The first song we worked on last night at choir practice was Blue Moon, an American Songbook classic written in 1934 by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart for the movie Hollywood Party. As it turns out, the song was cut from the film and went through several lyrics changes before becoming the hit version we now know. Blue Moon has been recorded by everyone from Bing Crosby to Bob Dylan but we are naturally singing a choral version, arranged by prolific choral composer/arranger Roger Emerson:
And, just for fun, here are The Marcels, who performed the Doo Wop version of the song which became a big hit for them in 1961:
“To do such a thing would be to transcend magic. And I beheld, unclouded by doubt, a magnificent vision of all that invisibility might mean to a man—the mystery, the power, the freedom. Drawbacks I saw none. You have only to think! And I, a shabby, poverty-struck, hemmed-in demonstrator, teaching fools in a provincial college, might suddenly become—this.”
Last week was a stormy one around here. In the Valley, my sister's kids had a six day weekend because three days of school were cancelled and today is a holiday. None of the kids protested. Outside: playing in the snow.
Inside: blanket forts & movie.
"A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky, unbidden, and seems like a thing of wonder." -Susan Orlean
In this section of the novel, Valancy suffers her worst attack yet, and realises something: though not afraid of dying, she dreads the thought of being in pain and dying alone. She doesn't dread it enough to tell her family of her heart condition and deal with the ensuing histrionics, but but she wistfully thinks that it would be nice to have someone who genuinely cared about her to sit with her and comfort her when the pain became terrible. Her mind conjures up the image of Barney Snaith; this is perhaps not surprising since it's obvious that for some time he's been the basis of her fantasy hero in her Blue Castle. She thinks, without knowing why, that he would be sympathetic to her plight without pitying her, which is something she doesn't want from anyone. There is, of course, fallout from Valancy's frank comments at the family dinner. Uncle Wellington, the de facto head of the Stirling family, fails in his attempt to get Valancy to see Dr. Marsh, so goes himself and describes her scandalous conduct to the physician. His hope is that Marsh will declare her mentally ill and recommend that she be be placed in an institution, preferably before anyone else in town witnesses her odd behaviour. To his disgust, Dr. Marsh seems to find Valancy's dinner comments amusing rather than shocking, and says that there is no evidence that Valancy is mentally unbalanced. Of course, Dr. Marsh doesn't know Valancy personally and doesn't know how repressed, meek, and fearful that she has been her entire life. To people- like her family members- who have known her since she was born, this complete turnabout in her character would make them think that she's lost her mind. Having failed in their bid to have Doss committed, the Stirlings decide to keep a watchful eye on her lest she engage in further eccentric behaviour, disgracing the family. It is obvious that this is their true concern: the family's respected name in the community, not Valancy's mental health.
Valancy's next eruption of "craziness" occurs when Roaring Abel comes to repair the front porch. She doesn't retreat into the house in outraged piety with her mother and Cousin Stickles to their dismay, and instead sits talking to the old reprobate. She is not shocked by his salty language and partial inebriation: rather, her main concern is his daughter Cecily, or Cissy, as he calls her. Disgraced and now dying slowly, she is without without care or companionship. Roaring Abel rails at the "hypocritical" Christian community which is so unforgiving of Cissy's sin that they have turned their back on her and ignore her needs. This is, of course, true: the people of Deerwood- especially her church family- should have been there to provide care, love, and support, raising up a fallen sister. The fact that they turn a blind eye to her need because she has erred morally does not reflect well on them as a Christian community, so-called. It also does not speak well of them that Barney Snaith, the man they regard with suspicion and gossip, is the only person around who provides any kindness and help to Cissy. This does not, however, let Roaring Abel off the hook. It's always easier to complain about the speck in someone else's eye than deal with the plank in your own. Abel condemns the townspeople for turning their backs on Cissy, yet what has he done her entire life but neglect her? If the town has a responsibility to her, how much more so does he, as her father, have? He's led a life of complete self-indulgence full of wine, women, and song; after his marriage, he continued his wild lifestyle which eventually wore down his quiet wife and hastened her premature death, leaving Cecily a young motherless child with an uncontrolled drunk for a father. Instead of settling down and accepting his responsibilities, Abel put her in school and church, kept food on the table, and seemed to think that this was all he needed to do. But it was also his duty as a father to love, protect, and provide guidance to his child, as well as be an example of what a good man is supposed to be. Abel did none of these things and it's not surprising that Cissy is eventually taken in by some jerk who is also less than a man.
