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Composer Jerry Bock and Lyricist Sheldon Harnick

One of their most beloved musicals — Fiddler on the Roof — is back on Broadway. The production, at the Minskoff Theatre, stars Alfred Molina as Tevye and includes a new song they wrote. There's a new cast recording of the show. Bock and Harnick collaborated on Fiorello (which won a Pulitzer Prize), She Loves Me and The Rothschilds.

44:24

Other segments from the episode on June 21, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 21, 2004: Interview with Jerry Bock and Shelton Harnick; Commentary on swear words.

Transcript

DATE June 21, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Jerry Bock and Shelton Harnick discuss writing music
for "Fiddler on the Roof"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guests are composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick. They co-wrote
the songs for the Broadway musicals "Fiorello," "She Loves Me" and "Fiddler on
the Roof." There's a new cast recording of the current Broadway revival of
"Fiddler" starring Alfred Molina as Tevye, the role originated by Zero Mostel.
Tevye is a husband, father and milkman in Anatevka, a small Jewish village in
czarist Russia. The year is 1905. Here's Alfred Molina in the opening of the
new cast recording.

(Excerpt from "Fiddler on the Roof")

Mr. ALFRED MOLINA: (As Tevye) A fiddler on the roof sounds crazy, no? But
in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler
on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking
his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask, why do we stay up here if it's so
dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our
balance? That I can tell you in a word. Tradition.

Cast Members: (Singing) Tradition. Tradition. Tradition. Tradition.
Tradition. Tradition.

GROSS: "Fiddler on the Roof" opened on Broadway in September 1964 and ran for
3,242 performances, which was a Broadway record. It's since been performed
around the world. The show's book, by Joseph Stein, was based on the stories
of the Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem. Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock wrote a
new song for the new revival at the request of the show's director. Here's
Jerry Bock speaking first.

Mr. JERRY BOCK (Composer): David Leveaux, gently but most persuasively,
approached us and said, `Would you two consider writing a new song for the
score?' And there was a quiet but discernable shock at the assignment. We
were totally unprepared for that kind of gentle request. And then we had to
be persuaded that this particular song, which was to replace the original
gossip song in "Fiddler," was merited, was possible, and could we and would we
take it on?

GROSS: What was the perceived problem?

Mr. SHELDON HARNICK (Lyricist): Well--this is Sheldon Harnick speaking. The
problem was that the song was supposed to be for the matchmaker, Yente. The
appealing thing--before I tell you the problem, the appealing thing was, as
David pointed out, most of the songs in the score deal one way or another
with tradition, either the preservation of it or the changing of it. And as
David said, you haven't dealt with the tradition of the matchmaker, which was
changing at that time, and that's what he wanted us to explore musically. So
that was an appealing idea. The problem was, at that point in the show, as a
lyricist, I thought, I'm not sure I can find anything for her to say that we
haven't already heard. I don't know that there's anything new there, and
consequently, as clever as I might be, it still could turn out to be a
stage-weight. So that was a problem, conceivably.

GROSS: Well, here's another issue: You hadn't worked together in, like,
nearly 35 years.

Mr. BOCK: No problem. Not an issue.

GROSS: Not an issue?

Mr. BOCK: That...

GROSS: How'd you feel about getting back together again? Were you on good
terms?

Mr. BOCK: It's like we never--Jerry Bock. It's like we never stopped.

Mr. HARNICK: Yeah, that was...

GROSS: But when was the last time you'd spoken? When was the last time you
had actually, you know, been in the same room together?

Mr. HARNICK: Oh, for heaven's sakes. We...

Mr. BOCK: Endlessly. That's Sheldon.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. HARNICK: We've remained friends for all of our professional life, and
even if we hadn't, we would have had to get together, because there were
constant problems or things to discuss about our previous shows, so we've
always had to maintain a relationship, and as it happens, it's been an amiable
one.

Mr. BOCK: Jerry Bock. Terry, we weren't divorced. We were romantically
separated.

GROSS: OK. Well, Sheldon Harnick, tell us about the lyric that you wrote for
this new song, "Topsy-Turvy."

Mr. HARNICK: I confess, when I thought about the problem, my heart sank, but
I thought, `OK, let's give it a try and see what happens.' And I fell into
some ideas which I thought, `Yes, I think this could work.' The problem was,
if I remember correctly, I think we were two weeks into rehearsal when this
happened.

Mr. BOCK: Yes.

