Monday, November 19, 2012


Dear Ray…

Hope you and the Village Green Preservation Society are doing well. Well, we know the Village Green will become part of the Ocean Blue soon! We are too far along with climate change for anyone to think that children born today will survive adulthood without scuba gear.

We won't be around to see that. As sons of Miniver Cheevy, we were always looking happily backward anyway, not only pining for the good old days remembered from youth, but even for ages we never knew. Like the Victorian era of the British Music Hall. That's even better. People our age can tell us, "come on, things were NOT better when we were kids," but nobody's around to scold us for not wanting to live back in 1910.

We can pretend that living when "I'm Henry the 8th" was sung by Harry Champion and not Herman's Hermits, was indeed a golden age. Meanwhile, we can look at picture books from long ago, buy antiques, play old records on vintage equipment or, at least, listen to un-restored recordings on our new-fangled digital players. Thus we can momentarily go back in time (as long as the cell phone is on mute, or the neighbors aren't blaring rap). While this blog has previously paid homage to world-weary Greta Keller, the sophisticated chanteuse from Germany, there's no question: when it comes to old-time singers, Victoria is my Queen. Ray, as a proud Brit, I'm sure you know her full name: Vesta Victoria. She was born on November 26, 1874. She died April 7, 1951, before I was born.

"She was comedy's heroine of woe, whether singing songs as a child who can not get her father to buy her a dog, or as a woman who can not land a husband. One of the greats of both British music halls and American vaudeville, Vesta Victoria warbled in a husky voice that often strayed with delightful guilelessness in and around the tune's key." So says "Comedy Stars on 78 RPM," which mentions that Vesta was making "an astonishing $3,000 a week in 1907" for a United States tour. That's when Variety noted "she remains the magnetic, pretty, buxom character songstress, the idol of the New York public, unexcelled and impossible of imitation." Actually, she was imitated by Ada Jones, who covered several of her tunes for American record companies.

Her classics were recorded over 100 years ago, but in 1931, she was persuaded to record a 78 featuring two medleys of her most famous songs, and that's what you get in the download below. She sounds even more comic and woeful than ever, in dealing with her cast of nasty boyfriends and/or their mothers. "Waiting at the Church" is almost masochistic, isn't it? She sings about lost money and lost love, and the punchline is a bitter jeer at her foolish naivete. And yet, we sympathize and we love her, and we even laugh. "Poor John" isn't much better. Here, she has a potential boyfriend who brings her home to see his mother. And his mother's reaction is the humiliating two words that title the song.

One of the most annoying things on earth is the spoiled child…and yet another of Vesta's biggest hits, "Daddy Wouldn't Buy me a Bow Wow," invites us to laugh at a girl's pouty complaint and embrace her rather than spank her.

Ray, we all know that from the "gay 90's" to the "roaring 20's," people weren't exactly prudish. So nestled in with the spinster songs and kid numbers is another favorite: "It's All Right in the Summertime." It's about her turn as a nude model! Yes, once again, she's sort of the "butt" of the joke. She has no choice but to help her old man by posing for his pictures…even in winter: "with a little red nose and very little clothes," and the stormy wind does blow!

That's about it, Ray. I don't want to go on and on. I hope you like the download, and that others who have never heard of Vesta Victoria get something out of it. There's not much of Vesta Victoria available. Not even enough to fill one re-issue CD. Check a book called "The British Music Hall Discography" and you'll see she made lots of cylinders and 78's, but most of them are dust now. Still, we can whip up dusty memories into almost corporeal reality, and it's a comfort to see a picture of Queen Victoria and think for a moment she's still on the throne, and listen to Vesta Victoria and think she's still on the boards. It's a sherry-type high in these days of Coca-Cola. C-O-L-A, cola.

VESTA'S Last Music Hall Medley

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