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Tracks Unwrapped

The Days Of Wine And Roses



The Days Of Wine and Roses poster


The Days Of Wine And Roses was written by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer as the title song for the 1962 Oscar nominated film starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick about a relationship with alcoholism. The tagline was: 'This, in its own terrifying way, is a love story'.


They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.


In 1962, forty couples walked out of a preview screening of the Blake Edwards film The Days Of Wine And Roses. The film was based on an earlier television play by J. P. Miller, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie. The title is drawn from a 19th century poem Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam by Days Of Wine and Roses sceneErnest Dowson (above). For its time, the film was daring to deal as it did with the issue of alcoholism.

Jack Lemmon plays Joe Clay, a public relations man who regularly sustains his work with ‘two-martini lunches’. Joe meets and falls in love with a secretary, Kirsten Arnesen, played by Lee Remick and introduces her to social drinking. Joe and Kirsten marry, despite the misgivings of Kirsten’s father, and they have a daughter, Debbie.

Gradually Joe grows more dependent on alcohol and Kirsten drinks with him. Joe’s work suffers, he is demoted, and sent away on business. Kirsten deals with this by increasing her drinking until she causes a fire at home, nearly killing herself and Debbie.

Joe is given the sack. He staggers from job to job, and then one day catches his reflection in a shop window. He goes home and says to Kirsten: "I walked by Union Square Bar. I was going to go in. Then I saw myself, my reflection in the window, and I thought, 'I wonder who that bum is?' ...and then I saw it was me. Now look at me. I'm a bum. Look at me! Look at you. You're a bum. Look at you. And look at us. Look at us. C'mon, look at us! See? A couple of bums."

Here is the trailer and introduction to the film - not easy watching. Before release, the studio was concerned to find out how it would be received and arranged a preview, but nobody mentioned that one of the country’s favourite comedians, Jack Lemmon, was not, this time, in a comedy - in the trailer, Jack Lemmon talks about the role.







Days of Wine and Roses scene



Joe and Kirsten try to deal with their alcoholism, going to Alcoholics Anonymous, and Joe is admitted to a sanatorium, but they keep slipping back into their drinking. Joe begins to steady himself, looking after Debbie, but by now Kirsten is picking up strangers in bars, refusing to accept that she is an alcoholic. She comes to Joe, wanting them to get back to the way things once were. Joe says: "You remember how it really was? You and me and booze - a threesome. You and I were a couple of drunks on the sea of booze, and the boat sank. I got hold of something that kept me from going under, and I'm not going to let go of it. Not for you. Not for anyone. If you want to grab on, grab on. But there's just room for you and me — no threesome." Kirsten leaves and Joe looks down the street where Kirsten is walking, a "Bar" sign reflecting in the window.


Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick were both nominated for Oscars. The nominations were well deserved, both for their acting and their preparation. Both actors had attended several A.A. meetings and Jack Lemmon went several times to the Lincoln Heights jail to see people in the drunk tank and dry-out rooms. "It was frightening, watching those poor souls tortured by delirium tremens,’ he said. ‘As a result of what I saw we changed several scenes. For instance, we used a dry-out table where you are strapped down, rather than having the guy just wake up in a cell."

There are a number of scenes and the full movie on YouTube, but this moving scene, with the theme playing in the background, is one that shows the essence of the film:




Director Blake Edwards gave up alcohol a year after completing the film and went into substance recovery. Both Lemmon and Remick sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous after the film was over.The film has been used widely in many alcoholic and drug rehab centres.

Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick were not awarded Oscars, but Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s title song did. The Days Of Wine And Roses was given the Academy Award for 'Best Original Song', and it also picked up several Grammies. Both composer and lyricist reflected afterwards on how easily the song came to them. The title of the film inspired the melody and Henry Mancini described how ‘It just came. It rolled out.’ Johnny Mercer agreed: ‘I could not get the words down fast enough’.

According to the International Movie Data Base, the soundtrack just credits 'Chorus' as performing the song.


The days of wine and roses laugh and run away like a child at play
Through a meadow land toward a closing door
A door marked "nevermore" that wasn't there before


Over the years, The Days Of Wine And Roses has been performed in many ways; the smooth, easy listening style of Perry Como and Andy Williams, or elsewhere as a nostalgic love song, if however, you know the story behind the song, it needs to express something more.


We start with a version with lyrics where Tony Bennett and Bill Evans treat the tune sensitively in this short track:




Woody Herman also seems to get the message in this video of his 1964 Swinging Herd. In one post with this video someone says: 'Billy Hunt's solo over the Four Brothers tenor sound is so tasteful and perfect for the setting (a lost art?), plus the seamless way he navigated over the "changes" in the modulation and set up the "shout" chorus is reminiscent of how Don Fagerquist did those same things with Gene Krupa, Woody's "New Third Herd" and the Les Brown Band of Renown. I sure I am showing my age saying how much I miss hearing that kind of playing'.





I think it is worth sampling some of the versions of the tune on YouTube to see the different approaches taken and whether or not they might relate to the theme of the movie. I am not convinced, for example, that Dexter Gordon or Wes Montgomery's recordings do, enjoyable as they are. Somehow I can go with Stuart Mack's trumpet solo in this video of him with pianist Gabriel Evans:






or perhaps this version by Brian Melvin and Jaco Pastorius:




Most of all, perhaps, this video of Jimmy Smith and Nathan Page. As someone said: 'To some it may sound like music in a roller skating rink, but if you really listen you will really find the soul of Jimmy Smith and if you don't see, you might question your soul …. I bet he taught the angels how to play the organ. They done changed their harps for Hammonds. R.I.P. Jimmy …. Nathan Page, guitar what a find!'





The lonely night discloses just a passing breeze filled with memories
Of the golden smile that introduced me to
The days of wine and roses and you


Of course, there is no obligation to relate the tune to the movie - it is strong enough to stand on its own, after all, it did win Best Original Song at the 1963 Academy Awards (Oscars).


For two contrasting versions, try this video of the tune played by guitarists Arismar do Espírito Santo and Nelson Faria:




The second is a great video from a jazz workshop at the 1966 Newport Jazz Festival where trumpeter Clark Terry uses the song to demonstrate the difference between the effects of half-valve trumpet and flugelhorn:




There is something about Ernest Dowson's poem at the start of this piece that reminds me of part of A.E. Houseman's poem A Shropshire Lad :


Into my heart on air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content
I see it shining plain
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again


..... and so I leave you with a challenge - can you find a connection between 'Blue Remembered Hills' and the tune 'Pennies From Heaven'? I'll give you the answer in next month's Forum section. In the meanwhile, take time to stop and smell the roses.


They are not long, the days of wine and roses


Wilted roses



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