SKYLARK: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer

Philip Furia, Author . St. Martin's $25.95 (328p) ISBN 978-0-312-28720-7

In this sensitive and wonderfully in-depth work on the lyricist of classics like "One for the Road" and "Moon River," Furia (Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist) displays his talent for writing about the giants in American popular song. Georgia-born Mercer (1909–1976) spent most of his life among New York songwriters such as Irving Berlin and Cole Porter as well as such Hollywood stars as Bing Crosby and Judy Garland, but Furia expertly details how "his genteel southern background would always set him apart" in his lyrics ("Mercer, alone among the great songwriters of his generation, was, from the day he was born, influenced by the music of blacks") as well as his personal life, including his alcoholism. Furia also captures all of the successes and failures in Mercer's long career: his many Academy Award wins; his creation of Capitol Records; his collaboration with composer Harold Arlen, which helped both of them create songs and lyrics "that endure as timeless standards"; and his never having a true hit Broadway play because his "concentration on the emotional mood of a melody limited him" after the American musical's post-Oklahoma! emphasis on character and theatricality. Furia also details the influence of Mercer's love affair with Judy Garland on "the new depth of sorrow" that suddenly appears in Mercer's work with Arlen. Apart from including a few out-of-tune facts about Garland's sexual habits not related to Mercer, Furia makes it clear that Garland had become Mercer's "muse." (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 07/14/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4668-1923-8
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-312-33099-6
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