Saturday, 7 April 2012

Garland and Torme: Finding the Rainbow


I am a staunch fan of both Judy Garland and Mel Torme. Because of my love for both artists, I am often in a precarious position when it comes to talking to Judy fans. You see, there is to this day a clash of the Garland fans and Torme fans. Why? Because in 1970, the year after after Judy's death, Mel Torme (or Mel "Torment" as many Garland fans call him) published a tell-all book entitled The Other Side of the Rainbow: Judy Garland on the Dawn Patrol. Garland and Torme worked together on her ill-fated TV show (appropriately titled The Judy Garland Show). Torme acted in the capacity of her musical arranger, a job he resented from the outset as he felt that he wouldn't be able to use his performing talents to the max. Of this, he was certainly right. However, In the book, he brought to light many negative aspects of the legendary Garland: her inability to show up on time to work, her addictive dependence on pills and alcohol, and her constant neediness. The fact that the book was almost 80% negative speak about Garland, and published so soon after her death, has remained a sore spot for Garland fans to this day. (The fact that Mickey Rooney, Garland's supposed best friend, wrote a foreword to the book that pretty much confirmed everything Torme wrote about is an oddly dismissed discussion among Garland fans. But, I digress.) While I sympathize with Garland fans, and have trouble digesting much of the book myself, I will in this post discuss why I think the Torme-Garland feud should be put to rest for once and for all.

First of all, you have to admit that it would have been pretty hard for Torme to take on the job of musical arranger when his talents far extended this. However, in the early 1960s, even though it's hard to believe, Torme had trouble even getting a record deal; his popularity was dwindling. He was also going through a divorce. So, the idea of having a regular job understandably interested the struggling Torme. Also, we Garland fans must admit that as much as we adore her, she was not perfect. She had many demons, and this could make her very difficult to work with. For me, the tragedy of the Garland-Torme relationship is that they never spoke again after the cancellation of her show, and their friendship was ruined forever.

Secondly, Torme has said many times that he was in awe of Judy's artistry. In his beautifully written and much less gossipy autobiography, It Wasn't All Velvet, he cites Judy as one of his musical inspirations and heroes, and says that her talent was essentially without peer. Therefore, while the personal wounds may never have healed, Torme never lost sight of Garland's unmatchable talent.

Thirdly, people who boycott Torme's music as a result of the Garland-Torme fiasco are missing out on some of the greatest music ever recorded. Torme is a brilliant natural singer who in later years developed into one of the greatest jazz singers of all time. Furthermore, Torme and Garland's duets are the product of two voice types (alto and tenor) perfectly blending to create a seamless and gorgeous sound. Take a listen to their version of the Comden/Green tune The Party's Over, from an episode of The Judy Garland Show. The introduction is evidence of a lighter side of the Garland-Torme relationship.


Also, take a look at this outtake from The Judy Garland Show, with Mel singing the jazz standard Don't Get Around Much Anymore, and Garland and MGM alum June Allyson joining in on the fun. Surely this demonstrates that there was not only hate between Garland and Torme.


Since we are now in the year of 2012, and Torme and Garland have both left this earth and given us the gift of beautiful music, I think we should all band together and appreciate both artists, acknowledge the fact that nobody is perfect, but appreciate art for art's sake. Let's all find the rainbow, and enjoy the music of both amazing artists.

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