Saturday, November 17, 2012

Social Media Feeding Frenzy

I'm trying to keep up with social media but I feel like when I was a kid playing with my chemistry set and mixing solutions until something blew up.

My author page at Goodreads is here, and if all goes well this post will be funneled to my blog there via rss feed, then forwarded to the Pentagon for review before it zings back to me along with a pepperoni pizza.

And to go really self-referential meta on you, here's a screen shot of my Goodreads page just before I save this page.



Now my Amazon author page is here, and it looks like this,


Amazon warns it might take up to 24 hours for this post to show up there, during which time I imagine Jeff Bezos scans it for tell-tale signs of my consumer habits reading habits eating habits digestion and evacuation driving habits grooming failures and psychic tremors.

I'm going to hit save. Take cover.

Where I'll Be When I'm There

Book Tour!


Doesn't have the same ring to it as when John Belushi in Animal House screams, "Food fight!" but such are the more sober satisfactions of middle-age.

My first bookings are a ways off yet, but here's the latest.

May 19, 2013 - Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles

May 23 - San Francisco's Jewish Community Library

May 30 - June 1 - Book Expo in New York. Not a public book reading. At this industry event Brandies University Press will showcase Overweight Sensation as one of its featured titles. Pretty neat.

June 2-4 - Jewish Book Council Conference, New York. Wonderful opportunity to present my book to representatives of the more than 100 Jewish book festivals that take place across the country each year.

More as more is available.

Friday, November 9, 2012

How To Be Charming While Avoiding Marriage (Lost Lyrics Friday, vol. 6)

Allan Sherman learned how to do it, and so can you.

He learned out of necessity. It's hard to believe, but in college Sherman was a catch.

"He wasn't physically attractive," explained a college girlfriend (and a 1943 hottie), "but I thought he was very, very bright and clever."

Part of the magic was Sherman's trick of wooing while pretending to be cagey about the custom of "pinning," which until the very early 1960s was a college custom that often led to marriage. (The custom involved a woman wearing her boyfriend's fraternity pin.)

Here's some of Sherman's "Don't Take My Pin" (to the tune of "Don't Fence Me In")

If I should drink and you should think that I'm thinking of romance
Don't take my pin
Although you're swell, what the hell, give the other girls a chance
Don't take my pin.

I know I'm the guy and there is no other, 
I know you'd like to take me home to mother
But can't you get a pin from my fraternity brother?
Don't take my pin.

To Trace the Roots of Obama's Presidency, You Can Start Here

This letter from the Kennedy White House to Allan Sherman is part of Obama's story. 


(Courtesy of Robert Sherman)


When the first Catholic president was happy to admit enjoying Sherman's Jewish comedy it was a very small but important step toward today's multicultural Democratic party.

What Republican president or candidate can you imagine enjoying Allan Sherman?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Off With Their Heads!

Tomorrow night while watching your guy win or lose, whoop it up or vent with the world's greatest negative campaign song.

Play Sherman's "You Went the Wrong Way Old King Louie" and sing along.

It works no matter who you're against.

(Uploaded by gmcmd)

The Video That Proves Presidential Campaigns of the Past Were Even Worse

Hate today's politics?

Nostalgic for a simpler time?

We've got the cure right here.





Hey, I'm an Allan Sherman fan. I wrote his biography. But nobody today could stand this kind of sentimental political song from a 1964 fundraiser for President Lyndon B. Johnson.

It is unbearable.

Click here for the antidote.

Don't Be a Noodge. This Is The Source For All of Allan Sherman's Song Lyrics

If you want to quibble, you can argue that in "Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max" the name Tidelbaum is obviously wrong.

It should be Teitelbaum.

But other than that and other corrections that only an impossible noodge would make, this Allan Sherman page lets you click the names of his eight original Warner Bros. albums and find the lyrics to every song.



Compiled by Jeff Morris and his friends, the site is insanely comprehensive, including images of both sides of the label of the never released recording of Sherman's short-lived 1969 Broadway musical, The Fig Leaves Are Falling.

Also, there's the cover of the promotional album Sherman recorded for the Scott Paper Company.

Nobody else has this stuff.



Friday, November 2, 2012

Allan Sherman Lost Lyrics Friday, vol. 5

"It was laugh, laugh at the Stunt show last night with Al Copelon '45."

That was the lead in the University of Illinois' Daily Illini paper on October 11, 1942. Sherman, then known for a brief time as Copelon (don't ask), had the night before performed what appears to be his first full-length song parody.

