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…

Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and “Sunday Morning Coming Down”

Last time I wrote about the song Fog on the Tyne which was actually a suggestion from one of my blogging buddies as it followed on nicely, in meteorological terms anyway, from my previous post which was about the song Misty by Ray Stevens. Lo and behold, just when I needed some inspiration, down from the “cloud” (I am restoring all my files onto a new computer) came a series of old pictures of my late father-in-law who was a Geordie by birth and who had worked as a young man, right in the centre of Newcastle, in an office overlooking the River Tyne.

The other suggestion I had received as to what song could follow on nicely from Misty was from Lynchie, a regular visitor to this place, who informed me that Ray Stevens had been the first person to record the Kris Kristofferson-penned song Sunday Morning Coming Down in 1969. I was a bit nervous about stepping on toes however as our Chain host over at Dubious Towers produces an excellent weekly country music thread with that same title – An homage to the song and its writer. As he just seems to have just found his blogging mojo again however after a surprisingly common bout of January blues, I rather hoped he’ll let me off. Lo and behold, what suddenly descended from the “cloud” yesterday afternoon but an mp3 of the Johnny Cash version of Sunday Morning Coming Down that I didn’t even remember I had – This post was meant to be!

Mr Kristofferson is someone I have long admired – Back in the ’70s he appeared in many films (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Convoy, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Star Is Born) and for some reason he was one of the actors I took a real shine to. I have always had a penchant for a man with a beard (although not necessarily today’s hipster style), and he did sport a very rugged look back then. What I have now discovered is that not only did he write some of the most iconic songs from that era but he was probably one of those guys who would have succeeded in whichever path in life he chose. A top scholar, an accomplished athlete, a US Army captain, a helicopter pilot, a novelist, an actor and a singer/song-writer.

Having just checked, I find it incredible that he never once appeared in the British music charts in his own right, despite the fact that so many of his songs did make an appearance when sung by other people – For the Good Times by Perry Como and Help Me Make It Through the Night by Gladys Knight and the Pips amongst others. He definitely did make an appearance for several weeks in a row however on 1977’s TOTP as he was Barbra Streisand‘s love interest in the film A Star Is Born – Much smooching was done during the filmed recording of the song Evergreen which was a massive hit for her that year. (Yes, my 16-year-old self was definitely smitten with Mr K in that one.)

But this was supposed to be a post about the song Sunday Morning Coming Down and as we have now ascertained Kris Kristofferson wrote it and Ray Stevens was the first person to record it, but when Johnny Cash did a version in 1970 it reached No. 1 on the country chart and won the Country Music Association Award for Song of the Year. The story is that Kris, who was working as a janitor at the time for Columbia Records in Nashville mainly to get a foothold in the industry, flew his National Guard helicopter right onto Johnny’s front lawn in order to deliver the demo tape in person. That was the turning point for him however as once Johnny took the song on, and made it his own, Kris was quoted as saying that he never again “had to work for a living”.

As for how I came to have a copy of the song in my digital library – That would be because a few years ago I had not so much a mid-life crisis but all of a sudden I became besotted with country music. It started off with acquiring Glen Campbell CDs but I then progressed to compilations of Greatest Country Hits and just about anything else I could laythkq77euh3 my hands on, which of course included a Johnny Cash CD containing the song Sunday Morning Coming Down. Before then I had mainly known Johnny from his more light-hearted songs such as One Piece at a Time and A Boy Named Sue but also from the film I Walk The Line and the documentaries about his concerts held in the various state penitentiaries across America. Perhaps you have to be of a certain age to truly appreciate country music, and likewise, in order to really emote the lyrics in the songs you need to have a modicum of life experience, which by the time I came to appreciate Johnny he truly would have had.

The clip here is a great one as not only do we have Johnny but also Kris singing the song, making it a duet. The preamble is something they used to do quite a lot of on these sort of shows, and can be a bit cringifying, but it does lead in to an excellent performance.

Sunday Morning Coming Down by Johnny Cash:

So, “What’s It All About?” – It seems you should never be dismissive of any genre of music as one day you might just suddenly “get it” and you have a great new world to explore. As for Mr Cash’s voice, it was a deep calm bass-baritone which you just don’t often hear in music nowadays. I find it ironic that I always knew him best for his humorous songs, considering he built a whole persona around being “The Man in Black” – Sombre, serious and frankly quite scary.

As for Kris, unlike Johnny he is still with us, and rumours are afoot that he may even appear at Glastonbury this year which would be truly amazing. I am partly amazed by this because I know he is exactly the same age as my little mum and somehow I just can’t imagine her gracing the stage at Glastonbury. What she can do however is read this blog and it has become a feature of our Friday evenings together, when I go to visit. I really don’t think she quite understands the whole concept of “blogging” and why should she?Sharing your innermost thoughts, with complete strangers, across every corner of the globe is indeed a bizarre concept but one that can bring great enjoyment, so I for one intend to keep going!

Until next time….

Sunday Morning Coming Down Lyrics
(Song by Kris Kristofferson)

Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad,
So I had one more for dessert.
Then I fumbled in my closet through my clothes
And found my cleanest dirty shirt.
Then I washed my face and combed my hair
And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

I’d smoked my mind the night before
With cigarettes and songs I’d been picking.
But I lit my first and watched a small kid
Playing with a can that he was kicking.
Then I walked across the street
And caught the Sunday smell of someone frying chicken.
And Lord, it took me back to something that I’d lost
Somewhere, somehow along the way.

On a Sunday morning sidewalk,
I’m wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone.
And there’s nothing short a’ dying
That’s half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleeping city sidewalk
And Sunday morning coming down.

In the park I saw a daddy
With a laughing little girl that he was swinging.
And I stopped beside a Sunday school
And listened to the songs they were singing.
Then I headed down the street,
And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringing,
And it echoed through the canyon
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday.