"By George, Wilfred got it"

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The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty

by Wilfred Sheed (Random House)

 

There's a story towards the end of this crackling essay cum history that could sum up the bittersweet but ballyhooing tonality of the entire glorious screed. We see an aging but still-in-fighting-trim Yip Harburg, leftie songsmith of the golden age, the Gershwin age, as he's regaling the '60s radical Father Berrigan and his gang with a rousing rendition of his "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime."

He is being snickered at by the young lefties -- without an electric guitar and a Marshall stack, he just wasn't cutting it. You sense Sheed's rage, derision, and pity. Hell, you feel it yourself. Even Gibraltar will crumble, and in the face of time the glories of George and his gang (Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and a handful of other worthies) seemed faded.

Thank goodness Sheed has revived this ferociously talented gang and given them a spotlight that fairly puts all the genius of swinging London and Laurel Canyon if not to shame, then at least to wimped. Or to put it pitifully -- these dudes rocked! My only quibble is that I would have loved a full listing of the songs of the anointed geniuses who get chapters of their own as well, as the well-deserving unsung heroes in the appendix. Oh - and an accompanying CD (or iTunes playlist) wouldn't be amiss. Other than that, dive in, the water's fine -- and don't mind about rockin' the boat. - Ken Krimstein

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Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.

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