To the tune of "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey" he sang "Don't Burn Down Bidwell's," a parody about the student watering hole and make-out spot.

Burn down that Union Building,
Burn Lincoln Hall,
But, please, boys, don’t burn down Bidwell’s!
Burn down the football stadium
Huff Gym as well,
But, please, boys, don’t burn down Bidwell’s!
We know you love this campus, we think it’s swell,
You can burn it till it flames like hell!
But if that backroom’s found in flames,
We’re gonna call you dirty names,
So don’t burn Bidwell’s down!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Allan Sherman and the Seinfeld Gang

I know, I know -- everyone wants to grab a little of the Seinfeld show glow and bend it in their direction.

But with Allan Sherman, the glow turns in his direction naturally.

First, Seinfeld star Jason Alexander offered a terrific blurb for my book praising Allan Sherman as a "brilliant wit, satirist beyond compare."

Thank you again Jason Alexander.

Then there was Jerry Seinfeld and friend Joel Hodgson talking here about Sherman on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Now we have a trifecta with this video of Larry David singing Sherman's "Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max" with the Boston Pops on August 7, 2011. (The video was filmed by one Marilyn Rowland.)



And here is Sherman singing the same song, which appeared on his first album, My Son, The Folk Singer.



Anything out there confirming either Michael Richards (Kramer) or Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine) as fans?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Allan Sherman's Stardom Confirmed 50 Years Ago Today

UNBELIEVABLE!!

That's the headline on this internal Warner Bros. Records newsletter. It was October 31, 1962, and the sales numbers were in on My Son, The Folk Singer.

Click to view larger image
(Courtesy of Robert Sherman)


The next page boasts that it "took [Bob] Newhart 23 and a half weeks to go over 300,000 (309,452); 36 weeks to go over 400,000 (412,000). It took Allan Sherman three weeks and one day to go over 390,000!"

The newsletter anticipated that the record's sales would double by the end of '62. They did better than that. Sales hit 1 million in December.

"The Ballad of Harry Lewis" was the first song on side one.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Allan Sherman's Brilliant Lost Parody "Seventy-six Sol Cohens"

I know it isn't Lost Lyrics Friday, but I just saw something and could not resist writing on this now.

There's a cool new book called Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame that includes 50 essays by as many top writers on everyone from boxing cornerman Whitey Bimstein (a favorite of the great journalist A.J. Liebling) to sports prodigy and handball wunderkind Jimmy Jacobs.

What co-editor Franklin Foer wonders about here is why there aren't more great Jewish golfers.

Allan Sherman offered an answer.

Sherman's great, never recorded and almost completely unknown parody of The Music Man's "Seventy-Six Trombones," called "Seventy-Six Sol Cohens," considers the Jewish fascination with golf.



It ends with the Sol Cohens changing their name to Quinn.

Sherman suggests that golf was part of the crisis of assimilation, and that might answer Foer's question of why there aren't more great Jewish golfers. The already enormously demanding game of golf demanded something more of Jews that made the game too psychologically burdensome.

By the way, the only Jewish golfer in Jewish Jocks is Corey Pavin, who converted to Christianity.

Sing Sherman's parody to the "Seventy-Six Trombones" music in the video clip, which doesn't include the lyrics. Priceless!

Seventy-six Sol Cohens in the country club!
And a hundred and ten nice men named Levine
And there's more than a thousand Finks
Who parade around the links
It's a sight that really must be seen.

Seventy-six Sol Cohens lead the big parade
With a hundred and nine Irv Kleins right behind
But the lovliest men I've known
Are the men they call Sol Cohen
At that good old country club of mine.

Oh, there's Sol the drugstore man, and Sol the furrier
Sol from coats
Sol from shoes
Sol the builder, too
And one Sol Cohen is known as Sol the Worrier
He's so rich, what else has he got to do?

Oh, there's Sol who manufacturers ladies' lingerie
Sol from shirts
Sol from ties
Sol the commodore
The country club is full of Sols
And all the Sols are living dolls
But who's staying home to watch the store?

Seventy-six Sol Cohens in the country club
Seventy-six Sol Cohens playing gin
But they're hard to identify
'Cause as time goes passing by
One by one, they change their name to Quinn!

Monday, October 29, 2012

A New Monday Series: The Allan Sherman Internet Sources Guide

Just got my copy of Social Media Marketing for Dummies and already on page 12 it offered a great suggestion.

