Shuffle Off To Buffalo and Other Parts Unknown

Sometimes we recognize old songs without realizing they were originally songs from a musical before they became radio hits.  I love songs by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics), and 42nd Street is a musical that spawned a number of Warren and Dubin radio hits (who also had cameo roles in the movie version of the musical).

In a nutshell, 42nd Street is about small-town Pennsylvania Peggy Sawyer (played by Ruby Keeler in the movie) who hits out by moving to New York City in the hopes that she’ll make her mark in Broadway.

Peggy Sawyer finds herself as a member of the chorus much to the dismay of Broadway diva Dorothy Brock (played by Bebe Daniels in the movie) who is romantically involved with the financial backer of the production, the very wealthy Abner Dillon (played by Guy Kibbee in the movie) who, unlike the director Julian Marsh (played by Warner Baxter in the movie), didn’t lose all his money in the stock market crash of 1929.  But behind Abner’s back, Dorothy is seeing her Pat Denning (played by George Brent in the movie) and thus the stage is set (pardon the pun).

The 42nd Street Special was a train that left Los Angeles on 20 February 1933, headed to President  Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration on 4 March 1933 – the day after the movie version of the musical premiered in New York.  On board the train were stars such as Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Loretta Young, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  It was an amazing way to draw attention to the film and captured the attention of the country in the middle of a bleak period in American history.

 

The train trip extravaganza began as an idea courtesy of Warner Brothers studios publicity chief, Charlie Einfeld.  The Depression had seen the number of moviegoers drop by more than fifty percent in the three years since the Crash, and Warner Brothers studios was dealing with huge losses to the tune of $14 MILLION USD.  This publicity stunt was going to set the studio back another $400,000 USD.

During the election campaign, the Warner brothers had backed Franklin Delano Roosevelt while MGM studios’ Louis B. Mayer had backed Herbert Hoover.  The spectacle was promoted in the media as “the greatest train ride since Paul Revere.”

General Electric, seeing an opportunity to get in on the publicity, co-sponsored and fully equipped the six-coach express train with outdoor lights, speakers, and an all-electric kitchen with what was then considered to be a state-of-the-art electric oven, refrigerator, and dishwasher.  At every stop (which totaled 30 in the space of 17 days), the public was invited to tour the kitchen car and see for themselves what these amazing appliances looked like.

With so many wonderful songs to choose from to include in this entry, I’ve gone with these for this article.  “Come and Meet Those Dancing Feet” sung by Ruby Keeler is mesmerizing.

 

You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” sung by Bebe Daniels is fun and cheeky.

I’m Young And Healthy” sung by a very young Dick Powell (who in later years was known for his role as Nick Charles in the Thin Man movie series).

 

The song that first introduced me to 42nd Street was one I heard courtesy of the Bugs Bunny cartoons.  As a child, I had no idea where Buffalo was exactly, but the song was something I recognized and sang along to before I was old enough to attend kindergarten.    “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” was the kind of song that resonated with children as much as it did with adults.  The scene with this song in the movie version of 42nd Street makes the song even more fun than the Bugs Bunny segment (which was absolutely memorable and completely amusing).

The golden age of musicals may have been decades ago but the songs from that era still stand up to inspection in this generation, don’t you agree?

Elyse Bruce

Guybrarian Breaks It Down For Everyone

Nearly everyone with access to music has heard Bruno Mars’ hit “Uptown Funk.”  It’s catchy, right?  It makes you want to get up (or down) and dance, right?

Chapman University and Orange Public Library along with Pogona Creative pulled together an amazing video for National Library Week that parodies “Uptown Funk” in ways you could never have imagined before.

All of a sudden it’s not so nerdy to be a librarian.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the collaborators, here’s the 4-1-1 on them.

Chapman University is located in Woodland, California and has been around since the Civil War.  The university’s mission statement is quite simply this:  To provide personalized education of distinction that leads to inquiring, ethical and productive lives as global citizens.

Orange Public Library is, of course, a library, and it’s located, of course, in Orange, California.  The  main library was built in 1961.  While it hasn’t been around as long as Chapman University, the positive impact it’s had on the community is impressive.

And Pogona Creative is located in Orange, California … the brainchild of David and Adrianna May, who were students at Chapman University just a few years back.

David May’s senior thesis in the undergraduate program (writing and directing) was “ItsyBitsy” and once you watch this nine minute video, it’s easy to see how creative he is.

While Adrianna is passionate about dance, she majored in psychology with a minor in leadership and organizational studies.

Is it any wonder that when these three organizations partnered that they came up with such a brilliant National Library Week parody?  I think not.

Elyse Bruce

Statistics and Privilege

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2012 the American Community Survey showed that, based on race, 77% of working artists were white, 8% of working artists were Hispanic, 8% of working artists were black, 4% of working artists were Asian, and 3% of working artists were another ethnicity.

