April 19, 2008:
Thank you Larry for agreeing to this online interview, and for your continued support of The Judy Room. This new CD set is very exciting and has been generating a lot of buzz in "Judy Fandom" (as I call it) for quite some time. I have a few questions about the CD anthology and the process of how anthologies like this get produced.
Larry is co-producer of, and also the man who wrote the wonderful liner note to, the upcoming Freméaux & Associés release "Judy Garland - Classiques et inédits - 1929-1956 set for release on May 5, 2008]
When did you first become a Judy Garland fan, and what was it that first attracted you to her?
I have often asked myself the same question. I am a baby-boomer, was born pretty much at the exact same time Judy was fired from MGM, but don’t really remember her becoming a passion until the early 1960s. I remember discovering Carnegie Hall around the time of its release. I also remember being excited at the release of I Could Go On Singing, which I immediately ran to see at The Allerton, I believe, in the Bronx where I grew up. (Not many people were running to see a new Judy Garland film in 1963.) I, of course, watched The Judy Garland Show diligently at the time of its broadcast. I remember watching the 1962 special, but not the early 1963 one. A Star is Born had been on TV by then of course, and I had seen it there, although never on the big screen at that point. I do remember something unusual though. I remember checking the newspaper listings as a kid to see if any of her early films were to be played on the Late Show, or the Late, Late Show, or whatever, and would get up in the middle of the night to watch obscure Judy Garland films. It seemed the natural thing to do. Last, my mother grew up in the depression and would tell me how she would save up to see a Broadway show, so I think my love of the kind of music Judy Garland sang is somewhat innate. But, I don’t really remember “a moment.” In reply to what first attracted me to Judy, I think, above all, it is her sincerity. Another part of the attraction is also her yearning. A yearning sincerity. Let me say too that I don’t consider myself “a fan”, but more of a historian. I have never been fanatical about Judy Garland, but more respectful of her contribution to American popular music. As such, my passion for her, her life and work, translated into a desire to know more about both. So I started reading, watching all the films I could, buying records as they came out. I would say I became a collector, rather than a fan.
Aside from this new CD release you just released, what would you list as your favorite Garland recording(s)?
Obviously, Carnegie Hall. I bought the LP way back when, and like many others, wore it out. It is the greatest live performance of classic American pop in the 20th century. To this day, Come Rain or Come Shine is an earth-shattering experience. A really frightening experience. Especially when you compare it to other recordings of the song by other artists, vocalists or instrumental, which are calmer, cooler. Judy Garland was not cool, and this is her un-coolest performance. Only she could sing of love in this way. I finally got to realize that I was using Carnegie Hall as an emotional crutch of sorts, and started playing it less. If I had to pick just one track I would play for people who know little or nothing about Judy to show them the great artist she was, I would pick Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. All of her incredible vulnerability is right there, on a razor’s edge. There are so many other recordings though too, lesser known. Take Easy to Love from 1938. It’s all there. “Faraway Part of Town” and “Do It Again” from 1960 are also worth a re-listen.
I'm sure many fans are interested in how CDs get produced and what the reasons are for what's included and what isn't. What was the impetus behind this new CD set and its contents? And, about how long did it take to get produced?
The CD took a year and half to do. The first emails I have with Benjamin Goldenstein date from February 2007. I have always been a firm believer in writing letters, or email now. Most of my creative projects have started with an idea, which I then wrote to someone about. This is how my earlier CDs, Robert Parker’s Child of Hollywood and Judy Garland ą Paris, came about. Also, the programs I produced and hosted for French public radio came about in the same way. Frémeaux & Associés is well-known in Europe, I knew they had no Judy Garland anthology in their catalogue, so I suggested one. I got a yes the next day. I wrote to them because, having lived in Paris most of my life, I knew their passion for keeping important recordings “in reference” in their jargon, meaning available to the public. Insofar as deciding what I was going to put in the box, my first instinct was to do an all-radio set, but I quickly got a nudge from the company that this had to be an anthology for the general public as well as, let us say, a more learned group. Thanks to incredible collectors such as John Walther, Kim Lundgreen, Fred Mc Fadden, and Christian Matzanke, between their collections and my own I had plenty of other unreleased radio material, and still do, to do a 2-CD all-radio set, but realized there is a general public that might want to experience a less esoteric Judy Garland. Knowing the second CD was going to be all-radio, I selected at first 18 (the number of tracks allowed me at the beginning), then 20 for each disc. For the radio disc, my purpose was to choose tracks never before released. In that my memory is something like glue when it comes to what has been issued, or not, I knew pretty much off the top of my head – I emphasize pretty much – which performances would be new. The only track on the radio CD that has been issued before is the 1935 Zing!. But I chose to include it anyway because it was on an out-of-print Danish CD, and thought it was historically important enough to be reissued. Concerning the “classics” CD, these had to be studio performances. Clearly, these are not all Garland hits. My goal here was to allow the less knowledgeable but interested general public to sample Garland in a way that would whet its appetite for more, somewhat like the fans were before they were fans, then something got them hooked. I think any anthology must try to convince the musically-curious listener that here is a great artist; then you must convince them by your choices. Lastly, it should be remembered that, for the set, I was working for a French company that takes pride in strictly respecting European intellectual property law. In that European copyright law is different from American copyright law, the very first thing I did in getting to work on the project was to ask them a series of very specific questions about what I could and could not use. Their responses were long and detailed. One example: the film version of Over the Rainbow. Frémeaux & Associés insisted, and rightly so, that they wanted to use it. I told them that the film version was never released on 78 rpm, a fact they were unaware of. Decca released a Decca version of the tune, but although it was a big hit at the time, I have never found it up to the film version, and I refused to use it for my anthology. Fortunately, MGM Records issued the soundtrack on LP in 1956, and it was based on this record, over 50 years old, that we could include it. (By the way, I don’t have this LP in my personal collection, and Fred Mc Fadden had the kindness to loan me his. Thanks Fred.) So for the new box, real records were used, most of which my own. For the transfers done by Grammy Award winner Jon M. Samuels in New York, I traveled down to the city with these records protected on my lap. I broke one. For the radio material, no MP3s were used. Since I live on an island on the coast of Maine, I only got high-speed Internet in November 2007, by which time all work on the box set had already been completed.
