Friday, November 18, 2011
Wilifred Sheed on Irving Berlin
"By 1911, Irving earned his MBA in music by acquiring a publisher-cum-partner to facilitate the flow, and with that he exploded onto a new level. The triggering device was "Alexander's Ragtime Band," a song that he himself didn't appreciate immediately, but which caught on so thoroughly wherever it was played that it seemed like a standard before its time. It is called a rag because the title says it is, but it is in fact a hybrid with a syncopated verse and a marching chorus. With that in the bank, he then set out to write some regular rags. Suddenly, one hit seemed to run into another, just as they did on Henry Ford's assembly line. In his erudite book on Berlin's first songs, Charles Hamm shows how thoroughly the young man had absorbed all the pop formulas. It was like someone learning to dance with a booklet in his hand telling him where to put his feet. But this is where the miracle kicks in, for the novice suddenly begins to dance like Fred Astaire . . ."
From Wilifred Sheed's "The House that George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty."