Music and theater and opera and art and the whole damn thing.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Too Late Now"

Do you know this lovely song?

"Too late now to forget your smile/ The way we cling when we dance a while/ Too late now to forget and go on to someone new..."

It suits my mood these days: the wry, smiling, self-conscious lyric (Alan Jay Lerner), the gently dawdling, reflective melody (Burton Lane) that matches it superbly: the A theme is in two parts, going to a false high the first time, then to a surprisingly higher one to send the sentiment soaring. A really fine merging of words and music - I wonder which came first? (With both Lane and Lerner, the words usually came first.) No wonder jazz men love to play with this tune.

The sentiment, too, is superbly ambiguous: It is not clear whether it's "too late" because the affair is over and the singer blew it, or because it's too late to break it off now that s/he realizes s/he's fallen in love, that some other person has become necessary. Both melancholy catastrophes! Thus it can be sung sadly or with an uplift at the end.

Jane Powell introduced it in Royal Wedding, the very bad 1951 film with wonderful songs (including "I Left My Hat in Haiti" and "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life") and the famous sequence when Fred Astaire dances up the wall and across the ceiling, which was later mimicked by Ingmar Bergman in Hour of the Wolf, which I suggest would not make a good musical. (An opera by Franz Schreker, maybe.)

I have recordings of "Too Late Now" with Jane Monheit (too expiringly smokily languid) and Michael Feinstein (who just plain sings it badly, with gaping ugly hollows under his voice like puddles under icy slush that you slip into and get muddy ice in your shoes) and Dorothy Loudon (who sounds 85 years old). None of them inspire me, but the lovely song does.

Happily, my friend Irwin made me a CD of 13 other versions from his matchless collection of you-name-it, including superb renditions by Mel Tormé and Ann Hampton Calloway.

On youtube, I have found Audra Macdonald in a superb "straight" rendition (she has the voice for this melody) and Peggy Lee, who seems to sing it with a sexually content smile on her lips. (I mean, that is how the lyric comes through - we do not see her on this clip.) Judy Garland is a bit too husky with it. Paul Sheesley a little too jazzy - the jazzy mind set fights with the sentiment of the song. (Of course, wandering around youtube this way, I stumbled on something else wonderful, Frank Sinatra's somewhat too up-tempo version of Johnny Mercer's "I Thought About You," another song currently repeating in my head.) (No iPod here! I just sing them to myself while biking around town!)

A fine tunesmith Lane, mostly for the movies - he had one great Broadway hit - at the same time as Royal Wedding (Finian's Rainbow, soon to be revived, a show on which I passionately fixated at age six, memorizing all the songs in Ella Logan's Scottish accent though I had no idea what two-thirds of Yip Harburg's glorious lyrics meant). Then Lane was blacklisted for years. He got back to Broadway together with Lerner for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (Richard Rodgers having given up in exasperation at Lerner's dilatory ways - Rodgers was used to Hammerstein, who would sit in the office with him all day and come up with a lyric a few hours after they had decided what sort of song ought to go in what part of a show). On A Clear Day is also full of great tunes (and great lyrics) - "What Did I Have That I Don't Have," "The S.S. Bernard Cohn," "Don't Tamper With My Sister," the talking-to-flowers song - but the book is a mess.

Due to an accident backstage (an actress fell off a ladder), I was deprived during the recent New York Fringe Festival of a revival of 1967's How Now Dow Jones, a show that flopped memorably and was excoriated by Ethan Mordden. But friends who did see the brief revival said it wasn't bad at all (heavily rewritten, songs by Carolyn Leigh and Elmer Bernstein), and I'm in the mood to learn a new musical - but it would have to be a musical with clever lyrics and dreamy or delicious melodies, and they stopped writing that kind thirty years back when Lane and Lerner and Styne and Comden & Green were still alive, and Kander & Ebb were in their heyday.

(This is my idea of a brief, casual blog post.)


paul sheesley said...

Thank you for you review.
I put all my stuff on youtube, the good, bad, and ugly, not all winners for sure. my singers are better than I am.( wouldn't have it any other way) and you can catch them on my site

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