Don't just create content, curate content already published on the web.

Because I'm a social media marketing dummy, I do what it says.

So every Monday I'll be directing you to Allan Sherman sources on the web.

To kick it off, I'll start with one of the best Sherman sources -- Mark Evanier. Mark is a longtime comedy writer, big Sherman fan, and one of the best sources for rare Sherman items.

Here is his amazingly complete Sherman discography from one his many blogs, POVonline. It's the kind of comprehensive list I keep checking to make sure I didn't goof anywhere in my Sherman biography (I did, in one instance, but I'll fix it before the book appears in the spring).


And the above photo of Sherman comes from Mark's story about how Sherman once threatened to sue him for allegedly using Sherman's "Crazy Downtown" parody of Petula Clark's 1965 hit, "Downtown." Mark was in junior high.

It's pretty ironic, because when Sherman was in college he got permission from Richard Rodgers himself to parody songs from Oklahoma! And for my Sherman biography I uncovered several stories of Sherman kindly helping aspiring comedians. But by 1965 he'd been the target of plenty of lawsuits and probably decided he also had to play the game.




Friday, October 26, 2012

Allan Sherman's "Big Week" Countdown Continues

Another day, another Allan Sherman 50th anniversary.

This one is the 50th anniversary of the apology the president of Warner Bros. Records ran in Cash Box magazine on October 27, 1962. The company hadn't issued enough copies of My Son, The Folk Singer.

You've seen the fan letter Sherman got from President Kennedy's chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Newton N. Minow. Keep in mind it was written on October 26, 1962, a very dicey moment during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

That's worth some reflection, so let's take a moment.

An op-ed in today's NYTimes states that, "On Oct. 26-27, 1962, human civilization came close to being destroyed. Schoolchildren were ordered into shelters; supermarket shelves were emptied of soup cans and bottled water."

But food and water weren't all that people hoarded. They stocked up on laughs, too. There was a run on Allan Sherman albums.

(Courtesy of Robert Sherman)

Sherman predicted this when he was 13 years old.

In June 1938 at Burroughs Junior High he wrote a short article called "Humor For Sale." It imagines a comedy department store that "would be the busiest store in the world. That is because people love to laugh."

As the old Barney's television commercial used to say, "Even then, he knew."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Allan Sherman's Lost Lyrics Friday, vol. 4

Sherman was fascinated by nursery rhymes, lullabies, and other children's songs. It started in junior high with his parody of "Humpty Dumpty," and he was still at it in college at the University of Illinois.

In the spring of 1944, Sherman wrote and starred in a hit student musical called Mirth of a Nation, a farce set during the twelfth Roosevelt administration. It won raves in the student Daily Illini and also the alumni monthly. Mirth's "gags were better than most we've heard on the professional stage this year."

His parody of the Mother Goose rhyme "Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been" pokes fun at Eleanor Roosevelt and her hectic travel schedule, which earned her the nickname Rover. It's a clever piece of work and has a wonderful sense of fun about it, a joyous freedom to fool around with words and make them do  tricks.


Eleanor, Eleanor, where have you been?
I've been to London to visit the queen
I've been to Manchuria
And I can assuria
I've been to more places than you've ever seen!

Eleanor, Eleanor, why did you go?
Life at the White House was boring me so
Have you forgotten?
My husband goes yachtin'
Sometimes with Winston and sometimes with Joe!

When people criticize me 
Because I gad about
They really do surprise me---
'Cause hasn't a lady the right to go out?

Eleanor, Eleanor, whither away?
I'm getting tired of this USA
I'm off to Algeria
To gather materia'
For my newspaper seria, which is known as MY DAY!

Official Washington Loved Allan Sherman

This fan letter was one of many indications that Allan Sherman's My Son, The Folk Singer album was not going to be an insiders cult hit, but a mass phenomenon.

(Courtesy of Robert Sherman)
Minow, by the way, was famous for calling television a "vast wasteland" in a May 9, 1961, speech. But this letter proves he wasn't merely a snob sneering at all pop culture. He liked the good stuff.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Allan Sherman, Israel, and the Presidential Debate (with a Bob Dylan mention)

Who loves Israel more, Obama or Romney? Search me.

I half expected the question, "Where would you take Israel on a dream date?" Or Obama and Romney having to answer what each would do if Israel suggested driving out to a romantic spot where the two could get to know each other better. Both, no doubt, would still respect her in the morning.

