Buck Ram, Walter Kent, Kim Gannon: I'll Be Home For Christmas

So we've had a couple weeks of French music.  That wasn't by design, but more so related to the intensely cerebral process I utilize to pick pieces of music to wax intellectual about.  It begins by determining that it's not Friday and that I don't have to worry about it for a few days.  Then Thursday happens and I promise myself to spend a least a modicum of time doing some background research, though at this point it's not even necessary to have chosen a title.  Then Friday happens and I begin to frantically look for inspiration in the Amazon Prime Music Christmas Station, which when set to "Classical" will only play the Nutcracker Suite or the Piano Guys cover of "Let It Go".

I got interested in a "Carol of the Bells"-"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" mish-mash that these guys did, but soon became disinterested after realizing that they really weren't bringing anything new to the table.  I've heard a lot of people talking about them and of course the sharing of things on Facebook seems to feature them a fair bit, but honestly it sounds like this generation's version of Liberace.

To me, it all just sounds like psuedo-classical music manufactured for people who don't really like music anyway, but like other people to assume that they're cultured.  Nothing is new and unique about any of the arrangements I've listened to- and yes they do arrange certain pieces together that are unique to each other, but nothing changes about the style or the structure.  Nothing like Holst's superposition of "Greensleeve's" over the "Dargason" in any event.  Or James Barnes massive undertaking on the 24th Caprice by Paganini.  Both of those pieces took music we'd heard many times over and found something new and different to share.  "Oh!  Oh!  But Mr. Music Snob!" you protest.  "You haven't seen that one video where they all play the piano and screw around with the inside of it! That's new and different!"

"Bitch, please." - John Cage
And even then, Maurice Delage and Henry Cowell were doing the prepared piano and pluck the strings thing back in the early 1900's to boot!  My main argument stands- I see nothing new and different about what they offer the musical world.  However, this isn't a tirade about that.  This is a an post about a man named Kim Gannon (1900-1974) and something he shared with Bing Crosby on a golf course in 1943.

The year is of particular note as at this point in history, the United States was heavily embroiled in what would later be confirmed as World War II.  Evidently the "War to End All Wars" was ineffective and thusly was retroactively named "WWI".  Gannon was a lawyer, having graduated Albany Law School he passed the New York State bar exam in the mid-30's. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of information about his youth and education, so I'm having a hard time explaining the jump from lawyer to hit Broadway/Movie lyricist, but jump he did.  In 1942 he had caught the attention of Glenn Miller, who recorded his "Moonlight Cocktail" and he shortly transitioned to full-time lyric-writing.

Of interesting note is a copyright claim by another accomplished lyricist/poet named Samuel "Buck" Ram (1907-1991), who in December of 1942 had copyrighted a song called "I'll Be Home for Christmas (Tho' Just in Memory)" which according to Wikipedia did not exactly resemble the product put out by Gannon and music by Walter Kent (1911-1994). Apparently they had been made aware of the song while having drinks together with Ram who related that his publisher had put the brakes on its release until after Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" had its run.  In light of the similarity of the Gannon/Kent version, Ram's publisher filed suit and won.

Gee, officer...I swear I have the license around here somewhere...

Bing Crosby is possibly the most well-known performer of this work, though it has been recorded a ridiculous number of times.  The lyrics describe the traditional dream of the warm, family-centric Christmas, but it ends somberly, explaining that the narrator might only see this idyllic scene in his dreams.  Gannon claimed to have written it, reminded of the many thousands of soldiers who would be celebrating Christmas in foreign lands, away from the comforts of home.  Ram claims his version was written at age 16 as a gift for his mother while he was away at college.

No matter the authorship, the theme is universal.  In the US, the song was credited for raising troop morale, and awareness of the challenges those that were serving faced, not just from the physical threat of their enemies, but the psychological impacts related to separation from everything they cherished.  The song speaks to the attainment of the "perfect Christmas" and therefore perhaps could be interpreted to reflect the inaccessibility of what we all perceive individually to be home.  It doesn't matter what stands in the way, be it war, travel, work, or depression.  We all have felt the absence of happiness and warmth in our lives, and so Gannon and Ram speak to us through Kent and Crosby.

So, I began today complaining about unoriginality being praised in music land and I would be remiss to leave you with something we've all heard before, not to knock ol' Bing's rendition, but let's take a shot at something that might be new to some of you.  The United State's Airforce has a jazz band, known as the Airmen of Note, who derive their ancestry through the incomparable Glenn Miller who once led the Army Air Force Jazz band and began a tradition of insanely talented musicians and kick-ass jazz bands that continues to this day.  This track comes from their "Cool Yule" album, where they take Christmas classics and shoehorn them into Big Band era classics.  In the case of I'll Be Home for Christmas, they arrange it stylized as the Glenn Miller Band's "Moonlight Serenade".

I find it very appropriate, knowing the sacrifice Miller himself made, and though I don't know that it was a conscious decision on the part of the band's arranger, it serves as a fitting tribute just the same.

See you next Friday.