OUT OF LEFT FIELD
A Personal View
LYRICIST HAL DAVID
...dead at 91
Lyricist Hal David was O.K.
With the City of San Jose
By STAN ISAACS
Hal David, the lyrics writer, died earlier this month at 91.
He wrote, among many songs, Alfie, Raindrops Keep Fallin on My Head, What the World Needs Now (Is Love)-and Do You Know the Way to San Jose?
Way to San Jose has a special meaning for me because I was driving north from Los Angeles to San Jose one year when the Dionne Warwick version of the song came up on the radio. I was intrigued by the coincidence of it all-and enjoyed the putdown of Los Angeles, the city that gobbled up the Brooklyn Dodgers.
There are these lyrics:
L.A. is great big freeway.
Put a hundred down and buy a car.
In a week, maybe two,
Theyll make you a star.
Weeks turn into years.
How quick they pass, and all the stars
That never were are parking cars
And pumping gas.
From words like, Do you know the way to San Jose? Im going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose, it was logical to assume the writer came from San Jose, the largest city in northern California. I dont know why now but I suspected at the time that the songwriter came from the East and threw in San Jose only as a meter-and-rhyme symbol of the good life-as opposed to the tinsel town precincts of Los Angeles.
I later heard a disc jockey pass along the information that San Jose was another of the Burt Bacharach (music)-Hal David (lyrics)) hits. Hal David? Wasnt he the quiet member of the song-writing team who lived not too far away from me in Roslyn, Long Island? Yes, he was.
I bought the tape and when the song comes on I admit I would crow about my perspicacity in spotting the origin of the lyricist. My wife tolerated this. Yes, yes, she would say. You knew it was written by Hal David. (A bit of an exaggeration, I admit).
I made a date to see David in an interesting setting. First off, I found out what I suspected. He wrote those lyrics even though he had never been in San Jose. Yes, he said with a smile. I needed the rhyme.
He was at the Nassau County Jail conducting a creative writing course for some young prisoners. And in the course of the discussion San Jose came up when one of the young men said he would prefer to live in Los Angeles..
David perked up. Why?
The prisoner said, To me L.A. has more entertainment than New York. Its more informal. The clubs allow you to dress anyway you choose.
David didnt push his view. He just asked, Do you know they have only one major museum in Los Angeles? The young man wasnt impressed. David smiled.
Hal David was born in New York City on May, 25, 1921. He had a slow start as a song writer, following his brother Mack. He had mixed success until he teamed with Burt Bacharach. Dionne Warwick was added to the mix and had big hits with her renditions of Walk on By and Dont Make Me Over.
An obituary said, The two men often attributed their fecundity and chemistry to their tireless, dedicated work ethic. David said he liked working with people who torture themselves, just like me.
It didnt matter that they were so different. Bacharach was something of a jet-setter, married to the actress Angie Dickinson. David was a suburbanite who took the Long Island Rail Road to work when the pair were at their peak. David said their differences enhanced the eclecticism of their songs.
I asked him But what about the San Jose words?
He said, Well, Im not crazy about L.A. Im generalizing of course, but when I say I dislike L.A. Im talking about the L.A. I know, which is theatrical L.A. People in the $100,000 class hang out with others in the $100,000 class. Its $20,000 writers with $20,000 writers-and so on.
David originally came from Brooklyn and song-wrote his way though Forest Hills and Lynbrook before landing in a lovely, big, old house that was the milk house on the expansive Clarence Mackey estate in Roslyn. (I believe Charles Lindbergh spent a night there before his solo flight to Paris).
David said, I hope there is nothing artificial about my choice of friends here. By and large my friends are in all walks of life: economic, social and geographic. I have a feeling of roots here and continue to search for roots here.
San Jose, which bills itself as an All American City, has a population of almost a million. People are surprised to hear it is larger than San Francisco, which has about 800,000 people.
San Jose has experienced decades of urban sprawl with characteristics of intense urbanization similar to the Los Angeles area. The city has taken definite steps to avoid becoming Los Angeles North.
The city loved Do You Know the Way to San Jose. It awarded David a certificate naming him an honorary citizen with full power to extol the wonder and beauty of this fair city throughout all his travels.
David eventually moved to the L.A. area. And I would guess he never did find the way to San Jose.
©2012 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted Sept. 17, 2012.
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