The Man is an audio novel set in the first decades of the 20th century
The stories and original songs are written by Steve Gillette
Track 17. “Let the Rain Decide”
Bix Beiderbecke died in 1931. He was only 28 years old. He had lived fast and burned bright. There was nobody quite like him. That same year, Eddie Lang died from complications of an operation to remove his tonsils.
Danny had seen so many friends go on to the next world without really knowing how he felt about all that. He just had to let them go. And then in 1936 after little more than twenty years together, he lost Lorraine.
In a nostalgic moment, Danny would throw his head back and the dream would come over him. You could see that he was remembering.
© 2010, Compass Rose Music, BMI
The song begins with a verse of whistling. This is meant to evoke the mood of some of the somber, sweet harmony pieces of the era, similar to the Mills Brothers, or some of Bing Crosby’s songs. The lyrics begin with the bridge where the harmony shifts to A-minor.
And looking back, over my life, I could not ask for more
Those lovely morning glories still twine around my door.
But sometimes there’s a sadness, that can not be denied
There are just some things you have to let the rain decide.
There are just some things you have to let the rain decide.
For this recording we had Dave Davies on trombone, Peter Davis on clarinet, Peter Eklund on cornet and horn arrangements, Nathaniel Parke on cello, Scott Petito on bass, Jack Williams on guitar and Randy Wolchek on piano.
Words & Music by Steve Gillette,
© 2010, Compass Rose Music, BMI
From the Novel:
At the end of January in 1933, The Lone Ranger began broadcasting out of Detroit on station WXYZ. The series was created by Fran Striker based on an earlier series of his called Covered Wagon Days. Tonto did not appear until the eleventh episode, and explained that “Kemo Sabe” means “trusty scout.”
It would be several years before the Lone Ranger acquired his famous horse, Silver. At first he rode a chestnut mare named Dusty. It seemed like the show was written for a young audience, but we enjoyed it. We missed a lot of the episodes, but that didn’t seem to matter, since it wasn’t strictly a serial.
Giuseppe Zangara was an Italian immigrant and naturalized United States citizen who attempted to assassinate President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt on February 15, 1933, seventeen days before Roosevelt’s inauguration. During a night speech by Roosevelt in Miami, Zangara fired five shots with a handgun. He missed FDR and instead injured five bystanders, mortally wounding Anton Cermak, the Mayor of Chicago.
Roosevelt had been elected in November of 1932. He asked Frances Perkins to be his secretary of labor. She drove a hard bargain, saying that she would only accept if he would support her social-justice agenda. She wanted federal relief and public-works programs to help victims of the Depression, along with federal minimum-wage laws, a ban on child labor, and unemployment and old-age insurance.
Lorraine had not known her when she was at Columbia, but had followed her career in the class newsletters, especially after Frances went to work in the governor’s office.
When Roosevelt agreed to her list of demands, he said, “I suppose you are going to nag me about this forever.” Perkins later said, “He wanted his conscience kept for him by somebody, and I was qualified for the job.”
When critics raised objections to the scale of the president’s programs, his administrator, Harry Hopkins, had said, “People don’t eat in the long run. They eat every day.”
Eddie Lang was born Salvatore Massaro. He had grown up with Joe Venuti. They both joined the Whiteman band in 1929. Right away Eddie made an impact. He couldn’t read music, but Whiteman was impressed by his ability to learn songs quickly. He played a big Gibson L-5 like mine with a ‘punchy’ flawless pulse which became the rhythmic soul of many of the recordings, and a pleasure for vocalists, especially Bing.
Lang suffered from occasional laryngitis, chronic sore throat, and digestion problems. After a doctor recommended a tonsillectomy, Crosby urged him to have the operation. They were assured that the operation was routine when Lang entered Park West Hospital in Manhattan, but he never awakened from the surgery. He was just thirty when he died.
He left behind his wife, Kitty, whom he had met in 1920 when she was touring with a Ziegfeld Follies road company and he was playing with a band in Philadelphia. Bing took Eddie’s death very hard, and said he blamed himself for pressuring Eddie to have the operation.
Lorraine and Johnny and I went to see the movie King Kong when it came to town in March. It was exciting to see the Empire State Building, quite amazing how they were able to portray the giant beast clinging to the tower and leaning out to strike at the strafing planes. The movie was a sensation, so successful that a sequel entitled The Son of Kong, was quickly made and appeared before the end of the year. It featured ‘Little Kong.’ All three of us really enjoyed the film, but didn’t bother to see the sequel when it came out.