Mr. HARNICK: So I thought, `Oh, my, it has to be done very quickly.' And so
I wrote a draft very quickly, and of course, when you write something, you're
always or usually you're quite pleased with what you write. I wrote it, I
thought, `Oh, this is terrific.' And I faxed it to Jerry, and Jerry read it
and he said, `Oh, this is fine.' Then during the rest of that day while Jerry
presumably was off writing the music, I looked at the lyric with a colder eye
and I thought, `Oh, for heaven's sakes, I've written this so fast, there's
practically no form to it. I don't know how Jerry can deal with this.' So
the next day I called him, very contritely and I said, `I think I gave you an
impossible assignment.' Jerry, in effect, said, `Yes, you did.' And we had
to start over again.

Mr. BOCK: Bock speaking now. The thing that captured me musically was the
possibility of adding what only had been suggested in our score, which was to
really deal with the possibility of a klezmer musical background for this
particular moment.

GROSS: So are you saying that there was any more or less of a klezmer sound
to this song?

Mr. HARNICK: Yes, there is, more of it.

GROSS: More of it.

Mr. BOCK: More. More than less.

GROSS: OK.

Mr. HARNICK: There was another problem.

Mr. BOCK: But less is more.

Mr. HARNICK: There was another problem. Actually it turned out not to be a
problem, but we thought it might be. Yente, at that time, was Barbara Berrie,
who's a wonderful actor, but we had no idea how musical she was and what kind
of demands or challenges she could handle musically. And so as I wrote the
lyric, I kept thinking, `Well, let's see. I think these lines, if necessary,
can be spoken, and they can be handled actorly rather than singerly.' So that
was a consideration. And there was another consideration. The number that it
replaced, the gossip song, had originally been written actually as a scene
change. It was a different physical approach to the show, and we needed
something while a new set was being put into place.

So the gossip number really didn't have too much to do with the show. What it
did have was energy and humor. And when I looked at the score in the second
act, I thought the energy and the vitality of that number are necessary
because much of the second act's score, while being, I think, very beautiful,
is also rather gently, rather lyrical. So when we approached the song for
Yente, we thought, we have to preserve that feeling of animation. Then it was
a time-consuming give-and-take approach. I would give Jerry a lyric and he
was able to set the choruses but not the verses. And then Joe Stein came into
it, our book writer. And Joe read what we were doing, and he had his
comments, and some of them were negative, so I had to throw out certain things
that I'd written and start over.

What Jerry did, which actually solved the problem eventually of the verses,
rather than trying futilely to set what I had given him, which I think was
unsettable, he wrote some music and said, `How's this?' And when I listened
to the music, the first thing I thought was, `Oh, dear, what can I salvage?
What that I already have is going to fit this music?' And luckily, much of
what I'd written fit it.

GROSS: So Barbara Berrie was going to be--you mentioned this was written
initially with Barbara Berrie in mind, but she didn't actually make it to the
show, and Nancy Opel sings the part of the matchmaker.

Mr. BOCK: Correct.

Mr. HARNICK: That's right.

GROSS: So why don't we hear Nancy Opel singing the part of the matchmaker in
the new cast recording of "Fiddler on the Roof"?

Mr. HARNICK: Love to.

(Soundbite of "Fiddler on the Roof")

Ms. NANCY OPEL (As Yente): (Singing) It's all topsy turvy. No? Yes! The
world is a shambles, a mish-mosh.

Unidentified Singer It's a mess.

Ms. OPEL (As Yente): (Singing) We all have our troubles, right?

Unidentified Singer Right.

Ms. OPEL (As Yente): (Singing) And mine is my living. It changed overnight.

Unidentified Singer And why?

Ms. OPEL (As Yente): I'll tell you why. Young people. All of a sudden
everyone knows better than me. Who needs Yente? (Singing) Why come to me
when more and more they don't want marriage?

Unidentified Cast Members: No.

Ms. OPEL (As Yente): (Singing) No. It seems today they all insist on wedded
bliss.

Unidentified Cast Members: Yeah.

Ms. OPEL (As Yente): (Singing) A simple match is not for them. They'll only
marry for love.

Unidentified Singer They want to be happy.

Ms. OPEL (As Yente): They want to be happy. What kind of match is this?
Ah! (Singing) It's all topsy turvy, right?

Unidentified Singer Right.

Ms. OPEL (As Yente): (Singing) The world is a riddle.

Unidentified Singer A muddle.

Ms. OPEL (As Yente): (Singing) And a blight. The matchmaking business,
finished, done. But still, count your blessings.

Unidentified Singer I counted.

Ms. OPEL: (As Yente) None. Young people. They're all crazy.

GROSS: That's "Topsy-Turvy," a new song composed by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry
Bock for the new revival of "Fiddler on the Roof," and the cast recording of
that revival has just come out. How did you first start writing together?

Mr. HARNICK: We...

