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 13. “The Man Who Loves a Train”
In 1929 the whole Paul Whiteman band boarded a train for Hollywood. Whiteman had written a best-selling book, The King of Jazz, and it was being made into a movie. This was a private train paid for by the sponsors of the Old Gold Hour, Whiteman’s weekly radio show, and thirty of the band members and staff, with reporters and tobacco company executives – there was even a box car for Whiteman’s Deusenberg.
It took a couple of weeks to cross the country: Eddie Lange and Joe Venuti, Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Traumbaur, Bing Crosby, even a stow-away, young Hoagy Charmichael.
In one of those long afternoon bull sessions, somebody brought up the old idea that there was something special about sex on a train. Something about the vibration. Bix seemed particularly fascinated by that, and that’s how Danny happened to write that song.
© 2010, Compass Rose Music, BMI
“The Man Who Loves a Train,” Words & Music by Steve Gillette
But she was
And the telegram said,
© 2010, Compass Rose Music, BMI
From the book:
What a time to live in. The world was changing fast as the twenties unfolded and there was an upbeat, optimistic vibrancy to most of what would come with each new day. People were speculating in the stock market which seemed to offer real opportunity to change one's station in life, or at least provide an exciting flyer, a hot tip, a quick turnaround. Confidence had superseded logic, but the inevitable downturn was still more than a year away.
I was drawn into some new areas of study. The technical advances in recording were of great interest, and my job with the Whiteman group was taking on more of a record producer's role. I was being called upon to map out our sessions in terms of achieving the best results of the recording while others wrote the musical arrangements, and still others handled the promotional efforts.
Microphone technology had moved ahead since our work with Chris Wente at Western Electric, and we had come a long way in our experiments with placement and soloing and getting the vocal balance. Other technical advances had made the records sound better as well.
New principles were being applied to compress and equalize the recorded sound to better match the playback equipment, especially in theaters. And now, new electronic circuits and transducers were being employed to create better amplifiers and loudspeakers. And so the entire chain was opening up the window between the player in the studio and the listener, to make a clearer channel, a more satisfying experience.
Most of the record-buying public was still listening to records on the gramophone which used purely mechanical devices to reproduce the sound. The steel needle would vibrate a small metallic disc, and that sound would be projected into a metal or wooden horn. In some machines the horn was built into the inner shape of the cabinet, and doors in the front could be opened or closed to control the volume of the sound, but this was all to give way to electronic reproduction. And that was to be a glorious improvement.
One other area of study for me was the challenge of reaching an ever wider audience. Now that radio was a part of almost everyone's daily life, it meant that our music could reach, really, the entire world. So much of that depended on the efforts of the Victor Recording company and their position in the marketplace, but one couldn't ask for a better partner to help reach the largest audience.
Our job was to provide Victor with a steady stream of the best songs and recordings that we could. Along with that went considerations of what the public was seeking, what were the trends, and how we might best participate. Sometimes we made mistakes, wasted time and energy, and of course money, in misguided trend chasing. But out of it all seemed to emerge an improved understanding of how people feel about what they hear.
Radio was a magical medium, more and more it was our life-blood as a band, but now I was starting to understand it as an atmosphere in which we were so deeply immersed as to have lost our perspective. Like a fish not knowing much about water, we were in it and of it, and I wanted to know more about how it worked.
I began to study the people who were molding public opinion, selling products and selling personalities. There was a whole myth-making apparatus being created in institutions, some in government agencies and more in the business world. I began to recognize the work of a few trend setters, and went back to look at what had been done to change public opinion on some larger issues like our entry into the war, and even how these techniques were starting to influence our elections.
No man played a greater role in this new science of mass communication than Edward Bernays. He was a nephew of Sigmund Freud who used Freud’s theories of the unconscious to help businesses sell their products to American consumers. I invested in a copy of his book, Propaganda.
Born in Vienna, Bernays had grown up in New York. When the war started, he went to work for George Creel’s Committee on Public Information and traveled with Wilson to the Paris peace talks, where, he liked to say, his services had been invaluable. Returning to civilian life, he began a career in public relations, which he described as “applied social science.” The Nation called it “the Higher Hokum.”
Bernays proposed that “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
Bernays explained that he’d been influenced by Walter Lippmann’s book, Public Opinion. He had seen Lippmann’s concern for a gullible public as an opportunity for a canny publicist. “Good propaganda is an invisible government which sways the habits and actions of most of the people of the United States.”
