Monday, January 23, 2006

Ain't It The Truth

Cabin in the Sky was the first movie directed by Vincente Minnelli, and one of the best. The racial stereotypes aren't the greatest, and the religious message is actually kind of appalling (apparently getting into heaven depends primarily on how much money you give to the church). But the film has a great cast, some of Minnelli's best camerawork -- like the uninterrupted tracking shot through the church in the "Li'l Black Sheep" number -- and none of the overblown, overstuffed quality that would plague some of Minnelli's later musicals; it's all good fun with great performers, which is what a musical should be.

The one thing that hampers the movie is that it goes for too much of its length without a really show-stopping number; there's not much singing or dancing in the first half of the film. This wouldn't have been a problem if the song "Ain't It the Truth" had been left in the film. Newly-written for the film by the team of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, it was a hedonistic song about one of Harburg's favorite themes, having fun you can while there's still time (he returned to this in "T'Morra, T'Morra," "Napoleon," and many other songs). It was supposed to be sung by the minions of the devil: an imp played by Louis Armstrong, and temptress Georgia Brown, played by Lena Horne. But Armstrong's rendition of the first refrain -- followed by a trumpet solo -- was cut from the film and is lost; Horne's portion of the song, which she sang in a bubble bath, was preserved and used three years later in a short film called "Studio Visit." The story is that Horne's section was cut because it was feared that theatres wouldn't book a film with an African-American woman naked in a bubble bath; but that doesn't explain why Armstrong's section was cut, and it's a shame, because it left him without a number in the movie.

The DVD has both "Studio Visit" and the audio recording of Armstrong's portion. Fourteen years after Cabin in the Sky, Arlen and Harburg re-used "Ain't It the Truth" for their Broadway musical Jamaica, where it was sung by Lena Horne (not in a bubble bath). Another song they wrote for Cabin that wasn't used, "I Got a Song," found its way into the Broadway show Bloomer Girl in 1944.

Here are the Harburg lyrics to "Ain't It The Truth," though like any lyrics, they lose some of their impact without the tune (a great bluesy Arlen tune). These are the lyrics used in "Jamaica," which differ from the 1943 version in one or two places. Both versions contain one of the great Harburgisms, his euphemistic description of death and burial: "Layin' horizontal in that telephone booth."

Refrain 1
Life is short, short, brother,
(Ain't it the truth!)
And there is no other,
(Ain't it the truth!)
You got to rock that rainbow
While you still got your youth,
Ain't it the solid truth!

Was a guy called Adam,
(Ain't it the truth!)
He said: "Look here, madam..."
(Ain't it the truth!)
"You got to bite that apple
While you still got your tooth."
Ain't it the mellow truth!

Lord gave you wine and gin
To drown your troubles in,
What's all this talk of sin?
Rise and shine
And fall in line.

Get that new religion
(Ain't it the truth!)
'Fore you is dead pigeon
(Ain't it the truth!)
'Cause when you layin' horizontal
In that telephone booth,
There'll be no breathin' spell,
That's only naturell,
Ain't it the gos-a-pel truth!

Refrain 2

Life is short, short, brother,
(Ain't it the truth!)
And there is no other,
(Ain't it the truth!)
So if you don't love livin'
Then you're slightly uncouth,
Ain't it the visible truth!

Said that gal DuBarry,
(Ain't it the truth!)
"Love is cash and carry."
(Ain't it the truth!)
"You got to shake it down
Or stir it up with vermouth."
Ain't it the dignified truth!

Life is a ripplin' brook,
Man is a fish to cook,
You got to bait your hook,
Rise and shine
And cast your line.

Got to get your possum
(Ain't it the truth!)
While you still in blossom
(Ain't it the truth!)
That went for Delilah,
Cleopatra and Ruth:
Them babes did mighty swell,
They rang that Jeze-bell,
Ain't it the gos-a-pel truth!
It's the truth,
The truth,
It's the solid mellow truth!


TexasBob2 said...

Great post on a little piece of cultural history I knew nothing about. Thanks!

Alexander G. said...

I couldn't find these extended lyrics anywhere else online. Thanks for archiving them!