On Conductor John Wilson’s Orchestral Sabbatical and The First Porn Movie I Ever Did, Part 3

Dearest John Wilson, Conductor, it makes me happy to be in your audience and I don’t require you at all to be in mine—mostly because, as Mister Grumble just pointed out, my flicks would probably give you a heart attack. And hand to God, I do not want to add to your anxieties in this, your time of transitioning.

It also makes me doubly happy that you’re going to be concentrating more on The Classic Repertoire this season, although it means leaving your faithful John Wilson Orchestra fans for a time. (I’m in your fan club because Claire’s a nice lady and she asked me twice, so I’m there up close noting people’s disappointment that you and your orchestra won’t be touring your native country this year.) Because when you’re not touring with American film music on the program, you’re not on the podium making the kind of quasi-witty comments that would make even me wince, and I used to be Arthur Godfrey’s gag man back in the fifties.

Now VoyagerNow, Voyager (1942): Bette Davis as brave Charlotte Vale and Paul Henreid as her handsome weenie of a lover in this BBC Saturday rainy day movie I’ll bet John saw when he was a kid and couldn’t make head nor tail of—except for the music. That’s Charles Gerhardt conducting the Max Steiner score, including the Warners Bros studio theme, which Steiner also wrote.

By the way John my beloved Tyneside lad, I’m getting a kick out of imagining you form the word “porn”. Pohhhrn.

On that note, I just want to let all of you know that I realize that it’s not hard to find me. Really. I’m in freakin IMDb. I don’t even have to fill you in on what my screen name is because IMDb seems to have switched pretty much every one of my credits back to my legal name anyway, so it would be kind of pointless… All right. It’s Simona Wing. My castmates in my first movie, Dork & Sindy aka Playthings, gave it to me, and I consider it quite a lagniappe. Mister Grumble used it for my character’s name in his first novel (Tales from the Last Resort, Brave New Books, 2002) and no one has been able to get better use out of it since.

I have pleasant memories of that shoot. For one thing, it was shot in Marin County. In Sausalito! In a house overlooking the Bay. Do you see in that pic those houses up in the hills? The white house above the red roof, that’s where we shot.

For another thing, Craft Services was fantastic. You could graze all day and this being a feature film there was lunch served from chafing dishes too.

And it was a friendly, clean shoot. Does anyone here who saw the flick remember what I was wearing before the guy in sunglasses growled into my breasts, stripped me naked and threw me into the hot tub? That white blouse, that long black skirt, those pumps? That was my secretarial outfit, the one I wore a few months earlier when I worked for Rouben Mamoulian. Practically every freakin day, I was that poor (took Sunset bus to foot of Schuyler Road, got off, wearing sneakers climbed hill, at Mamoulian’s door removed sneakers, put on pumps which I carried in my handbag). I remember I had one line which has since been coming back to me regularly, because whenever I run into an occasional fan, he (and it’s always a he) tends to quote it to me:

“Marin County been bery, bery good to me.”

Now, you have to be a real Saturday Night Live geek to recognize that line, and I’m not going to decipher it for you. But I suppose this showed people I could do voices, because I got a lot of work from this film, almost all of it involving fakey foreign-sounding accents. Like Fatima, woman of Borneo, in the hardcore version of Sadie Thompson. I’m not kidding.

Part 1 “Full Dress” here.
Part 2 “Zombie Love Slave” here.
Part 4 to come

The Tippett Quartet Play Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho at Kings Place, London, 2011

Most people* seem to discount the idea that Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho is actually a near-perfect work for strings (given that it was written exclusively for strings anyway) and that, given the right setting, is a very listenable chamber piece that doesn’t need to reference the film. Here’s the Tippett Quartet performing this arrangement by Richard Birchall at Kings Place, 2011.

Tippett Quartet PsychoJohn Mills, Jeremy Isaac, Lydia Lowndes-Northcott, and Bozidar Vukotic: the London-based Tippett Quartet.

* Like Mister Grumble. This is the secondmost heated debate** between us: whether or not movie music (for narrative films not musicals) can be considered truly concert-worthy.

** (The most heated debate between us is whether Oswald did it or not. This one gets us both really het up, as one of us has a slight connection with the actual case.)

PS—Because I just noticed that the leader of the Tippitt Quartet (circa 2011), John Mills, is also the leader of the John Wilson Orchestra to date, I’m giving this posting a john-wilson tag.

My First Music: “Dahil Sa Iyo” and My Sentimental Devotion to Bonny John Wilson, Conductor

If you could, my bonny John Wilson, imagine me wearing a Maria Clara (like great-grandmother Aberin below) and you wearing a barong, I’d be singing you this song:

Verse: Sa buhay ko’y labis
Ang hirap at pasakit, ng pusong umiibig
Mandi’y wala ng langit
At ng lumigaya, hinango mo sa dusa
Tanging ikaw sinta, ang aking pag-asa.