In April of 1933, beer was declared “not an alcoholic beverage.” The government struck a compromise with the beer companies to allow for the sale of a product that didn’t carry the stigma of stronger drink. Beer was more easily regulated than “bathtub gin” since its production needed a larger operation. Also, it could be taxed. August Busch made the announcement with a glass of beer over CBS Radio.
After the crash of ‘29, the economy was stunned, barely moving. Over five thousand banks closed and huge numbers of businesses closed too. Those that continued laid off employees and cut the wages of those who remained, again and again. Industrial production fell by 50 percent, and by 1933 perhaps one-fourth of Americans were out of work.
Much of the work of chronicling the suffering of those years was done by playwrights, photographers, historians, and writers, hired by the government under the Works Progress Administration. The WPA’s Federal Writers’ Project provided employment to more than seven thousand writers, including Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, John Cheever, and Richard Wright. WPA programs also sponsored the photography of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.
On July 14th, Adolph Hitler signed into law Article 1 of the “Decree Concerning the Constitution of the German Protestant Church,” merging the German Protestant Church into the Reich, and giving the Reich authority to ordain priests.
The constitution of this new state church called for “one body and one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all of us, who is above all, and through all, and in all.” Hitler, who was born into the Roman Catholic Church, was never excommunicated.
Late in 1932, seventeen-year-old Billy Holiday had replaced the singer Monette Moore at Covan’s, a club on West 132nd Street. John Hammond, who had often gone to hear Monette Moore, was amazed to hear this new, very young interpreter and began to spread the word about her talent.
He arranged for her to make her recording debut at age 18, in November 1933, with Benny Goodman. She recorded two songs: “Your Mother’s Son-In-Law” and “Riffin’ the Scotch,” the latter being her first hit. “Son-in-Law” sold 300 copies, and “Riffin’ the Scotch” sold 5,000 copies.
Hammond was impressed by Holiday’s singing style and said, “She was the first girl singer I’d come across who actually sang like an improvising jazz genius.” He compared her favorably to Louie Armstrong and said she had a good sense of lyric content at her young age. Her father, Clarence, had been a jazz saxophonist.
In 1934 West 52nd Street in Manhattan was packed with clubs. The swing era was in full stride. Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie led very successful and influential groups, but most of the big hits were recorded by white band leaders like Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey.
Roosevelt named Joseph Kennedy to head the Securities Exchange Commission for an aggressive cleanup of Wall Street. There were some who said that he was putting the fox in charge of the hens, but Roosevelt claimed that Kennedy knew all the tricks and was well qualified to clean house.
Kennedy recognized that soon prohibition would come to an end. He took advantage of his new role to team up with the president’s oldest son, James, to negotiate a deal with the British distributors of Haig & Haig, Dewar’s and Gordon’s Gin for the American franchise from which he made millions.
Smedley Darlington Butler was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps and the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. He came forward in 1934 to inform Congress that a group of wealthy industrialists had plotted a military coup to overthrow the government of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The plan was for Butler to lead the ‘bonus army’ of 500,000 homeless and disenfranchised World War I veterans – an army that the plotters would provide for with their vast financial resources and control of the media.
In his 1935 book, War Is a Racket, Butler expressed his condemnation of the profit motive behind war. In Common Sense magazine, he wrote: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.
“I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.”
In May of 1935, Johnny graduated from Columbia in international studies and was accepted into graduate school in preparation for a career in the foreign service. Still ambivalent about military service, he felt that he was taking a proactive course by looking to work with the government. It was becoming clear that another war was a definite possibility, and he felt he might be a force for good, rather than just another body to be thrown into the fray.
Johnny brought home a copy of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s plan for world domination. I read it over that summer. Hitler’s logic seemed so twisted. He was saying that Germany was ‘under attack’ from the Jews and the Poles and the Czechs, and the rest of Europe. He constantly harped on the unfair burden that France and the West have imposed on the innocent German people.
It’s not good writing or good thinking, but I could see how so many desperate people would cling to nationalistic pride and fall in line with his plans for dominance of the region. He actually seems maniacal enough to seek mastery of the world, and the Japanese appear to be ready to help him, at least as far as the West is concerned.
