...on Father’s Day.
It was a reckless step for any publisher to take. Even in those days, the earth was cluttered with the autobiographical maunderings of showbiz luminaries whose approach to the writing of a book too often suggested that they had never read one.
2 and telling him to find the O for himself. And yet the work was worth preserving. How to transform a set of essentially functional rhymes into something resembling literature?
Now, Ira was what we have in mind when we talk of the bookish man. Almost our first glimpse of him is as a teenaged attendant at his father's abortive Turkish baths on Lenox Avenue, rejoicing
At the other end of his life, bedridden in Beverly Hills, he slept next to a bay, three of whose four walls were lined from floor to ceiling with books. The nature of the books in the bay give a clue to the kind of book Ira was himself to write, for those volumes indicate that many of his interest were not so much contemporary American as period English.
Having begun by wheeling on the engines of literary scholarship, Ira proceeds as he started, by offering as an epigraph the remark from John Aubrey's Brief Lives "How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellows as I am putt them down!" What curiosities does Ira have in mind? The very first of the 104 lyrics that make up the book is "The Man I Love." We learn that notwithstanding the fact that it was this song that persuaded the financier Otto H. Kahn to invest in the show Lady, Be Good! it was dropped during the out-of-town tryout; that it was subsequently put into and ejected from two other musicals; that it never did see the light of day as a show tune and only emerged as an American classic through the enthusiastic intervention of Lady Mountbatten.
The "Looking for a Boy" annotations are also revealing for the cunning way in which Ira blends reminiscence, technical niceties, and literary allusion. It so happens that the verse of this song ends with the couplet
I'll be blue until he comes my way;
Hope he takes the cue when I am
The rhyming device whereby a one-syllable word is made to match the first half of a two-syllable word is commonplace enough in the Broadway marketplace, and Ira had adopted it very early in his career without thinking twice; but it was not until his retirement that he discovered, from a newly published book on poetic technique, that the device was known as "apocopated rhyme, so called because the end of one rhyming word is cut off."
The news that he had, throughout his life, been an unwitting master of apocopated rhyme absolutely delighted Ira's bookish soul, and he expresses this delight before capping the annotation with the perfect literary allusion for the occasion: "I am suddenly made aware that long, long ago in the last two verse lines of 'Looking for a Boy' the music made me rhyme, apocopatedly, 'way' with 'saying'; and I now feel one with Moliere's M. Jourdain the day he learned he'd been speaking prose for over forty years. "
We find him gently chiding the editors of Time for deploying false rhymes in advising readers how to pronounce proper nouns; we learn that Paris is a place where
girls wear bodices
that the married state means
. . . signing a lease together;
And hanging a Matisse together!
and that there was once a lady who had a most immoral eye:
they called her Lorelei.
We also learn that the title "Don't Be a Woman If You Can" was inspired by an old time Tin Pan Alley poetaster who lost his reason and went around saying things like "I never liked him and I always will." We see George and Ira one evening in their apartment awaiting the arrival for dinner of Ira's fiancee; by the time she arrives they have discussed, sketched out, completed, and revised the song "Do, Do, Do."
Reflections on the book Words on Music, by Ira Gershwin.
But, our ღ belongs to Daddy ♪ (musically speaking of course, sorry Ira)