Lyrics and Life
By Caitlin Ward
Blues in the Night
My mama done tol’ me,
Now the rain’s a-fallin,’
The evenin’ breeze’ll start the trees to cryin’
From Natchez to Mobile,
My mama was right
Lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Harold Arlen, 1941
I have a love/hate relationship with changing seasons. I don’t suppose that’s particularly unusual ’round these parts. Spring is nice because it signals the end of winter, but it’s wet and things flood and roads wash out, and just when you think it’s going to be a beautiful day, everything goes terribly wrong. A friend of mine once missed his own Saskatoon book launch because he was stuck in a blizzard at the Manitoba border. On May 1st.
Fall’s a bit more low key. The yellowing leaves are pretty and the chill in the air is crisp. But it’s all edged by a feeling of depression as the days get shorter and the nights grow colder. Around Sept. 30, panic sets in as we both fear and expect the first snow any day now. In my lifetime, “any day now,” has ranged from the last week in September to the last week in December. Every year, the new hires at my place of work ask if August or September is “usually like this.” I don’t know what to say to that. September isn’t usually like anything. The weather is all yes/no/maybe/haha wouldn’t you like to know. If Saskatchewan were a person, we’d all think he was a bit of a bastard.
I may be alone in this, but I actually don’t mind that part so much — I kind of like how hyperbolic the weather gets. However temporary I know it is, there’s something completely euphoric about the first melt in late February or early March, and something so peaceful about that week we sometimes get in late September where it feels like summer the but the leaves have all changed. I’ve lived in places with less dramatic weather, and it’s kind of underwhelming. Until an unexpected heat wave hit at the end of June, I could barely tell the difference between winter and summer when I lived in London. It was just kind of cold and occasionally windy for months on end.
The real trouble about fall and spring for me is the insomnia that sets in. I don’t know if it’s the fluctuating temperatures, the change in air pressure, my somewhat elusive allergies, or just a case of the flesh being weak: when the weather starts to change, I lose the ability to sleep. I’ve been averaging about four hours a night since last Sunday.
It’s making me feel a bit loopy during the day and a bit ambivalent during the night. If I just wait until 3 a.m. to go to bed, I feel as if I’ve only got myself to blame when I’m exhausted the next morning. Alternatively, I lie in bed getting progressively more furious from about midnight on. Either way, I wake up an hour before my alarm clock goes off and at that point I’m too tired to have feelings about anything.
If this were a Chuck Palahniuk novel, my personality would split and the furious half of me would try to start a revolution. I like to think I have a slightly better grasp of reality than that, though, or at least a better sense of personal narrative. So instead, I’ve been staying up late arranging Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer collaborations from the Great American Songbook. Because, you know. At some point I always go back to Sinatra standards.
Arlen and Mercer were no Gershwin and Gershwin. Separately, they wrote famous songs for famous films (the Wizard of Oz and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, respectively), but together, they seem to have written great songs for films you’ve probably never heard of. Unless your feeling for mid-century American films approaches the ardour of mine, I doubt you’ve seen The Sky’s the Limit and I’m strongly advising you not to see Blues in the Night. But you should probably all look into Sinatra’s version of One For my Baby (And One More For the Road), or, well, anyone’s rendition of Blues in the Night (except maybe mine). But even if you don’t look into either, you’ve probably heard both at some point. Michael Bublé’s probably covered them, irritating man that he is.
Most Arlen/Mercer songs are pretty heartbroken or bitter. I’m not either at the moment, but the songs all seem to take place at night, and that works very well with the nocturnal hours I’m forced to keep these days. Unless the air pressure changes sometime soon, I’m going to be orchestrating their whole back catalogue.
Ward is a freelance writer and aspiring documentary filmmaker based in Saskatoon. You can find her short bursts of insight and frustration at http://www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings