Although we see discussions (sometimes in this very space) of the music of bygone days, these tend to focus on what I would call “officially available music”. These are performances on the Broadway stage, or concerts in big cities by big name musicians, or the debuts of operas or symphonies in front of massive groups, with input from composer and lyricist. You can check the Interwebs and find every known recording of, say, “Because”, the hit wedding song for three generations.
But the Interwebs cannot tell us how many times the same song was delivered by music students in little music studios or precocious seven year-old musicians in the parlor when long-suffering Uncle Dudley was visiting. A few anecdotal reports exist on which songs people were sickest of hearing from sidewalk hurdy-gurdy platers or how many potentially great songs disappeared from pop culture because they were printed in Sunday newspaper supplements and then played to death by so-so pianists who never performed for more than six other listeners (three of whom had their hands over their ears.)
Postcard artists at least alert us to the possibilities. They lived at the same time when improvident fiddlers could be found on street corners. SOME of these violinists, by the law of averages, must have been pretty good, but you wouldn’t know it from the postcards.
Unless you live in an area where street musicians are encouraged (my city likes to sequester them to the subway stations), what joys can you get to take the place of such random, passing lullabies?
Okay, maybe that guy who plays his car sound system on high and keeps the windows rolled down, even in winter. But he keeps moving, so you can’t respond in the manner street musicians had to prepare for.
And this sort of unexpected concert is still available to those who live in apartment buildings. But in both these cases, you’re likely to hear recordings of good musicians, just a touch too loud.
The postcard cartoonists certainly knew about too loud. This was always a feature when they showed us their favorite target, the talentless or semi-talented vocalist, who is always shown with mouth stretched to its fullest, screeching out a gentle love song.
This ability to belt out a musical number without the slightest self-consciousness is essential to the joke. I wonder if this pianist is being driven to distraction, or is merely as determined to demonstrate his abilities as the soprano he is accompanying. (I see this couple as an animated cartoon, each trying to emote more furiously than the other, getting louder and louder as they race to the end of the song.)
Continue to note the singer’s mouth, though. This singer seems to have been a teen idol of his day, as the audience is tossing bouquets on the stage. (If you are unfamiliar with this custom, it was a mark of high praise. And yes, many singers paid people in the audience to go out and buy flowers to toss at them.)
Two mouths were, of course, even better than one.
And four mouths were excellent, if not from a musical sense, then at least from a cartoon angle.
And in case you thought only the cartoon mouth was liable to this treatment, here is some ancestor of Jerry Lewis about to be fluidly applauded for his private concert. Does THIS make you feel better about the guy with the car windows rolled down?