24 October 2014

Are you looking for a class...

...about a songwriter who’s
“outrageous, alarming, courageous, and charming”?

(Have we got a class for you!)



Eng 213 Studies in American Literature –

Randy Newman’s American Voice(s)

M/W 10:50-12:05

Starting with his first album in 1968 and continuing through his most recent release in 2011
 (as well as many of his very popular film soundtracks), Randy Newman has populated his music with a series of characters that reflect the complexities and contradictions of the late-20th-century and early 21st-century United States.

Often misunderstood because of his preference for dramatic monologues (as opposed to the more personal/confessional approach of the rock/pop/folk singer-songwriter), Newman – steeped in our national, musical and cinematic history – offers his audience unflinching portraits of an array of outcasts, patriots, bigots, dreamers, simpletons, loners, and lovers struggling to understand our world, even as its very foundation seems to be shifting beneath them.

For more info:

 Dr. Gilbert L. Gigliotti
Department of English
Emma Hart Willard Hall 329
Central Connecticut State University
New Britain, CT 06050
860/832-2759     gigliotti@ccsu.edu


05 October 2014

Confessions of a Whitehead Disciple

This is something I wrote several years ago for a salute to Mr. Dennis Whitehead, a former teacher and colleague of mine at The Covington Latin School, who just announced that he is retiring after 43 years of remarkable teaching!

     Covington Latin School alums are, like Latin School itself, a rare breed.  And no one, I repeat NO ONE, more completely manifests that rarity than Denny Whitehead.  For he, more completely than anyone else, embodies that rare combination of the rigors and the joys of learning, upon which the Latin School tradition is based.
     I write this as a former student (1973-1977), a former colleague (1982-1985), and a far-too-distant (and too-long-out-of-touch) friend.  What makes Denny Whitehead who he is, as I reflect upon him now, is his intensity, the feeling those around him get that he takes his job as an educator so personally (and feels it so viscerally) that one cannot ignore him.  Indeed one cannot evade that intensity.  Nor should one want to.
     I now realize that, for me, in 1973, Denny was Montgomery Clift in a VW, James Dean in the Dean’s Office.  Of course, as a short, pudgy, 11-year-old from Mt. Warshington (as Tim Fitzgerald would mockingly say), Montgomery Clift may as well have been Montgomery Ward, and Jimmy Dean made pork sausage.  Nevertheless the intensity that he always has shared with those seminal cinematic figures is undeniable and unavoidable.  For their intensity is not always comfortable, but, despite all the discomfort, Monty, James, and Denny never distance themselves from it.  And that passion pervades both his life and his classes while demanding something more of all of us.
     No one, after all, coasted through freshman bio; no one thought junior drama was a cakewalk; and certainly no one lightly chose his senior elective in modern European history.  Why?  It certainly wasn’t simply because he was a “hard grader.”  Let’s be honest: how many classes at CLS are easy?  What made Denny’s teaching different, was the feeling that it mattered personally to him that we appreciated the Linnaean system of biological classification, that we took seriously the comedy of Harold Pinter’s “brandy balls,” and that we grappled with the complexities of the origins of modern nation states.  Most often imperceptibly (but sometimes quite visibly), he made it clear that this stuff mattered, not simply because it would be on the next test but because knowledge mattered, learning mattered, intelligence mattered. 
     It has always been too easy (and perhaps even too human) to listen to and ignore sermons about the need to use the talents God has granted us, but the Gospel according to Denny demands our full attention.  And, perhaps more than any single alumnus or alumna in the history of Latin School (be they priests, lawyers, entrepreneurs, or teachers), Denny Whitehead has lived the life of the true prophet who takes the talents of all quite seriously and demands that everyone around him do the same.
     Now, lest it seem that I am canonizing St. Dennis of Covington, an idea that I’m sure Denny would object to even more than the Church hierarchy, I do not mean to overlook his keen, and subversive, wit, his iconoclasm, and his impressive use of the pop cultural allusion.  Remember: he was Dennis Miller before Dennis Miller.
     And, in that spirit, let me suggest that, in his honor, everyone netflix Hitchcock’s I Confess.  What could be more apropos?  Monty Clift as a priest.  Feel his intensity, embrace the discomfort, and ask something more of everyone, yourself included.

Denny, congratulations!  

Gil Gigliotti (Class of ’77)

14 August 2014

Give Mr. Banks' Boy a Break!

I just can't figure out what these songwriters have against this kid!

