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Yes, I Would Like To Swing On A Star

Bingyoung.jpg picture by BrandoBardot

This doesn't ruin the end of my short, "Bing & Bela" directed by Guy Maddin, but...I choose Bing.

I love Bing. I love Bela. And I love Frank. But there are days I love/revere/ am captivated by Bing the most. Today is one of those days.

There’s a wonderful moment in the musical High Society during which Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra sing an especially rousing version of Cole Porter’s “Well, Did You Evah!”-- a moment I've watched too many times to count. Midway through the charming, inebriated song, in which two “swellegant” party pals swap banter, dish on guests and form a dipsomaniacal camaraderie, Crosby croons to Sinatra with his distinctive “ba ba ba boom” and Sinatra jokes, “Don’t dig that kind of crooning, chum.” “You must be one of the newer fellows,” Crosby answers back.

The idea of Sinatra being one of the “newer fellows” is amusing since, in 1956 (when the picture was released), the big-band, and balladeer musical style of crooning was already on the wane. Sinatra was well on his way to becoming the elder-statesman Chairman of the Board, Elvis would be anointed the King of Rock ’n’ Roll and Bing would be … Bing.

Not that anyone would ever forget Bing Crosby. The crooner, born in Tacoma, Washington, had been cinema’s number one box-office draw from 1944 to 1948 and was an enormous, multi-talented star -- radio, recordings and motion pictures all earning him legions of adoring fans. And like another famous crooner who would count him as an influence (Dean Martin), Crosby had his own cinematic comedy team, making the frequently funny (and underrated) “road” movies with wise-acre Bob Hope. He even won an Academy Award (for Going My Way) and received another nomination for his alcoholic role in The Country Girl.

There’s no denying that Crosby was and is big time. And yet … why does he feel just a little slighted through the years? Like the only moment we enjoy his music is once a year, when we roll out “White Christmas” from our holiday collection of old standards?

binggun.jpg picture by BrandoBardot

Perhaps it’s just how antiquated his music sounds today -- beautifully, mysteriously antiquated, like something emerging from a dream….or a nightmare. In either moody reverie, when listening to the brilliant baritone sing “Pennies From Heaven,” “Ol’ Man River” or “Swinging on a Star,” you feel the music form around you, as if you’re riding on an ethereal echo chamber of air coming from a million miles away. It’s spacey, creepy and charming all at once. Which perfectly explains how effective the song “Mairzy Dotes” becomes in David Lynch's Twin Peaks, when daughter-murdering, Bob-haunted Leland Palmer crazily sings it in the midst of his meltdowns. And then there was that pairing of the two Thin White Dukes -- Bowie and Bing dueting “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” -- ideal.  These were two sexy space aliens keeping Christmas a little bit Christian and a little bit…pagan. As much as I love Frank Sinatra, this kind of cross generational extraterrestrial-ness could have only been created with Crosby.

All of these elements of Crosby are so marvelously powerful, that his music remains (particularly his earlier recordings) ever haunting, ever romantic and, in some instances, ever celestial. As musicologist J.T.H. Mize put it, Crosby could “melt a tone away, scoop it flat and sliding up to the eventual pitch as a glissando, sometimes sting a note right on the button, and take diphthongs for long musical rides.” In short, Crosby sends me. He always does. And not only at Christmas time. Right now, actually.

Comments

sheila

Kim - I love this piece and your analysis of Bing Crosby. // an ethereal echo chamber of air coming from a million miles away. It’s spacey, creepy and charming all at once. // Gorgeous, true.

And in re: Sinatra:
There's that great quote, and I'm paraphrasing - but Bing said once something like, “Sinatra is a singer who comes along once in a lifetime, but why did he have to come along in my lifetime?”

ben schwartz

As to Bing's getting slighted ... I think, like so many of the best of his generation taken for granted today, there's the distance of time, but also their aesthetic of understatement. Crosby, Armstrong, Gary Cooper, Howard Hawks, Wyler, Norman Rockwell, "New Yorker" writers Joseph Mitchel and Sally Benson -- they were all masters of simplicity, understatement, and subtle design. If Orson Welles was right, that "style is why they fall in love you" (paraphrasing here), then their style means you have to pay much closer attention. It's easier to enjoy in the moment, but harder to appreciate than those of more bombastic, affected, insistent, or emotional performers (not that they're less legit).

Max Allan Collins

Lovely, lovely Crosby piece. And so dead on.

Kim, if you haven't heard it, track down the CD BING SINGS WHILST BREGMAN SWINGS. It's from the early '60s and has Bing doing the kind of big-band hip album Bobby Darin and Sinatra were doing at the time (Bregman was involved with Darin's THAT'S ALL and THIS IS DARIN, his career highpoints). Bing seems modern as all get out on that one....

Publicist Bing Crosby Enterprises

Thanks - if you'd like to hear more Bing, visit us at www.BingCrosby.com - we've announced some newly remastered goodies, some of which has never been on records as it's taken from his self-produced radio programs! Enjoy!

Jeffrey

"There’s no denying that Crosby was and is big time. And yet … why does he feel just a little slighted through the years? Like the only moment we enjoy his music is once a year, when we roll out “White Christmas” from our holiday collection of old standards?"

Kim, great piece. Crosby has always had a place in my heart and, along with Nat King Cole, personifies for me all that was good about American music in the 1940s and 1950s.

I think Crosby's legacy is, in part, a victim of the success of "Holiday Inn" and "White Christmas" (the song and movie). So few people care about vocal and swing music anymore that he just doesn't get the exposure he otherwise deserves.

Similarly, how many people under the age of, say, 50 know anything about Jimmy Steward aside from "It's A Wonderful Life"?

Could it be too that the darker aspects of his personal life have tainted his memory more than those of Sinatra's, though the latter's were in many ways much worse?

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