Amy Winehouse and Fran Landesman

In Older women, Poets, Pop stars on July 26, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Two of my favourite lyricists died on Saturday.

One of them you will know about – the amazing Amy Winehouse, who died way way heartbreakingly too young. The other, Fran Landesman, is not so well known, but highly respected and adored by those who do know her work.

And perhaps Fran’s consolation for her lesser renown was that she died at home at the fine age of 84, just five months after her husband Jay and will be sorely missed by their two sons, Cosmo and Miles and three grandchildren.

I shed tears when I heard about both deaths. For Amy because it was so tragically predictible and such an unbearable waste of talent. For Fran, because I have been lucky enough to know her a little and have seen her perform many times over the years.

Whenever it rains, I hear myself saying, ‘Nice weather for ducks…’ which is the first line of one of Fran’s songs. What a great rhythm that phrase has. In my head I can still exactly hear her singing it at a gig at St Katherine’s Dock in 1983.

She and husband Jay were London living legends, moving to the city from their native US in 1964 and setting up home in Islington, where they both lived until they died. Although I knew Jay better from his legendary tenure in the Groucho Club bar, where I spent most of my time in the late 1980s. So did he.

Jay always seemed to sit in a particular chair in the back left corner and I still can’t walk into that bar without looking for him there. They actually moved the chair a few years ago, but my eye still always goes there. What a dude he was. What a dame Fran was.

They were true beatniks, the real thing. Read Jay’s obituaries in the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian (by my friend Craig Sams) on these links for all the background, it’s fascinating stuff. Names featured include Miles Davis, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen, Peter Cook and Yoko Ono, to mention just a very few.

And here is his recipe for a happening party:

“a minimum of three potential celebrities (any field); somebody who moves well (male or female); one beautiful Fascist (to confuse people)… no fat people, unless Robert Morley or Peter Ustinov; a swinging accountant; two attractive lesbians; one international drug trafficker; a gay [politician]; one colored TV personality; a pop singer no one recognises, a girl with buck teeth, a corrective shoe.”

They had a famously open marriage.

So Fran was one cool lady and, as well as her sons, leaves behind her a body of work seriously worth taking a look at. Amazon has several of her books of poetry listed.

To give you a taste of her way with words – of why she was called ‘the Dorothy Parker of jazz’ – here is Sarah Vaughan singing my favourite of her songs, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most. Isn’t ‘hang you up’ just a marvellously beatnik phrase?

The words were set to music by Tommy Wolfe and it became a jazz standard recorded by Ella Fizgerald, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler, among others. Although my own personal favourite version is by Sarah Moule.

And apologies for not posting last weekend, I was unwell. (I guess I was just too hung up to do it.)

In case you like them as much as I do, here are the lyrics:

Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most

by Fran Landesman

Once I was a sentimental thing,
Threw my heart away each Spring;
Now a Spring romance hasn’t got a chance
Promised my first dance to Winter;
All I’ve got to show’s a splinter for my little fling.

Spring this year has got me feeling like a
horse that never left the post;
I lie in my room staring up at the ceiling,
Spring can really hang you up the most.

Morning’s kiss wakes trees and flowers,
And to them I’d like to drink a toast;
I walk in the park just to kill the lonely hours,
Spring can really hang you up the most.
All afternoon those birds twitter twit,
I know the tune, “This is love, this is it!”
Heard it before and I know the score,
And I’ve decided that Spring is a bore.

Love seemed sure around the New Year,

Now it’s April, love is just a ghost;
Spring arrived on time, only what became of you, dear?
Spring can really hang you up the most.

Spring is here, there’s no mistaking
Robins building nests from coast to coast;
My heart tries to sing so they won’t hear it breaking,
Spring can really hang you up the most.

College boys are writing sonnets,
In the “Tender passion” they’re engrossed;
But I’m on the shelf with last year’s Easter bonnets,
Spring can really hang you up the most.

Love came my way, I hope it would last;
We had our day, now that’s all in the past
Spring came along a season of sun,

Full of sweet promise but something wrong!

Doctors once prescribed a tonic,
“Sulphur and molasses” was the dose;
Didn’t help a bit, my condition must be chronic,
Spring can really hang you up the most.

All alone, the party’s over,
Old man Winter was a gracious host;
But when you keep praying for snow to hide the clover
Spring can really hang you up the most.

  1. Oh Maggie, thanks so much for the introduction to such a wonderful family, I read your links, then wanted to know more about their boys, loved this article ….
    … I think I may have too get hold of a copy of Cosmo’s book.

  2. Maggie what a post. Sarah Vaughan singing- such a marvellous voice (when I listen to her, I pretend that I can sing like that- ha ha, only do that in the privacy of my own home).
    I too am a great fan of Amy Winehouse, what a tragedy.
    Thanks for posting the lyrics for Spring can really hang you up the most. Certainly relate to thos lyrics.
    Hope you are on the mend.

    • Thank you – fine now. Was simply exhausted after very hectic time and BFF forced me to spend a day in bed. She then waited on me – this is what I call a Friend… x

  3. I always loved the lyrics to that song, as sung by Bette Midler. Now I know who wrote them. Thanks for a beautiful post.

  4. Oh Maggie, just too sad.
    ‘ Didn’t ever have the pleasure of seeing Fran in the flesh, but Heavens above, could that Amy sing! I just hope on her next time around, in whatever format, wherever the location, she won’t be tethered to some hideous addiction or compulsion. Imagine what that gifted tiny creature could have achieved with that fabulous voice and a little more control over her life. I will never forget the look on David Lederman’s face after she sang “Rehab” on his show; she just blew him away! (Obviously he didn’t know what he was in for). Amy was in TOP form that night; amazing and unforgettable Amy Winehouse.
    God bless you Amy, you were a real talent.
    PS Amy doing Rehab on Lederman is utubeable

    • thanks for that – I’ll have a look. Yes, I have been thinking about her a lot and hoping she is now at peace, wherever she is. Poor poor girl to have suffered so much pain in such a short lifespan – especially as nothing really bad ever happened to her, the demons were all within. They just so often seem to go with such extreme gifts.

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