The Way You Look Tonight

The Way You Look Tonight 

By Patrick F. Cannon

I was reading the Chicago Tribune the other day and – don’t ask me why – I started reading an interview with a singer/songwriter of apparent fame. I got as far as his contention that the times were too serious for romantic ballads before I moved on to the cartoons. Somehow, Mr. Boffo always restores my temper.

As even a cursory examination of the works and opinions of contemporary American artists and critics should tell you, Donald Trump has cast a pall over the country, or at least those parts of it left of center in politics and the arts. Even works created long before President Trump was even born seem somehow to comment on his curious methods of governance. I recall one denizen of the Hollywood intelligentsia who immediately increased her visits to her therapist when he was elected. By the way, I also think he’s a disaster, but one that we’ll survive much as we survived James Buchanan, Warren Harding and Bill Clinton.

Back to ballads. Recently, I was watching Swing Time, a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie of 1936. All of their movies had similar plots, designed to make it possible for them to sing and dance with some plausible excuse. Here are some of the lyrics of one of the songs:

Some day, when I’m awfully low

When the wind is cold

I will feel aglow just thinking of you

And the way you look tonight

The music here was by Jerome Kern, with lyrics by Dorothy Field (extra credit for you if you started humming the melody). When this romantic ballad was popular in 1936, Hitler had remilitarized the Rhineland; Japan was waging an undeclared war in China; Italy had conquered Abyssinia; the Spanish Civil War was beginning; and unemployment here was 17 percent (it’s about four percent now).  Oh, and the safety net of Social Security would not begin paying any benefits until 1940.

Yet, somehow, the spark of romance hadn’t died. Here are lyrics from an earlier year (1923) by America’s greatest songwriter, Irving Berlin, who, like Cole Porter, wrote both music and lyrics:

What’ll I do when you are far away

And I am blue

What’ll I do…

When I’m alone with only dreams of you

That can’t come true

What’ll I do

Again, extra marks for humming along. By the way, a Google search for these songs will let you listen to versions by people like Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett (hale and hearty now in his 90s), Linda Ronstadt and even Rod Stewart. Good old You Tube!

By contrast, here are some of the lyrics from Ms. Taylor Swift’s little ditty, “Look What You Made Me Do”:

I don’t like your little games, don’t like your tilted stage

The role you made me play of the fool, no, I don’t like you

I don’t like your perfect crime, how you laugh when you lie

You said the gun was mine, isn’t cool, no, I don’t like you (Oh!)

 

But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time

Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time

I’ve got a list of names, and yours is in red, underlined

I check it once, then I check it twice, oh!

Ms. Swift, who is now 28 and thus full of wisdom and experience, despite her only advanced education being a wish to be famous, also penned these unforgettable lines:

She’s not a saint and she’s not what you think

She’s an actress, She’s better known

For the things she does on the mattress

Soon she’s gonna find stealing other people’s toys

On the playground won’t make you many friends

She should keep in mind, She should keep in mind

There is nothing I do better than revenge

These lines are from her song “Better than Revenge.” Far from longing for her lost love, as in the Berlin song, she is looking to get even. One wonders why she continues to seek relationships with men who seem bound to betray her. Is she a glutton for punishment, or simply an artist looking for inspiration? Of course, she’s by no means alone in her self-involved rants. The current pantheon of popular artists of both sexes has created a new culture of complaint. A good example of how far away we’ve gotten from any kind of romantic impulse is a recent survey that reported that 25 percent of women think a man complimenting them on their looks is committing sexual harassment, as does a single man offering to take an unmarried woman out for a drink.

I must say that I’m in complete agreement with the Lerner and Lowe song that declares “I’m glad I’m not young anymore.”

Finally, I don’t mean to suggest that no good songs are being composed. Broadway is still producing new musicals, although original movie musicals are rare. Many of them have good and even great songs, but they have a limited audience and rarely appear at the top of any charts. Before the rock and roll era, many of the hit songs came from Broadway and Hollywood. No more.

I often wish that young people would broaden their tastes to include the great American music of the past, but I increasingly think this is a vain hope for a generation a majority of which can’t even name the three branches of government. In this, they are more like President Trump than they think.

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Copyright 2018, Patrick F. Cannon

 

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “The Way You Look Tonight

  1. There’s nothing better to chase off the gloom of winter’s chill than the image of Donald Trump on stage prancing around and singing:

    I stay out too late
    Got nothing in my brain
    That’s what people say, mm-mm
    That’s what people say, mm-mm

    I go on too many dates
    But I can’t make ’em stay
    At least that’s what people say, mm-mm
    That’s what people say, mm-mm

    But I keep cruising
    Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
    It’s like I got this music
    In my mind, saying it’s gonna be alright

    ‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
    And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, baby
    I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
    Shake it off, I shake it off

    Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
    And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, baby
    I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
    I shake it off, I shake it off

    Hey, hey, hey
    Just think while you’ve been getting down and out
    About the liars, and the dirty dirty cheats of the world
    You coulda been getting down to this sick beat

    My ex man brought his new girlfriend
    She’s like “Oh, my God!” but I’m just gonna shake it
    To the fella over there with the hella good hair
    Won’t you come on over baby we could shake, shake, shake (Yeah, oh)

    ‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
    And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, baby (Haters gonna hate)
    I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
    I shake it off, I shake it off

    Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
    And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, baby
    I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
    Shake it off, I shake it off

    Like

  2. Pat, Loved this one and totally agree. I’m sure you know that I’m a huge Roy Rogers fan and Trigger. I watch his movies everyday on YouTube. they are always great – wholesome, funny (sometimes), and a lot of music. Did you know that Happy Trails is going to Broadway – celebrating Roy & Dale’s life?
    Judy

    Liked by 1 person

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