Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sun 5 Feb 06 13:23
>>>In addition, the great Broadway songs for Black performers, written in minor keys, all drew on the Jewish tradition as well<<< As <richwol> points out a bit later, these songs worked for jazz performers because the minor keys they were written in were ideal platforms for bluesy improvisations. That's one reason why the 32-bar, AABA standards were so beloved by jazz musicians. I think it's a happy coincidence that the minor-key shtetl songs complemented, in their way, the work songs, spirituals and African chants that grew into the blues. The bluesier 32-bar standards, especially those written by Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, were more favored by jazz musicians than some of Berlin's work (as proven by the fact that the Gershwin, Ellington, and Waller-written standards were recorded far more often by jazz musicians than Berlin-written standards), but the Berlin songs could be good for improvising, too, in the right musician's hands. As a result, I'd argue that as well known to the general American public as some of Berlin's songs are, many of Gershwin's are just as well known. Hell, the chord changes for just "I Got Rhythm" comprise a veritable cottage industry of their own.
Richard Wolinsky (richwol) Mon 6 Feb 06 12:19
<< I'd argue that as well known to the general American public as some of Berlin's songs are, many of Gershwin's are just as well known. >> I'm not sure if I agree with that. There's "I Got Rhythm" to be sure, and themes from George Gershwin's orchestral pieces, and probably "Summertime" as well ---- but once you get past that, to songs like "The Man I Love" or "They Can't Take That Away from Me" or "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" or even "Swanee", you don't have the public awareness of "Easter Parade," "White Christmas," "There's No Business Like Show Business", "Happy Holidays," or most importantly "God Bless America." As David Leopold points out in post #31, not even Stephen Foster (or, I would add, George M. Cohan) has a list like this. There are lots of standards in the Gershwin canon to be sure, but this list stands out.
Gary Lambert (almanac) Mon 6 Feb 06 13:00
Well, Berlin outlived Gershwin by what, 63 years? So it's not surprising that his list of standards would be longer. I don't really think "Easter Parade" or "Happy Holidays" are in the same league of current-day recognizability as the other Berlin titles mentioned above, and are probably less well-known than the Gershwin songs cited. Aside from the handful of Berlin songs that are famous less for their artistic quality than for their association with extra-musical elements like holidays and patriotic fervor in time of war, I think the best of Gershwin matches up quite favorably song-for-song with the best of Berlin in terms of enduring public identification and affection (and I would add without hesitation to the above list "Someone to Watch Over Me," "S'wonderful," "Love Is Here To Stay," "A Foggy Day" and several others. I say all this, BTW, as a huge fan of Berlin.
Richard Wolinsky (richwol) Mon 6 Feb 06 13:06
slip. Gary and I had similar thoughts about my earlier post. I also left out Gershwin standards like "s'Wonderful" and "Embraceable You." It would take too long to count and there are too many variables to even try, but I'd wager that there are more Gershwin songs in the American standards book than Berlin songs (or at the least, given the shorter amount of time George was alive, a greater percentage of Gershwin songs than Berlin songs are in the standards book). But that list (God Bless America, White Christmas, No Business Like Show Business, et al) is really unique. I would not include "I Can Do Anything" to that list, by the way: it's just a well-known Broadway song and equal to probably a dozen Gershwin songs in fame. I do think George Gershwin was a greater composer, and Ira Gershwin a greater lyricist, than the combined talents of Irving Berlin's, and I'd place their catalogue well above Berlin's (individual songs notwithstanding), but Berlin's musical iconography is matchless, I think. David L., I'm curious though, what your thoughts on that would be.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 6 Feb 06 13:32
<almanac> makes a good point that some of Berlin's songs are well-known because of very specific associations, his best-known among them ("White Christmas," "God Bless America"). By contrast, only Broadway historians and enthusiasts remember the names of most of the shows the Gershwins wrote their great material for; the songs have far outlasted any specific association. ("Porgy and Bess" is the obvious exception.) Inspired by the discussion here, the other day I pulled down one of my prize possessions from the CD shelf, the big box set issued a few years ago of Ella Fitzgerald's recordings of virtually all the standards. These are the mostly-Nelson Riddle-arranged records she made for Verve in the '50s, with separate albums devoted to individual composers, the "Song Book" series. These records rank among the greatest recordings of American music ever made, I think. Anyway, I listened to the Berlin album, the Harold Arlen album, the Cole Porter album, and a couple of the Gershwin albums (there are three of those) -- not the whole box set, but a pretty good selection. The Gershwin albums are sentimental favorites of mine for many reasons, some having to do with my late mother, but what struck me the other day is that the album that really stuck out as fantastic from beginning to end was the Arlen. I've listened to all of the "Song Book" music many times before. Yet never before had the album of Arlen songs struck me as part of the very cream of the set, but it did this time around. "Stormy Weather," "I've Gotta Right to Sing the Blues," "Let's Fall in Love," "That Old Black Magic," "It's Only a Paper Moon," "Blues in the Night," "Get Happy," "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," and, oh by the way, "Over the Rainbow" -- just mind-bogglingly great stuff. Musicians haven't overlooked Arlen, of course, but I think anyone who recognizes Cole Porter's name or Irving Berlin's name but not Harold Arlen's is really missing something.