Being immersed in the very early 1960s moment that saw the rise of Allan Sherman offers a nice perspective on how much things have changed.

At UCLA's Film and Television Archive I watched a March 25, 1962, video of Jackie Mason performing on the Ed Sullivan Show. He did a series of tax season jokes. President Kennedy hosted a lunch for 300 at New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel that cost $15,000 (the dollar went a little further then). Mason said, "My bar mitzvah didn't cost that much." It got a big laugh.

But the next joke proved that fifty years ago many Americans were unfamiliar with Israel. Mason criticized Kennedy for having Egypt's Abdul Nasser to the White House. "Let him invite Ben Gurion," said Mason. "I'll be glad to pay for it."

The line bombed.

Sherman did not take Mason's approach. Sherman was interested in American Jewish life and its manners, pretensions, hypocrisies, and kookiness, not Israel. In fact, he lampooned American Jews' schmaltzy love affair with the Jewish state.

On his second album, My Son, The Celebrity, released in December 1962, Sherman dished out to "Hava Nagilah" the same treatment he gave to American folk songs. He parodied it as a sentimental indulgence, what Saul Bellow in Herzog called "potato love. Amorphous, swelling, hungry, indiscriminate, cowardly potato love."



Sherman turned "Hava Nagilah" into "Harvey and Sheila," the story of an American Jewish couple that travel to Europe, not Israel.

(And here's the Bob Dylan mention: Sherman and Dylan had the same attitude toward "Hava Nagilah," and they had it at virtually the same time. Dylan recorded his send-up, "Talkin' Havah Negiliah Blues," in March 1962. Sherman did not know of it. Dylan's song was not released until 1991. But both recognized it as a target ripe for parody.)

I don't think either the Jackie Mason or "Harvey and Sheila" scenario would happen today. Now it seems every American knows the name of Israel's prime minister, and among American Jews Israel has become such a deadly earnest issue that parodying an Israeli folk song seems off limits.

Fifty years have passed, but have we moved forward or back?


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Allan Sherman Lost Lyrics Friday -- A Song about Trotsky

It's been a big week for Allan Sherman's lost lyrics.

There are two song lyrics here, one here, and a really good one here.

But it is hard to top "The Night That Leon Trotsky Died," Sherman's parody of the Irish drinking song, "The Night That Paddy Murphy Died." On the off-chance you don't know the tune, here it is.

Without checking around, I feel it is safe to say there isn't much comedy about the Russian-Jewish revolutionary Leon Trotsky, never mind his assassination in 1940. Sherman's parody defies classification, except that it clarifies his delight in absurdity. Sherman loved wonderful silliness.




He wrote the parody at the University of Illinois, probably during the 1944-45 academic year. It was never written down anywhere, and I was very lucky to learn of it from comic actor Arte Johnson, most famous for his role on the television show Laugh-In. Johnson knew Sherman at Illinois. 

"We all dressed up as Russians and came up through the audience" at a fraternity stunt show, said Johnson. "People screamed because we were so wacky." Johnson sang this to me. Thank you, Arte Johnson.


Olga, Olga, on the Volga
Striptease for the czar
Olga, Olga from the Volga
I wonder where you are
On the night that Leon Trotsky died
I never shall forget
The Russians got so stinking drunk
That some aren’t sober yet
There are some things they did that night
That gave me quite a jar
They took the buckshot from the corpse
And called it caviar.
That’s how they showed their respect for Leon Trotsty
That’s how they showed their honor and their pride
That’s how they showed their respect for Leon Trotsty
On the night that Leon Trotsky died.

Allan Sherman for Journalists, LA Edition

While idly dreaming of massive press coverage for Overweight Sensation, something on the order of the fall of the Berlin Wall -- because, as my grandmother used to say, "El que quiere poco es loco." He who desires little is crazy. As long as you're desiring, might as well go big -- I less idly decided to produce material for journalists (there are still journalists, right?) that might need a local angle.



(Courtesy of John Burroughs Middle School)

So a news outlet in Los Angeles might want to know that Sherman attended John Burroughs Junior High School and published his first Jewish song parody in the school's 1938 senior class BURR, and that Sherman then attended Fairfax High School and wrote a student newspaper humor column there called "Witz-Krieg."

