(originally published 3/20/2020, updates on 05/05/2020)
Songs of Hope
A couple of days after the State of Michigan, closed many businesses due to an emergency order, I drove through downtown Grand Rapids, passing endless darkened bars, restaurants, music venues etc.
I was bit surprised by the song that I found myself humming.
We’ll Meet Again was recorded in 1939 by Vera Lynn, and was popular with British soldiers, who were shipping off to a war front, as well as their loved ones awaiting their return. In 1942, the song was recorded by US bandleader Benny Goodman, and featured vocals by Peggy Lee.
Other than a few times, I hadn’t thought much about the song in decades.
We’ll Meet Again was one of the songs in my mother’s “playlist.” One constant in my youth, and my young adulthood, is that when my mother folded or ironed clothes, she quietly performed renditions of World War II-era songs. Sometimes she seemed happy, often she didn’t.
My mom had a rotten childhood (orphaned during the Great Depression for starters..) and a stressful adulthood ( a military wife with 6 kids).
I remember a particularly difficult stretch when both my father and brother (15 years my senior) were in Vietnam. There were a couple of times when television shows were interrupted by a war-related announcement from President Johnson or President Nixon.
In these cases, she had no patience for anything but pin-dropping silence from the kids at home. Our unambiguous orders: “Shut the hell up!”
Even during this period she frequently hummed, or sang from the playlist (usually Lynn’s White Cliffs of Dover, or I’ll Be Seeing You) when she was feeling depressed or angry while she folded clothes.
Occasionally she hummed/sang an upbeat version of We’ll Meet Again when she was in better spirits.
I realized many years later why my mother clung to those songs. They gave her hope. Her early childhood didn’t give her many reasons to be hopeful.
In her early adulthood her brothers were deployed to Europe during the War , and boyfriend Bob (aka my father), shipped off to the South Pacific, while she installed clutches on military vehicles at an Army base a few miles from her home.
Being hopeful probably seemed like her best option.
The day after I’d found myself humming We’ll Meet Again, I recalled that Steven Colbert had used the song in his final broadcast of The Colbert Report. I watched it on YouTube that morning.
I was surprised by how that performance of the song, by an ensemble celebrity chorus shook my cynicism loose.
I think I’ve found my weather-the-storm song:
The day after I wrote the original draft of this post, I looked some articles about Vera Lynn, who recorded the original version of We’ll Meet Again.
A strange and wonderful coincidence, is that on that very day (March 20, 2020, Dame Vera Lynn was celebrating her 103rd birthday.
Here is her performance from the feature film We’ll Meet Again:
It was good to learn that Lynn is still among us, and that the sales of We’ll Meet Again are soaring following Queen Elizabeth’s reference to the song in her speech in April.
Latest remake of the We’ll Meet Again featuring Dame Lynn and the West End Stars (of London Theatre) recently premiered. It’s another gem: