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Valentine's Day and Lorenz Hart


Ah, the most romantic time of the year. But for some, it seems love is will never come. Or it won’t be recognized. And without it the heart goes cold while the longing persists. All this could be said about lyricist Lorenz Hart. As Alan Jay Lerner wrote about him, “There is a tenderness in some of Larry’s lyrics that always catches me off guard and brings a tear to my eye. His wit was delicious and pithy. When the subject was love—the love he never knew—well, there is that tear.”

And yet he just might have been the most romantic of lyricists and the one who’s need for love is the strongest. So, on Valentine’s Day if you have a love be grateful. And if you don’t, never give up. And keep the hope in your heart. That’s what Larry Hart did even if it was never realized.

So, while some writers like Ted Koehler write, “Hooray for Love” let’s turn to Larry Hart’s more nuanced (some would say skewed) view of love and follow the early evolution of his thoughts on love. Yes, he was writing for characters but as all writers do, they call on their own emotions as a basis for their characters feelings.

He didn’t start his career with a jaundiced view of love. Way back in 1919, he and Richard Rodgers wrote their first published song, “Any Old Place with You,” which offer up on Songs by Cole Porter & Rodgers & Hart: The 1953 Walden Sessions. In it the singer proclaims:

I’ll go to hell for ya
Or Philadelphia,
Any old place with you.

There’s a guy who’s willing to do practically anything for the girl he loves. A year later he expressed the physical manifestations of being in love in the Columbia University show, Fly with Me. The song is “The Third Degree of Love” and the effects are downright terrible:

You feel the fever,
You can’t deceive her
When first she looks into your eyes;
You think you’re wise—
You’re otherwise!
And little birdies seem to sing in your brain!
You start to tremble,
You can’t dissemble,
She asks you what you’re thinking of,
When of your love you’d speak,
Your knees get weak—
That’s the third degree of love

In 1922, though a love song, “I Know You’re Too Wonderful for Me,” shows some insecurities creeping into the lyric:

I know that you’re too wonderful for me!
I know it’s much too wonderful to be!
You’re so beyond compare,
I never dreamed you’d care,
It’s just like magic to be loved by you,
I can’t believe it’s true!
You’ve always seemed a princess far away,
And now I find you in my arms today!
The reason you should care at all
Is more than I can see,
You’re too wonderful for me!

Things accelerate two years later with The Melody Man’s, “I’d Like to Poison Ivy.” And a rejection of love when it does come. He just couldn’t win. Loved or not he couldn’t be happy. [You can hear this rarity on Ronnie Whyte and Travis Hudson’s The Songs of Rodgers and Hart.]

I’d like to poison Ivy
Because she clings to me!
She grabbed me the moment when we met,
Just a Jane you want to forget.
Like Barnum stuck to Bailey,
She sticks to me, you see;
I’d like to poison Ivy,
Because she poison’s me.

By the time of Rodgers and Hart’s breakout hit, The Garrick Gaieties in 1925 there are definitely some chinks in the armor.

In the song “April Fool” [sample it here], the verse says it all:

My poor heart goes
Any way the wind blows’
Spring is a habit with me;
Girls refuse me
But they cannot lose me;
Plato and I can’t agree;
I am burdened with a fondness
For girlish blondness
That I can’t explain;
When I’m doleful,
I become most soulful;
I like my sunshine after rain.

Calling Doctor Freud! Later on in the same show, he asks the musical question that has echoed through the eternity of lyrics, “Do You Love Me?”

Do you love me?
I wonder, I wonder,
I wonder, can it be?
My poor heart’s all
Asunder, asunder,
It’s under spells cast by you.
Will you answer me clearly, sincerely,
Or merely banter with me?
Do you love me?
I wonder, I wonder
I wonder if it can be.

Going through the lyrics we find the same themes though, of course, there’s also your typical love songs. But still… there’s that wistfulness and reluctance to believe that things will turn out right.

Our last quote will be from Dearest Enemy and the song, “Here in My Arms” which sort of wraps up Larry Hart’s immeasurable longing and belief that he’ll never realize his dreams.

Here in my arms it’s adorable!
It’s deplorable
That you were never there.
When little lips are so kissable
It’s permissible
For me to ask my share.
Next to my heart it is ever so lonely,
I’m holding only air,
While here in my arms it’s adorable!
It’s deplorable
That you were never there.

As he got older his personal travails continued. Gay in an era where admittance and acceptance were difficult especially when working with a collaborator who was often detached, he sought solace in drink. His short height made him feel he was a lesser person and exacerbated his worsening depression. He died in 1943. A tragedy for sure but we are left with some of the most personal and deeply felt lyrics by a master in his field.

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