Monday, June 20, 2005

Love that's fresh and still unspoiled, love that's only slightly soiled

MONICA: There've been a million articles where people refer to you as the Cole Porter of your generation.
STEPHIN: Actually, I'm not big on Cole Porter. And I don't think comparison is a good idea -- it's misleading. But Cole Porter is shorthand for a good lyricist, so I take it as a compliment.

(from an interview by Monica Lynch, Index Magazine)

It has come to the point where every other article or music review related to Merritt brings up the Cole Porter comparison, and it's obvious that he is a bit weary of it. Despite saying he's "not big on Cole Porter" and calling Porter's songs "formulaic," he has cited the songwriter in several of his best-of lists. While Merritt says that Porter is "shorthand for a good lyricist," I'd go a bit further and say that it's shorthand for a clever lyricist. I can hear Merritt grumbling, miles away, "Clever? *sip of tea* *long pause* Nonsense."

STEPHIN: Cole Porter was cheating on his songs that people think of as having great lyrics. "You're the Top," etc. They're list songs. Anybody can write a list song.

Sure, that may be true, but there are bad list songs and good list songs, and I would say that Merritt's "Technical (You're So)," "Alien Being," and "Fear of Trains" fall in the latter category.

So, Cole Porter. Born into a rich family, Porter had a childhood filled with music lessons, and he even went on to study music at Harvard, before serving in the French Foreign Legion. He led the life of a playboy while in Paris and met his future wife, Linda Lee Thomas, there. Everyone points out that Porter was bisexual, and this often comes up when comparing him to Merritt, who is openly gay, but this is an irrelevant point. From the late 20s through the 50s, he scored numbers of successful musicals and films, among them Anything Goes, High Society, and Kiss Me, Kate.

Merritt describes the final song of 69 Love Songs, "Zebra," as being "...more or less a Cole Porter parody [...] It's taken to extremes. The couple actually own everything in the world." True, Merritt is clearly poking fun at the leisurely lifestyles of the wealthy, and possibly Porter himself. "Almost every songwriter you've ever heard grew up rich and spoiled, actually. That's how people can afford to become songwriters."

Listed as Merritt's favorite song of 1930, "Love for Sale" shows the slyly suggestive side of Porter. This version is by Julie London whose Sings Cole Porter album is held in the same regard as Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper by Merritt, as cited in the 69 Love Songs interview booklet. Ella Fitzgerald, beloved by Merritt and "one of the major singers of the twentieth century," sings the second track this week, "I'm Always True to You in My Fashion," a song that bears certain similarities to "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side" in my opinion.


Anonymous donal Sarsfield said...

can i just say how much i thoroughly enjoy reading your blogg -> well thought out/researched informative helpful and fun to read- You could have taken any number of routes with the Porter post (!) but kept it to the point and clear ----- if only there were more sites like this.... keep up the fantastic work - looking forward to many more Tuesday updates...

a dedicated reader...

Donal Sarsfield

7:13 PM  
Blogger Ernest said...

Thanks! It's a lot of fun to write, and I'm glad you enjoy it.

11:46 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home