GROSS: I should mention that the other shows that you've done include
"Fiorello" and "She Loves Me."

Mr. HARNICK: Jerry was with a publisher named Tommy Valando, and he was
looking for a lyricist, and Tommy knew my work from the reviews to which I'd
contributed songs, and it was Tommy Valando who put us together. We had
actually met socially. I was called in to try and repair lyrics or add new
lyrics to a show called "Shangri-La," and in the show was Jack Cassidy.

Mr. BOCK: Jack Cassidy--Bock here--was our matchmaker. He introduced us and
slowly and surely we began to get to know each other, and both ended up in
Tommy Valando's office, who made it a professional arrangement that we would
become a words-and-music team.

GROSS: My guests are lyricist Sheldon Harnick and composer Jerry Bock. They
wrote the songs for "Fiddler on the Roof." The cast recording of the new
Broadway revival has just been released. We'll talk more after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick . They
wrote the songs for "Fiddler on the Roof." The story is set in 1905 in
Anatevka, a Jewish village in czarist Russia.

Jerry Bock, when you were writing the music for "Fiddler on the Roof," how
Jewish did you want the music to sound? How much did you want it to sound
like klezmer music, and how much did you want it to sound like Broadway music?

Mr. BOCK: It never entered my mind in either case. I knew the ambience was
going to be Russian and that it took place in a shtetl, but I had no
compulsion to research either early klezmer or particularly Russian music at
the turn of the century or just before the turn of the century. What happened
was that for some inexplicable reason, the music that I hadn't been able to
write with all our shows was something that I had silently deposited in my
creative mind, and the opportunity to now express myself with that kind of
music just opened up a flood of possibilities for me.

Mr. HARNICK: The only...

GROSS: Well, I--you go ahead.

Mr. HARNICK: The only piece of music that I can think of that was definitely
influenced by some Jewish music was "If I Were a Rich Man," because Jerry and
I had gone down to see a Hebrew Actors Union benefit. We went down looking to
see whether there were any performers in that that would be useful for our
show, and there was one. It was man named Svee Scooler, who became our
innkeeper. But as part of the entertainment, a mother and daughter came out
and they did a Hasidic chant all in thirds and sixths with just syllables, no
actual words. And Jerry called me the next day, saying he had been so taken
with this, that it inspired him to write something similar.

Mr. BOCK: And that was a collaborative thing again, because what affected us
was both the word chant as well as the accompanying music. But once again, I
think we converted it into our own variation of same.

Mr. HARNICK: Right.

GROSS: Well, Sheldon Harnick...

Mr. BOCK: And after all, it's only part. I don't want to put it down
because I think it's a surprising part and an endearing part of the whole
song, "If I Were a Rich Man."

GROSS: Well, I'm going to play "If I Were a Rich Man," and this is the only
track that I'm going to play from the original cast recording, because Zero
Mostel is so famous for how he interpreted this song. So let's hear Zero
Mostel from the original cast recording doing "If I Were a Rich Man."

Mr. ZERO MOSTEL (As Tevye): Dear God, you made many, many poor people. I
realize, of course, that it's no shame to be poor. But it's no great honor,
either. So what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?
(Singing) If I were a rich man, daidle deedle daidle daidle daidle deedle
daidle dum. All day long, I'd biddy-biddy-bum, if I were a wealthy man. I
wouldn't have to work hard, daidle deedle daidle daidle daidle deedle daidle
dum, if I were a biddy-biddy rich, daidle deedle daidle daidle man.

I'd build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen, right in the middle of a
town, a fine tin roof with real wooden floors below. There could be one lone
staircase just going up and one even longer coming down and one more leading
nowhere just for show. I'd fill my yard with chicks and turkeys and geese and
ducks for the town to see and hear, squawking just as noisily as they can.
And each loud `pa-pa-geeee! pa-pa-gaack! pa-pa-geeee! pa-pa-gaack!' would
land like a trumpet on the ear as if to say, `Here lives a wealthy man.' Oy,
if I were a rich man, daidle deedle daidle daidle daidle deedle daidle dum...

GROSS: Zero Mostel from the original cast recording, doing "If I Were a
Rich Man." There's a new cast recording from the new revival that's out.
We'll hear more from that in a moment. My guests are Sheldon Harnick, who
wrote the lyrics to the show, and Jerry Bock, who wrote the music, and by the
way, they wrote a new song for the new revival.

Sheldon Harnick, the `yeidel diedle, digga digga doo' part...

Mr. HARNICK: Right.

GROSS: ...did you actually write out the syllables that you wanted Zero
Mostel to sing?

