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"Reading Lyrics" with Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball.

Editors Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball have collaborated on the new book “Reading Lyrics” (Pantheon Books), an anthology of some of the most important lyricists of the last century, including the lyrics of George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Dorothy Field, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, and more. The book covers the time period 1900-1975. Robert Gottlieb is the author of “Reading Jazz,” and Robert Kimball is the editor of complete lyrics collections of Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, and Lorenz Hart.

34:55

Other segments from the episode on December 20, 2000

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 20, 2000: Interview with Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball; Obituary for Milt Hinton.

Transcript

DATE December 20, 2000 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Robert Kimball and Robert Gottlieb talk about their
book "Reading Lyrics" and about their favorite lyricists
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "The Continental")

Ms. GINGER ROGERS: (Singing) I answer, you'll come. Two bodies swaying the
continental. And you are saying just what you're dreaming of so keep on
dancing the continental. For it's a song of romance and of love. Kiss while
you are dancing.

Unidentified Man: Not a bad idea.

Ms. ROGERS: Continental, it's continental. You sing while your dancing.
Your voice is gentle and sentimental. You stroll together arm in arm,
nonchalantly glide along with grace and charm. You will find, while you're
dancing...

GROSS: OK, well, first I'll confess to a mistake. We expected to play for
you Fred Astaire singing "Night and Day." We heard Ginger Rogers singing "The
Continental." A nice song lyric. Not quite as good as "Night and Day." And
"Night and Day" is one of the 1,000 great song lyrics collected in the new
book "Reading Lyrics." It focuses on song lyrics from shows, movies and
prerock pop. My guests are the editors of "Reading Lyrics," Robert Kimball
and Robert Gottlieb. Kimball is a music theater expert who has also edited
collections of the complete lyrics of Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin and Lorenz
Hart. Gottlieb is the former editor in chief of the Knopf publishing company
and the former editor of the New Yorker Magazine. Here's a song in which
Kimball and Gottlieb agree has one of the greatest lyrics. It was written in
1937 by lyricist Ira Gershwin with music by his brother George. This
recording features Mel Torme.

(Soundbite of "Our Love is Here to Stay")

Mr. MEL TORME: (Singing) It's very clear our love is here to stay. Not for
a year, but ever and a day. The radio and the telephone and the movies that
we know maybe passing fancies and in time may go. But, oh, my dear, our love
is here to stay. Together we're going a long, long way. In time the Rockies
may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble. They're only made of clay. But our love
is here to stay.

GROSS: Robert Kimball, Robert Gottlieb, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. ROBERT GOTTLIEB (Editor of "Reading Lyrics"): Thank you.

Mr. ROBERT KIMBALL (Editor of "Reading Lyrics"): Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: The song that we just heard from the Gershwin's "Our Love is Here to
Stay," where does that fit in, Robert Kimball, in your world of lyrics?

Mr. KIMBALL: Last song George Gershwin wrote and maybe one of the last songs
written by any composer. And Ira finished the song after George died. George
had only written the refrain.

GROSS: And, Robert Gottlieb, in terms of the writings and the rhymes, what do
you find really special about that song.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Well, you know, one of the things that is said about Ira
Gershwin is that his rhyming is very complicated and maybe over-clever. And
here, in this song, is the proof that that is not necessarily, or often so.
Just go right to the beginning of the refrain, `It's very clear, our love is
here to stay.' The way that, in the middle of the line, that catches. And
again, and in `Time may go, oh, my dear,' and you hear that echo but it's not
a bang rhyme at the end of a line. It's just in there. And then it's all so
simple and then you get that wonderful image, at the end, of the Rockies and
Gibraltar, which is the only fancy moment and then it's gone. I just think
it's a perfect lyric.

GROSS: Now I can't imagine where you started in trying to examine all the
great lyrics of popular song from the turn of the century to 1975. How did
you go about, first of all, surveying what they were and then figuring out
which were worth including?

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Well, I don't know how other anthologists work but I work and
we worked by diving in the middle without a plan. I happen to have a vast
record library and I just started picking up records and listening to
hundreds, thousands of records and supplementing that by looking at printed
books, sheet music, etc. and I would gather together hundreds of songs that I
thought were possible and Bob would come over and we'd sit and listen to them
all and we'd start drawing up lists. And then it turned out to be by
lyricists. Because we weren't even sure it was going to be done that way when
we started work on the book. It ended up as a book about lyricists, as much
as a book about songs.

Mr. KIMBALL: And I brought tons of songbooks over to his house. He probably
wondered if he'd ever be free of them as we cluttered his living room and
worked together very well back and forth. But we've worked together for
years.

GROSS: Now I know that choosing pop songs is not an empirical process, where
you can actually measure what is the better song. So did you have criteria
other than what really struck you for inclusion in the book?

