Posts Tagged ‘March 6th’

Tin Pan Alamo

Posted in General, On This Day on March 7th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

March 6, 1836:  Tin Pan Alamo

Tin Pan AlamoThis is the anniversary of the fall of the Alamo. Those valiant Texans died fighting for their freedom: specifically the freedom to own slaves. The tyrannical Mexican government sought to abolish that right.

That detail is generally omitted in Hollywood’s account of the battle.  No, historical accuracy can ruin the script and it is certainly less important than a good film score.  Remember “The Alamo” or at least John Wayne’s version.  Wayne produced, directed and starred in the extravaganza, a film that was on a larger scale than the actual battle.  His “Alamo” could be described as a laborious imitation of John Ford, but its redeeming and lasting grace was the excellent music.

The Mexican Army march is superior to anything the Mexicans actually had.  The haunting ballad, “The Green Leaves of Summer” is equally effective for seduction and death.  On an AM radio in 1960, you would have heard the hit single “The Ballad of the Alamo.”  The public thought that it was an old folk song.  Although sung by the popular country star Marty Robbins, the ballad’s lyricist and composer were not quite so down-home.

Lyricist Paul Francis Webster was born in New York City; it is unlikely that the family brownstone was made of sod. He done learned his letters at schoolhouses called Horace Mann and Cornell. No, he probably wasn’t an “ag” major. He did finally go West, if only to pick up three Academy Awards for best songs of the year: “Secret Love”, “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” and “The Shadow of Your Smile.”

Dimitri Tiomkin, the composer of “Ballad of the Alamo”, really was from the West…except that it was in Russia. However, the Ukraine was certainly wild, especially when its cowboys–the Cossacks–got liquored up; they had their own form of rodeos called pogroms. Mr. Tiomkin’s family would have been all-too-familiar with those Cossack celebrations. By the time of Mr. Tiomkin’s birth, in 1894, pogroms had become regulated and required government permission. However, the Tsar never said “nyet.”

Ironically and schizophrenically, the same Tsarist government provided a full scholarship for the young Tiomkin to attend the St. Petersburg Conservatory. “Hey, Jew, we want to burn down your house–and maybe you in it–but we want to encourage your gifted child’s musical career.” The imperial conservatory acquired so many of these Jewish prodigies that the director Alexander Glazunov became philo-Semitic; he would criticize inferior performances as “Gentile.”

Dmitri Tiomkin was raised in this meshuggah society. Despite his status as a pet Jew, he initially favored the Russian Revolution. However, when he saw no hope for any pampering under the Bolsheviks, he migrated. Fortunately, he found in Hollywood an equally meshuggah society. His songs and musical scores won three Academy Awards: for “High Noon”, The High and the Mighty” and “The Old Man and Sea.” He received nominations for 13 other films, including “The Alamo.”

So “The Ballad of the Alamo” really is a paean to America. Where else could an Ivy League New Yorker and a Russian Jewish immigrant pass themselves off as “country-n-western”?