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 6. “Sweet Lorraine” — “Ain’t Misbehavin’”
In 1914 Danny married a beautiful girl named Lorraine. They adored each other, they were the Nick and Nora of Christopher Street. They weren’t the first or the last to furnish a fifth-floor, cold-water walk-up apartment with love and little else. They were immensely happy. Soon they had a son whom they named after Johnny. They called him Little Johnny.
Lorraine gave up her teaching job so she could be home with Little Johnny, but she occupied herself with some tutoring and what we called her ‘politics.’ She was pretty active in trying to get the vote for women, which miraculously came about in 1920. It was not achieved without a long and difficult struggle, she even stood on some picket lines with little Johnny in her arms.
Marcus Garvey had founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association, known as UNIA. Lorraine volunteered to do some editing for their poetry magazine. Once she brought home a young poet named Andy Razaf who had written song lyrics for Eubie Blake and James P. Johnson. He brought a friend with him, a young fellow named Fats Waller.
Fats became so famous, partly because of his phenomenal playing and his great songs, but partly because of his wild antics and wonderful sense of humor. Once he was kidnapped by members of the Al Capone Gang in Chicago. They took him to Capone’s hideout, the Hawthorne Inn, where at gunpoint he was forced to play for the notorious gangster’s birthday party. They say he was held for three days before they let him go, exhausted, very drunk, and with thousands of dollars in tips stuffed into his pockets.
Fats loved a good joke. He told a story about a young drummer who just couldn’t keep a job. “He had a time problem. He didn’t rush the beat; that would have been bad enough. No, he would fall behind, ever so imperceptibly. But it was maddening for the guys trying to make the song really cook. They hated to let him go, he was such a sensitive guy. They were afraid he would do something drastic. Sure enough, one dark night, he threw himself behind a train!”
© 2010, Compass Rose Music, BMI
“Sweet Lorraine” was first published in 1928 with music by Cliff Burwell and lyrics by Mitchell Parish. This is Old Jack’s version which has taken on some of his stylistic embellishments, and again, as part of a medley, has been shortened.
It’s a pretty complex piece, probably beyond the scope of this article. I know it’s beyond the scope of my music theory chops to explain it, but it’s such a beautiful song. Here is a breakdown in simple terms. There are lots of unexpected shifts of major and minor, and some nice transitions. The first section of the verse does employ the circle of fifths with F giving way to D7 to G7 to C. Then in the second half, F to Dmin to A7, then Dmin to Gmin to C, repeated.
There are lots of nice walks in the left hand and passing chords moving against the repeated notes of the melody. The bridge moves to Gmin and D7, then Gmin to Fmin and that figure repeats, then the Gmin is followed by the C diminished and this pattern is heard four times as the melody comes to rest. I recommend getting the sheet music and really learning to play this one.
“Ain't Misbehavin’” was written in 1929 for the musical comedy Connie's Hot Chocolates. Andy Razaf wrote the lyrics to a score by Fats Waller and Harry Brooks. Louis Armstrong became the orchestra director. He and Fats worked up the song, ‘wood-shedding it’ until Louis could ‘play all around it.’ He said it was ‘one of those songs you could cut loose and swing with.’
One of the things that makes the melody of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” so compelling is the use of the diminished chord in the first phrase of the verse. It walks right into new territory and captures the ear. There are many sources on the Web for sheet music and tablature for a more detailed analysis; this is just a cursory look at the ways to open up new avenues of melody and harmony, so I’ve eliminated a lot of the added notes in the chords.
For the verse we’re basically hearing C, C♯dim, Dmin, G, then C, C7, F, Fmin, and C, Amin, Dmin G7. And in the turnaround E7, A7, D7 G7. The C♯diminished chord is really just a C chord with the C raised a half step. The third becomes a minor third and the fifth becomes a diminished fifth. This could also be understood as a passing tone.
Many of the harmonic elements of the song are familiar to us, and there is a fresh use of the circle of fifths, especially in the bridge. Starting with Am “Like Jack Horner, F in the corner, D, don’t go nowhere, Amaj what do I care? G Your kisses, D are worth waiting G for, Amin be- Dmin lieve G7 me.” That A major chord is a great lift.
This is a very simplified representation of the chords, and just meant as a guide to songwriters for an exploration of the song. The sheet music of the song would provide a much better approach to the voicing of the chords and musical passages leading into and out of the different sections. I consider this song to be right smack in the middle of the trove of the standards, as we’ve come to know the great ones.
From the book:
For Lorraine and for me life had become truly beautiful. Our being together brought an awakening to life’s mysteries and miracles. Two people whose eyes meet across the table in a crowded restaurant can communicate a conspiracy of delight without saying a word, such as might have them arrested if anybody knew what they were thinking. We were a crime wave of unrepentant sensuality. I blush to remember it.
Our son, ‘Little Johnny’ was born in May of 1915. By that time the war in Europe was in full press. British, French and German armies were bogged down in the trenches in Belgium. Hostilities had begun in August of the previous year when Serbian assassins had killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife as they rode in a carriage in Sarajevo. Apologies and reparations were demanded. The injured parties determined that satisfaction had not been achieved and so the mutual aggression pacts were invoked and the nations went to war.
