I’ve thought of this song from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” while marveling at the shimmering sight of a yellow full moon reflected in the Hudson River where it widens at the Tappan Zee. I’ve thought of it while driving along a New Jersey highway with a half moon hanging low in the west like a beacon. I’ve thought of it while sitting alongside a New England pond when the moonbeam on the water looked like the great white way to heaven. Tonight there’s the thin crescent of moon and I’m just thinking about it…and feeling it…and wondering…where exactly is the Moon River?
Yes, I’m sentimental. For instance, I just heard Bruce Springsteen’s “Independence Day,” in which a son is telling his father that he’s leaving home, that it’s the only way to end their constant quarrels, that maybe the problem is that they’re too different from each other — and too much alike.
So I found myself getting a little teary as I listened, thinking that I hope my son and I never part ways like the father and son in that song. Well, that’s not too bad, right? I mean, we’re talking about a powerful, emotional song by Bruce Springsteen.
But what about getting a little choked up every I watch the ending of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when everyone brings George all that money and his hero brother even flies home through a blizzard? What about getting a little choked up when Ralph sells his bowling ball to buy Alice a present and the finds out that Alice has been secretly working to earn money to buy Ralph a new bowling bag?
My problem may be genetic. I can remember sitting with my mother watching an old movie on TV, I think when I was in high school, and the two of us sat sniffling as we watched the old Greer Garson tearjerker, “Stella Dallas.” And the other day, as I scanned the channels on my Sirius/XM radio receiver, what did I encounter but “Moon River,” performed by Mantovani and his orchestra! My father loved that sappy but beautiful song, and he owned the “Moon River” record albums by Mantovani and by Andy Williams.
An aside: I have a bootleg recording of an early 1990s Dylan concert in which he announces that his next song’s dedicated to a friend who just died: the song Dylan sang was “Moon River” and the departed friend was the great bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan.
So I’m a sentimental fool, just like my father, and that song “Moon River” still resonates so much in my mind that my novel “Half Moon” ends with the narrator’s parents standing on a hilltop, and a half-moon rising, and a single moonbeam shining down like a spotlight as the young couple dances to the strains of “Moon River.”
Another aside: There are two famous songs with mysterious references I’ve never been able to figure out.
I’ve asked people, I’ve researched, I’ve Googled. but I’ve never found the meaning of the phrase “buckdancer’s choice,” which is from my favorite “Grateful Dead” song “Uncle John’s Band.” A buck dance may be synonymous with buck-and-wing, which is type of solo tap dancing associated with the South. But what’s a buckdancer’s choice?
And the other mystery is the meaning of the phrase from “Moon River,” in which the singer addresses “my huckleberry friend.” Is it a reference to actual berries? I think there’s really a berry called the huckleberry, right? Is it a reference to the novel “Huckleberry Finn?” Is it a reference to Huckleberry Hound?
I’ve read a few suggestions that the Moon River in the song may refer to the Mississippi River, that the song’s singer may actually be Huck’s friend loyal companion Jim, that the phrase “huckleberry friend” may actually refer to Huck Finn’s simple, dreamy view of life, while the whole song expresses the slave Jim’s dreams of escape and freedom.
I personally think this is incredible nonsense — amusing, but nonsense nevertheless. We’re talking about a song written by Johnny Mercer for the film version of Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and I’d say it’s a durned fer stretch to connect Jim and Huck via “Moon River” to a movie starring the elegant Audrey Hepburn. In fact, it’s enough to make a body ashamed of the whole human race.
But, my huckleberry friends, it doesn’t really matter what it’s supposed to mean. What matters is what it means to me, when I hear “Moon River,” and I can still see and hear my father singing along as his Mantovani album spins on the turntable of his beloved hi-fi record player.