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June 06, 1978 - Image 8

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1978-06-06

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Page 8-Tuesday, June 6, 1978--The Michigan Daily
Harburg delightful (when singing)

Ernie Harburg - not to be confused
with Ernie Harwell, the Tiger baseball
announcer - is part owner of the Earle,
Ann Arbor's jazz nightclub. E. Y. 'Yip'
Harburg is his father. Sonny calls
Papa. The deal is made. Ernie charges
$5.50 per seat. And E. Y. Harburg joins
the vast number of comosers or
lyricists-cum-entertainers, following in
the footsteps of Comden and Green,
Sammy Cahn, and others.
Actually, it wasn't as cynical as all
that When he sang he was very, very
good. But when he yakked he was
I'M SURE Harburg the Younger ac-
tually persuaded his father to come out
and entertain not for mere thoughts of
avarice but because he sincerely
thought it would be delightful and in-
teresting. In truth, ninety per cent of it
Michigan DAILY
was. The only really annoying thing
was the elder Harburg's opening
monologue, which did nothing more
than display a sentiment fogged over by
years (and Yip has over eighty of them
under his belt) and take cheap shots at
everything modern. This sermonette
went -on, in winding and garrulous
fashion, for just under two years.
For the unitiated, E. Y. Harburg is
the lyricist for all the Wizard of Oz
songs, the songs from Finian's Rain-
bow, and such popular standards as
"(It's Only A) Paper Moon," "April in
Paris," "Brother, Can You Spare A
Dime?", and, from the Marx Brothers'
movie At the Circus, the witty "Lydia
the Tattooed Lady."
When he sang these songs, he was
simply terrific. An old and wrinkled-
looking fellow, Harburg affects (and,
astonishingly, carries off) an impish,
pixie-like air. He leers, he winks, and
although he sometimes forgets a lyric
or two, Harburg projects such an in-
formal tone that his occasional
mistakes don't seem important.
Some of the highlights of the evening
included his performance of a song
which illustrated the unimportance of
any given person in time. I don't recall
the name, but the chorus remains
in my mind:
Napoleon's a pastry, Bismarck is a her-
Hoover's a vacu-um
The song contained other lines like
"Cleopatra's a black cigar," and
"Venus de Milo is a pink brassiere."
Owen Gleiberman
ARTS STAFF: Michael Baadke, Bill Barbour, Susan
Rarry, Karen onstein, Patricia Fabrii, Douglas
Heler, Paula uter, Mathew Kleter Peer Mans.
Joshua Peck, Stephen Pickover, Christopher Potter,
Jeffrey Seths, Anne Sharp, Eric Smith, R. J. Smith,
Kerry Thompson, TimsYagle-

The audience, which was familiar with
his other songs, seemed not to know this
one at all. But it was terrifically
amusing, and they took this one to
The disappointing thing about all
Harburg's conversation is that he didn't
talk much about what everyone wanted
to hear-those little inside stories about
how this or that came to be written, or
What It Was Like, or anything like that.
He talked about how proud he was of his
son the social psychologist, and about
how he hates Muzak-all of which is
very nice; none of which makes him the
least bit remarkable.
IT WAS almost as though he were
saying, "Accept me as just a nice
loveable old gramdpaw and not the E.
Y. Harburg." But that is what filled up
seats-his being Yip Harburg-and not
Grandpa McCoy.
Ah, well. Nitpicking. I enjoyed the
show, after the opening diatribe had
wound itself down to a whimper. As
Harburg himself said, he cannot sing,
but the point is that we had in front of us
a songwriter giving us what may
perhaps be the definitive statement on
his works-his songs-his contributions
to popular art and culture, and as such
it was a unique experience.
Ernie Harburg should lower his
prices. Three ninty-five for a cold meat
platter is just short of simply sticking a
gun in the back.

Lyricist E. Y. Harburg, most famous for his lyrics to "Somewhere Over the
Rainbow" and "Brother Can You Spare A Dime?", performed Sunday night at
the Earle.

0'Neill en tertains atArk

Good folk music goes far beyond the barrier that exists
in some amphitheater, with a performer isolated on
stage; good folk music takes the nature of their om-
nipresent distance, and somehow obliterates it.
With a great amount of American music-blues songs,
for instance, or many bluegrass tunes - there is little
separation between artist and audience. What distance
does exist is defeated by a singer relating things about hid
life, exorcising pains, and illuminating what is left.
BUT A singer of old British, Irish, and Scottish folk
songs is another situation entirely. At the Ark Saturday
night, Barry O'Neill was not singing about anything
generally even remotely connected with his life. And he
sat in a chair, with a consistently plain look on his face,
spinning tales with not much more than a chuckle or nod
of the head.
But make no doubt: There were few barriers at the Ark
Saturday night.
The distance was dispelled by O'Neill's sincerity, and
the quiet enthusiasm he instilled in whatever he was per-
forming. He did many things - play concertina, sing, play
bagpipes, tell stories and jokes, recite poetry - and, for
the most part, with great flair.
But if his vocal chords every now and then gave one to
wonder, his expertise on the concertina and the bagpipes
never did.

casionally seemed careless about his pitch; frequently, he
would drop off the final words of a song, talking them in-
stead of singing them.
Generally using the brisk, thin sound of the concertina
to support his songs, he nonetheless could play stirring
accompaniments with confidence whenever the song
called for it. He did not tie his music too firmly to a meter;
instead it would rise and fall with little predictability -
but always with an acute musical sense.
AND ON THE Scottish bagpipes, he was very enter-
taining. Using his pipes, which were nicely trimmed in
black velvet and gold material, he played-several horn-
pipes - lively dances once associated with sailors -
and displayed very fine technique. ,
"The Rocky road to Dublin," the second half of a pair of
hornpipes, was especially impressive, showcasing a win-
ding and dervish-like melody, played over a chordal base
that O'Neill described as "a drone that acts like a referen-
ce point for the song's melody."
Throughout his songs, et al, O'Neill prominently let
loose an uncomplicated, affectionate humor. In one very
old song (that certainly must predate the birth of Randy
Newman), O'Neill sang:
You're a little too small, young man
Bound never to answer at all
You re-young now, you know
And perhaps you will grow
But at present you're a little too small

"There seems to be some kind of magical thing going
I SAY for the most part, because he seems to do some through them," O'Neill said at the Ark about the kind of
unnecessary things with his voice and phrasing. Although songs he liked to sing. And there was an intoxicating aura
it didn't happen with his musicianship, O'Neill oc- about O'Neill's spngs. I think it is a thing called caring.

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