(Courtesy of Fairfax High School)

Of course, it would be helpful to know that until his last year of high school Sherman was known as Allan Segal, and it might add a little color to the story that Sherman's step-father, Dave Segal, was a con man and criminal once arrested in Beverly Hills for passing bad checks.

Sherman left LA in the fall of 1941 for college at the U. of Illinois and then New York and did not return until early '61. Dave Segal traveled to LA at about the same time. Sherman was producer for a TV show called Your Surprise Package. Segal, with the police knocking on his cheap motel door, put a pistol in his mouth and blew his brains out.

At this point in my daydream the reporter demands his editor grant a longer word count.

Then there's Sherman and his family living in rented luxury on North Saltair Avenue, where he meets and befriends neighbor Harpo Marx. Sherman sings Jewish parodies of Broadway show tunes for Harpo and Harpo's friends Jack Benny, George Burns and other comedy machers from Hillcrest Country Club. They heard "Ollawood!" sung to the tune of "Camelot."

The movie stars all sit around the pool there
The food at Nate 'n Al's is very good
And Sammy Davis Jr. goes to shul there
In Ollawood.

Where every girl can be a movie princess
Where palm trees sway real good like palm trees should
Where Mrs. Eddie Fisher once made blintzes
In Ollawood.

In 1961, he also performs a crude and obscene crowd-pleaser at the retirement party for Warner Bros. Records president Jim Conkling. I found the lost recording. And boy was it lost. I mean gone. But I found it. However, it can't be quoted in newspapers, or almost anywhere else. It's too dirty. So it's not important, except the song is how Sherman first met the top folks at Warner Bros., his future label.

The rest of the story my journalist already knows.

Allan Sherman and President John F. Kennedy

There won't be a better time to talk about Allan Sherman and American presidents than right now, during the last weeks of this presidential election campaign. So here is a cool photo and some punditry. (It's election season. You have to have some punditry. Eat your punditry or no dessert.)


Sherman and President Kennedy meet briefly on March 4, 1963,  at the Dept. of Labor's 50th anniversary dinner . Sherman was one of the event's performers.

Okay, so here is our boy Sherman with the dashing President Kennedy, who loved pop culture, humor, Hollywood, glamour, etc. But more than that, the Kennedy White House seemed to emanate a mood of joie de vivre, of unrestrained enjoyment.

"The food is marvelous, the wines are delicious, there are cigarettes on the table, people are laughing, laughing out loud, telling stories, jokes, enjoying themselves, glad to be there," is how Leonard Bernstein remembered dinner at the Kennedy White House. (The emphasis is in the original.) The president "enjoys satirical comics, particularly Bob Newhart, Joey Bishop and Mort Sahl," reported the NYTimes in January 1962.

Sherman's My Son, The Folk Singer appeared in October, and Sherman's success is sometimes mistakenly credited to Kennedy being a fan. According to Sherman's autobiography, Sherman heard from his manager, Bullets Durgom (he had brothers nicknamed BB and Buckshot), that Durgom got a call from a newspaperman who heard Kennedy sing lines from Sherman's "Sarah Jackman" parody in the lobby of New York's Carlyle Hotel, where the Kennedys kept a residence. Talk about the old kids game of telephone. That's what lawyers call hearsay. It's not reliable, but it's also quite possible.

"It would not surprise me," said Kennedy's FCC Chairman Newton Minow. "JFK had a wonderful sense of humor."

Still, JFK did not make Sherman famous or a success. JFK heard of Sherman because of Sherman's success. But Kennedy is the most visible and memorable example of that early 1960s moment that welcomed Sherman. The key ingredient of those days is usually assumed to be innocence, but if it was innocence it was not the starry-eyed kind. It was a confidence of strength un-rattled by criticism or mockery and that paradoxically allowed for mockery.

It's elusive. I can't quite put my finger on it. Anyone have a better or different take on it?

Addendum

Turns out today's Times has an article on Robert Kennedy's wife and family, which has a "long record of ruined marriages, premature deaths and horrifying car wrecks."

It made me think again about the JFK moment, and its enduring charm. The Times article shrewdly sees that the Kennedys' charming daredevil recklessness often ended badly, as it had to sooner or later as the law of averages asserted itself after many rolls of the dice.

There is a self-destructive element to charm, in making the dangerous look easy, unthreatening. Allan Sherman was also charming and enormously self-destructive. But that's for another post.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Allan Sherman and the Hep Cats!

On October 17, 1962, Sherman's My Son, The Folk Singer album had been out for less than two weeks, but it was on fire. Everyone was talking about it, including the hottest lyricists in the business.

Proof came 50 years ago today when one of Sherman's friends from his years as a television producer in New York wrote to Sherman in LA that,

"Ole John Mercer is in town and sends regards; he dug the album the most too."

You gotta love that hep cat lingo. But any amusement is tempered by the fact that Mercer was, in fact, tops. As the Songwriters Hall of Fame website lays it down (that hep lingo is contagious!), "Ask anyone who writes lyrics. Johnny Mercer was a genius." 

Sherman agreed, but he was out to topple genius, not revere it. On an unreleased recording of Sherman performing at a Los Angeles house party, he sang a parody of Mercer's "Moon River." It was April 10, 1962, and the night before "Moon River" had won an Academy Award for Breakfast At Tiffany's. Sherman told his audience he thought it was a beautiful song, and also that he "decided to desecrate [it]."


Sherman's parody, "Chopped Liver," was not released until 2005, when an incomplete version appeared on the six-CD set, My Son, The Box. It was an outtake from a 1962 recording session for Sherman's second album, but halfway through Sherman forgot the words. This happened more than once, and he sometimes had to read his own lyrics to remember what he wrote.


The only complete version of "Chopped Liver" is on the unreleased party tape.


Chopped liver
Rolled up in a ball
Too much cholesterol, they say
You heart breaker
You fat maker
From now on I'm going the safflower way.

You made me
Wider than a mile
Oh, you and your beguiling smell
'Tis time that I bid you goodbye
Your calories are high
Like huckleberry pie
Chopped liver, farewell.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Stop the Presses! Special Edition of Allan Sherman's Lost Lyrics

Just discovered that Barbra Streisand delivered a customized version of Cole Porter's famous "You're the Top" at her October 11 concert in Brooklyn, including the following fun lines,

You talk Brooklynese, saying "dese" and "dems" and "dose"
You're a Rolls-Royce dealer, you're the Wonder Wheel, you're vintage clothes!

 Naturally, that reminded me of Sherman's Jewish parody of the great song.

"You're the Top" was a number in Porter's 1934 musical Anything Goes, and parodies appeared almost right away. Irving Berlin wrote a bawdy parody with the fantastic line, "You're the burning heat of a bridal suite in use." The parody gets funnier as it gets dirtier and you can read it here.

In the 1950s, Allan Sherman began writing and performing for friends in Westchester, New York, his parodies of Broadway show tunes, a project he called "Goldeneh Moments From Broadway." I've discovered a lot of lost recordings of Sherman singing these songs, but never one of him singing his parody of "You're the Top."

Here are the opening lines of Sherman's Jewish parody,

You're the top
You're a dozen challas
You're the top
You're Chaim Weizmann's tallis
You're the fins in back of a Cadillac that's new
You're a house by Levitts
A Manischewitz 
A Fontainebleau!

You're a dish
That was sent from Himmel
You're a knish
Made by Yonah Shimmel
I'm a poor schlemiel who would like to steal a khop [feel]
But if Becky I'm a shmendrick
You're the top!

Here's a good version of the original "You're the Top"


Friday, October 12, 2012

Allan Sherman's Lost Lyrics Friday, High School Edition

I see that I'm taking a chronological approach to Sherman's lost parodies, which seems reasonable.

The first one last week was his Jewish parody of the Humpty Dumpty rhyme, and this one is from his senior year at Los Angeles' Fairfax High School, which in 1940-41 occupied beautiful buildings and grounds that are no more.


In the fall of 1940, the Fairfax student newspaper, the Colonial Gazette, ran Sherman's new humor column, "Witz-Krieg." The title was a terrific pun that threatened a comic bombardment, and that is exactly what Sherman delivered.



Sherman in the spring of 1940. Courtesy of Nancy Sherman.


One of his earlier pieces for the column, published on October 25, 1940, was a bit of doggerel that does not make its complaint plain. Sherman was unhappy with American humor. Reading Samuel Clemens brings on "something close to delirium tremens." O'Henry and Ogden Nash, whose nonsense poetry Sherman often included in his column, also upset him. Sherman, not yet 16 years old, continued,



I also imagine that at a party
All present would be bored with these members of the literarty,
As it is probably true that Charles Chaplin
Has never read "The Education of Hyman Kaplan."
And other such facts too numerous to mention
Should be brought to the public's attention.
And so, whether you are a nobody or a somebody,
You ought to be as disgusted as I am with American humor, including the musical comebody.

