I was just working around my Tiny House the other day and I began humming a song I didn’t recognize. I do that a lot of late. They are remnants of tunes that I grew up with…
I was humming along when the words just started to present themselves…except not all of them. So I went right to Safari and typed in: “You’d be Surprised” . And there they were…almost as I remembered them.
The “cheat sheet” presented me with a line I knew to be incorrect…
“At a party or at a ball
I’ve got to admit
He’s nothing at all.
But in a modest chair
You’d be surprised.”
Wait. What? A modest chair?
No. NO! NO!!!
It’s “…In a MORRIS chair.” Doesn’t everybody know that?
I know it because the Morris chair was a big, big part of my childhood. Grandmom McTague (my mother’s mother} lived with us when I was very young, She’d had a stroke that left her with a bad limp and a left hand that did nothing. My memory of her is seeing her everyday, in her room, embroidering. And she sat there, regally working away with the help of an embroidery hoop my Uncle Harry had attached to the left arm of her “cozy Morris chair.” It gave her the ability to achieve some really detailed work with her “cozy” chair providing her with a steady grip on the creation.
I stopped short of crying, just thinking about it. But all that work on her part led to each family member having his/her own embroidered pillow case…lovely to look at but impossible to sleep on because the design required very lumpy stitching and no one had the heart to ask her to stop.
But the thought triggered another memory… of words in almost-forgotten songs that no longer make any sense to the world at large.
Take this one from “Among My Souvenirs”.
“Some letters tied with blue…
a photograph or two.
I find a rose from you
Among my souvenirs.”
Romantic to someone of a certain age, but for today’s audience, it falls into the “Who sends letters?”
There’s one song, “When Francis Dances with Me” that I still sing, just because it amuses me and because it was written in 1921…meaning it is another living thing older than I am that is still hanging in there. And I get to use my idea of a Bronx accent while singing about going dancing in the Bowery…a place of such ill repute, that no gentleman would even speak its name in mixed company. And no nice girl would even admit to knowing of its existence. While the whole song is dated, one line particularly smacks of another era:
…”I fit in his arms like a motorman’s glove.”
I even stumped my computer with this one, but when I was a kid, everyone (well almost everyone) rode the trolley and the guy in charge of the trolley was the motorman and all motormen wore a particular kind of glove. Ergo…the saying.
Easter bonnets are quaint all on their own, but “The Easter Parade”, a song from 1933 refers to looking so lovely, you’ll find yourself in a rotogravure. Probably not ringing any bells, right? A rotogravure was technically a printing process, but was also what we called the color magazine of a Sunday newspaper. Now, in most cities, you’d be hard pressed to find a fat Sunday paper, let along a magazine insert.
I knew there were many, many more examples if I could just call them to mind. And then I remembered listening to my then early teenaged granddaughter, Celia, Jr., attack ”Lullaby of Broadway” in high school.
Celia has a lovely voice and I’ve always enjoyed listening, but there was a lack of… conviction…this time. This was noteworthy because, if you know my granddaughter, she could very rarely be accused of lacking conviction. And then it occurred to me: the words weren’t making sense to her.
Take a look and imagine trying to translate these lyrics into her world.
“The hi de hi and hoo di hoo,
The Lullaby of Broadway.
The rumble of a subway train,
The rattle of a taxi.
The daffodils who entertain,
At Angelo’s and Maxie’s.”
Who were these “daffodils”? Some say it was a reference to “choir girls”, but it was also whispered that “daffodil” was slang for a gay man. In 1935, writing about homosexuality, even covertly, was scandalous. I would not have know what “gay” meant…let alone “daffodil” when I was in high school. My granddaughter, meanwhile, came of age where she would of course know all about the concept, but not the quaint slang of a bygone era. While I certainly would never want to go back to that mind-set, I think “daffodils” is a perfect, evocative term – beautiful, colorful, ready to enliven any room or party, singularly or in a group.
Times change, music changes, sensibilities change. I used to feel out of time growing up. I was a little bit of a non-conformist in a straight-laced world. I’m happy to see a world…at least the world I inhabit…trying to evolve into a place ready to accept differences in people.
But, oh, to fit in someone’s arms like a motorman’s glove once more would be lovely.