Disturbingly, he uses the example of the elimination of the native peoples of the United States as a justification of what he will do to the Jews on the way to dominance of the world by the Aryan people in a “Thousand Year Reich.”
In 1935, Billy Holiday was signed to Brunswick by John Hammond to record with pianist Teddy Wilson in the swing style for the growing jukebox trade. They were allowed to improvise on the material. Holiday’s improvisation of melody to fit the emotion was revolutionary. Their first collaboration included “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown to You.”
Hammond said the Wilson-Holiday records were a great asset to Brunswick. According to Hammond, Brunswick was broke and unable to record many jazz tunes. Wilson, Holiday and Lester Young, and the other players came into the studio without written arrangements, reducing the recording cost.
Brunswick paid Holiday a flat fee rather than royalties, which saved the company money. "I Cried for You" sold 15,000 copies, which Hammond called “a giant hit for Brunswick.” Lester Young and Billy Holiday had a wonderful musical empathy. He nicknamed her “Lady Day,” and she called him “Prez.”
In August of 1935 we learned of the tragic deaths of Will Rogers and Wiley Post. We met Will when he was making the movie “Laughing Bill Hyde” for Goldwyn in 1918 just before he moved to California. When he made A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in 1931,we took Johnny to see it. Johnny was no longer a child, but the movie had some magic of its own in addition to what Twain had given it, and it had been a favorite bed time story.
We were fans of his radio show too. He used to ramble so much, always funny, but sometimes forgetting the time, and the network would throw the switch at precisely eight o’clock, often in the middle of a story. So he bought an alarm clock, and it would signal when his time was almost up. Eventually the announcer would introduce him as “Will Rogers and his famous alarm clock.”
Wiley Post was a famed American aviator. In 1931, he and his navigator Harold Gatty broke the around-the-world record that had been held by an airship, the Graf Zeppelin. In 1933, with the aid of a more advanced autopilot and compass, he did the same thing alone. In the summer of 1935, Will and Wiley Post began their expedition to explore possible postal routes and passenger service for Alaska and Eastern Russia.
Their plane was a hybrid Lockheed Orion with a wing from a Lockheed Explorer which Post had modified and fitted with floats for landing on the water. On August 15th they left Fairbanks headed for Point Barrow, and dropped down under the clouds to try to find a landmark. They saw a native Iñupiaq fisherman on the shore and landed in the lagoon to ask for directions. The fisherman told them that they should follow the coast and that they were headed in the right direction.
So often pilot error is listed as the cause of a crash — in this case, it was the decision to take off without switching to the full wing tank. This caused the fuel-starved engine to lose power during the steep bank as the plane rose from the water. The modified Lockheed, uncontrollably nose-heavy at low speed, spun in destroying the airplane. Both men died in the crash.
Adelaide Hall arrived in Paris, France in the fall of 1935. She and her husband Bert opened a nightclub in Montmartre called La Grosse Pomme, where she frequently entertained. The Quintette du Hot Club de France with Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli was one of the house bands Hall hired at the club.
The Depression was worldwide. Every one of the rich countries hit upon more or less the same method of getting out – that is, state spending, public spending of some kind. The proponents liked to call it “Keynesian stimulation,” although Keynes had cautioned against extreme expansion of the money supply. In fascist countries it worked very well. In fact, every country became sort of fascist. Mussolini said that the proper term for his government was not “fascism,” but “corporatism.”
We began to hear more about developments in Nazi Germany, and about the participation of American companies in rebuilding the German armaments industry. Lorraine was receiving reports from peace groups that were warning of the danger of another war, and the Columbia community was buzzing with theories and papers.
One report I saw had to do with oil production and specifically the tetra-ethyl additive, which was needed for airplanes, especially war planes. There were similar articles on synthetic rubber and the pacts that were being made with American companies and the German military. It seemed that many companies were finding ways to profit from Germany’s military buildup.
In Spain, the popular revolt had become a civil war. Franco was receiving help from Hitler and Mussolini in money, tanks, and guns, and the battlefield was proving to be a testing ground for the German Wehrmacht.
Many American businesses have actively supported the fascists. Thorkild Rieber as head of Texaco declared his support for the Nazi government, as have so many American business leaders and bankers. Texaco had a contract with the Spanish Republic, but they simply decided to deliver the oil to Franco’s forces.