This is an early cry for cultural diversity. The problem with American humor is that it is not Jewish enough. Chaplin's crime is not reading The Education of Hyman Kaplan, Leo Rosten's 1937 novel about a Jewish immigrant's comic determination to resist the tyranny of proper English. The book celebrates Kaplan's broken English, delivered in a heavy Yiddish accent.

Sherman demands that this problem "be brought to the public's attention." He was talking to himself. He had found his comic calling.




Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Allan Sherman, Barbra Streisand, and the Old Neighborhood

There is a lot of Barbra Streisand coverage lately with a new biography and in advance of her first ever concerts on Thursday and Saturday in her old neighborhood of Brooklyn, but the best item out there is a video clip from a documentary about Streisand filmed 30 years ago. It captures (mainly Jewish) Brooklynites spouting off about the famous singer.

You have got to see this. Watch it here now.

The thing that hit me about the wonderfully brash, unapologetic people in the video is the lifelong impact it leaves on anyone raised among them. I mean, you can't shake that off.

Allan Sherman wasn't raised in Brooklyn, but his Chicago childhood was populated by the same crowd. His grandparents, uncles, aunts, and many cousins were either immigrants or the children of immigrants full of vigor and humor and criticism and also craziness, which isn't spelled out in the video but that both Sherman and Streisand knew about. (Both performers had abusive step-fathers and impossible mothers.)

So the question is, what do you do with such an inheritance?

One route is visible in one of the most remarkable performances I've ever seen. In a 1963 street fightin' rendition of "Cry Me A River," Streisand tapped her Brooklyn roots to deliver a snarling taunting vicious "C'mon, c'mon/Cry me a river" moment about three minutes into that song that literally gives me goose bumps. She is frightening. To use today's lingo, it is gangster. Watch it from the beginning and don't worry that I've already spoiled it for you. It will knock you out.


Sherman, of course, went in the other direction with an absurd humor that put all those people in the Streisand documentary, complete with their classic accents, into songs previously known for their sweetness, such as his first big hit, the 1962 "Frere Jacques" parody "Sarah Jackman." In its very different way, it also knocked people out in 1962-63. In place of the French lullaby lyrics that were incomprehensible to Sherman's audience was a language they knew well.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Allan Sherman Lost Lyrics Friday - A New Series That Doesn't Get Started For Longer Than You Might Think Because There's Some Background Stuff That Maybe Is More Than People Want But I Can't Stop Myself

I'm eager to bring you Sherman song parody lyrics you've never heard before because they have never been released anywhere, but I need a minute.

I got interested in writing about Allan Sherman because I thought there was an interesting story there about suppressed ethnic identity in America and its emergence. That's why substantial numbers of non-Jews bought Sherman's first album, My Son, The Folk Singer. They found in Sherman's dialect parodies ("The Streets of Miami") and proud announcement of Jewish family names ("Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max") a surrogate for their own ethnic identities. (The other part was Sherman was funny.)

Or, in the case of non-ethnic middle Americans, they found an attractive distinctiveness, like the guy who marries the Greek girl in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

But it took a couple of years of research to discover just how serious Sherman was about getting Jewishness into the public sphere. He was obsessed with it. And that tied in to a big idea that has fascinated me for a long time.

"For the Jew in the modern world Jewishness forms only a portion of his total identity," wrote historian Michael A. Meyer. "And yet external pressures and internal attachments combine to make him often more aware of this identification than any other."

That is me. That is a lot of people. And that was Sherman. It was only part of who he was, but those "external pressures" (1920s and 1930s anti-Semitism, Hitler, etc.) and "internal attachments" (his beloved Yiddish-speaking grandparents) made Jewishness something he could have sang, if he was a Jewish Willie Nelson, was "Always On My Mind."

Even when he was 13.

Sherman's first Jewish song parody was published in the 1938 John Burroughs Junior High School BURR, a publication by and for graduating 9th graders of that Los Angeles school, which is still in operation. Sherman's name then was Allan Segal, but that's another story. In a piece called "Mother Goose of 1938" he wrote his first Jewish parody.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a train
Happily singing "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen";
All the conductors and all the porters,
Couldn't get Humpty out of his quarters!

