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january 2009

Scene4 Magazine - January 2009 - Special Issue: "The One" - Cole Porter | Lia Beachy

by Lia Beachy

    Oh yes, let them begin the beguine, make them play
    Till the stars that were there before return above you,
    Till you whisper to me once more,
    Darling, I love you!
    And we suddenly know what heaven we're in,
    When they begin the beguine
    "Begin the Beguine" from Jubilee, 1935

My love affair with Cole Porter began while I was growing in the womb, the rhythms and sounds encoded into my DNA by my mother who is an avid jazz lover and singer. My familiarity with the American songbook and the artists who performed it became as second nature to me as brushing my teeth or tying my shoelaces. The highlight of my 21st birthday was the gift of a 3-CD centennial collection of music called You're the Top: Cole Porter in the 1930s.

Cole was and is a part of my soul.  

So while I may have a slight bias, few would doubt that the most influential music created in the last 100 years is jazz. There would be no rock-n-roll or hip hop music without it. And some of the most influential jazz composers/songwriters came out of the popular music from Tin Pan Alley in New York City in the early 20th century. George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Fats Waller, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein are a few of the notable songwriters of the era, but I nominate Cole Porter as the greatest contributor and the most prolific songsmith of modern times.  

    I feel a sudden urge to sing the kind of ditty that invokes the Spring
    So, control your desire to curse while I crucify the verse
    This verse I've started seems to me the 'Tin Pan-tithesis' of melody
    So to spare you all the pain, I'll skip the darn thing and sing the refrain
    The night is young, the skies are clear
    And if you want to go walkin', dear
    It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely
    I understand the reason why
    You're sentimental, 'cause so am I
    It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely
    You can tell at a glance what a swell night this is for romance
    You can hear, dear Mother Nature murmuring low 'Let yourself go'
    So please be sweet, my chickadee, and when I kiss ya, just say to me
    It's delightful, it's delicious, it's delectable, it's delirious,
    It's dilemma, it's de limit, it's deluxe, it's de-lovely  
    "It's De-lovely" from Red, Hot and Blue, 1936

I often see the names Bob Dylan or The Beatles named as great songwriters, but frankly, and no offense to those gents, but they just don't hold a candle to Cole. Because he didn't just write a good melody or a poignant lyric, he did both and he did it song after song after song. He made music that was timeless. And unlike the trite rhymes and stolen beats of most Hip Hop and Rap, Porter's songs were intelligent, witty and completely original.

His songs are constructed with all the basic (and essential) components–verse, bridge, chorus–and music that lingers. Too many pop songs now have no discernible melody to hum and are therefore impossible to remember. Porter's songs have melodic hooks that stay in the brain often with only one listen. And his lyrics, these lyrics that are poetry set to notes, can be deeply haunting or gut-wrenchingly funny. They were sought after by great singers such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald because they allowed these artists to paint the pictures, set the mood, tell the story with their voices. Cole gave them the perfect tools to create a masterpiece every time they put their lips to a microphone.

And most of all, the best and most important part of it all, was that the majority of his songs were about love. Love that is sweet. Love that is giddy. Love that is heartbreaking. Love that is obsession. Love that is life. Love. What else is there?  

    I love the look(s) of you, (and) the lure of you
    The sweet of you, and the pure of you
    The eyes, the arms, and the (that) mouth of you
    The east, west, north, and the (that) south of you
    I'd love to gain complete control of you
    Handle even the heart and soul of you
    Love at least a small percent of me do
    'Cause (Because) I love all of you
    "All Of You" from Silk Stockings, 1954

Listen to the music... and the lyrics!

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©2009 Lia Beachy
©2009 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Scene4 Magazine — Lia Beachy
Lia Beachy is a writer and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


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