Thursday, December 22, 2011

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Judy Garland in "Meet Me In St. Louis"
At Christmastime a songwriter dreams of writing a Christmastime hit, a yuletide standard, with an eternity of holiday seasons ahead and a lifetime of regular perennial hit royalty checks. Think of Mel Torme’s "Christmas Song." You know it: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire . .  .”  or Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas.”  How about "Blue Christmas?"  “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you . . . " sung by Elvis, the king. These are the songs that make their creators well, which in country music talk is another way of saying flush with cash.
   My husband, who with his Nashville partner, Dave Lindsey, has written a currently number one hit on the bluegrass charts, is yet to pen his yuletide standard. But he’s still trying. Michael is an intellectual sort of songwriter. He doesn’t sit around strumming a guitar and trying words on for size like a regular sort of songwriter. He studies the business of songs, their structure, their power and their writers, like a stock broker studies the market. His research has turned up a fascinating array of facts and figures, many of which lend themselves to interesting conversation, none of which have made us particularly well. Yet.
Noshville Cafe, Nashville

   A couple of months ago we were having breakfast at the Noshville Cafe in Nashville, trying to remember the words to The Lovin Spoonful’s song “Nashville Cats,” which was parodied by Bob Weinstein into the very funny “Noshville Katz.” To pursue such trivia means never to be bored with your longtime companion. There is a portrait of Judy Garland on the wall at the Noshville and Michael was reminded that he’d just read that Hugh Martin, the writer of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” had recently died at the age of 96, which means he had a nice long run of being well. Then Michael said that the original words to the song were so dark that Garland refused to sing them in the film “Meet Me In St. Louis.” The words were modified for the film. When the great Frank Sinatra got around to performing the song, he too, found the words depressing and asked Martin to further modify the next to the final line. Martin did. Instead of, "we'll have to muddle through somehow" it goes “hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” Today, it’s the modified version we hear, not the original, written during the era of the Second World War.
The Lovin' Spoonful
    As Michael and I were attempting to recall the words to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” our waiter came ‘round to refill our coffee cups. Overhearing our conversation he volunteered, “Do you want the revised edition of the song, or the original words that Garland refused to sing because they were too depressing?” Those Nashville Cats!
    So now, for your edification, here are the original words to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas":

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, pop that champagne cork,
Next year we will all be living in New York.

No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more.
                                                    But at least we all will be together, if the Fates allow,
                                                   From now on we'll have to muddle through somehow.
                                                   So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

    As we do indeed muddle along, somehow, the original words seem to ring true again. That line about living in New York? Truly tragic. Have you checked the weather up there lately?
    Besides lots of lively conversation about music, there’s another benefit to living with a songwriter, his head ever aswarm with song lyrics, past, present and future. He is oh so pie-eyed optimistic. He expects everything to turn out all right. Yesterday, for example, he bought a pound of chestnuts, paying homage to Mel Torme’s suggestion of the same roasting on an open fire. No, we don’t have a fireplace. And how the hell do you get those chestnuts out of their hard little shells? Did you know there’s both an outer and an inner shell on chestnuts? All of these small details are beside the point for Michael, whose heart is light, his troubles always out of sight. We have chestnuts. We have palm trees and sunny skies. We’re gonna have ourselves a Merry Little Christmas.

Paste the link below in your browser to see Judy Garland sing the movie version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."

1 comment:

  1. Thank-you for the education today. Wishing your family a MERRY CHRISTMAS.