you in a straightforward love song, such as ‘Hope There’s Someone’, or in a cover of a hackneyed contemporary standard, such as ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ or even ‘Imagine’.

But more frequently he moves in liminal, harrowing climes, such as in ‘Cut the World’.

For so long I’ve obeyed that feminine decree/I’ve always contained your desire to hurt me/But when will I turn and cut the world?//My eyes are coral, absorbing your dreams/My skin is a surface to push to extremes/My heart is a record of dangerous scenes/But when will I turn and cut the world?

From the video ‘Cut the World’, directed by Nabil, starring Willem Dafoeand Carice van Houten. The person at the end of the video is performance artist Marina Abramović.

‘Cut the World’ is the one new song on his brand-new CD of the same name, a collection of his ‘greatest hits’ (‘I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy’, ‘Cripple and the Starfish’), lushly accompanied by the Danish National Chamber Orchestra (oh, those great Danes!). This video is a horrifying harbinger of his vision of matriarchal systems of government overthrowing the world.

Be forewarned: this video is seriously disconcerting. It’s not for everyone, watch it only if you’re feeling very strong. Or very weak. I’m not going to comment on it — you don’t need me to explain the obvious, and I can’t explain the mysterious.

From his monologue ‘Future Feminism’: “I’ve been thinking all day about the moon. Is it an accident that women menstruate once a month and that the moon comes once a month? We’re made of 70% water. The whole ocean reacts to the full moon. I must be having a homeopathic relationship with the changing cycles of the moon. I’m made out of this place…The world menstruates.”

One of his most indelible creations is the perplexing ‘The Spirit Was Gone’. The video portrays a dance in the style of Butoh, an avant garde post-WWII Japanese performance aesthetic, often danced ultra-slowly in a sparse, grotesque setting in white makeup. One of the founders was Kazuo Ohno (1906-2010!!!), a captain in Hirohito’s army, a Baptist, and a gym teacher at a girls’ high school till the age of 86. In his 90s, unable to walk, he continued performing – moving only his hands. His picture is on the cover of Antony’s finest CD, “The Crying Light”. The dancer in this video is Kazuo Ohno’s son, Yoshito.

The spirit was gone from her body/Forever had always been inside/That shell had always been intertwined/And now were disentwined/It’s hard to understand.

If you’ve gotten this far, I assume you’re not laughing.

Antony and the Johnsons is a wonderful example of just how effective minimalism can be in genres as ranging far as contemporary classical music, trance, architecture, design, art. I discussed minimalism as an aesthetic in SoTW 086, Steve Reich’s ‘Different Trains’.

In Hegarty’s work, less is so clearly more. The power of his songs and videos derives from the strength of the visuals, the directness of the passion, and the restraint in presenting them devoid of any distractions. He stares unflinchingly into the eye of his own soul; and, if you allow it, into yours.

For our Song of The Week then, let’s unflinchingly choose one of his more challenging pieces, ‘Epilepsy is Dancing’, a subjective portrayal of an epileptic seizure. Neurologist Oliver Sacks, one of my favorite authors, describes some epileptic seizures as inducing “the flow of involuntary ‘reminiscence,’ the sense of revelation, and the strange, half-mystical ‘dreamy state’ that could be characteristic of these.” “Epilepsy is often associated with religious or mystical feeling.”

Epilepsy is dancing/She’s the Christ now departing/And I’m finding my rhythm/As I twist in the snow//Cut me in quadrants/Leave me in the corner/Ooh now, it’s passing/Ooh now, I’m dancing

Here’s the video of ‘Epilepsy is Dancing’. If I were going to have a religious epiphany, I hope it wouldn’t include cavorting gay satyrs and nymphs, but who knows what subconscious party favors he/she harbors within? Antony says he’s been thinking in terms of ‘molecular crystal formations’. I have no idea what that means. He gave a concert in Manchester in which the concert hall was transformed into a crystal cave filled with laser effects, and I’m truly sorry I missed that one.

