Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I vaguely remembered having heard “I Happen to Like New York,” by Cole Porter, in a Woody Allen film, and loving it, and had no idea which film, for many years, until the other night, when I happened to watch Manhattan Murder Mystery, and there it was, at the top of the film.

What a beautiful song! The last strain, its gorgeous cry of life:

And when I have to give the world a last farewell,
And the undertaker starts to ring my funeral bell,
I don't want to go to heaven, don't want to go to hell.
I happen to like New York. I happen to like New York.

I hadn't seen an Allen film in many many years. Realized: not only is he a good story teller, and often hilarious, but I love his directing style too. He does that Robert Altman thing of overlapping dialog really well.

Keaton, Alda, Houston, everybody else -- all the acting was great.

It’s Bobby Short singing the song off screen as the opening credits unroll. Not only are the words aces, but the accompanying 3-note lick that pounds relentlessly throughout the song, in varying registers as the harmony shifts, gives the song power.

* * *

Wallace Stevens’s poem “Table Talk” is an answer to Porter’s song. Porter wrote in 1930, Stevens in 1935. “Happens to like” is the key phrase in Stevens’s poem. And, like the song, it’s about the quickening of one
’s preferences by the acknowledgment of mortality. One of my favorite Stevens poems.

Granted, we die for good.
Life, then, is largely a thing
Of happens to like, not should.

And that, too, granted, why
Do I happen to like red bush,
Gray grass and green-gray sky?

What else remains? But red,
Gray, green, why those of all?
That is not what I said:

Not those of all. But those.
One likes what one happens to like.
One likes the way red grows.

It cannot matter at all.
Happens to like is one
Of the ways things happen to fall.

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