Chapter Six

Frankie Laine’s accompanist Carl Fischer wrote “You’ve Changed” and “We’ll Be Together Again”: haunting ballads that have weathered all the musical trends of the past half-century.

Here’s what Alec Wilder, in his scholarly anthology American Popular Song, had to say about Fischer and “We’ll Be Together Again”:

“The song is a great illustration of pop ballad sophistication and its difference in character from a theatre ballad. Can you imagine Kern or Rodgers or even Gershwin writing such a song? Perhaps Arlen, but no one else. Berlin wrote a somewhat similar song for a show but not with such sophistication.”

Considering Wilder’s standing in music – both popular and classical – it had to be an honor to be even mentioned in his book; let alone to be compared with such giants as Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen and Irving Berlin.

American Popular Song could be called a 500-page opinion piece. To write it, Wilder reviewed hundreds of the popular songs written between 1900 and 1950 and made a personal choice among them.

In his book, Wilder placed “We’ll Be Together Again” among the “outstanding individual songs” written between 1940 and 1950, along with such enduring standards as “How High The Moon,” “I’ll Remember April,” “Laura,” and “Scarlet Ribbons.” And Wilder added a personal tribute, describing Fischer as “a very dear man to boot.” I couldn’t agree more.

The night I met him, I was expecting to interview the bouncy and well-fed entertainer Frankie Laine. When I got to where I had been directed, I was sure I had the wrong hotel room: the only person there was a slender fellow with a wispy moustache and a sad expression.

“I’m really sorry to tell you that Frankie can’t be here,” he told me. And I’m sure he offered some excuse. Then he said: “Do you have time to sit down and talk awhile?”

I had been given every reason to come away from my one meeting with Carl Fischer hating him for the disappointment he had dealt me, but I’ve remembered the man with affection ever since.

There was a piano in the room. Fischer sat on its bench, and directed me to the easy chair nearby. I can’t recall what we talked about but I know I was there for at least an hour, and left feeling I was someone very special to have been given that much of his time.

I finally got that interview with Frankie Laine some twenty years later in Montreal when the singer was all but forgotten. It was probably Laine who told me that Carl Fischer had died in 1954, only five years after I met him. And he made it plain that his one-time accompanist had impressed scores of musicians just as deeply as he had Alec Wilder.

No song moves me like “We’ll Be Together Again.” Rosemary Clooney’s loving rendition of it is enough to have me scrabbling for my handkerchief. More than the song, it’s the thought of that bad news messenger who sent me away feeling like a somebody.


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