September, the transitional month between summer and fall, has inspired many songs and poems.
One of the most famous is "September Song," composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson and first sung by Walter Huston for the 1938 play "Knickerbocker Holiday." Walter, the father of John and grandfather of Angelica Huston and noted co-star of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," also made a recording of the song, which later gained fame as an American Songbook classic.
Huston's husky voiced rendition of the song, expressing an aging man's desire for a last fling with a younger woman, spiked in popularity as the theme for the 1950 film "September Affair," starring Joan Fontaine and Joseph Cotten as illicit lovers who seek to escape their past lives. The movie's success made the recording a No. 1 hit.
Since then, the song has been recorded many times, with notable versions by Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson and Jimmy Durante, a master of aging male wistfulness. Even Lou Reed recorded the number, giving it a world-weary, Reed-flavored interpretation. Female artists such as Ella Firzgerald have also cut versions.
Huston's original performance included many verses dropped on most recordings. Classic singers like Tony Bennet and Sinatra kept Huston's first verse, which effectively sets the song's theme despite its outdated diction.
I was surprised that Anderson's simple lyrics work so well as a poem. The emotional message, like Huston's vocal range, is limited. But Anderson, one of the many talented American literary figures who emerged in the 1920s and '30s, expresses a theme that goes back to the earliest lyric poetry, with variations throughout literary history.
Courting the girls
I played me a waiting game
If a maid refused me with tossing curls
I let the old Earth take a couple of whirls
While I plied her with tears in lieu of pearls
And as time came around
She came my way
As time came around
But, it's a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn't got time for the waiting game
Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
And these few precious days I'll spend with you
These precious days I'll spend with you
And the wine dwindles down to a precious brew
And these few vintage years I'll spend with you
These precious years I'll spend with you