Reading Lists, Sammy Davis Jr. (Jr.) and ‘Mr. Bojangles’

I’m going to dip my toe back into the world of blogging, just to reassure those of you who are kind enough to follow these pages that I’m still around. My college course has been taking up most of my spare time of late as we analyse and discuss a different novel every week. By the time I’ve finished reading whatever the current ‘novel of the week’ is, and taken notes, there’s just enough time left for me to prepare for our Monday morning discussion. Then we start all over again for the following week, with a new novel. Yesterday we discussed Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds and it was definitely the most challenging read so far, as it’s an epic work of metafiction. Some of us loved it and some of us, well, didn’t love it, but that’s ok as there are no right or wrong answers on my course.

For the record, the other novels we’ve studied this term are:
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
and finally,
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

This reading list has been in place for a few years but we reached Everything Is Illuminated, which is set in Ukraine, just at the time of the Russian invasion. As well as reading the novel, I discovered the story had also been made into a film starring Elijah Wood, so I watched that too. What a beautiful country. The most fertile farmland in Eastern Europe punctuated by some of the world’s most beautiful cities, which are now being razed to the ground – So, so sad.

Elijah’s foil in the film is the very likeable character Alex played by Ukrainian actor/musician Eugene Hütz. Alex was Elijah’s tour guide for the duration of his visit to Ukraine and he regales our hero with stories about his life, and his passion for American pop culture. He has a unique command of the English language and although we always understand what he means, the words he uses are often very literal which leads to some very amusing exchanges between the characters, which lightened the otherwise heavy subject matter pertaining to another very hard time in Ukraine’s history. Alex’s grandfather is their driver, and he brings along with him his slightly deranged dog, Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. named in honour of his favourite Rat Packer. What could possibly go wrong?

Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. hogging the boot

But this is a music blog so where’s the song? Well, I imagine you can guess where I’m going with this one. It occurred to me after watching the film that Sammy Davis Jr. has never appeared on these pages despite the fact I often return to the 1960s around here, a period during which he was very successful. Sammy Davis Sr., his father, was also in ‘the business’ and Sammy first joined the family trio on stage at the very young age of three. He certainly was multi-talented becoming a singer, dancer, actor, comedian, author, film producer and television director. His journey through the decades wasn’t always easy, although his popularity did help break down the race barrier in the American entertainment industry.

My memories of Sammy Davis Jr. are mainly from seeing him pop up on mainstream light entertainment television shows of the ’60s and ’70s but of course he also appeared in film musicals, one of which being 1969’s Sweet Charity, which I have always loved. The Rhythm of Life sequence, where Charity and Oscar find themselves in an alternative church presided over by a preacher called Big Daddy (played by Sammy), is one of the best in the movie. A good few years ago now DD was part of a local musical theatre group and at their annual show they performed The Rhythm of Life for the finale. I had helped her rehearse at home and of course we both ended up learning the very fast-paced lyrics. On the night, when they all sang in harmony, it gave the audience goose-bumps. Possibly explains how I thought of it today.

Sadly my digital library has let me down as I don’t seem to have a copy of Sammy’s version of The Rhythm of Life from Sweet Charity, and not easy to find amongst all the other versions available to purchase online either. What I do have however is a copy of Mr. Bojangles, which became a bit of a signature song for Sammy. Ironically the song was written about a homeless, tap-dancing white man who had found himself in a prison cell, and who called himself Mr Bojangles, that name taken from Bill “Bojangles” Robinson the highest paid African-American entertainer in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. A song that really tugs at the heartstrings.

Mr. Bojangles by Sammy Davis Jr.


I often sit down not knowing how a blog post is going to turn out and this one is a case in point. My college reading list led me to a film, which in turn led me to one of the Rat Pack. Didn’t see that coming when I got up this morning but I’ve enjoyed rewatching that scene from Sweet Charity as well as Sammy’s performance of Mr. Bojangles.

Has anyone read any, or all, of the books on my reading list? If you have, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. I have an essay to write on one of them and I’m still not sure which I’m going to choose (although I know it won’t be Flann O’Brien’s book as just far too complex for my feeble mind).

As for the beautiful cities of Ukraine, we have all seen images on the news which are heart-breaking. Eugene Hütz who plays Alex in the EIL film is part of an American punk rock band called Gogol Bordello formed in 1999 by musicians from all over the world. Following the Russian invasion, Hutz released a video on social media condemning what had happened. The band have organised a benefit concert and are currently planning a benefit tour.

