Tidewater Review - September 2006

Tidewater Review


John Goodspeed

America’s Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley, by Philip Furia and Michael Lasser. New York, London: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. Illustrated. Index. 328 pages. $29.95. ISBN 0-415-97246-9
      The authors of this short but very informative encyclopedia of American popular music, Philip Furia and Michael Lasser, are both scholars and critics of the subject. Their book includes “the stories behind” over 600 American songs that were composed for stage musicals, movie musicals, recordings and/or sheet music publication and are now classified as “standards.”
      Not all songs now popular are standards, by any means. All musicians are supposed to know how to play and/or sing standards, and civilian pop music fans are supposed to recognize the words and music of standards. According to Furia and Lasser, though, “...a song becomes a standard only when it proves it can endure beyond the listeners who first embraced it.” That includes pop songs that were first embraced between 1910 and 1970. It omits songs made popular by Elvis Presley and the Beatles – omits, in fact, all rock-and-roll and subsequent pop fads.
      Songs listed in America’s Songs include:
      Some of These Days, lyrics and music by Shelton Brooks, an African-American pianist; first published in 1910, called a “landmark in popular music” by Alec Wilder (1907-1980), probably the best known critic of pop.
      Alexander’s Ragtime Band, lyrics and music by Irving Berlin; published in 1911. Many of Berlin’s songs are standards.
      My Melancholy Baby, lyrics by George Norton, music by Ernie Burnett, 1912. The baby-talk lyrics prevent this song from being erotic, according to America’s Songs.
      St. Louis Blues, lyrics and music by W. C. Handy, 1914; not a classic 12-bar blues but probably the most famous.
      After You’ve Gone, lyrics by Henry Creamer, music by Turner Layton, 1918; the lyrics are retributive, but a decade went by before this song became a favorite of instrumentalists in the 1920s and ‘30s.
      Swanee, lyrics by Irving Caesar, music by George Gershwin, 1919; Gershwin’s best selling song, but it didn’t become popular until Al Jolson recorded it.
I’m Just Wild about Harry, lyrics by Noble Sissle, music by Eubie Blake, 1920. Composed by Blake, a Baltimore piano player, but revised as a one-step dance number. Performed as Harry Truman’s presidential campaign song in 1948.
      And... Star Dust, lyrics by Mitchell Parish, music by Hoagy Carmichael, 1927 – the pop standard to end them all.

Putting Meat on the American Table: Taste, Technology, Transformation, by Roger Horowitz. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. Illustrated. Index. 170 pages. Hardcover $35.00. ISBN 0-8018-8240-0; Paperback $19.00. ISBN 0-8098-8241-9
      Reading a book that describes commercial meat packing makes it difficult to avoid becoming a vegetarian. And this new example written by Roger Horowitz, associate director of the Center for Business, Technology and Society at the Hagley Museum and Library in Greenville, Delaware, is the best book on the subject I’ve seen since I read The Jungle.
      The Jungle was the 1906 best-selling exposé of unsanitary U.S. slaughter and meat-packing houses written by the Baltimore native, Upton Sinclair (1878-1968). The Jungle concentrated (if memory serves) on beef and ham processors. Horowitz’s Putting Meat on the American Table adds chicken processors to the list.
      In the past half-century, Americans have eaten more meat per day than ever before, and chicken has now become their favorite.
      Chicken breeding farms and combination chicken slaughter and processing plants have multiplied and prospered on the Delmarva Peninsula since the industry began supplying the New York City Orthodox Jewish demand for chickens killed by licensed shoctim. Shoctim kill chickens the kosher way, described by Horowitz as “...cutting the gullet and windpipe with two quick forward and backward strokes, then piercing the veins on both sides of the neck.”
      Putting Meat on the American Table notes that chicken slaughter and processing is “labor-intensive.” Which means that, modern technology notwithstanding, the proprietors must still hire a good many people to stand fairly close to each other along the passing line of suspended chickens and wield sharp knives fairly fast to trim or gut or carve the birds so they can be packaged for sale in your friendly supermarket.
      So it’s a dangerous job, which Horowitz doesn’t harp on. And it’s a low-paying job, which he (sort of) justifies by noting that the chicken business is very competitive. And also, it’s a job most native North Americans don’t want to perform – and so it has attracted a lot of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, who, according to one chicken industry executive, are better workers than the native North Americans who formerly performed these jobs.

