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The Man That Got Away: The Life and Songs of Harold Arlen (Music in American Life)

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"Over the Rainbow," "Stormy Weather," and "One for My Baby" are just a few of Harold Arlen's well-loved compositions. Yet his name is hardly known--except to the musicians who venerate him. At a gathering of songwriters George Gershwin called him "the best of us." Irving Berlin agreed. Paul McCartney sent him a fan letter and became his publisher. Bob Dylan wrote of his fa "Over the Rainbow," "Stormy Weather," and "One for My Baby" are just a few of Harold Arlen's well-loved compositions. Yet his name is hardly known--except to the musicians who venerate him. At a gathering of songwriters George Gershwin called him "the best of us." Irving Berlin agreed. Paul McCartney sent him a fan letter and became his publisher. Bob Dylan wrote of his fascination with Arlen's "bittersweet, lonely world." A cantor's son, Arlen believed his music was from a place outside himself, a place that also sent tragedy. When his wife became mentally ill and was institutionalized he turned to alcohol. It nearly killed him. But the beautiful songs kept coming: "Blues in the Night," "My Shining Hour," "Come Rain or Come Shine," and "The Man That Got Away." Walter Rimler drew on interviews with friends and associates of Arlen and on newly available archives to write this intimate portrait of a genius whose work is a pillar of the Great American Songbook.


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"Over the Rainbow," "Stormy Weather," and "One for My Baby" are just a few of Harold Arlen's well-loved compositions. Yet his name is hardly known--except to the musicians who venerate him. At a gathering of songwriters George Gershwin called him "the best of us." Irving Berlin agreed. Paul McCartney sent him a fan letter and became his publisher. Bob Dylan wrote of his fa "Over the Rainbow," "Stormy Weather," and "One for My Baby" are just a few of Harold Arlen's well-loved compositions. Yet his name is hardly known--except to the musicians who venerate him. At a gathering of songwriters George Gershwin called him "the best of us." Irving Berlin agreed. Paul McCartney sent him a fan letter and became his publisher. Bob Dylan wrote of his fascination with Arlen's "bittersweet, lonely world." A cantor's son, Arlen believed his music was from a place outside himself, a place that also sent tragedy. When his wife became mentally ill and was institutionalized he turned to alcohol. It nearly killed him. But the beautiful songs kept coming: "Blues in the Night," "My Shining Hour," "Come Rain or Come Shine," and "The Man That Got Away." Walter Rimler drew on interviews with friends and associates of Arlen and on newly available archives to write this intimate portrait of a genius whose work is a pillar of the Great American Songbook.

