A Few Of The Things That I Like - Thoughts on Demos
I have mixed feelings about demos and long lost lyrics. Of course, I think everything Howard ever wrote is brilliant (except perhaps for some juvenilia best left to our grandfather’s scrapbooks). I am a tad conflicted, though, when that material – including demos, work tapes and early lyrics –goes out into the world. The demos Howard and Alan did – even the ones they did before they had the money of Disney to produce high-end demos, are really terrific. Both men loved an open mike and they gave their all to those demos. Howard made a choice early on that he wasn’t interested in being on stage, but doing the demos clearly fed the performer in him. He and Alan were also trying to sell their songs, which didn’t hurt, either.
And let’s be clear, Howard knew how he wanted those songs sung and he wasn’t afraid to show rather than tell. Though watching him direct Jody Benson’s performance of Part Of His World it’s also clear that he wasn’t afraid to pull those songs out of others as well.
I have some recordings (probably they’re out there in the ether by now, too) of Howard, Jonathan Sheffer and Albert Innaurato working on a musical based on Innaurato’s Fatty At The Opera. Besides being very funny and a great insight into artists at work, what I really love is listening in as the three men crack each other up and compete for the best line.
But the thing is, those tapes were never meant for public consumption. They were a way for the creators to document their work for each other. Listening in now is really just eavesdropping.
I was thrilled with the end result of Howard Sings Ashman, a compilation of Howard singing his own songs. But the producer, Steve Nelson, was cognizant of the CDs need to also serve as entertainment and it shows.
There was a beautiful song in Little Shop calledWe’ll Have Tomorrow that was cut late in rehearsals. As Martin Robinson points out in Feed Me, Howard didn’t think they needed – or could support – two love ballads. I mean, at some point, you have to let the audience go home, even if it means cutting a song you love (both Howard and Alan loved that particular song).
Still it’s a wonderful song and well deserves being heard (if even in the little coda at the very end of Little Shop).
Small snippets of some lyrics should sometimes stay lost but are still fascinating. My favorite example is from the papers of the brilliant Oscar Hammerstein. When the people at the Library of Congress expressed interest in Howard’s papers, they invited Bill (Howard’s life partner) and me to Washington for a tour. We saw some unbelievable material, including original manuscripts of a Mozart symphony and Barber's Adagio for Strings, but my favorite was a sheet of yellow legal paper with twelve typed lines of lyrics and some handwriting on it. Four lines down, I read:
“Riding down hill on my big brother’s bike –
These are a few of the things that I like.”
Scrawled in pen beside that line is, “my favorite things.”
How wonderful that Mr. Hammerstein saw the error of his ways.
How wonderful that he saved his papers and that the Library of Congress has preserved them.
How wonderful if Oscar Hammerstein’s grandfather had also kept a scrapbook of his juvenilia. That would indeed be something to like.