"Beggars' Parade"
Working My Way Back to You (1966)
The Four Seasons,

Hungry for bread, plant a seed
Satisfy your evil greed
No, you'd rather collect that unemployment check
Why should you work, like the rest,
When it's easier to protest?
Oh, you're all the same,
Bowery bum, banker's son
Beat the drum, here they come
Banker's son, bowery bum

"Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters"
Honky Chateau (1972)
Elton John

While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can't and that is why
They know not if it's dark outside or light

14 June 2014

That great quote from "The Barefoot Contessa": A Review of "Spelling Bee" at POP

Before the review proper begins, a few disclaimers (and a clarification):

1) My older daughter was five-time, city-wide spelling bee champion (grades 4 through 8) in New Britain;

2) That same daughter, now a rising college sophomore, is a summer administrative intern at Playhouse on Park;

3) A doctor from our family's medical past was an original investor in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee;


4) The "great quote" referred to in the title of this post is delivered by the wife of Humphrey Bogart's character in The Barefoot Contessa and is addressed to a drunken starlet who's just asked, "What's she [Ava Gardner] got that I don't?"  She responds:

What she's got you can't spell, and what you've got you used to have.

Photo: Rich Wagner
I offer that great piece of script writing, first, because it's one of the greatest put-down lines in Hollywood history (and delivered by the most minor of characters, no less), and, secondly, because the first half of it is so apropos here: What makes this show, and this Playhouse on Park (POP) production, so good is hard to put into words (much less spell 'em).
If you don't know the show, it is what the title suggests, following six young spellers (and even four pre-selected audience members) as they try to become the next Putnam County Spelling Champ.
Yes, they're the geeks, misfits, and overachievers with all the quirks one expects from those for whom the correct spelling of  "syzygy" is so central to their young lives (not to mention to the lives of the adults who've helped make them this way).  And, yes, the script takes every opportunity (and there are many, many, many such opportunities) to have us laugh at them.  Thanks to Susan Haefner's very smart direction of a talented cast and Robert Tomasulo's tight pit band, I haven't laughed out loud (would that be guffawed?) so often at a theatre in a while.
The cast (in alphabetical order) of Kevin Barlowski (Leaf), Hillary Ekwall (Logainne), Emily Kron (the M.C. and former winner Rona), Steven Mooney (William), Maya Naff (Marcy), Joel Newsome (the Vice Principal), Norman Payne (the parolee/grief counsellor), Natalie Sannes (Olive), and Scott Scaffidi (Chip) is very fine across the board.  Each character gets her/his moment or two or three in the spotlight, and each makes the most of it, although this reviewer was particularly impressed by Mr. Barlowski and Mr. Mooney (reunited happily, along with Ms. Ekwall, from POP's You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) and Ms. Sannes, whose big song simply isn't as good a song as many of the others, but she still made it the single most affecting moment of the show).
Which returns us to the Barefoot Contessa line: for all the jokes and goofiness of this show, there's a heart and emotional impact that just shouldn't work...that is, in short, simply hard to spell out.  The show works somehow, and this cast and crew work it very, very well.
My only "complaint" is that sometimes the swinging band could, at times, drown out a line or two of a song, but that could just be my ever-aging hearing.  Trust me, you'll hear enough, and laugh enough (and maybe even cry a little), to make up for those few.
My only caveat (for parents who may want to bring their young spellers to the show) is that there is an entire song -- performed hilariously (with candy!) by Mr. Saffredi -- dedicated to the physical manifestation of a young man's adolescent yearnings.  Just FYI....but, if your youngsters are good spellers, they probably won't be learning anything new here anyway. 
The show runs through July 20th, but I'd suggest getting tickets soon -- before word really gets out and makes getting a ticket harder than spelling "crapaud."

04 June 2014

Some suggested names for Hartford's new baseball team

Given that the brain trust that is the ownership of the New Britain Rockcats has decided to head to Connecticut's capital city in 2016, I figured I'd be helpful with some suggestions for a new team name:

1) "New England's Rising Stars" (since that worked so well for the great city of Hartford the first time around);

2) Either "The Connecticut Opera" or "Hartford Ballet" (since, well, the city isn't using those two names any longer);  [With its recent "administrative restructuring," "The Hartford Symphony" name could be available soon, too.  Watch this space for details.]

