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Monday, November 07, 2011

Late 60s Yin And Yang



Boris Raskin adapted an old Russian song about the "good old days." The song was popular with folkies in New York, who like to wax wistful about every damn thing. Everything sucks until it's in the rear-view mirror, and then magically morphs into the bestest time there ever was. Paul McCartney produced the Mary Hopkins version, which was a big hit when I was a little kid. The radio used to be much more diverse than it is now.

Those Were The Days 

Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we would do

Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
La la la la...
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

Then the busy years went rushing by us
We lost our starry notions on the way
If by chance I'd see you in the tavern
We'd smile at one another and we'd say

Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
La la la la...
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

Just tonight I stood before the tavern
Nothing seemed the way it used to be
In the glass I saw a strange reflection
Was that lonely woman really me

Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
La la la la...
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

Through the door there came familiar laughter
I saw your face and heard you call my name
Oh my friend we're older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same

Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
La la la la...
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days


About the same time, straight-up cocktail lounge music used to come blaring out of the car speakers, too. Peggy Lee:



Peggy Lee was like your mother's friend that drank a lot and smoked like a chimney and didn't care very much if their husband was away on business. She dressed like a cross between Cleopatra and a hat check girl. They were always prying her out of a car wrapped around a tree. She'd yank her elbow away from the policeman like a queen as soon as he propped her up on her tottering shoes. She was nostalgic for a tomorrow that never came.

I loved the music hall vibe of the thing. A novel read aloud:


Is That All There Is?

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire. I'll never forget the look on my father's face as he gathered me up in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement. I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames. And when it was all over I said to myself, "Is that all there is to a fire?"

Is that all there is, is that all there is If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing Let's break out the booze and have a ball If that's all there is.

And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to the circus, the greatest show on earth. There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads. And as I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle I had the feeling that something was missing. I don't know what, but when it was over, I said to myself, "Is that all there is to a circus?"

Is that all there is, is that all there is If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing Let's break out the booze and have a ball If that's all there is.

Then I fell in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world. We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other's eyes. We were so very much in love. Then one day, he went away. And I thought I'd die -- but I didn't. And when I didn't I said to myself, "Is that all there is to love?"

Is that all there is, is that all there is If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing I know what you must be saying to yourselves. If that's the way she feels about it why doesn't she just end it all? Oh, no. Not me. I'm in no hurry for that final disappointment. For I know just as well as I'm standing here talking to you, when that final moment comes and I'm breathing my lst breath, I'll be saying to myself:

Is that all there is, is that all there is If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing Let's break out the booze and have a ball If that's all there is.

That's a Lieber and Stoller composition. Tin Pan Alley is dead, dead, dead. Back then Randy Newman still needed honest work, and arranged and conducted the orchestra. The whole hot mess is a pretty sophisticated thing to come out of a radio, ain't it?

Here we are now, entertain us, is a message from the performers to the audience. When I'm the audience I don't want to do all the heavy lifting, thanks.

6 comments:

T.K. Tortch said...

Peggy Lee was like your mother's friend that drank a lot and smoked like a chimney and didn't care very much if their husband was away on business.

Mom didn't have a friend like that but I knew exactly the person.

"Is That All There Is" used to really annoy me, I think because I bridled at what I took to be a fatigued resignation where the speaker seemed too passive to have actually tried to find more than "is that all there is?" She gave in before she started. She didn't really know what she was missing, not even enough to be disappointed with what she found.

That really got up my butt for some reason. Doesn't bug me as much, now.

She was nostalgic for a tomorrow that never came.

Yes.

I don't know how much Cobain was just groping around when he wrote things like "here we are now, entertain us", I suspect a lot. But I thought it was a pretty chilling line, nonetheless & not really so much about performer/audience relations; if it was I think it would be the voice of the audience & not the band. What I heard was a mindless hostile appetite and demand for mindless hostile diversions. There was and is plenty of that; a part of that audience is washing up in Zuccotti park and the various other "OWS" camps.

They're pissed and they don't know why & they didn't get what they wanted & they're throwing a hissy fit. Last words of that Nirvana tune are "a denial" screamed over and over.

teresa said...

A macabre and nihilistic little ditty. Sort of gives a bit more dimension to the view I had of the grown-ups of the 1960's. They weren't just polyester stretch pants and Miltowns.

But what do I know. I was raised by Communists.

Leslie said...

My dad listened to big band and Rat Pack records on the HiFi. I remember once he commenting that nobody could sing like Peggy Lee. I also remember the day, we were watching Singing in the Rain on television, and he said, to me (I was probably 10), "Cyd Charisse in high heels, not much is better looking than that." That was probably the first time I realized my dad was a man.

T.K. Tortch said...

Had to go look up "Cyd Charisse". Wowza.

jhc said...

I remember 'Is That All There Is?' because my high school Latin teacher brought to the class' attention one day. "I heard the strangest song on the radio yesterday," he began before proceeding to tell us about the song's tale of disillusionment. I don't recall the date but I'll guess it was 1970.

It was one of his more valuable lessons. I can't conjugate Latin to save my life anymore and barely remember declensions - but I did finally get hep to Peggy Lee.

Gary said...

I can understand the feeling loss (of the feeling of limitless possibility, perfect love, future fame, etc.) that comes with aging. No one's lives can match our dreams (or what is a heaven for?)
However, this affectation that you have seen it all when you (or anyone) can only have seen a tiny part of life's beauty and majesty is simply self-important stupidity
I just spent 4 days undergoing intense chemotherapy that was was the most miserable experience of my life. I have to repeat it in 12 more days. However, I was blessed to see the unstinting care showered on me by my wife, my nurses, doctors, PA's, nurse assistants, cleaning staff, etc. They called me the "Walker" because I walked every eight hours as far as I could--as long I could keep my legs under me. The literally cheered me on as I finished this course of chemo in the shortest time ever seen at this large university center. I thanked them for making a old, sick man into their hearts and making him feel loved, cherished and cared about.
Next round, I may never get out of bed, I may die, or I may double my distance. Who knows? But anyone who looks around this old world and sees only cynicism is to be be pitted for blindness, not thought "cool." Peggy Lee always pathetic to me (maybe not in person, but in her stage persona.
Live life in the raw and it is a beautiful thing, even when you loose...maybe especially then.