Friday, July 18, 2003

Summer songs

This morning our local NPR station's call-in show was about summer songs--Springsteen, Led Zepplin, the Beach Boys, Patty Larkin, and classics from Alice Cooper's "School's Out for Summer" to the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City."

As I thought back on songs from my summers over the years on Cape Cod, at Andover, and in New Haven, I stopped when I got to 1984. We were living in Sardegna, near the shore in Alghero, in a furnished apartment complete with a TV. One of Italy's public TV stations (Rai Due?) aired the Rainer Werner Fassbinder film Lili Marleen. It's the story of a cabaret singer who rises to fame based on her performance of the love song "Lili Marlene." (Note: The film's name is spelled differently that that of the song, whose lyrics are from a 1918 poem by German soldier Hans Leip, with music by German composer Norbert Schultze, and English lyrics by British songwriters J.J. Phillips and Tommy Connors) The singer's recording of "Lili Marlene" sweeps Europe, its popularity growing until the song becomes the theme of the German army. By the film's end the singer is a dolled-up plaything of the Nazi brass and the love song has been corrupted into a grotesque, ominous march.

As you can imagine, Fassbinder's film deeply affected Italians who'd lived through the war under Mussolini, and it fascinated Italians of my generation, who were troubled by and curious about their country's Fascist past.

The movie played in July, and all summer long, in cafes in little villages, on the streets of Rome, you'd here "Lili Marlene" murmured and whistled, particular the refrain "...for you, Lili Marlene." Like the memory of a bitter love affair, the song had returned from the past to haunt an entire country.

Juxtaposed in my own memory with "Lili Marlene" is the only other song I remember from that bright, hot summer in Italy. It was the number one pop tune, an American import, blasted from beachside gelato stands and car radios: Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You."

Both songs are readily available at Apple's iTunes Music Store. There are two versions of the Stevie Wonder song (I picked the less orchestral) and three of "Lili Marlene." The Carly Simon version (!) did nothing for me, but I bought the two utterly transcendant Marlene Dietrich versions, one in German, the other in charmingly accented English.

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