316 FRIDAY 8 MAY 2015 (-50) – THE LAST 50 SONGS
King Kong March – Moscow Symphony Orchestra
I always saw my maternal grandparents as individual beings. They were just “Abuela” and “Abuelo”. I never saw them as a couple. They were so different that I’ve always wondered what brought them together.
My grandfather Domingo was a peculiar fellow, to say the least. There are stories of him that, to this day, my mother and aunt can still marvel at when they reminisce. If the guy felt low on iron, he’d put iron nails on a glass of water, let them soak overnight, and drink the water the following day. He’d argue that getting his iron dosage was a practical way. Were there any pesky ghosts or apparitions disturbing your peace at home? Not a problem. As a self-taught scholar of spiritualism and founding member of “La Sociedad Espiritista de Maracaibo”, he could organise a séance at short notice to get all paranormal activity under control at your home.
Although I don’t remember much about my grandmother Betilde – it’s mostly a warm feeling, I like to think of her as a wise woman. Being so poor, she never had any formal education; she only learned to read and write when she was an adult. Yet, there was so much wisdom in how she raised my mother and aunts; I suppose it was the kind of insight you get when you have to battle every day for most of your life.
My grandfather was an absent parental figure. He’d go back and forth between their house and his parents’ place through all their years together. He needed his time and space, he claimed. My grandmother was more than willing to give it to him; what else could she have done but put up with it? When Domingo felt he had been enough time on his own, he’d come back as if nothing had happened. He did it throughout the entire duration of their relationship. They never married, though. They just lived together.
Clearly, I mostly remember the fun times I spent with them. My grandfather loved a good show. If the circus was in town, I was sure the following weekend he’d take my siblings and me to a matinée. He would invite us all to attend when there was a “retreta” in Plaza Bolivar on a Sunday late afternoon. These open-air concerts, by small to mid-size bands, usually with members of the Maracaibo Symphonic Orchestra, specialised in playing military music and marches. Often they would start playing on a nearby street and march to their final destination, inviting people to join them at the concert. Usually, the band would march into Plaza Bolivar, followed by the spectators they had recruited along the way.
Once at the plaza, they would take their seats on a large gazebo near the statue of Simon Bolivar. They’d keep on playing popular standards. Many street vendors would fill the plaza selling snow cones, ice creams, roasted peanuts and balloons. Frequently, there was dancing. The scene was even livelier if there was any religious event going on. It was always a lovely event, just like out of a movie.
I’m sure my grandmother came on these expeditions to Plaza Bolivar. She also loved a good retreta. However, I have other memories of her, such as early evening walks to Sunday mass or late afternoon visits to the small plaza across from her house. She’d help us cross the narrow street and then go back and sit in front of her home. She’d keep an eye on us from her seat while sharing a good gossip with the neighbours or anyone who walked by. Every time we visited, my siblings and I would spend most of the time in the small plaza playing with other children from the neighbourhood.
The tiny and charming “Plaza Toledo” never got its statue. The lonely empty pedestal stood in the middle of the plaza as a reminder that they had planned to erect a statue of Toledo at some point.
Across from “Plaza Toledo”, they started to build a brand new park in the late 1960s. A good number of blocks had been demolished to give way to “Parque Urdaneta”, named after one of Venezuela’s Independence Heroes who happened to have been born in the neighbourhood.
The large park would have many trees, playgrounds, fountains, and a small amphitheatre.
“So, they have money to build a big park, and we’re still waiting for a statue for our plaza? That’s unacceptable.” There was outrage in the neighbourhood. Few were not convinced by the official explanation that no one could come up with a picture of the Toledo, so the sculptor couldn’t create the statue.
However, we, the kids, couldn’t care less about statues. We’d sit on one of the benches facing the massive construction and start planning the places where we’d go in the park and what we’d do. We couldn’t wait for its opening in late 1970. We would tell our grandmother that once the park was opened, she’d just have to turn her chair to the right to keep an eye on us at the park. She’d laugh and assure us she’d be coming with us to the park all the time. She suggested we could also cut through the park on our way to Mass at Santa Barbara Church. Probably that part didn’t thrill us much.
Just a few weeks out of the new park’s dedication, my Abuela Betilde passed away. I have this image of going to the park with one of my aunts. She wore black and stayed with my siblings and me while we played in a sand pool. Looking up, I could see my grandmother’s house from the park. She could have easily sat in her chair and checked on us. The view was unobstructed.
Eventually, my grandfather Domingo came to live with us; that’s why I have more memories of him. He survived my grandmother by precisely 21 years.
Song Title: King Kong March – 1933 Artist: Moscow Symphony Orchestra Genre: Soundtrack Composer: Max Steiner Album: Steiner: King Kong
317 SATURDAY 9 MAY 2015
I Wish I Were In Love Again – Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney
I couldn’t wrap this project without including a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney duet. These two did a bunch of movies together and reigned at the box office in the 1930s. I’m sure you’ve seen one of their films at one point or another. All of their movies have an underlying plot line. Judy, Mickey and friends are trying to put a show together in some neighbourhood barn. Naturally, they succeed every time.