3) "The Benedict Arnolds" (to make full use of the state's boffo "Still Revolutionary" ad campaign), or (lest, heaven forbid!, Hartford  seem to be promoting any other part of Connecticut and Arnold was born in Norwich, the home of the CT Tigers, after all), perhaps just "The Turncoats" or "The Traitors";

or finally

4) If the city really wants to embrace both its founding, as well as the apparent ease with which the team's owner will hop into any bed, with the right monetary sum:

"The Hartford Hookers"

19 May 2014

"...hit him like a FREIIIIIIIIIIIGHT train..." (a review of THE TRESTLE AT POPE LICK CREEK)

I must confess something that regular readers of this blog will find surprising not in the least: that my most consistent nightmare is to wake up to find myself in some contemporary dramatic play.  While I may be more pollyanna-with-rose-colored-glasses-ish than most folk, I'm also undeniably glad I don't see my world as dark and alienating as do so many current playwrights.

Naomi Wallace's The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek, which just ended a brief run at Playhouse on Park (as part of its mature-themed On the Edge Series), offers a place in which no one can love wisely nor well and all physical interaction is an unhealthy blend of distance, violence, and destruction.  Indeed, in this world, if, for some reason, your loved one can't hit you, you help them out by doing it to yourself.

It's a land where both the government and private industry have abandoned its people, and, bereft of that support, a similar abdication of responsibility filters down to families: wives and husbands, parents and children, boyfriend and girlfriend (if those are even the right words to describe our teen protagonists, Dalton and Pace, played with clarity and pathos by Wesley Zurick and Leslie Gauthier).

It's a place where, to find life, the young court death by playing chicken with a train that, unlike them, has the luxury of just passing through their sad little town on the way to somewhere -- anywhere! -- else, and where the grown-ups try to make their conversations matter by trying not to break dishes.

The good news is that Dalton's mother, Gin (played beautifully, yet powerfully, by Melody Gray), seems to find the strength to try to change her world -- no matter how few of those around her are willing (or able) to follow.  One cannot, however, even by play's end, be too convinced that her actions will amount to much, if anything, but the fact that she knows she must try is as "happy" as anything in this play gets.

The production was very, very good in every facet -- which is probably why I didn't like it so much.  As directed by Dawn Loveland, the characters' powerlessness was inescapable, and the small cast realized (i.e.,  "made real") that smothering emptiness. Richard Brundage (as Dalton's lost father) and Rick Malone (as another lost dad) were also effective in conveying their fears that they have/had nothing to offer their children. 

In short, the cast and crew are to be applauded for their powerful work, but, when the pain seems that real, it's hard to say, "Man, I really enjoyed that!"

But, then again, I'm Pollyanna.

12 May 2014

My new favorite Frank Sinatra reference; he IS everywhere.

From Phil Ochs' introduction to "Ringing of Revolution" from Phil Ochs in Concert (1966):

This song is so cinematic it's been made into a movie, starring Senator Carl Hayden as Ho Chi Minh.

Frank Sinatra plays Fidel Castro. 

Ronald Reagan plays George Murphy. 

John Wayne plays Lyndon Johnson, and Lyndon Johnson plays God. 

I play Bobby Dylan -- the young Bobby Dylan.

10 April 2014

Frank and Ava THIS SUMMER, anyone?

Spend part of this summer with Frank and Ava at Central Connecticut State University!

ENG 214: Studies in World Literature – Frank and Ava
First Summer Session 2014 MTWR 10:15 AM-12:15 PM
Professor Gilbert L. Gigliotti, Department of English

Course Description
By focusing on one of the 20th Century's most high-profile and explosive couples and by using international and American works, this course examines the ways writers the world over have created and employed their own Frank Sinatras and Ava Gardners, as individuals and as a couple, in poetry, fiction, non-fiction, drama. The course focuses on the techniques, expectations, and possibilities that each genre offers and some of the cultural attitudes that shape the literature. (Fulfills Study Area I literature Requirement and bears International designation.)
Course Objectives
By the end of the course, students should be able to:
Discuss effectively the literary principles and practices of a variety of contemporary authors from around the world;
Write coherent and cogent analyses, using textual support and appropriate academic conventions and language, of 20th and 21st- century literature in its many genres (poetry, nonfiction, drama, fiction, film etc.);
Know the outline and significant milestones and achievements in the lives and careers of Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra; and
Recognize the international significance of American popular culture. 

08 April 2014

Idea for a Night of Theatre: Financial Backers Welcome!

BreakFast and Furious (a cross between Edward Albee and "Chopped")

A homemaker tries to get her husband and four children out the door with a hot meal, using only marshmallow peeps, hardtack, Limoncello, a side of beef, fire, and her bare hands.

