Some days, when I’m awfully low, I think about how my grandparents forged ahead.
They had real problems. They had the big brother of recessions, the Great Depression. They had a little thing called World War II. They had the Soviets wanting to nuke them, even as they passed into middle age and beyond. Yet they made the best of it, worked hard, did their duty, sacrificed for their kids an ultimately for me.
The other night I was at a place and there were some standards playing over the piped in music.
Oddly, it was a Middle Eastern restaurant that had the standards playing. American standards.
The owner of the place made sure that we were happy, had all we wanted, had any special requests.
Most people of my generation do not know what standards are when it comes to songs. Standards were churned out by the likes of Irving Berlin, Ira and George Gershwin and Richard Rogers in Tin Pan Alley in New York. They were sung mostly by other artists, such as Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby and others. Some of the standards were written by lonesome Hoosiers (“Stardust”) and have passed into the mythology of America. One can imagine Hoagy Carmichael pining away “beside the garden wall, where stars are bright….”
Standards are standards. When it comes to music and when it comes to living.
Throw out the standards in music and you get rock and roll. Throw out the standards in living and you get the chaos we have lived with for forty years in the United States.
We live in a disconnected world, where the standards change every moment of every day. The only constant is change.
When I was young, people got married and stayed married. Some shouldn’t have, but you have to ask, are we that much better off now that we divorce at supersonic speed, or that relationships — especially online — start, mature and end before a 24 hour news cycle is finished? Is this freedom? Progress?
Or the cites where we live, where whole blocks are bulldozed to make room for one more glass high rise or strip mall? Are these boring same buildings or Starbucks stores the makings of the new standards? It’s hard to imagine Frank Sinatra singing about it being a quarter to three o’clock in the Starbucks, and to make it one more latte for him and his baby.
Uptown was where the restaurant was. The Uptown neighborhood was once the place to be on the north side of Chicago. There are a couple of old Movie Theaters criss crossing the street from each other, and small, independent shops that spit in the face of the strip malls. Uptown, whose main drag is “Broadway” is coming back. It has been coming back for a long time, and it will be back. But hopefully not as back as, say, Times Square, in New York, which looks like it was produced by Disney.
Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields wrote “The Way You Look Tonight” in 1936 for a movie called “Swing Time”. It won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
It was an interesting thought to me that when this song was first heard it was probably heard by someone sitting right where we were sitting, in 1936. They had no idea that the song that was pulling at their heart strings would be one of the greatest songs ever written, but maybe they did. It had that type of lyric and melody.
It was a standard:
Some day, when I’m awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you…
And the way you look tonight.
(Written by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields)
Few care about standards today, or do they?
The owner of the restaurant did. Else why would he have made sure that all was well; why cross the room with a big smile on his face? The same for the server. She was most gracious, and it didn’t appear to be an act.
Oh, yes. The food was excellent.
Maybe more people understand about standards than what I think. No matter where they come from.
I don’t know.
It was cold outside and the wine made me feel flushed, and I thought about today and I thought about yesterday.