But when he sings “Cut me in quadrants, leave me in the corner”, that I do get. It’s not a comfortable place, but it’s a very real one. I don’t listen to Antony and the Johnsons every day. But when I do, I sure don’t laugh.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

021: Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy, ‘Snake Out’
086: ‘Different Trains’, Steve Reich (Kronos Quartet)
110: Mongolian Throat Singing (The Occidental Tourist)

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291: James Taylor, ‘Valentine’s Day’

Posted by jeff on Feb 8, 2019 in Rock, Song Of the week

James Taylor, ‘Valentine’s Day’

Happy Valentine’s Day?

Well, maybe. But maybe not.

I’m not here to sell you a designer box of little wrapped chocolates for $74.49 or a dozen long-stemmed roses for a sum that could feed an Indian village for a decade.

I grew up in a United States where stores were closed on Sundays and Valentine’s Day meant handing out handmade cards to The Ones You Liked in your fifth grade class (a crash course in heartbreak for 10-year olds), just before the country was insidiously and invidiously invaded by The Corporate Commercial Machine! Up against the wall, motherfuckers!!!

Valentine’s Day Massacre

If this Hallmark unholiday serves as a reminder to be especially appreciative of the one you love, I’m all for it. But y’all should know there’s a pretty harsh reality lurking beneath the pink wrapping paper, ready to bite us, as James Taylor so beautifully reminds us in this ostensibly modest little ‘pretty song’ from his 1988 album “Never Die Young”.

It’s James’ 12th studio album over 20 years, arguably the last of his great ones. In SoTW 56, ‘Secret o’ Life’, I soapboxed against the myriads of fans of James’ greatest hits. “To think that James Taylor is ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ and ‘Fire and Rain’ is like thinking that The Beatles are ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ or Dylan is ‘Blowing in the Wind’.” In SoTW 112 I explained why I think James Taylor’s version of “Yesterday” is immeasurably superior to that of McCartney.” In SoTW 139, James celebrates mature love ‘On the 4th of July’. And in SoTW 205 I explain why James’ first album is so profound to me. In SoTW 132, James and I mourned the passing of a sibling in ‘Enough to be on Your Way.And in SoTW 46 I explained why the title song of “Never Die Young” speaks so deeply to me about the arc of my life.

I’m a big fan.

‘Valentine’s Day’ is an unusual song for James—all piano (Don Grolnick), with some lovely help from bassist Jay Leonhart (plucked and bowed) and the great violinist Mark O’Connor. No guitar whatsoever. If you see somewhere on the infallible World Wide Web (“But it’s written!”) that the song was penned by Hollywood composer John Debney, it’s an untruth. He scored the movie “Valentine’s Day”, but this song is all James.

Valentine’s Day Massacre

For all of its ostensible pink sweetness, the song is bitterly ironic, an extended comparison of a couple’s relationship to the Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, in which four members of Al Capone’s Italian gang (two disguised as policemen) machinegunned seven members of Bugs Malone’s Irish gang in a Chicago garage in a turf war over control of the bootleg market.

Police tried to question survivor Frank Gusenberg as to who shot him. Gusenberg, with fourteen bullets in him, replied “No one shot me.” He died three hours later.

The event was recreated in Howard Hawks’ 1932 movie “Scarface” starring Paul Muni, and subsequently in a dozen more screen treatments. Here’s a medley of those scenes (best not to show this to your Significant Other while presenting the chocolates and flowers). Of course we all recognize the same themes throughout the entire gangster (as opposed to Gangsta) genre (see “The Godfather”, “The Sopranos”, et al).

The first verse is piano and James’ voice. “Beneath the tide the fishes glide/Fin to fin and side to side/For fishy love has now begun/Fishy love, finny fun.” Jabberwocky? Denizens of the deep fishily swimming around some bodies ‘sleeping with the fishes’?

The second verse sets the scene. ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’ is a 1933 song written by Harold Arlen, E. Y. Harburg and Billy Rose, so associated with the Great Depression that when Peter Bogdanovich asked his mentor Orson Welles if it was a suitable title for his movie, Welles responded “That title is so good, you shouldn’t even make the picture, you should just release the title!” Here’s James singing it himself.

