Saloon Songs

September 18th, 2014 § 0 comments

The time: Early 1950’s. The place: Murphy’s Bar & Grill on 45th Street and Third Avenue (the El roaring overhead). The occasion: A drunken informal observation of HG’s birthday. While HG ate pickled pork knuckles with mustard accompanied by boilermakers (rye whiskey with beer chasers), Dan M., a Daily Mirror rewrite man, sang HG’s birthday present: A full length, heart ending version of “Kevin Barry”. The many verse song told of the martyrdom at the hands of the British of 18-year-old Kevin Barry, medical student and soldier in the Irish Republican Army. Barry met his fate during the Irish War For Independence. He was hung on Nov.1, 1920. The song noted: “A lad of 18 summers, Kevin Barry gave his young life for Ireland and the cause of liberty.” Memorable was Barry’s request of the British: “Shoot me like an Irish soldier. Don’t hang me like a dog.” The British hung him. Dan M., who had a varied repertoire, followed “Kevin Barry” with a rousing rendition of the Yiddish music hall hit, “Romania, Romania” as done in the style of Aaron Lebedeff. Present at the raucous festivities was Howard W., HG’s journalism and life mentor. An I.R.A. gunman during the War For Independence and the subsequent Civil War, Howard W. did not join in the “Kevin Barry” song. He hated all Irish rebel songs and, disillusioned with violence, called his experiences “a catastrophe of blood, treachery and politics.” He despised the Irish-American habitu├ęs of Third Avenue bars and their loud Irish patriotism. ‘Whiskey warriors,” said Howard. He figured in an extraordinary incident where, as he boarded the Third Avenue trolley (they used to run under the El), the driver suddenly leaped out of his driver’s seat, abandoned his vehicle and ran away. It seemed that the driver, who had been an informer for the British, recognized Howard as an I.R.A, enforcer. He thought his final moment had come. Howard made no comment about the incident. There was much saloon singing during HG’s journalistic days. Nat O.,a newspaper motorcycle messenger (and a former driver for burglars), was an HG drinking companion. Nat, who was Jewish, had a remarkable Irish tenor voice and a vast array of sentimental Irish sings of the “Mother Machree,” and “Danny Boy” vintage. Whenever Nat raised his voice, he and HG rarely paid for a drink. Unfortunately, after many songs and drinks, Nat would become hostile and evenings ended with fisticuffs. Somehow HG emerged always without injury. HG’s favorite saloon singer was a quasi girlfriend, Alice C. Only in her twenties when HG knew her, Alice (mature for her age), ran away from home at the age of 14 and became a Las Vegas showgirl. This was followed by a career as a singer in Jewish Borscht Belt hotels where she learned a number of schmaltzy, tear jerking melodies. Her next career was as a heavy drinking Broadway press agent (that’s when she and HG became pals). HG, Alice, police reporters, bail bondsmen, loan sharks and Jewish thugs had a late night hangout: Dubiner’s Bar and Restaurant on Stanton Street off Allen on the Lower East Side. The specialties of the house were gefilte fish with hair-raising horseradish, chopped liver with abundant chicken fat and garlicky, room temperature fried fish. HG enjoyed these goodies with lots of vodka. Alice, a determined bourbon drinker, would sing. “Yiddishe Mama” and “Papirosen” were two of her big numbers. She could really milk those songs. HG does not exaggerate: Tears rolled down the cheeks of the tough guys. What happened to Alice? She abandoned her dissolute ways (HG played a small part in that development). Went to medical school. Became a pediatrician. Lived a productive and conventional life in the suburbs with two children and an investment banker husband. Go figure.


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