What a Wonderful Treat

Monthly I get a fresh batch of downloads at eMusic. I don’t have the largest plan–the most I can download is 20 at a time. Usually this is enough for an album with maybe a few experimental downloads from unfamiliar groups. I think it will be years before I manage all the jazz downloads I want.

Last weekend when I went looking, I found an incredible collection: the complete works for Ella Fitzgerald when she was recording with the Decca label. The British label JSP is re-releasing a mix, and it includes probably some of her finest singing.

I’m not sure which is my favorite; probably “Baby, it’s Cold Outside”, with Louie Jordan. No, perhaps it’s “Black Coffee”. I can’t tell — it’s one good song after another. And quality, too. No scratches, good faithful reproductions.

I listened to it last weekend while I walked, and lost myself in another era–my favorite era. I softshoed past the cardinal, the titmouse, and the robins, while they looked on in seeming interest. No one else was about, of course. I’m only insane when I’m alone.

I would give anything to have been born in the 1920′s. Yes, there was the Depression, but whether it was because of the Depression or despite it, this was a time rich with exploration and strength–even for women. Especially for women.

Back in the 1920′s, 30′s, 40′s, a strong woman was someone to be looked up to and admired. Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Taylor, Eleanor Roosevelt. You could be a feminist without having to carefully explain to the guys around you that it really didn’t mean you wanted to emasculate them. These women were honorary man feminists according to Lenore Levine. I don’t particularly agree with this designation, but I do like her description of today’s Nicey-Poo feminism:

Nicey-Poo Feminists have taken the sensible idea that women should be supportive of other women, and distorted it almost out of recognition. That is, Nicey-Poo Feminists believe that feminism means never saying anything controversial (at least in their own circles), and never saying anything about another woman that isn’t nice.

Nicey-Poo Feminism has been promoted by the new new Ms. (post-1990). This magazine is afraid to print anything which any segment of their audience might find offensive. After all, if they actually said anything mischievous or funny, their circulation might increase. (A fate they seem determined to avoid at all costs.)

The clothing of that long ago time reflected the personalities of the women. Many of the suits were tailored, severe, with padded shoulders and angular lines. The women who wore them seemed unbending in their resolve–determined and capable. Yet the gowns were fragile and light, and flowed behind the woman as she glided with exquisite grace and femininity across the dance floor. And the hats–I can only wish for a hat with a net dropping down to teasingly cover half my face; me peeping out through the netting in a move both coy and bold–we just can’t do this today. Butt cracks peeking out from pants too low is not the same.

During this time, women fought for and won the vote, admission to college, and demanded entry in fields normally restricted to the men. These were not quiet women, willing to demurely wait for someone else to pave the way. But they weren’t all of a kind–they couldn’t be classified as ‘feminist’ and ‘mother’, because many were both. And more. What extraordinary set of events happened to make women into what we were during this time? And what can we do now, to re-capture it?

If I was born in the 1920′s, I would have been in my late teens and early 20′s during World War II. I would like to think I would have volunteered to serve–as a pilot, surveyor, or radio person. Who knows? Maybe I would have been Rosie the Riveter.

Anyway, these were my thoughts while listening to Ella. It’s a rare collection of songs that can completely repaint your world.

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6 Responses to What a Wonderful Treat

  1. “Anyway, these were my thoughts while listening to Ella.”

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, this was a great read.

    Re: eMusic. I’m curious, but there doesn’t seem to be any way you can browse their library prior to signing up.

    P.S. – Recommendation (for download or purchase): The CD “Ella and Louis Again” (Polygram Records, 1990, ASIN: B0000046X3). My favorites: “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You”, “A Fine Romance”.

  2. “Re: eMusic. I’m curious, but there doesn’t seem to be any way you can browse their library prior to signing up.”

    Oh, uh actually, out of 1 million songs I think I can risk it without seeing their library prior to signing up.

    (Still, would be nice to browse their library.)

  3. Shelley says:

    If you click on one of the bottom menu items, you can bypass that trial thing. I know it is terrible marketing. I don’t know what they were thinking.

    With your interest in Indie music, you’ll have no problem finding songs. But do check out all the older jazz.

  4. “These women were honorary man feminists according to Lenore Levine.”

    I actually like that notion. Yeah, there are traces of condescension in the term, but that ignores a key point… an “honorary man feminist” doesn’t give a shit about traces of _anything_. She knows who she is, and wants to consume life in big, aggressive bites. People don’t need to worry about offending her tender sensibilities, and if you make the mistake of offending her big, rough sensibilities, she’ll let you know, fucker.

    Why is such feminism rare these days? Because the women most capable of carrying the mantle are routinely *dis*mantled by our society, and sadly, by themselves. They may have been raised to love Noble Womankind, or perhaps to love Traditional Womanhood, but seldom to love the individual woman between their own ears and legs.

    I think things are changing, though. I see reason for hope, and that’s all I ask from life.

  5. I luv Ella Fitzgerald and am lucky enough to be able to afford to have all of the music you mention. Seems to me we have lots to learn from her music and her character. She (and most woman of that era) endured a lot!

  6. Lis Riba says:

    Yet the gowns were fragile and light, and flowed behind the woman as she glided with exquisite grace and femininity across the dance floor.

    We recently got the box set of the Thin Man movies on DVD. Oh, gd, but I love Myrna Loy’s dresses during the first couple movies. Even her dressing gown and robe manage to be elegant…

    [Apparently, later movies she got tired of being pigeonholed into the role. I can already see the signs in the third movie -- who thought it romantic for Nick to refer to Nora as "Mommy"?]

    Still, at least in the early flicks, she certainly holds her own.