Synopses & Reviews
From Irving Berlin to Cy Coleman, from “Alexanders Ragtime Band” to “Big Spender,” from Tin Pan Alley to the MGM soundstages, the Golden Age of the American song embodied all that was cool, sexy, and sophisticated in popular culture. For four glittering decades, geniuses like Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Harold Arlen ran their fingers over piano keys, enticing unforgettable melodies out of thin air. Critically acclaimed writer Wilfrid Sheed uncovered the legends, mingled with the greats, and gossiped with the insiders. Now hes crafted a dazzling, authoritative history of the era that “tripled the worlds total supply of singable tunes.”
It began when immigrants in New Yorks Lower East Side heard black jazz and blues-and it surged into an artistic torrent nothing short of miraculous. Broke but eager, Izzy Baline transformed himself into Irving Berlin, married an heiress, and embarked on a string of hits from “Always” to “Cheek to Cheek.” Berlins spiritual godson George Gershwin, in his brief but incandescent career, straddled Tin Pan Alley and Carnegie Hall, charming everyone in his orbit. Possessed of a world-class ego, Gershwin was also generous, exciting, and utterly original. Half a century later, Gershwin love songs like “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “The Man I Love,” and “Love Is Here to Stay” are as tender and moving as ever.
Sheed also illuminates the unique gifts of the great jazz songsters Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington, conjuring up the circumstances of their creativity and bringing back the thrill of what it was like to hear “Georgia on My Mind” or “Mood Indigo” for the first time. The Golden Age of song sparked creative breakthroughs in both Broadway musicals and splashy Hollywood extravaganzas. Sheed vividly recounts how Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and Johnny Mercer spread the melodic wealth to stage and screen.
Popular music was, writes Sheed, “far and away our greatest contribution to the worlds art supply in the so-called American Century.” Sheed hung out with some of the great artists while they were still writing-and better than anyone, he knows great music, its shimmer, bite, and exuberance. Sparkling with wit, insight, and the grace notes of wonderful songs, The House That George Built is a heartfelt, intensely personal portrait of an unforgettable era.
A delightfully charming, funny, and most illuminating portrait of songwriters and the Golden Age of American Popular Song. Mr. Sheeds carefully chosen depictions and anecdotes recapture that amazingly creative period, a moment in time in which I was so fortunate to be surrounded by all that magic.”
From the Hardcover edition.
and#8220;The Art of Youth
is a brilliant book about the power of youth to make great art, itself suffused with youthfulness, with wisdom and diligence and hopeand#8230;Dazzling in detail and amazingly well-informed.and#8221;
and#8211;Paul Theroux, author of The Lower River
and#160;"Elegant and enlightening, The Art of Youth invites us to ask the timeless question of how artistic vitalityand#8212;its energy, originality, and enthusiasmand#8212;can be maintained beyond youth into the blessing of a productive old age."
and#8211;Charles Johnson, author of Middle Passage
and#8220;What truly distinguishes this work is his empathic understanding of his subjects' situation: the blessings and burdens of prodigy. The final pages offer a lovely reflectionand#8212;at once rueful and wryand#8212;on his own precocious gift. The result is a book filled with knowledge to be sure but also wisdom.and#8221;
and#8211; Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl
"The House That George Built
lays out one idea: that the gregarious and generous George Gershwin himself the successor to a line of distinctly American songwriters including Stephen Foster, George M. Cohan, and Irving Berlin spun forth the group of writers who defined the form and brought it to its greatest peak. But after relatively disciplined essays on Berlin and Gershwin, the book becomes a fairly shaggy series of chapters on songwriters Sheed likes...." Corby Kummer, the Atlantic Monthly
(read the entire Atlantic Monthly review
From Irving Berlin to Cy Coleman, from Tin Pan Alley to the MGM soundstages, the Golden Age of the American song embodied all that was cool, sexy, and sophisticated in popular culture. Critically acclaimed writer Sheed has crafted an authoritative history of that era.
Portraits of three artistic prodigies who died youngand#8212;Stephen Crane (writer), Dora Carrington (painter), and George Gershwin (composer)and#8212;that form the centerpiece of a beautiful and fascinating inquiry into creation, mortality, and the enigma of promise: What would they have done had they lived longer?
The Art of Youth
is a moving inquiry into the nature of artistic prodigies who did their major work at an early age. Renowned novelist Nicholas Delbanco gives us a triptych of indelible portraits: the Ameriandshy;can writer Stephen Crane (immortalized by The Red Badge of Courage
); British artandshy;ist Dora Carrington (called and#8220;the most neandshy;glected serious painter of her timeand#8221;); and the legendary composer George Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue, Porgy and Bess
All three lived colorful, productive lives before dying early, at an average age of thirty-five. In this learned and elegant book, Delbanco discovers what it is we mourn in authors who pass away so young, and muses on his own lifeand#8212;one marked by both early success and longevity.
About the Author
Wilfred Sheed is the author of six novels, two of which, Office Politics
and People Will Always Be Kind
, were nominated for National Book Awards. He has written three collections of criticism, one of which was nominated by the National Book Critics Circle. Among his other books is a notable memoir of Clare Boothe Luce, who told him that Irving Berlin was the vainest man she ever met and George Gershwin one of the most basically modest. He lives with his wife, Miriam Ungerer, in North Haven, New York
From the Hardcover edition.