A Long Day's Journey into Lunch

A Tableau Vivant featuring the Jan de Bray's Haarlem Painters Guild, a hoe, two loaves of bread, and a stick of pepperoni.

The Girl with the Tattoo You Lp 

An all-female Waiting for Godot, as the two characters listen to the entirety of the Rolling Stones' 1981 album, mistakenly thinking "Beast of Burden" is the very next track.

Is it just me, or does this read like a very weak imitation of Woody Allen from his Without Feathers phase?

05 April 2014

"I'd Rather Be Dancing" at Playhouse on Park": a review

As a college professor who distributes course evaluations to students in each class at the end of each semester, I have found the only two questions that really help me think productively about the success of a class are those I regularly add myself on the back of the standard form:

1) What worked?

2) What didn't?

And, this is how I've been thinking about Stop/Time Dance Theatre's new show, I'd Rather Be Dancing, that opened last night at Playhouse on Park and runs through April 13.

In the spirit of full disclosure I should note that I've been taking tap classes from Darlene Zoller, the show's creator/choreographer and Stop/Time's founder, for a while now. With that out of the way, here goes...

What worked?

Anytime Tyler Knowlin or Spencer Pond were on the stage, they had our attention.  Mr. Knowlin, a remarkably compelling tapper, earned his "special guest" program designation by making it all look so easy and taking ownership of the best parts of both acts.  Mr. Pond, who was on stage throughout the show -- even at it's most crowded -- always commanded it. Both lithe and quick-witted, he always left this audience member wanting more.

Act II's company-wide "Tap Jam" and the trio on Bob Fosse's "Steam Heat" (with an especial shout-out to Constance Gobeille).

The energy, enthusiasm, and commitment that Stop/Time dancers always bring to their shows.

The chemistry between angels Hillary Ekwall and Victoria Mooney.

The simple poignancy of the choreography for "Remember Me," s song written by Music Director Sean Pallantroni

What didn't work?

The concept: something about Heaven and Hell, angels' getting their wings, a dead guy's (Rick Fountain) getting a second chance, and a grumpy god's (Gail D. Schoppert) complaining about the help -- all of which, I'm afraid, have been done before to death.  And who, exactly, was singer Becky LaBombard supposed to be -- since she was apparently not the dead man's high school girlfriend, college steady, fling on Cape Cod, or wife?

Too much recorded music.  If I had Colin Britt, and a pit band, on stage for a whole show, I'd have used them a lot more.  Relatedly, if there's going to be recorded music, don't lip-sync.

"Time Traveler," "Grow Old with Me," and "I'd Rather Be Dancing" are just not very interesting songs, no matter who's singing them.

And "Stairway to Heaven," even with the multi-talented Spencer Pond's choreography, is still a dumb song.

The take-away

If a good dance show is one that highlights talented dancers in a variety of styles, then Darlene Zoller and Company have provided the audience with that (and more).  Sure, it's not perfect, but, when you go, you'll be rewarded by the sheer joy that the performers bring to the stage.  And, if perchance you like disco, you'll enjoy it even more.

I may know nothing about theatre, but I'm pretty sure that having any character, at the end of Act One, say, "Oh dear, it looks like all of Act One has been a waste!" is not a good idea.  What if the audience agrees?

10 March 2014

By Jove, I think they've got something: A Review of HIGGINS IN HARLEM at POP

Photo credit: Rich Wagner
     In Playhouse on Park's world premiere production of Lawrence Thelen's Higgins in Harlem, George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion heads to the Apollo Theatre, outside of which Higgins (Kevyn Morrow) meets Eliza (Geri-Nikole Love) and the fireworks begin -- even in the midst of a downpour.
     It's hard to create an adaptation that is both faithful to its original yet inspired and individual enough to allow us to experience the force of the concept anew.  Writer/Director Thelen, with the help of a very strong cast, pulls it off nicely. 
     Set during the Harlem Renaissance, the play follows the familiar bet by Higgins and Pickering (Bob Johnson) to see if, in just a few short months, the professor can make the incomprehensible flower girl pass for an university-educated African princess. The insults and idioms fly, and, amidst hurt feelings and hard work, so do the sparks.  Ms. Love and Mr. Morrow show the many, and varied shades, of a man obsessed with his student's progress and a woman who realizes she's nothing but a subject.
     The rest of the cast match the leads, but special mention must be made of Mrs. Higgins (Janelle Robinson) who gives the production its moral center, by voicing -- with aplomb and humor -- the things everyone in the audience wants to say to her son.
     The set, lights, and costumes are simple but smartly elegant (although the choreographed set changes seem a bit more fuss than needed).
      In short, I liked this production very much and think it has legs (i.e., I think other companies and groups will want to mount their own productions, including, I hope, high schools and colleges).  In the meantime, check this one out.  The bar has been set high. 

