Saturday, 23 February 2019

Oh, What A Night

 Oh, What A Night  is the sub-title of a famous 1976 disco hit for the Four Seasons - full title 'December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)', about a young man's first love-affair. I never got to grips with disco; went straight from psychedelia to punk and power-pop without the embarrassment of glitterballs and medallions.Therefore the most interesting thing for me about that song is that, as originally written, it was titled 'December 5th 1933' and had a set of lyrics celebrating the date on which Prohibition in the USA was repealed.

Bob Gaudio, the Four Seasons' keyboard player, wrote the song in 1975 and on presenting it to the group was persuaded by vocalists Frankie Valli and Gerry Polci to amend the lyrics to be a celebration of Gaudio's courtship of wife Judy Parker (who eventually shared a composing credit). Why the change was made, I don't know and I think it's quite a shame.


If there is anybody who doesn't know what Prohibition was, it was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages in the USA, from 1920 to 1933. America was supposed to be 'dry', i.e. sober for 11 years! Just imagine that!

Of course, like most legislation intended to tackle the 'negative social impact' of recreational refreshments, it had unpredictable consequences. The most significant was the spawning of a huge black-market industry in bootleg distilling, distribution and illicit drinking establishments - bootleg socials; unwittingly the making of the country's organised criminal fraternities. The others were widespread corruption among law-enforcement agencies and a staggering level of hypocrisy in the population at large. The ban was repealed by the ratification of the 21st amendment to the constitution in December 1933. The night that Prohibition ended must have been some party!


For a shot at a poem this week, I thought I'd have a go at 'deconstructing' and rebuilding/renovating Gaudio and Parker's disco ditty in honour of its original purpose, a jubilant celebration of repeal day.

Before that though, I want to share with you another poem that came to mind when I first saw what the theme of the blog was. It's by one of my favourite American 'beat' poets, the Pulitzer Prize winning Gary Snyder, from his 1983 collection, 'Axe Handles':

Strategic Air Command
The hiss and flashing lights of a jet
Pass near Jupiter in Virgo.
He asks, how many satellites in the sky?
Does anyone know where they all are?
What are they doing, who watches them?

Frost settles on the sleeping bags.
The last embers of fire,
One more cup of tea,
At the edge of a high lake rimmed with snow.

These cliffs and the stars
Belong to the same universe.
This little air in between
Belongs to the twentieth century and its wars.

                                                        Gary Snyder, 1982

Good that, don't you think? A poem written by campfire light in the Sierra Nevada.

Okay, here's the latest smattering from the imaginarium, with a raised glass to Bob Gaudio of the Four Seasons and (funny how these things just happen) a discernible nod in the direction of Geoffrey Chaucer. Given the intense activity required on the Supporters' Trust front this week, the new poem is incomplete - yet another work-in-progress I'm afraid - but you'll get the idea I hope....

Oh, What A Night
Remember, remember the fifth of December!
Oh, what a night that was in thirty-three,
a very special time in the land of the parched
and home of the (not so) free; no irony there!

When glorious repeal pierced the drought
of Prohibition with such sweet liquor,
then men (and dames) who longed to go
on drinking sprees could do so with impunity;

and it was said now legal beer was back
and bourbon filled the racks again
that joie de vivre re-lit the bright parade -
though poor F. Scott Fitzgerald lost a whole decade.

Oh, what a night, why did it take so long
to see the light? We felt a rush like rolling thunder
spinning the room, taking our bodies under;
nothing could possibly be wrong with the world again...

(tbc - another verse or two in here at some point)

And of course those who claimed to remember
were either abstemious or liars.


Thanks for reading. Refresh in moderation, S ;-)
Reactions:

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting, I never knew that.

Tom Shaw said...

My guess the 4S thought a song about prohibition wouldn't have as much appeal as a love song, so good recycling of the material (as it became a massive hit). I was lucky enough to meet Gary Snyder once and like you have always dug his poetry. Guess you have Turtle Island? Your idea for reconstituting the ode to repeal of prohibition amused me. Please finish it Steve.

The Existentialist said...

I drink, therefore I am. (Or was it the other way round?)

Matt West said...

I know your dead busy with getting us our club back but have a drink on me when we next meet buddy - and finish that poem.

Rochelle said...

I love the Gary Snyder poem and yours shows promise ;-)

Anonymous said...

America - a country founded on blood and violence, bound to be a bit crazy for a while so I could understand prohibition in the context of it needing so sober up!

Anonymous said...

An intriguing blog and good choice of images.