Join us today, friends, for another edition of…
…Tim Goeglein theater!
Actually, today’s episode doesn’t suck the way it usually does, which is to say it isn’t about his parents’ deep love of Jesus, his interest in an obscure operatic composer, or… no, I’m wrong. This column, about Hoagy Carmichael, is standard-issue Tim — overwritten, oversugared, over-Hoosiered.
Instead of ridiculing it paragraph by paragraph, let’s stack up the usual TimBits.
How many “one of the most” superlatives appear in the first paragraph?
…one of the most luminous of all American mid-century composers, one of the most beloved composers of the classic American popular music songbook, and one of the most unusual bright lights in a starry field.
In one paragraph!
Does the column claim a Hoosier connection to a well-known person, state that this individual is extricably connected to Indiana in some way and wouldn’t be the person he or she grew up to be without this background, and further, that it was always calling him or her home? Yes:
He was from old American stock and was born and raised just down the street from Indiana University in Monroe County. …Though most of his composer contemporaries were urbanites, Carmichael came from what was then still a very small town in the southern part of our state. He got back as often as he could, but in a large sense, he never left. You can see it in his music.
Does the column give a nod to non-Hoosier influences, but claim that, deep down, Indiana is far more important? Yes:
He was deeply influenced by Irving Berlin and Louis Armstrong; he venerated Duke Ellington and George Gershwin; yet his own music was sui generis. He loved jazz, especially in the years of his apprenticeship. The jazz influence is self-evident in many of the songs he wrote – “Rockin’ Chair,” “Old Man Harlem,” “New Orleans.” The dominant figure of his music, though, was his Hoosier upbringing: small-town and rural America, born of a family that did not have much money but gave to him a boyhood full of what he called “memories of solid things, warm and endearing things,” and these are what he celebrated in songs that will be played forever.
Is this Hoosier influence credited with something far, far larger, thus inflating the state’s value in the grand scheme of things? Yes:
The real him had a remarkable life: a brilliant songwriting partnership with the great Johnny Mercer, a film and TV career, but above all a giant place of reverence in the hearts of millions of Americans who needed and loved his music as America was emerging as the unchallenged leader of the free world. America and Hoagy Carmichael’s music came of age together. It all began in Bloomington in his living room under the tutelage of a mother who always called him Hoagland – “a boy with dusty feet coming into the cold parlor where stood the upright golden oak piano,” he later wrote. Southern Indiana was the center of his life and his aesthetic inspiration.
It’s too bad, but maybe it isn’t: Hoagy Carmichael deserves all the respect and accolade he received in his life and continues to receive in death, and Tim Goeglein can’t take anything away from him. Here’s something I wish he’d address in a future column: Why is Indiana’s role in all these artists’ lives to spawn them, give them a few soft-focus memories of childhood, and then chase them the hell out of town? The obvious answer — that Hollywood is in California and New York City is in New York and there’s not much in between — isn’t the entire one. Frequently embryonic great artists run off to those places at the first opportunity because they’re so uncomfortable in the fleecy cradle of their youth. Cole Porter was from Peru, Indiana, but can anyone see him spending a minute there once the train left the station? James Dean? Even Hoagy, with his love of black jazz and ragtime could hardly have been happy in a place where the Klan was still strong well into the 20th century and lynchings weren’t unheard of. (Never mind that both Dean and Porter were gay.)
The problem remains in places like Indiana, Ohio, Alabama, and dozens of places that wave farewell to their brightest young people, whether bound for careers in showbiz or software engineering, and wait until the kids make it big before claiming credit for them. Until then it’s “hey, queer bait.” I hear even John Mellencamp is taking abuse down in southern Indiana these days, for his failure to support the commander in chief.
Friends, this is it for me today. Oh, wait: Something for Robert Rouse. See you tomorrow.