Mr. KIMBALL: One criteria, certainly, is that songs that have endured. I
mean, songs have a way of living and how they live is a fascinating process.
Sometimes they burn brightly in a way and then they somehow pass from view
from a time and come back. So there are many different avenues you have to
explore to make this all come together. So I think that the fact that we were
open and that we knew that we were going to go through a very long process of
learning, listening, thinking, reflecting, shaping, those are all part of
that.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: But finally, I think we felt that those songs that we were
going to include were songs that could be sung today by cabaret singers or
whoever. In other words, that they had a viable life in the now. They
weren't just historical curiosities. And that applies to some of the very
earliest songs, which maybe at this moment, no one is singing. But they are
songs we thought could be sung now and wouldn't be risible.

GROSS: Let's play a song that I think works really well on a lot of levels.
It's one of the songs that you both brought with you today. The song is
"These Foolish Things." And I think this is an example of a lyric that just
works as good writing but also it has a real pleasing rhymes. Bob Gottlieb,
would you talk about this song a little bit, why you chose it.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Well, it's always been one of my favorite songs. That's a
good reason to have chosen it. What we're going to hear today, Ella
Fitzgerald singing it in a concert version--and by the way, people say that
Ella scants words. You can here that, again, that is not true. She is right
on top of the words and their meaning. You have no feeling that she is
sacrificing them to the jazzy aspects of...

Mr. KIMBALL: But her voice is so beautiful, that that's what people are
responding to, the sheer beauty and glory of the voice is so great that we
often forget that she's fine on words.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: This is also one of the not-many examples of a first-rate
British song because this was written in England by three people, of whom the
key one for the lyric is a man named Eric Maschwitz. Although when it was
published, he didn't use that name. He used the name--What is it?--Marvell?

Mr. KIMBALL: Holt Marvell.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: He used the name Holt Marvell.

Mr. KIMBALL: I think he used other names, too.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: He had a predacious career in England, he wrote operetta, he
wrote musicals, he wrote reviews, he wrote books, he was a very interesting
person. But this song has prevailed and is sung by everybody.

GROSS: You point out in your book, he wrote the screenplay for "Goodbye, Mr.
Chip's."

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Right.

GROSS: Yeah, why don't we hear "These Foolish Things" sung in concert by Ella
Fitzgerald.

(Soundbite of "These Foolish Things")

Ms. ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing) A cigarette that bears a lipstick traces.
And their line ticket to romantic places. And still my hardest ways, these
foolish things remind me of you. A tinkling piano in the next apartment.
Those stumbling words that told you what my heart meant. A fairground's
painted swings, these foolish things remind me of you. You came, you saw, you
conquered me. When you did that to me, I knew somehow it had to be. The
winds of March that made my heart a dancer. A telephone that rings but who's
to answer. Oh, how the ghost of you clings. These foolish things remind me
of you.

GROSS: That's Ella Fitzgerald in concert singing "These Foolish Things," one
of the many lyrics in the book "Reading Lyrics," which is edited by Robert
Gottlieb, former editor in chief of Knopf. And Robert Kimball, whose an
expert on music theater and has edited several books on lyrics and composers.
Do we all like the rhyme of `The piano in the next apartment that told you
what my heart meant'? Yeah.

Mr. KIMBALL: I like it. It's so unexpectable.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: And this song leads to all those other songs like "Thanks for
the Memories" that also are nostalgic about collapsed love affairs.

GROSS: They're list songs where...

Mr. KIMBALL: Yes.

GROSS: ...there's like a list of things that you're thankful for or that
remind you of something.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Yes. Right.

GROSS: And I think that list form is a whole genre of song. Robert Gottlieb,
you've edited--published many books of poetry.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: That's for sure.

GROSS: And you're the former editor in chief at Knopf.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Yep.

GROSS: And your publishing company put out many, many books of poetry.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: And still does.

GROSS: And still does and I'm sure you've read much poetry over the years.
How do you think of lyrics as compared--how do you judge lyrics differently
than you judge poetry?

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Well, it's very, very complicated because a lyric is half of a
work of art, or half of a non-work of art, depending on what the song is. And
you can read it and speak it separately and, yet, you know that something is
not there that is intrinsic to it. Whereas a poem obviously stands by itself.
And you're very affected when you read a lyric by whether you know the tune or
not. It's a completely different reading experience and that's why it's so
hard to judge these things because there are certain songs that we all know,
that we were born knowing them and how do you forget the music to "Night and
Day?" You can't. You can't read `Night and day, you are the one' without
hearing Cole Porter.

GROSS: My guests are Robert Kimball and Robert Gottlieb, editors of the new
book "Reading Lyrics." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests Robert Kimball and Robert Gottlieb edited the new book
"Reading Lyrics," a collection of 1,000 great lyrics, written between 1900
and 1975.

I think that a lot of people used to read rhyming poetry.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Yeah.