Mr. HARNICK: Well, it wasn't that I necessarily wrote them for Zero, but
what happened was this: When Jerry played me the music he wrote, he did the
whole song in that kind of Hasidic chant. And we decided that it would be
great fun to preserve part of the chant and not just to write wall-to-wall
lyrics for the song. But my problem was I don't come from a background where
I was comfortable chanting in that fashion, and I thought, `OK, I'll have to
create some kind of syllables which give the effect of that kind of chanting.'
And I came up with the `daidle deedle daidle digga digge daidle daidle dum,
which I thought was kind of fun and sounded a little like the chanting. But
when we played the song for Zero, he said, `I come from a background--I don't
want to do the syllables you've written. Is it OK with you if I do it the way
I think it should be done?' And I said, `Absolutely.' I said, `I can't sing
it that way.' So Zero did it with his--stylistically, it sounded quite...

Mr. BOCK: Authentic.

Mr. HARNICK: ...authentic. Yeah. So when I performed the song, I have to do
it with the syllables because that's the only way I can sing it.

Mr. BOCK: By the way, if Sheldon had said, `No, absolutely not. You must do
the lyric,' he would have done it his way anyway.

Mr. HARNICK: Right.

GROSS: Was he hard or easy to work with?

Mr. BOCK: Both.

Mr. HARNICK: In terms of music, he was--although he was not a singer, he was
extremely musical.

Mr. BOCK: Yes.

Mr. HARNICK: So in that sense, he was very easy. And as a matter of fact,
he did me a huge favor. After he started to learn "If I Were a Rich Man," I
got nervous about it because I thought most of the song is rather droll, and
then I went for a serious ending. And I began to worry whether I should
change the ending and make the ending droll also. So I suggested that in a
conference we had one day. I think Hal Prince was there and Jerome Robbins
and Zero, and Zero looked at me and he said, `Sheldon,' he said, `don't change
the ending. This is the man.' He said, `The jokes in the song are terrific,
but this is the man that you've described, the man who wants a seat by the
Eastern wall, who wants to be able to pray.' This is the real Tevye. So we
kept the ending, and I'm glad we did.

Mr. BOCK: I'm glad, too.

GROSS: Lyricist Sheldon Harnick and composer Jerry Bock wrote the songs for
"Fiddler on the Roof." The cast recording of the new Broadway revival has
just been released. They'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Fiddler on the Roof")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) ...miracle of miracles. God took a Daniel once
again, stood by his side and--miracle of miracles--walked into the lion's den.
Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, I was afraid that God would drown, but
like he did so long ago in Jericho, God just made a wall fall down. When
Moses softened Pharoah's heart, that was a miracle. When God made the waters
of the Red Sea part, that was a miracle, too. But of all God's miracles large
and small, the most miraculous one of all is that out of a worthless lump of
clay, God has made a man today. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, God
took a tailor by the hand, turned him around and--miracle of miracles--led him
to the Promised Land. When David slew Goliath--Yes!--that was a miracle.
When God gave us manna in the wilderness, that was a miracle, too. But of all
God's miracles large and small, the most miraculous one of all is the one I
thought could never be, God has given you to me.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with songwriters Sheldon
Harnick and Jerry Bock about "Fiddler on the Roof." Also, a swear word that
would have offended in the 1870s doesn't have the same power today. Linguist
Geoff Nunberg considers how the times and the profanities have changed.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with composer Jerry Bock and
lyricist Sheldon Harnick. They wrote the songs for the Broadway musicals
"Fiorello!," "She Loves Me" and "Fiddler on the Roof." There's a new cast
recording of the current Broadway revival of "Fiddler." Here's one of the
show's most popular songs, "To Life," performed by Alfred Molina as Tevye and
David Wohl and the butcher Lazar Wolf. They're drinking a toast because Tevye
has just agreed to let the butcher marry Tevye's daughter, Tzeitel.

(Soundbite of "To Life")

Unidentified Man #1: Let's drink on it.

Unidentified Man #2: Why not?

Unidentified Man #1: To you.

Unidentified Man #2: No, my friend, to you.

Unidentified Man #1: To the both of us.

Unidentified Man #2: To our agreement.

Unidentified Man #1: To our agreement.

Unidentified Man #2: To our prosperity.

Unidentified Man #1: To good health and happiness.

Unidentified Man #2: But, most important, to life, to life, L'chayim.

Unidentified Man #1 and #2: (Singing in unison) L'chayim, L'chayim to life.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Here's to the father I've tried to be.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Here's to my bride-to-be.

Unidentified Man #1 and #2: (Singing in unison) Drink L'chayim to life, to
life, L'chayim. L'chayim, L'chayim to life.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Life has a way of confusing us.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Blessing and bruising us.