Are all of the recordings on this set from your personal collection?
As I said, except for the film Rainbow, yes. The radio disc could not have been assembled without John Walther in Hamburg, Kim Lundgreen in Copenhagen, Fred Mc Fadden in Rome (NY), and Christian Matzanke in Berlin. One thing: I have been collecting for many decades now, but do not feel I own Judy Garland. No one does. Just as various collectors have been incredibly generous in exchanging material with me over the years, selfless in their passion, I have tried to return the favor. Like many whom I have had the honor of getting to know, I do not pretend to know everything about Judy Garland (or anyone). The more I know the less I know. Nor is she my mantra. The recordings in my personal collection, even if I am the one to have taken the time and money to accumulate them, do not belong to me. The generosity of the people involved in making the Frémeaux anthology is a reflection of the generosity of the lady herself.
Are there certain recordings that you can tell us you were unable to include in this set, but couldn't for whatever reason?
I had two priorities: artistic merit and sound quality. Some tracks I considered were artistically great, but the sound was hopeless. For other tracks, the sound was great but the music was not very compelling. Many of the radio programs are in very mediocre condition. For example, a 1936 After You’ve Gone. I would have loved to include it, but the sound was dreadful. Strangely, that song was performed for the same radio show as On Revival Day, but the sound on the latter was far better than After You’ve Gone, so I used it. New copies of radio shows turn up regularly, so it is always possible better versions will surface. Insofar as studio dates, recordings had to be 50 years old. I would have loved to use It’s Love I’m After, a great performance from Pigskin Parade, but since the songs from the movie were never released on 78, I couldn’t use them. Frémeaux forbade me from transferring material from CD, SACD, Laser Disc or DVD, so using the CD of Pigskin Parade, a French CD by the way, as a source was out. In Frémeaux’s view, an engineer’s transfer of a sound recording is copyright protected too. The sound on a CD is thus protected, and cannot be infringed on. Other companies would have been less scrupulous. A word about photos: European copyright law states that photos are protected in the same manner as books. That is, books and photos are not free of copyright until 70 years after the death of the author or photographer. Thus, most books and photographs from the 20th century are protected. Needless to say, the dozens of unpublished or rare photos that I, Christian Matzanke and Kim Lundgreen proposed were rejected for this reason. The cover shot was purchased from a Paris agency.
Tacking onto that, if you were to produce a "Volume 2" are there certain recordings that you can tell us that you would include, and why?
I would include any recording of artistic merit and acceptable sound quality. I have already started to draw up a list, and hope that Patrick Frémeaux and Claude Colombini, who head the company, might be receptive to a Volume 2 in the near future, but think it best to wait for the reviews and sales on this one before saying anything more specific than that there are dozens of excellent radio dates waiting to be issued, and that I also have Decca test pressings, the V-disc, more of the Gumm Sisters, and many other unreleased live dates in my library. It certainly was a pleasure – and an education – to collaborate with Benjamin Goldenstein, who is a great professional, and a man of courtesy and exactitude. I would be honored to work with him again. I must say that it amazes me that here in 2008 there remain so many unreleased performances still on the shelf.
Judy's radio career has been sadly under-represented on CD, yet many performances are easily available from private collectors on eBay and online discussion forums. Do you have any thoughts or theories as to why?
I have occasionally bought radio performances on eBay, and it’s great that it’s there. Better there than nowhere. One obviously needs a well-stocked bank account to buy some of the other stuff. Clearly, people make money off Judy Garland, which has been the case for a long time. Who am I to judge? In one of my meetings with Sid Luft in the early 1990s, he told me that “Judy Garland makes more money dead than alive.” Concerning the online discussion forums, besides The Judy Room, I tend to limit my consumption. That these radio shows are on file here and there is great.
