Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Leader of the Pack

photo: Ralph M.  Newman
Margalit Fox’s recent Times obit describes Shadow Morton as being “almost singlehandedly responsible for the wild success of the Shangri-Las, the Queens girl group he introduced and propelled to international stardom”(“Shadow Morton, Songwriter and Producer , Dies at 71,” NYT, 2/15/13).  Morton was responsible for such iconic songs as “Leader of the Pack” and later produced Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child.” There was a haunting quality to Morton’s music. It was a mixture of doo-wop and The Sufferings of Young Werther. The dissonant riffs communicated an infatuation with a world pregnant with impossibility, one in which fantasy is prized over reality, with that which doesn’t exist trumping knowable things. Just like today you have East and West Coast rap. Back in the sixties, The Beach Boys presented the West Coast version of a similar sound in songs like “Don’t Worry Baby.”  The defiant James Dean character in Rebel Without a Cause prefigured Morton’s “Jimmy”in “Leader of the Pack." Fox’s obit pointed out that Morton possessed a “brazen, naive genius” epitomized by the fact that “he played no instrument, could not read music and wrote his songs in his head.”  According to Fox, “The nickname Shadow was bestowed on him by a Brill Building colleague to describe his habitually evanescent presence.” Morton’s bio makes him sound like a creature out of one his own songs, which is not implausible for an artist. Some writers and songwriters describe the life they’ve lived and others prophesy their own epitaphs. Morton didn’t turn out to die as young as the ill-fated James Dean, but he burned out quick, as far as music is concerned, crashing like the  “Leader of the Pack.” “Mr Morton,” Fox went on to say, “who underwent treatment for alcoholism in the mid-l980’s…remained sober to the end of his life” and “had a second career as a designer of golf clubs.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.