GROSS: And very few people read rhyming poetry or write rhyming poetry
anymore. But I think song lyrics have given us our fix of rhymes, that we get
our rhymes through songs or through rap, depending on what it is that you
listen to. Do you agree with that?

Mr. GOTTLIEB: I think that those of us who grew up with classic songs, which
is most of the century, definitely are affected by rhyme that way and hear
rhyme because of that. Whereas, as you say, in the 19th century, people who
grew up on Longfellow, they--"Paul Revere" has rhymes, you know. But it is
songs, I think, that gives us our sense of rhyme. And that's why our ears
spasm when we hear bad rhymes or fake rhymes. It's just wrong. We still get
rhymes in country music, you know. It's one of the reasons, I think, country
music is still so successful.

GROSS: I think that there are certain expectations that you bring to a kind
of classic American popular song: One is, there'll be a verse, there's a kind
of setup before the real melody begins and the other is that there will be a
bridge, that after you hear the real melody sung through a couple of times,
there's going to maybe be a key change, there's going to be a melodic change,
you're going to go into a different direction and then you're going to have
the pleasure of returning to the familiar direction that the song initially
brought you in. Is that a fairly--is that like a 20th century phenomenon,
that type of pattern for a song?

Mr. KIMBALL: I can't speak about way, way back, in art songs, to what
extent they followed these very, somewhat restricted patterns. But I think
that's been fairly common in songs. Although, you do have, in theater songs,
some variation in that. You have extended numbers, where the number is really
a series of sections that don't follow that prescription, very often, an
opening chorus, or a number that might lead out of a big scene. This is much
more related to the kind of operetta-style song that was a big part of the
European tradition that, of course, got incorporated into our American
polyglot tradition in the '20s.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: You know, in a lot of musical plays or musical comedies, you
will find a song in which there's, let's say, witty patter or witty refrain
and then there'll be another, like, introduction to it and there will be
another--in other words, the chorus will come back and back and back after
extended sections that are different.

GROSS: I'd like to ask you a little bit about some of the--there's a few
African-American composers from the earlier part of the century that you
include in the book. Each of whom have written at least one song that most
people will know, though few people will recognize their names. And I'm
thinking of Harry Creamer, Cecil Mack, Shelton Brooks.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Sure. Shelton Brooks, of course, was known for a number of
songs but "Some of These Days" is considered one of the most important songs
of the century by many.

GROSS: And I think most of these lyricists got started in Vaudeville acts,
which is interesting. And I thought another interesting thing is that most of
them, although are African-American, wrote for a lot of white performers as
well as black performers, that the color line didn't stop them or stop them
completely anyways for placing songs with famous white singers like Sophie
Tucker.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Sophie was very special and they all loved writing for her and
she was wonderfully supportive of the Afro-American songwriters. They all
loved her very much.

GROSS: I thought maybe we could hear from one of the lyricists singing the
song himself. And this is Shelton Brooks singing "Some of These Days." And
it was Sophie Tucker who had the big hit of this. But this is a recording he
made at a 1940 concert in San Francisco, as a benefit for ASCAP. And I think
that you can hear in his singing that he really is from Vaudeville. So why
don't we hear the lyricist Shelton Brooks singing his own song.

(Soundbite of "Some of These Days")

Mr. SHELTON BROOKS: (Singing) Some of these days, gone away. Some of these
days, day, day, don't be lonely. You going to miss my huggin', you miss me
kissin'. You miss me baby, when your daddy goes away. You think I am lonely,
oh yeah, yeah, only, only. You know, honey, I let you have your way. When
you leave me, I know it's going to grieve me. You're going to make your
bald-head daddy, some of these days. Let's sing.

GROSS: What do you think about, Robert Kimball, Robert Gottlieb, listening to
that?

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Hearing the stride piano accompaniment...

GROSS: And that's the lyricist at the piano, too.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Yeah, you know, it's--he--you're right. He's a vaudeville
person who had to get over their--all these songwriting teams were
vaudevillians and they all performed their own material and it was very
important for them because they didn't get really great spots on the
vaudeville bills across the country in those years. And they had to work
their way up so that, occasionally, when they got to next to closing, that was
pretty exciting. That was pretty extraordinary. But, yes, they were their
own promoters of their songs and this is a great song. What a neat
performance.

GROSS: Robert Kimball and Robert Gottlieb edited the new book "Reading
Lyrics." They'll be back in the second half of the show. Let's close this
half-hour with a great lyric by Tom Adair. The song is "Everything Happens to
Me" and the singer is the song's composer, Matt Dennis. I'm Terry Gross and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Everything Happens to Me")

Mr. MATT DENNIS: (Singing) I make a date for golf and you can bet your life
it rains. Tried to give a party and the guy upstairs complains. Guess I'll
go through life just catching colds and missing trains, everything happens to
me. I never miss a thing, I've had the measles and the mumps. And every time
I play an ace, my partner always trumps. Guess I'm just a fool who never
looks before he jumps, everything happens to me. At first, my heart thought
you would break this jinx for me. That love would turn the trick to end
despair. But now I just can't fool this head that thinks funny. I've
mortgaged all my castles in the air. I've telegraphed...

