November 20, 2013
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
David Lehman embraces a variety of forms in New and Selected Poems. His poetic voice is unique and inimitable as these poems move from newest to oldest, with surprising consistency as his life unfolds on the pages.
Robert Pinsky wrote of the collection in the Washington Post Book World:
"Inventive and often winningly sincere…Lehman is candid as well as ironic—sometimes, both at once. He generates a maniacal, irreverent, fast-thinking range of references to movies, poems, history."
The Music in My Poems
There is a lot of music in my poems, songs and orchestral pieces and even jingles that appear either because they were the poem's background music (Bartok, "These Foolish Things"), because they figure as subject matter frontally (Sinatra, Hebrew Melodies, Beethoven's Ninth), or because of atmospherics and associations (Stravinsky and Frank Zappa in Paris in 1971, "Perfidia" and the night clubs in brooding black and white movies of the 1940s).
All the works are named in, or alluded to, poems assembled in my New and Selected Poems.
(1) Teddy Wilson, "After You've Gone." In my poem "Radio," this is what is playing as I enter my apartment at night. I left the radio on in the morning so music would greet me on my return. The aptly named tune features Teddy Wilson on piano and a lot of brass.
(2) "Perfidia." Preferably a big-band instrumental of this song that you hear in the background of such forties flicks as "Casablanca" and "The Mask of Dimitrios." The title and lyric echo the theme of treachery, though the music itself makes you want to dance close with the film's femme fatale.
(3 – 7) Frank Sinatra. "You Make Me Feel So Young," "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me," "High Hopes," "It All Depends on You," "All of Me." One of my poems -- from the period when I wrote one every day for several years -- is a birthday ode to Sinatra: "December 12" in my book The Daily Mirror. The poem names three songs arranged by Nelson Riddle, including "You Make Me Feel So Young" and "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me" from Sinatra's Songs for Swinging Lovers LP. "It All Depends on You," recorded on July 10, 1949, was orchestrated by Hugo Winterhalter and features a tenor sax solo by Wolf Taninbaum. Sinatra had recorded "All of Me," the Seymour Simons and Gerald Marks standard, many times in the 1940s, but never quite as successfully as in a 1954 recording session with Nelson Riddle. It became the closing song on his Swing Easy album. I like what Sinatra does with such words as "all" and "you." Why "High Hopes"? Because my poem "The Presidential Years" makes note of how Sinatra had the tune adapted to serve as John F. Kennedy's campaign song in 1960.
(8) "I Believe in You" (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser) as sung by Robert Morse from the Broadway show How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. In the 1960s, Morse, who now plays Bert Cooper on Mad Men, was a brash young fellow singing this love song to himself in the mirror. This outburst of narcissism can serve as a genuine love song, of course. It all depends on "you," whether "you" is an independent entity or a projection of the self. The question comes up in a prose poem I wrote called "Why I Love ‘You.'"
(9) In the bistro, the tape plays over and over, so you get to hear Billie Holiday sing "These Foolish Things" seven times, only in my poem ("Dark Passage") the speaker is in a French restaurant in London and the song is in French.
(10) The Rheingold Beer jingle, from the 1950s and 1960s, was lifted from Emile Waldteufel's Estudiantina waltz (op. 191): "My beer is Rheingold the dry beer. Think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer./ It's not bitter, not sweet, it's the extra dry treat, / Won't you try extra dry Rheingold beer?" I quote it in my poem "Story of My Life" because of my surprise when I learned of the jingle's provenance.
(11) Leonard Bernstein's "Divertimento for Orchestra." You hear it on the radio as you drive and it is still playing when you reach your destination, so you do not turn off the ignition, you stay in the car to hear it to the end and hear the piece identified. And then you return to your life.
(12) Ella Fitzgerald singing "When a Woman Loves a Man" on her Johnny Mercer songbook. This is the title poem of one of my books. The song is great though not as well known as "When a Man Loves a Woman."
(13) Ella Fitzgerald singing George and Ira Gershwin's "I'm Dancing and I Can't Be Bothered Now," because that's exactly how I felt when I wrote the poem ("The Real Thing"). Nelson Riddle's arrangement. "Bad news, go away / Call `round someday / In March or May / I can't be bothered now. // My bonds and shares / May fall downstairs /Who cares, who cares / I'm dancing and / I can't be bothered now."
(14) Dinah Shore singing the Academy Award winning song "Buttons and Bows," which was what was playing when I was writing.
(15) Stravinsky, Rite of Spring. I saw the ballet in Paris and listened to it nightly in Cambridge.
(16) Frank Zappa, "Peaches en Regalia," from his Fillmore East concert in June 1971.
(17) Hebrew Melodies, songs from the liturgy. I grew up with them and can still hear them today.
(18) Benny Goodman, "Sing Sing Sing." Benny's clarinet is my pen.
(19) Artie Shaw, "Begin the Beguine" (Cole Porter). See #17 above.
(20) "It Might as Well Be Spring" (Rodgers & Hammerstein) as sung by Dick Haymes in 1945.
(21) "A Fine Romance" (music Jerome Kern, lyrics Dorothy Fields) as sung by Ginger Rogers in Swing Time. There was a night I fell in love with a woman, a soundtrack, a movie, and a dance.
(22) Mahler's Fourth Symphony. It is playing and something amazing happens and ever after you cannot hear the music without thinking of that something.
(23) Franz Schubert's "Roslein auf der Heiden," D. 457, sung by Renee Fleming (soprano). Words by Goethe.
(24) Bud Powell solo piano, "Over the Rainbow" (Harold Arlen), the closing song on volume 1 of "The Amazing Bud Powell."
(25) Beethoven's Ninth. It's what I heard all through the funeral.
(26) Bartok, "Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion" (1937), movement one, allegro troppo.
David Lehman and New and Selected Poems links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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