Richard Wolinsky (richwol) Mon 6 Feb 06 14:31
From Steven Suskind's book "Show Tunes," which may be the definitive research work on Broadway composers: "If I were to have to list my favorite twenty songs, they would include a couple by Kern, a couple by Gershwin, and five or six by Harold Arlen. Many music lovers place Gershwin and Arlen at the top of the list of American songwriters. Gershwin led the way, certainly, scattering delightful surprises (blue notes, catchy rhythms, musical whimsy) throughout his work. Arlen used these same elements, but not for effect: to Arlen they were a natural part of his musical vocabulary. Gershwin's fascinatin' rhythms were carefully built and marvelously effective. Arlen's --- Get Happy for example --- were infectious and light as air. Gershwin's blues relied on that distinctive blue note, as in the superb The Man I Love. Arlen's blues --- Stormy Weather, Blues in the Night --- relied on nothing but his limitless imagination. The music of Harold Arlen remains ageless, the songs filled with never-ending wonder."
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 6 Feb 06 15:02
I agree with everything in that 'graph, save perhaps the numbers of songs assigned to the favorite composers in the first sentence.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 8 Feb 06 12:12
It's amazing how fast two weeks have flown by! Thank you so much for joining us here in Inkwell.vue, David, and thanks for so ably leading this conversation, Angie. This has been a rich and fascinating exploration of Berlin and his music. Though we've turned our virtual spotlight to a new interview, this one doesn't have to stop, of course. The topic will remain open and available for further comments indefinitely and you're welcome to keep going as long as you're wish. If you must depart, we thank you for your participation.
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Thu 9 Feb 06 09:16
> Where does Burt Williams fit into all of this? He was a > Black performer who performed in blackface, and he was one > of the Ziegfeld stars. But what I don't know is if he > influenced the Broadway songwriting world as well as the > Vaudeville and Ziegfeld-style revues. It doesn't seem to me that Bert Williams had a lot of influence on Broadway songwriting, but you probably know that the "Mr. Cellophane" number in CHICAGO is based on his "Nobody". My partner saw the concert production of MISS LIBERTY in San Francisco last year. He agrees with you that it's a terrific score and a so-so book. I remember we were speculating how it might work to write a new book around the score; judging from his description, I'd say the book had some big structural problems. > no one bothered to save the outtakes to "The Magnificent > Ambersons" either The story I've heard is that the studio deliberately destroyed them so that Welles would have to give up the fight.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Fri 10 Feb 06 14:21
Well, my mothers death, funeral, and shiva, ended up taking more of me than I had anticipated. Literally hundreds of people attended the funeral and passed through my parents home this week, and while cathartic, it was exhausting. But it seems while I was away there were plenty of good conversation, so let me add my two cents, for what it is worth. In post #51 Steve wrote < The bluesier 32-bar standards, especially those written by Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, were more favored by jazz musicians than some of Berlin's work (as proven by the fact that the Gershwin, Ellington, and Waller-written standards were recorded far more often by jazz musicians than Berlin-written standards), but the Berlin songs could be good for improvising, too, in the right musician's hands. I'd argue that as well known to the general American public as some of Berlin's songs are, many of Gershwin's are just as well known. Hell, the chord changes for just "I Got Rhythm" comprise a veritable cottage industry of their own.> Yes, jazz musicians have favored Gershwin more than Berlin. And Ellington and Waller even more than Gershwin. Yet for a songwriter who wrote virtually no instrumental music, who wrote very concise songs, I think Berlins inclusion in this group speaks volumes. I think I have said it before, his simplicity is putty in the right musicians hands. Some of the songs can really open up. Just the other day I was listening to Djangos version of Ive Got My Love to Keep Me Warm and marveled at where he took it. Popularity is hard thing to judge in anything besides sales and recordings, but my point is that Berlins song are known by a multi-generational audience who know many of the songs almost subconsciously. Those songs really are American folk music. As Richard points