(Announcements)

Unidentified Chorus: (In unison) Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: We're listening to Cab Calloway's band with Milt Hinton on bass.
Coming up we'll remember Hinton. He died yesterday at the age of 90. Also,
more song lyrics.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) What do you know, Gab? Are you in the know or
are you a solid bringer-downer? Listen here, guy. Take it slow and you can
learn just what I mean. Are you hip to the jive?

Unidentified Chorus: (In unison) Yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Are you hip to the jive?

Unidentified Chorus: (In unison) Yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Are you hip? Are you hip? Are you keeping in
step? Are you hip to the jive? Do you lace your boots high?

Unidentified Chorus: (In unison) Yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Are you fly? Are you fly?

Unidentified Chorus: (In unison) Yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Do you dig? Do you dig? Do you swing on the
(unintelligible)? Are you hip to the jive? Do you get in the groove.

Unidentified Chorus: (In unison) Yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Does the beat make you move?

Unidentified Chorus: (In unison) Yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Do you send yourself jack and then trip, be on
back 'cause you know that it's smooth? Oh, are you hip to the jive?

Unidentified Chorus: (In unison) Yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Are you hip to the jive?

Unidentified Chorus: (In unison) Yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Are you hip? Are you hip? Are you keeping in
step? Are you hip to the jive?

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Robert Kimball and Robert Gottlieb, the editors of the new book
"Reading Lyrics." The book collects 1,000 of the greatest lyrics from shows,
movies and pre-rock pop and features short biographies of the lyricists.
Robert Kimball also edited collections of the complete lyrics of Ira Gershwin,
Lorenz Hart and Cole Porter. He's the artistic adviser to the Ira Gershwin
and Cole Porter estates. Robert Gottlieb is the former editor in chief of the
Knopf publishing company and former editor of the New Yorker Magazine.

I'm interested in the music that you grew up with. What was the music that
you first became aware of and that first got you interested in music? Robert
Gottlieb.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: The first song I remember focusing on, for what will be obvious
reasons is--coming home from summer camp one year, I must have been nine or 10
and the kids in my class were singing something called "Marzedotes and
Dozedotes and Little Lambsy Divey(ph)," not in our book, actually. And then I
thought, `What is this?' I felt very left out and behind because I had been
away and I didn't know what this was so I started listening to the radio. And
then this was a period of songs like "Blues in the Night" and "Chattanooga
Choo-Choo." Those were songs that were my first really `Poinciana, your
branches speak to me of love.' These are the songs that were real to me when
I was 10, 11.

Mr. KIMBALL: We remember "Sentimental Journey."

Mr. GOTTLIEB: That's later.

Mr. KIMBALL: Yes, but this is a few years later.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Right.

Mr. KIMBALL: And it would have been the mid-40s. That was pretty early for
me, but my experience is because my mother both played and sang with the
theater, and an early show experience, of course, was "Annie Get Your Gun" and
hearing Ethel Merman perform. That was very exciting for me. I came to know
her later in life and remained a big admirer of hers all the way to the end.

GROSS: Did either of you have--I grew up in the '50s and '60s and there was
this huge musical gap between what I was listening to as a child and what my
parents were listening to. They wanted to listen to the station that played
Perry Como; I wanted to listen to the station that played Elvis Presley. And
there was a real musical war going on. Was there musical conflict when you
were coming of age with your parents?

Mr. GOTTLIEB: No, it was quite the opposite.

Mr. KIMBALL: Not at all. Aot at all. There was the same music that I felt.
Your experience, too, Robert.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Yeah, for instance, my mother played the piano and she loved
to sing and we used to sing a lot. We sang a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan and
she'd play and I'd sing. But when "Oklahoma" opened in the early '40s, which
is the first musical I really remember seeing, we bought all the sheet music
and we sang all those songs from "Oklahoma." And that was the way people
really were related to music then. It's now become almost a cliche to say it.
There was a piano in every middle-class home and people played and sang
together. And that's how we knew those songs. Yes, there was stuff on the
air, but it was nothing like the way it is today.

GROSS: Instead of having a garage band, you sat around the piano in the
living room.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: That's right. And even if you had a garage band, your mother
wasn't going to be a part of it, I believe, in your day.

GROSS: Absolutely.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Unless your mother was a very special lady.

GROSS: Unless you were "The Partridge Family."

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Right.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. KIMBALL: Radio was important...

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Radio was important.

Mr. KIMBALL: ...and then "Your Hit Parade" that was important...

