Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Listen to John McCormack & I'm Not Even Irish

Most of my neighbors in the Greenbush area were old immigrants and spent their time either cooking Old World foods, starring tearfully out of windows, screaming at each other, or listening to long playing records loud enough to shatter windows half a block away. Walking around the neighborhood as a seven year old, I became quite an opera fan, familiar with the tenor voices of Robert Merrill, Jan Peerce, Richard Tucker, Enrico Caruso, Mario Lanza and Lauritz Melchior.

I would knock on doors and invite myself into these airless homes to listen to old scratchy RCA opera recordings; just as the soprano was about to sing a stock number about dying, I would feign hunger pangs and ask for any old dessert that their ungrateful grandchildren had mistakenly left behind during their last hurried visit. Okay the Yiddish word for the day is schnorrer which translates as 'beggar' but I was a kid in a candy store and the grandkids never once missed an extra biscotti, tiramisu, tortoni, cannoli, zeppole, or zabaglione. I paid for my behavior years later with enough cavities to purchase 300 acres of beach front property in Maui for a dental co-op. I was also keeping the old people company, so that has to count for something in heaven.

I heard recordings of Paul Robeson in the "Bush" as well, and I was told he was the world's greatest basso profondo. I thought that meant 'anarchist' since only the most sinister moustache twirlers listened to him. None of these women seemed to ever have men around them. I never came over much to listen to Robeson, since his followers offered me nothing more filling than copies of Emma Goldman speeches to chew on.

But today is St. Patrick's Day so we'll put the Jewish, Italian and Danish tenors back in their sleeve jackets. When I think of classic Irish tenors, the name of John McCormack stands above all others. His voice was heard in the "Bush" as well, but usually in taverns on West Washington Avenue. Beer joints were off limits to a seven-year old, but that was okay with me. Based on what I found in the dumpsters behind these places, most tavern desserts were served with half-smoked cigarette butts stuck in them.

I only began to appreciate John McCormack's voice in college, when an Emmigrant's Daughter with Endearing Young Charms named Colette took this Croppy Boy to The Hills of Connemara and All Through the Night made my Non Irish Eyes Smile. Alright, that line stretches Irish songs way over the edge, but several shots of single malt Glenlivet will do that to a non-drinker like myself. Thank goodness blogging this in a speeding car is still legal on St. Patty's Day.

This excerpt highlighting the stunning voice of John McCormack is from a forgettable 1937 movie (it's mislabeled 1934) entitled Wings of the Morning, starring a very very young Henry Fonda with a very very bad English accent. The beauty he's courting is Annabella, future wife of Tyrone Powers. For all you film buffs out there, Wings of the Morning was the first Technicolor move shot in England. It's still unwatchable.

Happy St. Patty's Day

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