One of my favorite lyricists is Cole Porter.
Seriously, is there any greater master of the rhyme in song?
His rhymes always feel organic. The rhyme is there, but so snugly placed that it feels natural.
As a singer, it feels effortless to memorize and to connect with his rhymes. Maybe because he not only wrote the lyrics but also composed the music for his songs. It is a tight marriage between the two. And a joy to story-tell through.
Porter lived a complicated life, and to me he is like the Tennessee Williams of the musical theatre world. Porter is brilliant and witty, but there is personal heartache interwoven into his beautiful poetry.
One of my favorites of his most intricate songs is “The Tale of the Oyster,” from the musical Fifty Million Frenchmen, 1929. It is really more of a sonnet than a song. So well crafted:
Down by the sea lived a lonesome oyster, Ev’ry day getting sadder and moister. He found his home life awf’lly wet, And longed to travel with the upper set. Poor little oyster. Fate was kind to that oyster we know, When one day the chef from the Park Casino Saw that oyster lying there, And said “I’ll put you on my bill of fare.” Lucky little oyster. See him on his silver platter, Watching the queens of fashion chatter. Hearing the wives of millionaires Discuss their marriages and their love affairs. Thrilled little oyster. See that bivalve social climber Feeding the rich Mrs. Hoggenheimer, Think of his joy as he gaily glides Down to the middle of her gilded insides. Proud little oyster. After lunch Mrs. H. complains, And says to her hostess, “I’ve got such pains. I came to town on my yacht today, But I think I’d better hurray back to Oyster Bay.” Scared little oyster. Off they go thru the troubled tide, The yacht rolling madly from side to side. They’re tossed about ’til that fine young oyster Finds that it’s time he should quit his cloister, Up comes the oyster. Back once more where he started from, He murmured, “I haven’t a single qualm, For I’ve had a taste of society, And society has had a taste of me.” Wise little oyster.
I also love the simpler but oh-so-exquisite “What is This Thing Called Love?” from Wake Up and Dream, 1929.
Leading a life apart
When love flew in through my window wide
And quickened my hum-drum heart
Love flew in thorugh my window
I was so happy then
But after love had stayed a little while
Love flew out againWhat is this thing called love?
This funny thing called love?
Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?
I saw you there one wonderful day
You took my heart and threw my heart away
That’s why I ask the Lawd up in Heaven above
What is this thing called love?
You gave me nights of cheer
You made my life an enchanted dream
‘Til somebody else came near
Somebody else came near you
I felt the winter’s chill
And now I sit and wonder night and day
Why I love you still?
That at last you came my way,
There’s no further use concealing
For the rare allure about you
Makes me all the plainer see
How inane, how vain, how empty life without you would be.After you, who
Could supply my sky of blue?
After you, who
Could I love?
After you, why
Should I take the time to try,
For who else could qualify
After you, who?
Hold my hand and swear
You’ll never cease to care,
For without you there what could I do?
I could search years
But who else could change my tears
Into laughter after you?