As true as this is in peacetime, it’s clear that in war, propaganda is necessary to move the nation to accept the war, to motivate the soldiers and those at home who must sacrifice and contribute to the war, and on the other side, to discourage and confuse the civilian population of the enemy to make them press their leaders to make peace.
In his 1925 book, Propaganda Technique in the World War, Harold Lasswell wrote that: “Propaganda is one of the three chief implements of operation against a belligerent enemy: – Military Pressure (The coercive power of the land, sea and air forces). Economic Pressure (Interference with access to sources of material, markets, capital and labour power). Propaganda (Direct use of suggestion).” I read what I could find about the Creel Committee and their use of propaganda during the lead-up to our entry into the war.
Both sides relied on propaganda to try to indoctrinate their own public as well as the enemy population. There were some glaring examples of excess and shameful distortion, but I also found some examples of governments using propaganda in an attempt to educate their public and inoculate them from the enemy’s efforts. Sometimes there’s a glimpse of insight in their claims.
One of the most surprising was a statement by the German reporter, Charles A. Collman, who wrote an article entitled “Die Kriegstreiber in Wall Street” He wrote, “The American manufacturers and bankers stayed out of the War, until their best customer, Great Britain, was threatened with insolvency, whereupon they proceeded to stampede the American public into the War, barely in time to save their accounts. The House of Morgan, with its overdraft to the British government of $400,000,000, was faced with certain ruin, having overstrained its credit to supply the British with munitions. Only the diversion of the first Liberty loan proceeds to Morgan saved him.”
I began to realize that I needed to take great care in raising some of these questions with friends. The war was a terrible thing for everyone even if they didn’t lose a loved one, or suffer an injury. It was a nightmare time, and some nightmares persisted even these ten years after.
Also, there was an issue of patriotism, whether questioning the rhetoric which urged us into war brought into question our loyalty to our country. Were we, perhaps in the thrall of some foreign enemy or ideology? If anything, the years after the war brought an even more shrill character to the soapbox orators and even the radio personalities, who railed against any questioning of government policy.
I felt a strange kind of guilt, delving into this quandary. It reminded me of those crudely drawn ads on the back of some of the boys magazines when I was a teenager, that offered the secret of mind control. There was always a buxom young woman and the suggestion that the secret method could render her unable to resist your powers. I never sent in the self-addressed, stamped envelope with the twenty-five cents to find out.
But I wanted to know more about these principles of mass communication, not because I hoped to lead the multitudes into a war, but partly so that I could resist the kind of appeals that might make me susceptible to that sort of suggestion in the future. Mainly, I wondered about the reasons why some stories reached people on a deeper level.
I already felt that I understood many of the ways that music fostered a receptive state of mind where the message of the song could be taken to heart. The choice of chords, major or minor, certain modes and scale elements could reinforce a cheerful or sentimental, or even sorrowful mood, and ‘set the hook’ as I’ve heard some musicians say.
Certainly an economy of language was important, too much talk could dilute the emotional power of the song. And of the things one chose to say, which would make the more lasting impression? These questions were to occupy my thoughts for years to come. This new science of communication had opened a door.
Still there was another question that was raised by these new revelations. Clearly these ideas could be used to influence others, but was there a similar study that would unlock the creative potential in the songwriter and open that window of communication, not just for imposing an idea on the listener, but in nurturing a deeper and finer quality of work?
It was in the writing of Carl Gustav Jung that I found what I was looking for. As a student of Freud he learned the principles that Freud had formulated about the unconscious mind being a repository of patterns and memories which might give clues as to how to help to cure a person’s psychoses.
But Jung took these studies to a new place, he believed that there was a collective unconscious, something shared with all the peoples of the planet, and that this realm could be understood in terms of what he called ‘archetypes.’ The concept did not originate with Jung but with Plato who first conceived of primordial patterns. Their presence could be found in thousand-year-old narratives, and in the comparative study of religions and mythology.
Archetype is a term Jung took from archaeologists who had tried to characterize symbols and images from diverse cultures. He believed that these ideas, as expressed through literature, art and dreams were relying on a shared symbolic vocabulary.
To me, the idea that I could call upon a lexicon of ancient memories and symbols that could enhance my own work was thrilling. Suddenly the power of poetry was clearer to me. I could see that painters and even film makers understood this in their own way.
There was one other aspect of Jung’s work that impressed me. He wrote of what he called kinship libido; an instinctive predisposition for belonging to a group or family. This was something he studied in primitive peoples in his travels. He sought out tribal leaders in Africa and elders in the pueblo of Taos, New Mexico. A Bantu saying that he translated says “I am because you are.” This too, made me think of songwriting in a new way.
