Redhead Quickie – Depression Era Series – Pt 4

Several of the poems in The Dream Keeper by Langston Hughes have seasonal themes. Featured on this icy January night is Dreams.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.


Our featured redhead is Mickey Rooney. Rooney starred in over 300 films, his career reaching all the way back to the silent film era. The 5ft-2in Rooney was quite the ladies’ man, and his Andy Hardy series in the 1930’s marked the period of his greatest popularity.

mickey-rooney-judy-garland-1938

Our featured song is Ain’t Misbehavin’ by Fats Waller. The song didn’t apply to Rooney who was married eight times, six of those marriages ending in divorce.

No one to talk with
All by myself
No one to walk with
But I’m happy on the shelf

Ain’t misbehavin’
I’m savin’ my love for you
For you, for you, for you

I know for certain
The one I love
I’m through with flirtin’
It’s just you I’m thinkin’ of

Ain’t misbehavin’
I’m savin’ my love for you

Like Jack Horner
In the corner
Don’t go nowhere
What do I care

Your kisses
Are worth waitin’ for
Believe me

I don’t stay out late
Got no place to go
I’m home about 8
Just me and my radio

Ain’t misbehavin’
I’m savin’ all my love for you

I don’t stay out late
Got no place to go
I’m home about 8
Just me and my radio

Ain’t misbehavin’
I’m savin’ my love for you

  • Writer(s): Andy Razaf, Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller, Harry Brooks

Fats Waller

Redhead Quickie – Depression Era Series – Pt 3

Our featured poem from Langston Hughes is Homesick Blues. Home is not only where the heart is, and it isn’t always a physical location, but is a place where we are most our self. While this poem may not be my favorite, it is the one where I most relate to the speaker, who’s voice and words never leave me.

De railroad bridge’s
A sad song in de air.
De railroad bridge’s
A sad song in de air.
Ever time de trains pass
I wants to go somewhere.

I went down to de station.
Ma heart was in ma mouth.
Went down to de station.
Heart was in ma mouth.
Lookin’ for a box car
To roll me to de South.

Homesick blues, Lawd,
‘S a terrible thing to have.
Homesick blues is
A terrible thing to have.
To keep from cryin’
I opens ma mouth an’ laughs.


Once I settled on the poem and theme, selecting our featured redhead was simple. It had to be Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Her performance of Somewhere Over the Rainbow carries a message and emotions that are universal. This longing stretches across decades of music; Stephanie Mills’ Home, Subterranean Homesick Blues by Dylan, Carole King’s Home Again, and Home by Foo Fighters. During the Great Depression, home was the hope for a return to normalcy.

judy garland

“Over The Rainbow”
Harold Arlen, E. Harburg

Somewhere over the rainbow way up high
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true
Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me
Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow.
Why then, oh, why can’t I?
If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow.
Why, oh, why can’t I?

Redhead Quickie – Depression Era Series – Pt 2

More music and movement from Langston Hughes.

Song for a Banjo Dance

by Langston Hughes

Shake your brown feet, honey,

Shake your brown feet, chile,

Shake your brown feet, honey,

Shake ’em swift and wil’—

Get way back, honey,

Do that rockin’ step.

Slide on over, darling,

Now! Come out

With your left.

Shake your brown feet, honey,

Shake ’em, honey chile.

Sun’s going down this evening—

Might never rise no mo’.

The sun’s going down this very night—

Might never rise no mo’—

So dance with swift feet, honey,

(The banjo’s sobbing low)

Dance with swift feet, honey—

Might never dance no mo’.

Shake your brown feet, Liza,

Shake ’em, Liza, chile,

Shake your brown feet, Liza,

(The music’s soft and wil’)

Shake your brown feet, Liza,

(The banjo’s sobbing low)

The sun’s going down this very night—

Might never rise no mo’.


Our featured redhead is Christina Hendricks, best known for her role as Joan Holloway on Mad Men. The show takes place in the 60’s, but the main character, Don Draper, grew up as Dick Whitman during the Depression, the product of a prostitute mother who died when he was a young boy, and an abusive father. Joan, limited by the attitudes of her times toward women, uses her sexuality to advance her career, but not without emotional consequences.

christina-hendricks-300-4


The featured popular song from this period is “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” by Young and Ahler which became a standard after it was first recorded by Fats Waller and released on May 8, 1935. I’m not sure which cover I recall from my Grandpa’s collection, but the melody was catchy and the lyrics always tickled me.

