Old friend and Third Act Project contributor Jay Feldman sent me this song he just wrote about the woes many older men suffer because of an enlarged prostate gland. It is a continuing subject in the recently past first season of “The Kaminsky Method”, starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin.
Jay’s “Prostate Blues” captures it all with a lot of good-natured humor.
When did music first start playing a part in our young lives? What did it do to and for us?
Chazzie D, happy to be with you again, Tappers, here at Words and Music. Today I want to talk about my introduction to music and get you to think about yours. I’m guessing this is not something you think about much, if at all, so I’m asking you to comb your memory and get assistance from the web, which as you know has everything and more (helpful and dangerous). As you listen to my gleanings, and the songs I’ve selected this time, please think about and tell us about the tunes that formed the basis for your Music 101, Introduction to Music.
I’m not really talking about the snippets of songs in childhood that we heard relatives singing, imprinting the words and music without thinking of them as “music,” and certainly without thinking of them as “our” songs. But while we’re here, I’ll provide a couple of examples of those kinds of songs too, the better to stoke your memory juices. I remember hearing my father and his brother Ralph singing a drinking tune that originated with German-Americans in Michigan in the late 19th century: “Is das nicht ein Schnitzelbank? Jah das ist ein Schnitzelbank.” And I remember my aunt and surrogate mother for a time, playing a record by Frankie Laine and Jimmy Boyd that reached #4 on the pop lists in 1953: “Tell me a story, tell me a story, tell me a story, remember what you said, you promised me, you said you would, you gotta give in so I’ll be good, tell me a story, then I’ll go to bed.”
I sort of learned those songs but I never “owned” them. So what were the first songs I counted as my own favorites, and how did they come into my life as the purposeful and joyful experience of music?
My oldest sister Janice was 17 when I was turning ten, in 1957. She was straight out of Grease: What’s this nice Jewish girl doing hanging with the Italian kids combing and preening their pompadours with cigarettes rolled up in their t-shirt sleeves? She was also what we then called a tomboy, and she and her male friends on the block taught me to play punch ball and stoop ball and especially handball. And she introduced me to this first song I loved. Was it the cowbell? Was it the falsetto spicing up the doo-wop? Was it the deep speaking part? Or was it just the new, faster beat of incipient rock and roll? It was all of that, and also her obvious pleasure in sharing it with me, I’m sure. You’ll remember it: Little Darlin’ by the Diamonds.
I also had a brother who was 17 when I was ten – long story, never mind. My brother Joe was easily mistaken for Steve McQueen. He squeaked through high school, went to NYU for phys ed, rode through it on the shoulders of his friend Jerry, and came back to his high school – my high school! – to teach. Fortunately, he had a different last name so no one knew he was my brother, or I would have been tormented by girls wanting to know if he was eligible. Anyway, I can’t recall for certain (and he certainly can’t either) if he introduced me to this song during the period when he was seeing his girlfriend, Doris, or during the period when he was mourning their breakup. I think it was the latter, and I think it was the same time he bought what I later came to consider Sinatra’s greatest album (and it’s said Frank did too), 1958’s Only the Lonely. Happy non-ending: He and Doris have had 50-odd years and counting of happy marriage (notice I’m not leaving room for the old joke here). So here is my brother’s contribution to my musical education: The Platters’ great Great Pretender.
There were other songs in my Music 101 during those formative pre-adolescent years. I’m remembering in particular Tom Dooley, the Appalachian folk song recorded in 1958 by the Kingston Trio, and The Banana Boat Song (often known as Day-O), by that profoundly great human being, Harry Belafonte, in 1956. But let’s not omit some of the music accompanying the earliest and most humiliating dance lessons administered by my sisters in those years. The lindy I could never get the hang of, and that’s probably why I don’t associate any one song with that frustration. But coming up is a dance I could kind of learn, and one of the songs I remember learning it to. The legendary and still vastly underappreciated Mr. Sam Cooke will send us off, so until next time, this is Chazzie D asking you to send us your kindred memories, fellow Tappers, and let’s meet again soon.
Mike Schiffer, a fabulous jazz pianist and teacher now in his late 80s, remembers one of his first love affairs with a song, “Spring is Here.”
Spring Is Here was first introduced by Dennis King and Vivienne Segal in the 1938 Broadway Musical, I Married An Angel, and sung by Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in the 1942 film version by the same name. Earliest recorded hits by the Leo Reisman Orchestra featuring vocalist Felix Knight and by the popular baritone Buddy Clark (nee Samuel Goldberg) were raves in 1938.
What’s not widely known is that Spring Is Here was one of the first of its kind in a Broadway show. It’s a rather sad song, highly nuanced, a type of song that hadn’t been tried on the stage where the songs were designed for belters like Ethel Merman who could be heard clearly in the last rows.
