Monday, June 14, 2004

Madagascar

A short story about the end, titled by the name of the song playing at the time I started writing it.

The Santa Inés Mission will hit the double-century mark on September 17, 2004. This I learned while I was at Seasons, doing the last bit of writing I’ll have to do for the fall issue. They’re having a festival for the 200th birthday and I had to include it in the events section.

This particular mission, the nineteenth, presents an interesting challenge to the online researcher: its name. I wish they’d go Anglo and call it Mission Agnes. Officially, though it’s Santa Inés. But since it’s in the Santa Ynez Valley, people often refer to it as Mission Santa Ynez. Beyond that, still more people spell it Mission Santa Ines — no accent mark, no "z."

The difficulties of the name aren’t the crux of this short-but-could-be-shorter story, though.

One of the events the mission’s putting on is a production of this play, “The Bells of Santa Ynez.” (And yes, it’s with that spelling, though you can find the other spellings everywhere, too.) The music was written by a guy named Paul Weston. Generally credited as “the father of lounge music,” this guy wrote a lot of songs — some swing, some jazz, but mostly an easy-listening bastard child between the two. Lacking anything else interesting to include in the write up of the bicentennial celebration, I went to Allmusic.com to check out some information about Paul Weston. Neat guy, that Paul Weston.

Born Paul Weisenstein, he went to Dartmouth and got his degree in economics. But something in the back of his head tells him that music, not money, is where he should be. So even though he’s only been in his piddly college band, he decides that a Jewish kid can make it big in the music scene. And he starts writing and gets some gigs with Tommy Dorsey and does okay for himself.

But the weird thing is that he writes this Catholic musical, “The Bells of Santa Ynez.” Paul Weston gets famous in his later life for writing a lot of religion-centered music, much of it Catholic.

So how does a Jewish econ major at preppy prep university end up becoming the father of lounge music and the writer of Catholic musicals? I wonder: no matter how much success Paul Weston achieved, was he a failure in the eyes of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Weisenstein?

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