The Wall Street Journal chalked most of that up to the fact that 11 of the 15 most expensive universities in the country are art schools, and therefore white privilege is supposedly to blame for the numbers expressed by the survey quoted.

The problem with making such a claim without looking at other facts is that it gives a skewed view of the statistics.  In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012, 63% of the population was white, 17% of the population was Hispanic, 13% of the population was black, 5% of the population was Asian, and 2% are another ethnicity.

General Population v Arts Population
In other words, while it’s true that most of the artists working the arts are white, it’s also not an outrageous fact.  The percentages aren’t as out of line as the Wall Street Journal implies with its claim that the greater percentage of whites working in the arts is due to white privilege and the luxury of higher education.

What does seem to emerge is the fact that one’s choices regarding employment is a much greater influence on where one works than ethnicity is.  And let’s keep in mind that statistics can be made to reflect whatever the person manipulating the statistics wants them to reflect.

When the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published its report in October 2013, the lowest paid people were Hispanics who earned $568 per week on average.  This was followed by blacks who earned $621 per week on average, whites who earned $792 per week on average, and finally Asians who earned $920 per week on average.  Does this mean there’s actually Asian privilege going on, or is this a case that job choices are dictating the average weekly income?

Average Weekly Wages in the U.S.
The point of this is that statistics and percentages shouldn’t determine whether someone has a chance of making it as a working artist.  Passion, talent, skill, determination, and business savvy are what should be the determining factors.

And if you happen to be an ethnicity other than white, don’t buy into the argument that you are less likely to succeed in your endeavors.  The percentage of white people working in the arts isn’t much more than the overall total percentage of white people in the general population.  Don’t let numbers and armchair statisticians determine if you have what it takes to make it as a musician or an artist or an author based on manipulated numbers and your ethnicity.

Be the kind of person working in the arts who is the master of his or her own fate … who sails towards his or her version of success … who isn’t afraid to be true to who he or she truly is.  That’s the kind of person working in the arts who finds contentment with their career choice.

Elyse Bruce

The Sun Ain’t Singin’ The Blues

This week, I’d like to share a story about someone who dreamed of being a famous singer-songwriter, or, failing that, a famous author.  It’s based on a true story and while the person’s identity isn’t important, the story is one that many starry-eyed hopefuls have when they travel to music centers in search of industry success.

This particular person stated in a book she wrote (and published a decade ago) that in spite of having her songs recorded and released, she “did not reap fame and fortune.”  In her twenties, she hoped to break into the Nashville scene (for a decade beginning in 1973), supporting herself with day jobs to pay the bills.  She distantly rubbed shoulders with other singer-songwriters who were making names for themselves and watched as they reached the heights she had hoped to grab for herself.

Nearly forty years later, she still holds her tattered dreams up as a banner, reminding people on social media that she was once introduced to Dolly Parton back in the day.

When she wasn’t able to achieve her dream, she walked away from the music industry.  Two decades after leaving the music industry, she tried her hand at writing books, with her last book being published by a vanity press in 2004.  The website set up as a companion for her last book no longer exists anywhere online as a live website.

SIDE NOTE ABOUT THE VANITY PRESS MENTIONED:  It appears that back in 2004, a law firm in Gary (IN) allegedly began a class action lawsuit against the vanity press.  The law firm represented a number of authors and writers who had published books through this particular vanity press, and who claimed the vanity press had not performed their contractual duties as agreed to in their contracts.

It’s sad that the woman who dreamed of “fame and fortune” allowed two dreams to fail.  Perhaps she wasn’t as talented as her hometown friends had led her to believe she was.  Perhaps she didn’t fit in with Nashville’s culture at the time.  Perhaps she alienated more than she endeared herself to during her decade there.  And perhaps she just wasn’t able to understand that, like every business, success rarely falls into your lap with minimal attention and effort invested.

It’s rumored that Willie Nelson and Toby Keith were once told that they would  never make it in Nashville as songwriters or singer-songwriters. The ones who succeed in the arts industry are those who keep knocking on doors.  They keep presenting their art to the public.  They get out on the “entrepreneur street” and show people what they are capable of doing.

They don’t ever think for a minute that they know everything about their industry on the basis of having a few minor successes and five or ten years of professional experience behind them.  What’s more, they are very aware that there’s a limited number of people in each industry who will make it to the top of the ladder.

Those who stay in the arts industry are able to answer one question with a smile:  Does success hinge on your perception of success or on what you believe other people say success looks like?

If you live for other people’s definition of success, no matter how high up the ladder you may climb — or may have climbed during your stay in the arts industry of your choice — you won’t be happy and you won’t be satisfied.  You’ll be miserable and bitter, and that misery and bitterness will last long after you’ve walked away from your dream (or dreams).

