Get Nostalgic

REMEMBER WHEN…there were love songs?

Nobody writes the old style love songs anymore. That line itself could be the beginning of a love song, which nobody writes anymore. Where are the Gershwins, the Yip Harburgs, the Jerome Kerns’s? And, most especially, where is Irving Berlin?Is it reasonable to miss them and the songs they created?

Take Berlin. He was born in Russia, came to America as a child, lived in the tenements of New York, became a singing waiter in Chinatown, and rose to become dean of American songwriters. This Jewish boy’s “White Christmas” became a mega-hit. He wrote hundreds of songs, including “God Bless America,” and the very popular love song, “Always,” which he wrote in 1925 as a gift to his wife.

I’ll be loving you, always, with a love that’s true always,

When the things you’ve planned, need a helping hand,

I will understand, always.

It probably doesn’t get anymore sentimental than that. In fact, sentimentality, tenderness, mawkishness have come to define the old love songs, many of which people of a certain age still croon off-key in the shower when no one’s around to hear them.

Leonard Cohen writes love songs of a different ilk. He includes in his lyrics death and suffering, melancholy and despair. “I never considered myself a romantic person,” Cohen once told an interviewer. “I find it very difficult to locate sentimentality or nostalgia or that kind of warm passion…so I’m not sure what is meant by romantic love.” If you insist on proof that Leonard Cohen was no one’s idea of a romantic, consider this from “Death of a Ladies Man”:

So the great affair is over but whoever would

have guessed it would leave us all so vacant

and so deeply unimpressed.

And this from “Everybody Knows”:

Everybody knows that the war is over

Everybody knows that the good guys lost.

If you’re wondering if Cohen ever recorded Irving Berlin, the answer is, yes. He recorded “Always.” But the critics believe he was satirizing the lyrics.


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