Mr. GOTTLIEB: "Your Hit Parade" was very...

Mr. KIMBALL: ...the show we listened to.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Yeah.

Mr. KIMBALL: And my parents always told me that they got married to "I'm In
The Mood For Love," which was a 1935 song. And it's always--became drawn to
that material because it meant something to them so we were still connected
musically.

GROSS: Are any of the songs that you brought with you today songs that you
remember from your childhood?

Mr. GOTTLIEB: "It's Delovely(ph)."

Mr. KIMBALL: Yes, I would say "It's Delovely."

Mr. GOTTLIEB: "Making Whoopie."

Mr. KIMBALL: "Making Whoopie"...

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Certainly.

Mr. KIMBALL: ...would be a song that I remember. There was just this huge
body of sheet music that sat on the piano bench. And as I say, both my
parents loved music and performed, but my mother was especially--really loved
it and taught it to me. When I was learning piano lessons, I would plunk out
occasionally a little simplified version of a pop song or a theater song. I
mean it was a great moment in our house when the songs from "Carousel" came to
us. My mother just thought they were the greatest things we'd ever heard.

GROSS: You mentioned "Making Whoopie." Why don't we hear that? In fact, why
don't we hear two versions of that 'cause you were talking about how these
songs have such a remarkable life and how they're changed depending on what
era it is and who's singing it. So why don't we play the Eddie Cantor version
which you brought with you and then hear that back to back with the Ray
Charles version. Did Eddie Cantor have the first hit of this?

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Yes, he was in the musical...

Mr. KIMBALL: Yeah, he introduced this song. It was from the show called
"Whoopie" in 1928 by Walter Donaldson, the composer, and Gus Kahn, lyricist.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: It was a Ziegfeld show. And then it became a wonderful--there
was a wonderful filmed version of it also with Eddie Cantor. Really the
truest view we have of Ziegfeld shows comes from that movie of "Whoopie," you
know? And again just this is a song that was written for Eddie Cantor. This
is one of those situations in which songwriters wrote for a particular star
and his delivery.

GROSS: And...

Mr. GOTTLIEB: And you can see what it's like when somebody from a completely
different--not a vaudeville, Ziegfeld background, but a much more contemporary
R&B background, how he deals with it.

GROSS: Let's hear it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EDDIE CANTOR: (Singing) Every time I hear that march from "Lohengrin," I
am always on the outside looking in. Maybe that is why I see the funny side
when I see a fallen brother take a bride. Weddings make a lot of people sad,
but if you're not the groom, it's not so bad. Another bride, another June,
another sunny honeymoon, another season, another reason for making whoopie.

Mr. RAY CHARLES: (Singing) A lot of shoes, a lot of rice. The groom is
nervous, he answers twice. It's really killing, the boy's so willing to make
whoopie, whoopie.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. CHARLES: Picture a little love nest, yeah, down where the roses cling.
Picture that same sweet love nest, see what a year can bring. I tell you the
boy's washing dishes and baby clothes. He's so ambitious, ooh, I tell you he
sews. It's really killing. The boy's so willing to make whoopie, whoopie.

GROSS: That's two versions of the Gus Kahn lyric "Making Whoopie." We heard
Eddie Cantor, for whom the song was written, and then we heard from Ray
Charles. One of the many lyrics included in the new book "Reading Lyrics."
The two editors are my guests, Robert Kimball, who has edited several books of
lyrics and is an expert of music theater, and Robert Gottlieb, the former
editor in chief of Knopf, former editor of The New Yorker Magazine.

Well, that is one of the great `don't mention sex but it's about sex' kind of
lyrics.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Right.

GROSS: Find a nicer word to use than sex. And, of course, you know,
listening to that, you can't help but think too Pepsi for those who think
young because it's one of the many songs that eventually become an
advertisement, a jingle. And I think for people who love songs always feel so
irritated...

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Yeah.

GROSS: ...when a song becomes a jingle.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: And yet it's a prime source of income for the estates...

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: ...of these writers.

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. KIMBALL: I've become much more philosophical about that over the years
and I hear a song like...

GROSS: Well, you handle the Ira Gershwin estate, so...

Mr. KIMBALL: I do...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. KIMBALL: ...and Cole Porter. When I hear--well, we've made some
mistakes. We've allowed "I've Got You Under My Skin" to advertise a cleaning
for a toilet bowl, "I've Got You Under My Rim." That was one of our
classic...

GROSS: Are you kidding?

Mr. GOTTLIEB: No, come on.

Mr. KIMBALL: ...oversights. We managed to let that go by, `Oh, anything you
guys want, it's fine with us.' Yesterday, I was listening to a commercial for
the Harlem Globetrotters and they was "Sweet Georgia Brown." And a lot of
people don't know that. It's a great song, "Sweet Georgia Brown," Macy O'Pink
Hart(ph). And you hear it with the Harlem Globetrotters. It's their theme
song, so I suppose that, you know, the love nest was kept alive by Burns and
Allen's radio show. So many of these songs are connected through commercials
and it's OK.