There’s a reason for sharing this story.

Far too many aspiring success stories in the arts industry — whether it’s music, literature, dance, visual arts, or any other domain — fail to plan for the possibility that their dreams may not come true exactly as they have envisioned them in their naive understanding of their industry.  Not everyone will make it to the top of the pile, and many will fail to adapt with their situation and turn their backs on their dreams, bitter that ultimate success wasn’t theirs to hold.

Oddly enough, however, those who are miserable and bitter about their failures oftentimes seem to think of themselves in narcissistic terms in order to avoid facing the reality of their failure to achieve “fame and fortune.”  Those who are most affected by their failure seem to resent those who continue to be successful on their own terms, and will stoop at nothing in an attempt to discredit them.

One word of advice:  Avoid miserable, bitter people as they are toxic, and they know they are.

If the sun ain’t singin’ the blues for Jack and Jill, Jack and Diane, Harry and Sally, Melissa or anyone else, you shouldn’t be singing the blues for yourself.  Turn your attention to the success you are working towards achieving, and be grateful with each new accomplishment you reach.

Elyse Bruce

Know What You’re Getting

Being creative is something that isn’t easily quantified and while there are recurring themes in every creative endeavor — whether it’s literary, music, dance, visual arts, or any other creative domain — it’s up to the creative individual to find inspiration and flesh out that inspiration so that the message is clear to their audience.  Sometimes creative people endure blocks where the creativity takes a sojourn, leaving projects waiting for an infusion of creativity at the midway point.

Are there short-cuts to shaking up that dry spell so the waters flow again?  Of course there are.  And sometimes, the best thing to do is to take a break from whatever you’re working on, and give yourself a mini-vacation from the project.  Start something new and stop hyper-focusing on what’s not working in the current project that seems to have temporarily stalled out.

Most authors I know have a “snippet” file where bits and pieces of what may eventually become a short story or a novel are filed (this same sort of file exists with a number of artists in any artistic domain).  That being said, there are fledgling authors who either haven’t thought of starting such a file, or who feel the “snippet” file they have doesn’t have what they’re looking for to kick-start their writing back into gear.  It’s not a big problem per se as one can build up a “snippet” file at any point in their career.

What alarms me, however, are those who are making money on the backs of fledgling or uncertain authors or hobbyist authors by promising to kick-start their entire book with pre-written plots with one simple rule:  Authors who purchase these pre-written plots MUST shake things up a bit in the pre-written plots to make them original.  You see, some of these pre-written plots are allegedly short stories all on their own hence the insistence that those who purchase these pre-written plots MUST shake things up a bit before publishing them.

Now in one case, the seller makes a point of insisting that authors purchasing this book of pre-written plots are only limited by their imagination, and to this end, there is a nugget of truth.  In fact, the seller proves his/her point by making available for purchase a book of pre-written plots which is very creative and takes a fair bit of imagination to pull off successfully.

However, if an author is only limited by his or her imagination, then there’s no need for a book of pre-written plots.

Real life presents so many incredible plots waiting to be retold in an imaginative way by a creative author who sees a moral or a theme he or she wishes to explore in greater detail.  Rather than pay someone for a book of pre-written plots, pick up a newspaper and find out what’s going on in the world.  It doesn’t have to be a front page story.  It could something as small as a 100-word feel-good story on the back page about a boy and his dog.  Or check your email to read the humorous tidbits sent to you by friends and family.  Perhaps a song on the radio as you’re driving somewhere has the “what if” moment just waiting for some creative sort to extrapolate just a bit further than the song took it.

But what if, as the seller of the book of pre-written plots wrote, you have “no clue how to come up with ideas or formulate the right structure for a story.”  Then pick up a few good books and read.  Pick up a few more good books, and read some more.  And when you start writing, keep picking up good books and continue reading.  If you’re still unsure how to proceed, there are many websites that have the information you need in point form as well as in long, drawn out articles.  All you have to do is choose how you prefer to have information shared with you to start figuring out how YOU would like to structure your story or book.

But whatever you do, never pay someone else to be your voice.    If you have something to share with others, it’s up to you to find a way to communicate that with your audience.  There’s no book of pre-written plots that will be as effective in telling your story as finding your own voice and cultivating ways to keep things flowing.  And when you hit that dry spell that may happen, there are ways to dislodge that dry spell.

Just remember that Judy Garland was quoted as saying:  “Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.”  In other words, allow your creativity to express itself in its own time and don’t default to someone else’s creativity in the hopes that no one will notice you’re not being yourself.