I personally wasn’t aware of the song until the jazz community discovered it in the fifties. There were versions by Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner, George Shearing, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Cannonball Adderly, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis. And singers such as Nat Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Julie London and Frank Sinatra included it in their albums. There’s no doubt it’s still one of the best known standards.
Here are the lyrics to “Spring is Here,” and links to a few stellar recordings I think you’ll like.
Spring Is Here Once there was a thing called spring, when the world was writing verses like yours and mine. All the lads and girls would sing when we sat at little tables and drank May wine. Now April, May and June are sadly out of tune, Life has stuck the pin in the balloon. Spring is here! Why doesn’t my heart go dancing? Spring is here! Why isn’t the waltz entrancing? No desire, no ambition leads me. Maybe it’s because nobody needs me. Spring is here! Why doesn’t the breeze delight me? Stars appear. Why doesn’t the night invite me? Maybe it’s because nobody loves me. Spring is here I hear.
MIKE SCHIFFER | Cincinnati-born Mike Schiffer has spent his life playing piano. After14 years of classical lessons, he was eager to get into jazz, and two weeks after arriving at Kenyon College he had a regular gig with a busy off-campus band. Four years of weekends with that quartet taught him how to play the music with musicians who knew all the songs of the day.
Always fascinated with New York, at twenty-five he moved to the big city. It was the mid-fifties, and there was a jazz scene in the Village that took him in. Before long he was playing full time in the bars and restaurants that had a piano.
In the late sixties, Schiffer had enough city life and landed in the Berkshires where he’s continued playing and teaching piano for the past fifty years. He’s especially enjoyed accompanying over sixty different silent films, something he began doing in college. Another of his interests are the visual arts, especially photography.
We mourn the loss of our great poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen, of whose life we will post an appreciation in coming days. For now, given the darkness that has descended on our body politic, it feels most appropriate to remember his words on the source and force and spirit of democracy.
Here is the link to Cohen’s performance of “Democracy” along with the lyrics. Rest in peace, brother. And thank you forever for this reminder.
Democracy It’s coming through a hole in the air From those nights in Tiananmen Square It’s coming from the feel That this ain’t exactly real Or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there From the wars against disorder From the sirens night and day From the fires of the homeless From the ashes of the gay Democracy is coming to the USA
It’s coming through a crack in the wall On a visionary flood of alcohol From the staggering account Of the Sermon on the Mount Which I don’t pretend to understand at all It’s coming from the silence On the dock of the bay, From the brave, the bold, the battered Heart of Chevrolet Democracy is coming to the USA
It’s coming from the sorrow in the street The holy places where the races meet From the homicidal bitchin’ That goes down in every kitchen To determine who will serve and who will eat From the wells of disappointment Where the women kneel to pray For the grace of God in the desert here And the desert far away: Democracy is coming to the USA
Sail on, sail on Oh mighty ship of State To the shores of need Past the reefs of greed Through the Squalls of hate Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on It’s coming to America first The cradle of the best and of the worst It’s here they got the range And the machinery for change And it’s here they got the spiritual thirst It’s here the family’s broken And it’s here the lonely say That the heart has got to open In a fundamental way Democracy is coming to the USA
It’s coming from the women and the men Oh baby, we’ll be making love again We’ll be going down so deep The river’s going to weep, And the mountain’s going to shout Amen It’s coming like the tidal flood Beneath the lunar sway Imperial, mysterious In amorous array Democracy is coming to the USA
Sail on, sail on O mighty ship of State To the shores of need Past the reefs of greed Through the squalls of hate Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean I love the country but I can’t stand the scene And I’m neither left or right I’m just staying home tonight Getting lost in that hopeless little screen But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags As time cannot decay I’m junk but I’m still holding up this little wild bouquet Democracy is coming to the USA To the USA
I go to this lovely song so I can hold my ground against the sudden bullying of my mortality. I need only hear the first twang of the guitar and the singer’s face-front telling, that I am heartened: the choice of hope over despair. I walked on the beach at Truro, Massachusetts the other day, and sang myself into sweet peace.
I’ve included a link to what I think is the most beautiful version of it, performed by Gillian Welsh.
Summer Evening by Gillian Welch
Say this deal’s about over, and I guess that’s true, Town used to have twelve stores, now we got two. Big boys movin’ in, small farmers movin’ on. The way may be goin’, but the life ain’t gone.
On a summer evenin’ when the corn’s head-high, And there’s more lightnin’ bugs than stars in the sky. Ah, you get the feelin’ things may be alright, On a summer evenin’ before the dark of night.
Walked down by the river where my good fields are, It’s a dusty old road, but there ain’t many cars. Think about my wife, my daughter and my son, If the good Lord’s still lookin’, the Lord’s will be done.
But on a summer evenin’ when the corn’s head-high, And there’s more lightnin’ bugs than stars in the sky. Ah, you get the feelin’ things may be alright, On a summer evenin’ before the dark of night.