However, I Wish I Were In Love Again, which marks Garland and Rooney’s last film appearance together, comes from the 1948 film “Words and Music”. The film was another MGM biopic extravaganza featuring a cavalcade of their stars singing big numbers. This time around, it was composers Rodgers and Hart’s turn to have their lives recounted.
I’ve always been fascinated with this clever ditty’s lyrics. What is “the faint aroma of performing seals”? Is that a reference to the aroma of sex? I’ve always wondered.
Song Title: I Wish I Were In Love Again – 1937 Artist: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney Genre: Musical Composer: Richard Rodgers Lyrics: Lorenz Hart Album: That’s Entertainment: The Ultimate Anthology of MGM Musicals
Favourite Lyrics: When love congeals, it soon reveals / The faint aroma of performing seals / The double crossing of a pair of heels / I wish I were in love again
318 SUNDAY 10 MAY 2015
Suite Punta del Este: Intro – Ástor Piazzolla
I could not have included the father of the new tango on the list. I simply had to. Combining elements of jazz and classical music, the sound of Ástor Piazzolla’s “Nuevo Tango” has always felt organic. It invades your soul, takes you hostage, and doesn’t let go. Every time I hear one of his compositions, my body trembles in anticipation of the mysterious places where his music will take me.
I don’t know all of his compositions, but I can recognise them immediately. Such is the case of Suite Punta del Este, which was used as the main title of the 1995 film “Twelve Monkeys”. As soon as I heard it over the opening credits, I knew it had to be a Piazzolla composition. After coming out of the theatre, I stopped by Tower Records to buy the CD. There it was in the booklet, “Introduccion from “Suite Punta Del Este” (Twelve Monkeys Theme) Written by Astor Piazzolla.”
This is one of the few songs I remembered from years past, and I expressly bought the single, so I could include it on the list.
Song Title: Suite Punta del Este: Intro – 1982 Artist: Ástor Piazzolla Genre: Tango Nuevo Composer: Ástor Piazzolla Album: Concertante
319 MONDAY 11 MAY 2015
Forget About The Boy – Sutton Foster, Anne L. Nathan
This is the song that introduced me to the lovely Sutton Foster. A few weeks before going through a bad breakup about ten years ago, I had bought the “Thoroughly Modern Millie” CD. Still, I hadn’t given it enough attention. As it typically happens when you have been unceremoniously dumped, I created a playlist to deal with the breakup; I even gave it a name, “iBreak”. One of the first songs on the list was Forget About The Boy. When I finally paid attention to this ditty, I said: “The hell with
Keith, Chester. Fuck you, Keith Chester! Fuck you every time a Chinese takes a breath.”
That Foster woman knew what she was talking about.
Keith Chester was lower than an alley cat and a dirty rat. I shouldn’t think about him in the moonlight – not that I ever did, but in conclusion, I was so much better off without him. I would feel so much better whenever I’d hear the song. Well, at least for the three and a half minutes, the song went on. Although there was truth in the lyrics Sutton Foster sang, my brain had difficulty convincing my heart of the facts of the matter.
I eventually forgot about the boy and made Sutton Foster my favourite child.
Song Title: Forget About The Boy – 2002 Artist: Sutton Foster, Anne L. Nathan Genre: Musical Composer: Jeanine Tesori Lyricist: Dick Scanlan Album: Thoroughly Modern Millie
Favourite Lyrics: And in the moonlight / Don’t you think about him / Sister, you’re much better off without him / You can blow the blues a kiss goodbye / And put the sun back in the sky / For when he comes crawlin’ / I’m not fallin’
320 TUESDAY 12 MAY 2015
Who Loves You – The Four Seasons
New Year’s Eve wasn’t a day I’d wake up early as a child. With all the festivities lined up for the night, it was very likely that I’d end up going to bed very late, so I had to save as many ZZZs as I could. The exception to that rule was 1975.
This was the first New Year’s Eve party my fathers organised in our brand new house. After many years of sacrifices and hard work, my parents were finally able to buy a large house in the north of the city, almost suburbia, but not quite. The day before, on the 30th, Mom and Dad had gone to a large appliances store to buy our first sound system. The set included a turntable, a cassette player/recorder, amplifier and top-of-the-line speakers. The system was to be delivered on New Year’s Eve. Since this was our first set, we didn’t have any records; something had to be done.
The excitement of getting a brand new sound system awoke me early that day; I just wasn’t going to miss the delivered equipment. Moreover, I was desperate to play the brand-new records we were getting.
That new year’s eve morning, my mother and grandfather went downtown to run some errands, and among them, a visit to a record store to buy a few brand new albums. My siblings and I had made a few suggestions. I can recall asking for a Barry Manilow or Jim Croce single. In contrast, my brother asked for a “The Four Seasons” record, which contained Who Loves You, the hit of the month on the radio.
