A Cold War carol

Yep, it’s time for another sheer-genius musical extravaganza from Steyn.

Back in 1952, Gloria Shayne had been the pianist in the dining room of a New York hotel when a young man walked in, took one look at the gal at the keyboard, and went up and introduced himself. He was a Frenchman who spoke very little English, she was an American who spoke even less French. She liked pop music, he had come to America to be a classical musician. Yet within a month they were married. Flash forward ten years: Noël Regney’s English has improved, and, although he still hasn’t made his name in serious music, he’s learned to appreciate American pop music since his wife hit the jackpot with “Goodbye, Cruel World”. They even write songs together – usually with Noël writing the music, and Gloria the lyrics.

But not this time. Noël Regney had had a lively war. Born in Strasbourg, he’d been conscripted, after the German invasion, into the army of the Reich. And, although he soon deserted and joined the Resistance, he stayed in German uniform long enough to lead his platoon intentionally into the path of a group of French partisans, who wound up shooting him. After the liberation of his country, he went east to be the musical director of the Indochinese service of Radio France, and found himself in the middle of a new conflict. He thought the Second World War was so terrible that it must surely be the end of all war. But here it was – October 1962 – and as he saw it Washington and Moscow were playing a dangerous game of nuclear brinksmanship over Soviet missiles in Cuba. On the streets of Manhattan, he saw two infants in strollers being wheeled by their mothers along the sidewalk, and decided he wanted to write something for them. Not music, but words: A poem.

He wrote a tune to go with it, too, but he decided it wasn’t right, and turned to his wife. “When he finished,” said Gloria, “Noël gave it to me and asked me to write the music. He said he wanted me to do it because he didn’t want the song to be too classical. I read over the lyrics, then went shopping. I was going to Bloomingdale’s when I thought of the first music line.”

I was gonna withhold the name of the song so as to keep y’all in suspense as to which Christmas classic he’s referring to, but then realized there’s no way I could resist embedding it here, and that I had no desire to anyway.



Amazing, isn’t it, how so very many of those Great American Songbook tunes have such fascinating backstories?

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