Happy Chinese VD

The Star of Vega is relatively close to Earth, being only 25 light years away and subsequently it is the 5th brightest star visible from Earth.  Vega lies within the constellation of Lyra which is said to be the harp played by the legendary Greek musician Orpheus.  Altair is closer than Vega, its only 16.8 light-years away from Earth.  Vega was celestial princess, an immortal goddess of the sky, who was weary as it seemed she would live in eternity alone.  One day Altair, a mortal, caught the eye of Vega.   She descended from the heavens to greet him, and as they got to know each other she fell deeply in love.  Vega promised Altair that no matter what, they will be together in the heavens.  But when Vega’s father the Jade Emperor finds out, he is enraged that his daughter would fall in love with a mere mortal.  His fury only grows when he discovers that Vega promised to bring Altair up to the heavens with here.

Vega’s cruel father grants the promise that she made.  The two lovers were placed in the sky as stars, yet while they were both in the heavens, they were not together.  The great Celestial River, (known to us as Milky Way) separated them.  Yet each year, on the 7th night of the 7th moon, a bridge of magpies forms across the Celestial River.  Though it would be for one night a year the two lovers are reunited as Altair dares to travel to his beloved.  In late summer, the stars Altair and Vega are high in the night sky, and the Chinese tell the following love story, of the cowherd and the weaver girl.  A young cowherd named Niulang, came across seven fairy sisters bathing in a lake.  Encouraged by his mischievous companion the ox, he stole their clothes and waited to see what would happen. The fairy sisters elected the youngest and most beautiful sister Zhinü weaver girl, (the star Vega) to retrieve their clothing.  She agreed to do so, but since Niulang had seen her naked, she agreed to his request for marriage.  She proved to be a wonderful wife, and Niulang to be a good husband.  They lived happily and had two children.

Zhinü’s mother found out that Zhinü, a goddess, had married a mere mortal.  Her mother was furious and ordered Zhinü to return to heaven to continue her former duty of weaving colorful clouds, a task she neglected while living on earth with a mortal.  On Earth, Niulang was very upset that his wife had disappeared.  Suddenly, his ox began to talk, telling him that if he killed it and put on its hide, he would be able to go up to Heaven to find his wife.  Crying bitterly, he killed the ox, put on the skin, and carried his two beloved children off to Heaven to find Zhinü.  The Goddess discovered this and was very angry.  Taking out her hairpin, the Goddess scratched a wide river in the sky to separate the two lovers forever, thus forming the Milky Way between Altair and Vega.  Unable to cross the Milky Way, Niulang could only cried with his children for Zhinü on the opposite side.  Their deep love moved a flock of magpies.  Countless magpies then flew up and formed a colorful bridge across the Milky Way, allowing Niulang and Zhinü to unite.  Zhinü’s mother was also moved and allow Niulang and two children to stay on the heaven, and the family to reunite via magpie bridge once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.  This is the story of Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Today is the Niulang and Zhinü (Cowherd and Weaver Girl) love theme on Love Is In Da Blog and we are asked to find a Valentine’s song and/or write a Sijo poem about love.  ‘My Funny Valentine’ is a show tune from the 1937 Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical Babes in Arms which stared Mitzi Green.  Its original use in the show is more literal had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day, as it is sung by a female character to the male lead whose name is Valentine.  This song was left out of the 1939 movie version of Babes In Arms, featuring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.  The song became a popular jazz standard, appearing on over 1300 albums performed by over 600 artists, including Chet Baker, Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Andy Williams, Shirley Bassey, Miles Davis, Etta James, Harry James, Nico, Chaka Khan, Elvis Costello, Melanie C, and Rickie Lee Jones.  ‘My Funny Valentine’ became a hit record in 1945, released by bandleader, Hal McIntyre, with Ruth Gaylor on lead vocals and it peaked at #16 on the US Billboard Singles Chart.  Frank Sinatra made it relevant again when he recorded it in 1953.

‘My Funny Valentine is often misunderstood, but what makes the song so remarkable is the happy and sad nature of the lyrics, which brilliantly mirror the major and minor nature of the music.  It’s a love song, that’s vaguely optimistic, but it couldn’t be described as upbeat.  Still, it’s far from a downer, it is neither glad or unhappy.  ‘My Funny Valentine’ is a man’s idea of the way he imagines women think about men, but it is essentially a woman’s song.  The words address the flaws in the object of affection, while leaving no doubt that Valentine is loved in spite of these obvious defects, for instance, “Your looks are laughable, unphotographable.  Yet you’re my favorite work of art.”  And later, “Is your figure less than Greek?  Is your mouth a little weak?”  And finally, “Don’t change a hair for me, not if you care for me.”

The irony at work here is typical of Lorenz Hart, indeed many have commented that these words are a love song to himself.  Hart suffered from low self-esteem and was a somewhat desperate soul, because he was short, unattractive, a closeted gay who suffered from severe addictions to both drugs and alcohol, given to nasty outbursts yet he had the soul of a poet.  It’s affectionate and endearing for a woman to admit that she’s in love with a man even if his ‘figure’ is ‘less than Greek’ (i.e., not the Olympian ideal of masculine beauty) and his mouth is ‘a little weak.’  A man would never describe a woman this way and no man that is trying to win the affections of a girl, will refer to her looks as ‘laughable.  The lyrics are written kind of like a stream of consciousness, jumping from one thought to the next without elaborating on anything in particular.

Lorenz Hart was born in New York City to German-Jewish immigrants, and he penned some of Broadway’s most haunting, sophisticated lyrics.  At age 24, he began collaborating with the 17-year-old composer Richard Rodgers.  Their 24-year partnership produced over 500 songs, many of which are an indispensable part of the Great American Songbook.  Rodgers and Hart’s creative output is even more astonishing when we consider that Hart, with his emotional fragility and problems with addiction, would sometimes disappear for weeks at a time.  Despite these difficulties, Rodgers stuck with Hart until his untimely death.  Rodgers had the supreme gift of writing simple, pure melodies which stuck in the ear and which he would often flesh out with more interesting chords.  And Hart stood alone as a lyricist; his words had great wit and charm, ironic humor, interior rhythm and often plumbed emotional depths worthy of poetry.  As a team, they were incomparable; Rodgers’ later songs with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein are far less successful simply because the words don’t work nearly as well.  One of their most beloved songs is ‘My Funny Valentine’.

My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine

You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Unphotographable
Yet you’re my favorite work of art

Is your figure less than Greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is Valentines day

Is your figure less than Greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But don’t you change one hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is Valentines day

Written for Love Is In Da Blog 2021 Great Love Stories where today you can find a Valentine’s song and/or write a Sijo poem about love.

6 thoughts on “Happy Chinese VD

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