Near noon, Mom and Granddad returned with our records, plus a few my mother bought for herself, among them “El Año Víejo”, I’m sure. (See Week 27. 188 El Año Víejo)
There hadn’t been any sign of the delivery throughout the morning, and we were getting impatient. My mother, who’s always been an ace in getting things done through the phone, called the store and asked to speak to the manager. That’s right, she asked to talk to the manager before “asking to talk to the manager” became cool. The manager reassured her that the system would be delivered in time for the party.
Sometime in the early afternoon, as the aroma of pork roasting in the kitchen oven filled the house, the equipment was delivered. The sound system was ready to be used in a matter of minutes. The first record and song we played? That’s right, Who Loves You.
Who Loves You was the first song we played on our new turntable. So, that’s why it has to be on this list. It was the first song that I heard on the first record I ever owned. It marks the start of an era.
We played this record quite a few times on New Year’s Eve. It was a swell party. Actually, it’s been a blast ever since or at least the 10-year-old in me seems to think so.
Song Title: Who Loves You – 1975 Artist: The Four Seasons Genre: Pop Composer: Bob Gaudio Lyricist: Judy Parker Album: Who Loves You
Favourite Lyrics: Who loves you, pretty baby? / Who’s gonna help you through the night? / Who loves you, pretty mama? / Who’s always there to make it right?
321 WEDNESDAY 13 MAY 2015
Marry Me Now/I Got You/First Act Finale – Keith Carradine, Dee Hoty – Top 10 Contender
Not a time goes by that I hear this song and don’t think of marriage equality. This song is about marrying the same person for a second time, not because they were ever apart, but because the first time just didn’t count.
In the musical “The Will Rogers Follies”, Mr Ziegfeld declares Will Rogers’ marriage to his wife Betty Blake invalid. Only the wedding at the end of the first act counts. So, minutes before intermission, the sumptuous wedding takes place in the best Ziegfeld Follies fashion. Although Will and Betty have been together for years and already have four children, their union is finally recognised and validated by the laws ruling the Ziegfeld Follies.
When I hear this song, I can’t help but think of the countless same-sex couples who not too long ago had to settle and be content with some commitment ceremony or blessing that didn’t mean much when it came to society’s validation of acceptance of their relationship. Legally it meant zilch. Thankfully things are changing.
It makes me happy every time I hear a same-sex couple marries. As they call for their loved ones to come and witness them walk down the aisle again, these couples, who have been together for years, and have often raised a family, profess their love and commitment for each other for another hundred years. This time around, the law is on their side.
In the winter of 2012, I was an audience member on the Anderson Cooper short-lived talk show. I remember a man doing the warm-up came out and asked how many married couples were in the audience. A young man in the row in front of me raised his hand. The guy talking to the audience noticed him and immediately changed his question to how many husbands and wives were in the audience. The young man’s spouse grabbed his hand and pulled it down. It just broke my heart. Here there was a married gay couple in New York City, about to be in a show moderated by a modern-day gay icon, having their relationship ignored. When the US Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal across all the states earlier in the year, I thought of that couple. I hope they got to walk down the aisle one-second time.
This is the song that I’ve had the most challenging time choosing a favourite lyric. The entire song is simply beautiful.
Song Title: Marry Me Now/I Got You/First Act Finale – 1991 Artist: Keith Carradine, Dee Hoty Genre: Musical Composer: Cy Coleman Lyricist: Betty Comden, Adolph Green Album: The Will Rogers Follies (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Favourite Lyrics: I got you, for the second time / I got you, it’s our second splice / I got you, double ecstasy / I got you, twice is twice as nice! / Down to the altar I’ll sidle / I feel twice as bridal / No shy violet, let’s middle aisle it
322 THURSDAY 14 MAY 2015
Mates and Lovers Closing Music – Samuel Holloway
In 2010, I had the chance to do a promotional video for the New Zealand play “Mates and Lovers”. Based on the book “Mates and Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand” by Chris Brickell, the two-actor play presented a series of vignettes featuring stories of love and friendship among men, from the moment the Endeavour arrived in New Zealand all the way to guys hooking up on Grindr in K’ Rd in Auckland.
The play, written and directed by Ronald Trifero Nelson (the same Ronald who came to NZ with me), premiered in 2009 as part of Ronald’s Theatre Degree. After a few revisions and re-casting, the play had its revamped premiere in 2010 in Auckland; it then played Wellington before going on tour. It is a splendid play; Ronald did an outstanding job as a writer and director.
Along with heartfelt performances by Paora Taurima and Simon K Leary, the beautiful theme, composed by Samuel Holloway, is one of the many highlights of this production. Samuel Holloway may not be a household name yet. Still, no one composes this beautiful and goes unnoticed for long.
Song Title: Mates and Lovers Closing Music – 2010 Artist: Samuel Holloway Genre: Musical Composer: Samuel Holloway Album: Original Recording for the 2010 Play.