When I think of writers like Lorenz Hart, and find myself listening intently to lyrics I’ve heard thousands of times, if not more, as though they were words I was hearing for the first time, I often wonder if people at the time were aware just how rare it was to be witnessing a lyricist with his talents.
Loneliness is one of the themes perhaps most explored by popular song and thoroughly so in the infinite stacks of sheet music that comprise the American popular music songbook. But in all those thousands of songs, did anyone ever write a line that summarises the discovery of being alone after a failed relationship more than, “Now I even have to scratch my back myself…”
Harlem born and raised to Jewish immigrant parents who gave him every tool possible for that ‘better life’ so many arrived in New York seeking, he made his way from the halls of Columbia University to the floodlights of Broadway where his career flourished. But his own dissatisfaction with his appearance and with his life, and the pain of society telling him that being a homosexual made him unacceptable could only be drowned out by crippling amounts of alcohol. It is a stark reminder not only of the brutality of intolerance but of what it is to suffer from depression. As Stephen Fry often puts it, people tell you to just snap out of it and find a silver lining and that’s simply not how it works.
It seems almost wrong to find joy in the creations of such a sad person but if there is a silver lining in this story it is that the work of Lorenz Hart exists today for us to enjoy, and that his lyrics represent some of the finest words ever crafted in popular song. Good lyrics go beyond technical brilliance and strike that chord deep within us that make us feel like someone else understands. The song below, “It Never Entered My Mind” is one such example which has been recorded countless times, but in my opinion nobody makes you listen to its lyrics like Frank Sinatra does. Please listen to it again, or for the first time.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Lorenz Hart.