Monday, December 8, 2008

The Christmas Album: Der Bingle

Day Eight of our Holiday time trip lands us just outside the Palm Terrace in the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1952, in time to catch crooner Bing Crosby with his beard askew prior to a Christmas lunch for the Women's Press Club. His relaxed presence and conversational singing style developed along with the microphone and radio, allowing him to form a bond with his listeners that lasted for some 40+ years. Coming on the heels of anemic tenors with an artificiality that today seems deadly, Crosby trained his voice to become a remarkable instrument sounding the way we all think we might sound singing around the house. As his friend and collaborator Louis Armstrong described it, his "voice has a mellow quality that only Bing's got. It's like gold being poured out of a cup."

Over time, that gold got thinner, and, for many, turned to lead with post mortem revelations about a seemingly cold private demeanor, a troubled first marriage and children whose lives went awry, followed by present day commentators misinterpreting the casual air for indifference. Fortunately, Gary Giddins' splendid biography, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, pointed out some truths that are worth recalling about this vocal innovator. Others recognized his innate ability to blend jazz elements into his work. This allowed him to translate that bluesy streak in American music into a highly commercial, acceptable happy-go-lucky format. Some, who recognized him as musically one of the hippest white men around, acknowledge that he opened the door to all those whose fame followed and were encouraged by the man. Among them were Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole and Mr. Armstrong, whose career on screen and in recording studios reflected Crosby's color blindness in the face of talent. His influence faded with the arrival of rock music, yet younger people, when rediscovering Bing and his music, still feel the pull of the lost America that he sprang from--a country of small towns and hopes, that the singer addressed without irony as "Dear Hearts and Gentle People". Music might bridge the economic and racial realities for a few moments as he raised his voice to sing of "Pennies From Heaven", "Danny Boy", "The Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening", and, of course, "White Christmas," to name but a few of his anthems.


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