In 1968 I was asked to play piano at a benefit for Eugene McCarthy, the Democrat who was fronting the liberal platform. It was a cocktail reception, given at a ball room in the St. Regis hotel. Robert Ryan was there, lending his considerable weight and presence. He was in town with the show Mr. President. I had the worm’s eye view, from the piano. At the height of the party who should appear but Harold Rome, perhaps the most politically committed of songwriters (along with maybe Yip Harburg). Treva and I used to ridicule Rome, claiming he only had to write one-third of a song because he used repetition so much, i.e. WISH YOU WERE HERE, WISH YOU WERE HERE, WISH YOU WERE HERE and FANNY, FANNY FANNY -also from the show Fanny, I HAVE TO/IHAVETO/IHAVE TO TELL YOU.
Well, in true Rome fashion, he’d written a campaign song for McCarthy, and I couldn’t wait to hear the repetitions begin. He took the stage and proceeded to declaim his paean to the candidate. It went like this: AROUSE, AROUSE FOR WE MUST JUSTIFY HIM/THE COUNTRY’S CALLING, WILL WE ANSWER?
Well, I thought, he made two out of three. Arouse, arouse. He had bumped me from the piano and accompanied the actor Robert Loggia, who sang the lyric. An odd choice of performer, not a singer but an actor. It was a Godawful song.
What they needed was a Jerry Herman-style, Hello Dolly rabble-rouser -and here was this grim, 30’s, Social Protest anthem that wasn’t going to galvanize anybody into anything. Anyway, thinking I’d have a story for Treva, I approached Rome afterwards. “Mr. Rome, it’s a great pleasure, I’m a songwriter myself, and I’ve always appreciated your technique of repeating a phrase -to kind of drive the point home. I wonder, though, if you’ve ever heard the story of the writer who was introduced to you and said, ‘Glad to meet you, Mister Rome, Mister Rome.” I was, of course, making this up, just to see how he’d react. Well, his reaction couldn’t have been more characteristic: first he said, “Ha ha.” Right after that he said, “Very funny, very funny.” And, though it’s anti-climactic, I must tell you what happened next -because it’s the truth. He proceeded to justify the concept of repetition (in lyrics) to me: “– I mean, see how important it’s always been,” he said. “Look at our folk music– I GAVE MY LOVE A CHERRY THAT HAD NO STONE/I GAVE MY LOVE A CHERRY THAT HAD NO STONE -and what about JIMMY CRACK CORN AND I DON’T CARE/JIMMY CRACK CORN AND I DON’T CARE…I left him humming his way out of the ballroom.
I liked this story. What’s next?