Terry and Me Redux

Over at the Old Hag’s last week, I blogged about the Teachout Cultural Concurrence Index, in which readers of the man’s fantabulous blog were invited to compare their own x or y? choices with Teachout’s. One that struck me, and that I didn’t mention before, was this:

43. Johnny Mercer or Cole Porter?

Had I read that before my 32nd birthday (back in June), I would have had to disagree (Teachout prefers Mercer). Cole Porter was, um, the top, the Louvre Museum, the top, the Coliseum. I will never forget seeing Kiss Me Kate at the Hangar Theater in Ithaca – too darn hot, indeed. That was the life for me, yessir.

But thanks to Teachout, I bought Nancy Lamott’s Live at Tavern on the Green, and liked it so much that I told friends about it. They, in turn, bought me this collection of Lamott performing Mercer. When I read that Index entry, I started thinking.

Nobody, but nobody, says me, will ever be as clever as Porter, and I likes me some clever in my songs. But I found myself comparing So In Love, one of my very favorite Porter songs, with Mercer’s Come Rain or Come Shine. Here are the lyrics:

So In Love

Strange dear, but true dear,
When I’m close to you, dear,
The stars fill the sky,
So in love with you am I.
Even without you,
My arms fold about you,
You know darling why,
So in love with you am I.
In love with the night mysterious,
The night when you first were there,
In love with my joy delirious,
When I knew that you could care,
So taunt me, and hurt me,
Deceive me, desert me,
I’m yours, till I die…..
So in love…. So in love….
So in love with you, my love… am I….

Come Rain or Come Shine

I’m gonna love you, like nobody’s loved you
Come rain or come shine
High as a mountain and deep as a river
Come rain or come shine
I guess when you met me
It was just one of those things
But don’t ever bet me
Cause I’m gonna be true if you let me
You’re gonna love me, like nobody’s loved me
Rain or shine
Happy together, unhappy together
And won’t it be fine
Days may be cloudy or sunny
We’re in or we’re out of the money
I’m with you always
I’m with you rain or shine
You’re gonna love me, like nobody’s loved me
Come rain or come shine
Happy together, unhappy together
And won’t it be fine
Days may be cloudy or sunny
We’re in or we’re out of the money
But I’m with you always
I’m with you, I’m with you rain or shine
I’m with you, I’m with you rain or shine

Both talk about love ’til death – I’m yours ’til I die vs. I’m with you always. But what a difference otherwise. What gets me in the Mercer song is that one line:

Happy together, unhappy together, and won’t it be fine?

Suddenly, love has left the realm of happiness-inducing experience (or uncurable sickness – deceive me/desert me/I’m yours ’til I die…) and entered the realm of willed fidelity – but we haven’t left the confines of a proper pop song. Nor have we left behind the capricious character of romantic love, with all its joys and sorrows (Mercer certainly isn’t trying to paint love as drudgery, and if you could hear Lamott singing it, you’d see/hear this even more clearly). Amazing. “Days may be cloudy or sunny/we’re in or we’re out of the money” – these are sung wedding vows.

Modern pop is forever talking about things lasting forever, but it’s a house built on sand – the feeling is what must endure, and passion is too slippery a creature for that, too willowy a wisp. Porter presages this with “In love with my joy delirious” – hooked on a feeling, indeed.

I’m with Teachout.

Comments

  1. wow, the music must add a lot to those lyrics because I found myself turning into a numb statue, eyes glazing over after only a few lines of reading them cold with nothing but the sounds of my apartment for accompaniment

  2. Matthew Lickona says

    Renata, I often have the same reaction when reading lyrics – “I can’t believe I love this song!” I wish I could give you sound.

  3. i’m kidding, I know he’s cool to listen to, but putting up the lyrics as proof is like someone on tv offering you a taste of their donut

  4. Dorian Speed says

    I’m a big fan of Johnny Mercer and have always loved that song in particular, for the reasons you’ve explained. To the point that my commenting here is superfluous, because you already said everything I would say on the subject. (which is kind of how I feel about your book – the world does not need for me to write a book, as it has already been written by Matthew Lickona).

    Anyway. But I would recommend an album by Banu Gibson called “Banu Gibson Sings Johnny Mercer” or something like that. I saw her perform a concert primarily of Mercer songs a few years ago and it was terrific.

    And I assume you have read _Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil_?

  5. Matthew Lickona says

    Dorian,
    Thank you for your kind words; they mean the world to me. And thanks for the recommendation. Would you believe I have not read the book? And from a Syracuse man… shame on me. I did hear him read a section of it on A Prairie Home Companion, and that was good. I shouldn’t have seen the movie first. But thanks for the nudge.

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