Alfred Newman

My Guardian Angel

ALFRED NEWMAN guards my apartment. In my entryway, a framed, bronze, first-day-issue Newman postage stamp welcomes visitors. This used to sit on my desk but it often got lost among the CDs, papers, To Do lists, and Post-It notes with time-sensitive tasks that I always ignored. So I gave Al a place of honor. (I would have hung it above my desk, but it didn’t really work with the wall layout…as if my living space has any rhyme or reason to it anyway.)

Oddly enough for my favorite film composer, I don’t listen to Newman’s scores that much. Why? Because I can’t do anything else while I listen to them. There is something within Newman’s music that commands my attention.

It goes beyond the legendary Newman strings. Is it the melodies? The harmonic progressions? Sure, those all come into play. But there is something indefinable and the emotional currents caused by his music run astray somewhere on the path from the brain to the cursor. As a writer and music journalist, this is particularly frustrating since I’m supposed to be able to put those emotions and feelings into words. But when it comes to Newman, I get all finger-tied.

There’s also something intimidating about Newman. The man did it all–composer, arranger, orchestrator, conductor and administrator. When I listen to Newman’s music, I keep hoping just a fraction of that magical pixie dust rubs off.

And then I look around me. Dog toys take up precious, scattered, trippable real estate on the floor. A coffee table littered with books, unopened mail, glasses of half-consumed lukewarm beverages, and a pile of pens, all with varying levels of ink, that seem to reproduce of their own free will. Watson’s fur bunnies tumbling across the dusty hardwood floors.

After a series of mental tongue lashings about a “cluttered home equals a cluttered mind,” I sit back, put on some HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY or THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, usually have a good cry, and let my troubles wash away. With my eyes closed, there’s nothing cluttered about my life, thank you very much!

If there’s any composer I worship, it’s Newman. He never wore wings and, from all accounts, he was far from an angel. But like a trusted friend and mentor, he is always there, forever wise, guarding and guiding me. If I don’t always live up to his standards, that’s okay. But he helps give me courage to live up to mine, even when I don’t do so successfully. And for that I’m truly thankful.

Who’s your guardian angel?

  1. Henry Mancini is special with me, and it goes beyond pondering, as a little kid, his amazing gift for conjuring up unforgettable melodies like MOON RIVER or THE PINK PANTHER.
    Back in the seventies, I went to an outdoor Mancini concert in Kansas City, and before his encore, he walked to the end of the stage to greet his audience. I was pretty far back, but ran up to get a handshake, and was a bit late. He was walking back to the podium and I yelled “Mr. Mancini!”; he turned around, walked the few steps back and bent down to give me a handshake. I remember he had on what appeared to be a big graduation ring – I was being blessed by “The Pope” of film music! Now when I listen to any of his work, I remember that incredible summer evening with unique fondness.

  2. Don’t know how I missed that stamp issue, but I did. How satisfying it was when I found out it had happened: you’ll probably recall that Alfred Newman holds the same place for me among many favorites as he does for you (he introduced me to your website, maybe meaning he’s confident enough in you to spare a moment for my shoulder). I think you should try letting go of your frustration finding words to define the power in what he does. Music comes through when words fail, and his music is elemental. You can describe the feeling of breathing in the fresh air following a thunderstorm, even know what has happened to the oxygen ions, but why any of it happens at all may be beyond mere words. I do know I’m grateful that such exhilaration is possible, and that Alfred Newman was able to share his uncanny ability to summon it.

  3. Don’t shortchange yourself now, Jim. That image you gave us of your apartment is mighty vivid :o And remember, disarray can be a sign of the creative personality, at least that’s what I try telling myself when I’ve avoided the housekeeping chores.

    Also wanted to mention that Gary’s above experience meeting Henry Mancini reminded me of a Mancini concert I was taken to for my birthday. I didn’t get to shake his hand, but on top of the thrill of seeing and hearing him conduct a lot of his own great music in person was the added excitement of the presence in the audience of one of the other composer’s whose work he performed. Preparing to launch into a section devoted to scores by fellow film greats, he introduced Elmer Bernstein who stood up and beamed to a round of very appreciative applause (I think it was around the time he won the Oscar because I recognized that same thousand-watt smile from the awards on tv). He resumed his seat and Maestro Hank led the orchestra in a quintessential version of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM. They also did “Conquest” from CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE. Alfred Newman wasn’t there(physically), but, hey, it was already kind of a two-for-one deal.

  4. Jim, I have to join the Henry Mancini chorus. in the early 70’s I was lucky enough to be at RCA’a famous Music Center of the World on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood (It’s gone now)
    for a once a month college radio forum. We where usually in the famous Studio A but for this meeting they put us in Studio B. What a special day, I met Julian Bream(what a nice guy. When RCA told us that”Hank was going to be there (as a young music major )I was pretty pumped.

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