This is the first CD compilation since 1998's "Judy" boxed set to cover such a wide range of Judy's career. Did you plan this from the beginning or did it sort of happen that way as the project progressed?
The new set was always going to be an anthology covering a set time. Scott Schechter’s 1998 Judy box was along the same lines. But I would not call that set nor mine a compilation, but more an anthology. A compilation copies and pastes; an anthology should be an intelligent overview.
Being that this set was produced in France, what is Judy's persona to the general European population? Is it much different than here in the U.S.?
I lived in Paris from 1971 to 1997, and learned much about the French appreciation of Judy Garland during those years. You must remember that Judy’s peak years at MGM were during the war, when France was occupied. Her films did not always cross the Atlantic right away. American cinema, including the musical, is highly respected over there, as are the great American directors and actors. But, the Garland films that are most appreciated there are the ones that are, first and foremost, good films. The French thus value movies like The Pirate, Meet Me in St. Louis and A Star is Born because they are great films done by great filmmakers with great actors, one of whom is Judy Garland. Sometimes, there is a certain sugar coating to many musicals that make them almost too American. The Harvey Girls could be said to be an example of this: a lot of Americana, but not a great film. Even The Wizard of Oz is admired for Judy’s performance and its technical wizardry, but is hardly considered a great movie. This is not snobbishness, but an appreciation of filmmaking that places a film’s artistic clout ahead of its entertainment value. Obviously, many of Judy’s movies are more entertainment than art, and might seem a bit too cotton candy for the French. I remember I was once in a Paris theater watching Summer Stock, the audience was half asleep, but when Judy went into Get Happy everyone woke up, and broke into applause after the number. The same thing happened at a screening of The Wizard of Oz: people broke into applause after Over the Rainbow. So, they “get it.” Sid Luft told me that that first performance at the Palais de Chaillot in 1960 was far from sold out. After she got superlative reviews, her shows at the Olympia were. So, the French did and do appreciate Judy Garland because, once they got over the image of Judy Garland, they could see there was an immense artist there. They already saw it in A Star is Born, they confirmed their respect at her Olympia shows, and this has continued to this day. Her major films are constantly shown in Paris, and a Judy Garland festival, for which I hope to contribute, is planned for later this year at one of the Action movie theaters. The Clock should soon be released in a new copy, too. I think the Frémeaux box set is also a reminder of the continuing, and growing, affection the French have for Judy Garland.
What, if I may ask, do you like most about this new set? And also, what - if anything - do you least like about the set?
There are a few things on the new set I am not happy about, but will not say more. I am proud of releasing so many titles that are new on CD. The Vitaphones will be a shock to the general public, as will all the radio tunes. I hope too that my liner notes are enlightening for one and all.
The late Robert Parker re-masterings of the Columbia recordings are a joy to hear. Can you give us a bit of history about these particular tracks?
I worked with Robert Parker in the early 1990s on the Child of Hollywood CD. He was an Australian-born radio broadcaster and sound engineer, who hosted programs on the BBC and produced his own CDs. He was living in London and Devon when I got to know him, and I went to Devon to do the transfers. He had a studio apart from the main house, and used it to store his vast record collection and house his engineering equipment. He was a very gentle man, and felt very strongly that his work in getting more sound out of old 78s was a mission. He did not at all believe that he was “stereo enhancing” or “colorizing” the sides he was working on. In fact, he turned red at the idea. Instead, he passionately felt that what he was trying to do was restore the sound as if it had been recorded today. In his view, recording an artist or a group was a musical event, and old records are an imprecise reflection of that original event. His goal was to eliminate the distortions of time. He was not playing God in his work, but restoring God’s original work, like one would restore an old painting or fresco. Some like what he did; some don’t. His adding some reverb was only part of his stereo impressions, as he called them. In any case, we remained friends after this project, and stayed in touch. In 2002, he sent me, among other things, the four Columbia sides in the form of professional studio original masters. He had remixed them into surround sound – that can also be heard in stereo or mono-, and it is these that were used in the Frémeaux anthology. Might I add that Parker offered me these remixes as a gift?
Lawrence, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed, and for this wonderful new CD set. One last question: Judy Garland means so many things to so many people - that's one of the reasons why her legend endures - can you share with us what she means to you?
I guess when Judy Garland/Dorothy Gale opens the front door, and we go from black and white to color, is what Judy Garland means to me most. Judy is about opening doors. She led me to other lands.
Thank you again Larry! I've already heard an advance copy of this set, and it's fantastic. Congratulations on a job well done, and my congratulations to everyone at Freméaux & Associés. I'm sure this will be a welcome addition to every Garland fan's collection. We look forward to (hopefully) a second volume in the next year or so!
The Judy Room
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