Until next time…

Mr. Bojangles Lyrics
(Song by Jerry Jeff Walker)

I knew a man
Bojangles
And he’d dance for you
In worn out shoes
With silver hair
A ragged shirt
And baggy pants
He would do the old soft shoe
He could jump so high
Jump so high
And then he’d lightly touch down

I met him in a cell
In New Orleans, I was
Down and out
He looked to me to be the very eyes of age
As the smoke ran out
Talked of life, lord that man talked of life
Laughed, clicked his heels and stepped

He said his name was “Bojangles”
And he danced a lick
Right across the cell
He grabbed his pants
Took a bitter stance
Jumped up high
That’s when he
Clicked his heels
Then he let go a laugh
Lord, he’d let go a laugh
Shook back his clothes all around

Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles

Mr. Bojangles
Dance

He told me of the times
He worked with minstrel shows
Throughout the south
He spoke with tears
Of fifteen years
How his dog and he
They travel all about
The dog up and died
Dog up and died
And after twenty years he still grieved

He said “I dance
Now and every chance a
Honkey-tonk
For drinks and tips
But most of the time
I spend behind these country bars
You see son, I drinks a bit”
He shook his head
As he shook his head
I heard someone
Say please, please, please

A-Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles

Mr. Bojangles
Dance

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

10 thoughts on “Reading Lists, Sammy Davis Jr. (Jr.) and ‘Mr. Bojangles’”

    1. He certainly was. Watching those clips I was reminded of his very distinctive dancing style but hey, he’d been dancing on stage since the age of three so he was a real pro.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m in genuine awe that you can get through a novel a week, as I’m such a slow reader and way too easily distracted. I’ve got three books on the go at the moment and a small stack building up beside me awaiting my attention – this in spite of the fact that I once promised myself that I wouldn’t buy anymore until I’d caught up with my hefty backlog. I’m a hopeless case!

    As your local Dylan correspondent, I feel it incumbent to mention that Bob recorded a very credible cover of Mr Bojangles in 1970 (only a couple of years after Jerry Jeff Walker released the original version), which eventually saw the light of day three years later on an otherwise underwhelming odds & sods compilation, imaginatively entitled ‘Dylan’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s been a record for me too Swede and I don’t know how the full-time students are coping (to be honest I don’t think they are as I seem to be the (Zoom) class swot who always has everything prepared and has her hand up all the time – they all probably hate me!). Once this module is finished I’ll be back to one novel per month no doubt but it’s been a really enjoyable semester.

      I noticed on YouTube that Bob had recorded a version of Bojangles. I like a ‘compare and contrast’ so I’ll include it here. It certainly is a much more pared down version and less Rat-Packish – Probably suits the lyrics better but I do also like Sammy’s version.

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  2. Sorry, so much to catch up on in all the blogs but at last more time today to get to them properly and comment. Very impressed by your reading, Alyson! – as TS says, in awe that you can read a novel a week – and to take them in thoroughly enough to discuss too. I confess to having given up on books if they don’t grab me early on, so it must be great discipline to have to finish them however you feel about them. Very interesting to read here about ‘Everything Is Illuminated’ but so incredibly poignant too. I’m just about able to read the news again now after giving myself an essential pause and coming to terms with it, but still limiting myself. It seemed healthier in pre-rolling news days when we could only catch up on things a couple of times a day via the TV or a daily paper, and I’m trying to keep to a similar approach. Hope you’re doing ok with everything too…

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    1. The ‘book-a-week’ stage has finished and now it’s the essay. I’ve spent all day on my chosen essay question and think I may have backed the wrong horse so to speak. Unlike some of my classmates I did actually read all of the novels and did all the homework, so trying to pick just one aspect of one book was always going to be hard and I’m struggling. If I do a quick google search there are endless sites that can help you out but of course there are checks and balances in place nowadays to (quite rightly) prevent plagiarism, so I’m a bit terrified to use any of them. Back to reading some very dry academic journals which use 20 ‘big words’ to say something like, ‘the book’s setting’, the chronotope apparently!

      I’m not using EIL for my essay but finding the film was a real treat – Would recommend it. It makes me so sad to think that beautiful country is now being destroyed. Yes, the rolling news of today can cause real anxiety so best avoided if you can. Not burying your head in the sand either just a survival technique.

      I hope to return to more regular blogging once my course is finished. A bit less book and film blogging needed around here, and a bit more music I think. No need to apologise. I’m behind myself on visiting the various blogs and even had to miss Saturday Snapshots to prioritise the essay writing. Just had a look though and it seems you (nearly) got the link. Well done.

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  3. A book a week, wow; even when I was at my most prolific – peak reading, if you will – I was reading three novels a month. I bought a cracking book in Albuquerque last month – a book of New Mexican/Hispanic short stories by Nasario Garcia. I think you’d like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The last essay of the term went in this morning so I’m free again. This was an intense semester and the reading of the book was just the first part, then we had to do the analysis and prepare notes for the discussion during class. Feeling a bit giddy at what I’ve achieved actually.

      So, the wanderer returns. Hope you had a fantastic time and a great idea to buy a book set in the place you’ve visited. (The chronotope apparently – a new one on me this last week). We look forward to hearing about your trip.

      Like

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