Well, I’m on his way. Instead of Going Hollywood, where the WGA strike is beginning to make itself felt, I am listening all this week to the BBC, taking in drama, music, and talk. Late to catch up, I started on The Bing Crosby Trail, a six week tour whose first installment took me on a road to California, New York City, and Spokane, where listeners get to meet the daughter, the widow, and many of the contemporaries of the man known as Bing.
With The Bing Crosby Trail, producer and host Michael Freedland, a prolific biographer (whose audio portrait “Danny Kaye: UNICEF’s Jester” is available online until 12 November), attempts a departure from the traditional approach to telling a life story: “This is not just another biographical series,” Freedland insists in his introduction. “You could say it is more in the way of geography than history.” He also issues a “warning” to those about to follow him:
No obvious star names on the roster here. No sycophantic interviews with actors or other singers who, in Bing’s lifetime, called him great to his face and whispered other things behind his back.
Instead, Freedland has been traveling around the US, “talking to people whose life Bing touched.” Not that those he interviews are nobodies: Buddy Bregman (“Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings”), veteran Paramount producer A.C. Lyles, and historian Ken Barnes (who produced the CD box set “Swingin’ With Bing”) have all gone on Freedland’s record.
“My life is like an open book,” Bing is heard singing (lines from his “That’s What Life Is All About”); and the man with the microphone who is out to capture that life is taking Bing by his word. Not content to “glance back through the pages” of printed volumes, he tries to pick up bits and pieces that perhaps never made it into any biography. Sounds good to me.
And yet, the cross-country Crosby Trail gets lost on a Road to Utopia, an ambition that must remain a dream. Freedland has gone out of his way to come away with comparatively little. The tour is not off to a promising start. We are take on a “winding mountain road above Malibu” to hear Mary Crosby sharing the insight that her father enjoyed playing golf and liked to whistle a lot. Does one really have to travel way out west for such a soundbite?
A subsequent inspection of Bing’s statue at Gonzaga University in Spokane and a tour of the Student Center housing the Crosby Museum are altogether misguided in their visual-mindedness. I’d rather be listening to Bing whistle than being given this runaround, blindfolded. At times so glossy as to make me cross, the Crosby Trail is a gross betrayal of the medium.