Saturday, April 17, 2010

Great Love Songs (18)

I remember being enchanted by this classic soldier's song when I encountered it in the superb Thames Television documentary series about WWII, The World At War, which first aired in the early '70s, when I was only 8 or 9 years old. A dozen or more years later, I finally acquired it on record - one of the tracks on the soundtrack album of Dennis Potter's musical TV drama The Singing Detective, a wonderful anthology of hits from the Thirties and Forties. It acquired a particular resonance for me at that time, since I had joined the Army reserves while at university and for me the experience of military training was intensely vivid: I always tried to enter into the situation imaginatively, to treat each field exercise as if it were real warfare. It was always physically and emotionally exhausting, sometimes terrifying, often depressing; but it cultivated a sympathy, a sense of engagement with the soldiers who had fought in the major wars earlier in the century - especially with my paternal grandfather who had fought and been severely wounded in WWI, and with my father, who narrowly missed serving in WWII but had seen active service in the post-war peacekeeping operation in Palestine. It was no doubt a rather self-indulgent melancholy to compare the hardship and isolation we suffered on two-week summer camps to the situation of soldiers in the World Wars, who might be away from home for months or years at a time, but.... well, those exercises could be so arduous, and it was a life so utterly strange, so completely divorced from our regular existence that our sense of time and reality got somewhat warped: it really could start to seem like months since we'd seen our girlfriends, and to feel as though it might be months more before we could return to a normal life. And so.... we would often find ourselves humming this tune around the campfires at night. (I recall one friend of mine wrote a love letter to his girlfriend one night with a stub of pencil, resting his notepaper on the stock of his rifle. Strange days.)

The definitive version of the song, of course, is Lale Andersen's 1939 German recording (this link includes the German lyrics, which, I learn from Wikipedia, were written by Hans Leip during WWI). When the song became popular with Allied soldiers too, she made an English version in 1942 (the English lyrics included with this posting). The British "Forces' Sweetheart" Vera Lynn recorded it too, but her version is pretty horrible. Perhaps the best-loved interpretation is this one by the great Marlene Dietrich (no video of her singing it live seems to be available, alas). Lale Andersen, however, was still doing a pretty good job on it even at the end of her career - here she is singing it on TV in the late 1960s. Other oddities I've turned up on YouTube are a wartime Italian version (singer uncredited), a bizarre 1943 propaganda version inciting German troops to rebel against Hitler (singer again uncredited), drag artist 'Amanda Lear' aping Dietrich in the wondrously weird-sounding 1978 Nazi 'comedy' Zio Adolfo, in arte Führer, and the unlikely pairing of Nina Hagen and Nana Mouskouri, again in drag (well, white tie and tails, anyway), again aping Dietrich, on an '80s TV show.

However, for today's clip I thought I'd give you this excerpt from Rainer Werner Fassbinder's stupendous 1981 film Lili Marleen, starring the lovely Hanna Schygulla as a glamorous cabaret singer forced to sing for the Nazis (while hiding her love for her Jewish pianist/composer, and doing a bit of spying on the side, if I remember aright). My more devoted readers may recall that this film featured as one of the ten most memorable cinema-going experiences of my life in a post on Froogville a couple of years ago. [According to IMDB, the screenplay was adapted from a novel called Der Himmel hat viele Farben written by..... Lale Andersen! I'm not sure if I believe that.]

[The multi-talented Ms Schygulla has a rather good singing voice herself, but in this scene she appears to be miming (to Lale Andersen's version of the song??). However, in this clip where she performs the song again later in the film it looks as though she might be singing it herself. She is certainly singing it in this excellent live performance from a later TV show.]

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