Yes, that’s right: not “Idol Dreams” as it has occasionally appeared in print and on Gershwin’s own piano roll. “Idle Dreams” tells the story of a young Chinese man who smokes his pipe and imagines his lovely jade idol coming to life. Culturally sensitive? Well, not very. Musically evocative and harmonically complex? Certainly.
On stage, Lloyd Garrett sang the song, and Ann Pennington danced as the animated idol. It was the biggest hit of the show, but not a Gershwin standard by any means. Maybe that’s because the whole basis of the song is the play on words “idle” and “idol”. Without that, this song may have never had a reason to exist. It is best known as a song that Gershwin chose to record to a player piano roll. Check it out on YouTube or a shop near you where player piano rolls are sold.
Download fake-book style sheet music of “Idle Dreams” here: Idle Dreams
Lyrics for “Idle Dreams” by Arthur Jackson
Beside an idol carved of stone,
a China boy sits all alone.
And as his pipe burns, the boy yearns
to make her his own.
With all the reverence of a prayer
he calls unto his idol fair.
Come, my China maid,
I call you from your throne of jade.
Dreaming here I’m sure
I see the pure
in your almond eyes.
But when my pipe burns low,
you vanish, then I wake and I know
my dreaming of my idol is but an idle dream.