Writings About Music
Neil and Jack
Jack Lemmon and Neil Simon, arguably the finest comedic collaboration in Hollywood history.
Reading about the recent loss of Neil Simon in The New York Times, I commented, and was selected as a "gold pick", the third or fourth time this has happened with my comments there. Here is my comment:
It’s such a rare gift Neil Simon had to be uproariously funny without an overlay of negativity in any form. Simon’s unpretentious comedy seems to have stood the test of time perhaps better than any of his contemporaries, remaining truly inspired and fresh, something like the Irving Berlin of playwrights.
The next day, a second comment I made was printed, too. Here it is:
So sad when Jack Lemmon left us, and now the writer, Neil Simon, whose words he articulated so magically and indelibly. Together they became arguably the finest comedic collaboration in the history of Hollywood. And how transcendent that Lemmon, who wasn't Jewish, became the greatest interpreter of Simon's profoundly Jewish humor.
I will add that Jack Lemmon is likely my favorite actor of all time. His film collaborations with Simon include The Odd Couple, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, and The Out-of-Towners. Other classic performances include Save the Tiger, The Fortune Cookie, That's Life! and many other memorable roles.
In 2007, I was having lunch in Beverly Hills, noticed Neil Simon seated alone at a nearby table, and was bold enough to initiate a conversation with him. He then invited me to join him, and upon learning that I was a composer, related how he sometimes played golf with Robby Krieger of The Doors.
Meeting famous people like this is a normal part of living in Los Angeles. On another occasion in 2008, I was having lunch by the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel, and struck up a conversation with George Hamilton, who was sitting with a woman at a nearby table. Our conversation went on and on, and finally Hamilton asked his companion if it would be OK if he joined me. She was fine with it, and so I enjoyed the excitement of meeting an actor whose portrayals of villains in two classic Columbo episodes had thrilled me, together with his uproarious depiction of Count Dracula visiting contemporary Manhattan in Love At First Bite.
Haysa Rasa, the humorous sentiment, is second only to Shringara Rasa, both the creative spark and eroticism, in Indian classical music. This seems a very natural and healthy perspective going all the way back to antiquity.
Returning Voice from the Photosynthesis album, Purple Clouds from The Forest album, Red Licorice from the Snow and Wood album, Sun Dance from the Robinson Gardens album, and, more recently, Hummingbird Canyon from the album of that name, all include playful elements seemingly related to Haysa Rasa.
Some might try to say that Neil Simon and Jack Lemmon collaborations are guilty pleasures, not serious or profound enough. But I couldn't disagree more, including how Pandit Jasraj made it clear to me that such down to earth humorous elements are an essential part of our lives. Indeed, music history is filled with such examples, including how Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Charlie Parker enjoyed similar diversions.
- Michael Robinson, August 2018, Los Angeles
© 2018 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).