Unidentified Man #1 and #2: (Singing in unison) Drink L'chayim to life.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) God would like us to be joyful, even when our
hearts lie panting on the floor.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) How much more can we be joyful when there's
really something to be joyful for?

Unidentified Man #1 and #2: (Singing in unison) To life, to life, L'chayim.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) To Tzeitel, my daughter.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) My wife. It gives you something to think
about.

Unidentified Man #1: Something to drink about.

Unidentified Man #1 and #2: (Singing in unison) Drink L'chayim for life.

Unidentified Man #2: Tevye.

Unidentified Man #1: Yes, Lazar Wolf?

Unidentified Man #2: Drinks for everybody.

GROSS: Music from the new cast recording of "Fiddler on the Roof," and my
guests are Jerry Bock, who wrote the music, and Sheldon Harnick, who wrote the
lyrics. They also collaborated on other shows, including "Fiorello!" and "She
Loves Me."

This is the only song that actually has a Yiddish word in it, `L'chayim,'
which is a toast to life. So, Sheldon Harnick, when you were writing the
lyrics, it seems to me you intentionally avoided using anything Yiddish with
the exception of this song.

Mr. HARNICK: Well, there is one other song. "The Dream" uses the word
`mazel tov.'

GROSS: Oh, that's true. `A blessing on your head, mazel tov, mazel tov.'

Mr. HARNICK: Yeah. Well, there was a reason for that. Not too long before
we went into rehearsal, I went to see a comedian named Lenny Bruce. I'd heard
that Lenny Bruce was controversial because he used a lot of profanity and
obscenities in his act, and I was curious. So I went to see him and it turned
out that the obscenities and the profanities were all done as characters that
he portrayed and so that they sounded like things those particular characters
would actually say. And I wasn't disturbed by the profanity or the obscenity
at all. What did disturb me was that, when he wasn't doing the characters and
he was just talking, he would throw in Yiddish words. And they would elicit
laughter from a few people here and there, but many of the other people in the
club turned to each other and said, `What'd he say? What'd he say?'

So I thought it'll be probably useful to use a couple of Yiddish words in our
show, in the dialogue and in the lyrics, just a couple for flavoring. But if
anyone laughs when they're used, then they come out. And also, when they're
used, they have to be used in a way that the audience will know what they
mean. So, of course, in "To Life," there's an explanation that goes along
with...

Mr. BOCK: You defined it.

Mr. HARNICK: Right. `To life, to life, L'chayim, L'chayim.' Nobody can miss
that. And the word `mazel tov' is usually used in a setting where it's pretty
clear that it means congratulations, you know.

Mr. BOCK: Yes, yes.

Mr. HARNICK: A good portion.

Mr. BOCK: Unhappily, after the original show was running, our dear star Zero
would occasionally go into a matinee and use more Yiddish than we ever could
have dreamed of in certain performances to sort of make him a confidant of
what he thought that kind of audience was. We all thought that was naughty,
to put it mildly.

GROSS: Did you yell at him afterwards?

Mr. HARNICK: Yes. Yes. Joe Stein made a terrible mistake one day. We were
in the audience when he used a kind of really naughty Yiddish word. And we
went backstage, and Joe said to him, he said, `Zero, you were wonderful today.
Buddy Hackett couldn't have done it better.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARNICK: And Zero was furious, and he said, `What do you mean by that?'
And Joe said, `Zero, do you have to add those kind of words, especially the
words that have the naughty implications?' And Zero kind of did what he
wanted...

Mr. BOCK: Yeah.

Mr. HARNICK: ...so it was another two weeks before he would take those words
out. And then when he thought, `OK, I've done it enough,' then he took it
out. So that answers your question. Yes, he was difficult, but audiences
adored him, you know. Whatever he did, usually what he did was so funny that
audiences just loved him.

Mr. BOCK: By the way, Terry, excuse me for interrupting...

GROSS: Yes?

Mr. BOCK: ...but I think it's time now, after celebrating Zero, to say that
Alfred Molina for us in this renewal, not revival, is extraordinary and takes
the role in another vision and another way that succeeds in its own right so
that the accomplishment of a performer after Zero made the stars shine--Alfred
did his own thing and does his own thing in a most remarkable way.

Mr. HARNICK: Zero also had a way of making every scene about himself. And
Fred Molina is the most generous of actors so that it's more of an ensemble
show now. People have commented to me that, in this production, the other
stories, the young people's stories, come across with much more clarity and
much more force. And, consequently, in the second act particularly, it's a
much more emotional show, it's a much more moving show.

