HAPPY SONGS FOR DARK TIMES #1 – A Grand Hotel Extravaganza


Sometimes the right slice of music can be a sure fire happy picker upper.

These are dark, soul depressing, body wearying times we live in.  More than once I have been hearing people talk about how they feel sick in their guts, their stomachs clenched since November 2016 or thereabouts.

Sleeplessness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, the actual ailments, whether as metaphor or real symptom, can travel the body (politic), but since I find myself home on the couch today with a very real and lingering stomach discombobulation, I will go with the clenched guts.

How to feel better at least for the moment, when you know the real cure for this ailment will take time and diligence (pepto bismol and rest for my body, voter turn out and defending democracy and rule of law and ethics for the body politic)?

Some turn to alcohol or drugs to blast away the blues.  That may work for a while but the side effects tend to be dire.

Safer may be the right comedic movie or book.  Or a nice walk in just the right environment.  That may take a few hours commitment and certain logistical efforts.

I have found one way to get a quick burst of happy, even if only for a few minutes, one that works without fail even on my often habitually melancholy nature.

There are certain songs, certain pieces of music, when they play I can not help but get happy.  My mood will lift with certainty.  I may even start dancing with glee, regardless of how I felt just the moment before.  It’s like an aural Vitamin B shot.

It just happened again 30 minutes ago when my laptop’s music shuffle played the final track from the soundtrack of Wes Anderson’s movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, originally heard during the conclusion of the film’s end credits:

Traditional Arrangement: Moonlight – Alexandre Desplat



“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is set in the fictional Central/Eastern European country of Zabrowka.  Wes Anderson says “we always thought of this region as being a bit Czech, a bit Hungarian, a bit Polish, a bit Russian, a bit German — and also a little bit 1930’s movie-studio in Culver City”.  That aesthetic translates into Alexandre Desplat’s film score, and reaches a most exuberant climax in “Traditional Arrangement: Moonshine”.

It starts with an irresistibly joyous balalaika solo, buoyant, nimble, quick fingered.  Which is soon taken up by a whole ensemble of quick fingered balalaika (and lower string) pluckers.  So far so good and perhaps also so expected.  Sure this puts a smile on most faces but so do many similar pieces of Eastern European party music.

But then with each refrain Desplat, likely at Anderson’s urging, ups the ante in quirky instrumentation and manic performance.  First the balalaika variations get swifter and more dexterous, taking on a loony tunes energy.  Then boisterous whistling leads to a Slavic countdown, and we are really off to the ridiculous races, throwing in male chorus “ahhs” and “da da das”, swooping harp glissandos, whirlwind flutes, bursting brass, and groovy electric organ obligatos urging on the balalaika speed racers.  Hey!

It’s a zany zig zagging Zubrowkian whoop-de-doo unlike anything heard before east or west of the Danube.

And sure to at the very least put a happy grin on my face, if not instill temporary light-headed mania, no matter the mood (mine or the Nation’s).

Hopefully it’ll do the same for you.  I have a few more sure-fire (for me) Happy Tracks to share (this one isn’t even my #1 sure-fire Happy Track, just the one that finally got me to commence the Happy Songs for Dark Times series today).  While Orange Outrages and their Complicit Enablers and Co-Conspirators assault our planet and inner (and outer) peace, the right happy music now and then won’t be the answer that solves our problems, but possibly the perky picker upper that gleefully gooses us at just the right moments.

So we can manage the long haul.




About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 40 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
This entry was posted in Cinema Scope, Melodies Linger On, Notes in the News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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