The third verse provides some less rosy coloring: Bootleg gin — I don’t really need to explain that, do I? The porkpie hat was all the rage during the depression, even though Muni was wearing a fedora in the film. ‘Dew Drop Inn’ was a corny name for a restaurant way back when—there was a film by that name from 1919 and a musical from 1923. “You dirty rat”? Depression-era gangster meme from James Cagney’s 1932 film “Taxi!”. Cupid’s dart? Check out this image from a speed dating ad. Ouch. What have we wrought?

The tone gets more ominous in verse four – “Day to repay the one that you love”. Oh, isn’t that a cute little threat? I wonder what was going through the minds of those seven cronies of Bugs Malone as they were lined up against the wall. ‘Take off your hats’—how many movies have we seen in which the gangsters remove their hats at the funeral of a person they’ve just had laid to rest? Boxing was of course the sport of the Depression/gangster world. Going a few rounds without gloves—with what, then? Machine guns? Bare fists? Fingernails? Those awful words that we speak when we’re in a vicious, bloody argument with our own dear Valentine?

Fifth round. I mean, verse. “Land your punch, I stand my ground/We break for lunch and a second round.” Wow, what a couplet. Could there be a more precise, incisive description of how a couple argues to the death? You might have to go back to Ingmar Bergman to find one.

Or think of all the times when the bell’s finally rung on your gut-wrenching argument with your beloved and you walk away – finally – and you or she slams a door or drops a dictionary or a whatever, to get in the last word. Nothing like that last little jab after the bell has rung, right?

Oh, no similarity between love and boxing at all is there? The biggest difference being that in love all bouts go the full 15 rounds and always end in a bloody draw.

Last verse, last man standing. “We keep score”. Oh, sure. We tally the points, to be absolutely clear how badly both of us are losing. “Love as war.” All of us who have been in a serious relationship have experienced our own domestic siege of Leningrad.

So let’s all try to learn a lesson from James’ beautiful, witty, disarmingly simple but painfully accurate portrayal of how we so frequently most hurt the one we most love. Forget the chocolates and flowers. Let’s remember that no one wins in a war. And that Prohibition is long gone. Let’s use this day to remind ourselves to be decent, patient, loving partners.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Beneath the tide the fishes glide
Fin to fin and side to side
For fishy love has now begun
Fishy love, finny fun

Paper moon, paper heart
Pink balloon, work of art
Al Capone, Bugs Moran
Valentine’s Day

Bootleg gin, porkpie hat
Dew Drop Inn, dirty rat
Through the heart, cupid’s dart
Valentine’s da

Day to repay the one that you love
Gentlemen take off your hats as I speak thereof
Just a brief break from the push and the shove
We may go a few rounds without boxing gloves

Land your punch, I stand my ground
We break for lunch and a second round
We set them up, we knock them down
Valentine’s Day

Me and you, you and him
Him and her, us and them
We keep score, love as war
Valentine’s Day

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148: Andy Williams, ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’

Posted by jeff on Jan 31, 2019 in Song Of the week, Vocalists

Andy Williams — Days Of Wine And Roses
Andy Williams – Moon River
Henry Mancini — Days of Wines and Roses
Henry Mancini — Moon River

Remember good old Andy Williams? What does he conjure up for you? For me it’s:

He was a cool, suave nightclub entertainer. No one would confuse him with an artist, but he sold about three bejillion albums, had a weekly network variety show for nine years, hosted the Grammies, starred in Las Vegas, and stood by his ex-wife Claudine Longet after she shot and killed a ski racing champion in Aspen.

He’s of course best known for singing the emblematic (but not the original) version of ‘Moon River’, written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer for the Blake Edwards film ““Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961). Audrey Hepburn herself sang the original version in the movie, playing the guitar on the fire escape. It was quickly covered (in order) by Danny Williams (#1 in England), Jerry Butler (#11 in the US), Mancini himself (#11 in the US), and half a dozen others before Andy got to it a year later, releasing it not as a single but on his megahit album “Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes.” After he sang it at the 1962 Academy Awards, “Moon River” and Andy Williams became inextricably identified with each other.

I don’t care who likes it, and I don’t care how much of a snob you accuse me of being, it is a beautiful song.

