The lady vanishes

On a Cathay Pacific flight bound for Hong Kong, some years ago, I idly flicked through the entertainment channels on the small television in front of me. Among the options was an animated cartoon of Winnie the Pooh, familiar except that Pooh, Piglet and the rest were all speaking Cantonese.

Winnie the Pooh, created by English writer and humourist A.A. Milne in the 1920s, has become truly global. So much so that it is now risky to refer to Pooh, or to share an image of him, on social media in China. It could be taken as a slight against Premier Xi, you see, who is said to resemble Pooh.

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Image: ABC News

Milne also wrote several collections of verse for children. These were hugely popular in their day, but time has not been as kind. Listening to this EP, I can see why. Many of the poems, especially those about Christopher Robin, have a slightly-off sweetness. Others are, well, a bit creepy.

when wwvy

Image: Discogs

“Disobedience” tells of a possessive three-year old boy who demands that his mother never leave the house without him. One day, Mother does go out alone, and vanishes. Despite desultory efforts to learn what has happened, Mother is never seen or heard of again. The end.

As we say in Australia: bloody hell! Can’t see that getting published now. Mind, I had this record as a boy, and loved the poem, thought it clever and funny – nothing more. Maybe we overthink these things.

  • Artist: Poems by A.A. Milne, performed by David Tomlinson
  • EP Title: When We Were Very Young
  • Track: B2 “Disobedience”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Children’s Record Guild Of Australia
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: R 53
  • Year: 1966 (first issued 1957)

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The boy from Iowa

I used to work for a magazine whose editor was from Iowa. I had never met anyone from Iowa before, nor have never met one since. As Iowa is a mostly rural state with a small population – there are six-times more pigs there than humans – and on the other side of the world, this is unsurprising.

0029-williams-1970 But, a strange thing. For a small and obscure place, Iowa is mentioned with great frequency in the works of American authors. Often, and almost always in a derogatory way. New Yorkers are particularly prone.

Not that falling in love was at all unusual for me. All year I had fallen in love with everyone. I fell in love with an Irish poet who kept pigs on a farm in Iowa. (Erica Jong, Fear of Flying)

The cabdriver … stuck his head out of the window, leaning on the horn. “Hey buddy, where’d you learn to drive, huh? Iowa? (John Sandford, Silent Prey)

Because historically that’s where terrorist activity takes place. You hit the nerve centres, not the periphery. You don’t try to scare the folks in Keokuk, Iowa. You want to terrify the people in New York, Washington, L.A. (David Wiltse, Close to the Bone)

The hustling folks of New York seem to think of Iowa as the citizens of Sydney think of Dubbo: a place representative of all that is crude, naïve, unsophisticated, agricultural and dull. How wrong such cosmopolitan sneering is. So much magic and creativity can come from the provinces, where there is space and clean air and cheap rents.

My old editor, for example: a creative woman with a great sense of humour and an endearing affection for pigs. Yes, she had grown up on a pig farm.  We have lost touch, but I still think of her as a friend. (Hi Marty, if you are out there.)

John Wayne was a native of Iowa. And so was one of the most successful singers in the history of recorded music.

Howard Andrew Williams was born in the Iowa town of Wall Lake in 1928. Wall Lake is Iowa redux. In 1930, its population was 749. In 2015, the figure was 795. Heady growth. Howard began singing with his three brothers in the church choir, and the quartet became popular on local radio, then won a gig backing Bing Crosby.

Andy Williams, as he had become known, dubbed Lauren Bacall’s singing voice the movie To Have and to Have Not. That he could dub for a female singer suggest the crystalline purity of his voice. He began a solo career in 1952, and for the next 20 years had a string of hits, including 13 gold records. This single, which came out in 1970, was only modestly successful but Williams was still huge, especially – and here’s the thing – with mothers.

This was a time of marked generational conflict. For a musician to be popular with mothers was cyanide to hipster street-cred. Andy Williams became symbolic of all that was old, fuddy-duddy and hopelessly square. If The Beatles were New York, the crooner from Iowa was Iowa.

But Planet Vinyl doesn’t care about street cred. This is the B-side to a fairly unsuccessful single. The arrangement is not what I would have chosen: the strings are too prominent, and more could have been made of the nice steel guitar. But it is a good song, beautifully sung. Have a listen.

  • Artist: Andy Williams
  • Single Title: One Day of Your Life
  • Track: Side B “Long Time Blues”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: CBS
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: K-9294
  • Year: 1970

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs