- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (July 3 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400061059
- ISBN-13: 978-1400061051
- Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.6 x 24.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 621 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,124,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty Hardcover – Jul 3 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Sheed (Office Politics), who won a 1987 Grammy Award for Best Album Notes (for Sinatra's The Voice), spoke over the decades with many of these Great American Songbook creators and their families. In this book, he employs an informal, anecdotal approach as he looks back at the top tunesmiths of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood. Composer Arthur Schwartz recalled that he dashed off the tune in 20 minutes after lyricist Howard Dietz casually remarked, What is life but dancing in the dark? Beginning with Gershwin and Irving Berlin, Sheed quotes numerous lyrics throughout his lilting, witty profiles (of Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, Richard Rodgers and others), plus brief comments on 57 more. Since Hurricane Katrina, Louis Alter's Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? has served as a national anthem, so the curt dismissal of Alter (more a swinging musician than a songwriter proper) is curious amid the many choruses of praise. Sheed soars on the wings of song with scintillating, lyrical writing. (July 3)
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About the Author
Wilfred Sheed is the author of six novels, two of which, Office Politics and People Will Always Be Kind, were nominated for National Book Awards. He has written three collections of criticism, one of which was nominated by the National Book Critics Circle. Among his other books is a notable memoir of Clare Boothe Luce, who told him that Irving Berlin was the vainest man she ever met and George Gershwin one of the most basically modest. He lives with his wife, Miriam Ungerer, in North Haven, New YorkSee all Product description
Top Customer Reviews
The book works well, however, for those who know the songs and music but don't know very much about how the music was created and the quirks of those who did the creating. It's hard to imagine that there are very many people in that category, but if you are . . . this book's a five-star effort just for you.
Mr. Sheed covers a lot of ground, lightly, in appropriately syncopated style. His writing style, in fact, was for me the most interesting aspect of the book. Like P.G. Wodehouse, Mr. Sheed is capable to turning up an interesting, novel phrase every so often that keeps you riveted to the material as you look for the next gem. Even better, Mr. Sheed reserves most of those fascinating phrases for summing up a given composer or lyricist. Jerome Kern, for example, while older seemed "slightly overwhelmed by his own magnificence."
The book's tone is deliberately conversational: Mr. Sheed calls the book a bull session. To me, it felt like sitting in a comfy piano bar in Manhattan and listening to an entertaining companion over a perfect dry martini (Beefeater gin up with olives) while the old standards tinkle on in the background.
The book is full of those sorts of gossipy things that relatives say about one another. Why? Well, Mr. Sheed drew heavily on interviews with relatives of the song men to develop his miniature portraits of where they got their talent and training (if any), what the talent was like, how they got a break in the business, how economic and industry conditions affected their success, family life, drinking and sexual preferences, and what they did with their money (if they had any). It's quite a trip from the ethnic neighborhoods of the Jewish lower East Side to Tin Pan Alley through those fabulous Broadway musicals that are always being revived, to the early days of Hollywood and its affection for musicals.
I suspect that this book would be most enjoyable if consumed in small sips, interspaced with lots of jazz songs. Pull out your CD collection and get ready to add to the memories.
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