Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Power of Song?

This headline graced The Charleston Gazette on March 22, 1936. I suspect a song plugger might have been responsible for it, but that's only a suspicion. The article does make one curious about the song, though.

The occasion was the imminent publication of the sheet music to a Hungarian song called "Gloomy Sunday." The article described it as "a melancholy song supposed to have driven 18 Hungarians to suicide since it was first heard in Budapest six months ago."

The article continued: "Possibly to keep people from diving off skyscrapers, the American music publishers have given it a 'happy ending,' with the soothing line: 'Dreaming - I was only dreaming.'
"Henry Spitzer, who handles the song for the publisher here, said sadly today:
"Some of the Hungarians are supposed to have jumped into the Danube with copies of 'Gloomy Sunday' clenched in their fists, and some turned the gas on after they heard it over the radio for the first time. Most of them left notes saying they felt like the song.
"But I believe Americans are good, sound, healthy stock, and aren't likely to go killing themselves because a sad song haunts them. After all, this is the country where 'St. James Infirmary Blues' made a big hit."

The article then printed the entire song lyric. This would seem to kill my theory that a song plugger was responsible for the article. But . . . the last paragraphs of this newspaper piece went as follows:

"The only known dissenter with Mr. Spitzer's hope that his happy ending will neutralize the gloominess of the song is Dr. William Marston, well-known psychologist. He says changing the words won't make any difference, explaining:
"It's not the words to a song that have an emotional impact. It's the music."

So, if you wanted the complete story, the full emotional experience, you had to purchase the sheet music.


Nick said...

Perhaps too obvious to all to merit comment, but the media-friendly psychologist obligingly coughing up a quote for the article is William Moulton Marston, best remembered now as the creator of Wonder Woman.

Robert W. Harwood said...

Thanks for that comment Nick. I had not made the connection - coincidentally Marston has re-emerged (at least on NPR) because of a new book, "The Secret History of Wonder Woman" (Jill Lepore).