Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My Utterly Realistic Cole Porter Dream

Last night I dreamed I interviewed Cole Porter. The fact that Cole Porter has been dead for 45 years did not at all diminish the realism of my dream.

Cole Porter is arguably the leading contributor to that world cultural treasure we refer to as the Great American Songbook. Without him and the likes of Gershwin and others, just about every singer and quite a few musicians would be out of a job.

To add to the realism of my dream, my cell phone connection was bad and I had to keep walking from place to place to hear his voice. I can't recall a single word he said, but I can assure you he came across as the urbane and witty guy who wrote these lyrics:

Birds do it, Bees do it,
Even educated fleas do it,
Let's do it, let's fall in love.

Of course no one disputes that the greatest moment in all cinema is Fred Astaire wooing Ginger Rogers to "Night and Day" in "Gay Divorcee." Pure silver screen magic, is all I can say.

The song also represents Frank Sinatra's first hit as a solo artist. In all, Sinatra recorded "Night and Day" four times. Porter much preferred Astaire as a singer to Sinatra. Clearly, Astaire was the embodiment of Porter's urban sophisticate, but Sinatra's muscular version of "I've Got You Under My Skin" makes a strong case for swinging vulgarity.

A horse riding accident in 1937 at the height of his career resulted in compound fractures in both thighs, complicated by a bone infection, that left him a cripple and in excruciating pain the rest of his life. Still, in public at least, he maintained his upbeat persona and continued to produce hits until his health seriously deteriorated in 1958. He died in 1964.

Must movie rental: "Gay Divorcee" starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

An MGM classic: "Kiss Me Kate," based on the Broadway hit. Anne Miller's seductive song and dance to "It's Too Darn Hot" is one of many show-stoppers.

Recommended listening: "Frank Sinatra Sings the Select Cole Porter." Make sure you're getting Sinatra from his incomparable Capitol Records years, accompanied by Nelson Riddle. It doesn't get any better than this.

"Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook." Okay, okay. It does get better - delightful, delicious, and de-lovely, in fact.

A jazz master: Pianist Art Tatum's masterful interpretations of "Begin the Beguine" and other standards would have you believe that Cole Porter wrote specifically for him and other legendary jazz instrumentalists.

Plus: "De-Lovely" soundtrack from the recent film based on Cole Porter's life, starring Kevin Kline. Reinterpretations by Alanis Morissete, Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole, and others demonstrate why Cole Porter's appeal is timeless, that, literally, he is "the top ... the steppes of Russia ... the pants on a Roxy usher ... "


For articles on composers with mood disorders (Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Liszt, Chopin), check out the Famous People section of


John D said...

Fine post - I love Cole Porter too and am delighted your writing makes room for music. Now, how about Bobby Short? Maybe that style is an acquired taste, but he's one of the great interpreters.

Congratulations on your new blog! John

John McManamy said...

Hi, John. You're definitely right about Bobby Short. Feel free to suggest some of your favorites for future blogs.