Tundra Swans, Yellowstone

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Russian Lullaby


Jerry Garcia and David Grisman do Irving Berlin.

From Wikipedia:


Irving Berlin was born Israel Baline on May 11, 1888, one of eight children of Moses and Lena Lipkin Baline. His birthplace is a matter of some dispute: it was either near Mogilev (then in Russia, now in Belarus)[1], or in Tyumen[2] or Tobolsk.[3] His father, a cantor in a Jewish synagogue, uprooted the family, as did many other Jewish families, after a violent attack (pogrom) destroyed their village. In 1893 they settled in New York City. According to his biographer, Laurence Bergreen, as an adult Berlin admitted to no memories of his first five years in Russia except for one: "he was lying on a blanket by the side of a road, watching his house burn to the ground. By daylight the house was in ashes."[4]:10

Author and music historian Ian Whitcomb described Berlin's life in Russia:


Life might have seemed irksome to Israel Baline: God was watching you everywhere. From the dawn bath to the night straw cot, everything was of religious significance. God was in the food and in the clothing. When Moses caught Israel pulling on his little shoes in a manner proscribed by the Talmud he beat him…The floor of the Baline hut-home was of hard black dirt. Outside, the squiggly streets of Temun were either mud or dust according to the season. Lining the squiggles were horrid wooden huts. Sometimes wild pigs would rage into town and bite children to death…It was not a setting to sing about…Instead, cantor Moses took his children to the synagogue where, in soothing sing-song readings from the Talmud, the cares of the day were eased away. Life in Temun sounds pretty awful but, in later years, Irving Berlin said he was unaware of being raised in abject poverty. He knew no other life and there was always hot food on the table, even if it was God-riddled.[5] Whitcomb also describes further the turning point in Berlin's early life: But, suddenly one day, the Cossacks rampaged in on a pogrom... they simply burned it to the ground. Israel and his family watched from a distant road. Israel was wrapped in a warm feather quilt. Then they made a hasty exit. Knowing that they were breaking the law by leaving without a passport ( Russia at that time was the only country requiring passports), the Balines smuggled themselves creepingly from town to town, from satellite to satellite, from sea to shining sea, until finally they reached their star: the Statue of Liberty.[5]:19


The new Tsar of Russia, notes Whitcomb, had revived with utmost brutality the anti-Jewish pogroms, which created the spontaneous mass exodus to America. The pogroms were to continue until 1906, and thousands of other families besides the Balines would also escape, including those of George and Ira Gershwin, Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, L. Wolfe Gilbert ("Waiting for the Robert E. Lee"), Jack Yellen ("Happy Days Are Here Again"), and Louis B. Mayer (MGM).


You can imagine the longing for home and for a place to be free.

Where the dreamy volga flows
There's a lonely russian rose
Gazing tenderly
Down upon her knee
Where a baby's brown eyes glisten
Listen

Ev'ry night you'll hear her croon
A russian lullaby


Just a little plaintive tune
When baby starts to cry

Rock-a-bye my baby
Somewhere there may be

A land that's free for you and me
And a russian lullaby