A Song-by-Song Commentary On Get Happy
by Bandleader and Producer
Thomas M. Lauderdale
Get Happy is a very special album for us. I like the concept. I like the idea of getting happy especially in these bleak times because things are pretty bleak all around the world. Things are bleak in America, things are bleak in Greece, things are bleak in Spain, things are bleak in Afghanistan. I thought, the last thing the world needs is a restatement of the obvious. So the idea was to find optimism despite the bleakness. Where is hope? Let’s find hope we can embrace in these dark times. That was the goal.
As it turned out the songs that I gravitated towards were not exactly cheery or exuberant. I mean they’re uplifting … but in a devastating sort of way. This past January I totally panicked because the album, which was due to be released in April, just didn’t add up to “Get Happy.” I thought: I don’t want the whole thing to be ironic. I do want it to be genuinely uplifting, and to provide authentic rays of happiness.
It’s taken a while and I’m still not quite sure that we’ve arrived at the happiest “get happy” place. That said, I think that this album is deep in thought, it is contemplative and it is beautiful. It’s much older, especially compared with the innocence of Sympathique. With Sympathique nobody was paying any attention. I was barely paying attention. I was just making an album that I wanted to play on my stereo. I never thought that it would sell anywhere beyond Portland, Oregon. For the first five years we didn’t travel. We stayed in town, we played every wedding in town. Those were scrappy years. Get Happy is definitely not scrappy. It’s the product of years of growth, and this time we were definitely paying attention.
Track 1: “Ich dich liebe”
China Forbes and I met each other in college in 1988, our freshman year at Harvard. Late at night we would break into one of the practice rooms in Adams House, our college dormitory, and she would sing Puccini arias and wacky covers of “The Way We Were” at 3 o’clock in the morning … these escapades were endlessly fun.
When I came back to Portland after college, I thought I was going to go into politics. I really wanted to become Mayor of Portland and so I was working for politicians in City Hall and working on various political campaigns. I was dismayed at the terrible music that was always playing at the political functions I was going to: there was a lot of bad rock, loud rock, techno … or even worse … DJs. And so I started Pink Martini really to play at political fundraisers.
A year into it I realized that the band was potentially viable and sustainable, but I wasn’t pleased with the original singer. Remembering the fun that I had with China Forbes, I found her in New York City, called her up, and convinced her to fly to Portland to perform four concerts in one weekend. I kept tricking her into coming to Portland temporarily, and eventually she moved permanently to Portland in 1998. So we have had a long collaboration of over fifteen years. She and I wrote a lot of Pink Martini’s original songs, especially in the second album, together.
Get Happy begins with China singing the grammatically incorrectly titled “Ich Dich Liebe”, written by three Germans for a German film called Freddy and the Song of the Prairie which starred the singing actor Freddy Quinn, opposite Mamie Van Doren. (In the 1950s there were three blonde bombshells in America: Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren. Of the three only Mamie Van Doren survived the 1960s. Currently, at 81, she’s working on a 3D television show. She sang with us last summer at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.) So Mamie Van Doren sang this song in 1964. Half of it is in English and half of it is in German-ish. It’s not grammatically correct. When we recorded it we tried to make it a little bit more correct, but it’s still not right. Germans will say “something’s off” because it IS off. Hopefully our audiences will look past the sketchy title and forgive the sketchy lyrics and love the song, with its big band sound of orchestra, strings and a lot of brass.
Come back next week for the stories behind “Quizás, quizás, quizás” and “I’m waiting for you to come back”.