Shame That Tuned!

Abraham Levitan performing at the Third Coast Festival awards ceremony in 2010.

3:02

Have you ever seen Shame That Tune, the musical game show that happens every month at The Hideout?

Three participants read embarrassing stories about their lives. Then, host Brian Costello interviews them for a few minutes. By that time, pianist Abraham Levitan has composed a song based on their story, in a musical genre determined by spinning a musical Wheel of Fortune. (When I went, options included “Good Aerosmith,” “Bad Aerosmith,” and “Muppets.”)

Let me tell you – Abraham Levitan makes this show. He is so talented, so quick and so funny! Seeing him perform in Shame That Tune, one feels the pleasure of recognition, watching him weave little details from each story into the song; delight, in his ability to mimic almost any musical style; and amazement that he has done it all SO FAST.

So imagine my delight and amazement when I learned recently that, unbeknownst to me, I had been Shame That Tuned! Well, sort of.

I’m embarrassed I didn’t know this sooner, but here’s what I learned: The lovely ladies of the Third Coast International Audio Festival’s program Re:Sound will, on occasion, commission Abraham to write and record a song based on the radio pieces they present in that week’s episode. And they had commissioned Abraham to write a song for their episode called The Lost Show, which features my story Ghosts of Gary.

I heard a rebroadcast of the show when I was driving home from somewhere a few weeks ago. It’s always fun to turn on the radio and hear your own story pop up (never gets old for me, actually) but I was totally surprised and enthralled when I heard Abraham’s song.

Along with my story about the abandoned Palace Movie Theater in Gary, Ind., the show features stories about Hopi teenagers struggling not to lose their language; an episode of Nate DiMeo’s excellent podcast The Memory Palace about two sisters who discover they can speak to the dead, and a story about a nursing home for actors. From that Abraham wrote a song, which to my ears sounds like a waltz, called We Were Beautiful When We Were Young:

May you die in Act five, Scene three
May your kids learn the native tongue
My sister and me haunt the streets of Gary
We were beautiful when we were young

Me and my sister, we talk to the dead
We find out exactly how Sam Beckett read
We break into the Palace
Where performing live
It’s the ghosts of the Jackson Five

When our dead brothers come back we’ll all form a line
If we can speak their language they’ll let us off fine
But just when they’ll appear, don’t nobody know
It’s like waiting for Godot

May you die in Act five, Scene three
May your kids learn the native tongue
My sister and me haunt the streets of Gary
We were beautiful when we were young

I fell asleep in the lobby
And didn’t get home until four
Dance my dreams with Dillinger’s ghost
Man, my mother was so, oh…

So I died in Act three
So my kids never learned my tongue
My sister and me haunt the streets of Gary
We were beautiful when we were young
We were beautiful when we were young

The audio is above. Please listen to it! Aside from the novelty factor, it’s really very haunting and beautiful, with Abraham’s plaintive vocals and the resonant sounds of the organ. I also love all of his little touches, like the eerie “ABC…1-2-3…” after the verse about the ghosts of the Jackson Five.

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