      I do have one suggestion for the playwright/director: In the climactic scene, when Higgins so infuriates Eliza that she stands up to him (and he exclaims, in essence, "Finally!"), I need it to be a bigger things for both. characters  Eliza's hardly been a retiring wallflower before, and Higgins has hardly held back his disdain, so why's this a revelation?  My two cents.

04 March 2014

“Elvis Bows, Bing Just Nods”: High and Low Culture in Fancy Meeting You Here

“Elvis Bows, Bing Just Nods”:
High and Low Culture in Fancy Meeting You Here

Gilbert L. Gigliotti
Central Connecticut State University

     On Fancy Meting You Here, his 1958 duet album with Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby offers a trenchant critique of the coarsening of American culture.  From Crosby’s own liner notes to many of the special lyrics written by Sammy Cahn and Ira Gershwin, among others, the musical travelogue offers listeners a crash course in late-fifties pop culture while exposing the incipient fissure between young and old that would become the “generation gap” the following decade.
    The RCA-Victor album (LSP-1854), a collection of thirteen geographically-themed songs, including “On a Slow Boat to China,” “Hindustan,” “You Came A Long Way from St Louis,” “Isle of Capri,” and “Calcutta,” was recorded during three sessions on July 28th, August 7th and 11th, 1958.  It was based, according to the record jacket, upon an idea by songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen[1], and serves as a de facto sequel to Frank Sinatra’s best selling album Come Fly with Me,[2] released by Capitol Records in February of that same year, its title track also written by Cahn and Van Heusen, and also arranged and conducted by Billy May, the former trumpeter and arranger for Charlie Barnet and Glenn Miller (Rice; Whitburn 282). 
      As on the Sinatra album, May’s arrangements on Fancy Meeting You Here are sonically rich and very witty, all the while taking full advantage of the possibilities of stereophonic recording technology.  As jazz saxophonist Buddy Collette describes May’s work with Sinatra during the same period:
[He] would try things.  He might put in little songs, start a
little melody and work that way through the whole chorus, and
Frank would like that because it was different.  Billy May was
very inventive…he’d be putting the song into the background

and voicing it, which would work against the chords…(Granata 135).
May’s last minute arranging was infamous, while, at the same time, being well recognized for his fresh orchestrations, or, as drummer Alvin Stoller phrased it: “Billy wrote with meat” (Granata 135).  Indeed, May’s “meaty” presence, both musical and physical, is hard to ignore on almost all of his recordings.  On Fancy Meeting You Here, in fact, Cahn especially mentions him in the final cut of Side I, “Love Won’t Let You Get Away,” when, commenting about the many songs that await listeners on Side Two, Bing and Rosie sing:

Rosie:  Here comes another side

Here we go for that tourist ride

Bing:   Lots of places we haven’t tried

Seems the world’s as wide as Billy May!
In short, May’s remarkable size and talent make listeners marvel even at what should be quite obvious (the mass of Earth itself), just as his arrangements make such standards as “Hindustan” (1918), “It Happened in Monterey” (1930), and “Isle of Capri” (1934) seem as fresh as the year they were composed.

      Not surprisingly, given both the previous pairing of Crosby and Clooney in the 1954 movie hit White Christmas and, since Rosie was a favorite singing partner of Bing because “their vocal range and esprit were a perfect match” (Giddins 513), the singers’ performances consistently equal May’s arrangements in wit, warmth, and exuberance.[3]  Bing, after all, as Gary Giddins writes in his landmark biography A Pocketful of Dreams, was “never more honestly or affably himself than in duets,” a format he used “more frequently than anyone else – on records, radio, and television” (Giddins 513).  And, as Giddins further describes it, Bing preferred duets because the format presented him with:

                        …a challenge, like golf, with a  modified degree of competition.

                        He was as generous to other singers as to fellow actors, and his

supreme confidence relaxed and inspired them.  The laughter in

a Crosby duet was never scripted, while the scripted material

often sounds improvised; it is generally impossible to tell how

much was planned. (513)

      The Crosby/Clooney duets on Fancy Meeting you Here fit this description perfectly.  On “Isle of Capri,” for example, Rosie’s reading of “that Capri isle was a real ringer-dinger” sparks an audible giggle from Bing.  Similarly, both in the opening of “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis,” when Bings suggests that someone knit Brigitte Bardot a “hug-me-tight” so she won’t “catch her death of a cold” and, in “Calcutta,” when he refers to a snake as a “Hope double,” his line readings tickle Rosie not a bit.

