The column on Paris showed how easy it was for songs to pick up on the common stereotypes of such a city. Perhaps the only other city that rivals Paris for that, at least in Europe, is Venice, a place with a resident population of around 60,000 but visited by some 20 million every year. Most will bring with them a collection of expectations of what to see gleaned from postcards, TV, films, songs: the canals and gondolas, the churches and cathedrals, the Bridge of Sighs. Some even get what they want from a distance. At The Venetian in Las Vegas, visitors can experience the wonders of Venice without the hassle of actually going there. As its publicity blurb puts it, ‘ Escape the hustle and bustle of the Las Vegas Strip with a relaxing gondola ride at the Venetian. From the soothing sound of water lapping the sides of the gondola to the eloquent singing of the gondoliers, passengers will feel as if they have truly been transported to Italy...Surrounded by a ceiling emulating blue sky as well as architecture inspired by Venice landmarks, a gondola trip down the Grand Canal delivers a unique Vegas experience’
Equally, pop songs about Venice have often tended to the O Sole Mio to It’s Now Or Never to Just One Cornetto end of music, redolent of operatic gondoliers proffering an ice-cream to the sound of rippling strings .Like Connie Francis’s Summertime in Venice (‘I dream all the winter long of mandolins that play our song’) or Perry Como’s Mandolins in the Moonlight (‘in tune with the strings of my heart’). Or the string-laden pathos of Charles Aznavour’ s How Sad Venice Can Be (‘When the mandolins play a song she sung for me, One unforgotten day’).They certainly like their mandolins there. A bit of an exception lyric-wise was Steve Harley’s Rain in Venice, though his assertion that ‘Love has flooded my heart, there’s rain in Venice for the first time’ is not really true. It rains in Venice quite a lot. When I was there one July there was such a sudden torrential downpour it caused the waiters to come racing out of the cafes and restaurants to grab tables, chairs and canopies before they were swept away into the canals.
The song here, And If Venice Is Sinking, recorded by the Canadian group Spirit of the West in 1993, is very much a tourist view of Venice and was written by the group’s singer, John Mann, after his honeymoon there. (The laugh that can be heard during the lines about Marini’s Little Man is apparently from his wife, the actress Jill Baum, joining in the backing singing). Musically it is a joyous celebration of the city from someone – like many of the annual visitors - who has fallen in love with it and is willing to go down with it like a ship if it eventually sinks into its own lagoons.: a possible reality that has troubled the city for years. There is the sound of the accordion and mandolin as might be expected but also a tuba and a rollicking sing- along chorus that veers between a Celtic folk dance and a German polka.
Lyrically, it takes a rather different slant from the usual one of serenading gondoliers. Instead, it captures another side of Venice that many visitors take away memories of. As you go about by foot or boat, there is a constant sense of religion and ornate and crumbling history, not just from the grand architecture of buildings such as the Basilica di Santa Maria but from the icons, candles, statuettes, window boxes of flowers seen down every alleyway or canal side. In a different musical context, some of the imagery in the words –‘they come in bent backed,, creeping across the floor all dressed in black... come to kiss their dead’ – could seem darker, drawing the listener into the shadowy and eerie Venice of the film Dont Look Now. Here, they seem the recollections of a visitor to Venice awestruck, christened with wonder, by what he sees. Equally, the Marino Marini priapic Little Rider sculpture that caused the merriment on Mann’s honeymoon is at one of the museums and art galleries - the Guggenheim Museum on the Grand Canal- that is firmly on the tourist trail.
Venice is a strange place that seems to exist in its own world, with its own special light and sky. It can, at times, seem as though you have wandered into a Canaletto painting. You can look from the top of the Campanile at the people and pigeons in the mosaic square below and know that millions of others have shared the same view - yet that and all the sights down the alleys and canals seem somehow a unique experience. Thomas Mann once described Venice as ‘half fairy tale and half tourist trap’. Somehow the fairy tale part becomes the reality and the one you take away with you.
Link to song