out in his following post, I think only a handful of Gershwin songs even approach this, but Ive Got Rhythm is certainly one of them. That said, I am a huge fan of both Gershwins work. Now Garys post (#63) I do agree with somewhat, but how can we leave out some of Berlins work in considering his accomplishments, but not Gershwins? The songs with the extra-musical elements such as Easter Parade and God Bless America were written for Broadway shows. White Christmas was written for a film. The fact that they have something extra was something that Berlin did not plan, nor could he control, (check out post #44 for Berlins reaction to the instant popularity of White Christmas)but it does testify to the songs connection with their audience. The songs took on a life of their own, and what they written for and when, has fallen by the wayside. As for time span, Gershwins death affected Berlin greatly. They were great friends, and Berlins tone poem for Gershwin is a testament to his regard for his younger colleague. When another great American composer, Jerome Kern wrote that Berlin has no place in American music but that Irving Berlin is American music the year was 1925(when Berlin was 37), and almost all the songs that I have mentioned had not been written yet. But what had is astounding: All Alone Always Remember Alexanders Ragtime Band A Pretty Girl is Like A Melody Mandy I Love a Piano Simple Melody Whatll I Do among many others If he had died the same year as Gershwin (1937), Berlin could have added the scores of AS THOUSANDS CHEER FACE THE MUSIC TOP HAT ON THE AVENUE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES OF 1927 And songs like Blue Skies Russian Lullaby Berlins earlier work is a lot jazzier than people give it credit for, and the scores of these works alone give some indication of that. And even lesser known songs like The Piccolino from TOP HAT is a remarkable dance/rhythm tune. I do agree that Gershwin was the greater composer, but Berlin insisted throughout his career that he was songwriter. He wanted to write hits. He wanted his songs to be sung. And as radio and records gained in popularity in the 19209s he lamented that we had become a nation of listeners rather than a nation of singers. The frisson of live performance was terribly important to him and I think almost all of us would agree with him on that. Now Harold Arlen is another incredible contemporary of Berlins, one who Berlin felt did not enough credit for his work. Arlens work is definitely, the blackest of the bunch, and soulful in a way that few songs or songwriters are. I love his music. And one can even make the case that his music for the Wizard of Oz is as well known as anyone mentioned in this discussion. Like all great composers, Arlens work feel like you could not put the notes in any other way, that they seem like low hanging fruit waiting to be picked. Yet he worked as hard as anyone and his music will live as long as any in the American songbook. His score for the Broadway near miss, St. Louis Woman is breathtaking. One can pick at Berlins Broadway work or his film work or his American work, yet if he chosen any one of these fields we would be still be listening to his music (and singing it), the fact that he did so much in all three makes him a to coin a phrase singular sensation. His story tells the story of these genres, and I think, gives a pretty good cultural (at least in a popular context) of his times. My exhibition on his Broadway work will open in New York on February14th at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, after a very successful run of five months in San Francisco at the Performing Arts Library and Museum. Information on that show can be found at http://www.nypl.org/research/calendar/exhib/lpa/lpaexhibdesc.cfm?id=414 You can also get even more info at SFPALM"S site at http://www.sfpalm.org/exhibits/Berlin/Berlin.htm The New York run will feature many additional wonderful artifacts from Berlin's Broadway career and is a chance to see even more of the NYPL's stunning collection. From New York (where it will be on through May 26th) it goes to the McNay Koogler Museum in San Antonio from July through September. And based on the response its been getting, it will probably go on from there. The Hollywood exhibition opens at the James Michener Art Museum in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on May 27th. http://www.michenerartmuseum.org/exhibits/showbiz.php Biased as I am, I would encourage you to check out the book which not only tells the story, but shows it to you as well. Berlin understood the show of show business and his icongraphy is almost as memorable as his music.
Dan Levy (danlevy) Fri 10 Feb 06 19:20
Dave, which events in NYC will you be attending?
