Glenn Diamond | Lay Me Down

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Lay Me Down

by Glenn Diamond

This song is Part Two of my Tribute to Silent Film and Silent Film Stars. My earlier song: Shadows From The Past, is Part One, and is also available here at CDbaby.
Genre: Easy Listening: American Popular Song
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
You can see the video at this link: http://www.youtube.com/glenndiamond

This song is Part Two of my Tribute to Silent Film and Silent Film Stars. The previously released song -- Shadows From The Past -- was Part One. This new song -- Lay Me Down -- provides the bridge between the end of the Silent Era and the start of the Sound Pictures. That time began in 1927 with the release of "The Jazz Singer", starring Al Jolson, who was at the time the biggest star in the world.

When the "talkies" -- as the sound films were known at the time -- first hit the screen, they were thought of as a novelty, and no one thought they would last. Even Warner Brothers, the studio who invested $3.5 million into the Vitaphone Sound System for films -- a HUGE sum of money for the 1920's -- did not think that "talking pictures" would become anything more than a novelty supplement to films.

In fact Warner Brothers thought that this sound system would be used only to provide great "symphony orchestra" accompaniment to essentially silent films. Instead of the rickety honky-tonk piano in theatres, which were then usually used as accompaniment to silent films, this new Vitaphone sound system would allow Warner pictures to have the great sound of a full symphony orchestra -- and this would go with the picture to any theatre anywhere. Well, that was the thinking at the time, and the real reason why Warner Brothers made that investment in sound.

Of course that all changed in a hurry. Part of this was the fact that Warner Brothers chose as their first major release "The Jazz Singer", using the great and powerful voice of the world's greatest Broadway musical star of the time -- Al Jolson. But Al Jolson was known for popular music, and for Jazz, and for Show Tunes, and not for classical music. So, in effect, Warner's shot themselves in the foot by using Al Jolson as the star of that picture. While "The Jazz Singer" was not the first "talkie", or even the first film to feature sound or "music", it was nonetheless a breakthrough film. But for a different reason.

While only about 25% of the film actually has talking, with the rest being composed of a few songs and mostly instrumental accompaniment to what is still primarily a "silent" film production, the fact that the people in the film -- including Al Jolson himself -- actually "talked", meaning spoke words on film, was simply stunning to the audiences of 1927 and 1928. And the fact that Al Jolson was also singing songs -- popular songs -- was equally as stunning.

All of a sudden people everywhere could hear Al Jolson speak, and sing. Not just those people who could go and see him perform on Broadway in New York City. Now everyone with a nickel could go to their local cinema and see this for themselves. A big new world opened up, and with it the world of sound and sound on film that eventually became what we know today. Even the latest gadgets -- like the iPad -- are all descendants of this one great innovation.

All of this took everyone by surprise, not the least of which were the Warner Brothers themselves. They were stunned that people wanted to hear their actors talk and sing, while at the same time caring nothing for silent films with a symphony orchestra playing the accompaniment. But not even this was the biggest bombshell that landed on the world of Silent Hollywood at that time.

The biggest impact was the fact that all the other studios now had to scramble to catch up. As Warner Brothers were making their investment in sound, the other studios all smirked and laughed at the "Warner folly". The studio bosses at the other big picture studios all thought Warner's were nuts, and would not only fall flat on their face -- or asses as one studio Boss put it at the time -- but that they would go bankrupt at the same time. Such was the absolute conviction in the longevity of silent film that no other studio took the effort to re-tool for sound film to any degree such as Warner Brother did.

And so when "The Jazz Singer" became such a huge smash, all of a sudden audiences began to demand more and more sound pictures. The other studios in Hollywood were caught completely flat-footed, and without any product. Almost overnight audiences simply stopped going to Silent Films altogether. The theaters that used to be filled with fans, now stood practically empty when showing silent-only movies, while theaters that had a sound picture had lines of people waiting around the block to get in.

