Monday, April 13, 2015

Analyze This: The Candy Man

I find myself deeply pondering songs that most people would say aren’t very good.  I can’t help it—the glimmer of potential, the integrity of earnest intent, the challenge of finding those sweet, sincere redeeming qualities poking through…does it for me every time.  And since we can’t all be like Lester Bangs, I’m going to do my best to champion those bountiful one-note wonders here--starting off with an oooey, gooey gummy worm of a tune from everybody’s favorite, Mr. Show Business.

You may not want me as a guest on your team in Family Feud. I remember once someone asked me to name a famous Jewish entertainer, and I immediately blurted out, “Sammy Davis, Jr.!” That may not get me a kiss from Richard Dawson, but I stand by my choice: Everybody loves Sammy. My friends and I did as a kid, even though I really didn’t know much about him, other than he was this positively super-fantabulous outtathisworld charismatic being I’d seen on the Dinah Shore Show, and that Samantha the German short-haired pointer who lived up the street was named after him. (P.S. She lived with Lady the poodle and a big sweet orange kitty, Archie, named in tribute to Nate Archibald.)

And of course, to me he was, well, the Candy Man.

And for a sensitive, chubby girl who woke up at 6 am to sneak frozen mini peanut butter cups out of the refrigerator, being the Candy Man was no small thing. Heck, I definitely would have eaten the dishes.  That’s the song I wanted to hear on a hot July day, riding shotgun in my sister’s red Cutlass Supreme, the backs of my thighs sticking to the white vinyl bucket seats, with Sammy calling and the Mike Curb Congregation responding, their milquetoasty back-up vocals as benign and comforting as banana pudding to my seven-year-old self.

Err, wait, that sentence was half-baked--better make that as comforting as a groovy lemon pie…

And you know what? It’s as simple as that. Looking back, people say the Candy Man must have been a drug dealer (put this song up against “I’m Waiting for the Man” and you too will be jonesing for peanut butter cups at 6 am) but really, truly, it’s just about a guy sans guile who’ll give you “sweet chocolate, gum drops, chocolate malted candy…anything you want.” A song like this could never happen now, never—only doofy Barney gets close, and he’s kind of a jerk and is upside-down proportionately uncool as Sammy is swellegant.

Any chick with cool hair and a kitty on her shoulder is welcome at ssspunerisms.
This is May Britt, who was married to Sammy from 1960-1968.

It wasn’t just sugar-addicted 7-year-olds who liked the song—The Candy Man went all the way to number one for Sammy, even though he supposedly hated it. Legend has it that he rushed through it in two takes, commenting, "This record is going straight into the toilet. Not just around the rim but into the bowl.” That’s another thing I like—he’s such a professional that you’d never know he thought the song was a bunch of crap—I believed him and his character, and that I too might one day eat a dinner plate and it’d taste like Sunkist fruit gems and Tootsie rolls.

And we all know he would have no problem taking tomorrow and dipping it in a dream.

P.S. 7-year-olds and German short-haired pointers know a good person when they see one. As I was writing this blog I asked a dancer friend of mine if he’d ever worked with Sammy. He hadn’t, but his friends had, in the Broadway production of Golden Boy in 1964-66. It seems that one night after a performance, he took the cast to Howard Johnson on 46th and 8th Avenue. This was a time when people behaved much worse than they do now toward others who don’t look like them, and the waitress was really rude to Sammy. He didn’t say anything, but when it was time to go, he told her, “This is for you”—and handed her 5 $100 bills. How’s that for a tip on how to free your mind, lady?!

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