GROSS: Have either of you tried your hand at writing lyrics?

Mr. KIMBALL: Only for special occasions, for friends. Sometimes somebody
would want something written for an occasion. I used to write campaign lyrics
for John Lindsay when I was his legislative assistant.

GROSS: No.

Mr. KIMBALL: They're pretty awful. But I would--when he was a congressman,
we would go up to New York together and John and Mary Lindsay would sit on the
eastern shuttle and laugh reading The Sunday Times while I was penning out a
version of "You're the Top" that somehow extolled him above every other
political figure since Abraham Lincoln.

GROSS: Do you remember any of the lyrics?

Mr. KIMBALL: I don't think you want...

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Let's hope not.

Mr. KIMBALL: Well, I think I probably do. How about I forget such matchless
greatness. No, they were for the occasion. Then I'd have to teach them to
campaign workers and the Lindsays laughed a lot.

GROSS: Robert Kimball, Robert Gottlieb, thank you both so much for talking
with us about lyrics. Thank you.

Mr. KIMBALL: Thanks, Terry.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Thank you.

GROSS: Robert Kimball and Robert Gottlieb edited the new book "Reading
Lyrics," a collection of a thousand great lyrics from shows, movies and
pre-rock pop.

Coming up, we'll remember bass player Milt Hinton. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Milt Hinton's career in music
TERRY GROSS, host:

Bass player Milt Hinton was a beloved figure in jazz. He died yesterday at
the age of 90.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: That's Milt Hinton with Benny Goodman recorded in 1959. Through
Hinton's 70-year career, he was one of the most in demand bass players. Among
the people he played with were Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton,
Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. He not only
made his mark in jazz history as a musician, he helped record jazz history
through the thousands of photographs he took of his fellow musicians at home,
on the road and in the studio. His photos were exhibited in galleries and
collected in two books. FRESH AIR guest host Marti Moscoane(ph) spoke with
Hinton in 1988 after the publication of his book, "Bass Line" written with
Dave Berger. Marti talked with Hinton about his famous photo of Billie
Holiday at her final recording session in 1958, making her album "Lady In
Satin," which featured Hinton on bass.

(Excerpt from 1988 interview)

Ms. BILLIE HOLIDAY: (Singing) Love is tearful. Oh, it's gay. It's a
problem. Oh, it's play. It's a heartache anyway but beautiful. And I'm
thinking if you were mine I'd never let you go. And that would be but
beautiful I know.

Mr. MILT HINTON (Bass Player): This was our last recording session, and she
really was not well. And she needed the money. She's hadn't been working
regularly. She needed the money and they asked her to do this recording. I
guess people knew there wasn't much time left. And she agreed. She says, `If
you can get the guys that used to record me years ago, if you can find some of
those fellows, I'd be glad to do it.' But we were all there, and the music
was great. And she just wasn't in a position to sing. Her voice was a little
bad and here you see her after we made this record and she's listening to
herself back.

And, of course, no photographers were in there because you can't have
photographers around when we're recording. You can't have the clicking of the
camera. But I can wait until the recording's over. The playback is on, see,
and then I can whip out my camera and here she is listening so intently to how
good the music sounds and her singing is not what she expects of herself. And
some of the shots were just really very sad because there's one shot--I don't
think David put it in the book--of her with a--she hears a bad note and she
sort of blushes and you can see a tear coming in the corner of her eye. And
one of the pictures shows a music--I didn't even really see that when I took
the picture and composing the picture. I was concentrating on her face and
how she was reacting, which when I looked at it later, the title of the music
was "But Not For Me." So it these kinds of things that I was trying to
capture.

MARTI MOSCOANE (Guest Host): You were born in Mississippi in a town...

Mr. HINTON: Vicksburg, Mississippi.

MOSCOANE: Yeah. What kind of a place was Vicksburg?

Mr. HINTON: Well, for a black guy like me, it wasn't too easy. It wasn't
too good. I don't remember too many bad things about it, except one lynching
that I really saw once. It was exciting and frightening to me.

MOSCOANE: Well, you were about seven or eight years old.

Mr. HINTON: Seven years old, yeah. I saw this and...

MOSCOANE: What'd you see?

Mr. HINTON: Well, my uncle had been in an automobile accident, and I had gone
to the hospital to see him with my mother's youngest sister who was just about
four or five years older than I. And she was sort of a chaperoning me 'cause
I was about seven or eight. Coming home--and we saw this mob of people, and
we had to go right by this street in order to get to our house. I saw this
great mob of people there. And there were carrying on, a lot of noise. There
was gun shooting. And being inquisitive like any little boy'd be, I just
walked up to it. My aunt was trying to pull me away, and there was this black
man hung up on a tree. And they put a drum of gasoline under him, and the
fire was burning. He was rattling like a piece of bacon, but the guy had long
been dead because he had been accused of looking in some window or something,
at somebody undressing.

