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The Songs of Pasadena With Haunting Sounds That Stir Memories of the Past

June 20, 1986|JOHN ESPEY | Espey (Occidental '35) is the author of two novels set in Pasadena. and

The Golden Ear, a Treasury of Songs to Pasadena by Carter Barber (BTCo., 540 El Dorado, Suite 101, Pasadena 91101: $6.95)

Carter Barber belongs to an order of knights and dames errant whose grail-quest is the perfect song representing Pasadena in all that city's historic and contemporary beauty and social complexity. (The city of Pasadena is not taking a back seat to this quest. On Saturday at Brookside Park the "Official Centennial Song" will be chosen from 10 new selections that are going to be performed.)

Yes, Pasadena does have an official song, originally titled "Home in Pasadena" and now, after its adoption, simply as "Pasadena." Composed by Harry Warren, with lyrics by Edgar Leslie and Fred Clarke, it was published in 1923, and for devotees of Pasadena's past, its opening lines still evoke the sounds and sights of the Super Chief's last stop before Los Angeles:

Oh! you railway station

Oh! you Pullman train!

Here's my reservation

For my destination

Far beyond the western plain.

The trouble with "Pasadena," as Barber points out, is that there is no longer a Super Chief carrying Hollywood stars back to the sources of their incomes, and the entertainment of watching them detraining at the Santa Fe station to the flashes of news photographers is long gone. Barber re-creates it in all its glamour: "Fleets of Lincolns, Auburns, Duesenbergs, Packards, Cords and Pierce-Arrows were a common sight, waiting in the station's parking lot to whisk the stars to Hollywood." Fleets? Well, a knight or dame errant is entitled to multiple license in such memories.

At the other extreme, there's Don Altfeld and Roger Christian's 1964 "Little Old Lady From Pasadena," still to be heard on one's car radio, usually from the Jan & Dean recording, as one cruises the freeways:

Go granny, go granny, go granny go!

And everybody's sayin' there's nobody mean-ah

Than the Little Old Lady from Pasadena

She's the terror of Colorado Boulevard

The Little Old Lady From Pasadena.

What might be called the sub-sub-title of Carter Barber's book accurately describes what lies between these extremes: "An Illustrated History of the Crown City's Collection of Musical Jewels." Only an uncultured lout, insensitive to the social and moral issues involved here, would make the mistake of suggesting that there's a high percentage of pure paste in this regal headgear. Even Carrie Jacobs Bond contributed to it, composing music to Francesca Falk Miller's verse that opens with "There's a rambler on the trellis and a wild rose in the hedge." That the rose throughout the years should be the state-of-the-art bloom is only natural.

But what is one to make of the mystery of John Philip Sousa's possible contribution? "Pasadena Day Parade" lives in the memories of many longtime residents consulted. But it appears nowhere in Sousa's published or unpublished music. For the Sousa specialist, the companion mystery is why one of his compositions is titled "Occidental." Can there be a connection? Though Occidental College's first and second campuses were decorations of that rival center of culture, Highland Park, the school's links with Pasadena have always been strong. Could the March King have been guilty of a little two-stepping here in "the old municipal bandstand near the corner of Raymond Avenue and Walnut Street"?

Such cogitations still amaze the troubled midnight and the noon's repose of dedicated historians of Pasadena past and present. If Carter Barber is the Knight Commander of the order I have suggested, surely the Dame Commander is Dulce Parker Harris, "aristocratic, svelte and extremely talented with words and music," who is responsible for, among titles, "Snow in Pasadena Town," "Have a Pasadena Day" and "The Freeway Drag."

Somehow, it seems appropriate to conclude with a reference to an occasion not mentioned in this splendid tribute. At the official opening of Prof. Thaddeus Sobieski Caulaincourt Lowe's inclined railway to the mountain, as the first car moved away carrying the Crown City's dignitaries, the band solemnly rendered, "Nearer, My God, to Thee."

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