Song Of The Day 3/31/2016: Electric Light Orchestra - “Xanadu”

I have a fantasy about performing this song live. I suppose it's not much of a fantasy as it's something well within the realm of possibility with any of my musician friends, but it's still a fantasy. It's based on a schtick Randy Newman used to employ when performing his song "A Wedding in Cherokee County." It's also based on some of the flights of fancy Robyn Hitchcock takes on any number of his song introductions in live performance.

Here it is. The band vamps behind me, I take a moment to gather myself, then I go:

"You know, you could be in Cleveland right now. Think about that. There's really nothing keeping you from being in Cleveland at the moment. Just elasticity and timetables. And maybe the comforts of familiarity. But if free will were taken right out of the equation, Cleveland could still be forced upon you. Don't get down about it. I've been to Cleveland. I thought it was a pretty nice town. If I had to move to Cleveland for professional reasons I wouldn't be the least bit despondent about it.

"But it wasn't always great for Cleveland. In fact, the song we're about to do comes from a very dark time in Cleveland's history. After World War II ended, the prosperity that the rest of America enjoyed seemed to elude Cleveland.* It was losing its clout as an industrial center. Coupled with the cold weather, people in Cleveland during the '40s were so depressed that the infrastructure sort of fell into complete disrepair. Streets were all torn up and nobody would fix them. Businesses shut down or moved to Detroit, a much sunnier place. In general it was not a pick-me-up kind of town, Cleveland.

"Well, the mayor of Cleveland decided, after a couple of years of this sort of stunted depression, that he was going to try something new, and he commissioned one of his city managers to start a new PR campaign. This manager was named Bob Benbrook. He spent his entire life in civic service. Bob loved Cleveland. He let his love of Cleveland blind him to a point. But now there was no refuting what was happening before his eyes, so he decided to start something of a public revitalization project.

"He called it Destination: Cleveland!

"Now, a good part of this project was truly structural - they got some bonds together to repair the broken roadways, started some incentive programs for businesses to bring their headquarters to Cleveland, eased property taxes for a couple of years for stores and retailers to open outlets in the inner city. That worked to some extent. But Bob Benbrook was kind of a touchy-feely sort of guy. He wanted to do something that would lift the spirits of Clevelanders in a more intangible way.

"So he held a song contest. He wanted Cleveland to have an official song. But he didn't want it to come from the people who led the arts in Cleveland; he wanted an uplifting song written by the people, someone who'd spent a lot of time in Cleveland and felt -- well, maybe not as much love for Cleveland as ol' Bob did, because nobody in the history of Cleveland loved it like Bob did. But someone who had enough empathy and discernment to really get Cleveland. You know? So in 1949 he started this song contest. It was a very big deal. The Plain-Dealer newspaper sponsored it; there were a couple of events to call attention to it. The winning song would be proclaimed the official song of Cleveland until further notice or legislation, and the winning composer would get a small plaque in City Hall and one of those keys to the city, plus an audition for Arthur Godfrey's talent program.

"The winning song was by a guy named John Bleekman -- sort of an appropriate surname, considering the locale -- and it was called 'The Jewel of Lake Erie.' It was a little Viennese waltz type thing, a lot of lilting movements, references to nature, the strength of industry, nice places to hold wedding receptions, all that. Bleekman won the contest, got $50 for his troubles, key to the city, whole bit. Ironically his company transferred him to Indianapolis the following year. But children still sing 'The Jewel of Lake Erie' in Cleveland, and it's still sung at Cleveland Indians games that go to fourteen innings.

"But this song -- the one we're about to do -- came in second. It was written by a teacher named Jefferson Lynn, and it lost by only three votes. So this song we're gonna do was almost -- by the thinnest of margins -- the official song of the city of Cleveland, Ohio.

"1, 2, 3, 4! A pla-ace..."


Yeah. That's what my fantasies are like these days. They also feature a lot of velour garments.

* (P.S. I don't know if this statement, or any of the other statements of "fact" presented about Cleveland from this statement forward, are true at all. I did no research. Research would have gotten in the way of the story.)

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