MOSCOANE: What kind of impression did that leave on you?

Mr. HINTON: Well, I couldn't really understand it. I couldn't believe what
I was seeing. It didn't leave me with the impression that this was a human
being. It was just a body here. But the sad part when I got home, my
grandmother and all the black ladies in the neighborhood were getting their
boy children together and they would put black pepper in the socks of the
children and the boys...

MOSCOANE: Why?

Mr. HINTON: So that if a dog came to smelling, the dog would go away. So
they wouldn't be--in case the dog came and barked or whatever. Where if they
had black pepper in their socks, that dog wouldn't come near them. This is a
kind of defense that these people--and my grandmother had been a slave, but
she was a young girl. She'd been a slave of Joe Davis(ph), who was Jefferson
Davis' father, who was president of the South. So her name was--at the
Emancipation Proclamation, she took the name of her overseer, the man that was
over the plantation. His name was Carter. So her name was Hady Lady Carter
Robertson(ph). And she was free from the time as a girl and she grew up and
married a man named Matt Robertson(ph) and had almost 13 children by him, the
last child born five months after his father was dead. So this poor lady must
have had some time trying to raise these children. A great deal of the
children died early in childbirth, like early in their life. Only five or six
really survived, of which my mother was one.

MOSCOANE: You moved to Chicago. I guess, you were maybe 10 years old...

Mr. HINTON: Yeah.

MOSCOANE: ...something like that.

Mr. HINTON: Something like that, yeah.

MOSCOANE: It was your first train ride, and what was Chicago like. I mean,
you were a kid coming from Mississippi, from the Deep South, and Chicago was
quite a town.

Mr. HINTON: It was quite shock and quite an experience for us. My mother had
preceded me. My mother and my uncles has preceded me to Chicago. They had
come over here to make room to get some places to stay and get some jobs,
'cause everybody in the South had been hearing about Chicago being very--lots
of work for unskilled blacks.

MOSCOANE: You talk about some of the people in your high school who went on
to fame. And there was someone I suppose more infamous in Chicago that you
had seen. And that was Al Capone.

Mr. HINTON: Well, yeah, he was a big influence in Chicago during my early
years there.

MOSCOANE: He kind of ran the place didn't he?

Mr. HINTON: He sort of ran the place and he ran it on--we looked at him more
or less as a Robin Hood.

MOSCOANE: Did you?

Mr. HINTON: We really did.

MOSCOANE: I mean, in spite of his reputation for violence and...

Mr. HINTON: In spite of his reputation, whatever. There wasn't that much
violence; it's a matter of control. Al Capone, he was violent if you didn't
go by his rules, but if you went by his rules--example, if he came into a
black neighborhood, he hired all black people to take care of the vices and
the alcohol and the prostitution. He hired all black people in the
neighborhood to take care of, say, `Now you run this hotel and you buy your
alcohol from me. You buy it from me at $12 a gallon, and you sell it at $16,
so you make $8 or whatever it is on the gallon.'

So anyway, this is the way it ran around in the neighborhood, but the black
people were in charge of it. And I remember...

MOSCOANE: You used to deliver, didn't you? You used to deliver...

Mr. HINTON: Yeah. After school, I would--my uncle was in charge of selling
this stuff to what we call flats. These were the houses where the people come
and have a little party or something, sit around with their ladies. And we
delivered alcohol to these people. The people in the neighborhood bought it
from us, and my uncle would have me go with him to deliver it. And I had a
terrible accident doing that. And...

MOSCOANE: Almost lost your hands...

Mr. HINTON: Yeah.

MOSCOANE: ...right?

Mr. HINTON: Almost lost my finger. And, in fact, they was just almost off
in this one accident that I was in. And I was screaming because I was
studying violin and playing violin and the doctor said everything on my right
side was broken. I have a tremendous scar on my face. My right hand was
broken. My hand was broken, and my finger was just hanging off, you know?
And the doctor said--of course, Al Capone heard about it 'cause there was
alcohol all over the street, just cans of it. My uncle was out cold. I
thought he was dead. He had a lot of money in his pocket. I picked it up and
stuck in mine, and I got to the hospital. They scooped me out of the streets
and got me to the hospital and this doctor said, `Well, I can't do anything
for this finger. I'll have to cut it off.' And Al Capone had heard about
this accident and he came over to see that everything was OK. And the police
never said a word about the alcohol in the street. It was just like it was
water out there. And he came to the hospital to see how I was coming along.
And I was in there screaming when the guy said he'd have to cut my finger off.
And I said, `Oh, please don't do that,' and he said to this doctor. He says,
`Don't cut his finger off. Don't cut it off.' And I have that finger to this
very day. They fixed it.

