John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

Ella Fitzgerald Makes Spring Come Alive

She turns "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" into a seasonal classic.

By - Apr 19th, 2019 02:58 pm
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Ella Fitzgerald. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Ella Fitzgerald. Photo is in the Public Domain.

“April is the cruelest month.”

-TS Eliot

“Spring can really hang you up the most.”

Landesman & Wolf

Hey, what’s going on here? Are poets and songwriter trying to drop their dreary rain on everybody’s favorite season? I can understand TS Eliot, the very definition of gravitas, not getting in the swing of things when winter’s gloom and doom comes to an end, but why make a song out of it, as Landesman and Wolf did?

As I write this, the sun is out, croci and daffies are about to pop and all is well in the cool early spring. But a few days ago we were getting that heavy wet snow, just a day before the “wintry mix” was sunny and 70 degrees. Hey, if I want a roller coaster ride, I’ll go to Great America. The ideal spring in this guy’s dreams is a steady climb to an early and long lasting summer. I’m a terrible Northern European, it’s true.

But spring’s melancholy can be a beautiful thing if Ella Fitzgerald is singing about it. In her hands it becomes the most exquisite agony you could imagine. The song “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” sung to perfection by one of the great interpreters of the Classic American Songbook, makes heartache seem like fun.

There’s no doubt Ella was a grown woman, but she retained a youthful playfulness when she sang — there was always a little hopscotch in her swing. Ella disappeared into songs, illuminating them from within. She had lived the words or at the very least, made you believe she did. Paired with the right song, listening to her is a gourmet experience.

“Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” has lyrics by Fran Landesman. Wikipedia tells us she was called “the poet laureate of lovers and losers.” Who, aside from our president, wouldn’t aspire to such a hip sounding title? Read her short Wiki-biography, and you’ll find other charming details: She named her son Miles Davis Landesman and asked what her luxury item would be on Desert Island Discs, a British radio show, she answered, “a pack of cannabis seeds.”

The music by Tommy Wolf will do little to cheer you up, but that’s good in these kinds of songs. But there’s melancholy and then there’s maudlin. Somehow good writers, like these two, manage to never stray into the latter. This song was her best known work, but Landesman kept at it her whole life. She was very good at what she did, and the proof is in this sad little dish of pudding:

Once I was a sentimental thing;
Threw my heart away each spring
Now a spring romance
Hasn’t got a chance
Promised my first dance to winter
All I’ve got to show’s a splinter
For my little fling

Spring this year has got me feeling
Like a horse that never left the post
I lie in my room
Staring up at the ceiling
Spring can really hang you up the most

Morning’s kiss wakes trees and flowers
And to them I’d like to drink a toast
But I walk in the park
Just to kill the lonely hours
Spring can really hang you up the most

All afternoon the birds twitter-twitt
I know the tune. This is love, this is it
Heard it before
And don’t I know the score
And I’ve decided that spring is a bore

Love seems sure around the new year
Now it’s April. Love is just a ghost
Spring arrived on time
Only what became of you, dear?
Spring can really hang you up the most
Spring can really hang you up the most

Love came my way. I thought it would last
We had our day, now it’s all in the past
Spring came along, a season of song
Full of sweet promise
But something went wrong

Doctors once prescribed a tonic
Sulfur and molasses was the dose
Didn’t help one bit
My condition must be chronic
Spring can really hang you up the most

All alone, the party is over
Old man winter was a gracious host
But when you keep praying
For snow to hide the clover
Spring can really hang you up the most

©  Fran Landesman / Tommy Wolf

There’s nothing wrong with sophistication — when it’s genuine. This lyric is smart and full of resignation. Such lines as “Feeling like a horse that never left the post,” or “downing the doctor’s prescribed sulfur and molasses” give the impression of someone not enjoying their life of glamour, yet that’s somehow appealing when Ella sings about it. So few people today describe spring as  a “bore” — I wouldn’t mind meeting a few.

You might suspect Landesman was well schooled from the obsessive punctuation in the lyrics. She removes all doubt about her private school education in the last verse:

But when you keep praying
For snow to hide the clover
Spring can really hang you up the most

The sentiment is straight from Eliot who seems to prefer winter:

Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow…

Winter didn’t keep me warm this year, but I agree with the bard when it comes to April. In January you’re girded for battle with the elements, but three months on you’re staring intently at the trees waiting for the first bud that never seems to come. April is cruel like Lucy when she’s holding the football for Charlie Brown to kick and snatching it away at the last second. As they say, expectations are a bitch, but songs about having them dashed will always be with us. That makes me glad in the middle of this treacherous month.

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