This month’s Atlantic magazine carries an article about Lorenz (Larry) Hart, the lyricist who wrote with composer Richard Rodgers until his untimely death at 48 in 1943. Between 1919 and 1943 the duo wrote 28 Broadway musicals, some still performed today. Rodgers teamed up next with Oscar Hammerstein and their first collaboration, OKLAHOMA!, was a great success.
Yet, I wish we’d had more years of those fantastic Hart lyrics. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer that words mean so much to me. I admire someone who has a clever way with them. Even readers who weren’t born until much later have heard of songs like, “The Lady is a Tramp, “My Funny Valentine,” and “Manhattan.”
“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from PAL JOEY begins, “I’m wild again, beguiled again, a simpering, whimpering child again.” One of my favorites is about an ended love affair called “It Never Entered My Mind.” It would help to know the music, but even so I think you can appreciate the words.
Once I laughed when I heard you saying
That I’d be playing
Uneasy in my easy chair
It never entered my mind.
Once you told me I was mistaken
That I’d awaken
With the sun
And order orange juice for one,
It never entered my mind
Most songs written at the time were a collaboration. A composer wrote the music and a poet wrote the words. Lorenz Hart was such a poet. But music changed. The popularity of the Beatles made every young man a guitarist who wanted to write his own songs. Not just music, but words too. And because he wasn’t a poet we were subjected to lyrics with a mind-numbing repetition of “baby, baby, baby.”
Next week I’ll be appearing in a musical produced by the local Performing Arts Club, singing a song by a more modern Broadway lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the words to Leonard Bernstein’s music for WEST SIDE STORY. Sondheim later began to write music as well as lyrics for his shows. COMPANY is my favorite, and, I think the best. Here’s a sample of the lyrics from “The Little Things You Do Together.”
It’s the little things you share together,
that make marriage a joy
The concerts you enjoy together,
neighbors you annoy together,
children you destroy together
that keep marriage intact.
There’s lots more similar to that, ending with:
“It’s things like using force together.
Shouting till you’re hoarse together,
Getting a divorce together
That make perfect relationships.”
Remembering all those different ideas - and singing them at a faster-than-usual pace - is challenging, but I love it.
Writing is a lonely occupation and, although I won’t stop doing it, every once in a while I need to interact with other people. Being in the company of singers, dancers and actors is like joining a happy family working together to achieve something - a night of words and music - for others to enjoy.