Friday, May 29, 2015

Desert Island Discs (BBC Radio Program Celebrities, 1950s-1980s)

Hello out there!

Sorry for the extended radio silence! As was foretold in my initial job swap post a couple months ago, I knew that in my new boulot I would have less and less time for putting together a daily blog, but good GOSH I had no idea how little. At my present job, I'm in charge of the French Canadian materials (working with titles entirely in French), and while I knew the language wouldn't be an impediment, I didn't knnnnoooowww about the cataloging. Lord above, I did not know about the cataloging. I've been committing Library of Congress numbers to memory like I was actually in an MLS program. Except without a teacher. Or a textbook. I appreciate you, Internet, like I never thought I would before (shout out to my best friend, Class Web). While I'm excited to be using library skills and slinging books and stackin' bills, I have miiiiiiissed talking to you all. So I thought I would try to pop in on a more usual basis with more of the vintage ephemera and ephemeron (apparently, like candelabra and candelabrum, I've been using that wrong lo these many years), because ain't I just bustin' with things to tell you.

Liiiiiike....Desert Island Discs.

Like this, only with more excitement. J/k: exactly this exciting.

A lot of the work is assessing titles for readership or trying to decide what goes where and to whom in terms of academic libraries, but when you get into a particular run of a series or of a type of book, you can kind of put your mind on autopilot as you methodically enter the same numbers and information for consistency across titles. This means lots of time for things that are aurally but not visually stimulating. I listened to scads of old scary radio drama and audiobooks and TV5 French radio streaming before I found that the BBC offers mp3 downloads or even streaming of their programmes. I'm not a huge anglophile, but the BBC has been doing radio longer and better than we have (excluding a golden age in America's 1930's and 40's) pretty much since its inception. Programs on history, well produced and researched, abound.

While I was nosing around looking for something slightly more my speed than the royals, I ran headlong into a programme called Desert Island Discs, created in 1942 and subsequently helmed for decades by broadcaster Roy Plomley. As everyone o'erseas probably already knows, it visits the familiar concept of "what you would take with you on a desert island" by confining a celebrity interviewee to eight records, one book besides the Bible and Shakespeare, and one comfort item. In between, the interviewer chats with the subject about their career and life, sometimes unearthing pretty candid and interesting facts. I made a master list of ones to which I'd like to listen (and with 500 + to choose from, it's a good starter list if you ask me) which I'll post at the end of this blog, but why not walk with me through some of the celebrities I took time to listen to this week? 99% guaranteed you'll like it (or your money back)! Click through the hyperlinks to listen along as I point out some highlights.


Where else could I start but with one of the most famous names I recognized on the list, America's boy next door Jimmy Stewart. What's so interesting about listening to James Stewart in interviews is that he sounds exactly the Frank like you thought he would sound-- warm, boyish, slightly reserved, folksy, endearing, His musical tastes run almost exactly to what you'd think they would, too, littered with big band favorites and WWII themes. 

About the 20 minute mark, you get a doozy of a song selection, "Rollin' On", a tie-in single from the western Cheyenne Social Club. Costar, fellow movie great, and lifelong best friend Henry Fonda takes the duet and recreates some of his screen dialogue...and though, even between the two of them, they are painfully bad singers, you can't help but think it's sweet he would include such a GODAWFUL record in the seven platters he gets to take onshore with him so he could remember how much fun he had making a movie with his friend.

Seven, you say? I thought they got to take eight discs, you might be thinking to yourself. I'll clear that up now by explaining Stewart chose a single song as number 4 AND 5 ...two of his eight "Don't Cry Joe (Let Her Go, Let Her Go, Let Her Go)" by the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra. Bless his Irish heart, I want to make sure I have a maudlin break up song to listen to not once but twice in the eight song canon I'm able to take with me. "I just love the tune, and I find myself hummin' it every once in awhile."

Do you forget sometimes James Stewart made four Hitchcock pictures? Count 'em, Rope, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Rear Window, tying Cary Grant (also four) for the most male leads in Hitch's suspense plays. Stewart clears up the interviewers assertion that Hitchcock once said, "All actors are cattle" with the correction, "No, he said 'All actors should be treated as cattle.' " Better? Ehhh, not really. But next time I get to be an auteur, I'll question auteur theory, right? Right.

J-stew ends the interview by saying that he a) could probably rig up shelter, b) wouldn't mind fishing, and c) would wait to be rescued. Bravo, Jimmy! I wish we had another broadcast to spend together.

Book: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (resourceful!)
Luxury: Family photo album (awwwwww)
Single disc: "Dream" by the Pied Pipers. (he left behind two copies of "Don't Cry Joe"! Wonders never cease).

Act like you didn't know Louis Armstrong, the old Satchelmouth himself, wouldn't be one of the most interesting interview subjects on the show. Raised in New Orleans' famous redlight district, Storyville, the celebratory shooting of his father's pistol on  New Year's Eve landed him in reform school, where he found his true love, the trumpet, in the waifs' school band. And it just got more and more colorful from there, as far as I can tell-- listening to Buddy Bolden's band down at Funky Butt Hall (could I make this up? No) and rising to prominence in orchestras for King Olivier and Fletcher Henderson before striking out on his own with his "Hot Five". AND SO HOT did they play folks...if you want real New Orleans jazz, the mainline drug is 1930's era Louis Armstrong.

