Even Ira Nods

A case can be made for Ira Gershwin as the perfect lyricist of the Great American Songbook, and by perfect I don’t mean best. What I mean is that his lyrics tend to have a great polish, unity and perfect marriage with a melody without really calling attention to themselves. He definitely has a recognizable style, but it’s a subdued one compared to say Lorenz Hart’s street-smart cleverness. For me his style is transparent and easy on the ears, like Christopher Isherwood’s prose. And for the most part, “The Man I Love” is one of his supreme achievements. But for me there’s also the blemish that doesn’t make the lady more beautiful. It’s the line “who would, would you?”

It scans and rhymes with “just meant for two,” but to me it’s lazy and not worthy of the rest of the lyric. Ira Gershwin, New York Jew, has written a great, universal American song of romantic yearning. There’s nothing ethnic about the language until we get to that sore thumb of a line, “who would, would you.” This, to me, sounds like a Yiddish-inflected New Yorkism, out of character with the rest of the song. It’s a phrase that suggests a hand gesture, two hands, and a shrug. Yet to even work with that aspect of the phrase the singer would have to pause between the two “woulds,” and the same pacing would not work with “just meant for two.” So when singers tackle it, it becomes an awkward “who would would you,” that is, no pause for the comma. I know Ira could have done better.

Someday he’ll come along, the man I love
And he’ll be big and strong, the man I love
And when he comes my way
I’ll do my best to make him stay

He’ll look at me and smile,
I’ll understand
And in a little while he’ll take my hand
And though it seems absurd
I know we both won’t say a word

Maybe I shall meet him Sunday
Maybe Monday, maybe not
Still I’m sure to meet him one day
Maybe Tuesday will be my good news day

He’ll build a little home, just meant for two
From which we’ll never roam; Who would, would you?
And so all else above I’m waiting for the man I love

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4 thoughts on “Even Ira Nods

  1. Oh, come on, such liberties are taken all the time, and this one would only stand out to a Fidditch. 🙂 Honestly, I never even noticed it, because it flows naturally.

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