Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

Those of you of a certain vintage will know the classic novelty song "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah". A few of you may even know who made the song popular. His name is Allan Sherman. Several years ago I was on a novelty song kick. I bought a ton of odd CDs and albums that featured novelty songs. Once of my favorites is a greatest hits CD by Sherman. I also have several actual vinyl albums by him as well. I read the liner notes to his CD and decided I had to know more about him. He wrote his own story but that book is out of print and I cannot find it at a decent price. Earlier this year Mark Cohen released "Overweight Sensation" and I grabbed it almost immediately.
I have to admit that I do not love this book but it served my purpose. I learned much about Sherman's life. The tales of his meteoric rise and fall are detailed in this book. I did not realize his impact on television and how much of a star he was when his first few albums were best sellers. His story is almost like all other celebrities. His undoing came as a result of his own excesses and behavior. But his best songs are amazingly witty. His most famous song is actually very clever if you listen to again and pay real attention to the overall tone. Many of his other hits are also very witty and show more depth than many other novelty hits of the era. The reason for this is that he wrote songs for over a decade before he hit it big. He was well known in certain circles for many years before he became a popular performer in the early 60s. He hung with Sinatra. He was a fixture on talk shows and performed for thousands in the popular venues of the time. He was a comedic force. I will not reveal why it all went away. That is for you to discover if you read this book.
So why did I say I do not love the book? Here is an except from a speaking engagement for the author:

In Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman(Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life) author Mark Cohen presents Sherman, a television producer (I've Got a Secret) turned song parodist, as a manic, bacchanalian, and hugely creative artist whose explosively funny parodies of classic songs marked a turning point in American cultural history.

This book very thoroughly describes Sherman's impact on Jewish culture and it's place in American in the 40s through the 50s and beyond. I do mean thoroughly. I suspect that for some people this is a good thing. For me it was a little too much. There were times I bypassed some of the analysis of the lyrics so I could continue the story of his life. And while I know that the level of description is important to set the stage for his career, success and implosion, I found it to be too much detail for me. This does not mean the book it not good. It is a great way to learn about the life he lived in the era in which he lived. The author put a lot of historical context in this story that I am sure will appeal to others more than me. Maybe I was just too impatient. I really wanted to get to the highlights.
All this being said, I am glad I read this book and will gladly share it. I enjoy reading biographies about people that like Sherman. This may mean I will have to dig out the novelty songs again and find a biography about someone else. Tom Lehrer? Dr. Demento? Weird Al?

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