I’m gonna sit right down
And write myself a letter
And make believe
It came from you.
I’m gonna write words
Oh so sweet,
They’re gonna knock me
Off my feet,
A lot of kisses
On the bottom –
I’ll be glad I got ’em.

I’m gonna smile and say
“I hope you’re feeling better,”
And close “with love”
The way you do.
I’m gonna sit right down
And write myself a letter
And make believe
It came from you.

Redhead Quickie – Depression Era Series

This is a spin off of the “popular” series Redhead Record Review. It is a celebration of the poetry of Langston Hughes and popular American music of the Great Depression.

For those of you who are of the belief that there is nothing new under the sun, this may help to explain why we sometimes feel we are born into the wrong period in history. The post-hippie conservative inflationary 70’s I grew up in probably had a lot in common with the edge of the Jazz Age Roaring Twenties leading into the Great Depression of 30’s America. Some of my earliest and most lasting memories are of my grandfather sharing the music of his youth on old 78’s, Hi-Fi records and reel-to-reel tapes.

The poetry of Langston Hughes, from his 1935 collection The Dream Keeper, echoes the popular music of the times.

langston hughes

Negro Dancers – Langston Hughes

‘Me an’ ma baby’s
Got two mo’ ways,
Two mo’ ways to do de Charleston!’
Da, da,
Da, da, da!
Two mo’ ways to do de Charleston!’
Soft light on the tables,
Music gay,
Brown-skin steppers
In a cabaret.
White folks, laugh!
White folks, pray!
‘Me an’ ma baby’s
Got two mo’ ways,
Two mo’ ways to do de
Charleston!’

Our featured redhead is Mae West. I think she was actually platinum blond, but since photos and movies were in black and white, I can take some liberties. Besides, I already featured Shirley Temple in an earlier post.

Just kidding; representing the period is the great Katharine Hepburn with her performances in Little Women and Morning Glory for which she won an Oscar in 1933.

Katharine-on-the-set-of-Morning-Glory

To lift the spirits of a nation suffering under the weight of desperate times, many of the popular songs featured optimistic and dream inspired melodies and lyrics.

On the Sunny Side of the Street is credited to Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, but there are some who claim that it was actually written by Fats Waller who sold the rights. The song has been covered so many times, with slight variations. I’ve selected an excerpt from a Billie Holiday recording.

On the Sunny Side of the Street

Grab your coat and get your hat
Leave your worry on the doorstep
Just direct your feet
To the sunny side of the street
Can’t you hear a pitter pat
And that happy tune is your step
Life can be so sweet
On the sunny side of the street

I used to walk in the shade
With those blues on parade
But no I’m not afraid
This Rover crossed over

If I never have a cent
I’d be rich as Rockefeller
Gold dust at my feet
On the sunny side of the street

Diane

I drew inspiration, and borrowed theme and structure, from one of my literary heroes. Part One is Langston Hughes’ famous poem, with its enduring image of a raisin in the sun. Part Two is poem for my mother.

Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Diane

What of a dream
that is never dreamed at all?

This undreamed dream—
A son dreamed dream
Does she hunt
by the light of the moon?
Or rust and rot—
on her moorings?

Does it suffocate—
Depressed, compressed
under granite?

Or float softly,
like a sad song in the air?

You Call That Poetry?

I’m not a poet, and I know it. Other than a few story fragments, all I have left of my legacy writings are poems from the same period in my life. My sources of inspiration, then as now, would be the poetry of Langston Hughes, and 30’s era popular song standards such as Paper Moon and On The Sunny Side Of The Street.

Upon searching for the lyrics to Paper Moon to refresh my memory, I realized just how much the sentiment was echoed in my own verse from Is That Real?

It’s a barnum and bailey world
Just as phony as it can be
But it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me

Evidently, these songs resonate somewhere deep inside me. Maybe they are lasting impressions from all of the old 78’s from my mother’s and grandfather’s collection that I listened to as a child. Whatever their source, this music informs my writing and voice.

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