Monday, September 2, 2013

Moonlight Serenade




In a certain episode of the 2005 series of Doctor Who, Jack Harness waltzes with Rose Tyler in front of the Big Ben (no, really) during the height of the London Blitz with Moonlight Serenade playing on the background. In the last scene of the next episode, which brought this story to an end, one gets to see the Doctor too trying to waltz to this song. By a series of events I was reminded of this episode today, and I realised that I'd loved this Doctor Who episode when I saw it for the first time, and I had been extremely curious about the song, without succeeding in finding out then which one it was. When I finally heard it six months later in an ante-chamber of a tiny Charlottenburg restaurant, I'd forgotten about the British hero, and was irrevocably in love with the tune and the words. It had become my Berlin tune in the remaining days, humming it in the U-Bahn, listening to it in a loop as long as I was in the flat, and remembering it with equal parts of joy and agony between difficult classes. Today, the curious series of events finally linked the Doctor Who episode with the song in my mind, and I was thrilled and nostalgic.


I choose to write 'nostalgic', but the mix of emotions are layered and problematic. The part of me that longs to be a starving jazz singer in a London bar during the Blitz wants to serenade to the tunes in the streets during a blackout with a man in uniform. But thanks to the linear progression of time, that can never be possible. A considerable part inside me however, longs for that winter in Berlin, spent mostly alone, getting lost in the snow, having little epiphanies, reading books on the train, trying not to get lost, and discovering music. It was at a chamber theatre performance that I first heard the song, and throughout the drinking bout that followed, to the story of the prostitutes and abandoned mansions, and the drowsy walk back home, I tried to keep the tune alive in my mind. I woke up very late the next day, and my first instinct was to reach out for the tablet beside me and search for the song. I found many versions, most of them quite unlike the one the girls had sung on stage the previous night, and just as I was about to give up, thinking that perhaps the girls had sweetened the melody, I found this video.

Frank Sinatra and the obvious words of this song make me think of those black and white Hollywood movies, a bit of Frank Capra and John Ford, a bit of Delbert Mann and George Stevens. The lovers return to the girl's doorstep/wicker gate at the dead of a summer night and kiss goodbye. Sometimes they drive and the radio softly plays a popular tune. This setting would be in the outskirts of New York City, Long Island even. The other image that runs through my mind is another long walk in the dead of a summer night along the busy roads of New York City. Hearing this quintessentially American summer song in the height of Berlin winter would inevitably have some different effects. Hence, in addition to the lure of mid-century Manhattan buildings and gallant lovers in coats and hats, this song makes me achingly long for another big city, Berlin: the music in the streets, the hush all around, the wonderful walk across Unter den Linden, along Friedrichstraẞe down to the Spree. Being one of the crowd yet alone, hungry, poor, slightly cold, looking all around with awe, slowly dragging the legs to the Bahnhof because I simply don't want to go home: there's still so much to see! The modern large cities have occupied such precedence as a character in literature, dare I think otherwise? I want to shiver in the cold and stand outside Dussmann, looking at the Sphinx ahead of me. I then want to move to the left and stand close to the gigantic windows to check the printed timetables for any affordable concert sometime soon. I want to keep walking until I get that beautiful smell and know that it's the shop selling marvellous kinds of soaps, and I want to go inside and look around until that green-haired guy comes and strikes up a chat. I want to feel deliciously guilty at the firm voice inside which keeps on telling me to forget about the big city and think about cold stone, learning, and ancient, mossy walls. I want to recklessly reprimand that voice and walk further down to Admiralspalast and feel the thrill of looking at the poster of The Little Prince or rather, Der kleine Prinz. And I don't want to walk any further for it will bring me to the Spree, on the opposite banks of which the red top of Berliner Ensemble would rotate. It'd be very cold there. So I'd turn back from Admiralspalast and wonder where to go. I'm reconciled to the fact that I'm a vagabond, and though I have the whole city, I don't want to go too far. I try to walk down to Dussmann again, but with reluctance I turn right, cross the street, and enter the Bahnhof to catch the U-Bahn home. Yet, all this while I'm singing in my mind

The stars are aglow,
And tonight how their light sets me dreaming.
My love, do you know.
That your eyes are like stars brightly beaming?
I bring you, and I sing you a moonlight serenade.

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