49 review for The Man That Got Away: The Life and Songs of Harold Arlen (Music in American Life)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Arlen, biographer Walter Rimler contends, was an unknown man during his life and remains unknown today--in spite of having written some of the most beloved, ground-breaking, and complex songs. Reading The Man thatGot Away was glorious fun. The whole early Twentieth Century musical world appears, from Tin Pan Alley to Paul McCarthy. Arlen wrote for Broadway revues, Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club, Ethel Waters, Judy Garland, for Hollywood including The Cabin in the Sky, The Wizard of Oz, and Gay Pu Arlen, biographer Walter Rimler contends, was an unknown man during his life and remains unknown today--in spite of having written some of the most beloved, ground-breaking, and complex songs. Reading The Man thatGot Away was glorious fun. The whole early Twentieth Century musical world appears, from Tin Pan Alley to Paul McCarthy. Arlen wrote for Broadway revues, Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club, Ethel Waters, Judy Garland, for Hollywood including The Cabin in the Sky, The Wizard of Oz, and Gay Purr-ee (which I loved as a girl). Arlen was born Hyman Arluck, son of a Yiddish-speaking cantor in Buffalo, NY. He grew up in a mixed neighborhood and was drawn to jazz and gospel music. He competed at amateur nights and played piano at the burlesque house. He organied a local group then in his early twenties published his first song. His parents were not amused, and asked Jack Yellon (author of Happy Days are Here Again and Ain't She Sweet) to “talk sense” into their son. After hearing Arlen play, Yellen called the rabbi and advised he admit defeat: his son was going to be a musician like his old man. Just different music. Arlen went to New York City where he met Ray Bolger. Arlen's group made records that caused Bob Crosby to consider him “one of the best stylists” he ever heard. From there Arlen went on to write for Broadway. After floundering he met Vincent Younmans who brought Arlen up to speed on the music scene and modern styles. It was a pivotal moment in American pop music with the rise of Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein, the Gershwin brothers, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael and Yip Harburg. Arlen wrote Get Happy with Ted Koehler. He realized his future was not in performance; he was a song writer. He could tap into mystical inspiration and summon music. He was writing for a commercial market, but he knew he was creating “art.” Johnny Mercer founded Capitol Records which changed music. Now artists didn't need to wait for a Broadway show or a movie contract to premiere their songs. It also meant the demise of the Tin Pan Alley style of songwriting. Arlen meet the love of his life, a beautiful seventeen-year-old chorus girl Anya Taranda. His Jewish parents and her Russian Orthodox family kept them from marrying. When an undiagnosed brain tumor caused personality changes in Anya, Arlen struggled in his marriage and drank to excess, but they never divorced. His friends considered Arlen a decent and kind man who wanted fame but didn't like the limelight. He helped Judy Garland with her medical bills. He shared his home with his parents and his unemployed brother and his family. Arlen's musical compositions reflected his wit and humanity and his tendency toward depression. His life had its challenges: disapproving parents, an ill wife, the lack of work or lyricists to work with, his alcoholism. His later years brought Parkinson's disease. Arlin always had the regard of his peers. Paul McCarthy bought the rights to Arlen's songs and published The Harold Arlen Songbook. NPR celebrated his 80th birthday with his songs. And if at his 1986 death few Americans knew his name his music is beloved. I thank the publisher and NetGalley for a free ebook in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Walter Rimmler has written a terrific and extremely well researched biography of one of the greatest American Composers, Harold Arlen. I loved the nostalgia and finding all the connections Arlen had with other great writers of the time. I've been well aware of Arlen's great contributions to world of music but not to the point of being able to rattle off so many of his amazing achievements. Of course, Over the Rainbow may be the most popular and has most visibly stood the test of time-- there are Walter Rimmler has written a terrific and extremely well researched biography of one of the greatest American Composers, Harold Arlen. I loved the nostalgia and finding all the connections Arlen had with other great writers of the time. I've been well aware of Arlen's great contributions to world of music but not to the point of being able to rattle off so many of his amazing achievements. Of course, Over the Rainbow may be the most popular and has most visibly stood the test of time-- there are so many other amazing songs he contributed. Knowing and loving a song is always an experience that is unique to each individual. I find that discovering how songs came about and the history behind them adds even more to their sentimentality. Rimmer pays great homage to Arlen with this work. A must-read for American music lovers. I received an ARC copy of this great book through NetGalley.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sonja Williams

    this is a good book - especially if you are a music lover.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dane Vannatter

    Concise, well-written biography with emphasis on the songs and songwriting collaborators.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Fred Casden

    A fine example of a short but complete biography. (It helps if the subject matter is of interest to you!)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I loved reading The Man That Got Away. For many years I’ve been playing songs from the Great American Songbook on the piano and I’ve seen the names, Harold Arlen, E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart and so many more but I didn’t know much more than the average person did about them. The Man That Got Away brought these people to life for me. It helped me understand the songs better, learning what so many of them I loved reading The Man That Got Away. For many years I’ve been playing songs from the Great American Songbook on the piano and I’ve seen the names, Harold Arlen, E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart and so many more but I didn’t know much more than the average person did about them. The Man That Got Away brought these people to life for me. It helped me understand the songs better, learning what so many of them were written for originally and what influences their authors had and the world that they lived in. While this is a book about Harold Arlen one can’t tell his story without telling about the people he worked with, competed with and was friends with, people like Johnny Mercer and Ted Koehler and Dorothy Fields and Judy Garland and Lena Horne and even Truman Capote, and of course all of those I mentioned earlier. If you’re interested in Mr. Arlen’s wonderful songs or just in the Great American Songbook in general, you’ll probably enjoy reading The Man That Got Away just as much as I did.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    Perfectly researched biography of my long time favorite composer. A lot of fortune, but too much sadness for him, but infinite glory to hear his melodies.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michael Evans

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    Tim

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    Jonah Dratfield

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    John M. Marsaa

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    Ann

  13. 5 out of 5

    ronald j innerfield

  14. 4 out of 5

    HARVEY GRANAT

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brent

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    Michael Sparrow

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    Flaubertian

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    Sally

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    Osbre

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