Notes

The behind-the-scenes "making of" documentary essay series about preparing songs for performance.

California, Here I Come

-- (1921; Words & Music by Al Jolson, B.G. DeSylva, & Joseph Meyer)

From the script for “A Little Travelin' Music”:

Song intro:

California is the most-populous US state, with large-scale emigration from the east and abroad first kicked off by the Gold Rush of 1848.  Still known as the Golden State, California has often been seen as a kind of paradise in the public mind, and that’s where we’re headed next, with this song from the 1921 Broadway musical Bombo.

Recap: The Sounds of Indiana barbershop chorus presented what we call ‘The Travel Show’ in 2018, following the same “standard documentary format” that had been so enthusiastically received for the previous year’s ‘The Indiana Show.’  As before, this concert format presents a mix of chorus and quartet songs set around a particular theme, interspersed with slides of short video clips each paired with a Ken Burns-style voice-over narration to introduce and sometimes close out each song.  The song order for The Travel Show was determined roughly by the geography of each song.  After spending last week in the Show Me State (Missouri), we now turn our eyes westward to California.

 

As I may have alluded to in a past week’s article, Shenandoah is the oldest song included in The Travel Show.  Its origins lie somewhere with the adventurous fur-traders who traveled the untamed wilderness of the American Midwest in the late 1700s or early 1800s.  The French-Canadian voyageurs (French for “travelers”) lived a grueling life of toil and travel out in the elements, hauling immense bundles of fur by canoe and on their own backs over portages between rivers.  In their time, however, these men and their strength to endure hardship gained legendary status among more civilized folk, celebrated in song and tale not unlike mid-1900s depictions of cowboys and the Old West.

 

Bombo, according to Wikipedia, “has a thin story designed to showcase Al Jolson, who was at the height of his popularity.”  When it opened in October of 1921 in New York City, the finalized production included twenty-nine songs (over half not written by the show’s official composer, Sigmund Romberg).  In the 1920s, Jolson was dubbed “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” and was indeed highest-paid entertainer in the United States.  Today, despite a series of other successful films, he is most remembered as the star of the first “talking” motion picture, 1927’s The Jazz Singer.

 

The Internet Broadway Database describes the show as “a revue in two acts,” but I haven’t found a site that describes any of the actual plot, however “thin” it may be.  IBDb lists the setting as “Genoa, Italy; Cordova, Spain; and San Salvador,” however, and the cast list includes characters such as Soothsayer, Queen Isabella, King Ferdinand, Christopher Columbo, several “banditti,” five Indian Chiefs, and a number of individuals with Spanish and English names (such as several members of the Downing family, and Jolson’s “Gus”).  So, really, who can say what’s going on here?

 

Of the show’s many songs, California, Here I Come may be the one that is still best remembered.  It is often called the Golden State’s unofficial state song, having lost out to I Love You, California.  The latter was designated the state song by a resolution of the California State Legislature in 1951.  Subsequent attempts to change the body’s mind were unsuccessful, as I Love You, California was finally designated the state song by law in 1988.

 

The lyrics of California, Here I Come depict a sunny paradise, and a “sun-kissed” lover, as an escape from the cold doldrums of winter:

When the wint’ry winds are blowin’ and the snow is startin’ in to fall,

then my eyes turn westward, knowin’ that’s the place I love the best of all
     (best of all).

California, I’ve been blue, since I’ve been away from you.

I can’t wait till I get goin’, even now, I’m startin’ in to call, here me call!

 

California, here I come, right back where I started from.

I’m goin’ back where bowers full of flowers bloom in the sun.

There each morning, at dawning, birdies sing and ev’rything.

A sun-kissed miss said, “Don’t be late!”  That’s why I can hardly wait.

Open up that Golden Gate, California, here I come (I come).

 

A sun-kissed miss said, “Don’t be late!”  That’s why I can hardly wait.

C’mon and open up that Golden Gate, California, here I come

                (I’m on my way today, that’s where I’m gonna stay,

                California here I come!)

 

The song is fairly straightforward in our presentation; we simply embody the narrator longing to return to the warmth of both the sunlight and his girl.  New Orleans or Georgia have a lot of undertone to their words, things we’re not saying because we’re heartbroken and don’t want to think about those memories.  California, on the other hand, is a song of wild anticipation.  We have wonderful memories and can’t wait to get back and make some more.  (Wink, wink.)

 

In fact, speaking of “wink, wink,” I think that what undertone this piece may have is actually in the form of double entendres.  Without getting too racy, I think it’s easy to envision the “sun-kissed miss” lounging in or near the garden (“bower”) nude, especially if she’s just waking “at dawning” as the “birdies sing”.  She calls to us, “Don’t be late!” and we invite her to open up her “Golden Gate,” eagerly responding “Here I come!”

 

And with that, we—you and I, and the chorus—have reached the end of The Travel Show’s Act 1!  I didn’t pre-plan that this is also the week where we reach the end of 2018, but I’m glad things worked out that way.  It just feels fitting.  Next week, we’ll continue with Act 2, visiting the West Coast and beyond.

 

Until then, on behalf of all of the Sounds of Indiana, I wish you and yours a safe and happy New Year.  “2019, here we come!”

In harmony,

Andy

 

December 23, 2018