Refrain: Dahil sa iyo, nais kong mabuhay
Dahil sa iyo, hanggang mamatay
Dapat mong tantuin, wala ng ibang giliw
Puso ko’y tanungin, ikaw at ikaw rin

Dahil sa iyo, ako’y lumigaya
Pagmamahal, ay alayan ka
Kung tunay man ako, ay alipinin mo
Ang lahat sa buhay ko, dahil sa iyo

Dahil Sa Iyo”
Mike Velarde Jr music (1938), Tom Spinoza, lyrics
Cora and Santos Beloy, vocalists
Tri-World Records (1964)

Great-Grandmother Aberin 1.jpgMy mother’s lola, my great-grandmother, the spitting image of my mother the way Georgiana Drew is the spitting image of Drew Barrymore. I have no documentation for my assertion—my family’s house and possessions were completely destroyed during the Japanese Occupation. But whenever we came across this picture in the media—in an article in Time, for example—my mom would always point her out and tell me the story of how my great-grandfather came over from Ireland and, upon discovering he was meeting fellow Catholics in a sea of Asians, stayed, changed his name from O’Brien to Aberin, and married the local beauty. How the Dutch photographer found her is anybody’s guess.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp—John Wilson Conducting the Sinfonia of London (Chandos, 2019)

I was a fan of Korngold ever since I played violin in The Snowman in the orchestra in junior high (reduced score of course; here’s the full score of the Entr’acte), then as a solfeggist at ASCAP in NY around the time RCA was coming out with Charles Gerhardt’s definitive recordings of Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, Robin Hood, etc. But then years later in San Francisco I inherited a friend’s collection of Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra, which included Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp, and all smiles stopped together.

Maybe it was from associating the Previn recording with my friend’s death, but I grew to detest the sound of late Korngold. He began to sound false to me—the result, I reasoned, of all those corrupting years in Hollywood. And Previn was his perfect interpreter, of course. Two Hollywood minds as one… I mean, dig that first movement, doesn’t that sound like a medley of The Ten Best TV Cop Show Themes and Their Underscorings? And then the ringer in the Adagio: The Private Life of Elizabeth and Essex! I recognize those coupla bars from the movie!

Elizabeth and Essex Warners 1939
Bette Davis portrays Queen Elizabeth, Errol Flynn her faithful but ambitious lover in this sumptuous costume drama. In Technicolor for the Eyes. Warner Bros, 1939.

See, Hollywood lets go of no one.

And so I was content to continue in this apprehension, until Chandos came out last week with a new recording of Korngold’s symphony, played by the newly re-formed Sinfonia of London and conducted by—wait for it—John Wilson. By now, I think I’ve made my feelings clear about John just a little. Whenever he gets really irritating though there’s one thing that I do: I make myself remember the times my bonny lad has absolutely astonished me. The first time was fourteen, fifteen years ago in a screening room in LA when the band from nowhere just ripped into that hack hit “Beyond the Sea” and made it truly soar. The second time was a few years later when I heard the sound, THE EXACT SOUND!!!, of that Ultra-Judy number from Meet Me In St Louis, “The Trolley Song”, only bigger, more vibrant, more—present.

This is the third time.

Who would have thought that a smaller, tighter orchestra, conducted by someone coming in without preconceptions but with a determination to follow through with the composer’s intent, could make a composition sound like an entirely different composition? John said somewhere once that he endeavors to give each musical piece he “takes on board” its correct coloring (which I might believe if he weren’t so maddeningly inconsistent) but here he does the remarkable: Where Previn colors all over the place, trying to make the music into something it’s not, John colors very little. Rather it sounds like, as I say, he actually worked out the composer’s intent to carry him through, and it’s pretty clear that Korngold meant for Symphony in F-sharp to take its rightful place in the Great Central European Repertoire, with its traditional wealth of tonal expressiveness.

So why oh why do some people insist this piece is movie trash? Is it because of that handful of notes from E+E? I swear to God I didn’t hear any other filmic callbacks, and I’m pretty good at catching tunes. But so what if there were? Korngold, unlike the majority of movie composers, retained legal possession of his studio work, which gave him the freedom to rework any of his past themes and phrases as he saw fit. He certainly wasn’t thinking of the flicks once he returned to Europe. Maybe his attachment to these notes was purely sentimental. We’ll never know. It’s a mystery, and I choose to believe that John, consummate musician, respects that mystery.

Anyway my love, as you’ve done with so many other composers, thanks for leading me back to Erich Korngold. It’s a wonderful recording, a keeper, now the standard against which I’m judging every Korngold Symphony in F-sharp out there (and there are a lot of them, not just Previn’s, as you know), and I would’ve bought it even if I didn’t know a thing about you.

Now on to Walton’s Symphony no.1. I’ll be listening on the BBC when it streams.

Conductor John Wilson, Grieving for a Lost Star, “Stereophonic Sound” by Cole Porter, and Going Hollywood

It actually would hurt me, John Wilson my beloved, if you ever believed I think of you the way MacFarlane thinks of you—as more or less part of the gig rather than as a person. Something I’d like to throttle him for but’ll probably go on watching (the pre-2013) Family Guy anyway. Nothing personal against your chum.

