Note: This is a long post. If you are looking for a discussion of the song, scroll down 15 paragraphs … or so. 😉
I think it was William Blake who once said that “those who control their passions do so because their passions are weak enough to be controlled.” Right on, I would say, but when you have spent some time contemplating the idea of passion in relation to your own life, perhaps Robert Sternberg said it best when he narrowed everything down to a simple statement: “Passion is the quickest to develop, and the quickest to fade. Intimacy develops more slowly, and commitment more gradually still.” If you add Seneca’s age-old observation that “it is easier to exclude harmful passions than to rule them, and to deny them admittance than to control them after they have been admitted”, what you have is not only a much more complicated idea, but also a pretty solid framework to go by.
I could write about this endlessly, but suffice it to say that it’s easy to see that three golden rules can be derived from the quotes above:
01. Be strongly passionate about at least some things and don’t let others tell you that you shouldn’t be.
02. Passion is never enough if it doesn’t develop into more.
03. Don’t allow harmful passions into your life.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. People might disown a particular passion because it might get in the way of other things, people enter destructive relationships, start drinking or taking drugs because of some misguided concept of passion, they go bankrupt because a single passion controls their lives, or they simply don’t dare to develop a passion into something more meaningful; in short, they do everything wrong. Human fallacy.
Believe me, I’ve made plenty of mistakes myself, more than I’d care top admit to. I’ve had people who know me say that I use too many superlatives, that I exaggerate, that I’m indecisive, that I’m dispassionate, that … you name it and I’ve had it thrown thrown at me, both in a joking manner and in all seriousness but, to be brutally honest, I’ve learned not to give a flying …. well, you know.
What’s wrong with liking much more music equally much than just about anyone else has on their whatever lists? What’s wrong with looking for a relationship that is more than is commonly perceived today? What’s wrong with demanding that someone pay attention to your passion? What’s wrong with having passion altogether?
In the last few years, too much of what I would call passion in my life has dissipated. Not the one for music, not at all, but for other things. In short, if you focus too much on one new passion, all the others begin to disappear into thin air. It is astonishing, really. I didn’t think it was possible.
Sometimes I thought I should tone my passions down a bit or to cancel some for the greater good, and I did, for whichever bright-red devil was riding my shoulder, but not too long ago I decided not to do that anymore. The problem is that I don’t understand how some people I’ve known can display such a lack of passion for just about anything. They say they have it for this or that, but when you watch them more closely, they just don’t, or they simply don’t want to. They’re almost acting the part.
To me, and I guess I diverge from the mean substantially here, I need to see someone’s heart and eyes light up with passion for something, consistently. I don’t care if it’s for cardboard coasters or comics, for the beauty of Ferrari engines, Rembrandt’s pencil and charcoal drawings … or another person. But if something lights up, they have my undivided attention, no matter what the topic. In short, I listen.
Often though, I’ve encountered people who don’t reciprocate: They just shut down when it comes to paying attention, they feign or display real boredom, they change the subject, they fall asleep or they even say straight-out that they couldn’t give a hoot. Why? Because they don’t understand the concept. They aren’t really passionate about anything … or, which is worse, they’ve bottled their own passions up.
The worst-case scenario is when you see people who have a passion for something and don’t allow themselves to give in to it. They’ve erected so many walls and so may counter measures that it’s virtually impossible to see beyond the barriers. Control freaks. They refuse to give in, they don’t let a single opening shine through and once they do, usually by accident, they will again concentrate all their efforts on camouflaging the passion(s) they have. So much so that they lose sight of them or simply become confused about the most powerful thing they have in their lives, the one thing that can turn negative into positive or add spice to their lives. If you meet those kinds of people, it’s too damn easy to get swept away by their efforts, to comply or to simply fall in line. Especially if you like or love them.
Life could be so easy, couldn’t it?
It just never is.
Just like principles, passions are difficult to uphold and defend, especially if you are told time and again that you shouldn’t have or keep them. The problem is that it took a lifetime of trial and error to solidify some of both and although some might be stupid or, worse, petty, they make you what you are. Yes, you can and will give them up if the right person comes along. But only then.
The other day a real friend, thousands of miles away from my home, wrinkled his forehead in astonishment and said: “Man, what happened to your passions? You were always so damn passionate about things.” My sad answer after quite a while was: “I don’t know. I think they got swept away by another one.” He laughed and said: “There’s a film in there somewhere, you know that, don’t you?” I asked him not to write the script and we got on with life.
All throughout the turmoils that are called life, I’ve kept one passion as a guiding-line, music. I do admit that there’s so much good stuff available that I have several top 10 lists that often turn into top 100 lists within a few minutes, that I have a hard time concentrating on one favorite tune when I’m playing it for a friend or guest, just because the next great one raises its bopping head before the one still on has played out. It sometimes appears to be an affliction, but it’s also a safe haven. It is the one passion I’ve kept to perhaps make up for the ones I suppressed, because of another person, because of financial difficulties, or because of other reasons.