We were about to embark on our own odyssey of mass communication – movie making. The people at the Laemmle studios in Hollywood were preparing for Whiteman and the orchestra to begin production on The King of Jazz later in the year, and it was a part of just about everything we discussed of our plans.
Lorraine and I had followed the progress of motion pictures and we were definitely fans. We had some opinions of what was possible in telling the Whiteman story, but there was a lot to learn. Now that sound could be recorded onto film directly, we were curious to see how our music would come through on the big screen. This seemed to be a new era in movie entertainment, and an exciting time to be a part of it.
One recent development in the movie world was the issuance of guidelines for movie content by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, known as The Hays Office after the man who was appointed to head the organization. The list was quite interesting to read. It’s a list of do’s and don'ts for Hollywood films. It prohibits “any licentious or suggestive nudity,” “miscegenation,” “ridicule of clergy,” and “inference of sexual perversion.” It also urges care on such themes as “the sale of women.”
It’s not as if we thought that any of these topics would apply to any movie about our band, but it was interesting to read about the concerns in terms of those same principles of mass public opinion. We were aware that various organizations, temperance groups, religious groups, people active in civil rights, and others were lobbying for reforms and guidelines. Some of it we saw as censorship, and some as enlightened impetus toward progress. We saw that the studios were kind of in the middle and having to walk a careful line. It was exciting to be even a small part of it all.
It made me wonder how the board would have seen D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. The film portrays the Reconstruction era Negros as unintelligent and slovenly, and sexually aggressive toward white women. The newly elected, mostly Negro members of the South Carolina legislature are shown at their desks displaying extremely racist stereotypical behavior, such as one member taking off his shoes and putting his feet up on his desk, and others drinking liquor and feasting on fried chicken.
The principle roles were played by white actors in blackface, Negro extras were housed in segregated quarters. The film presents the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic force necessary to preserve American values and a white supremacist social order. On one of the final screens this sentence appears: “The former enemies of North and South are united again in common defense of their Aryan birthright.” It was war propaganda for a war that should have been over sixty years ago.
In Hollywood, Carl Laemmle had given production responsibility for The King of Jazz to his son, Carl Jr., who had just turned 21. The young producer chose a Hungarian director whose most important film credit was a tedious account of the final days of a man’s suicide, called The Last Moment. He also hired Edward T. Lowe to write the script.
When they came to New York to explain their ideas for the film, they proposed to make a history of the orchestra with actors playing the musicians. Whiteman was offended, he would not consider making a movie about his band without the members of his band. He couldn’t believe anyone would suggest such a thing.
I went along on the Old Gold Special when it left Penn Station on May 24th for a promotional tour to the West. The trip would take almost two weeks. I arranged for some time off when our train arrived in Los Angeles, and planned for Lorraine and Johnny to take a later train and meet me there.
The Special was a privately chartered train of eight coaches, two for baggage alone, another for Paul’s Duesenberg touring car. The party of fifty included thirty-five musicians, managers, an audio crew, and William Grant Still, the vice president of P. Lorrillard. There were several reporters, most notably Abel Green, who wrote for Variety, who filed regular dispatches along the way.
In twelve days, the band did the Old Gold Hour broadcasts as well as free concerts in sixteen cities, from Philadelphia to Salt Lake City. When we didn’t have a hall, the band performed on the train’s extended observation platform, and no one complained when local radio stations set up microphones, it was great publicity for the sponsor.
The band pulled into Los Angeles at 3:00 PM on June 6th for a huddle with Universal officials, and then continued on to San Francisco to play for a week of vaudeville at the Pantages Theater. Rainy and our son John had arrived that morning on the Chief and they were waiting when our train pulled in.
I stayed on with them for a full week of vacation. My only duties were to consult with the Universal production team, but they seemed to have everything under control, at least until the work would start in earnest when the band returned from San Francisco.
On the Red Cars of the Pacific Electric Railway Company we were able to see a lot of Los Angeles. They say that the Spanish settlers gave the town the name of “El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles” (The place of the Queen of the Angels) At the Museum of Natural History we saw life-sized displays of the first residents of the region, the Hokan people, and then the Tongva and Gabrieleño who displaced them. The display proposed that these were the people who canoed out to greet the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo in 1542. At the entrance to the museum were two enormous dinosaurs, but we found many more the next day at the La Brea Tar Pits.
Since we had a week to play, we decided to take the train down to San Diego, to stay there two nights so we could spend the intervening day in Mexico. In the train station we bought our tickets for the bus ride to Tijuana the following morning. When we saw the rickety old bus we began to have second thoughts about continuing, but Johnny’s enthusiasm was contagious and we hung on as the cranky old conveyance left the station behind.