As I understand it, the corporations have supported the Nazi regime’s role in re-organizing labor, and killing off the communists. But now that Hitler and Goering are in power they have their own agenda, and they are not about to moderate their ambitions. None of those business leaders have wanted a war involving the whole world, but it looks like that may be unavoidable now.
I’m so distrustful of anyone who wants to be a messiah, or wants to impose one on us. I know we need good leaders, but I’m starting to sound like those old men who used to say that true conservatism holds the promise of stability and security. But, there is a young man inside who still shouts for fairness for the poor, and a better world for all. Am I as susceptible to the drum beat as anyone else?
Isn’t there an unwritten contract between the financial titans and the public, the workers, mothers and children who depend on businesses for their survival? Does the financial planner have an obligation to consider the consequences of the profit-taking manipulations to those who don’t have any power in that arrangement?
Is it all justified by gain at the top? Are there times when profit-seeking runs dangerously ahead of the meager fortunes of the underclass? Is there an issue of class in America? It’s true that we don’t have a royal order in the sense of the old monarchies, but don’t we have something similar and possibly more onerous in the super-fortunes of the few?
When F.D.R. ran for re-election in 1936, a headline in William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers insisted that “Moscow Backs Roosevelt.” But Americans were not fooled. They knew he was on their side in a way that Herbert Hoover and his fellow free-marketers hadn’t been. They could see first-hand the good that Roosevelt’s jobs programs were doing for the Depression’s victims and the slow but unmistakable improvements in the economy. Roosevelt won in a bigger landslide than he had four years earlier.
In November of 1936 Robert Johnson recorded twenty-nine songs for the American Record Corporation in a hotel room in San Antonio. Later he recorded another eleven songs in Dallas. “Terraplane Blues” was the only one that he would live to hear on the air. It became a modest hit and sold 5,000 copies.
Always aware that her days were numbered, (much more so than I was, since I was left out of so many of those private talks with her doctors) Rainy succumbed to her brain lesions very peacefully in the winter of 1936. She was reading. She simply placed her hands on her book, closed her eyes and she was gone.
She had prepared for all of it. Everything was so neatly organized, even my own things were ordered so that I could find them. She had planned to live each day as a gift, but not to have any anxieties about how we would get along without her.
Thinking back I realized that she kept all of it from me. She made it possible for us to have a happy life without the restraint that I surely would have placed on it. Walking in the woods, running even, tumbling into the snow, a hundred other occasions. I cringe now to think that our spontaneity and love-making rag doll abandon could never have been. That was her gift to me.
On January 16th, 1938 at Carnegie Hall, Benny Goodman presented “Twenty Years of Jazz.” This was a thumbnail history which featured Harry James and Gene Krupa, playing arrangements by Fletcher Henderson. Later in the evening, a “jam session” gave the audience a feel for the impromptu character of Jazz. Goodman was joined by pianist Count Basie, saxophonists Johnny Hodges, Lester Young, and Harry Carney, along with trumpeter Buck Clayton.
On March 15th, before a swastika-waving crowd of two hundred thousand German Austrians at Vienna’s Heldenplatz, Plaza of Heroes, Adolf Hitler announced the Anschluss, the unification of Germany and Austria. Goebbels arranged for his Ministry of Propaganda to absorb the Austrian broadcasting system.
Having seized all branches of government and eliminated his political opposition in 1933, Hitler had stripped German Jews of citizenship beginning in 1935, with the Nuremberg Laws. He’d built an air force and raised an army. In 1936, he had sent a thirty-five-thousand-man army into the Rhineland and met no armed resistance. Later that year, he entered into an alliance called the Axis, with Japan and Italy.
On September 14, 1938, the BBC reported on a message sent to Hitler by Neville Chamberlain: “In view of increasingly critical situation, I propose to come over at once to see you, with a view of trying to find a peaceful solution.” In what came to be called the Four-Power Pact, Italy, England, and France agreed to allow Germany to seize parts of Czechoslovakia.
Chamberlain, returning to London, announced that “all Europe may find peace.” On a live radio broadcast, he read aloud the agreement made with Hitler. His chief critic, Winston Churchill, condemned him for appeasing Hitler in the vain hope of avoiding war. “You were given the choice between war and dishonor,” Churchill told Chamberlain. “You chose dishonor and you shall have war.”
On November 9, Nazis across Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland burned more than seven thousand Jewish shops and more than a thousand synagogues. They murdered shopkeepers and arrested more than thirty thousand Jews. That night became known as “Kristallnacht,” after the smashed glass that littered the streets.