David Leopold (dleopold1) Sat 11 Feb 06 03:45
Dan, I'll be at the opening for the NYPL exhibition on Monday evening. I will have John in tow and my father. I'll also be attending (or participating in the special programming connected to the exhibition. Free Public Programs in conjunction with the exhibition at The Bruno Walter Auditorium. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts 40 Lincoln Center Plaza Program Information: 212-642-0142 Tuesday, February 21, 3 pm* A Barbara Cook Master Class: Songs by Irving Berlin Thursday, March 23, 6 pm Lets Go On With The Show! Panel discussion on Irving Berlins Broadway with Russell Nype, Bobbi Baird, Theodore S. Chapin, David Leopold and guests Saturday, April 29, 3 pm Blue Skies: Irving Berlin Hollywood An illustrated talk by David Leopold * Limited seating. Tickets are reguired and will be distributed, one per person, beginning 1 pm that day at the Librarys Plaza Level Information Desk. The program will be simultaneously webcast at http://www.nypl.org/lpaprograms No tickets are used for other events which are first come, first served. On May 30th, there willb e a spcecial Berlin film evening at the Walter Reade Theater of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Dan, if you would like to come on Monday night, let me know, as I am sure John would also like to see you.
gazornblat (dwaite) Sat 11 Feb 06 07:12
anychance this is coming to Chicago anytime soon?
Angie Coiro (coiro) Sat 11 Feb 06 09:51
David, thanks for your marvelous book, and for spending time here with us. Best of luck with the tour - it should be a smash! <dwaite>, I've got info on the tour hitting SF, LA, NY, and DC, but nothing further.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Sun 12 Feb 06 06:49
Thanks Angie. the Broadway exhibition will also be going to San Antonio this summer.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Sun 12 Feb 06 13:57
where in San antonio?
David Leopold (dleopold1) Wed 15 Feb 06 11:52
the exhibition will be at The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, a lovely institution with one of the most remarkable set design collections in the world. You can find out more about the museum at http://www.mcnayart.org And for those interested, we opned the show in New York on Monday night and it looks wonderful. Lots of material formthe book, as well as a nice chunk that I could not fit in but would have loved to if they gave me 500 pages to work with. There are Jo Mielziner designers, Lucinda Ballard costume designs, Al Frueh carciatures, alex Gard drawings, Ben solowey drawings, manuscript scores, sheet music covers, and more than 100 photos. It is worth checking out (biased as I am). Will Friedwald just wrote aobut Berlin in the NY Sun in connection with my book and exhibiton. It is a pretty good piece, although Imight quibble with a few points. Waht do you think? Here is the article. The Man Who Made Them All Dance BY WILL FRIEDWALD February 14, 2006 URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/27510 Once I asked the great lyricist Sammy Cahn about his song "Come Dance With Me," which he wrote at the request of Frank Sinatra. The challenge, he told me, was trying to come up with a song about music or dancing that Irving Berlin hadn't already written. "He has written all the great songs about dancing, has he not?" Sammy said. "He covered all the bases!" Then Sammy began reeling off the titles of some of the most famous songs Berlin had written for Fred Astaire: "Cheek to Cheek," "Let Yourself Go," "You're Easy To Dance With." The Berlin-Astaire connection was strong. They collaborated on six films together, more projects than Astaire did with any other composer or Berlin with any other star. Yet Berlin didn't write songs about dancing because he worked with Astaire - it was the other way around. Astaire wanted to work with Berlin (who was nearing 50 when they began their collaboration) because he had captured the magic of dancing in the words and music of so many of his songs. Indeed, a majority of Berlin's songs were about the sheer joy of music: making it, dancing to it, participating in it. No one understood the power of music better than Berlin: It transformed him from a homeless, penniless immigrant on the streets of the Lower East Side to one of the richest, most famous, and widely respected figures in American culture. All this is wonderfully evident in the new picture book "Irving Berlin's Show Business" (Harry N. Abrams, 250 pages, $40), compiled by David Leopold, who also curated the New York Public Library's new exhibition "Show Business!: Irving Berlin's Broadway," which opens today. From the beginning, Berlin wrote comedy songs and ethnic songs. Long before he mastered the heartfelt, romantic ballad, he practically invented a genre all his own: the party song, the clarion call to have a good time. "Dance of the Grizzly Bear" and "Everybody's Doin' It" were Berlin's first notable songs about dancing. He soon was writing numerous songs about having a ball - in the literal sense - from "The Million Dollar Ball" to "Belle of the Barber's Ball," and even "The Old Maid's Ball." Thirty years later, during World War II, he paraded his support for Franklin Roosevelt with "The President's Birthday Ball." Berlin made his first attempt at a lyric in 1907, when still a singing waiter in Chinatown. In the next few years, he honed his art of writing music (even though he could barely play it) and words, and his songs, notably "That Beautiful Rag" and "Ragtime