Long Live the Queen

14 Dec

I say a little prayer for you ...

Christmas can make you a little blue sometimes.

Searching the iTunes store bears this out:  there are hundreds of versions of  doleful tunes such as “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and my favorite, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is one of the most sadly beautiful popular songs ever written. (Please ignore all the Autotuned versions you’ve been force fed at the mall and give a thoughtful listen to the original sung by Judy Garland … or perhaps Chrissie Hynde’s take if you need a more contemporary but equally wistful version.)

According to composer/lyricist Hugh Martin, his original lyrics were so dour, “Judy was saying, ‘If I sing that to that sweet little Margaret O’Brien, they’ll think I’m a monster!'” He swallowed his pride and rewrote the song–twice, in fact. (Enjoy the full interview with then 92-year-old Martin that includes comparisons of the original lyrics, Judy’s and also Frank Sinatra’s, which were made slightly more upbeat per orders from The Chairman of the Board.)

This December has been melancholy for music fans worldwide – and those in metro Detroit in particular – because of the dread  implications of reports that Aretha Franklin has pancreatic cancer.  As she recovers from surgery, I wish her all the best that medicine, prayer and love have to offer.

As usual when it comes to great music, I’m once again late to the party in learning how amazing this musician is and how influential she continues to be. Typical of many white suburban Southern girls of my era, I didn’t grow up listening to her on the radio. No, no, my first experience with Aretha was … this:

(Ain’t no way she’d wear a greasy pink waitress uniform and scuffs in public anymore. These past few years, Ms. Franklin has been notable for one-of-a-kind fashion choices that defy convention … and the laws of physics. At Obama’s inauguration, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that the most outrageous thing about her outfit was the whirlybird hat.)

Continuing down the Caucasian path, the only Aretha Franklin CD I ever bought was Who’s Zooming Who?, her MTV-era record featuring the poppy “Freeway of Love.” Until recently, the version of “Think” I was most familiar with was sung by Anita Mann, the drag diva featured in one of the plays my partner and I produced in San Francisco in the 1990s (long story). I have a lot of catching up to do … and your song recommendations are most welcome.

As the daughter of a preacher, Aretha would be the first to forgive me for my musical sins. She’d also say that Christmas is not a time for sorrow but a time for celebration, particularly in song. With that, I turn it over to her – bedecked in one of her amazingly indescribable outfits –  to remind us all what joy the holidays can bring.

See you on the flip side …

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One Response to “Long Live the Queen”

  1. Tom Doyle December 20, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    Thank you for that affirmation of the inherent sadness of “Merry Little Christmas.” I think you can tell when a holiday tune (like MLC) emerges from the spirit (if not exact years) of WWII–heard one recently on XM/Sirius about “He’s home for a little while,” capturing the experience of some brief holiday leave.

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