Today is the hundredth birthday of Frank Loesser. The man himself is long gone, having died back in 1969, but his influence towers, and our culture is infused with his brilliance and originality, even for those who have no idea who he was.
There were many geniuses who wrote the songs we associate with classic Broadway, from the teams of Lerner and Loewe to Rodgers and Hammerstein to Kander and Ebb, to those who managed to do it all by themselves, writing both music and words, such as Cole Porter.
Loesser was in the latter category. He wrote over 700 songs in his all too brief life. He wrote the words, and he wrote the music. And oh, such sublime combinations of words and music. From “Guys and Dolls” to “The Most Happy Fella” to “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”, the man completely redefined the American musical.
I remember the very first time I ever heard “Fugue for Tinhorns” — the opening number of “Guys and Dolls”. Really just a couple of mobsters talking, discussing how they placed bets on the races, and yet at the same time an expression of the most beautiful and sublime musical harmony. I’d had no idea that such a thing was possible — the everyday music of conversation transposed into deliriously irresistable song.
The great thing about Frank Loesser was the way he could draw you in to a true feeling of intimacy. Not the grand passion between lovers, but the small talk, the little things said to one another, the quiet intimate moments when real connections are forged.
A new generation has discovered “Baby it’s cold outside” — a song Loesser performed at parties with his first wife, years before anybody ever recorded it. Emo hipsters now associate it with the version by Zooey Deschanel, but its lineage goes all the way back to 1944 — 36 years before Ms. Deschanel was born.
I often wonder which creators will stand the test of time, and whose songs the human race will be singing centuries from now. I suspect that the songs of Frank Loesser will continue to be sung, long after I and anyone reading this today are long gone.
There is perhaps no more noble way to be immortal.