      Of course, another explanation for the spontaneity of Clooney’s reactions could be that Bing’s script did not read exactly as Rosie’s did, since, from early in his radio career Crosby was well known for altering his lines specifically to surprise his guests and interlocutors (Giddins 411).  The “Hope double, y’know,” line seems especially tossed off, for example. 

      Such verbal playfulness is also a hallmark of Sammy Cahn’s “special lyrics,” a forte of his songwriting career.  For Cahn, perhaps best known as the songwriter “who put more words into Frank Sinatra’s mouth than any other man”(Cahn 129), also was well known throughout the entertainment industry for his “special material:” lyrics written to the tunes of popular standards specifically for different events across the musical, personal, and political spectrum.[4]  Cahn’s occasional lyrics were in high demand due to his ability to reflect the personalities and interests of the individual performers who would sing his words – not to mention his ability to include a remarkable number of “inside jokes,” as well.  Within the songs of Fancy Meeting You Here, for example, we hear mention of Crosby’s being a stockholder in the Pittsburgh Pirates, Rosie’s attraction to Marlon Brando, (“How About You?”), Bing’s earlier incarnation as a crooner (“Brazil”),[5] and how absolutely everyone eats at “Dino’s,” Dean Martin’s restaurant “back on the strip in L.A.”(“Isle of Capri”).

      More intriguing, however, to this listener, is how the album uses Crosby’s well-wrought persona to reflect what can now be identified as the developing split between the Browkavian “greatest generation” and their offspring, the baby boomers.  That persona, in turn, mirrors two significant aspects of Bing’s background: the classical education Crosby received from the Jesuits in high school and college and his lifelong love of language and wordplay.

      Crosby benefited from being “the only major singer in American popular music to enjoy the virtues of a classical education,” because his education, according to Giddins:

            …grounded his values and expectations, reinforc[ed] his

confidence, and buffered him from his own ambition.  [For]

as faithful as he was to show business, his demeanor was

marked by a serenity that suggested an appealing indifference.

He had something going for him that could not be touched by

Hollywood envy and mendacity…The Jesuits trained him to

weigh the rewards of this world versus those of the next and to

keep his own counsel (56-57)
     Indeed, at least two songs from Fancy Meeting You Here make much of Bing’s long-standing stardom and success and his self-deprecating attitude toward it, “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis” and “I Can’t Get Started.”

      In the opening recitative of “St. Louis,” [originally written in 19??,] Rosie comments on Bing’s frequent press, his royal treatment, and even his sex symbol status, all of which Crosby blithely, and quite believably, dismisses as wrongheaded and silly:

                        Rosie:  Each of your wisecracks the columns have quoted.

                        Bing:   Yes, it’s terribly amusing, quite flattering, really,

but my press agent wrote it.

                        Rosie:  You breakfast with Bardot

                        Bing:   Somebody should knit her a hug-me-tight

(she’s gonna catch her death of a cold.)

                        Rosie:  You’re wined and you’re dined like the monarchs of old.

                        Bing:   These people fall all over you…

                        Rosie:                                                     Don’t they?

                        Bing:   Oh, it must be a mess.

                        Rosie:  You Casanova you…

     Bing has it all, but he is grounded enough to know not to take it seriously and, moreover, one’s health should always win out over fashion (no matter how attractive the look!).

      Likewise, in the new Ira Gershwin lyrics to “I Can’t Get Started”[6] even as Bing declares how much power he wields in the world (by comparing himself to the most recent musical icon), there is an inescapably self-effacing quality that shines through his performance of the lyric:

Good grief, I’m not exactly a clod.

When Elvis Presley bows I just nod…
      Bing’s credibility here rests on his more than three decades of stardom in recording, radio, and film,[7] without his having forfeited the “well-entrenched image of the ‘American Everyman’” living a life of decency and decorum (Brackett 61).  The Jesuits, it would seem, had trained him well.[8]
     As a good student of the Jesuits, Crosby viewed his position at the top of the entertainment world as a uniquely privileged and powerful pulpit – even as he gently played off the priestly image – in support of “scholastic progressiveness” and “liberal benevolence” (Giddins 55, 558).  For example, the title of an article in the February 1938 issue of Down Beat, which recounts many of Crosby’s good deeds towards his friends in show business, captures these twin concerns: “Bing Crosby (Dr. of Square Shooting) Known as Squarest Man in Hollywood” (Giddins 456).  