Mr. BOCK: That is a consequence of our remarkable director. I'll add
another visionary that was an enormous contributor to this new production,
David Leveaux, who insisted that everyone in the community have an identity,
an assignment, something that the actor can use to great advantage so that we
didn't end up with a dancing chorus or a singing chorus. We ended up with a
community of people, each whom had their work to do, their emotional levels to
respond to, whatever was happening in the community. And it gave it much more
of a sense of an entire (Yiddish spoken). And Alfred, of course, as Sheldon
said, was more than willing, in fact, often insisted on communicating with all
the people in the community as one member of that community as well.

GROSS: My guests are lyricists Sheldon Harnick and composer Jerry Bock. They
wrote the songs for "Fiddler on the Roof." The cast recording of the new
Broadway revival has just been released. We'll talk more after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick. They
wrote the songs to "Fiddler on the Roof." The new cast recording of the
current Broadway revival has just been released.

Now I want to go to another song and that is "Do I Love You?" And...

Mr. HARNICK: "Do You Love Me?"

GROSS: I mean, "Do You Love Me?"

Mr. BOCK: No, no, do you love me?

Mr. HARNICK: We're very flattered.

GROSS: Do you love me? Do I love you? Yes. So...

Mr. BOCK: Would you please answer that question?

GROSS: And this is a song--you know, all of Tevye's daughters, like, they
want to fall in love. They don't want Tevye to set up--they don't want their
father Tevye to decide who they're gonna marry. They don't want that
matchmaker to decide it. At this point, they want to fall in love. And at
least one of them already has, and she wants to marry the man she loves. And
this is leading Tevye to wonder, well, what about his relationship? Does his
wife love him? What is love? And he sings the song, and it's a lovely song.
Sheldon Harnick, can you talk about the lyrics?

Mr. HARNICK: Yes. During rehearsal when we were in New York, I began to feel
that there was a song that would develop out of Tevye's saying, `Do you love
me?' I always thought when Golde would say, `Do I what?' because that
was--love was not something that people married for generally in those days.
They married for security, they married for economic reasons, you know,
companionship but not love. So when I pictured her saying, `Do I what?,' I
thought, `That's very funny.' But I couldn't figure out where the song went
from there. And when we got to Detroit, our pre-Broadway tour, I used to take
long walks every day and try and figure out what they would say. And the
lyric came very slowly and in a kind of unconventional form.

When I finally finished it after about a week, I gave it to Jerry very
uncertain about what I had. And I said, `I know that it looks more like a
scene than a song, so do what you can with it and if I have to rewrite the
lyric, I will.' And I was absolutely delighted when Jerry set the lyric
exactly as I gave it to him.

Mr. BOCK: I just wanted to add very quickly, Terry, that the difference
between Zero's "Do You Love Me?" and Alfred's is astonishing. Zero did get
laughs. He approached it as almost a kind of incredulous question to ask and
took advantage of every humorous possibility. Alfred does it most sincerely
in terms of a true and real question. He wants to know the answer. And, as a
result, it's a very moving moment rather than a humorous one in this current
production.

Mr. HARNICK: Yeah. And while we're on that subject, I just have to put in a
word that our Golde, Randy Graff, is--in her own way, she's as wonderful as
Fred Molina is.

Mr. BOCK: Yes.

GROSS: Well, let's hear Alfred Molina and Randy Graff from the new cast
recording of "Fiddler on the Roof." This is "Do You Love Me?"

(Soundbite of "Do You Love Me?")

Mr. ALFRED MOLINA: (As Tevye) (Singing) Golde, do you love me?

Ms. RANDY GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) Do I what?

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) (Singing) Do you love me?

Ms. GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) Do I love you? With our daughter getting
married and there's trouble in the town, you're upset, you're worn out. Go
inside, go lie down. Maybe it's indigestion.

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) Golde, I'm asking you a question. (Singing) Do you
love me?

Ms. GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) You're a fool.

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) (Singing) I know but do you love me?

Ms. GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) Do I love you?

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) Well?

Ms. GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) For 25 years I've washed your clothes,
cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow.
After 25 years, why talk about love right now?

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) (Singing) Golde, the first time I met you was on our
wedding day. I was scared.

Ms. GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) I was shy.

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) (Singing) I was nervous.

Ms. GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) So was I.

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) (Singing) But my father and my mother said we'd learn
to love each other. And now I'm asking, Golde, do you love me?

Ms. GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) I'm your wife.

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) (Singing) I know but do you love me?

Ms. GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) Do I love him?

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) Well?

Ms. GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) For 25 years I've lived with him, fought
with him, starved with him. For 25 years my bed is his. If that's not love,
what is?

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) (Singing) Then you love me?

Ms. GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) I suppose I do.

