Six years ago, I watched (more like devoured) both seasons of Carnivàle, the HBO supernatural depression-era show (I remember clearly it was around six years ago, because it inspired my 1930s semi-depression themed wedding). You may remember me gushing over these themes previously in Geek Love and The Art It Inspires, but if not, the old school circus, sideshow bearded ladies, acrobatic siamese twins, even the snake charmers, despite my fear of snakes, is a topic of great interest to me, not to mention the 1930s in general.
Carnivàle consists of two storylines that, with each episode, moved one step closer to convergence, centered on two men and their strange powers. The younger, Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl), joins a traveling carnival while subsequently is searching for a man called Henry Scudder who has similar abilities. The other storyline follows Brother Justin Crowe (Clancy Brown) and his sister Iris and how he uses his powers for proselytizing. Around them is a wonderful cast of characters too many to name, but whose own stories suck you in as much as their supernatural leads.
Carnivàle is one of those underrated shows that I find myself recommending. Like period pieces? Watch Carnivàle. Like supernatural storylines? Carnivàle. Like Twin Peaks? Carnivàle. It is also the type of show that friendships can be formed over. Did you ever watch Carnivàle? Yes! Loved it! Let's be friends. I note these aspects, because of what this piece is truly about today. Yes Carnivàle was and is an amazing show, but the biggest reward I took away from Carnivàle: Ruth Etting and her hit song Love Me or Leave Me.
For many, you are aware that I collect 78 records (For I'm a Jazz Vampire, Bix Beiderbecke, Bixology, Fats Waller's "S'Posin'"). What you may or may not know is Ruth Etting records are some of my most prized pieces (previous Ruth Etting Record Post: Button Up Your Overcoat). I collect as many excellent condition 78s as I can get my hands on. I listen to them. I love them. I get lost in her voice. This all started with Carnivàle.
Throughout Carnivàle there are many delightful scenes with music, but it was Ruth Etting's song Love Me or Leave Me, that was used consistently throughout the series as a way to tie the two leads together (see an example below). The song sets a tone that fits perfectly with the story. Ruth Etting's voice can be sweet or haunting, and in Love Me or Leave Me it is mournful, yet strong. When she sings "There'll be no one, Unless that someone is you, I intend to be independently blue" you know she means it. A sad love song to tie two men with super powers together might be strange, but remember they are living smack in the middle of the Dust Bowl, see the Depression and its effects on people every day. Sadness and longing are part of life, qualities that these men and Ruth Etting's song have in common.
For a bit of a back story: Love Me or Leave Me was written by Gus Kahn (responsible for the lyrics) and Walter Donaldson (who wrote the music). Ruth Etting first introduced the song in the musical Whoopee! (1928). It was one of the biggest songs that year and one of Ruth Etting's biggest hits. The song has been performed by many wonderful singers including Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, and Bing Crosby, but to me it's Ruth's song. Not only because she sang it first, but because her voice captures the time of the song as well and the hardship of love which she definitely endured (that's for another piece entirely - let's just say her first husband was a gangster who went by the name "Moe the Gimp").
I invite you to listen and make your own decision. I have provided below a digital copy of the prized 78 of Love Me or Leave Me from my collection. Listen without distracting. Take in the words, absorb her voice. Then go binge on Carnivàle, which you can watch for free online if you have Amazon Prime or, as always, look for it in your local library catalog. I hope you fall in love with the show, along with Ruth Etting, as much as I did. Plus do not forget to check back for future digitization installments of my 78 collection.