      In 1958, Crosby was perhaps still the squarest man in Hollywood, but on Fancy Meeting You Here, the juxtaposition of Bing, “The Old Groaner,” and “Elvis the Pelvis” now underscores the cultural divide between the singer and a younger generation in many ways in need of redemption.  For his message on the album’s back cover, (accompanied by a world map with international locations pedagogically keyed to the album’s playlist), depicts the record buying public, i.e., “the cats closeted in the listening cubicles,” as decidedly young, libidinous, and only semi-literate.  He even includes the recurrent lament that the kids “these days” just don’t read anymore, so anything that gets them reading – even liner notes! – is “eminently desirable.”  The singer, meanwhile, confesses to visiting these same record stores only to buy “something atonal by Hindemith, something sassy by Schoenberg, or something with a beat by Bartok,” intimating through those familiar adjectives that much of the American popular music usually described in such language interests him not.

      Indeed, in response to such cultural trends, he admits the travelogue concept of Fancy Meeting You Here could be quite “salutary” for American record buyers who, when they are not “wrapped up in the reading matter featured on the album jackets,” are “wrapped up in one another” in the listening booths.  As he instructively continues:

            With the accompanying map some geography could be

            absorbed.  A careful selection of songs could reveal the

mores of the places visited, the transportation facilities

available, the mean climate, etc.[9]

Long before the term was invented, Crosby here is promoting the “teachable moment.”
     The singer himself, however, immediately discounts such “educational entertainment” as sounding “pretty stuffy” and proceeds to highlight a variety of factors (Rosie’s voice and humor; new lyrics by Cahn, Gershwin, and Bob Russell; and even brand new songs) that prevent the record from turning, in Bing-speak, into “a complete cruller.” Still, at notes’ conclusion, his schoolmasterish voice returns, invoking, as it were, Horace’s admonition in the Ars Poetica that good literature should both please and instruct (Epistles II.iii.333-334):

…remember—study the map while listening.  It’s very engrossing.
      Comically portrayed or not, Bing’s didacticism seems obvious throughout the album, as the singers take aim at many fads.  Crosby and Clooney’s updated rendition of “It Happened in Monterey,” for instance, lampoons the annoyingly repetitive cha-cha beat and its eponymous dance craze and pre-dates the more famous Sam Cooke parody “Everybody Likes to Cha-Cha,” which went to #31 in 1959 (Pareles and Romanowski 119).  After briefly running through the standard chorus and verse, they sing:

That was the way they used to play,

But here’s the version you’ll hear today:

They cha-cha-cha’d in Monterey/ A long time ago

They cha-cha-cha’d in Monterey/ In old Mexico

     The song, in short, asks the musical question, even punctuated with a comical trombone burp at its conclusion: how can anyone not be heartbroken at such a rendering? 

      Similarly, that the tourist couple is driven off “The Isle of Capri” not by fate or the fear of commitment but by the ubiquity of stale mandolin arrangements and bad pasta dishes cannot but be seen as pessimistic harbingers of the future of pop culture.[10]  The rhyming of “Capri” and “misAPPREhension” is quite telling, after all.

      But it is not simply the sorry state of contemporary music that is problematic in the corrupted rendering of “It Happened in Monterey,” it is also the literary decline reflected in the dumbed-down lyrics.  For Crosby was well known from his youth for his playfulness with language, and he fostered his linguistic fun on radio and in film.  As Giddins writes:

            His way with words, not just his singing and whistling,

helped define Bing’s personality…He rolled large words

on his tongue, trilled rs, fiddled with malapropisms and

spoonerisms, and mimicked the lower, upper, and outcast

classes, exemplified in minstrel badinage or highfalutin rhetoric.  (63)

Bing performs thus in his liner notes:

And then to make it as gilt-edged as a sheaf of municipals,

[producer Simon Rady] dropped the whole project into the

ample lap of that Falstaff of the arrangers, that Rabelais of the

rolling bass – “The Merry Maestro,” Billy May.

      As a singer, language was his primary medium, and what was happening to lyrics at the hands of rock-and-roll had to be disheartening.  The literate lyrics of Tin Pan Alley writers were under assault and demanded worthy defenders, and he and his collaborators here answer the clarion call.