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) (Singing) And I suppose I love you, too.

GROSS: That was "Do You Love Me?" from the new cast recording of "Fiddler on
the Roof." My guests are Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick who wrote the music
and the lyrics for the show.

It's interesting. Some of the songs from the show have had a huge life
outside the show, and particularly "Sunrise, Sunset" which has been sung at
countless weddings and bar mitzvahs. But a song like "Do You Love Me?," I
think you're unlikely to hear it in a cabaret act or a nightclub or a pop
recording or as a jazz standard. And I thought well, you know, who's ever
going to do a song like this? But there is a recording by Cannonball
Adderley of the songs from "Fiddler on the Roof" that's recently been reissued
on CD. And it's actually a wonderful recording, and there's a beautiful
version of this song that just kind of brings out the melody of it. Have you
ever heard it?

Mr. HARNICK: Yes.

Mr. BOCK: Yes, we have.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. BOCK: Cannonball did a whole album.

Mr. HARNICK: And he...

GROSS: Exactly, exactly. What did you think about when you heard this, just
as, you know, played by jazz musicians? Just as, you know...

Mr. HARNICK: I thought he approached the score with great respect and with
great understanding. I just love what he did.

Mr. BOCK: And, by the way, Terry, there's a new jazz album that reaches equal
heights, if not more so, by two fairly unknown jazz people to the outsider.
Eddie Lopez(ph) and Mark Kramer very recently did a jazz version of the
score which I have an extra copy at home for you, Sheldon.

Mr. HARNICK: Oh, good. I never heard of it.

GROSS: Well, for now, we'll hear "Do You Love Me?" from the Cannonball
Adderley recording.

Mr. HARNICK: Great.

GROSS: And this was actually recorded just a month after "Fiddler" opened in
1964, and it's actually Charles Lloyd featured on saxophone on this track.
Here we go.

(Soundbite of "Do You Love Me?")

GROSS: So that's music from the Cannonball Adderley recording of music from
"Fiddler on the Roof" which has recently been reissued on CD. And my guests
are composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick who wrote the songs for
the show.

Well, we're almost out of time here. I have to ask you the "Sunrise, Sunset"
question. I mean, so many people have--it's a song that became a terrible
cliche for quite a while because everybody was doing it at those emotional
moments when your child is finally grown up. Did you think...

Mr. BOCK: My favorite cliche.

GROSS: Is it? Exactly and probably one of the most lucrative cliches, too.
Did you ever think when you were writing it the kind of life this song was
going to have?

Mr. HARNICK: No. Jerry had written the music first. He sent it to me on a
tape, and I thought, `Gee, that's a lovely song. I think that would be
perfect to sing at the wedding.' And, as I've said in an interview
previously, the lyric kind of crystalized on the melodic curve of the song.
When we finished it--Jerry was living in New Rochelle at the time--we
called his wife down to the studio and we played it for Patti. And when we
looked at her at the end of the song, she was crying.

Mr. BOCK: Had tears in her eyes, yes.

Mr. HARNICK: And then I played it for my sister shortly after that, and she
was crying. And we thought, `Ooh, this song probably--this has more
effectiveness than we imagined.'

Mr. BOCK: Mind you, we didn't know whether they were tears of joy or `That's
awful.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Jerry Bock, what did you listen to when you were writing this show?
Did you listen to much music?

Mr. BOCK: Not really. Somehow, as I said, I had unknowingly, unwittingly
stored a lot of the sound of it without having been able to express myself
with it. I love Russian music, I love Romanian music. Minor is my major key.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOCK: And so with all that in mind, it just--I think Sheldon and I
probably wrote maybe three to one. For every song that was used, we wrote at
least three. And if we were asked to write 10 or 15 more, we probably could
have because it was the kind of show that allowed us to express ourselves as
we had never expressed ourselves before.

GROSS: I want to thank you so much not only for talking with us, but thank
you for all the great songs you've given us. Thank you so much.

Mr. HARNICK: Oh, thank you.

Mr. BOCK: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick wrote the songs for "Fiddler on the
Roof." The cast recording of the current Broadway revival has just been
released. Here's Alfred Molina and Randy Graff from the new CD.

(Soundbite of "Sunrise, Sunset")

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) (Singing) Is this the little girl I carried? Is this
the little boy at play?

Ms. GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) I don't remember growing older. When did
they?

Mr. MOLINA: (As Tevye) (Singing) When did she get to be a beauty? When did
he grow to be so tall?

Ms. GRAFF: (As Golde) (Singing) Wasn't it yesterday when they were small?

