Monday, July 11, 2011

Beautiful Dreamer

He studied the classics, grammar, Latin and Greek in private academies while growing up and fell in love with song writing. Like Dylan today, many of his songs became part of our culture, sung and re-sung by other artists long after they were penned. Unlike today's pop stars, he died alone and near penniless in New York's Bowery at age 37. His name was Stephen Foster.

Had he lived today he very likely would have been a superstar, or at least writing songs for superstars. He had the gift, and the songs rolled off his pen as easily as their tunes roll off our tongues. "Oh Susannah!", "Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair", "Camptown Races", "My Old Kentucky Home", "Old Folks at Home" (better known as Swanee River)... his legacy continues to enrich us more than a century and a half after his passing.

Saturday afternoon I heard "Hard Times" on the radio, and when finished heard the host say it was by Stephen Foster. It's especially familiar to me because I've sung it with de Elliot Bros. jug band on a number of occasions. It begins like this...
Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh Hard times come again no more.
Chorus:
Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.
Foster was, sadly, too well acquainted with hard times. He had chosen a songwriting career before there was a song writing industry. That is, he was a pioneer in a career that preceded copyright protections and royalty payments.

I remember Paul Harvey doing one of his "The Rest of the Story" pieces on Foster. Harvey told about a poor man in the Bowery who fell into a washbasin, shattering it and gouging his head. No one know who he was when he was taken to the hospital and died three days later. He had three pennies in his wallet and 35 cents worth of Civil War scrip.

Shortly after his death "Beautiful Dreamer" was published. Maybe if Foster had lived 100 years later Johnny Cash might have sung this song on his TV show and made Foster enough money to live a longer life and produce still more music for us.

Beautiful Dreamer

Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull'd by the moonlight have all pass'd away!
Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song,
List while I woo thee with soft melody;
Gone are the cares of life's busy throng,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!

Beautiful dreamer, out on the sea
Mermaids are chanting the wild lorelie;
Over the streamlet vapors are borne,
Waiting to fade at the bright coming morn.
Beautiful dreamer, beam on my heart,
E'en as the morn on the streamlet and sea;
Then will all clouds of sorrow depart,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!

Foster himself must have been a dreamer. I, too, have dreams. How about you?

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