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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Monday, October 13

Complicated Song Lyrics II

Another complex song lyric with an unusual story. “Midnight Sun” was originally written in 1947 as a jazz instrumental by Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke. And then, according to the story, Johnny Mercer heard it on his car radio and began toying with lyrics to the music and came up with rhymes for words that had never before seen the light of a song lyric day. Chalice/borealis/alabaster palace? It’s written in the traditional AABA form but in fifty bars instead of the usual thirty-two bars, each verse having twelve bars followed by a two-bar refrain, and the bridge having eight bars. It’s the old Mercer style, though, that transports us with his unexpected imagery:

“Your lips were like a red and ruby chalice, warmer than the summer night.
The clouds were like an alabaster palace, rising to a snowy height
Each star its own aurora borealis, suddenly you held me tight.
I could see the midnight sun

I can't explain the silver rain that found me or was that a moonlit veil?
The music of the universe around me or was that a nightingale?
And then your arms miraculously found me, suddenly the sky turned pale,
I could see the midnight sun

Was there ever such a night, it's a thrill I still don't quite believe
But after you were gone, there was still some stardust on my sleeve.

The flame of it may dwindle to an ember and the stars forget to shine,
And we may see the meadow in December, icy white and crystalline,
But oh, my darling always I'll remember when your lips were close to mine
And we saw the midnight sun.”

“Lush Life” is another jazz standard from back in the big band era. Billy Strayhorn spent from 1933 to 1938 fiddling with the lyrics until he felt he’d finally got them right. It’s a song about too many lost dreams, a lost love, and too much booze along the way, and is another example of complicated patterns and word choices, with one of the longest intros in any jazz song (all the way to “Again I was wrong”). There is one line that no one seems able to interpret or even sing with the same words—“A troughful of hearts could only be a bore.” I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, and Billy Strayhorn is no longer with us to give us the answer.

I used to visit all the very gay places,
Those come what may places
Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
To get the feel of life
From jazz and cocktails.
The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces
With distingué traces
That used to be there, you could see where
They'd been washed away
By too many through the day
Twelve o'clocktails.

Then you came along with your siren's song
To tempt me to madness.
I thought for a while that your poignant smile
Was tinged with the sadness
Of a great love for me.
Ah, yes, I was wrong,
Again I was wrong.

Life is lonely again and only last year
Everything seemed so sure.
Now life is awful again, a troughful of hearts
Could only be a bore.

A week in Paris will ease the bite of it,
All I care is to smile in spite of it.
I'll forget you I will
While yet you are still
Burning inside my brain

Romance is mush
Stifling those who strive.
I'll live a lush life in some small dive,
And there I'll be while I rot with the rest
Of those whose lives are lonely too.

This story is melded with music in a minor, mournful key, very similar to a song written for a Broadway show that got lost along the way, "The Ballad of the Sad Young Men." In part III I'll examine a few songs by maybe the best husband/wife duo in the song writing business, Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

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