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I am a lover of great popular music. I love the way Irving Berlin, The Gershwins, Hoagy Carmichael, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Harry Warren, Cole Porter, Goffin and King, Lieber and Stoller, The Beatles, Brian Wilson, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Andy Partridge and all those in that category really do care about the standard of their words, music and message. They all share a belief in the need for originality and melody. One of the greatest was Frank Loesser.
I fell in love with Loesser in 1975. I was 20 years of age . I missed the Beatles hugely and only the Beach Boys and the solo Paul Simon were providing some compensation, five years on, for the former's demise. I was browsing through the old clumsy vinyl collection in Brent Town Hall's library when I chanced upon the original cast album of "Guys and Dolls". I had heard of this musical but it had not been on the West End stage since the 50s. I liked the album cover which was the scene of the crapshooters' dance in the sewer with Robert Alda , Alan's highly musical father, in the centre. I decided to take it out and give it a chance. Well, I could not believe my ears. It was stunning in every way-a musical score of such wit, melody, harmony, rhythm, beautiful arrangements and marvellous singing that I got the same thrill as I did when I first heard the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" long player or Richard Rodgers' "Carousel Waltz". I was hooked.
Later that year I came across Loesser's "The Most Happy Fella" in a well-known record store in London's West End. Again, I was staggered. Another masterpiece of brilliant song and score writing and performance. I became a massive Loesser fan. How could I get hold of "Where's Charley"? What about "Greenwillow", "How To Succeed In Business...", "Hans Christian Andersen"? In time I collected them all plus I acquired Loesser's released demos, saw the shows either by amateur or professional casts and, after many years and thanks to his daughter (and Amazon who tracked down a second-hand hardback copy), read a biography.
It must be in the genes but Susan Loesser, his eldest daughter from his first marriage, is a superb and honest writer. She divides the story of her father's fascinating life into chronological chapters starting with, naturally, 'Beginnings' through his war experiences, marriage, masterworks, friendship with the great John Steinbeck, fury with Sinatra, divorce and second marriage to his unrealized final effort 'Senor Discretion Himself' and death.
Susan Loesser paints a picture of a chain-smoking, volatile, impatient, not-respected-by-own-intellectual mother-and-musical brother- genius. Indeed, one of the most fascinating psychological insights into Frank is how he just cannot seem to get the approval he seeks from his own brother, the famous pianist, teacher and writer Arthur Loesser.
He need not have felt that way. Anyone who can write duets of the quality of "Baby Its Cold Outside", children's songs such as "Inchworm" and "The Ugly Duckling", and lyrics of the wit of"The Company Way" and misty grace of "My Time Of Day" coupled with harmonies of Debussy sophistication, need answer to no man or woman.
I am a notoriously slow reader but I read this tremendous life story in just a matter of days, such was my interest and pleasure. Thank you, Susan for bringing both your father's talent and your own story and skill into my home and life. I am enriched. By the way, I am a capable guitarist and own all the songbooks too!