Vera Lynn

(June 2020)

103? I had no idea Vera Lynn hadn’t been long gone when people began writing tributes to her on Facebook. You just automatically associate her with the Blitz in WW2, Londoners traipsing down the long stairs underground into the Underground to wait out another night of Luftwaffe bombing and singing her hit We’ll Meet Again. It was to the Brits what White Christmas and Over the Rainbow were to Americans. You know those two, but Americans will likely remember We’ll Meet Again only from the closing shots of Dr. Strangelove, Vera Lynn’s voice over one nuclear explosion after another. The historical irony is lost on most viewers now, though, the Battle of Britain was eight decades ago. But it’s still a nice song, with a chorus that hangs with you a long time. Her recording of it, perfectly timed in 1939 as the men were mobilizing for war again, was a sweet delicate little thing, a little frail even, with a faintly ridiculous solo on one of those organs you’d hear in 1940’s soap operas. Within a year or two the song had swelled into a vast voiced thing, Vera singing along with hundreds of voices, whether civilians in bomb shelters or men in uniform, as in the movie clip below, and I suspect this is the arrangement many of her British mourners remember, and I hope they’ll forgive any of my inaccuracies here. Rest In Peace, Vera Lynn.

Lou Christie

I don’t recommend it, especially if you used to do a lot of acid or are prone to bouts of schizophrenia or maybe just missed a dose of your epilepsy meds, but it turns out that if you play Lightning Strikes five times simultaneously, beginning each about five seconds into the one before, it will build into this high pitched polyrhythmic cacophony somewhat reminiscent of the Shaggs backing the Four Seasons with Rashied Ali on drums. For maybe ten seconds it is out there heaven. Then it just gets stupid and you take your epilepsy meds and swear you’ll never mention this to anyone.

Great song, though.


Here’s today’s viral earworm. You can thank me later. No worries, it’s safe for work. Family friendly. Infectious. Infectious as the Spanish Flu, in fact, so if you are at work make sure to turn it up so you can hear as it spreads throughout the whole office. They’ll be singing it standing over the xerox machine, or waiting for the elevator, or in the restroom when they think no one else is in there. They’ll bring it up on YouTube and post it. It’ll pop up in emails, texts, ringtones. And there’s no antidote for it, either. No anti-virus fix. No other song that can quash it. You know that commercial that says if you had chickenpox you have the shingles virus? This is like shingles. That’s the beauty and power of ear worms. And this is the greatest ear worm of all time. If an ear worm could destroy civilization this would be it. All you evil types take note. You marketing types, too. Though the damn thing is driving me nuts now and I gotta turn it off. It’s been playing on YouTube who knows how many times the whole time I’ve been writing this. Sheesh, infected myself. I can still hear it. Over and over and over. That double bass drum. The glockenspiel. The infinite na na na na’s and interminable hey hey’s….. oh death where is thy steam?


All it takes is one listen.

Leonard Cohen

I never had a Leonard Cohen album and though I could probably recognize his voice easily enough the only song I knew by him for the longest time was Suzanne, and only because it was on a Joan Baez album that got a lot of airplay back in the day. I always liked the song, and seem to recall using it in a piece I wrote in a writing class with Barry Farrell at UCSB. That must have been 1978. I was assigned to interview this luscious raven haired beauty, we sat on her bed in her dorm and she talked and talked and then I went home and wrote a piece and think I quoted Suzanne a couple times, probably because she did. I remember the piece was called Laura, her name, and it was later one of the first things I ever transcribed on computer, tossing the typed and white-outed original, and then the computer ate the essay and it sank back into electrons like a stone.

Decades later I heard a raven haired friend sing Hallelujah and it blew my mind. I thought she had written it. She corrected me. No bed was sat on.

I remember seeing the Isle of Wight flick in a hippie movie theater as a kid but I have no memory of him in it then. Family I remember. Much later–decades, actually–I bought a copy of the flick and watched it and only liked a couple things–Family, Ten Years After, Kris Kristofferson and Leonard Cohen, who did a rather extraordinary take of Suzanne. Even the loutish yippies were hushed. Everything is hushed, the hippies hang on every word, and Leonard’s hippie chick back up singers look disturbingly like Manson girls but you don’t even notice. It’s as perfect a performance as you’ll ever see.

I suppose if they hadn’t called him a poet I might have picked up a record or two back then. I mean they called him that because he was a poet, a real poet. That word always gave me the willies, though. Not sure why. Maybe because I played drums.

Listening to Suzanne again here, the verses driving the chords on to unrealized endings, stumbling over the bridge as if stoned, music following words instead of words trapped by music, I deja vu back to that dorm room, that bed, and see now how I used the song to structure that piece, I can almost read it, almost remember it, but I can feel it. Maybe a roommate had the LP, I must have listened to this song over and over and over and wrote the first good thing I ever wrote in my life.

