Some Really Old Oldies

Those of you loyal readers and listeners,  all 10 or 12 of you who follow my blog or chance to sit in on one of my readings, have probably realised by now that I have a great fondness for old music, the goofier the better.   Being a bit of a lowbrow I especially love the really old Vaudeville and British Music Hall entertainments.

True, I also enjoy the classics. I can get as fired up as anyone when the first notes of  “Toreador, O Toreador” ring out, and I get downright weepy over the rich voices of Dame Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas, but my real love is for the oldest of the Oldie Moldies.

As I headed for a shower one recent morning (it happened to be a  Sunday) I suddenly found myself belting out one of my favorites:

“From the Indies to the Andes in his undies,

Oh he nevah took a bawth except on Sundays.

He nevah took a shave except on Mondays.

And he didn’t eat a thing but chocolate sundaes.

“T’was a veddy veddy daring thing to do.”

Now that’s a classic! And right up my alley.

Originally a poem, it was put to music and became a standard in British Music Hall entertainment and American Vaudeville.  Both Music Halls and Vaudeville flourished from the mid 1800s to the 1930s when silent movies became talkies and took over their popularity.

Some of the zaniest songs of the day, including “From the Indies,”  started out as poems and were later set to music. Does anyone besides me remember “Abdul Albulbul Amir” and its many verses? Sheik Abdul and his arch enemy, Count Ivan Skivinsky Skvar, fought their way  through 25 or 30 verses before Ivan was finally dispatched into the Black Sea wearing cement boots. Their duel made a great song.

Another huge hit in Music Halls that had started out as a poem was  the great Gracie Fields sensation:

“The Biggest Aspidistra In The World.  It Stood Beside The Wotnot By

The ‘at Rack  In The “all.”

Gracie would stretch out the first syllable, ASs-s-s pidistra,  just long enough to get the big laughs. Her audiences loved her. A cockney accent was a must in those days.However, one of the most famous of the Music Hall performers, Sir Harry Lauder, was a rare exception with his heavy Scottish burr. He was a huge success in both England and Scotland. I’m not sure if he ever performed in American Vaudeville.

Among other favorites of those early years were Lilly Langtry and Sydney and Charlie Chaplin,  who went on to become huge stars on the stage and in American Vaudeville.

Some of the most famous performers who made it big in movies and early television got their start in vaudeville. I was surprised to learn that Don Ameche started out as a comedian.  Frank Fay, Fred Allen, Abbott and Costello, the Andrews Sisters , Fred Astaire with his sister, Adele, and Robert Alda were all seasoned vaudevillians. One of the Gumm Sisters found fame as Judy Garland, and Mickey Rooney performed as a child with his father, Joe Yule.

Al Jolson was one of the biggest stars of all with his resonating voice. His black-face humor and his speciality song,  “Mammy,” would never be accepted in today’s world but people loved him back then. Eddie Cantor, of course, had no problem breaking into early television.  One of his trademark songs, “Barney Google with the Goo Goo Googly Eyes,” was unforgettable, as were Eddie’s own enormous googling eyes.

I’m not a great Country-Western fan although I do have a fondness for some of the goofiest of those tunes. Hank Williams senior had a classic that was my favorite.

“I Picked Her Up In A Pickup Truck On The Tennessee Bor-DER”  was always good for a laugh.

However, I just came across a new C-W that is billed as “The Perfect Country-Western Song” and it  just may become my new favorite. Supposedly it has everything needed to become the best. You decide;  It goes like this:

“I was drunk the day my Mama got out of prison

And I went to pick her up in the rain.

But before I could get to the station in my pickup,

She got runned over by a damned old train.”

I haven’t heard the music to this yet but the words have to be a winner.

On the other hand, maybe I’ll just stick with the old Music Hall and Vaudeville tunes, all tried and true.  They’re hard to beat.

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The Awful Truth about Ageing

They never give us the real low-down,  those advertisers, authors and authorities who make a living catering to any adults who have passed the ripe old age of fifty.  FIFTY!  I ask you!   Fifty is barely the prime of life! Most of us are just beginning to think we should get serious about our futures.  Our kids are on their way to finding their own lives and mortgages are being paid off as we catch that first glimpse of old age off in the distant future.

