By Jill Morgan
In the late 1970s and early ’80s, when “The Wizard of Oz” would appear on TV, it was a treat, an event. Long before the VCR came into existence – if not in the world, then at least in our South Buffalo home – there was only one chance per year to journey with Dorothy down that yellow brick road. And like most kids our age, my sister and I always celebrated those special nights.
Pajamas on, blanket laid out on the floor with favorite snacks upon it, we’d sit in front of the ’70s style, brown-paneled behemoth of a TV that reigned in the corner of the room, and wait for the movie to begin. As soon as that MGM lion let out its first regal roar, we were mesmerized, immovable.
Such is the magic of “The Wizard of Oz,” which has been captivating audiences, young and old, since its debut in 1939. It truly is an American wonder – a story that has a way of settling into hearts like few others and stirring imaginations like fewer still.
What a source of pride it is to know that the man who created the music for that magic was Buffalo-born.
Harold Arlen – that Buffalo boy born in 1903 as Hyman Arluck – is, indeed, one of history’s most prolific composers. Oz score aside, to look at the rest of the titles in his catalog is to glean the very canon of American standards: “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Stormy Weather,” “One for My Baby,” and so many more. And while the city that Arlen knew from Clinton Street was one at its zenith, I like to think that only a boy with Buffalo blood could compose songs like these – ones that capture a longing for better days, a fierce loyalty amidst hardships, and oh, that stormy weather.
Of course, there is no doubt that amidst all of those beloved American standards, Arlen’s crown “ruby” is certainly “Over the Rainbow.”
In 2004, the American Film Institute gave it the number one spot in its list of 100 greatest movie songs, and with good reason. For adults, it brings us back to those special nights in the living rooms of our youth – surrounded by the images and voices that have long past.
Simultaneously, it represents what we long to see beyond the arc of faith and persistence of maturity – where our visions for the future became bold “dares” in a life that’s fragile with uncertainty, and where we dream for our own children who now sit in front of flat screens, mesmerized by Oz.
That’s the gorgeous universality of “Over the Rainbow” which we owe to Harold Arlen from Clinton Street. True, he composed the music and not the lyrics for his songs, but it’s the music that truly makes us feel. It’s the reason why so many of us still cry when we see Dorothy lean back from that wagon wheel, sway from spoke to spoke, and ache for her life to transform from black and white into color.
Besides, we Buffalonians don’t always need words to communicate. When “happy little blue birds” have circled Tom Brady’s head for the millionth time, what is there to say? We’re simply left with a strong desire to shoot them out of the sky. And when we’re away from home and spot a stranger wearing a Bills T-shirt, a simple smile, nod and wave is all that’s needed – no conversation – as that feeling is already understood.
And when you get right down to it, “Buffalove” didn’t have to be an actual word in order for all of us to feel it deep in our bones.
Jill Morgan, of the Village of Hamburg, remains captivated by Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow.”