The Joker.jpg

No, I lie, it’s personal.

About ten, no, eleven years ago the best friend of the son of my (now ex-) friend died unexpectedly in New York, and it was a shock to everyone. My son, who was the same age, was a big, big fan of his—more than a fan, in fact, he practically worshipped this young actor—and was in tears that day. I texted my friend and we shared our shock and grief. Daniel Day-Lewis stopped an interview, sobbing, “I didn’t know him, I have a strong impression I would have liked him very much…and so looked forward to the work he would do in the future.” I’d so like to have witnessed this young man’s progress on screen and stage through the years myself. He was the new Brando—better than Brando, in fact, as he not only acted and directed but wrote as well. And he wasn’t even thirty. He was handsome and vigorous, he had a beautiful speaking voice. He was the most committed actor I’d seen on screen since De Niro in Mean Streets.

So there he was dead in NY. On the streets of Beverly Hills, some roving celebrity reporter from one of the gossip shows was out and about getting sound bits for his show, and came across Rob Lowe and MacFarlane. After some genial exchange of bullshit the rover blurted, Did you hear the news from New York? and without a pause went right into giving them the news. Lowe dropped his mask in a second, truly stunned. MacFarlane drawled almost offhandedly, “We-ell, this is disconcerting…” And at that moment I started to genuinely hate the little creep. That joke song he tried to pull off several years later at the 2013 Oscars, “We Saw Your Boobs”, didn’t help his case either. MacFarlane’s a great dealmaker and Stewie is an outrageous creation…but that just isn’t enough for my scorecard.

Anyway, I’m less ironical and more earnest than one would assume at first. And I tend to take things like that hard. Not exactly an asset in this town.

On another note:

“Stereophonic Sound”
Silk Stockings, MGM 1957
Janis Paige, Fred Astaire
Rouben Mamoulian, Director

Silk Stockings was the last movie my old boss Mamoulian, aka The Old Man, ever did (at 60—he died at 90), and “Stereophonic Sound” is one of the numbers on John Wilson + Orchestra’s 2014 Cole Porter album. But watch the clip instead. Janis Paige is the focus in this number but Fred Astaire at 58 is still a joy.

The Earworm That is “Knightsbridge” Conducted by Its Composer Eric Coates and Then By My Bonny John Wilson

John recorded Eric Coates’s entire London Everyday suite back in January and Chandos just released the CD. “Knightsbridge”, the last movement, is well-known as the signature tune for BBC Radio’s In Town Tonight. It’s a sprightly march with a grandness that doesn’t sound deserved, which is why I can’t get it out of my head.

Here it is performed by the BBC Symphony for the program British Light Music at the 2900-seat Royal Festival Hall in London, 2011, with 39-year-old John conducting.

john-wilson-knightsbridge-1You really fought for that tympani, didn’t you? For heaven’s sake my bonny, this isn’t MGM.

And here’s John’s new (though not much changed) rendition with the BBC Philharmonic.

I’m crazy in love with John but I swear to God, I’ve compared this to the 1932 recording of Eric Coates conducting his own piece and Coates’s is far superior. It’s not meant to be grand at all! This is what the sound ought to be, less boomy-boom and more tra-la.

John, we have to talk. The more I hear your musical choices the more I long to get into your head.

John Wilson and Rodgers & Hammerstein

I started collecting these Moments after getting right annoyed, not when I first heard my beloved conductor John Wilson cheerfully dismissing Oscar Hammerstein II‘s lyrics as being “needless”, not after the 2010 BBC Proms (an R+H tribute) or even the 2017 BBC Proms (Okla-freakin-homa! for God’s sake), but later on when I read about John in Brighton trying to conduct a sing-along with his concert audience in “You’ll Never Walk Alone” the way Liverpool soccer club fans like to sing it when they’re winning—a song cue I HATE HATE HATE and would like to strangle the group responsible, Gerry and the Pacemakers, for.

John Wilson Crush SunderlandCrush Sunderland!

The rule for bringing up a Rodgers & Hammerstein song in a Moment is simple: You sing it spontaneously—knowing the words and understanding and conveying its sentimental message—at the right moment. You have to read the moment, John. In the Jack Benny scene the humor is clear because everybody knows the words to “Getting to Know You” and everybody knows about Jack’s musical vanity vs his attraction to pretty talented women; in the Cheers scene, Diane’s song cue is truly meant to comfort and inspire, and so makes for a genuine moment for everybody; in 3rd Rock, well, “Oklahoma!” is just the ultimate rouser. You don’t even have to sing it well. (So a much better sing-along song actually.)

So it kind of heartens me, John, that you won’t be going back to mangling The Great American Songbook for awhile. Here’s hoping you take a long vacation in Bermuda, my Tyneside darling. Get a tan, get laid. When you come back, commit yourself to the orchestral repertoire you do best. Remember, I’m still listening. And you know why.