Gently gilded ladies in heels, and lightly silvered gentlemen with maybe a wrinkle or two here or there, start pitching financial planning, retirement communities, medications and other lucrative angles to ageing. They’re invariably engaged in dancing, tennis, golf, horseback riding, hiking, biking, swimming or sailing, They happily smile out at us with perfect teeth and they never wear glasses or holler  “HUH?” as they hold a hand up to their ear.

And we think to ourselves, “That doesn’t look so bad.  I can handle this old age stuff.”  Even the actors portraying the unfortunate souls who show up on television stretched out on the floor calling for help don’t look a day over sixty. Their attire is always fresh and neat, hairdos in place.

What about us, the real age afflicted, who’ve begun to suspect that The Golden Years are badly tarnished? Why don’t the illustrations show us as we really are? We’re out here in our faded sweats with the baggy knees, creaking and groaning as we work our way out of our recliners, wrinkled, bent over and anxiety-ridden.

We eagerly scan the magazine articles, watch the TV ads and listen to the spiels for medications for every ailment known to humankind, wanting to believe the hype. We can watch with relief as our money grows; all we need to do is invest with such and such a company, investment banker or credit union. We can revisit our younger years in carefree comfort just as soon as we get settled into  “Heavenly Haven, Home To Active Adults”  or  “Eden For The Elderly.”  We might even enjoy perfect health once again, just by using their advertised product.

Who would have dreamed the human body could suffer so many varied afflictions? We used to get the rheumatiz, the grippe, the gripes, or possibly a skin problem, quickly eased by a liberal rub down with Raleigh’s Salve. Hot packs, mustard plasters or Carter’s Little Liver Pills were other treatments of choice.

Nowadays we’re offered a miraculous panacea for every  possible joint, organ and bone we have. Our medicine cabinets overflow with tiny containers we can’t get open without a hammer and pliers, and slippery bottles of vile colored liquids concocted to cause, not cure, stomach aches. Still, hope springs eternal, as the old saying goes, and we use them all.

So do we end up looking like the vigorous, youthful models who supposedly represent us?  Well, let’s put it this way, if the shower has steamed up the bathroom mirrors enough, and we’ve misplaced our trifocals, there’s a slight possibility of recognizing our younger selves.

Just don’t count on it.

On the other hand, could a balding codger with a shaky voice inspire enough confidence to peddle tooth whitener by removing his full set of dentures and dropping them in a glass full of the product being pitched?

Would you be interested in moving into a senior residence where everyone sat around dozing in a wheelchair or staring at a wall? How  about negotiating at a Savings and Loan with a blue haired old dear who admitted she’d flunked math every year since the fifth grade?

Maybe the ad-men know what they’re doing with the younger, more glamorous representatives, and we can believe what we want to.

THE SEVEN AGES OF WOMAN: In Collaboration with Will Shakespeare, Feminist

(The Seven Ages Of Man, from Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT, was read recently at a reading group I belong to.  Someone suggested I rewrite it for women. Never one to resist a challenge, this is my effort.)

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players.

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one woman in her time plays many parts,

Her act being seven ages.

At first the infant, mewling and puking on her father’s chest.

And then the texting schoolgirl with her Smartphone and eager Facebook face,  gnawing on blue nail,  fearful of the maths.

And then the maiden,  blushing as a setting sun,  a-quiver as an arrow to the heart, streaming ballads moaned by lusty, yearning swains.

Then a soldier, proud of loyal oath,  clad in boot and camo,  medaled in valor – sudden and quick with lipstick and scent,  seeking the foul foe  even as her chopper tangles blonded tress.

And then the matron with fair girdled hip,  with rich cocoa bean padded,  with eyes mascaraed  and stilettos of risky cut,  full of self and full of worthy deeds, and modern in her romance.  And so she plays her part.

The sixth age shifts into the plump and slippered pantsuit,  with spectacles on nose and cane at hand.  Her youthful jeans poorly saved,  a world too tight for her rounded shank;  and her high, squeaky voice turning again toward childish lisp, pipes and whistles in her sound.

Last scene of all, that ends this strange, eventful history is second childishness and mere oblivion, mewling and puking on her caregiver’s shoes,

sans teeth,

sans eyes and ears,

sans most of her hair,

sans balance and muscle tone,

sans wit and common sense,

sans sandals and shift,

sans credit card and savings account,

sans love life,

sans dreams,

sans everything worth a darn.