It didn't take long for even the most die-hard and ardent opponents to sound pictures to quickly realize that one era was over, and another was beginning. Even Howard Hughes -- who just spent $2 million filming the great silent WW I classic 1928 film "Hell's Angels" (the aircraft pilots, not the bikers) -- recalled all the prints of that silent version, and re-shot the entire film with sound. He then re-released it in 1930, and it was a smash. It's still probably the best WW I air-combat movie ever made. And Howard Hughes himself flew some of the most dangerous aircraft stunts in the film!

But the advent of talking pictures did more than just shock the studios and their production bosses. It also ended the careers of many great Stars of the Silent Screen. For example, John Gilbert -- the great screen lover, famous for his on-screen and off-screen love affair and romance with Greta Garbo -- was labeled as having an "effeminate high-pitch voice". Which, incidentally, was not true. Gilbert always claimed that some of the sound engineers had it in for him, and so they "doctored" his sound tests to make him sound "mousy". There is a lot to be said for this claim, as can be clearly seen is some rare footage of Gilbert speaking on-screen. He sounds perfectly well, and with a good voice. But at the time, his career was over. He died a few years later, an alcoholic, and a broken, sad man, forgotten by the world, and by film. A great waste for us all ....

His story is not unique. Many other great stars fell by the wayside. Clara Bow, the 1920's quintessential "It girl" fell from grace by 1929. In her case, mostly due to the Stock Market crash of 1929, because she personified the Roaring 20's with her carefree style on screen, which was now considered inappropriate given the financial crisis that plague the nation, and the world, as a result of the crash of '29. But it was more than that. Other great stars also fell out of the public eye. And while many would still work in pictures on and off, even into the sound era, most of them never re-captured the greatness they once had. Neither Douglas Fairbanks nor Mary Pickford made a successful transition to sound, although they did make some sound films, including several together. But the magic was broken. It was not the same.

And so it was with other such stars, as the industry changed. Some managed to change with it, some more successfully than others, but the great mystery of the magic of silent film was gone.

Slowly that era, and it's stars, faded away. Now they are all gone, and the screen is dark, and their memory has all but left the majority of the world's film fans. Only very few are now even aware of the great films lost in the darkness of history.

And so that's why I have produced these two songs -- this one: Lay Me Down -- and the earlier release: Shadows From The Past. It's a way or remembering, and of brining this era, these films, and these stars, back into the modern world of the 21st century. And, hopefully, to a new, young, audience.

With this song -- Lay Me Down -- I tell the story of the end of the silent film era, and the end of the famous stars. Not just the stars of the early silent films, but even those that lived beyond it, but never quite re-captured their past glory. As the song says, lay me down in the garden of a dreamer.

I wanted to share that dream, and to show the life, and end, of those whose images still flicker in the darkness of a silent theatre.

Here are the lyrics:

Lay Me Down

Lay me down in the sweet fields
In a place where I was young,
In the garden of a dreamer
Lay me down, Lay me down,

Let me hear now as you’re singing
That sweet song that I loved
In the silence of a flicker from a time
Long ago – Lay me down;

The magic spell is broken
Sound now fills the air,
Famous faces and silent voices
Suddenly aren’t there,
They have faded from our memories
Of a time long ago – Lost in the dark;

Lay me down in the shadows
Of a time when I was young,
I will see again all the friends I knew
From a time long ago – Lost in the dark;

All alone in the distance
I still see that lonely tramp,
With a quick-step, and a shuffle,
As he slowly fades away – Into the dark;

The magic spell is broken
Sound now fills the air,
Famous faces and silent voices
Suddenly aren’t there,
They have faded from our memories
Of a time long ago – Lay me down;

In the garden of a dreamer
Lay me down, Lay me down,
In the silence of a flicker from a time
Long ago – Lay me down;

Lay me down,
Lay me down,
In the dark – Lay me down; Lay me down.

© Copyright 2011 by Victor H Royer. All rights reserved. Property of GSR Holdings Inc., Las Vegas, NV, USA.


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