Welcome back to our song-by-song commentary on Get Happy, written by our always punctual band leader, Thomas M. Lauderdale. This week Thomas talks about the difficulty he had decoding “Omide zendegani” and how the dashing Ari Shapiro first got caught up with our motley ensemble. Enjoy!

Storm Large and Ari Shapiro - Get Happy

track 4: “Omide zendegani”

Dinah Shore sang the song “Omide zendegani” in Farsi on NBC in 1965, during her hour-long salute to the Peace Corps with Harry Belafonte. Dinah Shore was the Oprah Winfrey of the 1960s and 1970s. Also, there is an annual golf tournament named after her in Palm Springs that many women seem to like.

One day, randomly, I saw a clip on YouTube of Dinah Shore singing this song in Farsi on NBC in 1965. I was incredulous!  It would never happen these days. Trying to find out more about the song was its own adventure. I took it to my Farsi-speaking friends, sent it to language professors in Tucson; nobody quite knew what it was or where it came from. They thought that maybe it was a song of the legendary Iranian singer Delkash, or maybe Googoosh. It was eventually Hossein Salehi who solved the mystery of the song: it was an obscure song sung by Elahe in the early 1960s called “Omide zendegani”.

Twenty years ago, Hossein Salehi had a copy shop across the street from the Multnomah County Library in downtown Portland, Oregon. When the band first started, it was very important to me that the invitations and posters were beautiful, and so I spent a small fortune at the copy shop making color copies of beautiful images from Playboy and Holiday magazine and cutting them out and pasting them onto these invitations. Years later, I discovered that Hossein Salehi is one of this country’s foremost experts on Persian music, a master teacher, highly revered around the globe… and a talented musician himself.

Hossein Salehi and his wife Azar guided Storm through the Farsi pronunciation for this recording.  Mr. Salehi and his son Bobak played the Persian and Middle Eastern instruments. This song was the last song we recorded for this album.  For me this song is full of meaning because it also coincided with the breakup with Philip, my partner of nine years. There’s a moment towards the end where just ever so slightly you can hear a few lines played by Bobak that for me will always be associated with this moment in my life.

track 5: “Yo te quiero siempre”

Ari Shapiro. He’s practically perfect in every way!  He’s tall, he’s handsome, he grew up in Beaverton, Oregon and he’s the London correspondent for National Public Radio. He does parkour, he’s an incredible chef, he’s modest, he has a great husband who also works in the White House as a lawyer, and he’s handsome. Remarkably handsome. And he has a great voice.

I met Ari Shapiro 10 years ago when he was just starting out at NPR. He’d grown up liking the band very much and he wanted to do a story about Pink Martini and why was it taking so long for us to release a second album. Evidently he had called our manager, John Brodie, at the time who said, “I think that’s a terrible idea!” Undaunted, Ari asked our mutual friend Ryan Offutt to ask me if I might reconsider. I thought was a great idea. I mean NPR is NPR … so even if it’s about why it was taking so long to make a second album, it’s still attention from NPR.  So I went in the studio one day, and I thought “Oh, who’s [Pink Martini studio engineer] Dave Friedlander’s cute new assistant for the day?” It never occurred to me that the cute guy was the NPR reporter.

That weekend, Ari and I became friends. Every time the band came to Washington D.C. he and his partner Michael would have dinner parties which were always astonishing, amazing, and delicious.

One night, after one of the amazing dinners, Ari suggested a sing-a-long.  The band Blind Pilot (who are also from our hometown of Portland, Oregon) happened to be in town that night, and soon everybody was gathered around the piano, singing “Oklahoma” and “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and songs from The Sound of Music.  And I was reminded what an amazing voice Ari Shapiro has.  At the time I was in the process of writing a song “And Then You’re Gone” with my friend Alex Marashian, for our fourth studio album, Splendor in the Grass. I called Ari and said, “We’re thinking about writing another song as a companion piece to “And Then You’re Gone,” but it requires a male singer.  Would you consider recording it?” He did and ever since he’s been a member of the band.

Of course he has his day job so he can’t travel with us all of the time, but whenever he’s around our shows are always richer. For this album he recorded the song “Yo te quiero siempre” (I will always love you) by Ernesto Lecuona, who also wrote “Malagueña” and “Andalucia” and many of the great Cuban songs of the 1940s and 1950s. As far as I know, “Yo te quiero siempre” has only been recorded once, in 1953. Of all of the forgotten or buried songs we’ve ever championed, for me, this is the most exciting discovery.  Hardly anyone has ever heard it.  And it is devastatingly beautiful.  The text is, “I know you don’t love me … you never loved me … even though I know you don’t love me, deceive me again.”  Ari recorded this with Nicholas Crosa on the violin and a string section.

Come back next week to learn the history of “Je ne t’aime plus”, “Zundoku bushi”, and “Până când nu te iubeam”!