LtoR: Holly Golightly, Guitar

Lyricist Johnny Mercer (1909-1976), great-grandson of a Confederate general, grew up in Savannah playing with the children of the family’s black servants and listening to their music and dialect. He collaborated with Hoagy Carmichael in Hollywood, married a Jewish chorus girl over his family’s objections, had a couple of intense affairs with Judy Garland, couldn’t handle his liquor in the Bing Crosby crowd, co-founded Capitol Records, and along the way wrote lyrics for 1500 songs including ‘I’m an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande’, ‘Too Marvelous for Words’, ‘You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby’, ‘Day In, Day Out’, ’Fools Rush In’, ‘Jeepers Creepers’, ’That Old Black Magic’, ’Come Rain Or Come Shine’, ’Skylark ’, ’Laura ’, ’Satin Doll’, and ’Autumn Leaves’. Gosh.

Composer/arranger Henry Mancini (1924-1994) started out as a pianist/arranger for the Glen Miller orchestra, then moved to Hollywood to compose scores for epics such as “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”, “It Came from Outer Space”, “Tarantula”, “This Island Earth”, and “The Glenn Miller Story” (for which he received his first Academy Award nomination.

LtoR: Mancini, Mercer, Oscar

He hit his creative peak in the late 1950s/early 1960s in both television and films, with a series of indelible hits:  the theme from Blake Edwards’ series “Peter Gunn”, with a riff as iconic as ‘Satisfaction’; ‘Baby Elephant Walk’ from the Howard Hawks/John Wayne film “Hatari!”; and of course the ‘Theme from The Pink Panther’.

But it’s not ‘Moon River’ for which I’d like to remember Andy Williams (and Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer). That would be too obvious, right? It’s the theme song from another Blake Edwards’ 1962 movie, “The Days of Wine and Roses”. Mancini’s version from the soundtrack was the original version (#33), followed by Perry Como and a host of others before Andy got to it a year later (#26, #1 album).

Baby Elephant Walk

Here’s Mancini paying tribute to Johnny Mercer in 1987, accompanying Andy Williams on ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’ and on ‘Moon River’.

The movie is a drama in black and white, but very grey throughout, about an attractive young middle class couple’s descent into alcoholism. Both Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick were nominated for Oscars. It’s an excellent, profoundly depressing movie, and the theme song never fails to evoke in me an acute sense of waste and loss.

The title of the movie is taken from a poem by British poet Ernest Dowson (1867-1900), an early cohort of W.B. Yeats. When he was 23, he fell hopelessly in love with the 11-year old daughter of a Polish restaurant owner.

Wino Poet Dowson

When she married a tailor tenant of her father’s (8 years later), Dowson wrote these lines: “I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,/Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,/Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind”. Brokenhearted, he drowned himself in the bottle and died at 32, a penniless wino. His poem “Vitae Summa Brevis” contains the lines “They are not long, the days of wine and roses:/Out of a misty dream/Our path emerges for a while, then closes/Within a dream.”

Johnny Mercer reworked that into the lyric Andy Williams sings so simply and convincingly:

The days of wine and roses laugh and run away like a child at play
Through a meadow land toward a closing door
A door marked “nevermore” that wasn’t there before

The lonely night discloses just a passing breeze filled with memories
Of the golden smile that introduced me to
The days of wine and roses and you.

LtoR: Rose, Wine

Bill Evans, no stranger to addictions himself, played the song frequently with his last trio in the final year of his life, when he was acutely aware of his approaching demise. Strangely, he treats the song lightly, upbeat and jaunty. I’ll be darned if I understand the logic there. Bill made some strange repertoire choices throughout his career – ‘The Theme from Spartacus’, ‘Theme from the Carpetbaggers’, ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’. He employs ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ as an extended show-piece, including bass and drum solos. With all the passion in that song, he tosses it off. Go figure.

Well, I guess addiction eventually takes its toll even on great artists. Inspiration and perspiration. No one’s accusing Andy Williams (or Henry Mancini or even Johnny Mercer) of being great artists. But you’ll have look far and wide to find a song as touching as Andy Williams’ rendition of ‘The Days of Wine and Roses.’

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