MOSCOANE: You have Al Capone to thank for it, right?

Mr. HINTON: I surely did.

GROSS: We'll hear more of this 1988 interview with Milt Hinton after a break.
Hinton died yesterday at the age of 90. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Jazz bass player Milt Hinton died yesterday at the age of 90. Before
we get back to the 1988 interview that FRESH AIR guest host Marti Moscoane
recorded with him, let's hear Hinton with Cab Calloway and his band.

(Soundbite of music)

(Excerpt from 1988 interview)

MOSCOANE: How did you come to play bass 'cause you started off with violin?

Mr. HINTON: Oh, yeah. Well, most of the kids in the neighborhood when I was
13 years old, July 18th, 1923, I took my first violin lesson.

MOSCOANE: You remember the date.

Mr. HINTON: Yeah, I remember the date. It's very important to me, and I
played the violin in the orchestra. And then in 1929, Al Jolson made the
first sound movie in 1929, "The Jazz Singer." And in all the neighborhoods,
there was big orchestras in the every theater because they had the silent
movies so they would have the orchestra. It was a small neighborhood, you'd
have two or three pieces--a piano and a violin to play for the music on the
screen because there was no sound there. But when he made that first movie,
"The Jazz Singer," there was sound. Every orchestra lost their job because
now the sound is on the screen, it's recorded. So all the neighborhoods, all
the violin players all over the United States lost their jobs in the theaters
and especially in this black community of ours. Every black violin player
lost his job. There was no place to--the nightclubs didn't have violins in
there. They had trumpets and trombones and saxophones and clarinets, but no
violins.

So here I was just about prepared to enter this great world of theater and
there was no jobs available. My teachers that were teaching me had no jobs.
And Al Capone again, our Robin Hood, had opened up a club called the Cotton
Club on the Westside of Chicago in Cicero(ph). You know, of course, the
Cotton Club meant that you had black entertainment. It wasn't black customers
but the entertainment was all black girls and boys and orchestra. And I'm at
this day of age where I'm not ready to go out into the world. And all my
peers from high schools, they played horns, got a job in Al Capone's
orchestra, the Cotton Club Orchestra over there. And there we were. My
parents were making $25 and $30 a week in the stockyards working in the
railroad stations and here we are making--the guys were making $75 a week,
which was astronomical salary. And Capone made it possible for them to get
anything they want. They guys would say, `Look, I need a car.' He'd say, `Go
down there and I tell them I said give you a car and you can pay $5 a week on
a car,' or something like that.

And here I'm delivering newspapers for $9 a week because I'm still playing
this violin and there wasn't much music but I don't have it. I'm playing this
violin, and I deliver newspapers and these guys are getting off at 5:00 in the
morning from these nightclubs and I'm just beginning to go out with my
newspapers and I would be so embarrassed, I would hide. I wouldn't let them
see me. They had Ford cars with disc wheels and that's when I said, `Heck,
I've got to get me another instrument.' So I thought it was quite easy to go
from violin to bass because they're both stringed instruments and they both
have four strings and...

MOSCOANE: And was that an easy transition for you?

Mr. HINTON: It was easy for me, yeah.

MOSCOANE: I mean, there are four strings but it's...

Mr. HINTON: Well, four strings exactly backwards. The violin is E, A, D, G.

MOSCOANE: Right.

Mr. HINTON: And the bass is D, G, A, E. So fourth become fifths on the
version where it's three harmony...

MOSCOANE: Yeah.

Mr. HINTON: ...if you turn it around, you can count it around, the fourth
becomes fifth. So that was too bad a conversion for me. I was accustomed to
strings, even though this was a bigger one, and I thought I'd try that. It
worked out very well. I kept practicing on it until some old bass player got
too drunk to make his engagement.

MOSCOANE: That's right. You said...

Mr. HINTON: And they'd say, `Well, just try this kid tonight. We can't do
it any better.' And I did fairly well. And, of course, they were satisfied.
And the next time the guy got drunk again, they called me until...

MOSCOANE: Here you are.

Mr. HINTON: ...I finally got to the place where I was doing pretty good.
And that was the biggest decision of my life to decide to give up my newspaper
route which I was sure of making $9 every week to take a chance on music
because I wasn't too sure I was going to make it. And I was getting $19 for
this one job. But it was very sparse. It came once every two, three weeks or
something like that.

GROSS: Milt Hinton recorded in 1988 with FRESH AIR guest host Marti Moscoane.
Hinton died yesterday at the age of 90.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

Ms. HOLIDAY: You'd be so easy to love, so easy to idolize all others above.
So words, the yearning for, so swell to keep every home fire burning for.
We'd be so grand at the game, so carefree together that it does seem a shame
that you can't see your future with me...

(Credits)

GROSS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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