Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, March 26, 2007

Got the soundtrack to Cole Porter death-bio-pic De-Lovely (which I wrote about the other night) from the library and started listening to it. Diana Krall (whose stuff I don’t know) sounds even stronger on the record, like she’s channeling Peggy Lee playing a gun moll. Alanis is still terrific but the “period” arrangements -- of which Alanis’s “Let’s Do It” is one -- are corny and frenetic, if skillfully corny and frenetic.

The creepy decadence in which the film swims washes into and over the soundtrack, none of which sounds necessary in that artistic sense, that sense that the musician was burning to do it just this way. And I am reminded of what a drag it is that bio-pics of musicians, whether fictionalized or fiction, are almost always tragic. It just now occurs to me: Does our insistence on musicians’ tales being tragic signal a cultural hankering for Orpheus? Maybe so.

Regardless of our orphic desires, nothing in De-Lovely was as unforgettably vividly poignant as this scene from Alan Jay Lerner’s memoir, The Street Where I Live (which I recommend highly).

Let me set the scene. Lyricist/librettist Lerner and his composer partner Loewe have not yet hit it big. Lerner befriends one of his idols, the lyricist Lorenz (Larry) Hart “of Rodgers and.” Because Hart is lonely and Lerner is available for friendship, and because “I worshipped him so that I made myself available to him at any hour of the day or night, usually for gin rummy which I played badly because I was not interested, and he played badly because he was usually drunk. . . . ”

When Dick Rodgers turned to Oscar Hammerstein as a collaborator and their first effort became the greatest success Dick had ever had, namely Oklahoma, Larry’s pain must have been unbearable. One of the saddest moments I can remember happened a few months after the musical opened. We were in Fritz Loewe’s living room. There was a blackout and the room was pitch dark. The only light came from Larry’s cigar. Fritz turned on the radio and an orchestra was playing something from Oklahoma. The end of the cigar flashed brigher and brighter with accelerated puffs. Fritz immediately switched to another station. Again someone was playing a song from Oklahoma. And Larry’s cigar grew brighter and puffs became faster. It happened three times and then Fritz turned off the radio. The glow from the cigar subsided and the breathing so slow the cigar almost went out. The whole incident probably took less than two minutes and during it not a word was said, but I wept for him in the dark.

I’m not sure why the lights didn’t work while the radio did, but it’s a vivid, cinematic scene.

Hart’s death came the following year at the age of 48, of pneumonia which he contracted from being too drunk to get himself out of the rain.

Hollywood probably won’t make this movie. Tragic is good -- but not this grim. I am waiting for the Ira Gershwin bio-pic, of the guy who lived to be 87 and was married to the same person for almost 57 of them.

won’t make that movie either.

(left) The Head of Orpheus, Gustave Moreau, 1865
(right) Orpheus Taming the Beasts, Cima da Coneligano (1459-1518)

UPDATE the next morning. A correction, from the comments: Jay Sherman-Godfrey wrote: "
It was during WWII, yes? The blackout was to disuade potential German bombers, I believe." It was during WW2 in NYC, and I'm quite sure he's right. Thanks, Jay! I had a mental lapse.

It was during WWII, yes? The blackout was to disuade potential German bombers, I believe.


I think you're right! I thought of that possibility after posting but then went to bed . . .

It was during WW2.

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