Group of People: (Singing in unison) Sunrise, sunset. Sunrise, sunset.
Swiftly flow the days. Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even
as we gaze. Sunrise, sunset. Sunrise, sunset. Swiftly fly the years, one
season following another, laden with happiness and tears.

GROSS: Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg on how every generation has its own
way of swearing. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Profile: How certain swear words have changed over time
TERRY GROSS, host:

The HBO western "Deadwood," which just ended its first season, was noteworthy
for the amount and nature of the swearing. According to our linguist, Geoff
Nunberg, the show managed to get the right effect with the wrong words.

GEOFF NUNBERG reporting:

Every age swears differently from the last one. It's as if we have to up the
ante every generation or so. As Jonathan Swift once wrote, `Nowadays men
change their oats as often as they change their clothes.' That can create
problems for the writers of historical fictions. If you have your characters
use historically accurate swear words, they're apt to sound no more offensive
than your grandmother in a mild snit. The only way to convey the potency of
their oats is to have them use modern swear words, even if they're
anachronistic. That's the approach taken by the HBO series "Deadwood" which
is set in a South Dakota mining camp in the 1870s. As a lot of people have
noted, the show is positively swilling in obscenities. The characters use the
F-word with a frequency that would make Tony Soprano blush.

But the F-word wasn't actually a swear word back then. It was indecent, of
course, but people only used it for the sexual act itself whereas swear words
are the words that become detached from their literal meanings and float free
as mere intensifiers. Swearing isn't using the F-word when you're referring
to sex, it's using it when you're talking about the weather. In fact, when
you look up the word in Jonathan Lighter's Dictionary of American Slang, you
discover that the all-purpose insult `F you' was a turn-of-the-century
creation. And `Go F yourself' isn't attested until 1920. And it wasn't until
well into the century that you heard things like, `She F-ing well better call
me' or `Get the F out of here.'

The words those "Deadwood" characters would actually have used had religious
overtones rather than sexual or scatological ones. They would've peppered
their speech with `Goddamn,' `Jesus' and particularly `hell,' a word that
Americans were famous for using with a dazzling virtuosity: `A hell of a
drink,' `What in hell did that mean?,' `Hell to pay,' `The hell you will,'
`Hell, yes.' Back then, those oats were strong enough to spawn a whole
vocabulary of the substitutes that H.L. Mencken called denaturized
profanities: darn, doggone, dadburn, gee whiz, all fired and the like. But
those words sound comic to us now. If you put them into the mouths of
characters on "Deadwood," they'd all sound like Yosemite Sam.

One reason for the shift in swearing was that simple old-fashioned blasphemy
doesn't have the same elicit thrill for a secular age. When I was a kid, I
was always a little puzzled about the commandment about taking the Lord's name
in vain. Not that I didn't know better than to try to say `God damn' at the
dinner table, but when people list the Ten Commandments, it's hard to see why
the profanity rap should get a higher billing than murder, theft or perjury.

That change in attitude is what drove the soldiers in World War I into the
bedroom and bathroom looking for new boundaries to trespass. But that shift
was more than a simple change of fashion. The old profanity was a matter of
irreverence, using respectable words in disrespectful context. The new
obscenity is the opposite of that. It's a kind of linguistic slumming where we
bring unclean words into the rooms at the front of the house. The taboo
against profanity comes from on high; the taboo against obscenity comes from
within.

That shift had a lot to do with the great leveling of swearing in this
century. Victorians like to think of swearing as a vice endemic to men of the
lower order, swearing like a trooper or swearing like a sailor. Nowadays
swearing isn't a mark of any particular class or gender. Those words are
dirty little secrets we can all draw on when we find ourselves in an angry or
aggressive mood. You don't find many people nowadays who will tell you that
they never swear. Of if they do, they're most likely bragging about their
even temper, not their gentility or their piety.

The new rituals of swearing have altered the hypocrisy that surrounds it, too.
Time was that swear words were completely absent from public discourse and
gentile people could go through their lives pretending that they didn't exist.
Nowadays it's more a question of maintaining an official sanctimony in
designated public forums. You can use the F-word in The New Yorker but not in
The New York Times. Bill Maher can swear on HBO but not on CBS. And Stephen
Sondheim can use the S-word in a song in "Sweeney Todd" when it plays in
theaters, but public radio shows are apt to have qualms about playing the song
over the air.

Of course, we have to draw a line somewhere if swearing is going to have any
transgressive force at all. The wonder is that people can defend distinctions
like those with a keen moral fervor. The Victorians would have had a hard
time understanding how our sense of outrage about swearing can fluctuate
according to where we are on the dial.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a Stanford linguist and author of the new book "Going
Nuclear: Language, Politics and Culture in Confrontational Times."

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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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