The Lower East Side, 1976

And tell me what street
Compares with Mott Street in July

Here in the same neighborhood on 13 Essex Street was my second apartment in New York; fourth floor walkup, one bedroom, tub in kitchen, $85 a month.

“Manhattan”
music by Richard Rodgers
lyrics by Lorenz Hart

13 Essex Street

This picture’s from the 90s. When I lived here, the boutique was a kosher grocery that stayed open till 11pm.

From the 1925 revue Garrick Gaieties. The song was introduced by Sterling Holloway (of Fractured Fairy Tales fame) and June Cochran.

Kiss Me, Kate: Another Cole Porter Musical with Dirty Lyrics, Played by The John Wilson Orchestra and Conducted by John Wilson, BBC Proms 2014

John and O don’t always perform semi-staged fully-voiced musicals badly at their BBC Proms appearances at the Royal Albert Hall—their 2012 My Fair Lady was pretty much all right, no shenanigans there (pronounced The Guardian, “John Wilson’s adapted score—which borrows from Andre Previn’s movie arrangement—adds a sparkle to even the most drearily expository songs: the flutes somehow sound cheekier, the brass ruder, the strings zingier”). And in fact their 2014 Kiss Me Kate was as it was meant to be: big, sexy and playful. Winsome John even gets a speaking part!

Kiss Me Kate
That’s the wonderful Louise Dearman as singer/sexworld adventuress Lois Lane. (Yes I swear to God, that’s the name the writers of this classic 1948 Broadway musical gave her.)

Now, we all know about “Too Darn Hot” with its descriptions of nice normal congress (“I’d like to sup with my baby tonight / Play the pup with my baby tonight”) and “Tom, Dick or Harry” with its lyrics “I’m a maid mad to marry and would take double quick / Any Tom, Dick or Harry, any Tom, Harry or Dick” and the lilting refrain “A-dick-a-dick dick dick, a-dick-a-dick dick dick”…

But did you ever stop to think about the song “Always True to You in My Fashion”? Which was one of my party pieces years and years ago (alternating with “I Cain’t Say No” from Oklahoma). I once gave it some thought and what I worked out is this: Lois isn’t just your ordinary sex supplier—no, she specializes in those extra-special somethings that make a man (well, certain men) happy and willing to pay top dollar for them. Not to mention that in every verse she pretty much announces her rates:

  • There’s a madman known as Mac
    Who is planning to attack
    If his mad attack means a Cadillac, okay!…
  • I would never curl my lip
    To a dazzling diamond clip
    If a clip meant “Let ‘er rip!”
    I’d not say nay…
  • There’s an oilman known as Tex
    Who is keen to give me checks
    And his checks I fear
    Means that sex is here to stay…

…ending always with the last line, “But I’m always true to you darling in my fashion / Yes I’m always true to you darling in my way.” Which to me is the number-one indication she keeps it hot with her boyfriend because with him it’s, like I said, nice normal congress. You know, vanilla. But with her clients? As you may recall I was in the business, where scenarios abound. (Remember that “Basingstoke” I mentioned above?)

All this to say it amused me to no end to watch Lois size up within two seconds The Conductor, cunningly portrayed by my beloved John Wilson. Because I know exactly what’s going on in her head, in descending order:

  • How much do orchestra conductors make, anyway?
  • Tell mama what your kinks are.
  • Hey, he’s kinda cute. Skinny, but cute.

But don’t blame me, take it up with Cole Porter. Kiss Me, Kate is available in its entirety here.

The Nat King Cole Trio Does “Blame It On My Youth” by Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman (1934)

King Cole Trio
Oscar Moore, guitar and Joe Comfort, double bass. The creamy Nat Cole at the piano.

If I cried a little bit
When first I learned the truth
Don’t blame it on my heart
Blame it on my youth

You wouldn’t look at him to think that Levant, the eternal loafer/boy genius, was a fine tunesmith as well, would you? But here’s his plaintive standard sung by one of the most identifiable singers in American music.

Jake Gyllenhaal Sings “Finishing a Hat” by Stephen Sondheim from Sunday In the Park with George, Hudson Theatre NYC, 1 February 2017

That however you live
There’s a part of you always standing by
Mapping out the sky
Finishing a hat
Starting on a hat
Finishing a hat
Look, I made a hat
Where there never was a hat

Jake 2

I know, I know, Steve and I are still on the outs but his son sings this song so beautifully (no Mandy Patinkin though) I have to share it with you.

Jacques Brel Sings “La Quete” from Man of La Mancha, 1968

Three years after Man of La Mancha was a major hit on Broadway, Belgian music legend Jacques Brel licensed the staging rights, adapted the book, translated the lyrics, directed the production, and starred as Don Quixote with the original Dulcinea herself, Joan Diener.

Telle est ma quête
Suivre l’étoile
Peu m’importent mes chances
Peu m’importe le temps

Man of La Mancha

Reading about the revival of Man of La Mancha at the London Palladium next year brings back fond memories of the music, especially Joan Diener’s songs. Here’s my favorite one that just tears my heart out, courtesy of lyricist Joe Darion and Hindemith-trained composer Mitch Leigh:

The Mighty Wurlitzer at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco

San Francisco, open your Golden Gate
You’ll let no stranger wait outside your door
San Francisco, here is your wanderin’ one
Saying I’ll wander no more

The Castro Theatre was our neighborhood picture palace back in San Francisco. Went to dozens of movies there, sometimes with Mister Grumble (this is when he still could see), sometimes with the The Kid, sometimes with both: King Kong, Casablanca, The Garden of Allah, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, that movie Steve’s son was in called Brokeback Mountain, etc etc etc. But the organ was always the best part.

David Hegarty at the Might Wurlitzer

Here‘s David Hagerty between evening shows giving the best of The Mighty Wurlitzer and ending (starting at 8:17), as he always does at every performance, with an inspiring rendition of the official anthem of my spiritual birthplace, “San Francisco” (Bronislaw Kaper and Walter Jurmann, lyrics by Gus Kahn, 1936).

“Changing My Tune” from The Shocking Miss Pilgrim by George & Ira Gershwin and Rescued by Composer Kay Swift

Castles were crumbling
And daydreams were tumbling
December was battling with June
But on this bright afternoon
Guess I’ll be changing my tune

We can thank composer/arranger Kay Swift, George Gershwin’s married secret lover, for making sure this song found its perfect setting in this 1947 20th Century Fox musical after his untimely death ten years earlier.

Kay Swift

“When someone in the story is famous, every moment of his existence has, for people who care, an aura of significance, and there will always be people with a quasi-authority who think they know things they could not possibly know, simply because they have a lot of information and curiosity and a sense of entitlement to “the truth” about George Gershwin, as if sufficient obsession and possession of a lot of verifiable facts can earn both entitlement to and knowledge of the unknowable.”

from The Memory of All That (Broadway Books, 2012)
by Katharine Weber, Kay Swift’s granddaughter