“Please don’t do that. That’s mean.”
As adults, we don’t always hear that particular reproach for unkind behavior, but I wish more people said it when needed, and more people heard it, because meanness — whether it comes at us without a disguise, or it is cloaked in “acerbic humor” — is painful. And it sticks.
The great songs that also seem so casual sometimes address the deepest issues. Thus, MEAN TO ME (music by Fred Ahlert, lyrics by Roy Turk) asks this huge question, “Why must you be mean to me?” Even though it is put forth in the context of romantic love, it is a deep inquiry.
Even when I hear a medium-tempo instrumental version — which will follow — I also hear Annette Hanshaw’s plaintive voice, or perhaps Billie Holiday’s, asking that question. Why must you be mean to me?
When I most recently heard the song, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on a Sunday night function — one of those gloriously fulfilling get-togethers that make New York so rewarding — I didn’t hear the words, I confess, because the instrumental joy was so deep that it commanded, in the nicest way, my attention. The wondrous players were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Engelbert Wrobel, clarinet; Nicki Parrott, string bass; James Chirillo, guitar:
The music they made has no trace of meanness. Such beauty could, for those who understand it, make us better, kinder, more loving people. Thank you, James, Nicki, Angel, and Jon-Erik. Making the cosmos lighter, one note at a time.
May your happiness increase!