“This is not a Jewish crisis,” wrote Dorothy Thompson. “It is a human crisis.” It was as if the sky itself had shattered. From the White House, Roosevelt said he “could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth-century civilization.”
Hammond called me to ask for help with a new project. On December 23, he presented what he called, “Spirituals to Swing.” The concert featured Billy Holiday, Sonny Terry and Count Basie. Originally, Robert Johnson was scheduled to appear, but we heard that he had been murdered by a jealous rival six months before. Two of his recordings were played for the audience. Bill Broonzy took his place on the concert.
On July 4th, 1939, one of the saddest events I ever witnessed took place at Yankee Stadium. It was Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day and 62,000 fans gathered to honor the great “Iron Horse.” As part of the ceremony, his number 4 was retired. He was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
All the members of the Yankees stood in formation behind him as he made his way to the microphone. He looked as if he could hardly stand. He couldn’t straighten his spine. The crowd chanted his name, he blew his nose and seemed to get his shaking under control. His voice was quavery and echoed from the speakers around the stadium.
He surprised everyone by saying that he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth. He talked about how the fans and players had been kind to him, and what an honor it was to associate with such grand fellows. Everyone was in tears as he said goodbye to his teammates and the fans. Ruth rushed forward to embrace his friend, and the crowd exploded with emotion.
“Strange Fruit” is a song based on a poem about lynching written by Abel Meeropol. Barney Josephson, the proprietor of Café Society, an integrated nightclub in Greenwich Village, brought it to Billy Holiday.
Holiday said her father, Clarence Holiday, was denied medical treatment for a fatal lung disorder because of racial prejudice, and that singing “Strange Fruit” confronted her with mixed emotions. “It reminds me of how Pop died, but I have to keep singing it, not only because people ask for it, but because twenty years after Pop died the things that killed him are still happening in the South.”
In her autobiography, there’s a wonderful line, “Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was eighteen, she was sixteen, and I was three.”
My discussions with Johnny were always instructive. I was so proud of him, he had become a serious scholar and was kind to include me in some of the explorations of his studies. At the same time, he seemed to be able to assure me that he relied on my worldly wisdom in important matters. I may have been more convinced of that than I would have been with someone else’s child.
In the Spring of 1940, as we were trying to learn more about what was happening in Europe and how it would come to change our lives, he shared with me an article from a British publication by an unknown writer whose name was George Orwell.
It was a review of a new printing of Mein Kampf in the New English Weekly edition of March 21, 1940. In an earlier edition of the book, the publishers had taken pains to present Hitler in the best possible light. But after only a year, as Britain was drawn into the war, they republished the book declaring that all profits would be given to the Red Cross. Orwell wrote:
“It is a sign of the speed at which events are moving that Hurst and Blackett’s unexpurgated edition of Mein Kampf, published only a year ago, is edited from a pro-Hitler angle. The obvious intention of the translator’s preface and notes is to tone down the book’s ferocity and present Hitler in as kindly a light as possible.
“For at that date Hitler was still respectable. He had crushed the German labour movement, and for that the property-owning classes were willing to forgive him almost anything. Both Left and Right concurred in the very shallow notion that National Socialism was merely a version of Conservatism.
“Then suddenly it turned out that Hitler was not respectable after all. As one result of this, Hurst and Blackett’s edition was reissued in a new jacket explaining that all profits would be devoted to the Red Cross. Nevertheless, simply on the internal evidence of Mein Kampf, it is difficult to believe that any real change has taken place in Hitler’s aims and opinions.
“When one compares his utterances of a year or so ago with those made fifteen years earlier, a thing that strikes one is the rigidity of his mind, the way in which his world-view doesn’t develop. It is the fixed vision of a monomaniac and not likely to be much affected by the temporary manoeuvres of power politics.
“Probably, in Hitler’s own mind, the Russo-German Pact represents no more than an alteration of time-table. The plan laid down in Mein Kampf was to smash Russia first, with the implied intention of smashing England afterwards.
“Now, as it has turned out, England has got to be dealt with first, because Russia was more easily bribed of the two. But Russia’s turn will come when England is out of the picture – that, no doubt, is how Hitler sees it. Whether it will turn out that way is of course a different question.”
© 2010, Compass Rose Music
Lou Gehrig, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, 1928.