Think of it as Sherman's bar mitzvah speech, his 13-year-old's declaration of identification as well as a complete outline of his fate: joy in singing, a joy in singing Jewish material, along with an unforgiving assessment of himself as a portly and already deeply damaged egg man that would never be put together again.



Thursday, October 4, 2012

Allan Sherman, Jewishness, and the NYTimes


Can there be such a thing as a charming obituary?

If so, then it appeared in today's New York Times about Irving Cohen, who for decades worked as a maitre d' and served as matchmaker at the Concord Hotel in New York's Catskill Mountains. Because of my Sherman research, I read a number of NYT articles from 1963, and boy, have things changed. 


Fifty years ago, the Times managed to write a feature on Sherman that never mentioned the word Jewish. Today it reveled in it. The Times touted Cohen's "canny ability to seat just the right nice Jewish boy next to just the right nice Jewish girl." 


The difference is a revealing barometer between today's world and Sherman's. When the 1960s began, Jewishness was seen as "at best marginal or exotic and at worst grubby and rather shameful," remembered Norman Podhoretz. In songs like Sherman's 1962 "Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max" his unembarrassed Jewish comedy broke new ground. 
Meet Meyerowitz Berowitz Handleman Shandleman Sperber and Gerber and Steiner and Stone
Moskowitz Lupowitz Aaronson Berenson Fineman and Fierman and Friedman and Cohen
Smalowitz Wallowitz Teitlebaum Mandelbaum Levin Levinsky Levine and Levi
Brumberger Shlumberger Mincus and Pincus and Stein with an ei and Styne with a y

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jewish Republicans? Allan Sherman was on it


Because I have Allan Sherman on the brain, most any event can remind me of a line from a Sherman song.

Tonight's presidential debate -- and the pretty funny website Yiddish Curses for Republicans -- reminded me of lines from Sherman's "Harvey and Sheila." This fantastic parody of "Hava Nagila" traces the financial and social rise up the ladder of a Jewish couple, Harvey and Sheila.

Traded their used MG
For a new XKE
Switched to the GOP
That's the way things go.


Listen to the whole song. It is great.

Uploaded by APyleOfVinly on December 15, 2010

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Seinfeld and friend talk Allan Sherman

That was a nice wake-up call.

About a month ago I had only just surfaced from my Allan Sherman research-and-writing cave when I heard about Jerry Seinfeld's new Internet series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I paid a visit and watched Seinfeld's fun conversation with friend Joel Hodgson, and then I also clicked on a Spare Parts segment with the two of them talking about Allan Sherman.

Seems they like him.

Watch the clip here.

First Allan Sherman biography

Allan Sherman has been called “arguably the most successful musical humorist in pop history.” And with good reason. After all, the man turned "Hava Nagila" into "Harvey and Sheila." He reworked "Frere Jacques" into "Sarah Jackman." And in an unlikely-ever-to-be-topped moment of genius, he re-imagined "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as "The Ballad of Harry Lewis." Out went the Lord, in came garment center worker Lewis, and his boss Irving Roth, which led to the magnificent,

"He was trampling through the warehouse
Where the drapes of Roth are stored."


                                                        Published on July 2, 2012, by vinylcollector89

I mean, does Sherman deserve a biography or what?

I thought so, and so did Brandeis University Press.

Overweight Sensation: the life and comedy of Allan Sherman will be published next spring.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Allan Sherman's 50th anniversary year starts today


"Sarah Jackman, Sarah Jackman
How's by you? How's by you?"

Los Angeles disc jockeys Gary Owens at KPMC and Bob Crane at KNX both claimed to be the first in the country to play Allan Sherman's "Sarah Jackman," the hit song from Sherman's million-selling first album, My Son, The Folk Singer.

But The Hollywood Reporter heard Crane play it on October 1, 1962, and that's what I'm going with.  That makes today the 50th anniversary of the song and Sherman's appearance on the pop culture scene, and the beginning of a year of 50th anniversaries that culminates in the summer of 2013 with the 50th anniversary of "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!"

Sherman at a recording session, 1962-63. Courtesy of Robert Sherman.


It was the start of an amazing year for Allan Sherman and the country. Both were shocked to discover that ethnic Jewish comedy could win fans among Jews and non-Jews, go mainstream, become a hit and make big money.

My Son, the Folk Singer kicked open America's ethnic floodgates.

Please follow this blog for updates on Sherman during this 50th anniversary year and the forthcoming biography, Overweight Sensation: the life and comedy of Allan Sherman.