An American Odyssey in Song: Connecticut – Ben Folds and “Kylie From Connecticut”

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song. For anyone new to this place, I have a continuous route map where I enter and leave each state only once. Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Last time we visited the State of Rhode Island which means this time we will be entering the southernmost state in the New England region, Connecticut (another tricky one to spell because of the silent “c”). I for one am quite glad we’ve reached this point, as when I decided to start this trip in Maine, New England I hadn’t really considered that there would be slim pickings when it came to songs associated with that region. I am starting to think that settlers to those states perhaps did not have such a rich musical heritage as those who took up residence in the Southern or Appalachian Mountain states, but we’ll find out a bit more about that when we get there.

connecticut

The whole of Connecticut’s shoreline faces Long Island so rather than looking out to the open Atlantic, the large “sound” created because of that particular geography, makes it an ideal strategic location for submarines. Long Island Sound is therefore the Submarine Capital of the World. Although fairly rural to the east of the state, the southern and western parts are very much part of the New York metropolitan area. The main industries are Finance and Insurance and the state has the highest per capita income and median household income in the country. To use UK counties as an analogy, it sounds like the Surrey of the USA.

Difficult to write anything quirky or interesting about Connecticut at all however, as it just sounds so damn affluent and respectable. Perhaps a look into figures from popular culture will inspire me. It was where spoilt little rich girl Rachel Green from the TV show Friends hailed from. It was also the setting for the satirical thriller The Stepford Wives, where a spunky young photographer mum, played by Katharine Ross, begins to suspect that the frighteningly submissive and beautiful housewives in her idyllic new Connecticut neighbourhood, may actually be robots created by their husbands (she was right). It also seems to be a state where many from the acting profession were born, or were residents, and maybe it’s just me but I can’t help thinking there is something similar about them all…….

Not much music so far and again I didn’t have any ideas of my own for this state. A thorough peruse through the various pages of the world wide web hasn’t really helped either, but fortunately last time a few suggestions came in from friends of this blog. The Swede from Unthought of, though, somehow seemed to remember that Judy Garland and Bing Crosby once recorded a song called Connecticut which turned out to be correct. Listening to the lyrics, it was apparently “the place to be”.

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Bing seems to be making a bit of a regular appearance on this journey as he also featured last time in his guise as Dexter, the (middle-aged) beau of Grace Kelly in High Society. And, this song called Connecticut immediately reminded me of a film starring Bing that I must have watched decades ago, as a child, called A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The film was based on a book by Mark Twain who was himself a long term resident of Connecticut and at one point lived right next door to Harriet Beecher Stowe so not just a place for blonde-haired actors it seems, but also a place for authors of the “Great American Novel”. Here is a clip of the trailer for that film from 1949 – Yep, they just don’t make ’em like that any more.

When thinking about other possible musical associations with Connecticut, it was a bit of a no-brainer that I would feature something by The Carpenters who were also from this state. I featured them recently in another post (link here) but had been building up to doing so for some time, as although they became one of the best-selling acts of the 1970s producing cleverly harmonised, melodic pop of the Easy Listening persuasion, they could never have been described as “cool” or edgy, and however many times we say there should be no guilty pleasures in song, it still takes a brave man (or woman) to come out and say they are indeed fans of that genre.

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This Masquerade by The Carpenters:

Older brother Richard was the creative force behind the duo and was a gifted composer and arranger, but of course it was Karen who had that wonderful deep voice that communicated the words of whatever she sang in such a melancholy way. It is only recently that I’ve been able to start listening to Carpenters albums again, as I still find it really upsetting that she died so young from the illness anorexia nervosa.  We knew so little about that particular illness back then but it just goes to show that however perfect things look on the outside, there can also be all sorts of inner turmoil – This Masquerade that can be life.

And so this leads me on to the final featured song. It has been quite some time since I’ve written an American Odyssey post and that was partly because I really struggled to find something to write about this state at all. I do hope that any residents of Connecticut who stumble upon this blog do not take offence, but the vibe I get from this state is that it may well be the most affluent place to live, and it may have a great university and great jobs in banking and finance BUT behind closed doors, is all well with the residents of Connecticut? Throughout our fairly lengthy marriage, Mr WIAA and I have actively tried to avoid living in an area (and every town has them) where it REALLY matters what car you drive, how often you renew your kitchen and the quality of your glass and china. These superficial trappings are really not important in the grand scheme of things and we are lucky to live beside some very like-minded souls, who have no illusions of grandeur and care not a hoot about such material trappings. Just like in this blog, where I often have to reign it in a bit as I do tend to over-share at times, we have no secrets from our friends and neighbours and seem to muddle along swimmingly. I cannot say the same for the parts of town we have actively avoided living in and I suspect large swathes of Connecticut would be out of bounds for the likes of us!

