Bart Howard (1915-2004)
A CCORDING TO THE FAMOUS JOHNNY MERCER ,
“WRITING MUSIC TAKES MORE TALENT,
BUT WRITING LYRICS TAKES MORE COURAGE’
Wha t he meant was that a tune can be beguiling and melancholy and very intoxicating and a lot of other blurry abstractions, but there comes a moment when you have to sit down and get specific, and put the other half of the equation on top of those notes.
A songwriter spends his life chasing the umpteenth variation on “I love you.” And that takes courage because there’s usually a very good reason why no one’s used your variation: the thought’s too precious, or clunky, or contrived.
Topicality isn’t much help. The American tc1egraph and telephony songs of the 1890s (I Guess I’ll Have to Telegraph My Baby”) and the airplane songs of the oughts (Come, Josephine, in My Flying Machine”) seemed like smart moves ai the tune, but this is one area where the fundamental things apply as time goes by. Moon /June/stars above/so in love, etc.
So in 1953, Bart Howard sat down to write a love song, and for once, as he put it, “the song just fell out of me.” In just twenty minutes he had a number that was full all the usual stuff—moon, stars—and not so much topical as prescient. It’s the only hit he ever wrote , and he didn’t need another. He called it “In Other Words
Never heard of it? That’s because Howard didn’t know what he was sitting on . What hits you aren’t the other words, but the first five: : “Fly me to the moon.
Yoti might know it by Peggy Lee, or Tony Bennett, or Dion and the Belmonts, Astrud Gilberto, Mars in Caye, Diana Krall, or any one of a few hundred others. You might even know it from the opening of Oliver Stone’s valentine to the “decade of greed.” Wall Street: the trains and ferries and buses feed the workers into the city, hundreds and thousands of’ stick figures pouting up from the subway tunnels and onto the teeming sidewalks of Lower Manhattan. And above the skyscrapers Count Basic plays and Sinatra sings:
Fly mc to the moon,
Let me play among the stars.
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupite r and Mars.
THE SONG MAKES THE SCENE.
Otherwise, it’s nothing, for what’s drearier and more earthbound, more literally everyday, than commuting? But not when accompanied by Basic and Sinatra and Quincy Jones arrangement that starts low-key with bass and tweeting flutes and surges into blaring brass rocketing into the skies. It’s what Nelson Riddle meant when he called his preferred 4/ 4 tempo for Sinatra the ‘tempo of the heartbeat.” It’s what Bono had in mind when he said, “Frank walks like America. Cocksure”
And, of course, it’s what Gordon Gekko renders more bluntly in his “greed is good” speech: all the possibilities of the day ahead, all the dreams and ambitions of the anonymous figures on time street, articulated in music and, like the builditigs, reaching for the stars.
By them “Fly Me to the Moon” had served as the soundtrack for the fulfillment of the grandest dreani of all: in 1969 Buzz Aldrin took a portable tape player up there with him, and “Fly Me to the Moon” became the first moon song to get to the moon itself. “The first music played on the moon” said Quincy Jones . “I freaked.”
The ATLANTIC MONTHLY Magazine
May 2004. (Pg. 42)
Church of the Science of God
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© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993