Founding Fathers, Secret Societies: Freemasons, Illuminati, Rosicrucians, and the Decoding of the Great Seal, by Robert Hieronimus with Laura Cortner. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books. Illustrated. Index. 246 pages. Paperback. $16.95. ISBN 1-59477-087-5
      The centuries-old secret society of which various founding fathers were members, viz., George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (maybe), was (and still is) the Freemasons. It also appears to be the favorite secret society of people who take such organizations seriously – as do Robert Hieronimus and Laura Cortner, who produced this new book about them.
      Why their favorite? Because, maybe, the Freemasons have the least pretentious secret-society description – as in: Webster’s New World College Dictionary 50th-Anniversary revision. To wit: “[Originally skilled itinerant masons who were] ...free to move from town to town without restraint by local guilds. [Members] of an international secret society having as its principles brotherliness, charity and mutual aid.”
      Webster’s description of Illuminati: “People who have or profess to have special or spiritual enlightenment. Any of various societies...etc., usually secret, composed of such people....”
      Webster on Rosicrucians: “...persons in the 17th and 18th centuries who professed to be members of a secret society said to have various sorts of occult lore and power....any of several later groups with doctrines and practices said to be based on [that occult lore and power].”
      Those descriptions hint to me that Freemasons are do-gooders, but Illuminati and Rosicrucians resemble, however slightly, TV evangelists. Whatever, Founding Fathers, Secret Societies, etc., gives the latter two secret societies short shrift. This may be because according to Hieronimus’s research for his 1981 Ph.D. at Saybrook Institute in San Francisco and otherwise, the Great Seal of the United States is the work of Freemasons.
      True: the final work was coordinated by the Secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thomson, who was “perhaps a Rosicrucian.” But nobody’s perfect, as the expression goes, and “the consultant who made the only lasting contributions to the seal’s eventual design” was Francis Hopkinson, a Philadelphia lawyer, artist and Congressman who also designed the first American flag and signed the Declaration of Independence. And, oh yes, was the son of a high-ranking Freemason.
      For a peek at the Freemasonic Great Seal, try the predominantly green side of a $1 bill. The reverse side of the seal is the circle at left. Pictured in it are an incomplete pyramid and a single “eye of God” inside a triangle hovering above it. The obverse side of the seal is the circle at right. A frowning, stupid-looking (Franklin’s judgement) eagle is shown with a striped shield glued (what else?) to its chest, warlike arrows clasped in its left claw, peaceful plant life in its right.
      Various Latin phrases are printed in different locations on the seal, but “E Pluribus Unum” is the only one I can translate.

Apple Pie 4th of July, by Janet S. Wong; pictures by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. San Diego, New York, et al.: Voyager Books, Harcourt, Inc. 40 pages. Paperback. $7.00. ISBN 0-15-205708-0
      This charming and beautiful book includes a charming and beautiful list price of $7 – repeat, $7, a charming and beautiful one-digit price in a two-digit literary era in which some paperbacks sell for $20 or more.
      The publishers make the amusing recommendation that Apple Pie 4th of July is suitable for readers aged 3 to 7. The obvious truth is it’s suitable for Americans – or anybody, including illegal immigrants – of any age. Did I mention it’s a beautiful and charming book?
      All right! The narrator is the daughter, about 10 years old, of naturalized Chinese-American parents who run a mom-and-pop convenience and carry-out food store in an unidentified American city that could be San Francisco or New York. The store, called Family Market, is open “today” (which is July 4th), and is in fact open every day except Christmas. The parents are cooking chow mein and sweet-and-sour pork.
     “No one wants Chinese food on the Fourth of July,” the daughter says as a parade passes nearby. And indeed, from noon until 5 o’clock, the walk-in customers, mostly African- and European-Americans, buy soda and potato chips, ice cream, ice cubes and matches. At about five, though, customers start ordering Chinese to go, and her parents are ready for them.
      What does apple pie have to do with the story? I won’t spoil the story by telling you. It’s charming, though. And the full-color illustrations by Margaret Chodos-Irvine? They’re simply colored, precisely and realistically drawn. And Chodos-Irvine is a Caldecott honor winner, which is, (what else?) a coveted award.