      In 1958, there was no doubt who this company of artists thought would win out. Indeed, Fancy Meeting You Here concludes on a decidedly confident note when Crosby declares to both Clooney and the public:

My little chickadee,

You may say that you’re through with me

You’ll have no more to do with me

You’re all through with me and good day

But you’ll find that love won’t let you get away
Record buyers may think their relationship with Bing is over, but, he assures them, it is not.

      More than forty years later, however, a striking allusion to Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovotore, in “On a Slow Boat to China” perhaps rings truer.  When, in response to Rosie’s line about the crowd of suitors she will leave “weeping on a faraway shore,” Bing exclaims “Somebody get me an anvil!”  The listener senses that the hammer Bing figuratively wields in the song is grandly operatic indeed, both a musical instrument and a weapon of the gods.  As history tells us, this powerful weapon that Crosby had brandished for decades was to be his only a short time longer.  For while Bing still may have been treated “like the monarchs of old,” Elvis was now the King.

Works Cited

Bennett, Charles and John Rolfe, eds.  Horace: Complete Works.  Boston: Allyn and

Bacon, 1962.

Brackett, David.  Interpreting Popular Music.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,


Cahn, Sammy.  I Should Care: The Sammy Cahn Story.  New York: Arbor House, 1974.

Crosby, Bing.  “Liner Notes.”  Fancy Meeting You Here.  LSP-1854.  RCA, 1958.

Giddins, Gary.  Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams The Early Years 1903-1940.

Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 2001.

Granata, Charles L.  Sessions with Sinatra: Frank Sinatra and the Art of Recording.

Chicago: A Cappella Books, 1999.

Hardy, Phil, and Dave Laing.  The Faber Companion to 20th-Century Popular Music.

London: Faber and Faber, 1990.

Pareles, Jon, and Patricia Romanowski, eds.  The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock

and Roll.  New York: Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.

Rice, Robert W.  “Rosemary Clooney.”  Clap Your Hands Here! Comes Rosie/Fancy

Meeting You Here.  TARCD-1060.  Taragon Records, 2000.

Ulanov, Barry.  The Incredible Crosby.  New York: Whittlesey House, 1948.

Whitburn, Joel.  The Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums.  New York: Billboard Books,


[1] Van Heusen, first with lyricist Johnny Burke and then with Sammy Cahn, would compose for 18 of Crosby’s films (Hardy and Laing 180).
[2] Come Fly with Me (Capitol W-920), released on 3 February 1958, stayed on the Billboard charts for 50 weeks and was the top selling album for five (Whitburn 282).  That album marked Sinatra’s first collaboration with May as well as the first time that Cahn and Van Heusen composed “special framing tracks (the title song as opener and a closing number)” (Mustazza 174), a feature that the Crosby/Clooney album shares  in “Fancy Meeting You Here” and “Love Won’t Let You Get Away”.
[3] Clooney would join both Crosby and Sinatra on the 13 October 1957 CBS television special, “The Edsel Show,” which introduced the brand new car to American consumers.
[4] Cahn, for example, frequently wrote for “Friars’ Club” events, the political campaigns of Jack Kennedy and Spiro Agnew, and the celebrations of birthdays, anniversaries, etc. of any number of American celebrities (Cahn 145, 260).
[5] As Gary Giddins points out in his landmark biography, A Pocketful of Dreams, the crooner label was something that Bing had long sought to distant himself from due to its association with “small-voiced wimps” (284).
[6] The song originally was written with Vernon Duke in 1935 and first performed in Broadway’s The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936-1937.
[7] Due to his success on the record charts, Crosby has been rated “the most popular recording artist during the period 1890-1954” (Brackett 35).
[8] Bing’s credibility is linked directly to his approach to singing which is “disarmingly, almost nakedly, artless yet so artful that he never shows his hand, never shows off his phrasing or his easy way of rushing or retarding a phrase, never does any of the things singers do to show you how hard they are working” (Giddins 512)
 [9] This statement rings especially comical when compared with the description of composer Van Heusen’s great relief in reading the script of The Road to Zanzibar, the sequel to The Road to Singapore, that “the story was in the Singapore groove, [and] that no extensive knowledge of Zanzibar, its customs, climate or people was called for” (Ulanov 174).
[10] Not all the references to popular culture are negative.  On Cahn’s personalized version of Burton Lane and Ralph Freed’s “How about You?,” along with the aforementioned Brando reference, Rosie sings of having “seen Pal Joey twice,” while Bing admits also to loving the movie and that “Kim Novak’s very nice,” as well. Generally, however, the positive mentions tend to exclude subjects favored by the generation of Elvis fans.