Violin," were increasingly successful. But it was "Alexander's Ragtime Band," penned in 1911, that put him on the map. A comic strip from that year (reprinted in Mr. Leopold's book) illustrates the song's popularity: A hapless character wakes to find his alarm clock ringing to "Alexander's" syncopated, bugle-call melody; both the fruit-seller on the street and the local ragman hawk their wares to its rhythm; even his parrot demands a cracker to its tempo. As singer-scholar Ian Whitcomb once noted, "Alexander's Ragtime Band" was the "Rock Around the Clock" of its era. For decades, purists attacked Berlin with the charge that "Alexander's Ragtime Band" wasn't real ragtime. It wasn't - no more than his 1920 "Home Again Blues" was a real 12-bar blues or his 1917 "Mr. Jazz Himself" authentic New Orleans jazz. "Alexander" was a song about ragtime: Berlin was the first to capture the energy and spirit of the new music in a popular song. And, even though Scott Joplin and his ilk had been around for nearly 20 years, "Alexander" was the song that officially announced the emergence of the new American popular music born of ragtime, blues, and, soon enough, jazz. Ragtime and "animal dances" like Berlin's grizzly bear were, eventually, denounced by the Vatican. But even before that happened, Berlin satirized his critics by playfully embracing the Satanic side of the music in "At the Devil's Ball" and "Pack Up Your Sins (And Go to the Devil)." In "Play a Simple Melody," Berlin composed two distinct sets of words and music, both using the same chord changes and encouraging a ragtime band to get hot. He then superimposed the two strains on top of each other contrapuntally. When the finished song was performed in Berlin's first Broadway show, "Watch Your Step," the crowds practically rioted. The words to the second strain could be a netherworld prayer from a 1970s metal band: "Musical demon [...] won't you play me some rag?" In 1913's "The International Rag," Berlin writes prophetically of how American pop music will conquer the world: "Italian opera singers / Have learned to snap their fingers!" Some of Berlin's joy was leavened in 1912 with the tragic death of his first wife. For the first time, he put his heart in a song with the classic waltz "When I Lost You"; he would later help establish the waltz as the time signature for nostalgic reminiscence. Throughout the teens and the 1920s, Berlin's love songs grew more sentimental. By the time of his second marriage in 1926, his songs about music had taken a surprisingly melancholy turn. Fifteen years earlier, Berlin had used the genre as a harbinger of the new, of everything tony and fashionable. But in his 30s and 40s, music became a Proustian trigger to remembrance. In 1919, Berlin established that "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody"; just a few years later, turned that same conceit around with the beautiful "The Song Is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On)." In the first, the memory of the girl haunts you in a pleasant way; in the second, a painful one. Berlin would continue to find variations on the idea, such as the 1928 waltz "Where Is the Song of Songs for Me?"; the romantic "Say It With Music"; the 1946 ballad "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song"; and the lovely, autobiographical "I Poured My Heart Into a Song" of 1939. But the most compelling of Berlin's "serious" songs about music is his breathtakingly moving "Russian Lullaby" of 1927. This brief but brilliant 16-bar melody, with its minor-key, quasi-modal harmonies, is also highly autobiographical - Berlin looking back on his family in Siberia in a way that's poignant and bittersweet. Clearly a song about a song, it tells of how the Russian mother sings her little bubbelas to sleep. Like all of Berlin's song-songs, it has an air of mystery - Berlin never tells us exactly what the Russian lullaby says or means. But the family is obviously looking forward, both toward the future and the West, as they dream of "a land that's free for you and me." "Show Business! Irving Berlin's Broadway" at the Library for the Performing Arts until May 26 (Lincoln Center, 212-870-1630).
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 15 Feb 06 12:18
Wow, great press, David. Will this show come out to the west coast?
Dan Levy (danlevy) Wed 15 Feb 06 12:32
Very nice review!
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Wed 15 Feb 06 13:38
thanks for the info about the McNay, i hope to see the exhibit this summer.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Wed 15 Feb 06 14:55
Cynthia, the Broadway exhibition debuted in San Francisco in July and ran through the middle of December. The Hollywood exhibition will probably come to LA but no date has been set yet. Thank you for the kind words about the press. The Associated Press also just gave the show a good review, as did Playbill. If you are in New York anytime between now and may 26th, you can see the show. It's free, and open most days.
art siegel (arto) Wed 15 Feb 06 15:52
Thanks, David, for the book and your conversation here. I bought a Berlin CD, the 100th anniversary tribute, and in it was a clipping from USA Today discussing the centennial and how Berlin was regarded as "the Howard Hughes of music", having not been seen in so many years. Made me wonder what those final decades were like for him.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 15 Feb 06 16:04
debuted in SF in July? oh dear, I'm so sorry I missed it. arg!
