3/11/14

TWO CIGARETTES IN THE DARK

An often-used theme in pop tunes of the past was the notion of a man (or woman) coming upon their lover in the arms of somebody else. And why not? It has everything--love, conflict, betrayal, heartbreak...and all stuffed snugly into thirty-two bars (the common length of most older songs--though Cole Porter and Harold Arlen each dared to defy this rule--Porter with "Night and Day" and "Begin the Beguine", Arlen with "That Old Black Magic", "The Man That Got Away" and God knows how many others. Enough!)

In any event, it's the "holy shit, my sweetie's doing somebody else!" moment that we're concerned with here and below I've posted the lyrics as well as a Bing Crosby recording of my favorite example of this lost genre. "Two Cigarettes In the Dark", from 1934, was written by Paul Francis Webster (lyrics) and Lew Pollack (music) for a show called "Kill That Story" and was a solid, middle-brow hit in its day--a so-called "takeaway" song from a show that appears not to have had anything else to give. Webster actually had a very long and distinguished career as a lyricist, winning and/or being nominated for Oscars twenty and more years later for songs like "Secret Love", "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing" and the immortal "Shadow Of Your Smile". Here, though, he's writing in a style very much part of its period--florid, sentimental, with phrasing and linguistic locutions that belong to an even earlier era. Nonetheless,"Two Cigarettes In the Dark" is a thirty-two bar long window into a vanished world, a ghostly era that is as far from our own as the Stone Age--although I'd much prefer to live in the art deco paradise of this song than in a cave somewhere in Nebraska. Below are the lyrics. And then Bing Crosby's recording, from the year the song was written. I can't explain why this song charms and haunts me as it does. I've never been in either position--discoverer or discoveree--described in the drama. Perhaps it's the smoke that I miss...

Two, two cigarettes in the dark
He strikes a match 'til the spark
Clearly traces
One face is my sweetheart...

Two, two silhouettes in a room
Almost obscured by the gloom
We were so close
Yet so far apart...

It happened that I stumbled in
Upon their rendezvous
I heard my sweetheart whispering
'I love you, I love you, you know that I do!'

Two, two cigarettes in the dark
Gone is the flame and the spark
Leaving just regrets
And two cigarettes in the dark.


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