Tragic and Wonderful Lorenz Hart

Rodgers and HartOn this day in 1895, the great lyricist Lorenz Hart was born. I can safely say that he is my favorite lyricist. He wrote very clever and complex and playful lyrics. For example, in “Manhattan,” he wrote, “The city’s clamor can never spoil; the dreams of a boy and goil.” Throughout the rest of the song, he rhymes with “boy,” so that reversal really works. Of course, this kind of stuff doesn’t exactly distinguish him from Cole Porter. But Hart’s work is wedded to a sadly romantic view of the world that devastates me as much today as ever.

Hart was a tragic figure. It’s well known that he was gay and an alcoholic. But according to Stephen Holden, he was also very short and considered himself ugly and unlovable. He was so unstable in his life that Richard Rodgers would generally write the music for shows first and then trap Hart in a room and force him to write the lyrics. I’ve always thought this is why his music from this period was better than his work with Hammerstein, although I understand that most people don’t feel that way. Regardless, Rodgers was the great technician and Hart the tortured artist.

Still, despite all his drinking, he still managed to outlive F Scott Fitzgerald by four years. And when he died, it was from exposure, not liver failure. (Admittedly, the exposure came about because he was drunk.) But I don’t know what would have happened to him had he lived. Rodgers had given up on him. But I’d like to think he would have made peace with his demons and gone on to be happy and productive. Or at least happy.

There are two people who I think have done the most with the Rodgers & Hart songbook: Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. So let’s listen to Sinatra do “I Could Write a Book” from Pal Joey:

And here is Fitzgerald doing “Dancing On The Ceiling”:

Happy birthday Lorenz Hart!

Afterword

As great as they are, I’m not much of either of the following singers, but this is just too wonderful not to share. Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga do “The Lady is a Tramp,” even using Sinatra’s old “chick” variation:

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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