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Dreaming of Tangerines

by Kevin Carrel Footer

In the 1940s there was a woman who lived in Buenos Aires called “Tangerine.” This was not her real name but rather her nom de guerre, invented for her by a jilted admirer who wrote a poem about her on a napkin while sitting at a bar stool waiting yet again for her to show up.

Around the same time there was a musician waylaid with his band in Buenos Aires. While waiting for their plane to be repaired, the musician – being a musician – hung out at the hotel bar each night before heading out into the city. (A layover back then, like air travel itself, was a much more elegant and involved affair.) At the bar he became acquainted with the jilted poet. One night, the man drew a paper from his breast pocket and read it with serious emotion. This being a jilted lover and this being Buenos Aires, the poem was a bit over-dramatic but the musician liked the general idea and asked if he might copy it down, which he did on his own napkin.

Back in New York, together with a buddy who was good with words, they put together a song inspired by the poem. They took plenty of liberties such as adding cultural references that a North American audience would get. Hoping to pitch the song to one of the more popular bands at the time which featured male and female lead singers, they wrote verses from both perspectives.

For instance, the man sings:

And I’ve seen
Toasts to Tangerine
Raised in every bar across the Argentine

As unforgettable as she is, though, he concludes that she is beyond his reach:

But her heart belongs to just one
Her heart belongs to Tangerine

When the female singer chimes in, she is gunning for Tangerine. Yeah, she says, Tangerine’s lips may be bright red but she uses the cheapest lipstick around. Oh, and those clothes? She gets them at Macy’s Mezzanine.

Her parting shot is as bitchy as it is lethal:

Yes, she’s got the guys in a whirl
But she’s only fooling one girl
She’s only fooling Tangerine!

Recorded by Jimmy Dorsey’s Orchestra with Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell, the song did indeed become a big hit in 1942. Which is why an album with that song was in the suburban California record closet where my musical education began. My parents weren’t music people so the collection was not comprised of many albums at all. To say it was eclectic was a polite way of saying it was sparse. Brahms and Mozart stood next to my older sisters’ Peter Frampton, Procol Harum and Don McLean records. And Jimmy Dorsey somehow snuck in there.

I played that last album a lot.

I wasn’t the only kid who grew up listening to the saga of Tangerine. Across the Atlantic – as far as you can get from suburban California of the 1970s – in Tilsit, East Prussia, Edgar Willmar Froese also discovered the song in an album that an uncle in the merchant marine brought back for his mother. It tickles me to think of Edgar sitting on the floor in front of his family’s gramophone listening to that song just as I did in California.

That one rather absurd song came to haunt us both. Its catchy melody and lover’s lament festered in us. As soon as I could break free, I hopped a plane to begin my search for Tangerine (or at least her descendants) in Buenos Aires. Edgar started a band called “Tangerine Dream.”

Truth really is stranger than fiction.


Note: This is a fictionalized account and I have played fast and loose with some of the facts, so don’t all you music historians jump on me.

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