Saturday, April 18, 2015

I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)

Easy on the piano, but hard to sing

I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)
Music by Hoagy Carmichael
Words by J.B. ?
Key Bb Major

Another song of the "I'm not in love" variety. Country songs have tested this approach and found it flawless. A narrator explains that he has gotten over his recent love. He doesn't love her anymore. He's healed. He only looks at her picture on the wall because he's wondering what he should replace it with. He only thinks about her because he's hoping she's doing well. He's totally and completely over the heartbreak...but if she wants to get back together then he'd consider it. Under certain conditions. I should gather a list of this kind of song.**

It's a pretty funny approach because the listener understands that the whole premise of the song, the affirmation that the narrator is not heartbroken, is false, so the song becomes a confession of how he's trying but has failed to stop loving the person who has stopped loving him. He actually loves her more than ever.

As a connoisseur of heart-break that borders on a fetish, I enjoy these songs. If I had someone to sing it correctly then I expect most people would instantly track this tune down. Not only is the song in the hellish key of Bb Major but it's too broad a melody, the notes are perfectly placed within a range I can't really navigate. The high notes are too high, so I drop everything down an octave, and that makes the low notes too low. So then I end up crossing octaves randomly. A bit painful. I might try to program my piano to transpose this to D Major but I doubt it will help.*

They hunted and found the poet

 The author of the poem was a mystery, so they published the song sheet in 1939 with a huge question mark on the front, but it was written by Jane Brown, who died the night before the song was broadcast on the radio (so the legend goes). Hoagy Carmichael did try to find out who wrote the poem that his friend had found in a 1924 Life Magazine and passed it along to Hoagy and I guess it makes sense that the person was dead because it took some 15 years for Hoagy to write the music and by that time the person was dead. But the fact it was in Life Magazine would've made it hard to pretend no one would notice the similarities. Hoagy smartly decided to turn it into a marketing campaign. That's real Indiana honesty since if he had pretended to have written all the lyrics he might've gotten away with it since he did edit the poem to fit the song and the sentiments are kind of generic. But he was honest and maybe Brown's family got some royalties. A similar case happened with Cole Porter's song "Don't Fence Me In", which I plan to record soon because it might be the song that perfectly portrays my musical preferences, witty western swing, with Cole Porter's attitude. Porter bought the lyrics as a poem, rewrote them and then could not claim dual credit, so he took all the credit for the lyrics. But the writer of the poem sued and now has credit.

I've been listening to Cole Porter lately and I'm thinking he influenced Carmichael or they influenced each other as they were both from Indiana, born 128 miles apart, but Carmichael was about 8 years younger and didn't have the bon-vivant Roaring Twenties and Gay Thirties lifestyle. He stayed in New York while Porter ranged far and wide. But they both had Broadway musicals produced during the depths of Prohibition and both had a peculiar Ziegfeld song style. I understand Cole Porter is not celebrated that much in his home town of Peru, possibly because he was gay, but I'm thinking that has little to do with it because if you go to Bloomington, Indiana you will find an equivalent modest historical tribute to Hoagy Carmichael, who was equally as famous, but was not gay. It's simply not in the Hoosier mentality to celebrate their native sons beyond a plaque at the town line. That kind of fawning over the past is too Californian. Still, their respective towns celebrate them both...Porter Festival. Carmichael sometimes has a Festival in November in Bloomington.

This particular composition is high quality. It's never repetitive but the little pieces all assemble something memorable. That's what happens when the lyrics were someone else's and Carmichael was thinking differently. It's a little disjointed so the challenge becomes a singer's ability to make it their own.

I was actually going for a Tom Waits rendition but here's a Frank Sinatra version if you want to know what it's supposed to sound like. I thought this was kind of an undiscovered song because I had personally never heard it, but I see everyone has recorded it. Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Nina Simone, etc Chet Baker's version is sweet. When Frank Sinatra and Linda Ronstadt cover a song that probably means I won't be able to sing it. This is one case where my interpretation of this song is almost identical to everyone's. It's melancholy and self-loathing, self-pitying. There's no other way to interpret the lyrics.

*Eb Major turned out to be a better key. So, P5th below.

** I did gather a list of this kind of song and I'll give you my top picks. If I stretched the requirements a little I get more songs of this type but if I'm strictly speaking of songs where the narrator is purely pretending he's doing OK and never mentions his regret then the list is actually short:

I Get Along Without You Very Well - Chet Baker
I'm Not In Love - 10cc
I'm Over You- Keith Whitley
She Thinks I Still Care - George Jones
Don't Get Around Much Anymore - Nat King Cole
Flowers on the Wall - Statler Brothers
Operator - Jim Croce 
Chelsea Hotel - Leonard Cohen
Did She Mention My Name - Gordon Lightfoot

As I said, if I stretched it a little I came up with others but these are specifically the theme of a narrator refusing to admit he's heartbroken, and going so far as to lie about "Something in my eye". The Statler Brothers tune was staring me in the face but because it's got a novelty approach I didn't recognize that the theme of that song is truly that he's so heartbroken that he can't barely leave his room and he plays solitare with an incomplete deck of cards and counts the flowers on the wallpaper. I'm Not In Love is notable because it was recorded with hundreds of overdub vocals creating a chordal effect without instruments. Keith Whitley is a great singer and the tune I'm Over You showcases his talents. Nat King Cole sings with the humor the lyrics demand, like he's shrugging off the fact he doesn't go to parties anymore. Elvis's voice also captures the pain he's feeling. And Jim Croce is more known for his actual love songs or his 'truly happy to be breaking up with you' songs...but Operator was one of his biggest hits and it's about an attempt to call an ex-girlfriend..."So I can call just to tell her I'm fine and to show, I've overcome the blow, I've learned to take it well, I only wish my words could just convince myself that it just wasn't real..." then when he decides to hang up, "There's no one there I really wanted to talk to..."
And Leonard Cohen only thinks of his lover back at the hotel, but, "That's all, I don't think of you that often."

There must be a song of this nature by a female artist but a few by Maria Muldaur didn't quite stay as deliberately aloof as these. Adele recently sang "Someone Like You" which is basically a song saying she let a true love slip through her fingers. Linda Ronstadt had the perfect voice for this song but I can't find one that fits. I couldn't find any female sung tune that is blatantly a pretense trying to hide heartbreak. I guess if I'm going to write am original country song then it would be for a female artist who is heartbroken but is hiding it.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.