Anna Marly (1917-2006) and Hy Zaret (1907-2007)

3. 7. 2007 | Rubriky: Články,Lives,Multilingual

[by Ken Hunt, London] At first glance, Anna Marly’s name may ring no bells. Her original name was transliterated as Anna Betoulinsky and she was born in the Russian city of St. Petersburg on 30 October 1917 – a stormy time in Russian history, the very month of the Bolshevik uprising. Of mixed Russian and Greek parentage, her father was identified as a counter-revolutionary, was arrested and executed in 1918. Her mother fled to France via Finland. The family set down new roots with other White Russian expatriates in Menton. Adopting the stage name of Marly (plucked from a phone book), she emerged in due course as a singer and chansonnier, singing her own songs. In 1938 she married her first husband, a Dutch diplomat, and not long afterwards they found themselves fleeing ahead of the German invasion’s bow-wave, escaping, via fascist Spain and neutral Portugal, to London. There she moved in Free French circles.

On one occasion she sang one of her Russian-language songs, her Chant des Partisans. It was taken up and reworked as a resistance song that was broadcast by Free French radio. Johnny Hallyday, Yves Montard and Germaine Sablon (its first interpreter) took the song into other realms. Another song La Complainte d’un Partisan travelled still further. In North America it went into that leftist bible, The People’s Song Book. In the notes to his Greatest Hits (1975), Leonard Cohen, who brought it to international fame, recalled, “I learned this from a friend when I was 15. He was 17. His father was a union organizer. We were working at a camp in Ste. Marguerite, Quebec. We sang together every morning, going through The People’s Song Book from cover to cover. I developed the curious notion that the Nazis were overthrown by music.”

The song also entered the repertoires of Joan Baez, Esther Ofarim and others. Later Marly lived in South and North America and wrote of her experiences in her autobiography Anna Marly: Troubadour de la Résistance (1980). Much feted for her contributions to the wartime anti-fascist, liberation movement, she died on 15 February 2006 at home in Mat-Su, Lazy Mountain, near Palmer, Alaska, having moved there from New York State to find a place close to nature after the death of her husband George Smiernow in 2000.

The lyricist and songwriter Hy Zaret was the other player when it came to the longevity of The Partisan. Born in New York City on 27 August 1907, he had begun writing in the 1940s and, having lived through the Depression, he served up one of the era’s greatest idea-songs. His and Lou Singer’s tragicomic One Meat Ball is about hunger, poverty and the snootiness of others. It is also a song made for the singer’s opportunity to act out the part, as Ry Cooder did when he covered it. The 1944 song, according to the Josh White Song Book (1963), was an adaptation of The Lay of One Fishball dated to the 1850s. Josh White made the song his own and recorded it on his John White Sings album for Stinson.

Zaret took Marly’s song La Complainte d’un Partisan and added English-language lyrics to the Resistance hymn. In 2007 Leonard Cohen’s version was presented again to the public on the refreshed and expanded edition of his second album, Songs From A Room (2007). However, greater things were to come. As Arthur Levy’s notes to the song for Joan Baez’s The Complete A&M Recordings (2005) (she cut it for her 1972 release, Come From The Shadows) remind, Zaret was “of Unchained Melody renown”.

Unchained Melody itself was a song that appeared in the low-budget prison flick Unchained (1955), though it began life in the 1930s according to some sources. Its worth was immediately seized upon, with a slew of versions. The greatest version of them of all is indisputably the Righteous Brothers’ 1965 version. Awash with Phil Spector’s lush and succulent production values, it became one of the supreme romantic statements. Joni Mitchell quoted from Unchained Melody on her Wild Things Run Fast (1982) and unapologetically coughed up the royalties to her great and good credit. Cinematically, it took on all manner of new lives, notably in Ghost (1990) and its parody sequence in The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991). Zaret died aged 99 on 2 July 2007.


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