Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ring Them Bells...

      from a photographer's notebook...

As regular visitors know, I sometimes form these curious thought-associations with music while I’m out shooting…or sometimes it strikes when I’m up late editing my images. No matter, once formed in those little neurons and synapses that play behind the camera eye, there becomes an indelible connection with a particular photo…

Once upon a time, Broadway composers John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote a little story- tune for one of their favorite performers, Liza Minelli.

It was a cute little playlet of a song called “(You’ve Got to) Ring Them Bells.” It told the story of a gal living in an apartment building on Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Liza sang, in a thick NooYawk accent, about the frustrations in finding romance of one Shirley Devore. Poor Shirley’s getting all kinds of “tsurus” from her parents, relatives, and friends, who fear she might not, well, you know, find a mate. What’s more she’s just shy of thirty-two and still living at home with her parents.


Liza claimed it was a true story about someone she actually knew. She told it to Kander and Ebb, who had actually written the actress’ first show on Broadway, “Flora, the Red Menace.” The result was “Ring Them Bells,” with which Liza delighted audiences on television, in live performances, and, of course, on her album (yes, that’s what we called collections of songs on, umm, records…) “Liza with a Z.”

So, Shirley decides to take matters into her own hands. She goes to Chase Manhattan, “Where I got me a friend,” a reference to a TV ad campaign for that bank.

“And so she borrowed a thou' and called TWA,
 And told her mother and dad that she was Up and Away…”

Another delicious reference to its period and the once wonderful Trans World Airlines, gobbled up some years back by the once wonderful American Airlines.

“I'm gonna travel the continent, a month, maybe, two,
And haul me home a hus' [band] if it's the last thing I do…”

And of course, the chorus was “You gotta ring them bells, you gotta ring them bells”

A sly hymn to getting proactive…although I’m not sure that word was quite so overused back in the era of this song.

Well, dear “Shoyley” traipses about the continent, but fails, for whatever reason, to “foind” Mr. Wonderful.

London (she gets romantic, he gets a bronchial cough)…Brussels (no joy)…
Madrid, where she finds a handsome creature, but one “who threw the bull, but was no matador.”

Ah, but fortunately, someone tells her she can't possibly go home without seeing Dubrovnik, a current travel hotspot.

There, on the beach, she meets the boy who sets off “them bells.” And we share the joy of her discovering he has a flat at “Five Rivuhside” (her apartment building)…and that they’d been next door neighbors all the while. 

She can't believe it - She’d traveled the world to find the boy next door.

Only in Noo Yawk. And just a bit of magic that a brilliant pair of writers for the American Musical Theater created for a dynamic performer with whom they had a special chemistry.

Betcha a vintage IRT Broadway Local subway token the fellow in the picture, tapping on the “Liberty Bell” outside Washington’s Union Station on this perfect late summer afternoon was not thinking about this song.

But it was certainly playing on the ol’ Gray Matter Victrola that sits behind this photographer’s eyeballs and between his ears and sometimes just can’t resist playing a tune while he’s out and about with a camera…

The photo was taken last September on Ilford XP2 Super-400 film in my “new” Contax G2 rangefinder camera, using the Zeiss 45 mm lens, wearing a red No.25 filter (the skies over Washington that day were laced with glorious, ever changing formations of cirrus clouds, which I’ll show you some other time).

Oops, do I hear another song from Broadway?

Oh, well, we’ll catch up some other time.

If you'd like to view the photo in higher definition, you may do so on its Foto-Community page. It  is also available in gallery prints and as a custom printed Photo Note Card.

©2013 Steve Ember 

Now, here's Liza (with a Z).


Blogger TravelGal said...

Fantastic. I like the way your mind works. And your photos. And your thoughtfulness in including the original Liza.

March 9, 2013 at 4:31 PM  

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