ben fold

A song suggested by both C and Rol in my last American Odyssey post was Kylie From Connecticut by Ben Folds. I have to admit, as is often the case, I wasn’t familiar with this song until having it pointed out but I am now a great fan of Mr Folds so thanks guys. Although this song is about a message left by someone from Connecticut, it reeks of all I have been writing about above. Here is a marriage where there are obviously secrets and the listener is left to interpret the Kylie mystery for themselves – Behind closed doors, all is not well. Since starting this blog, and following other music blogs, I have taken a far keener interest in the lyrics to songs than I ever did in my younger days and what a joy that has been. Ben Folds is an American singer-songwriter who was originally inspired by Elton John and Billy Joel but is someone I was really not that familiar with so will definitely have to investigate further. It also seems that Mr Folds has been married many times, so there may well have been a few messages from a “Connecticut Kylie” over the years which may have muddied the waters of domestic bliss. Just sayin’.

Kylie From Connecticut by Ben Folds:

Next time we will be heading into New York City and to be honest there are probably more songs about that city than about any other place on earth so goodness knows how I’m going to handle that one. Still would be interested to hear of any personal favourites however, so don’t hold back.

But finally, this has been a bit of a dull post in many ways, so what better way to end it than with a large slice of Mystic Pizza. This is just the kind of film I loved watching back in the late ’80s whilst sporting my big, permed hair and large dangly earrings – ‘Twas the times. Mystic itself is an old fishing port on Connecticut’s easternmost shoreline and was the setting for the film but is now more of a tourist centre for visitors, with many living history museums and the like. In case you’re a little peckish, the restaurant is still in business – Anyone up for a slice of heaven?

See you in New York!

Kylie From Connecticut Lyrics
(Song by Ben Folds)

It’s just a thought, but where did it come from
What does she do with it if it comes back
A note from his assistant is there by the telephone
She wonders again as she turns out the lights

Kylie is calling from Connecticut
She says you’ve got the number
It says Kylie is calling from Connecticut
It’s back on her mind as she closes her eyes

She believes there are things you shouldn’t know about
When you’ve been married for thirty-five years
And her heart belongs to a man that she hadn’t seen
Since a magical night when the children were small

Kylie is calling from Connecticut
It’s probably nothing, yeah nothing at all
Kylie is calling from Connecticut
It’s back on her mind as she’s reading old letters
That she left in the closet with the pictures she cherished
She never told a soul for the last thirty years
Now she closes her eyes

An American Odyssey in Song: Rhode Island – “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song. For anyone new to this place, I have a continuous route map where I enter and leave each state only once. Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Last time we visited Massachusetts (tricky to spell but that’s probably the last time I’ll have to do it) so we are now heading west towards New York, first passing through Rhode Island. This tiny state, only 37 miles wide and 48 miles long is made up of islands, inlets and peninsulas but also what appears to be chunks of mainland America plucked from Connecticut and Massachusetts (drat had to spell it again). The name came about because the Italian explorer Giovanni Verrazzano thought that the large pear-shaped island sitting in Narragansett Bay looked like the Greek island of Rhodes. The official name is actually the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, the plantations part being an archaic name for “colony”.

Rhode Island

And now for the part I am coming to enjoy most about this series – The random fact element. Rhode Island is also called the Ocean State and due to its geography has a long history of sailing. The America’s Cup, offered up as a prize by the British Royal Yacht Squadron in 1851, was first won by a boat called America which is how it got its name. The cup has spent much of its time in Newport, Rhode Island ever since and poor Britain has never won it back. The MGM musical High Society was set in one of the many fully staffed mansions that littered the state back then and one of the most memorable scenes was when Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly took a trip on the True Love which in turn inspired the song for the movie. I do remember being troubled by their age difference when first watching it as a child – Having just looked it up, Bing was 53 and Grace 27 when the film was shot, but not unusual amongst wealthy Rhode Islanders back then I suppose. In fact the mansions, or “cottages” as they were called, were originally built by rich plantation owners in order to escape the heat of the Southern summer. Later on rich Northern families started to do the same as the Gilded Age of Vanderbilts and Astors reached its staggeringly opulent zenith. Never had so much money, been made so fast, by so few, and much of this wealth was reflected in the Cliff Walk properties of Newport, RI.

