A Star is Born: Judy, Gaga or Barbra?

Last time I wrote a very serious post, so time for something a bit lighter I think. Regular followers will know my mum is currently in hospital. She is recovering well however and is quite enjoying being cared for I think, so a bit of respite for me. Having had a lot more time to myself over the last few weeks I’ve finally been able to catch up with friends who have been sadly neglected of late. Some of these friends have helped me make full use of the benefits attached to my new Student ID card, by joining me on a fair few trips to the local cinema.

Over the last few weeks I have been to see King of Thieves, the true story of the Hatton Garden jewellery heist, The Seagull based on the Anton Chekov play of the same name and The Escape about a stay-at-home mum who seemingly has it all, but is desperately unhappy. On top of that, DD has started working at our local theatre, so courtesy of the “comps” she gets as a perk of the job we also caught a play, a good old fashioned whodunnit in the form of The Case Of The Frightened Lady which seems to be touring the country at the moment. Our blogging buddy Chris over at Movies and Songs 365 would no doubt now write a pretty good review for each of the above but as that’s not really this blog’s raison d’être, I’ll just say that I enjoyed all four for different reasons: a) secret admiration for the Hatton Garden “Over The Hill Mob”; b) an insight into the complex lives of a rich family of writers and actors in pre-revolution Russia; c) sympathy for the woman (excellently played by Gemma Arterton) whose only means of survival was to escape the role she had found herself in, and finally; d) a bit of a throw-back to the entertainment of a bygone age (and none of us actually correctly identified whodunnit, so quite a good puzzler).

This week, the third remake of A Star Is Born starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga was released in cinemas in the UK. The original film of the same name was made in 1937, one I am somewhat unfamiliar with. I am very familiar however with the 1954 remake starring Judy Garland and James Mason as films from this era used to be shown regularly on telly when I was growing up. I lapped them up and at age 12 could probably have appeared on Mastermind citing The Golden Age of Hollywood as my specialist subject. Much of that knowledge has since left me I’m afraid, replaced with music trivia and the essential but boring work-related stuff we accumulate along the way, but watching the newly released version this week, brought the story all back. Here is a clip showing Judy Garland perform The Man That Got Away, probably the most memorable song from the 1954 version.

This new version stuck to the original storyline pretty much like glue, simply updating each scene for the 21st century. There were stadiums, more guitars, the songs were of a rock persuasion, the bars had drag acts and the clothes were a bit grungier, but other than that it’s a timeless tale of “boy meets girl”, with the backdrop of one career on the way up and the other on the way down. I won’t offer up a spoiler by mentioning which is which, because ahead of the film starting to roll the other night, I inadvertently gave the plotline away to the woman sitting next to me, having assumed everyone already knew the story. I apologised and tried to excuse myself by saying the clue is in the title, A Star Is Born, but she still seemed a bit piqued.

Back in 1954, the star in the ascendance was played by Judy Garland. In 2018, that same role was played by Lady Gaga (oops, spoiled it anyway). I must admit, she was barely recognisable at the start of the film, appearing without her trademark heavy makeup and extrovert clothing. This was Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta in the raw without any of the trappings of the Haus of Gaga. Much has been made of the fact that first-time director Bradley Cooper wanted her to audition for the role make-up free, and ahead of her performance produced a few wipes for her to remove it, to ensure authenticity. The irony of course is that the real, or authentic Gaga, is the one with all the stage make-up and costume but hey, it was the unreal Gaga he wanted for the role.

I did enjoy the film despite pretty much knowing (unlike the woman beside me) how each scene would play out and both Bradley and Gaga put in stellar performances. I did expect there to be more standout songs however, as after leaving the cinema I didn’t have any earworms and couldn’t actually remember much of anything included. It seems the first song released as a single was Shallow which I thought was called Shiloh in the film (must have been their accents), but now it makes sense. An actor I did think quite a lot about after leaving the cinema was the lovely Sam Elliot who played lead character Jackson Maine’s long-suffering brother in the movie. If you ever decided to chuck it all in, and head off to live on a ranch in Wyoming, he always looks and sounds as if he would be your man. He would be mine anyway, so hands off!

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The lovely Sam Elliot

But all of this is of course building up to only one thing, delving into the archives to reminisce about the 1976 version of A Star Is Born starring Kris Kristofferson (be still my beating heart) and Barbra StreisandAnyone looking at the “category list” on my sidebar will see that when it comes to decades, I write about songs from the 1970s more than any other. Lots of reasons for that of course (time spent immersing yourself in the world of music as an angst-ridden teenager being one of them), and possibly an idea for a future post, but this clip of Love Theme from “A Star Is Born” (Evergreen) still gives me the collywobbles. The song appeared in the UK Singles Chart in April 1977 and came along just as I was in the midst of my first big (but ultimately highly unsuitable) romance.

Evergreen by Barbra Streisand:

Barbra Streisand has appeared on these pages before as I’m a big fan. Just like Judy and Gaga she is certainly not a conventional beauty, but a great beauty all the same so perfect for the female lead in A Star Is Born.

I often share material from some of the old magazines I still have in my possession dating back from the 1970s. Before I sign off here are a few pages from the April 1977 edition of Words magazine where every month the lyrics to the “top pop songs” of the day were listed. In this edition, A Star Is Born is featured both on the back page and on the Studio Scene and Heard page (hmm…) where current film releases were reviewed. The lyrics to Evergreen also appeared on page 2 along with Knowing Me, Knowing You by ABBA (not Alan Partridge) and Pearl’s A Singer by Elkie Brooks. If you want to have a try, without googling, how many of the other songs would you be able to identify, and attach to an artist? Many of them weren’t big hits, but some were, although scarily over 41 years ago.

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As for me, I’m not sure how many cinema visits I might be able to fit in for some time, as there is to be a meeting on Monday to discuss my mum’s discharge plan. We actually sold the idea to her last week that a care home might be the best idea, but having been to see a few over the last couple of days I have now backtracked. She needs company and stimulation more than anything, as well as being looked after, but despite the glossy brochures and the promises of fun, fun, fun…, we didn’t see much of that at all. Instead it was all empty dayrooms and very elderly people slumped in wheelchairs, mostly asleep. We kind of need a half-way house but if they do exist, they are elusive indeed. Back to being a carer for a while I think but maybe that would be the kindest thing to do. I will no doubt return with updates (but possibly no more film reviews for a wee while).

Until next time….

Evergreen Lyrics
(Song by Barbra Streisand/Paul Williams)

Love soft as an easy chair
Love fresh as the morning air
One love that is shared by two
I have found with you
Like a rose under the April snow
I was always certain love would grow
Love ageless and evergreen
Seldom seen by two
You and I will
make each night the first
Everyday a beginning
Spirits rise and their dance is unrehearsed
They warm and excite us
‘Cause we have the brightest love
Two lights that shine as one Morning glory and midnight sun
Time… we’ve learned to sail above
Time… won’t change the meaning of one love
Ageless and ever evergreen…

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.

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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. 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!

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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