There was a strange thrill in leaving the country, the dusty streets of the little Mexican town were deeply rutted, and I couldn’t help but be aware of the traces of poverty lurking behind the brightly colored facades. But there was a sense of holiday, of adventure, and Johnny was intensely curious. Bull fighting and bare knuckle boxing were illegal in the States, not to mention alcohol, but on the southern border, the high life was just a bus ride away.
We joked about coming back some day to really see the sights. A placard on the bus advertised the newly opened hotel and casino at the Agua Caliente racetrack. I had to laugh when I learned that in English that meant ‘hot water’ and I made the connection with losing one’s wages at the track. But we later learned that it was a very luxurious hotel complex with world famous entertainment.
We walked by a place called the ‘Fronton’ where, according to the posters, they played jai alai, a strange sort of racquet ball game with long baskets called ‘cestas’ attached to their forearms – something we would also leave for a future trip, which we doubted we would ever take.
We opted for a walk on the little sidewalks jammed with trinkets, baskets, hats and leather goods, and then had a surprisingly good dinner of, as far as we knew, authentic Mexican food. Everywhere there were musicians and street vendors and young women plying the oldest profession, some astonishingly young, and we were alarmed to see such a display so blatantly paraded in front of our young son. But he seemed to take it all in stride and so that, too, we had to chalk up to the adventure.
Back on the bus we made our way to the border and the customs checkpoint. We declared that we were American citizens and that we had no liquor in answer to the only two questions and were admitted back into the country. There was a great sense of relief as we got to our hotel near the wharf in San Diego, weary but exhilarated. The next morning we boarded the train for the scenic ride along the coast and back to Los Angeles.
That Sunday we swam in the calm surf at Santa Monica, something I don’t need to do again. It was quite cold, but Lorraine was jubilant to feel the waves roiling around her legs and splashed Johnny and me until we both dove into the surf. Rushing out to get warm I felt the wind and the water stinging on my back, and jumped back in the water, and eventually got almost used to it.
On our last day together in the west, we lay on the sand and baked in the sun. Eventually we walked to the pier to get a hot dog, and watched the sun go down out over the Pacific. There were fires along the beach where little groups of people gathered to roast ears of corn and then marshmallows. We were offered and did accept a taste.
As we lay back to watch the stars come out, we talked about the constellations. Johnny seemed to know a great deal about the eruption of the volcano, Krakatoa, which he explained had obscured the constellations for more than a hundred years, so that we saw only a portion of the stars that the Greeks had seen. We talked about God and mythology. He said the ancient Greeks had stories for all the patterns they could see in the night sky. For a fourteen-year-old, he seemed to be pretty secure in his relationship with the gods and those ultimate questions for which we may never have answers.
When the band returned from San Francisco, the official arrival took place with all the show business spectacle that Universal could manage. A welcoming committee of famous and near-famous contract players, and a crowd of 500 fans, was on hand. When the welcoming ceremonies were completed, Laemmle took us all to the Universal studios to show off the clubhouse he had built for the band. He called it Whiteman Lodge, and it had rehearsal rooms, a fireplace, billiard tables, a library, lockers and showers.
The band still did the Old Gold Hour each Tuesday night, but there wasn’t much else to occupy us all but drinking, golf, and driving around. At one point, Mischa Russell was arrested for drunk driving, but the officer who locked him up was a fan. When some of his friends visited the jail, they were informed that Russell and his jailer had gone to the movies.
The idleness was difficult. All of us were stymied by the glacial pace of the script development. Some played golf, and although I can’t hit a golf ball with any sense of purpose at all, it was pleasant to walk around the course. Bing invited me to play at Lakeside which was rife with movie people. He had met Richard Arlen, Buddy Rogers, Oliver Hardy, and Johnny Weismuller.
Late in August, after almost three months of waiting, Universal handed Whiteman a script. He couldn’t believe it. The studio intended to make him a leading man in a conventional love story. It’s to Whiteman’s credit that he was appalled rather than tempted by the scheme. He prepared to leave California as soon as possible. He would return when the studio could assure him that it had a reasonable story idea. If Whiteman was mad, the Laemmles were livid: they had already spent $350,000 and had nothing to show for it.
After the Old Gold Hour broadcast on August 27th the troupe boarded the train for New York and an emergency job that Jimmy Gillespie had lined up at the Pavillion Royal.
© 2010, Compass Rose Music, BMI