But hey, as usual I am being side-tracked, for this is supposed to be a music blog. Not many obvious contenders for this state but last time both CC and Rol came up with the suggestion Sweet Rhode Island Red by Ike and Tina Turner. A good one but not my featured song for this post as although most of us who are not even au fait with the world of poultry farming have heard of the Rhode Island Red hen (the state bird), the song is not about the hen or even set in the state. Also, although I really enjoyed Tina’s output during her reincarnation of the 1980s, I’m not so fond of the songs she recorded with Ike (or Ike), especially Nutbush City Limits, but we’ll come to the reason for that another day.

ike and tina

But not everyone in Rhode Island lives in mansions and owns yachts. Some of you will know of the animated sitcom Family Guy created by Seth MacFarlane. The series centres on the Griffins family who have an anthropomorphic pet dog called Brian. Seth MacFarlane is not only a talented actor, writer, singer, film-maker but is also (I think) extremely good-looking and it turns out he is even descended from one of the original passengers from The Mayflower (grrr…). He studied animation at the Rhode Island School of Design so not unusual to have set the show in the fictional city of Quahog, RI. I give you the Road To Rhode Island by Brian and Stewie!

All this talk of the Gilded Age and opulent mansions however has made me look into it a bit more and has inspired my choice of featured song for this post. One of the largest “cottages” was Hammersmith Farm owned by the stepfather of Jacqueline Bouvier, Hugh D. Auchincloss. She of course went on to marry John F Kennedy and their wedding reception was held there. The property was also used as the setting for the 1974 film version of The Great Gatsby starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. I have a feeling that Grace Kelly may well have also “graced” the terraces of Hammersmith Farm at some point, perhaps not in High Society as that appeared to be a film set, but perhaps in her role as Princess Grace of Monaco.

Some of you will know that Baz Luhrmann also made a dazzling version of The Great Gatsby back in 2013 and the song Young and Beautiful was specially written and recorded for it by Lana Del Rey. It was perfect for the film as she has a deep, sultry voice and a look that is evocative of a much earlier time. Also, a song about “the young and the beautiful” was totally appropriate for the tale of The Great Gatsby. All of the people mentioned in the paragraph above were rich, young and beautiful but whether characters in fiction or real people, they all died prematurely or experienced tragedy in their lives. Again a very tenuous link to this state, and again from a film, but just reinforces the knowledge we all have that a life of wealth and privilege does not necessarily bring happiness.

Young and Beautiful by Lana Del Rey:

Having done a bit of research, it seems that Lana Del Rey adopted her exotic sounding Latin name and look after spending time with friends in Miami. She is however originally from New York and has a Scottish heritage. Her real name is Lizzy Grant which I find amusing as where I come from in the North-East of Scotland there are many older ladies called Lizzy Grant – Absolutely none of them look like Lana Del Rey!

So, a longish post about the smallest state. Heading into Connecticut next and drawing a blank myself for that state at the moment, so again, any suggestions more than welcome. I can think of a couple of siblings who came from there and whose songs I have featured in this place recently, so may well go down that route. We’ll see, but in the meantime, I think I’ll have another listen to the haunting and sombre sound of Young and Beautiful.

Until next time….

Young And Beautiful Lyrics
(Song by Lana Del Ray/Rick Nowels)

I’ve seen the world
Done it all
Had my cake now
Diamonds, brilliant
And Bel Air now
Hot summer nights, mid July
When you and I were forever wild
The crazy days, city lights
The way you’d play with me like a child

Will you still love me
When I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me
When I got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will
I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

I’ve seen the world, lit it up
As my stage now
Channelling angels in the new age now
Hot summer days, rock ‘n’ roll
The way you play for me at your show
And all the ways I got to know
Your pretty face and electric soul

Will you still love me
When I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me
When I got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will
I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

Dear lord, when I get to heaven
Please let me bring my man
When he comes tell me that you’ll let him in
Father tell me if you can
Oh that grace, oh that body
Oh that face makes me wanna party
He’s my sun, he makes me shine like diamonds

Will you still love me
When I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me
When I got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will
I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?
Will you still love me when I’m not young and beautiful

Postscript:

Because I mentioned the film High Society a fair few times above, I feel I should share this excellent clip of the inimitable Mr Louis “Satchel Mouth” Armstrong giving us a potted version of what is to come. Yes, this was high society Rhode Island-style, back in 1956. Enjoy.