Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Where Were You?


Technically speaking, I wasn't, yet, at all on the night of Sunday, April 23, 1961 - 53 years ago tonight - but nonetheless I know where I would have wanted to be.

It's also the day on which we celebrate Shakespeare's birthday (450 this year, as I'm sure you've read or heard today), so may be there's just something show-bizzy in the air.  There certainly was that night, when Judy Garland and 3,165 of her closest friends (Ethel Merman, Rock Hudson, Harold Arlen, and Benny Goodman among them) gathered in an intimate little Manhattan boite for a night of song.  That night, Judy Garland did what she as born to do: she sang, a lot, and talked and laughed and even danced, a little, for an audience that was both prepared to adore her and ready to be surprised and thrilled at just what she could do when all the stars aligned.  And aligned they were.

Oh, I know I'm a big old-fashioned Judy Queen.  I'm not ashamed of it.  There's hardly a month goes by that I don't listen to all or part of that concert, and every time I hear something new and thrilling. I can hardly conceive what it must have been like - however many astonishing and marvelous things I've heard in Carnegie Hall, and on that front I've been lucky - to have been one of those 3,165.

Never again would it be so perfect for her, and the next time she galvanized a New York crowd to the edge of riot and beyond she wasn't even there to witness it; Stonewall, of course, happened in the wake of her funeral.  While there may or may not have been a direct connection, there's a fitting poetry to the book-ending of the two events, an elegant night at New York's most elegant hall at the start of the decade and a street uprising of people tired of wondering why, oh, why can't I? at its close.

"I know!" she cries as the crowd goes mad, "I'll sing 'em all and we'll stay all night!"  That night finally ended, but she's still singing them, and taking us with her, on her trolley, to Chicago and San Francisco and down the Swanee, finally, inevitably, over her rainbow.

To me, though, the great moment is "If Love Were All."  She sang it again, just a few years later, on her television show:


Already frailer than in '61, and wearier, she still finds a way to weave some joy into Coward's bleak lyric, perhaps his most Shakespearian: "I believe that since my life began/The most I've had is just/A talent to amuse/Heigh Ho - If love....were....all."  It is all - and even then, sometimes it's not enough.  On April 23, for one night only, in that moment, it was.

6 comments:

  1. Mom and Dad had only been married 8 weeks. I wouldn't make my debut for almost 4 more years. But had I been around, you can bet I'd have done all in my power to be there. I'd like to think we would have rubbed elbows, cheered together, maybe even shed a tear or two in unison.

    Nothing is perfect. Nothing ever will be. But every now and again, some moment, some day or evening, some work comes close. When I realize it, always in hindsight, I take a step back and simply marvel at how near it was.

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  2. I am also a big Judy Queen and I love that album -- not more than her other Capitol albums though (I'm a big fan of the very moody "Alone" -- I love those Gordon Jenkins arrangements). It is sad to think that thing went downhill from Carnegie Hall, albeit slowly at first. Then very fast.

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    1. Of course I mean "after" Carnegie Hall...

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  3. "Life is very rough and tumble for a humble siseuse; One can't betray one's troubles never, whatever occurs..."

    Many a true word, where Miss Garland was concerned. Jx

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  4. Would have been wonderful to be there but I was the weeist of mites at the time. Still thanks to foresight and serendipity that most special of nights was preserved for generations to come so her magic can at least be partially explained to others who came after.

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    1. In some ways, I'm almost glad it wasn't filmed - it becomes an exercise of imagination, trying to conjure it all up...

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