I don’t suffer from social nostalgia. I don’t believe the past was better than today, I know it was worse. The 40s may have been a fairy tale time for Western civilization but not if you were Jewish or black or gay or female or working class or simply poor. The 40s were a hall of mirrors and little of what was reflected was real. To take just one instance:baseball was a much bigger lie in the 40s then the 90s ever were -how can you respect any stats at all when the Black population was not allowed to play?
So I am not romanticising the 40s when I say that what I loved about the decade was the innocence of their mass culture. It was a riddle innocence, a poison apple. But it had an American optimism Reagan’s 80s failed to emulate and no longer alive today and it was personified by Bob Hope as much as any one.
Hope came out of England’s Music Hall and made it in movies as a world class clown but as a singer he was a thing of beauty.
It is odd he is considered such an American icon because his self-deprecation and cowardliness were very, very English. With Hope all ambition, all ego, was subject to a withering sense of doubt (when you watch Hugh Laurie being interviewed you can connect the dots real easy).
Hope began his acting career as a romantic lead (he was handsome till the day he died at the age of 100). Indeed, he sang his signature “Thanks For the Memories” in his first role. It is a duet between a divorced couple remembering the past and it is very sweet and sad. Later still he would sing “Two Sleepy People” “…by dawns early light and too much in love to say goodnight”. It is a gentle love song with a soft comedic undercurrent.
But that was not to be Bob Hope’s future. He followed his light comedic gift to stardom and in his work with Bing Crosby puts the Hollywood blockbusters that bombard us all day long to shame: this is what I mean by the simplicity of 40s culture: those movies are very witty and scruffy and unstuffy, a fun way to kill a coupla hours that to my mind (though I once watched “Road To Morocco” with a younger girl and she didn’t get it at all…) have easily withstood the test of time. I was watching some early 30s Bing Crosby movies the other day and they certainly haven’t.
Bing and Hope were a perfect match and to listen to them trade wisecrack and lines is to watch the graceful perfection of song, phrasing and timing. Now look at who he is singing with here? Da Bing taught the world to croon and how to whisper, how to manipulate the microphone, indeed, how to sing. Bing was the biggest star in the world thru the 30s and the 40s (paved the career trajectory for Sinatra). Indeed, Costello covers Bing on his latest album released two days ago. And Hope manages keeps pace with him.
But Hope didn’t take his seriousness seriously (that Englishness again) and so despite hit singles like another career high, “Buttons And Bows,” he viewed his fortune with a jaundice eye. In my opinion it is hard to beat Dinah Shore at ANYTHING but Hope’s version comes within spitting distance.
All these guys are long gone now and that type of innocence will never return but I hope Hope’s terrific singing will live on to give a grin to people for many years to go.
Road To Bali
Two Sleepy People
Thanks For the Memories
Buttons and Bows
Speaking of lost innocence. At the begining of the woebegone 80s , in the wilds of Glasgow, lived one of the great record companies: Postcard Records. They didn’t last long in this incarnation but they promoted some great, great, great songs. Orange Juice were melodic pop and Josef K were rhythmic pop and both were electric guitar based pop.
The two bands weren’t opposite but they were conjoined by more than happenstance. There was an urban reaction to the inability of punk to transform music; the music was the shardy sound of punk with all hope sieved out and replaced by a connectedness apolitical and social.
Edwyn Collins of Orange Juice went on to a solo career and a hit with “A Girl Like You”. PS the covers of their EPs and albums were glorious art deco comments by themselves.
Both bands were in the shadow of the best group of the early 80s, Fire Engines. Also from Glasgow They played electric tonal pop and live they played hectic 15 minute tone and scratch sets. They lead directly to The Jesus and Mary Chain and finally to Actic Monkeys and on.
Sorry For Laughing – Josef K
Falling And Laughing – Orange Juice
Get Up and Use Me – Fire Engines
Everything’s Roses – Fire Engines
All three of these bands were very buzzy at the time. And there is nothing I love more than catching a band while they are catching heat. I’ll be doing that tonight when i go to Central Park (in a steady rain) for TV On The Radio and the Dirty Projectors. The buzz on DP is deafening at this point and I streamed their upcoming album on NPR and was very very impressed. TVOTR are a little past buzzy, still this is the first night supporting the critical smash hit “Dear Science”.
Bad weather can make an outdoor concert go either. I saw Vampire Weekend at Summerstage last year in a full scale storm and they were spectacular. Six months later at Terminal 5 it was like the physical manifestation of milquetoast.