The Saddest Song Ever?
Since “Saving Mr. Banks,” which I obviously didn’t like much, I’ve been thinking a bit about “Mary Poppins,” the 1964 movie that the 2013 movie is all about.
I was born in 1963, a year before its release, but it was still big by the time my memory kicked in during the late 1960s (about the time some people’s memories began to kick out). I remember I was going to the birthday party of a good friend, John Mockenhaupt, and my mother bought the “Mary Poppins” soundtrack album for me to give to him. What did I do? I opened it and listened to it on my own record player. Couldn’t you do that? Couldn't you just put the LP back into the cover and give it to him? Apparently not. Mom wasn’t happy. Neither was I when I had to show up, sheepishly, with a crap secondary gift.
Odd that I needed to listen to it because I wasn’t a huge fan of the movie. I liked Bert and his cohorts enough, true free spirits, but the kids didn't seem like kids but waxworks of kids; they freaked me out a little. The parents? Sure, the absentee father. But the Mrs. was too interested in suffragette politics to care for her kids? I didn’t get that at all. Even Mary Poppins, pretty pretty Julie Andrews, with her prettier voice, was a little scary for me. You sensed her sympathy was only skin deep; that there was steel beneath it. I was a bit spoiled, and used to unconditional love, so all of this felt somewhat unpleasant.
But I did like the songs: “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “I Love to Laugh.” So much so that John Mockenhaupt’s loss was my gain.
“Feed the Birds,” though, made me uncomfortable. And I think it made me uncomfortable because it’s so fucking sad. It’s a beautiful song, probably the most beautiful song the Sherman brothers wrote for “Mary Poppins,” and sung gorgeously by Julie Andrews, but ... I mean, it sounds sad, and it's about a homeless woman (Jane Darwell, 25 years after “Grapes of Wrath”), begging people to buy little bags of bread so birds don't die. And that's a lullaby? I've written before that this is the saddest song ever, or maybe Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in “Meet Me in St. Louis”; but at least “St. Louis” recognizes the song's sadness. Little Margaret O’Brien starts crying a minute 30 in. “Feed the Birds” in “Poppins”? The kids listen with creepy smiles then drift off to sleep. I would’ve had nightmares. I probably did.
Even now, at 50, it breaks my heart.
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