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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 is 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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Sunday, October 12

Complicated Song Lyrics

It’s a lazy afternoon, and I’m here trying to think of something to write about as I watch my usual banquet of NFL games. And that opening comment reminded me of a song I love. I love songs from the past when lyrics were complex and unusual, unlike most of what I hear today. I love the combination of music and lyrics, but I’m an old lyricist so I pay more attention to the words of a song than the music to which they’re set. “Lazy Afternoon” was written in 1954 with lyrics by John LaTouche, and the story told is exactly what one feels when listening to it sung by any number of old singers: June Christy, Tony Bennett, Patty Austin, Shirley Horn, and, of course, Barbra. The tempo is dreamily slow, the words taking us to that summer picnic and the invitation to share it with the speaker: “It's a lazy afternoon / And the beetle bugs are zoomin’ / And the tulip trees are bloomin’ / And there's not another human in view, / But us two. / It's a lazy afternoon / And the farmer leaves his reapin’ / In the meadow cows are sleepin’ / And the speckled trout stop leapin’ up stream / As we dream. / A fat pink cloud hangs over the hill / Unfolding like a rose. / If you hold my hand and sit real still, / You can hear the grass as it grows. / It's a hazy afternoon / And I know a place that's quiet /, ‘Cept for daisies runnin’ riot / And there's no one passing by it / To see. / Come spend this lazy afternoon with me.” Okay, you don’t have to ask me twice. I’ll go.

As far as complex lyrics go, how about “Stardust” from 1929? Hoagy Carmichael usually gets full credit, but he wrote the music and Mitchell Parish provided the words. That long intro sets the stage for this song about lost youth and lost love: “And now the purple dusk of twilight time / Steals across the meadows of my heart. / High up in the sky the little stars climb / Always reminding me that we're apart. / You wander down the lane and far away, / Leaving me a song that will not die. / Love is now the stardust of yesterday, / The music of the years gone by.” And then the slow upward glide into “Sometimes I wonder / Why I spend / The lonely nights / Dreaming of a song. / The melody / Haunts my reverie, / And I am once again with you / When our love was new / And each kiss an inspiration. / But that was long ago / And now my consolation / Is in the stardust of a song. / Beside a garden wall, / when stars are bright / You are in my arms. / The nightingale / Tells his fairytale / Of paradise, where roses grew. / Though I dream in vain, / In my heart it will remain / My stardust melody, / The memory of love's refrain.”

And one of the most complex sets of lyrics of all, “(Ah, the Apple Trees) When the World Was Young,” was originally written in French by the poet Angele Vannier and then later in English by Johnny Mercer with a completely different story line, one for a male singer and a completely different one for a female. Here’s the first as sung by Old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra:

"It isn't by chance I happen to be
A boulevardier, the toast of Paree.
For over the noise, the talk and the smoke,
I'm good for a laugh, a drink or a joke.
I walk in a room, a party or ball. "Come sit over here" somebody will call.
"A drink for M'sieur, a drink for us all!
But how many times I stop and recall.

Ah, the apple trees,
Blossoms in the breeze,
That we walked among,
Lying in the hay,
Games we used to play,
While the rounds were sung,
Only yesterday, when the world was young.

Wherever I go they mention my name,
And that in itself, is some sort of fame,
"Come by for a drink, we're having a game,"
Wherever I go I'm glad that I came.
The talk is quite gay, the company fine,
There's laughter and lights, and glamour and wine,
And beautiful girls and some of them mine,
But often my eyes see a different shine.

Ah, the apple trees,
Sunlit memories,
Where the hammock swung,
On our backs we'd lie,
Looking at the sky,
Till the stars were strung,
Only last July when the world was young."

And here’s the female version, as sung by Peggy Lee on an old Judy Garland show: Click Me, Peggy Lee

“They call me coquette, and mademoiselle,
And I must admit I like it quite well.
It's something to be the darling of all;
Le grande femme fatale, the belle of the ball,
There's nothing as gay as life in Paree,
There's no other person, I'd rather be,
I like what I do, I like what I see,
But where is the schoolgirl that used to be me.

Ah, the apple trees,
Sunlit memories,
Where the hammock swung,
On our backs we'd lie;
Looking at the sky,
'Till the stars were strung,
Only last July,
When the world was young."

(An alternate verse) "Ah, the apple trees,
Where at garden teas,
Jack-o-lanterns swung:
Fashions of the day,
Vests of applique,
Dresses of shantung,
Only yesterday,
When the world was young."

(An alternate verse for a male singer)
"While sitting around we often recall,
The laugh of the year, the night of them all,
The blonds who was so attractive that year,
Some opening night that made us all cheer;
Remember that time we all got so tight,
And Jacques and Antoine got into a fight,
The gendarmes who came, passed out like a light,
I laugh with the rest ' it's all very bright."

(An alternate verse for the female singer)
"You'll see me in Cape D'Antibes , or in Spain ,
I follow the sun by boat or by plane,
It's any old millionaire in a storm,
For I've got my mink to keep my heart warm:
And sometimes I drink too much with the crowd,
And, sometimes I talk a little too loud,
My head may be aching, but it's unbowed,
And sometimes I see it all through the cloud.

Ah, the apple trees,
And the hive of bees,
Where we once got stung,
Summers at Bordeau:
Rowing at bateau,
Where the willow hung,
Just a dream ago,
When the world was young."

Is that good or is that good? Is that complicated or isn't it? Where have all the old lyricists gone? Dead but not forgotten.

I'll have more on this tomorrow.

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