Breaking WIP News: We Have a Title

A couple weeks ago, I posted on the importance of selecting a good title for your work. Here’s what I said then, in part:

I’ve struggled for years, off and on, with the title of the WIP. When I tell you I’ve been calling it Grail, I know that instantly summons up certain… certain somethings in your head. Those somethings may or may not in fact apply to my story…

So no, it’s not going to be Grail in the long run. I don’t know what it’s going to be.

Well, I think I’ve found what I was looking for. Below, the story behind the new (and, I think, forever) title.

First, because most of the most important characters in the book are of the WW2 generation, I’d been hoping (and hoping, and hoping) to find a gem of a title buried somewhere in the lyrics of a Big Band-era song.

Trouble was, none of the songs I looked at or listened to — no specific phrases within their lyrics — quite, to my mind, summoned up the myriad senses which I associate with my story. Further, I didn’t want to just grab a phrase from a random passage, pulling it out of its context within the song. For instance, although there is some romance in the book, it’s not a love story — it’s not about a romance, really. Which meant pretty much that I didn’t want to consider any love songs, of either the ballad-ish or the perkier varieties.

I also, well, this is harder to explain, but I wanted something a little… odd. Quirky. Not likely to be confused with the title of another book.

That’s when I stumbled upon a song called “Seems to Fit,” by a songwriter named Tulley Leeson (sometimes misspelled “Leason”).

Actually, it’s just a part of a song, a fragment – apparently two refrains, or perhaps variations of the same refrain or chorus. They look like this:

Seems to Fit
words and music by T. Leeson
(© 1942 estate of Tulley Leeson)

[…]
Nothin’ round here’s what it used to be
Oh everything darlin’ is news to me
‘Cause everything seems to fit
[…]
Everything’s never what it seems to be
Nothing’s never ever what it needs to be
Yeah everything’s never what it seems to be
‘Cause everything seems to fit.

Here’s what I was able to learn of this song (if you know anything more, whoever you are, please let me know, too!):

Leeson worked on the song starting sometime in June, 1942, and apparently finished it by sometime in the fall. A month or two later, he met a lounge singer, a young woman named Goody Goodelle. There’s a suggestion that the two had some sort of “relationship,” as the term goes. But in any event, Goodelle liked it (or Leeson) well enough that she offered to to break it in for him — give it sort of a trial run, before a paying audience.

So saying, she brought Leeson’s songsheet to her nightclub performance of November 28, 1942, at the Cocoanut Grove in Boston.

Now, if you know your disaster history like a good little information sponge of the early 21st century USA, you may already recognize, sort of, what happened next. On that night, close to 1000 patrons were crowding the Grove — built for fewer than 500. A little after 10pm, in the middle of Goodelle’s set, a fire broke out, causing a panic and ultimately resulting in nearly 500 deaths.

Leeson himself was in the club at the time, seated in the Melody Lounge in the basement where Goodelle was performing. He occupied a table with a group of three people — two women and a man — with whom he shared the information that Goodelle was going to introduce his new song. (One of the women survived, and it is by her account that we know this much; the man died; the second woman either fled and was never tracked down, or she was among the fatalities never identified.)

Leeson himself died in a hospital of burns and smoke inhalation two days after the fire.

The songsheet meant to be used at the Cocoanut Grove by Goodelle (who survived, by the way) didn’t make it through the fire; the two verses/refrains in the above fragment were found written on a napkin among Leeson’s personal effects, in his room in the hotel where he was staying while in Boston.

Years later, with the permission of Leeson’s family, trumpeter/singer/bandleader Louis Prima once attempted to complete the lyrics and set them to music (in a characteristically raucous Prima tune). The only evidence we have of this is in an unreleased tape recording of a portion of the song, as performed by Prima and his band onstage in 1955 at The Sahara in Las Vegas.

With that, the song probably would have been completely lost if it weren’t for a jazz historian and critic named Robert G. Ehling. In his 1970 book, Lost Voices: One-Hit and No-Hit Wonders of the Big Band Era, Ehling says of the surviving lyrics:

[They] suggest a complex story/song, the meaning of which seems to mirror and comment on the more personal situation which the words apparently describe. “Because everything seems to fit,” says the songwriter, everything is not quite what it appears to be and indeed, not what the narrator expects, let alone what he needs. But why, if it all fits together, should it be anything other than what it seems? Is something wrong with the situation, or is everything right with it? What, finally, is true — and what, false?

Well, I’ll tell ya: I was completely hooked by this whole story. I love the enigma, see. I love the suggestion that the world is — or seems to be — completely backwards, that what the world says (or seems to say) is not what it means. I love that since Draft #1 of what I’ve been calling Grail, over 15 years ago, the one-time fiancée of one of my main characters died in the Cocoanut Grove fire.

So this is it, I think: Seems to Fit.

[And, secretly, just between you and me, I really love this story for one more reason.]

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Comments

  1. You rascal, you.

    Love it.

  2. Jules: One of my sisters fancies herself the incarnation of that Native American personality known as The Trickster (usually appearing as a coyote). I may have gotten a little of that blood in me, too. :)

  3. ha-ha-ha! You tricky writer you.

    That’s great. The story and the title–however you came by them.

    This also played nicely against my long standing irrational fear that I’ll die days before finding success. Oh the laughter of relief.

    just fyi–the recaptcha: buttery Ladue

  4. The really funny thing is, I can hear the clarinets doodle-doodle-doodle in the refrain part of this song, the muted trumpets blurting their staccato and the swish of the drum brushes as counter-point to this song…the way it was on the radio in the living room in the haze of blue smoke!

    It seems to fit.

  5. marta: “Laughter of relief” — is that what they mean by the term schadenfreude? Like, appreciating someone else’s agony because it’s not yours? :)

    oh, cynth — I knew you’d connect with it! Actually, I myself don’t hear a clarinet, although you bet there’s a solid drumbeat there. And the singer’s voice I’m hearing is something like June Allyson’s, for some reason. Wish I knew what Goody Goodelle’s voice sounded like!

  6. *APPLAUSE* what I love is the idea someone, somewhere researching the genesis of the bestselling novel ‘Seems to Fit’ might just find this gem of a blog post whereas all the other researchers take the word of mouth tale to be true … bravo John.

  7. Kate: Ha! I did consider that at some point I might remove the link from the last sentence. :)

    But naaaah. If for no other reason, I’d hate to see the information about appearing in a Wikipedia article about the fire, or Goody Goodelle, or Louis Prima, or… or… or…

  8. You should be given an honorary membership in The Liars Club. Mr. Twain himself would surely have been impressed by your recent sneakiness. Bravo and congrads on finding your title!

  9. Son: Hey, how you doin’???

    But really: Liars Club? I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about!

Trackbacks

  1. […] to tell you about a sort of breakthrough I had last week, in working on Seems to Fit. (That’s the WIP’s new title — coming up with a final (?) title not the breakthrough I speak of now, although it was a […]

  2. […] resources) which I’d encountered. For background, you may recall from a couple months ago my announcement that I finally had a real title for the work in progress. I got the title from a 1942 song, Seems […]

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