David Leopold (dleopold1) Fri 17 Feb 06 04:50
After the critical failure of MR. PRESIDENT, Berlin turned to Hollywood to create another hit. With Arthur Freed at MGM he conceived a twenty-five-song cavalcade of his greatest hits, SAY IT WITH MUSIC. He wrote seven new songs specifically for the film. Freed was excited by the prospect and suggested that it be a Berlin biography, but, as always, Berlin turned him down. Announced in June 1963, with Freed producing, Vincente Minnelli directing, and Arthur Laurents writing the script. The cast included Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ethel Merman, Pat Boone, and Connie Francis. Only three months earlier, Hollywood acknowledged Berlins remarkable talent in a star-studded dinner for the Screen Producers Guild Milestone Award. On the dais with Berlin at the Beverly Hills Hilton were many of the men and women who had played prominent roles in his film career. Sam Goldwyn, Adolph Zukor, Jack Warner, Daryl Zanuck, Fred Astaire, Arthur Freed, Ginger Rogers, Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Danny Kaye. After five hours of testimonials, jokes, and songs, Berlin sat down at a piano and led the thousand-plus crowd in God Bless America. Nevertheless, over the next six years there would be various cast changes, and replacements in the creative team of SAY IT WITH MUSIC, and just when it looked as it would go into production, MGM was sold and its new owners killed the project. Berlin was furious, but there was little he could do. If Louis B. Mayer had been the head of Metro, he dictated to his secretary in a quote he never sent out, SAY IT WITH MUSIC would have been made, released and piled up a large profit for MGM. At seventy-eight he wrote his last show-stopper: Old Fashioned Wedding for the 1966 revival of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. Berlin suggested to producer Richard Rodgers that the secondary romance of the show, the dull stuff, be dropped. He felt that it was necessary in the forties, but now it was superfluous. The production was a rousing success, and it was the only Broadway revival he would ever see of his work. Its triumph got him thinking about other ventures. He talked about new Music Box Revues and a musical about life on the Lower East Side. Writing came easier to him now because I recognize the wrong choices quicker. He even tried to sell a remake of the film of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN to Daryl Zanuck, with Barbra Streisand in the lead. But he knew his working days were over. When asked if he would retire, he responded Here all I can tell you about thatsome day I expect people to say Berlins slipping Hes falling he fell No, hes dead! But he knew that he, and the group of contemporaries that were friends, rivals, and collaborators, were viewed as antiques, museum pieces. Unlike many of the songwriters of his generation, he owned the copyrights to his work, and as the years went on, he guarded them closely, and sometimes bitterly. According to Berlin, a Japanese consortium had tried to buy his publishing rights for an incredible sum, but he said he wouldnt know what to do with the money, and they wouldnt know what to do with the songs. Although the American public seemed to be turning its back on his type of music, he still felt strongly about the country. Who has the right to love this country more than I do? he asked in 1968 at eighty. I dont forget where and how I started. Nowhere but in America. Im worried about the sprit of America right now, but I have deep faith .were in a period of revolution and change, but were going to be all right. If America were a company, Id buy all the stock I could get, put it away. Its the greatest land in the world. He was devoted to his wife, Ellin and his growing family, and when he felt well, he wrote songs for his grandchildren. After visiting the White House to welcome home returning POWs from Vietnam in 1973 (at the age of 85), he never made another public appearance (although he posed for photos in September 1974). He maintained contact with the world through the phone, calling his office several times a day to check on business, and also a small circle of friends and admirers, who, he felt, understood his work. So Berlin did spend 16 years out of view, but by then he was in his late 80s and nineties. Not surprisingly, it was physically difficult for him to make appearances and/or write new music. One of the reasons I wanted to write this book was to show how full and vital his career had been. I think many people remember the later years when he was out of view, and was difficult. But with the career in context, this was only a small part of life.
art siegel (arto) Tue 21 Feb 06 12:45
Thanks, David. Just listening to "What'll I Do" today, and I think it's a perfect song. It seems very simple, but it's quite complex in its way, and very powerful.
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