Funny, though, how I spent an evening alone on a bed with a dark haired beauty and all I could think about was words. That never occurred to me till now. Oh, Brick….

It Was A Very Good Year

In keeping with the spirit of Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday, I just noticed I have Lee Solters’ number in my little black book. That was back in the day when Lee Solters would return my calls. Me and Frank Sinatra. Well, Frank was dead by then, but Lee wasn’t, and he would return my phone calls. And that, as the man said, was a very good year.

National Anthems

Hockey on television again. Kings at Leafs in Toronto. Where do Canadians find these anthem singers? I admit I’ve never thought much of the Star Spangled Banner as a tune–hell, the original was a dirty drinking song, the land of the free and home of the brave was the Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine. (I’ll let you wiki “myrtle of Venus”.) And back in school we learned all kinds of other perfectly good songs that could make much better national anthems, America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee), America the Beautiful, that redistributionist anthem This Land Is Your Land, the Battle Hymn of the Republic which promised fire and brimstone for segregationists when I was in grade school but seemed awfully blood thirsty after the Tet Offensive. It was assumed that the goofy Star Spangled Banner would fall by the wayside, if only because it wasn’t singable except by a sober Irish tenor, itself a problem. Alas, Aretha Franklin showed people how to wail around those high notes, faking it, and all these people who will never be Aretha Franklin in a zillion years now fake it too. Up and down the scales like a roller coaster, land of the free-yee-yee-yee-YEE-yee….. In Canada, though, they don’t do the free-yee-yee-yee-YEE-yee thing. No, being Canadians, they find undrunk tenors who go at it with pseudo-operatic fervor like Gilbert and Sullivan at a Stampede talent show. You have never heard the Star Spangled Banner till you’ve heard it sung by a Canadian. Stiff, formal, unsqueaked. The crowd boos patriotically. It’s embarrassing. The only saving grace for Americans is that it’s followed by O Canada. You’d be hard pressed to find a lousier national anthem than O Canada. It’s like a Gregorian chant with most of the monks missing. A melody without the melodic parts. A national dirge. The tune was a contest winner, too. Seriously, they had a national anthem contest. (They had a flag contest too. Until then it was all Union Jack and God Save the Queen.) Apparently O Canada (which means “the Canada” in Portuguese) was the best any Canadian could come up with in 1967. All the musical talent in that country and they come up with this? It’s based on a melody from the Magic Flute, which is a step up from our own English drinking song, but somehow Mozart doesn’t come to mind while watching the guy in the Maple Leafs jersey belting it out in a reedy tenor. About half way through the audience joins in. “Beneath thy shining skies, may stalwart sons, and gentle maidens rise”, and then roar “we stand on guard for thee!” Good lord. Drop the puck already.

They're listening to the freaking song.

They’re listening to the fucking song.

I’m a Poached Egg

I remember the first time I ever saw Kiss Me Stupid (probably on TCM, who rescued it from the Pauline Kael Home for the Morally Depraved) and Dean Martin (as Dino) runs into a police roadblock and says What’s the matter? That Sinatra kid missing again? I knew Billy Wilder had pulled out all the stops, as the kidnapping had only happened a few months before. I always wondered what Frank said. It was a funny line, after all, and a laugh is a laugh. It was certainly funnier than anything in Robin and the 7 Hoods, which Frank was making at the time, with Dean Martin, and which the critics thought was just fine, even though it’s not especially funny, and they forgot to keep the palm trees out of the shots. Palm trees in Chicago. A lotta laughs. But Frank was distracted with the kidnapping, and who cares about a stray palm tree in a dumb movie anyway

The critics hated Kiss Me Stupid. They hated the story, they hated the script, they hated the cast (Peter Sellers was supposed to play the Ray Walston part, incidentally, but had a heart attack on the set.) I love Kiss Me Stupid. Now Irma La Douce I’m not too nuts about, it kind of drags on about an hour and a half too long, though it might have made a nice two parter sitcom–but at least that didn’t bring about the fall of western civilization like Dino’s hand in Kim Novak’s kleenex box did. The Catholic Legion of Decency went through the countryside, trying to scare up another crusade. By the hand of God the movie flopped, was pulled from the theaters, and Billy Wilder shamed and broken (he made one more minor classic, The Fortune Cookie, and then a string of box office losers), but it was too late. Pretty soon everyone is running around naked and the seventies began in a cloud of cocaine. But we know why. I’m a Poached Egg, that’s why

But then what do I know from movies anyway? I don’t even like Ingmar Bergman films. But I do know funny, and I’m a Poached Egg is funny. Maybe not the way it was intended, not as Ira Gershwin wrote it. George was working up I Got Rhythm. Ira comes in with some lyrics. George is on the melody, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da. I’m a poached egg, Ira sings, without a piece of cheese. I’m Da Vinci, without the Mona Leez. Mona Leez? George yells, and threatens to call Cole Porter.

You had to be there.