That year the Germans and the British blockaded each others’ ports. The Germans attacked Le Havre with submarines, and made the first airship bombing raids on Paris. The Zeppelins began to bomb London, and on May the 7th, the day before our son was born, a German U-boat sank the Lusitania. It began to look like America would be drawn into the war.
Looking back, I’m struck by how different things can seem after some time has gone by. Powerful forces were at work, more than we could know at the time. As in the case of most world events, it might be years before we get to find out what really happened, if at all.
The war went on for nearly three years before the powers in Washington and Wall Street aligned to enter on the side of the British and French. Having invested much treasure, it was time to shed blood as well. Two events turned the nation toward war, one was a maritime tragedy and the other was a telegram.
The Lusitania was the fastest ship on the Atlantic, capable of more than 26 knots, but at the time of the U-boat attack the ship was traveling at half speed just eleven miles off the Irish coast in a declared war zone. The Germans were aware that the Lusitania was carrying munitions to England. There were so many spies among the longshoremen on the New York docks that the constant shipments of arms were well known.
The German embassy in New York published 50 ads in American newspapers cautioning people to avoid traveling on any British ship. One of those notices appeared just above the ad for the Cunard Line in the New York Times that morning of May 1st as the great ship prepared to depart.
It had only been three years since the Titanic met its fate in a collision with an iceberg. 1,500 people were lost on that clear, cold April night. The loss of 1,198 passengers and crew on the Lusitania, including 128 Americans, horrified the public.
Survivors of the attack said that there were two explosions, the second much larger than the first. The first would have been the torpedo, the only one from the U-boat, and it’s believed that the second explosion was due to explosives contained in the hold of the ship, and with this second explosion the ship sank almost immediately. Millions of rounds of ammunition showed up on the shipping manifests, but thousands of pounds more of explosives were listed as cheese and butter.
Lusitania was officially registered as an auxiliary war ship. She had been carrying munitions and high explosives for years. This fact was not made known to the British public at the time. Later there would be those who held that the Lusitania was purposely offered for sacrifice in order to bring the U. S. into the war. I’ve never been able to embrace the ghoulish implications of that, although similarly cold-blooded acts have taken place in every war.
On July 2, a German agent named Erich Muenter who had taught at Cornell University planted a bomb in the reception room of the U.S. Senate. The next day he traveled to the Long Island home of J. Pierpont Morgan, Jr., with a plan to kill or kidnap him, but was captured in a scuffle with Morgan and his wife and their butler. He had with him a satchel with dynamite and papers that listed the names of the children.
Morgan’s father, J. P. Morgan, was the agent for bond sales for the war effort and had raised hundreds of millions for the British. He was a titan of the banking establishment. He was credited with rescuing the nation from the crash of 1907, and had structured the merger that created U. S. Steel. But some who questioned the public image saw him as an agent of the British bankers; the ‘Empire loyalist at the heart of the American Establishment.’
Americans were still reluctant, resistant to being drawn into the war. But the banks and big businesses had been increasing their pressure on the administration. William Jennings Bryan had said, “There will be no war while I am Secretary of State,” but in 1915 he had resigned because he saw the coming conflagration and refused to order young Americans to die in a foreign war.
In January 1917, President Wilson released an intercepted telegram from the German minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador in Mexico. In it, Zimmermann asked Mexico to enter the war as Germany’s ally. The U.S. controlled the undersea cable from Europe and had decoded the secret message revealing that the Germans would help “regain for Mexico the lost territories of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas should the U.S. declare War on Germany.” With continued losses of ships, Wilson concluded that there was no longer any way to stay out of the war. At the beginning of April, he asked Congress for the declaration.
There was a call for volunteers, but when that only provided a few thousand men, a draft was instituted. The rapid reversal of American policy meant that there was a lot of dissent. The government moved quickly to establish agencies to suppress that dissent and many went to jail for just speaking critically about the issues.
The most famous of these was Eugene V. Debs who had run for president against Wilson. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for speaking out against the war. He addressed the judge as he was being sentenced: “Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” He ran again in the election of 1920 from jail and got a substantial percentage of the votes.
As a married man with a child I was exempt from the draft as was Johnny with his two daughters, at least for the time being. But it was painfully difficult to convince Lorraine that her desire to protest had to be deferred for the sake of our child. So many went to jail for simply demonstrating and picketing which had been tolerated just a few months before. I was never sure that I was right to ask her to deny her conscience in that way.
Mary loved Lorraine. They were as thick as thieves. They had a hundred secrets from me, but I always knew they were conspiring for my happiness. They were allied forces occupying my soul. Once in our bed, Lorraine asked me to put a pillow beneath her hips. The result was astonishing, breathlessly satisfying for both of us, but I felt twice naked when she told me Mary had suggested it.
© 2010, Compass Rose Music, BMI
The Lusitania arrives in Liverpool after her record crossing in 1907.