Primed to listen to a great interview, I wondered how the people in England in 1968 could even understand what he was saying throughout most of the experience. Between his word choice, the gravelly tone of his voice, and Louisiana elisions, it would definitely prove a challenge to a non-American ear. To me, he sounds 110% like my grandaddy on my mother's side, a Nashville native with vocabulary bank that held more words-for-things-you-would-have-to-figure-out-was-a-word-for-a-thing than anyone I have probably ever met. And charm, Lord. I kept sitting up with genuine delight to the way Louis, like my grandaddy, would turn a phrase so strangely yet so descriptively, you couldn't help but wish everyone talked like that. Best line, in describing co-star Barbra Streisand's performance on the soundtrack to "Hello Dolly":
Here's Madame Streisand here...she singin' up a brilliant...look like she tryin' to outsing everybody this year...just left a big sequence in her movie..Hello Dolly, where she and I walk arm and arm singin' Helllooooo's gonna hang you when you hear it. But right now, she don't have that record, so let's put "People" on, she sing it too
You're gonna like it so much you're gonna die, sure, but go ahead and conjure up this tarot card next time you listen to "Hello Dolly", hahaha.

Actual best part of the interview-- most of the records he's going to take with him are his own. HIS OWN, PEOPLE. And for a book, about my own book? "It's good to pat yourself on the shoulder ever' once an' a while." We should pretty much all be like Satch.

Book: His own autobiography
Luxury: Trumpet
Single disc: Blueberry Hill by Louis Armstrong and his All Stars

(everybody else's answers go home, Louis just won)

Confession: I am c-o-m-p-l-e-t-e-l-y obsessed with James Mason right now. So, so irritatingly -to-others interested in his movies and his life, after happening across a collection of interviews he did in the seventies' on Youtube. My poor friends and family have been hearing nothing but individual critiques of his entire film career for the last three weeks, with no end in sight (at 154 screen credits, I'd wager I've seen 30 of those in the aforementioned time period). When I get on a tear, I get on a tear. But imagine my surprise when I was going through the list and saw Mason sat in Plomley's chair three years before his death in 1984...still sharp as a tack and eloquent as the day is long. It's interesting to hear someone actually erudite use language like a fine-tuned instrument. In my adult life, there's nothing that gets under my skin worse than someone using vocabulary poorly in an attempt to look more intelligent and failing parlously by dint of that misuse. Betting that whoever they're speaking with doesn't have even as rudimentary of a grasp on the word "phantasmagoric" or "chiaroscuro", as they do, they blunder on, writing out "agnostic" when they meant "ambivalent", "gesticulate" when they meant "gestured". If you're even a little unsure of how to use that word in a sentence, ask someone who does, GOOGLE IT, or please, PLEASE STRIKE IT FROM USE. There's an egghead somewhere who will thank you. [end public service announcement]

To that end, I can't lie, I've been jotting down turns-of-phrase by Mason that are curious but correct. See if you can spot the hidden gems in this extract:
Yes, well you mentioned brung up the subject of bag pipes [chuckles] ...which bewitch me. I might just remind you that this was played with tremendous effect at Winston Churchill's funeral, do you remember? And they came out of St. Paul's and into the march again and piped up "My Home" and it was just...shattering. This is the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
Answer: "which bewitch me" and "to tremendous effect" said with perfect ease, in that GORgeous voice. Daffy about this actor right now. I've been writing down things all week to tell you about, so I'll be back with that another time, but for now, his choices-- boring, boring, more boring. Except that Billie Holiday and Nabokov, I can't say I'd agree with any of these, but... stillcallmeJamesMasonIdidntmeanwhatIsaid. :)

Book: Ada by Vladimir Nabokov
Luxury: Guitar
Single disc: My Man by Billie Holiday

As for me? If I had half a chance to go on this show I'd take it, though I'm not sure what I'd talk about career wise ("I had a CRAZY book about Mesopotamian medicine the other boil a lizard and then grind it up with a papyrus describing your sickness, and its spirit runs down to cure you!"
--> true), but I have my discs lined up (or at least a working list). Note: lots of these songs do not appear on the record in my pictogram. Also note: don't care.

  • "When You Rock and Roll with Me" David Bowie
  • "Heart and Soul" Huey Lewis and the News
  • "Jezebel" Charles Aznavour
  • "The Man That Got Away" Judy Garland
  • "One for My Baby and One More for the Road" Frank Sinatra 
  • "Sisters of the Moon" Fleetwood Mac
  • "Loving Cup" Rolling Stones
  • "It's Been a Good Year for the Roses" George Jones
Book: A Pictorial History of the Talkies by Daniel Blum. You're allowed Shakespeare and the Bible, so I can read those, and look at/remember my movies.
Luxury Item: Typewriter and paper. Not to be pretentious, but because I would need it work without electricity.
Single disc: Uuuuughhh....probably "The Man That Got Away". But I am already dissatisfied with only eight songs.

And here's your list, if you can make out my handwriting-- had every intention of typing it; not going to type it.

Well! I gotta get, but let me know what you think about these star choices and my own. What would yours be? Which of the celebrities are you the most excited to check out? Have you heard any audio-only, spoken word type things I need to know about lately? Let's taaaaalk.

Hope to see you again much sooner than the last time! Take care! 'Til then.

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