“This song is dedicated to a friend who suffers terribly from hangovers. It’s very sad and we must be very quiet, please…”
Ladies and Gentleman, it is time once again to revisit that late great dynamic lady of song, Madame Spivy LeVoe (1906-1971), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he had been born in Brooklyn as Bertha Levine.”
In case you missed them, these are our previous Madame Spivy posts:
The Alley Cat
100% American Girls
A Tropical Fish
I Brought Culture to Buffalo In The 90’s
In the Spring/Summer of 2020 with the pandemic in full swing, cabaret performer extraordinaire Justin Vivian Bond was livestreaming weekly shows from The House of Whimsy, aka their home in upstate New York. Imagine my delight when Mx. Viv covered Mme. Spivy’s “I Didn’t Do A Thing Last Night” – one of my favorite of her recordings.
As with “Auntie’s Face“, Spivy uses her familiar spoken intro for “I Didn’t Do A Thing Last Night”: A solemn pronouncement that “This is VERY sad and we must be VERY quiet, please.” One can imagine that it was a playful way to get the attention of a noisy nightclub audience.
Spivy wrote the song with John La Touche providing the lyrics. Today, La Touche is best remembered for his Broadway musical The Golden Apple and for his lyrical contributions to Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. He also collaborated with Duke Ellington on the musicals Cabin In The Sky & Beggar’s Holiday.
Spivy and LaTouche met in the mid-1930’s and had a tumultuous lifelong friendship. At one point Spivy paid him fifty dollars a week to supply her with songs. During one falling out in 1938, LaTouche referred to her as his “enemy.” “Poor Spivy,” he wrote, “hysterical, glandular, ugly, charming, and so talented.” After another disagreement later that year, he wrote to her; “I’m sorry; you can hardly afford to lose a staunch friend and neither can I. But both of us are always doing things we can’t afford.”
Of the 15 songs Spivy is known to have recorded, 5 of them were written or co-written by LaTouche: One was a solo credit, two were written with Spivy herself, and two were in collaboration with Goetz Eyck, a German-born musician who would go on to a film career as Peter van Eyck.
One LaTouche composition that Spivy did not preserve on record was a highlight of her live performances: “I’m Going On A Binge With A Dinge.” She often concluded her set with this racy little tune detailing a biracial protagonist going uptown for a tryst. “White people / Don’t be offended … ” the song begins. Other lyrics: “Gonna end up in Harlem / With my end up in Harlem”
Unfortunately, LaTouche’s work for and with Mme. Spivy has generally been forgotten or dismissed. In Howard Pollack’s 2017 biography The Ballad Of John LaTouche, the author spends several pages analyzing the lyrics and structure of these compositions before concluding that “the literary attractions of these songs, heavy on irony, outweigh their musical interests.”
Is that so?
Like Spivy, LaTouche was a heavy drinker, which ultimately led to both of their premature passings. He was just 41 years old when he died of a heart attack at his home in Calais, Vermont in 1956. Spivy was 64 years old when she died in January, 1971.
I Didn’t Do A Thing Last Night
Doctor dear, come over with a stretcher – I’ve never in my life felt quite so rotten.
My brain has snapped in two and my face is turning blue,
and everything I eat tastes just like cotton.
Oh yes I did everything you told me – I practically never left my room.
I observed your special diet, had lots of peace and quiet.
So why do I feel like something in Grant’s Tomb?
Lord knows why I don’t feel well – I didn’t do a thing last night.
I had a few friends in to play bridge with me,
And I sipped a little gin, just to keep them company.
Then a pal of mine named Rhoda came in with such a crew,
I gave them scotch and soda and I had a teeny one, too.
Then Vero P.T. Roth brought me some chicken broth,
which is insipid, doctor, don’t you think?
So someone in the party added a soupçon of Bacardi
it really makes a very nourishing drink.
At nine my cousin Andy made such insulting cracks,
that I had a little brandy just to help me to relax.
He tried to grab the bottle and dragged me out of bed.
When I saw that it was empty, I broke it on his head.
He’s still lying on the carpet and my maid insists he’s dead.
Oh doctor dear, why do I feel queer?
I didn’t do a thing last night.
At ten, Princess O’Ravivovich said; “Today is Pushkin’s birthday.”
So I had a little Slivovitz just to help her celebrate.
Then that fool Tessie Zackary upset my Dubonnet,
so they shook me up a daquiri to chase my blues away.
Those pills of yours were dry, so I washed them down with rye,
And I thought some exercise might help me rest.
I dashed down the avenue ’til somebody yelled “Woo!”
Good heavens – I’d forgotten to get dressed!
By then I felt so dizzy, to tell the honest truth,
They made me something fizzy out of vodka and vermouth.
At one, Rear Admiral Nipper, the old man of the sea,
arrived with his battalion, they had to sail at three.
But doctor, I just noticed: They’re still in bed with me!
It’s all so mad and I feel so bad,
and I didn’t do a thing last night.
At five, my old friend Tony said that doctors were baloney.
He said “Yoga exercises cured all pain.”
Doctor dear, I was a wreck with my legs around my neck,
and it took four hours to get them down again.
They sent for rubbing alcohol to rub away the aches,
but they couldn’t find the stuff at all – I’d drunk it by mistake.
Oh yes, I slept just like a baby, ’til I woke up right now.
No, the drinks did not affect me, I’m as flaccid as a cow.
Except I have a tendency to suddenly go “WOW!”
Why in hell don’t I feel well? I didn’t do a thing last night!
John La Touche songs recorded by Spivy
Fool In the Moonlight (music: Goetz Eyck)
I Didn’t Do A Thing Last Night (music: Spivy)
I Love Town (music: Goetz Eyck)
Last of the Fleur De Levy
Surrealist (music: Spivy)
Unrecorded La Touche songs performed by Spivy
I’m Going On A Binge With A Dinge