Monday, October 29, 2007


I knew an elderly actor, best known for grand guignol on film and on stage. He told me that the ooky-spooky Halloween brand of horror didn't amuse or interest him. Fans who might approach him calling themselves i-Gor or Karl Off or Lou Gosi, were just clueless idiots to him, and their stupid dress-up at a memorabilia convention only confirmed their Munster mentality, grown men clinging to a denial of death not child-like as much as childish.
"What the real horror is," he told me, "is not a spook face. It is beyond the face and, instead, is in the mind. I am not concerned with somebody posing in a graveyard and making grimaces with crayon on his face. What concerns me is what really awaits us after death and the terror of what our existence means."
As pessimistic and miserable as he often was, he didn't hasten things with suicide, although the last time I saw him — withering, unable to drink liquids, unable to speak, eyes wide on a sunken face half-obscured behind an oxygen mask, he was the living dead.
And so, as Halloween approaches, this particular blog offers no ooky-spooky novelty tunes that you've heard a million times, and no "bwa-ha-ha" pictures of trick or treat outfits. Instead, a typical Illfolks photo-collage (all pics on the site get larger when selected) and two songs about suicide. No aliens here, just the alienated. The real horror in the world of Poe, is found in a poem he wrote called "Alone."
Included here is a third song; a cheerful novelty. It just happens to come from a man who no longer heard audience laughter, which led to his ultimate despair.
For some, the lure of the waves leads to a watery grave. Walking into the sea is the topic for both Lesley Duncan and the appropriately named Bitter End Singers.
Duncan's dry-eyed and morose "Walk in the Sea" (written by Alan Hull) starts with loner complaints and drifts into pessimism: "think I'll go walk in the sea. Nothing much better to do. No, nothing for me. Not even you."
The Bitter End Singers received liner note praise from Tony Bennett: "The Bitter End Singers absolutely gassed me." And I didn't even know he was Jewish.
The album, tempting fate, was called "Discover the Bitter End Singers." The song, "A Song By the Seaside," is complex, and you'll need to acclimate. Frankly, it didn't get to me the first time around. Once the tangled, sea-weed murky melody line became familiar and I got used to the group's MOR-Mitch Miller approach, I began to get into the repulsive minor key discord that was intending to evoke turbulent seas, and I caught the dank spray of the lyric lines.
The seasick song is about a wife who misses her husband in the worst way: "One day when she cried all the tears she could cry, she ran from the house where the wild swallows fly. She walked to the ocean, she smiled at the foam. She walked in the ocean. She smiled at the foam..." guessed it.
Will Holt wrote it. He's best known for "Lemon Tree," which seems like an old folk song but isn't. He also wrote that 60's variety show perennial called "One Of Those Songs." I remember he always had a kind of delighted quirk about telling people he'd written that song. In listing a few credits (for anyone who asked, "Oh, you write songs, any I would know") most everyone knew "Lemon Tree." When he'd follow it with, "And I also wrote 'One Of Those Songs'" it would naturally draw a blank. Then he'd sing the opening line: "It's just one of those songs that you hear now and then..." Ohhhhhh! THAT images of Jimmy Durante flashed through their heads.
Holt wrote off-Broadway musicals. He was also half of the Holt & Jonah comedy team, and the highlight of their act was a Kurt Weill-inspired 8 minute mini-musical parody of Hollywood called "Movieville." In other words, Holt had some cabaret sensibilities, so instead of a folk song, here's something far more dramatic. It's sort of what you might expect of Sondheim if he was writing folk songs in his precocious early years, instead of episodes of "Topper."
And yes, the "Bitter End" refers to the Greenwich Village club. The group (three men, three women) included two guys who were in The Ivy League Trio, and the always provocative Nancy Priddy (mother to Christina Applegate, and already mentioned on this blog in regard to her solo album).
Now, that odd looking guy on the right...Mark Sheridan.
Here's a bit of irony for you. You might vaguely know of a sprightly British Music Hall song called "I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside." Mark Sheridan recorded it in 1909, one of several hits he had during his most productive period (1909-1911). The tongue-twister was resuscitated by Basil Rathbone when he impersonated a vaudeville singer during a light moment in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes."
The eccentric Mark Sheridan, in top hat, with wacky bell-bottoms strapped to his knees, twirling an umbrella, had years of success. He, his wife and family toured the U.K. again and again. But at the age of 50 he became increasingly depressed and considered retiring from the stage. He recorded one single in 1912, nothing in 1913, one side in 1914, and just one more in 1915. With no more song successes, he counted on stage roles to sustain him.
He played a comical Napoleon in a show called "Gay Paree." The morning reviews from the Glasgow papers were negative, and Sheridan was positive there was no hope. You'd think that he would've gone to be beside the seaside, either to gather up his courage, or walk into the ocean. Instead he took a tram over to Kevin Grove Park and shot himself. Your download is far less lethal, and still quite a lot of fun.
Leaving his Mark: Beside the Seaside
Bitter End Singers: Song by the Seaside
Walk in the Sea: Lesley Duncan

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