I’m not feeling funny ha-ha this week so I’m keeping this short. And I mean it this time. I wish I could say we were like Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill Jr. where the building collapses around him but he emerges unscathed:
Given the names that are being floated for Cyclone Donald’s future misadministration, we’re in for a bumpy ride. PBJ? Newt? Rudy? Reince? Bannon? Palin? Oy just oy.
This week’s theme song is They Can’t Take That Away From Me. It’s one of George Gershwin’s loveliest melodies and one of Ira Gershwin’s most poignant lyrics. I selected it an antidote to the electoral college victory of the vulgar and crass Insult Comedian. In short, I’m trying to ward off the crass with some class.
It’s a foolproof Gershwin song, so there are many fabulous versions to choose from. I limited myself to three. We begin with (who else?) Frank Sinatra. The song became even more associated with Sinatra after Bill Zehme’s wonderful 1997 book, The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin’. Frank recorded several variations but my favorite is this torchy rendition, arranged by Nelson Riddle:
The Gershwins wrote They Can’t Take Away From Me for the 1937 Astaire-Rogers musical Shall We Dance. I prefer the way it was done as the closing number in Fred and Ginger’s last film together, The Barkleys of Broadway:
Who has more class than Sinatra or Astaire? Our next artists certainly equal those two gents in savoir faire. There’s a segment later about Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. I’ll let their singing speak for them right now.
Speaking of class, ain’t nothing classier than the band on Ella and Louis: Oscar Peterson, Buddy Rich, Ray Brown, and Herb Ellis. I’ll have more on the 60th anniversary of that classic LP directly.
Time to get arty but hopefully not farty:
Ben Shahn’s Allegory: Ben Shahn was a lefty artist/activist who lived a long and interesting life. I originally thought I’d use one of his WPA murals as the featured image, but Allegory is a more interesting painting:
Allegory represents an immense, red, lionlike chimera, shown in profile, its great head turned toward the viewer and surrounded with flames. The beast is lean and hungry — Shahn is careful to delineate his ribs, so we know that he (his gender is also clearly indicated) is hungry, and he seems like an imaginary lion in a Chinese opera, or like a strange composite animal in a painting by the great Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo.
Although it is smaller than a large dog in the painting itself, we realize just how huge the animal is in illusion when we see a pile of tiny dead bodies with white limbs and faces placed below its haunches, or a miniature forest in front of it.
Shahn himself tells us that the beast — he never quite identifies its species — is the embodiment of fire and that the entire painting emerged from a series of illustrations he made for the August 1948 issue of Harper’s magazine. The illustrations were commissioned to accompany an article on what was called “The Hickman Fire” written by the distinguished journalist John Bartlow Martin.
It’s a relief to discuss an allegorical beast instead of the real one stalking the country. It’s time for a few words about two national treasures: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
The 60th Anniversary of Ella and Louis: I’m referring to the first of three albums the dynamic jazz duo recorded for Verve Records. We all know something about the artists but the man who brought them together, Norman Granz, is less well known to the general public. Tom Maxwell has the details at Longreads.com.
Saturday Classic: I had thought that I’d previously posted Ella and Louis in this segment. It turns out I was wrong. That’s been happening a bit too much for my taste of late. I would have re-posted it in any event. This album is the best anti-crass serum imaginable.
That’s if for this week. I should be back in full-blown horrid punster mode next time around. I’ll also revive my regular Album Cover and Pulp Fiction features after a one-week hiatus.
It’s time to get back to what passes for normal here at First Draft. We need to be able to laugh through the horror as well as raging against the dying of the light. It’s what FDR would want us to do, after all.