Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Wandering Star

I really don't like musicals.  They test my willing suspension of disbelief to the limits.  Whilst I'm watching a film, I can temporarily accept, for the purposes of the drama unfolding n front of my eyes, all manner of absurdities.  I'm prepared to accept that men can turn into wolves, that the blood-drinking reanimated corpses of nobility terrorise Transylvania, even that Robin Askwith was apparently irresistible to women in the 1970s.  But I just can't handle people spontaneously bursting into song and performing dance numbers in the middle of the street, or an office, or anywhere, really.  I've often thought that my dislike of musicals might have been triggered by having seen the opening of Oklahoma on TV when I was very young - I just thought it was a western. I mean, it opens with a cowboy riding into shot then, for no good reason, he starts singing.  I found it deeply disturbing: cowboys were meant to be drunk and violent, not singing.  It was horrible.  Yet, despite this dislike of musicals, when I was four or five I became obsessed with a number from the film version of a famous musical western.

Back in 1969, when Paint Your Wagon was released, 'I Was Born Under a Wandering Star', as performed by Lee Marvin, incredibly became a chart hit.  I use the term 'performed' advisedly, as he certainly doesn't sing, instead speaking, or rather growling, the lyrics over the music.  But those were the days when they tended to cast actors rather than singers in film musicals, often making this the only option.  Clint Eastwood did the same thing as Marvin's co-star in the same film.  Richard Harris and David Hemmings did something similar in Camelot.   It wasn't confined to film musicals, either:  Telly Savalas had some chart success talking over music in the seventies and William 'The Shat' Shatner has become a legend with his musical spoken renditions of classics like 'Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds'.  Of course, these days we have a whole musical genre - rap- dedicated to those who can't sing and instead just talk over a record, but back in the day it was a real novelty.  But to return to the point, aged five or so, I became obsessed with Lee Marvin's rendition of 'Wandering Star' and drove my mother up the wall by continually attempting to replicate his growling performance.  Except that, for some reason, I thought it hilariously funny to replace the word 'star' with 'cow' which, in turn, just wound my mother up even more.

Whilst I eventually grew out of this fixation, I've remained fascinated by the song, (not to mention becoming a Lee Marvin fan), despite still finding the film all but unwatchable.  As someone once remarked about Paint Your Wagon: 'Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood sing.  It really shouldn't be allowed'.  I've often wondered just why that particular number has had such an effect on me.  Perhaps it is because, secretly, I envy those who, like Marvin's character in the film, drift endlessly from place to place, never staying long enough to develop ties.  God knows, there have been times in my life when I've badly wanted just to walk away from my life and all of its complications and encumbrances.  But I never do - I'm one of those people who likes to have some fixed points in their life, including a permanent home.  I guess I just wasn't born under a wandering star.  Or cow.

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