I love music, in all shapes, forms, colors or styles, and if you asked me to assemble a list of favorite artists, tunes, recordings, sessions, covers, books or whatever, you are likely to get a 10-hour run down of me trying to paint you a very broad picture of the very tip of the iceberg. It’s just the way I am.
And on those top whatever lists are some tunes that would perhaps make other people run away in sheer terror. Again, I don’t care. It’s often very difficult to explain how and why a tune slowly crept up a list or why it landed in a top spot the second I heard it, and yes, some tunes are rather odd, but they’re on there and if you ask me, you get the explanation, if you want it or not.
I had heard “Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy” before, but it was June Christy, accompanied by the Stan Kenton Orchestra, who slapped me across the face with it some years ago when I was lucky enough to score the Japanese 8-CD “Capitol Vocal Classics 1942-1955” box for next to nothing on eBay. I clearly remember the day when both that set and the 8-CD “Capitol Jazz Classics” popped up on my eBay radar and I recall the sheer excitement of trying to get hold of those two no matter what the cost. As it turned out – adding to the excitement – nobody seemed to really know what those two boxes were and I got them so cheap that the guy selling them sent me an odd eMail telling me what a rare bargain I had made. It was clear that he didn’t feel like selling them at that low a price, but he did and once I sent him a passionate mail describing how much I wanted the two boxes, he seemed to be satisfied enough that they had found a decent home that he took even extra care with wrapping them. I never, ever received a shipment which was so carefully and safely packaged.
When the boxes arrived here on a weekend, I spent almost 24 hours listening, studying and enjoying, but my progress was hampered because I got stuck at song 16 on disc 1 of the Vocal Classics set, again and again.
Yep, “Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy,” recorded in 1946.
The first few notes are killer, with a wonderful (almost) staccato and syncopated rhythm and a knock-out trumpet intro, fading into June Christy’s superb vocal rendition. Yes, it’s crossover Kenton, it’s June Christy trying to fill that huge gap Anita O’Day had left in the Kenton sound, and it is, to be quite honest, definitely not a lyrical masterpiece.
Mama! When you bake,
Mama! I don’t want cake;
Mama! For my sake
Go to the oven and make some ever lovin’
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up,
Your tummy say ‘Howdy,’
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff!
But damn, that tune smokes because it’s just unpretentious fun, It’s one of the tunes that can get me to dance around the living room, acting and looking stupid, enjoying myself.
The other day I visited my parents in our former capital, and when we went through my dad’s collection for some Anita O’Day tune, I got stuck once again. I don’t recall if we ever made it past “Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy” in earnest, and the wonderful Christmas days are several thousand kilometers away at the moment, but us wondering what in God’s name “Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy” really is/are, stuck to my mind and today I finally sat down and did some research. We knew it was some sort of dessert, but the details eluded us completely. Well, here they are:
Shoo Fly Pie is a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dessert. Brown sugar, molasses, shortening, salt, and spices were all non-perishable ingredients that could survive the long ocean’s crossing to America made by German immigrants. The pie’s unusual name is said to be due to the fact that pies were traditionally set to cool on windowsills, and due to the sweet ingredients, the cook would constantly have to shoo the flies away.
Apple pan dowdy is one of a family of simple desserts, known in different parts of the world as cobblers, duffs, grunts, slumps and pan dowdies. These desserts have subtle variations, but the base of all of them is fruit baked with a sweet biscuit or cake dough top.
The exact origin of the name ‘pan dowdy’ is unknown, but it is thought to refer to the dessert’s plain or “dowdy” appearance. Looks can be deceiving, apple pan dowdy is delicious, especially topped with a bit of ice cream or whipped cream. Both these desserts are super easy to make, yet win rave reviews from diners. Try some tonight. Your dinner guests just won’t be able to get enough of that wonderful stuff!
“Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy” is the one song I will put on again to take me into the new year.
I hope I could explain why.
Livingwithmusic.com will stay passionate, even if it does not at all times cover what you yourself might like, and it will continue to dig up some stuff you might never have heard, might never have considered to be worthwhile or might even hate with a passion. But, and that’s the point, if I manage to get you to listen to one tune or one recording or to buy one piece of furniture that makes your eyes or heart light up, it’s all been worthwhile.
Be passionate and stay passionate.
See you in 2007.
It’ll be a great year.
P.S.: Next year around the same time I might cover “Lovely Weather for Ducks”, sung by Rosemary Clooney with the Dorsey band. It’s abnormally corny … and it’s an equally great tune. I’m going to put it on right now …