Here I am again, three hours at the computer preparing for my next Jazz History Listening Class and this one about the lyricists who contributed their linguistic genius to The Great American Songbook. They literally often go unsung, as the music swallows the text and the composer of the music gets top billing and recognition. We may know all of Jerome Kern songs without realizing that Dorothy Fields wrote the lyrics to “The Way You Look Tonight,” Otto Harbach to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” Oscar Hammerstein to “All the Things You Are,” Buddy De Sylva to “Look for the Silver Lining,” P.G. Wodehouse to “Bill.”
In my upcoming class, I’ve chosen two songs as the top of the line in terms of rhyming scheme, ingenuity, wit, humor, unique poetic structure and just all-around great songs—You’re the Top by Cole Porter and Manhattan by Rodgers and Hart. Richard Rodgers wrote the music and Lorenz Hart the fabulous lyrics.
The brief thumbnail bio of Lorenz Hart:
• Born 1895 in Harlem, New York to German-Jewish immigrant parents.
• Attended Columbia University, where he met Rodgers and wrote songs for student productions.
• Partnership continued for 20 more years, writing songs for 26 Broadway musicals.
• Chronically depressed and alcoholic, perhaps somewhat because of being gay in a homophobic culture.
• He died in 1943 and Rodgers went on to team up with Oscar Hammerstein.
So back to Manhattan. I wrote a new San Francisco version of it almost 20 years ago that I looked at again and still liked. Interesting that I was lamenting about the demise of “the old San Francisco” long before Sales Force Tower and the yet more unaffordable rents. If you don’t know the original tune, you can find it easily, of of course. Though sung at an almost mournfully slow tempo for this upbeat song, I like Blossom Dearie’s version. Particularly for those living in the Bay Area or have visited often, enjoy!
NEW LYRICS TO MANHATTAN(with apologies to Rodgers and Hart)
©2001 Doug Goodkin
1. The peacenik kids go, to San Francisco, in July,
They lie on hippie hill so high.
And all the rest go, to drink expresso, in old North Beach,
They sit and write a poem, or else they dial home, on their cell phone.
There's Ferlinghetti, in old Spaghetti, Factory
He's signing books you see, for me.
This small town's city's a wondrous treat,
Whether you're square or beat,
In San Francisco, we'll sneak a kiss so sweet.
2. Let's dilly-dally, on Kerouac Alley, near City Lights,
Or hit the Hungry I, Oh my!
The Kingston Trio, we'll never see so, let's go in.
Where Carol Doda's skin, made all the leches grin, chin to chin.
Walk for an hour, up to Coit Tower, to catch the view.
We'll watch the fog roll in, boo hoo!
Though the guidebooks always say,
Don't dress for a summer's day,
We're here in San Fran, we'll change to pants and stay.
3. Embarcadero, you've got the fare so, get on board,
The ferry on the Bay, Hoo-ray!
Drive south of Market, if you can park it, or ride on Bart
To the Museum of Art, or to the new ball park, for a lark.
In Sausalito, where the elite go, to stop and shop
The trendy stores so hip, or not.
We can stop at Alcatraz, then go out and hear some jazz,
Another good day, on San Francisco Bay.
4. In San Francisco, you can go disco, dance at night.
By day, you fly a kite, all right!
It's very fash' nable, the international neighborhoods.
Go eat a Boston sub, or find an Irish pub, or salsa club.
We'll study Russian, or play percussion, at the Wharf.
Or take a workshop on, Carl Orff.
We can learn what we want to know
Or take in an ethnic show,
It's San Francisco, so come kids, let's go.
7. All day we'll mirth make, forget the earthquake, we'll live for now.
Do what the crowds allow, and how!
We're here without Mom, with all the dot com, she'll never come.
Because the scene's too young, all those pierc-ed tongues climbing
Rents astronomic, a bad dot-com-ic, mom and pops shut down,
The low and middle class, leave town.
This great old city has lost its edge, Turned into a well-pruned hedge,
No longer shame-faced, it's not the same place now.