Monday, June 22, 2015

I Get Along Without You

"I Get Along Without You Very Well" is a Hoagy Carmichael song from 1939 that I first became familiar with through a version sung by Linda Ronstadt. I never really thought too hard about the lyrics, but assumed it was about someone who had been jilted.

I was so wrong.

Recently, I went to see Molly Ringwald (yes, she of 1980's "Sixteen Candles" fame) singing jazz at an intimate local venue. Surprisingly it was a most enjoyable evening.

Before she sang today's title tune, Molly explained the backstory which absolutely fascinated me and caused me to become even more enamored with it. The lyrics actually describe what a widow is going through as she grieves for her lost spouse but attempts to carry on.

I get along without you very well,
Of course I do,
Except when soft rains fall
And drip from leaves, then I recall
The thrill of being sheltered in your arms.
Of course, I do,
But I get along without you very well.

I've forgotten you just like I should,
Of course I have,
Except to hear your name,
Or someone's laugh that is the same,
But I've forgotten you just like I should.

What a guy, what a fool am I,
To think my breaking heart could kid the moon.
What's in store? Should I phone once more?
No, it's best that I stick to my tune.

I get along without you very well,
Of course I do,
Except perhaps in Spring,
But I should never think of Spring,
For that would surely break my heart in two.

When one listens to the song knowing the background, it becomes even more poignant. Part of the story can also be found on the back of the original sheet music:

Hoagy Carmichael, the well-known writer of "Star Dust,"…in rummaging through a lot of old material that he had stored away for years, discovered a poem which had been clipped from a magazine entitled "EXCEPT SOMETIMES" and signed by the letters "J.B." In reading the poem this time, he was inspired by the sentiment contained therein and pronto sat down at his piano and started to fool around with melodies that would suit that particular thought. In doing so, however, he had to re-write the idea in his own words but retained the original sentiment. When the song was completed, Hoagy Carmichael told the world-renowned columnist, Walter Windhell, about it—and Mr. Winchell thought the case so unusual that he broadcast it on one of his Sunday night "Jergens" programs, with the result that hundreds of claimants wrote in claiming to be the author of this poem. All of these claims are being investigated and when the true author of this poem has been identified, credit will be given to the author as the one who inspired the writing of this song.

I knew of Hoagy Carmichael because of his connection to my alma mater, Indiana University. Garcia's, a pizza joint that I frequented during my college years, was where Carmichael supposedly penned his hit "Stardust." Today this Spanish Colonial building operates as The Gables.

In Carmichael’s 2003 biography, Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael, author Richard M. Sudhalter fleshes out the story behind "I Get Along Without You":

On Sunday, November 27, 1938, little more than a week after copyright was registered on the song, [Walter] Winchell read the first of several items devoted to “J.B.” After a couple of months of further on-air pleas — and discounting the responses of numerous pretenders — Winchell was finally able to announce:

"Well, we’ve found the lady who wrote...the verse which inspired Hoagy Carmichael’s new love lilt. At least 'Jane Brown' (it was signed 'J.B.') claims authorship. She will rate 3¢ a copy on the ditty if her claim holds up."

It turned out that the former Jane Brown was now a widow — married name Thompson — age 71, and living in Philadelphia. She didn’t read Winchell’s columns or listen to his broadcasts and had no telephone. Two retired staff members of the old Life had managed, miraculously, to locate her; and through her attorney, she agreed to the terms of the contract (dated January 6, 1939) which Carmichael offered her.

Here's where the story becomes even more dramatic.

“I Get Along Without You Very Well” debuted on the air on Dick Powell’s radio program of January 19, 1939. Sadly, Jane Brown Thompson died the night before without ever hearing the song that she inspired.

For your listening pleasure, here's Molly's version of "I Get Along Without You":

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Debbie V. said...

Very nice. I had no idea she could sing.
I've always like Stardust ever since I was a girl and it was in my grandma's piano bench. Every time we'd visit her in Illinois I'd get it out.
Hey I'm a Hoosier too - only at a regional campus down in New Albany.

Fifthrider said...

Wow... Died the night before? That's some timing.

Great singing by Ringwold. Thanks for sharing. I hadn't heard of anything she's done since The Stand.

Matt G. said...

Love it! Definitely will have to learn this one.