The Moon Can Blow Me

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The Moon Can Blow Me was neither a critical nor a popular success. It seems to have been written originally as the final chorus number for the 1923 musical flop, That Was No Lady. The show closed in New Haven despite featuring the star duo Fred and Adele Astaire in the lead roles. The Gershwins were able to recycle some of the songs in later productions, but among those shelved were You Can't Unscramble Scrambled Eggs (eventually proposed for Girl Crazy, 1930), When it's Cactus Time in Arizona (also a candidate for Girl Crazy) and The Moon Can Blow Me. The doomed musical is optimistically featured in the cover for the 1924 songsheet but is gone from the 1926 reissue.

1924 Songsheet Cover 1926 Songsheet Cover

However apparently Astaire liked it, and can be heard singing the song in a bootleg recording as late as the early 1960s, accompanied by an unknown guitarist whose obscurity is richly deserved. The sound quality indicates the stage was somewhere near the kitchen door and the microphone may have been concealed in a cistern in the men's lavatory. The late date can be inferred from some of the changes, which refer more to the Coltrane revival than to the original 1920s Broadway style.

The historical importance of the song lies chiefly in its marking the point at which George categorically refused to let Ira write the lyrics first ever again. The difficulties George encountered are highlighted in the bridge, from which he returns only by a miracle. Some musicologists, notably Eisenstein, maintain that he never did return but simply started the song again.

"... not so much a bridge as a pier..." Eisenstein, 1953

It is rumored that Gershwin took nearly three hours to complete the setting of his brother's torrential outpourings, over ten times what he spent on other songs, and as a result managed to complete only 17 songs that day, a shortfall which led to heated arguments with his agent and his landlady. So severe were the recriminations between the brothers that after 1923 there is no photographic record of Ira being permitted to sit on George's lap.

The song resurfaced occasionally despite the brothers' long battle to suppress it.

Among the artists to record it are Doris Day, Sarah Vaughn, John Coltrane, Bill Evans and William Shatner.

The lyrics survive in a 1979 issue of The Real Real Book, but this version appears to have been transcribed in part from the Coltrane recording and in part from the bootleg restaurant vocals.

Lead sheet page 1
Lead sheet page 2

While the details of The Moon Can Blow Me may have been lost forever, what remains is a testament to the remarkable oeuvre of the Gershwins.