THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME was written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer for the 1941 film BLUES IN THE NIGHT. It’s a haunting song — its melody like a wistful prayer, its lyrics mixing realistic sorrow and rueful imaginings. For me, the sorrow in observing the present outweighs the hopefulness of “what might be,” but I hear the singer bravely traversing the landscape of sad fact and wisps of happier possibility. Mercer’s lyrics stand as a modern poem, and I was surprised to learn that he was not pleased with them:
It’s one of Harold’s nicest tunes. It’s kind of a poor lyric, I think. Built on the thing about “the drink’s on me.” I think it’s too flip for that melody. I think it should be nicer. I was in a hurry I remember the director didn’t like it. I could have improved it, too. I really wish I had. But, you know, we had a lot of songs to get out in a short amount of time, and we had another picture to do. (The source is a BBC interview, excerpted in Gene Lees’ biography of Mercer, PORTRAIT OF JOHNNY, 142).
The unpredictably brilliant Alec Wilder doesn’t even mention the song in his book AMERICAN POPULAR SONG.
I think this song so beautifully, perhaps painfully encapsulates the simultaneous feelings: “We’ve had something deep. It no longer exists, and it cannot. But I would like to imagine a place in time where it could, even as I know that dream is tormenting by its elusiveness.” So much is said yet so much is unsayable.
See if you don’t agree while considering this quietly rich performance by Barbara Rosene and Ehud Asherie — at Mezzrow on April 14, 2015:
I love the careful pacing — neither maudlin nor too optimistic — and the deep sincerity of Barbara’s voice, the sweet unerring support Ehud always gives. The difficult reality in one hand, the wisp of a dream that can’t come true in the other hand. Such music can see anyone through, even as it delineates sadness and loss.
And here, because we all need to know that joyous love is possible, is another gem from that same evening.
May your happiness increase!