17 June 2013

Charles Marawood: Marlene Dietrich's "Boomerang" Baby

Charles Marawood wrote the two songs from “the room of the boomerang” in Marlene’s concert repertoire: her pseudo-rock foray, “Boomerang Baby” and  the haunting anti-war ballad (one of several in Dietrich’s arsenal), “White Grass”.

Born in Sydney in the 1920s, Marawood spent World War II as a member of the AIF; after the war he enrolled at the Sydney Conservatorium to study composition and harmony. He wrote a musical play in the early 1950s but was unable to secure a London production of it. Back in Australia, he continued to write and perform his own songs, also writing for other singers.

He briefly gained recognition in 1965 – around the time of Marlene’s first Australian concert tour – when he supplied all the music for an Aussie music TV series, Boomeride  (which featured both “Boomerang Baby” and White Grass”; a young Olivia Newton-John was one of the performers on the show).

["Boomeride" soundtrack performances of "White Grass" (vocals by Doug Kennedy, above) and "Boomerang Baby" (vocals by Tony Cole, below)]

While Marlene was performing  in Melbourne that year, Marawood auditioned her some of his songs.

Among them was “White Grass” which she thought a “very, very tragic song against war”, finding its theme of a returning soldier “quite a new angle”:   “I was fascinated with the song when he brought it to me because I’m always trying to look for songs that have a meaning, and since “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” I have never found anything quite like it.”

[Marlene sings "White Grass" ...]

Its antithesis was “Boomerang Baby” -- “a very gay song”.

[... and "Boomerang Baby"]

She decided to include both in her programme. Marawood accompanied Marlene to Sydney, her next stop on the tour, to polish the lyrics. She planned to record both songs in London; this seems not to have happened, although her interpretations are preserved on both her 1968 and 1972 TV specials.

According to Dietrich, they kept in touch. Other Marawood  songs popped up in some  Australian movies and TV series during the 1970s. One producer who worked with him during this time called him “a real eccentric ... he wore way-out clothes, capes and things like that, and his house was crammed full of amazing stuff” and found his music “great. He was very talented, but I don’t think he ever got the recognition he deserved.”

[Composer Charles Marawood sings his own song, "Aussie" (1965)]

When New Zealand singer Jennifer Ward-Lealand included “White Grass” in a 2007 tribute to Dietrich, she had to track down Marawood’s widow to obtain the necessary permissions to record the song.

[More information about Charles Marrawood and the "Boomeride" TV show is available here and here; a needledrop of its  LP soundtrack has been posted here; the photo of Charles Marawood is from this 1965 article in "The Age".]

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