Saturday, September 08, 2012

`Down Mexico Way'

A reader has passed the midpoint of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, having started the seventh of the sequence’s twelve volumes, The Valley of Bones (1964). On the front of the postcard he sent announcing the news is a color photograph of downtown Guadalajara, circa 1960, desde el Templo de San Juan de Dios. On the left is a movie theater, Teatro Juarez. To the right of the plaza is a mariachi band and behind it a Pemex-Sol gas station with billboards on the roof advertising Gilbey’s and Smirnoff. My reader, an attorney in Dallas, writes on the back of the postcard:

“`…a man’s voice, deep throated and penetrating, sounded, rose, swelled in a lament of heartbreaking melancholy:’ 

“`That’s where I fell in love,
While the stars above
Came out to play;
For it was mañana,
And we were so gay,
South of the border,
Down Mexico way…’” 

The passage is from Chapter 1 of The Valley of Bones, set in 1940. Musicologists will recognize the lyrics quoted by Powell from “South of the Border.” Written by Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr, the 1939 ballad was sung by Gene Autry (1907-1998) in the movie of the same name. His sidekick, Frog Millhouse, is played by the immortal Smiley Burnette. Autry’s version remains unchallenged, though the song was also covered by Billy Cotton and his Band (vocal by Alan Breeze), Frankie Laine, Frank Sinatra and Marty Robbins. In Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry (Oxford University Press, 2007), Holly George-Warren writes: 

South of the Border, like Rovin’ Tumbleweeds directed by George Sherman, has a topical plot. As incognito federal agents, Gene and Smiley uncover a scheme to capture Mexican oil fields by foreign spies manning a secret submarine base. Just like the song that inspired it, the film comes to a tragic end when Gene’s love interest Delores (Lupita Tovar), sister of the revolutionary aiding the spies (Duncan Renaldo), joins a convent.”

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