Ordinarily, I’m not happy about insomnia, but when I woke up around 2 a.m. this morning, I went out and had a look up at the Geminids streaking across the sky. The asteroid-like object of which these meteors are a part is named for the Greek story of Phaethon, a boy whose foolishness nearly destroys the world. He ended up tumbling out of the sky instead, and I’ll think of him as a falling star next term when I teach the myth. What did I wish for on the falling stars I saw last night? Why, world peace, of course. That, and a cure for insomnia.
It was quiet out in the yard, and there wasn’t even the sound of distant highway traffic. Having been to a Christmas party earlier in the evening, I guess my head was filled with carols. I didn’t sing, or even hum, though, as it was a silent night, and the only thing I could hear was the movement of the animals in the woods, the running of the deer. But the meteors up above made me think of the line,
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite
from Do You Hear What I Hear? After it got too cold to be standing outside any more and, still not feeling sleepy, I decided to look up the song on my laptop. (You can see a Youtube clip below of Bing Crosby singing it in late 1963, the year it became a hit)
I did not realize, until I read this fine piece in the St. Anthony Messenger on-line, that Do You Hear What I Hear? had been written during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, a little over fifty years ago. The composers, Gloria Shayne and Noel Regnery, were a married couple, living in New York City at the time. As a young man growing up in France, Regnery had been drafted against his will into the German army during the Second World War but worked secretly for the Resistance. After the war, he moved to the US and built a new life for himself as an entertainer and song-writer, marrying pianist Gloria Shayne in the late ’50s. As it did most people, the confrontation over Cuba in 1962 shook the couple badly, although Regnery was moved to compose some hopeful lyrics about the matter. The Cold War context certainly gives added point to the lines, Said the king to the people everywhere / Listen to what I say / Pray for peace people everywhere.
“Noel wrote a beautiful song,” Gloria said later, “and I wrote the music. We couldn’t sing it, through; it broke us up. We cried. Our little song broke us up. You must realize there was a threat of nuclear war at that time.” As it happens, Gloria had been born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in the house next door to Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy, where the future President was raised. It is interesting to think of the composer growing up alongside JFK, only 5 years her senior, and perhaps even playing with the younger Bobby. By the time Bing Crosby had a hit with Do You Hear What I Hear, Kennedy had averted nuclear disaster, although he himself was dead. When he shall die take him and cut him out into stars, Bobby later famously said of his brother, quoting Shakespeare. With a tail as big as a kite, is all I would add, with a tail as big as a kite.