News & Comment » Comment

Nice Works, If You Get Them


by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & ho's Ira Gershwin, you ask? Uh, only like the best lyricist of all time. The relatively unheralded partner and older brother of composer George Gershwin penned, throughout his lifetime, some incredibly catchy and popular tunes that managed to touch on absolutely every trope in the pop canon. Think you can come up with a contemporary song that tackles a topic the Gershwin brothers missed? We defy you to try.

Don't come with the jilted-lover conceit -- Ira did that dozens of times, most notably in "A Woman Is a Sometimes Thing." Good love, bad love, inconstant love -- the Gershwins handled it. No, you're going to have to dig way deeper into modernity to have any hope of catching the Gershwins napping.

How about Three 6 Mafia's Oscar-winning track, "It's Hard Out There for a Pimp"? Surely pimpin' wasn't really the Gershwin's steez ... or was it? Three 6's lament -- "I'm tryin' to get rich 'fore I leave up out this bitch / I'm tryin to have thangs but it's hard fo' a pimp" -- is a fairly original sentiment, and might be a challenge ... if Ira hadn't already spoken to a far more universal pop standard, one that easily encompasses every pimping angle. In "Nice Work if You Can Get It," he wrote that "The man who only lives for making money / Lives a life that isn't necessarily sunny."

All right, so how about a little pervy exhibitionism? Nice thought, but Ira's been there. Christina Aguilera's "Dirty," which so shocked the moral center of our great nation, has an analogue in the Gershwins' "How Long Has This Been Going On?" Compare Christina's "Too dirty to clean my act up / If you ain't dirty / You ain't here to party (woo!) ... / Somebody ring the alarm / A fire on the roof" to Gershwin's "When I trotted in little velvet panties / I was kissed by my sisters, my cousins, and my aunties / Sad to tell, it was hell, an inferno worse than Dante's." That's pretty much the exact same song, so far as we're concerned.

The Brothers nailed all aspects of pop so thoroughly that they even foresaw the coming of one of modern music's more dubious creations, the hip-hop skit. Their classic American folk opera, Porgy and Bess, features a cast of fully-enfleshed, black characters, much like the halls of hip-hop. Also strikingly similar, though, the only white people in the Gershwins' adaptation, as with modern hip-hop (Eminem, Apathy, Bubba Sparxxx excluded) appear only briefly and in stereotypically white professions (a lawyer, a beat cop, a detective) and are written flatly and without nuance.

So no -- as a matter of fact -- there isn't anything new under the sun, especially when you're trying to create under the same sun as George and Ira Gershwin.

"Rhapsody in Blue: The Music of George Gershwin" features Charlotte Carruthers with the Spokane Jazz Orchestra at the Met on Friday, May 5, at 8 pm. Tickets: $21.50-$26.50. Visit or call 325-SEAT.

Add a comment