Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hitler was right about America

Hitler was contemptuous of American society, seeing us - quite rightly, as it turned out - as a mongrel race.  Americans were descended from peoples from all over the globe, and America did a workable job of assimilating them into a whole, back in the days when the Intellectual Elite wasn't oddly embarrassed to utter the words "melting pot".

That mixing was most obvious to Europeans of the 1930s and 1940s in the music of the day - Jazz and Big Band.  Hitler dismissed it as judenmusik und schwartzmusik - Jewish and Black music (no, he didn't like Benny Goodman or Louis Armstrong).  When Duke Ellington went on a European tour, they needed to get from Belgium to Denmark, and the train went through Germany.  The train had mechanical problems, and the band spent a nervous six hours with the train surrounded by Hitler's soldiers before finally moving on to Scandinavia.  Hitler simply refused to allow these American Schwartze Mongrels to set foot on deutsche boden - German soil.

In a sense, though, Hitler was right to be suspicious of this modern art form as infectious of native European tropes.  More and more in the post war years jazz and blues sound began to seep into native European style.  Edith Piaf was a fairly pure example of French entertainment that would have been familiar to Der Fuhrer, although I never knew that she recorded this in both French and English, around 1950.

But times were changing.  The American cultural advance was relentless, and only fifteen years after the suicides of Hitler and Eva Braun in the Fuhrerbunker, John Coltrain recorded this in Berlin itself:

This song, of course, became Yves Montagne's signature tune.  He was perhaps the first to fuse the old French Piaf style with the new American blues/jazz sound.  This was from probably the late 1960s, at the height of his interpretative powers:

Duke Ellington, of course, had the greatest version of this song, perhaps his revenge on Hitler:

This is actually my favorite version, because of the soft touch approach.  The voice and violin parts are allowed to stand out in front of the orchestra, to sink or swim on their solo talents.  Ozzie Bailey offers a simply spectacular performance in both French and English, and Ray Nance on violin gives what is perhaps the ultimate jazz violin solo of all time.  Quite a performance when you consider that Nance was known for his trumpet work.  Of course, Georgia's own Johnny Mercer translated the lyrics into English.
C'est une chanson qui nous ressemble.
Toi qui m'aimais, et je t'aimais.
Nous vivions tous les deux ensemble
Moi qui t'aimais, toi qui m'aimais.

Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s'aiment.
Tout doucement sans faire de bruit.
Et la mer efface sur le sable
les pas des amants désunis.

The falling leaves drift by the window.
The autumn leaves of red and gold.
I see your lips, the summer kisses.
The sunburned hands I used to hold.

Since you went away the days grow long.
And soon I'll hear old winter's song
But I miss you most of all, my darling
when autumn leaves start to fall.

Maybe that's why I like this version best - it really captures the America Mongrel culture at it's apogee.

Strangely, Google Translate (with a bit of polishing by your humble host) does a fair job of the French - perhaps better than Mercer:
It's a song for us.
You who loved me, I who loved you.
Once we lived together
You who loved me, I who loved you.

Life separates those who love.
But slowly, without a fuss.
And the sea erases from the sand
the footsteps of those who were in love
If you've read this far, then you're perhaps as strange as I.  But thanks.  Chacun à son goût, and all that.


Sean D Sorrentino said...

"a mongrel race"

He says that like it's a bad thing.

BobG said...

It's been my experience that mongrel mutts are usually the strongest breeds.

NotClauswitz said...

Who wants an disease-afflicted, insane purebred? Purity of breeding didn't even get the Brahmins in the Caste-System very far, either.

Glenn B said...

Maybe even crazier than you for reading all the way to the end! Mongrel race, heck one of my best friends had the nickname of Mongrel and he loved it.

All the best,

Glenn B said...

By the way, Edith Piaf sang it the best, or so I think. Really with feeling, as if she were actually singing it to a lost lover.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Love seeing a great song change over time

Dave H said...

As an American mongrel with a German name, I have only one thing to say to Herr Hitler:

"ARF, ya *******!"