I Love a Gershwin Tune. How About You?

I really do love George Gershwin’s music. But I’ve never been a fan of musicals, so there’s a bit of a disconnect there. I don’t dislike musicals per se, I just tend to be pretty particular about them. 1951’s An American in Paris, yes. (Gershwin, Gene Kelly AND Leslie Caron—how could I lose?) 1965’s The Sound of Music? Not so much. I’m sure that’s blasphemy to many. But I’ve never been able to embrace anything about it—not the story, not the music.

So anyway, here’s the reason I’m bringing up Gershwin. His lyrics go through my head a lot. (Much credit needs to go to Ira Gershwin on that, too—not just George). The heaviest-rotation-in-my-internal-jukebox is probably a toss-up between Gershwin and Pink Floyd. There’s something for you analytical types to chew on.

Walking through New Orleans’ City Park this past Saturday morning, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” started going through my head. A cold front had just blown through the night before, the air was clear and cool, the sky was cloudless. There was a translucence to the way the sunlight was filtering through the oak trees. “They can’t take this away from me,” I thought. Or, at least, “It will take a whole lot to take this away.” Those same trees have withstood being steeped halfway up their trunks in floodwater (for three weeks straight). It’s going to take something much more cataclysmic than Katrina to fell them for good.

city_park_nola

I tend to think of that song when I’m feeling put upon. Like at my job. If I’m just not feeling whatever tasks the daylight hours hold for me, I’ll consider my pre-dawn hours with reverence. The time I reserve for writing. “They can’t take that away from me,” I’ll think.

So it all got me thinking: what was going through Gershwin’s head when he wrote it? I recalled that George Gershwin did not live to see World War II, but that’s the only context I could come up with on my own. What would the Internet have to say about it?

The Internet tells me George and Ira Gershwin wrote the song, and it first appeared in the 1937 film Shall We Dance starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Wikipedia was light in terms of any subtext, but this felt pretty big: two months after the film was released, George Gershwin died. He had been suffering from a brain tumor for most of 1937. He was only thirty-eight years old.

Had he been aware of his impending mortality? Did he have early signs of his cognitive decline? Because, talk about having things taken from you. Wow.

Definitely puts my work doldrums in perspective.

George Gershwin received a posthumous Academy Award nomination—his only one—for Best Original Song for “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”

It’s a shame he and Ira didn’t win. The winner was “Sweet Leilani” from Waikiki Wedding. I need more Internet searches to give me the first clue about that song and movie.

But I’ll spare us all more of my meanderings, and instead offer the lovely lyrics to “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” Thank you, George and Ira Gershwin.

The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No, no, they can’t take that away from me

 

The way your smile just beams
The way you sing off-key
The way you haunt my dreams
No, no, they can’t take that away from me

 

We may never, never meet again
On this bumpy road to love
Still I’ll always, always keep the memory of…

 

The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you’ve changed my life
No, no, they can’t take that away from me
No, they can’t take that away from me

220px-george_gershwin-signed

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