Elyse Bruce

This Device Of Destruction

People interested in making a name for themselves in the creative arts are always wondering how to get loads of attention from the masses.  Some do outrageous things that border on the unlawful.  Others adopt a persona that’s so bizarre that the media fixates on these human train wrecks.  But some march to the beat of their own drummer.  And that is exactly what Gary Turk did.

Gary is a writer, director and spoken word performer.  He’s young — only 27 years old.  And he seems to have an affinity for old school typewriters with ribbons and keys that don’t always do what the typist thinks they should be doing.

He has ONE YouTube video to his name … a thought-provoking video that was uploaded a month ago.

The thing to remember here is that Gary Turk has a message he believes in.  He put pen to paper (or rather, typewriter key to ribbon to paper) and composed a poem from the heart.  He didn’t write something that he thought might appeal to the masses.  He didn’t write something that sounded like all the other money-making material on the market.  He wrote a piece that was sincere and heartfelt.

The result is that a month after uploading his first YouTube video, his channel with only one video has nearly 40 MILLION views on it.

He has 320,000 LIKES and 10,000 DISLIKES.

In the end, a quick visit to his website reveals a humble artist who loves to create beautiful art.  He invests himself in creating the best art he can produce, and it shows in what he has produced to date.

It’s artists like Gary Turk that prove that success isn’t about chasing big bucks and the limelight.  Success is about being true to yourself, admitting your frailties, moving forward with your strengths, and reaching out to others who may find something valuable in what you have to share.

Set aside some quiet time. Click on the video, and watch it without interruption.  See it for the piece of art it is.  Then click on the video again, and this time watch it for the simplicity of the message, in images and in words.  Then click on the video a third time, and watch it with a critical eye.  Click it one more time, and learn from the message behind the message, and that message is this:  Being yourself will always trump being a flawed copy of anyone else.

Elyse Bruce

 

 

How Young Is Too Young?

Every once in a while, someone sends me a link to a young recording artist with talent.  I listen to the music or watch the video, and almost always I like the kid.  When the video and the song are age appropriate and positive, I’m impressed with the adults who are championing the kid.

That being said, I don’t buy into the idea that it’s appropriate to sign a kid to a recording contract when they’re so very young, and there are lots of good reasons why I don’t buy into the idea.

Tanya Tucker made her debut with Mel Tillis back in 1969 when she was 10 years old.  She had loads of talent.  Three years later, she had a hit with the song “Delta Dawn” and she became one of the youngest stars ever to enter country music.  Over the years, her stormy relationships, May-December romances, and addictions were splashed all over print and broadcast media.

I remember seeing Britney Spears perform on Star Search when she was ten years old … back in 1992.  Like Tanya Tucker, she had loads of talent.  Her stormy relationships, outrageous behaviors, and legal woes were also splashed all over print and broadcast media.

Lindsay Lohan also began her acting career at the age of 10 on the soap opera, “Another World.”  She had loads of talent.  And like Tanya Tucker and Britney Spears, the pitfalls and downward spiral of her life became the fodder of print and broadcast media.

Billy Ray’s daughter, Miley Cyrus, had her debut in Tim Burton’s movie, “Big Fish” when she was 10 years old.  She had loads of talent.  And yes, her behavior and antics have been traipsed through print and broadcast media for quite some time.

It seems that it’s the norm, not the exception, for talented children growing up in the arts industry to somehow wind up in a tailspin of varying magnitudes as they grow up.  Perhaps it’s just those who are 10 years old when they’re discovered who get pulled into the negative vortex, but I don’t believe so.

Justin Beiber was discovered on YouTube when he was 13 years old.

Brad Renfro began his acting career at 12 years of age.

Jodie Sweetin began her acting career at 4 years of age.

Macaulay Culkin began his acting career at 4 years of age.

Drew Barrymore made her first appearance as an actress when she wasn’t quite a year old.

The list goes on and on.

Now, I’m not saying that every kid that gets involved in the arts industry is doomed to a life of difficulties and ridicule and judgment.  Not at all.  After all, there are those like Shirley Temple Black and Justin Timberlake who have navigated the waters of ever-present disasters and troubles lurking in the dark, waiting to scuttle them on their shores.

However, I do believe that children should be allowed to be children, and no matter how desperately they want to grab at that brass ring, they should be encouraged to enjoy their childhood.

According to the CDC, the average American can expect to live  to be about 78 years old, so doesn’t it make sense to let kids be kids for the first 18 years of their life?  After all, there’s another 60 years after that for pursuing a career in the arts industry if that’s what they want.  If they’ve got loads of talent, the world will embrace them when they hit that eighteenth birthday.

In the meantime, encourage them to enjoy their talent.  Encourage them to volunteer their talents for fun events and school concerts and church gatherings and other such things.

Let them be kids.

Elyse Bruce

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