On HBO, they are currently airing a wonderful show put on by comedian Billy Crystal called “700 Sundays.” Crystal is at his poignant, funny and reflective best as he chronicles his life through years of Sundays growing up in his house. He takes you through his impersonations and stories about his many relatives who had their charmingly, imperfect mannerisms. His mimicry is how he got started on his journey to becoming a comedian. But, he also walks you through an important piece of Americana, as his dad and uncle were pioneers in helping integrate jazz music and musicians into more people’s lives.
In fact, when his dad passed away when Billy was age 15, people like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louie Armstrong and others were in attendance at the funeral. Billy also spoke fondly of his time with Billie Holliday, the tremendous singer. He said she called him “Mr. Billy” while he called her “Miss Billie.” He reminisces about her taking him to see his first movie – “Shane.” When he speaks of his dad’s record label Commodore recording Billie’s most powerful song “Strange Fruit” which is a protest song, he takes great pride in his family’s involvement in what some voted the most impactful song of the 20th century. Here are some of the lyrics:
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
With some of the news items in the US the past few days of two racists getting headlines, I felt the timing of hearing his story about these powerful words are even more compelling and should be read and heard.
The show is a must see. It will leave you spent as he makes you laugh, cry and remember. He is so vivid in explaining scenes and settings. He makes you see, hear and smell the sights, sounds and fragrances of the place he is describing. The jazz segment is memorable, but there are other terrific segments in his storytelling – the death of his father and mother, helping his mother study for a new line of work after his dad died, falling in love with his long time wife and balancing the good with the bad things that happened in his life. Nice job, Mr. Billy. Thank you for the walk down memory lane.