Even now, when Cecily is dying, Roaring Abel refuses to do the right thing. As Valancy bluntly points out, there are still plenty of women who would come and help Cecily if he wouldn't behave in such a way that no respectable woman will darken his door. Rather than acknowledge this and clean up his life for the sake of his daughter's comfort in her last months, he just continues being an obnoxious sot, too selfish and self-indulgent to do what's right. If this seems harsh, well, I feel rather harsh about this sort of thing. Too often society at large gets blamed for things which are the within the purview of familial responsibility. Contrary to Hillary Clinton's assertion, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes parents, and no amount of social programs or community involvement will make up for people flouting their responsibilities to their children. Roaring Abel points a condemning finger at the people of Deerwood- and they are not without blame- but he should take a long look in the mirror because he is much more at fault than any of them. These chapters of The Blue Castle have a more sombre tone than the humorous dinner party which occurred just before. There are still flashes of humour: pompous Uncle Wellington being stymied by Valancy's recalcitrance, and Dr. Marsh's amused reaction, as well as Valancy's mother's horror at her hobnobbing with Roaring Abel. But overall, there is a feeling of melancholy and loneliness. Valancy, alone in her pain, wishes desperately for someone who would care about and comfort her. She also feels the need for purpose in her life, however short-lived it may be. It is not enough to simply drift towards the end, feeling nothing but cynical amusement at the foibles and hypocracies of her relations. This is why Valancy offers to go care for Cissy: no doubt she feels a kinship for the other girl, also alone- physically as well as emotionally- and facing death, but she also needs to do something to make her last year of life meaningful. We also see in these chapters the wreckage and ruin which can result from selfishness and dysfunction- and alcoholism- within the family unit, and the bitter reality that those who preach love and forgiveness frequently fail when called upon to put these things into practice.
In honour of Valentine's Day, I'm posting a passage from PG Wodehouse's 1923 collection of Jeeves & Wooster short stories The Inimitable Jeeves. Most of these stories involve in some way Bertie's friend Bingo, who is so softhearted (or soft-headed) that he keeps falling in love (and trouble). He requires repeated rescues by Bertie- or, more accurately, by Jeeves who is, as we all know, the brains of the operation. In this chapter- Jeeves Exerts The Old Cerebellum- it's spring, and a young man's- Bingo's- fancy has lightly turned to thoughts of love. To put it bluntly, he's fallen for a pretty waitress in a tea shop and this has such a deleterious effect on Bingo's eating habits and taste in haberdashery that Bertie is horrified. He's even more distressed when Bingo drags him into the fiasco of trying to secure his rich uncle's blessing on marriage to a lowly waitress. Things inevitably go sideways until the unflappable Jeeves sets them right once again.
I don't know if you know that sort of feeling you get on these days round about the end of April and the beginning of May, when the sky's a light blue, with cotton-wool clouds, and there's a bit of a breeze blowing from the west? Kind of uplifted feeling. Romantic, if you know what I mean. I'm not much of a ladies' man, but on this particular morning it seemed to me that what I really wanted was some charming girl to buzz up and ask me to save her from assassins or something. So that it was a bit of an anti-climax when I merely ran into young Bingo Little, looking perfectly foul in a crimson satin tie decorated with horseshoes. "Hallo, Bertie," said Bingo. "My God, man!" I gargled. "The cravat! The gent's neckwear! Why? For what reason?" "Oh, the tie?" He blushed. "I—er—I was given it." He seemed embarrassed, so I dropped the subject. We toddled along a bit, and sat down on a couple of chairs by the Serpentine. "Jeeves tells me you want to talk to me about something," I said. "Eh?" said Bingo, with a start. "Oh yes, yes. Yes." I waited for him to unleash the topic of the day, but he didn't seem to want to get going. Conversation languished. He stared straight ahead of him in a glassy sort of manner. "I say, Bertie," he said, after a pause of about an hour and a quarter. "Hallo!" "Do you like the name Mabel?" "No." "No?" "No." "You don't think there's a kind of music in the word, like the wind rustling gently through the tree-tops?" "No." He seemed disappointed for a moment; then cheered up. "Of course, you wouldn't. You always were a fat-headed worm without any soul, weren't you?" "Just as you say. Who is she? Tell me all." For I realised now that poor old Bingo was going through it once again. Ever since I have known him—and we were at school together—he has been perpetually falling in love with someone, generally in the spring, which seems to act on him like magic. At school he had the finest collection of actresses' photographs of anyone of his time; and at Oxford his romantic nature was a byword. "You'd better come along and meet her at lunch," he said, looking at his watch. "A ripe suggestion," I said. "Where are you meeting her? At the Ritz?" "Near the Ritz." He was geographically accurate. About fifty yards east of the Ritz there is one of those blighted tea-and-bun shops you see dotted about all over London, and into this, if you'll believe me, young Bingo dived like a homing rabbit; and before I had time to say a word we were wedged in at a table, on the brink of a