A colleague asked me to send her a short essay about a song from the 1930s or 1940s that meant something to me. I HATE to waste essays, so I’m letting it do double duty on this blog. (I realize I have been absent for a while.) I hope to post something original to the blog soon. Meanwhile, please enjoy this little memory of my mother.
My mother, Jan Hallett Weisblat, grew up in a house in which singing was part of daily life. Her mother, Clara, thought of becoming an opera singer. (Father Bruce called Clara “the little girl with the big voice”), and everyone in the family loved to gather around the piano and sing music from Stephen Foster to the current songs on “Your Hit Parade.”
I associate many songs with my mother, from silly ditties and radio jingles to dramatic operetta numbers. One song that always reminds me of her is “I Get Along Without You Very Well.”
The song was published late in 1938 by Hoagy Carmichael, a composer who knew his way around a meandering melody. Its full title is “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes).” The lyrics were based on a poem by a woman named Jane Brown; that poem was titled simply “Except Sometimes.”
Those lyrics are clever, wringing the singer’s (and the listener’s) heart through understatement. The singer says that he—my mother and I would prefer “she,” of course—is doing just fine, getting along very well without a departed lover. The important part of the song comes in the exceptions to this rule.
I get along without you very well. Of course I do.
Except when soft rains fall and drip through leaves, then I recall
The thrill of being sheltered in your arms. Of course I do.
But I get along without you very well.
The contrast between the exceptions and the statement of getting along give the song a gentle pathos.
“I Get Along Without You” became popular in 1939. In that year (or perhaps in 1940, I never heard the full story!) my little mother was dumped by one of her boyfriends, Dean Woodruff.
I never gathered that Dean was necessarily her favorite beau ever. Nevertheless, Jan was used to being the dumper, not the dumpee. And she was a huge ham; she performed frequently in amateur theatricals and liked to think of her life as a play.
After she received Dean’s “Dear Jill” letter, she always told me, she spent a month or so singing “I Get Along Without You Very Well” around the house. She would pose dramatically in the stairwell and sing a few lines. Sometimes for effect she changed the line “Of course I do” to “You bet I do.” It was sung with just a hint of bitterness.
By the time I came along, of course, Dean Woodruff was a distant memory, and my mother was enjoying life with my father. Nevertheless, she would pause from time to time to sing “I Get Along Without You Very Well.”
When she performed it, she was a young girl again, living at her parents’ house before work and the war and life helped her grow up (although to tell you the truth she never completely grew up; she had a childlike qualities in 2011 when she died at 93!).
She could enjoy the pathos of the song without having to feel the pathos of her broken relationship with Dean. And she could share with me her love of music as an expressive form, as a way to unlock personal and cultural memory.
I sang it at her memorial party last summer. I took it just a bit higher than she ever did; she was an alto, and I’m a soprano. I tried to mimic her phrasing as much as possible, however. To tell you the truth, Hoagy Carmichael pretty much lays out the phrasing for the singer.
I find the song charming—lightly dramatic and whimsical yet heartfelt. Just like my mother. I get along without her very well … except sometimes.
To hear me sing “I Get Along Without You Very Well” imperfectly but with feeling, click on the “play” button below……