Ain’t We Got Fun?

25 Sep

Tuesday was the 117th birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and if the author wouldn’t recognize the sound track to the latest movie version of his The Great Gatsby, he would the link above. He wrote about it in the book of the same name.

Ain’t We Got Fun appears in the book, although that’s not its only literary reference. George Orwell and Dorothy Parker mentioned it as well, and the connection of Fitzgerald and music wasn’t unusual. It was no coincidence his collection of short stories was titled Tales of the Jazz Age.

“. . . more than virtually any other major novelist, Fitzgerald made a remarkably specific use of music,” wrote Will Friedwald at wsj.com in his in-depth look at the music and Fitzgerald: The F. Scott Fitzgerald Song Book. “Ruth Prigozy, in her pioneering 1977 essay, ‘Fitzgerald and Popular Music,’ began compiling a running list that today includes close to 100 different songs that Fitzgerald directly cited in his five novels and 170 or so short stories.”

Fitzgerald used Gus Kahn’s and Raymond Egan’s lyrics as the backdrop to Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan reconnecting early in The Great Gatsby. “Don’t talk so much, old sport. Play.”

In the morning
In the evening
Ain’t we got fun —

One thing’s sure and nothing’s surer
The rich get rich and the poor get — children
In the meantime
In between time —

The more things change, and all that. Fitzgerald died in 1940; Kahn died the next year (a decade later, Danny Thomas starred in a movie based on Kahn’s life called I’ll See You in My Dreams, which included Ain’t We Got Fun).

We don’t know how Fitzgerald would have liked the changes in music that came in the second half of the 20th century, or even the soundtrack that accompanied this year’s movie. We do know how he felt about the music of his time.

“Music,” wrote Friedwald, “meant a great deal to Fitzgerrald, as is shown by an endearing image of the author given to us by his friend and biographer Andrew Turnbull, who describes F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1932 waving ‘good-by from the lighted porch, singing Goodnight, Sweetheart in a weak, rather tuneless voice, and suddenly breaking into a little foxtrot shuffle.’ “

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