Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kat's Korner: Doris Day, Rob Crow and what's left unsaid

crow thinks

Kat: Rob Crow and Doris Day have so much in common right now, they might as well be the new Rock and Doris. Yeah, that Doris.

The film star of Pillow Talk, Send Me No Flowers, The Glass Bottom Boat and more, the star of The Doris Day Show, the girl singer with the big band and the animal rights activist who, this year, became the oldest artist to enter the UK top ten album sales chart with new material. My Heart is the album, to be released December 2nd in the US. My copy, a UK release, has twelve tracks. The US release will have 13 tracks.

The best cut is the title track "My Heart" written by Beach Boy Bruce Johnston and the late Terry Melcher. Melcher was Doris Day's only child and he, Johnston and Ted Carfrae are listed as the producers of this material recorded in an unspecified time. The twelve tracks work very well together and it could easily pass for a well thought out solo album but, reportedly, these are one-offs from various recording sessions.

If "My Heart" is Day's best, "Disney Girls" is her worst. Some will hear it and beg to differ. They'll insist that it's a perfect match of singer and song. I'll readily agree with that. But I'll add that, note for note, it's a pale copy of Cass Elliot's version. For Cass, I always see the song as an embarrassment. She sings it beautifully but Cass was about the future and the song was so archaic. If you really loved Cass in all her Make Your Own Kind Of Music glory, her celebration of you being you, there was something jarring about her singing lyrics about "Patti Page and summer days on old Cape Cod." There's nothing jarring about them coming from Doris' mouth, not even when she starts singing, "Hi, Rick and Dave, hi, Pop, well good morning, Mom, guess what, I'm in love with a boy I found."

That's because Cass is real and Doris is artificial.

I don't mean that in a bad way as in, "She's fake and she's a failure as a singer." Doris is a success as a singer exactly because she is 100% fake.

She was on Weekend Edition (NPR) Saturday, sharing fakeness with Scott Simon, apparently just to remind you of how fake she was and still is. Excerpt.

Scott Simon: I think it's safe to say of all the great leading actors you worked with you still are most closely identified with Rock Hudson.

Doris Day: Yes, uh-huh, we really hit it off.

Scott Simon: May I ask --

Doris Day: Mmm-hmm.

Scott Simon: -- after all of these years, did you know he was living with a secret?

Doris Day: No. I did not know that. I know what you mean now but I did not know that.

The woman who played the virgin so well and so often can still lie like no one else. Yes, Doris knew he was gay. The interview really reminds me of how she has spent years disowning what will probably be seen as one of her strongest performances, her lead role in Caprice. Considering that it's a caper film (an artistic one, but a caper film none the less), Day's own vitriol towards the film has always been surprising unless you grasp that the killer being a transvestite was probably the closest to the 'swinging sixties,' let it all hang out, that Doris ever came on the big screen. She left the big screen at about the time her image was being likened to that of a lesbian (you can only play the oooh!-a-man-better-not-touch-me! on screen so long, Doris). It was around this time that she turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate because it offended her sensibilities (Anne Bancroft took the role and was amazing in it). Though the script called for no graphic sex scene, sensuality was implied. So Day instead ends up on TV as a widow thereby dispensing with the need for any immediate explanation as to why her character is unattached. (In the last two seasons, Peter Lawford would play Doris Martin's walker.)

In all those hit movies, there's a quality that really only got underlined when Molly Haskell wrote a profile of Day, a quality of I-really-don't-like-you. Day expresses that throughout the interview and she expresses that throughout her films. Take Pillow Talk and grasp how damn rude she is to Thelma Ritter's character. True, the woman's a drunk, but nothing's stopping Doris from firing her. She takes a ride home with the young son of one her clients. He insists they stop and dance. She does so. And does so. And grows angry. That's basically how she'll interact with Rock throughout that movie and every one after.

It's a wonderful smile she has. And it's used to hide what's ugly and dark inside. It's so dazzling and she's so good at being fake, that no one ever dips below the surface when it comes to Day. And it made her an enduring film star in a way that someone like, for example, Sandra Dee who really seemed sweet and genuine, never achieved.

That quality's there in her vocals as well. Scott Simon, in the midst of treating Day as if she were Maria Callas, bubbles about how her voice has so much "joy." That's the smile in her film work. And underneath it is what sells the songs, the angst, the inability to make the joy convincing, the hints that storms clouds are moving in but she keeps trying harder and harder to ignore them.

"Strident" is a term that's been applied to Doris Day's work for years. On the new album, that term really only applies to "Daydreaming." Unlike with the rest of the material, where an underlying darkness is supplied to the cheery lyrics by Day, "Daydreaming" has only one level. If you're not getting it, listen to "My One and Only Love" and note that Doris sings it as though the love is dying. In your mind, you can picture her with a confident smile but the eyes are a little damp and she's fighting back showing any genuine emotion. It's that struggle, evident in her best vocals, that's made her one of the country's lasting recording stars.

Rob Crow's He Thinks He's People came out earlier this year. I fell in love with it immediately, thinking it a near perfect album until my friend Maggie put me wise to Pinback. Pinback is Crow's group and people like Maggie tend to look at Crow's latest solo work as another roadblock to the group's next album.

I didn't travel with all that baggage so the album to me was just this wonderful delight that I could listen to from start to finish, or put on shuffle, and never want to skip a track. Sure, I had my favorites. "I'd Like To Be There" should be covered yearly and "Tranked" is just beautiful and dark and even creepy "Wave to me . . . on my way down."

He Thinks He's People reminds me of a time when music mattered so much more than "beats" and which rapper you could get to do a guest spot or who was choreographing your video or who you were wearing and the name of your personal stylist. Back in those days, you either made it on the music or you didn't. He Thinks He's People is such a good album it would have held its own in 1976, in 1986 and even in 1996.

But, as Maggie and many others via e-mail have explained, the album's also considered a bit of put on by a number of people. It's Rob doing a stylistic turn. That's fine. As Doris Day has long demonstrated, it's what's beneath the brave smile that often generates the most emotions and leaves the lasting impression.