Monday, August 29, 2011

Well Hey (Burl Ives Department)

I've always cherished a soft spot for Burl Ives.  I don't usually talk about it because I've always assumed it's infra dig.  But the Ives was one of my first great (if semi-secret) enthusiasms back in the 50s. He seemed to me to strike a note of dignified but astringent irony, as if he were leaving something unstated that you, the listener, might or might not be clever enough to figure out.  It seemed to work as well with songs like "Foggy, Foggy Dew," where there may have been a sort of hidden meaning, and just as well with items like "Lavender Blue,"* where there probably wasn't (hey, I was young back then: it was years before I realized that "now I wear my apron high" had any meaning at all).  And although I've never been a huge movie fan, I was dazzled by how he played off Jame Dean in East of Eden:  he did a marvellous job of driving home the point that the good cop is not the one who makes the most arrests, but the one who keeps order.

All kitschy stuff, I suppose.  So imagine my delight to find this from the coolest of critics, John Rockwell:
Ives's voice ... had the sheen and finesse of opera without its latter-day Puccinian vulgarities and without the pretensions of operatic ritual. It was genteel in expressive impact without being genteel in social conformity. 
"The sheen and finesse of opera without its latter-day Puccinian vulgarities:" just what we the staff and management at Underbelly central strive for every day.

*Ives also prepared us for Flanders and Swann and in particular, their response to the first Soviet space mission:
Russia is red, diddle diddle
England is Green;
They've got the moon, diddle diddle,
We've got the queen.
Who would have guessed that, 50-odd years on, Russia would not have the moon, but England would still have the queen? 


Ken Houghton said...

The deeper you dig into Ives's career, the more you find. I swear he lived three lifetimes at once.

He's not Mel Torme--the Leonard Cohen of his day, but with more range--but I'm more and more convinced he's the next best thing.

Alex said...

Hey, I love Burl Ives too! He could do a great version of Big Rock Candy Mountain and was a wonderful actor also. Loved his performances in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Big Country.