silent pool of coffee left there by an early luncher. I'm bound to say I couldn't quite follow the development of the scenario. Bingo, while not absolutely rolling in the stuff, has always had a fair amount of the ready. Apart from what he got from his uncle, I knew that he had finished up the jumping season well on the right side of the ledger. Why, then, was he lunching the girl at this Godforsaken eatery? It couldn't be because he was hard up. Just then the waitress arrived. Rather a pretty girl. "Aren't we going to wait——?" I started to say to Bingo, thinking it somewhat thick that, in addition to asking a girl to lunch with him in a place like this, he should fling himself on the foodstuffs before she turned up, when I caught sight of his face, and stopped. The man was goggling. His entire map was suffused with a rich blush. He looked like the Soul's Awakening done in pink. "Hallo, Mabel!" he said, with a sort of gulp. "Hallo!" said the girl. "Mabel," said Bingo, "this is Bertie Wooster, a pal of mine." "Pleased to meet you," she said. "Nice morning." "Fine," I said. "You see I'm wearing the tie," said Bingo. "It suits you beautiful," said the girl. Personally, if anyone had told me that a tie like that suited me, I should have risen and struck them on the mazzard, regardless of their age and sex; but poor old Bingo simply got all flustered with gratification, and smirked in the most gruesome manner. "Well, what's it going to be to-day?" asked the girl, introducing the business touch into the conversation. Bingo studied the menu devoutly. "I'll have a cup of cocoa, cold veal and ham pie, slice of fruit cake, and a macaroon. Same for you, Bertie?" I gazed at the man, revolted. That he could have been a pal of mine all these years and think me capable of insulting the old tum with this sort of stuff cut me to the quick. "Or how about a bit of hot steak-pudding, with a sparkling limado to wash it down?" said Bingo. You know, the way love can change a fellow is really frightful to contemplate. This chappie before me, who spoke in that absolutely careless way of macaroons and limado, was the man I had seen in happier days telling the head-waiter at Claridge's exactly how he wanted the chef to prepare the sole frite au gourmet aux champignons, and saying he would jolly well sling it back if it wasn't just right. Ghastly! Ghastly!
“What a man knows isn’t important. It’s what he is that counts.”
This statement was made by Joe Starrett in the 1946 western novel Shane, written by Jack Shaeffer. Starrett is a homesteader in 1889 Wyoming who is struggling to hold his land against the violent intimidation tactics of Luke Fletcher, a cattleman who resents homesteaders settling on land he considers to be his range. Shane is the dark, mysterious stranger who rides onto the Starrett's spread. After taking his measure Joe offers him a job, to the confusion of his wife who points out that Shane knows nothing about farming: "But, Joe, are you sure what you're doing? What kind of work can a man like that do? Oh, I know he stood right up to you with that stump. But that was something special. He's been used to good living and plenty of money. You can tell that. He said himself he doesn't know anything about farming." "Neither did I when I started here. What a man knows isn't important. It's what he is that counts. I'll bet you that one was a cowpuncher when he was younger and a tophand too. Anything he does will be done right. You watch. In a week he'll be making even me hump or he'll be bossing the place."
Choir practice was cancelled last night because of a snowstorm. I can't say that I was too upset about that, because it allowed me to attend my nephew's birthday party which I had been going to miss. My sister made his cake according to my nephew's specifications; it's pictured below. I don't know who any of these characters are, or what's going on, but the younger crowd was appreciative.
One of the songs we had been going to work on during practice is It's A Grand Night For Singing from Rogers and Hammerstein's 1945 movie musical State Fair. To be honest, while I like numerous R & H songs, the only one of their musicals which I'm fond of is The Sound of Music. Most of them- including State Fair- I don't particularly enjoy, although the only one I absolutely can't stand is Flower Drum Song. Just awful. State Fair is based on the 1933 non-musical film State Fair, which in turn is adapted from the 1932 novel - also State Fair- written by Phil Stong. The novel and the pre-Code 1933 film are less wholesome, shall we say, than the 1945 musical. But not even the presence of Dana Andrews can save this movie, in my opinion... although it doesn't hurt. Mmm... One of the songs from State Fair won the Oscar for Best Original Song: It Might As Well Be Spring which is a fine song, though It's A Grand Night For Singing is certainly a livelier one. Here's a choral version:
Celebrating another year of successfully avoiding watching the Academy Awards although, sadly, some descriptions are creeping into my twitter feed. From what I can gather, our betters once again lectured everyone on why we are sexist, racist homophobes who hate the poor and are destroying the planet. So far, the usual yawn-inducing predictable hypocritical crapfest but apparently they added a few new features this year, including actual quotes from the Communist Manifesto and a screed on why we are evil for...
... drinking milk! Dang, I didn't have that on my woke bingo card. Oh well, there's always next year. Unfortunately. “And what sort of lives do these people, who pose as being moral, lead themselves? My dear fellow, you forget that we are in the native land of the hypocrite.” ― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray