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Teasing the Korean

Sondheim Rips the Great Lyricists

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Not directly jazz, but certainly jazz-related when a songwriter of Sondheim's stature rips lyricists such as Lorenz Hart, Ira Gershwin, Hammerstein, and others. It's in his new book, "Finishing the Hat."

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/stephen-sondheim-rips-all-the-dead-lyricists-but-only-one-live-one-himself/article1775255/

I find Sondheim to be tedious and not in the same category as the greats from earlier- to mid-20th Century.

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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As good a place as any to ask this...

Has anybody ever seen the Sondheim musical Assassins. (I have not (nor have I ever heard the soundtrack), but it's always seemed at least curious on paper.)

Basically, it's a musical about all the persons who have ever killed or had some serious attempt on the life of The President. I imagine the lead characters must be John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, but I understand that Squeaky Fromme is even included.

Might be good, might be horribly bad -- but either way, I always figured it was probably at least interesting.

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The other day we were joking at work about making a musical out of The Godfather or The Sopranos, with songs like "You're Gonna Get Whacked!" But then I realized that in a way it had already been done: ^_^

Bang Bang

Edited by ghost of miles

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Sondheim is one of the most over-rated songwriters around. He should keep his mouth shut and listen to Hammerstein, Gershwin, Hart, et al.

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Yeah, I was unimpressed when Terri Gross interviewed him the other day. Seemed like a first-class asshole.

Now, Alan Sondheim on the other hand...

120378609949.jpg

Edited by clifford_thornton

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He certainly seems to be a polarizing force ... as it often seems with anyone with a strong opinion or creative point of view. (Monk, Trane, Ayler, Cecil) As can be seen here, a great many don't seem to enjoy his work, while others believe it is the work of genius. As you will note below, I tend toward the later.

My wife and I have enjoyed his work immensely and been most fortunate to have been living in NYC in the past six+ years and seen: the Lincoln Center staging of Passion and the Broadway revival productions of Assassins, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Company, Sunday in the Park with George, A Little Night Music, along with Gypsy and West Side Story.

Musically, the only things I have enjoyed anywhere nearly as much in that time were Spring Awakening and Light in the Piazza.

There certainly was a greater simplicity to many earlier lyricists' work. Much was even nonsensical. I am looking forward toward reading the book. Having heard him speak on such topics, I wonder if that was the point of reference. He seems to take great pride on his construction of real intelligent dialog - words within his music.

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There certainly was a greater simplicity to many earlier lyricists' work. Much was even nonsensical.

I think there was also a lot of complexity, along with simplicity, in the works of the earlier lyricists. I'm not sure that Sondheim has that level of complexity in his lyrics, but then again, I'm not a fan, so I'm going only by the songs I know.

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Songs? Still? Really?

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Sondheim is fucking brilliant; he may or may not be using inappropriate criteria in his jabs but I doubt it. And of course he reveres Hammerstein!

What do ya'll want, if he's going to comment, oh x, y, z are all great great great?

In parts, sure, but en toto?

Fuck that.

And even if he mistates (I dunno if he does or not), how is another artist going to evolve without critical engagement?

Sondheim had avantage of being artist where others often ** had to be ** hacks but still.

Does he talk about Yip Harburg?

Not that responders here have made the comparison but hard to believe there are Jason Moran fans (say) around who could disrespect Sondheim?

Not that he's infallible either but if you listen to Roscoe Mitchell ** or ** Andy Razaf you should damn well be down with Sondheim.

Edited by MomsMobley

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Songs? Still? Really?

Why not ... some times? Oh, right -- The Great Wave of History Is Blowing In The Wind, So Get Out Of The Way, Mr. Jones, If You Know What's Good For You ... Mop Mop.

Jim, I think you're becoming some sort of totalitarian "progressive."

Also, Hi Moms: IMO Sondheim can be a clever lyricist, but he suffers from the same problem Benjamin Britten does -- no not that one ... very little melodic gift. The melodies of most Sondheim songs are generated ass-backwards by their lyrics and harmonic shifts. It shows.

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I'm with Moms on this one. I mostly love Sondheim, but unlike the songwriters he "rips" I find that his tunes work best in the context of the actual musicals and don't stand on their own as much as the work of Hart, Gershwin, Porter, etc.

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Songs? Still? Really?

Why not ... some times? Oh, right -- The Great Wave of History Is Blowing In The Wind, So Get Out Of The Way, Mr. Jones, If You Know What's Good For You ... Mop Mop.

Jim, I think you're becoming some sort of totalitarian "progressive."

Oh, please. Stop angsting out about becoming obsolete. It ain't that big a thing, really. I'm enjoying it quite nicely, thank you. Give it a try -it's fun!

All I mean is that it - the whole "American Popular Song" thing...it's already happened, it's all there, it's not going to change, and it is what it is. No amount of retro-fretting will change any of that.

Of course it's clever, and of course it's inane. Of course it's brilliant and of course it's trite. It's whatever whoever is listening to it wnats/needs it to be, and it will always be there, both because there's something valid there and becuase there's too much money and power and "prestige" involved to ever let it fade away.

But - about a century's worth of "other" Americans (regional, economic, racial, religious, you name it), and other peoples of the planet (once we found out about them as peoples rather than as stories...) have provided just as much to work with, just as much that is relevant to yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and just as much, if not more, that speaks to what it means to not inhabit a world that is as irrelevant to them as they are to it.

So yeah, this "song" stuff is all good, really it is, but like everything else, it is what it is for whoever needs it to be that. And frankly, I don't need any more "discussion" about Ira Gershwin, Steven Sondheim, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Hank Williams, Fela, Mozart, Beethoven, or any damn body that is there plain as day for anybody with even half a clue to pick up on that tries to (re) establish a "position". People debating their "brilliance" and such. Well DUH.

Fuck "brilliance". It's where you find it, and it does what you need it to. Anything else is just either idle conversation or marketing, both of which have their place, but ultimately...

Songs? Still? Really?

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yes, songs, still, really.

I write one about every two months.

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And we're all grateful for that, I'm sure.

Just as we are that you don't remind us just as frequently how clever a lyricist Ira Gershwin was or stuff like that.

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Songs? Still? Really?

My experience, for what it's worth:

The so-called "Great American Songbook" - I don't love the phrase, but I don't know what else to call it - was largely my introduction to music. I knew all these songs through my parents.

I have gone for years at a stretch without listening to any pop/jazz/song-stylist vocalists, largely because I've been more into instrumental and oddball music for the past few decades.

Still, I recognize that, for better or worse, these are at the center of my musical universe, regardless of whether I listen or not.

I do most of my listening these days on my computer, at work, and stick mainly to jazz, classical, soundtracks, and electronica - all instrumental. Words distract me while I'm working.

I realized recently that I haven't listened to standards for years.

So, lately, I've made a habit of playing the great vocalists in the car during my commute. I skip past overplayed stuff like "The Lady Is the Tramp," and concentrate on the more atypical tunes, like "Night Bird," "Autumn in Rome," etc.

I especially pay attention to the neglected verses.

Anyway, I still get a lot out of this era/style of music. I've reconnected with something relevant.

Even if that is not your experience, I think that Sondheim's trashing of these lyricists is worth noting.

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truth is, the prime lyrics I hear these days are by god-awful folkies -

like this morning, in a song about divorce:

"he got the house and he got the garden,

and their hearts began to harden."

think about how stupid that is - if he got the house, could she possibly get the garden? What would he do, excavate and put it on the back of a truck?

but that's typical of the crap that's written by post-literate musicians, IMHO.

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Songs? Still? Really?

My experience, for what it's worth:

The so-called "Great American Songbook" - I don't love the phrase, but I don't know what else to call it - was largely my introduction to music. I knew all these songs through my parents.

I have gone for years at a stretch without listening to any pop/jazz/song-stylist vocalists, largely because I've been more into instrumental and oddball music for the past few decades.

Still, I recognize that, for better or worse, these are at the center of my musical universe, regardless of whether I listen or not.

I do most of my listening these days on my computer, at work, and stick mainly to jazz, classical, soundtracks, and electronica - all instrumental. Words distract me while I'm working.

I realized recently that I haven't listened to standards for years.

So, lately, I've made a habit of playing the great vocalists in the car during my commute. I skip past overplayed stuff like "The Lady Is the Tramp," and concentrate on the more atypical tunes, like "Night Bird," "Autumn in Rome," etc.

I especially pay attention to the neglected verses.

Anyway, I still get a lot out of this era/style of music. I've reconnected with something relevant.

Even if that is not your experience, I think that Sondheim's trashing of these lyricists is worth noting.

Hey, I still get a lot out of the stuff too. But I don't think it's the apex of American musical accomplishment, or an emblem of our spirit, or anything like that, and frankly, (as is true of all musics) all but the very, very best of it stands alone as "musically noteworthy". The rest of it is just so much products of its time and place and right now we all "treasure" it because of a nostalgia for a world gone, but precisely because that world is gone, the more time passes, the fewer people are going to give a shit, and really, who can blame them. Thus the hype and ongoing machinations to "institutionalize" it (and other 20th Century musics). There's money to be made there, much easier & more plentiful money, than actually creating something new, and what a "comfort" for those spending that money to be reminded of a world of innocence, elegance, and whiteness, a world that most of them will never experience now, and damn sure would not have experienced -except as a distant consumer (the more things change...) if they had been alive then.

Even though I agree with Sondheim in general principal (I used to think that Cole Porter was clever, just like I thought Frank Zappa was clever), and I fully understand/respect the relevance of his comments, but ultimately I think it's also (also, dig, not just) more incest-speak, which only goes to serve the brand-name, and to that whole scene, I offer a hearty and heartfelt Fuck You!, as I also do to Nashville, that Lubinsky guy who does the Oldies shows on PBS, and anybody else who makes a living offering Even Easier Options Out in a land that has too damn many in the first place.

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Have you ever noticed that the only stuff you can find on the radio in the morning is either talk, news, or these godawful folkies?

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truth is, the prime lyrics I hear these days are by god-awful folkies -

like this morning, in a song about divorce:

"he got the house and he got the garden,

and their hearts began to harden."

think about how stupid that is - if he got the house, could she possibly get the garden? What would he do, excavate and put it on the back of a truck?

but that's typical of the crap that's written by post-literate musicians, IMHO.

That strikes me as a symbol of a man taking control of her life both inside & outside the house, not just her material world but her dreams, her escape, hell her ability to escape, as well. House=forced construction=masculine, Garden=organic growth=feminine. Anybody who has a spouse who gardens will know what I mean...

Not bad, in that sense, but really, I mean, who cares? All the great "songs" have been written (well, almost all, enough to count as all in any meaningful sense), and there's only a handful of themes running through life anyway, so let's just call the rest of it what it is - comfort to get you through whatever it is you need to get through.

Nothing to sneeze at, that, but I'll be damned if I'm going to build a monument to it, or anything like that, much less pay money to have one built...

Have you ever noticed that the only stuff you can find on the radio in the morning is either talk, news, or these godawful folkies?

You should move to the DFW area. You could also find godawful rock (of almost any kind!), country, jazz, and classical.

Especially notable is KEOM: http://www.keom.fm/index.html High school kids rockin' those Groovy 70s Sounds all the damn time!

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nah, I think that they just thought it rhymed -

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Of course.

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It ain't "he got the house and he got the garden, and their hearts began to harden," but the play of sound and accent in these two similar-in- feeling songs by lyricist Howard Dietz and composer Arthur Schwartz is something else IMO:

BY MYSELF

The party's over,

the game is ended,

The dreams I dreamed

went up in smoke.

They didn't pan out

as I had intended;

I should know how

to take a joke.

I'll go my way by myself,

this is the end of romance.

I'll go my way by myself,

love is only a dance.

I'll try to apply myself

and teach my heart to sing.

I'll go my way by myself

like a bird on the wing.

I'll face the unknown,

I'll build a world of my own;

No one knows better than I, myself,

I'm by myself alone.

I'll go my way by myself,

here's how the comedy ends.

I'll have to deny myself

love and laughter and friends.

Grey clouds in the sky above

have put a blot on my fun.

I'll try to fly high above

for a place in the sun.

I'll face the unknown,

I'll build a world of my own;

No one knows better than I, myself,

I'm by myself alone.

ALONE TOGETHER

Alone together beyond the crowd

Above the world we're not too proud

To cling together we're strong

As long as we're together

Alone together the blinding rain

The starless night were not in vain

For we're together and what is there

to fear together

Our love is as deep as the sea

our love is as great as a love

can be

And we can weather the great unknown

If we're alone together

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Count me as a fan of Schwartz-Dietz, a songwriting team that doesn't get mentioned enough IMO, and yes, Moms, also of Yip Harburg (would you say there's a "revival" afoot, faint as the measurement of such things may be?). I've also got lots of time these days for Harry Warren and Harold Arlen. But here's my question for Jsngry: are we talking Great American Songbook (aka GAS), or are we talking the song form in general? Because I thought you meant the latter, not the former. Yes, Great American Songbook has become institutionalized & while I love a great deal of it, I dig your argument vis-a-vis the sands of time and all that...but I don't think the song form itself is going away, despite predictions of its demise for decades now. Yes, we're in an age of ringtones, ambient music etc., but I think centuries of conditioning or whatever it was that's made human beings so responsive to songs with lyrics and some sort of structure is not going to vanish anytime soon.

Edited by ghost of miles

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...There's money to be made there, much easier & more plentiful money, than actually creating something new, and what a "comfort" for those spending that money to be reminded of a world of innocence, elegance, and whiteness, a world that most of them will never experience now, and damn sure would not have experienced -except as a distant consumer (the more things change...) if they had been alive then...

I get what you're saying, but I'm not going to hold the artists accountable now just because of how they may be marketed, or mis-marketed, decades and decades later.

Edit: Also a big fan of Schwartz & Dieitz. Jo Stafford's version of "Something to Remember You By" on Columbia is amazing, though it's not among their best songs.

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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