Now why had Dietz‘s wife asked me to lunch?
We sat up there on the Astro-turfed roof-top restaurant at Lincoln Square with our omelettes and crabmeat salad sandwiches, and Lucinda asked me about myself, almost as if she were quizzing a prospective suitor for her daughter’s hand in marriage: where did I grow up? Had I gone to University? What made me learn so many of Howard’s songs? She seemed genuinely sweet and concerned. Finally, she got to the point: “We thought, since you do know so many of Howard’s songs, that you might be nice enough to play him a few, downstairs, because he loves to sing along -and it’s the only exercise he gets now.” I suddenly understood: for Howard, singing was the equivalent of Physical Therapy. When lunch was through, Howard got shakily to his feet, and, with his wife supporting him, shuffled slowly to the elevator. She’d made sure to make him look presentable, I saw, in a navy blue suit and a little bow-tie. Downstairs, I was confronted by a Steinway grand, which dominated the living room of a conventional one-bedroom in this barely post-Eisenhower building. Lucinda helped her husband into his chair, which faced the piano…and I decided to start with a happy song from The Bandwagon -Howard’s classic revue from 1930. “I SEE A NEW SUN/UP IN A NEW SKY”–As Dietz recognized the melody, it was as if an inner ray of sunshine began appearing in his face -he was suddenly animated, coming alive with a fresh energy. Lucinda was right: singing his own lyrics was like a tonic to him, a shot of adrenaline. “I’LL GO MY WAY BY MYSELF/HERE’S WHERE THE COMEDY ENDS–” Long before Garland’s rendition in I Could Go On Singing I’d learned this song from an old 78 recording, on the Liberty label. Long before they made a movie of The Bandwagon (1953) I’d worn out my copy of the score on Mary Martin‘s 10 inch LP: I ALWAYS GO TO BED AT TEN/OH ISN’T THAT A BORE?/I ALWAYS GO TO BED AT TEN/BUT I GET HOME AT FOUR. Howard was up there with the greats, Johnny Mercer, Larry Hart -he could be both witty and profound: “THE CLOWN/WITH HIS PANTS FALLING DOWN/OR THE DANCE/THAT’S A DREAM OF ROMANCE”-after each song, Lucinda would cry out, “Great! Great!” And then Howard said, “I used to write with Kern, you know.” He gestured to his wife. “Show him the book.” I couldn’t believe how an apparent twenty-five years had simply shed themselves of this guy -he was acting so much more youthful and strong. Lucinda brought out a leather scrapbook. Within the cracked binding were hundreds of sheets of lyrics, on onion-skin paper, typed on an ancient Underwood and dating back to the teens of the last century. Now these were titles I didn’t know, but I was happy to laugh along with Howard (he was out of his chair now) and Lucinda as he recited witty couplets from sixty years ago. The phone rang, Lucinda picked it up, listened, and said Thank you David. She turned to Howard: “That was David Amram,” she said, referring to a contemporary composer, “he wanted to wish you a belated Happy Birthday…he said he wished Western Union were still delivering, ’cause he would have used them.” “Ah,” Dietz responded, “that would have been an AmramGram.” Man, I thought, he may have Parkinson’s….but he’s still got all his marbles. THE END
I got a millyum of ’em.