Lost Chords

By Douglas GilbertDOUBLEDAY, DORAN
IT is true, as Mr. Gilbert remarks, that the popular song is a valuable index to manners and social history, Mr. Gilbert, with his unstable combination of sentiment and big-town flippancy, might have been the perfect reporter of pop tunes if his glib, mannered, and often inaccurate journalese were not a little wearing.
Someone should induce Mr. Gilbert to look up the word “rune,” which to him apparently means a folk ballad. Someone should tell him that we do not say “a media.” Someone should speak to him quietly about purple rhetoric. But stylistic slips, even aggravated by pretension, cannot spoil a book. They only hurt it. Anyone wanting to get a history of America from the 1860’s to the present through the popular song will find much in Lost Chords. It is all there in the reprinted songs, hundreds of them, though the conclusions a reader draws may differ considerably from Mr. Gilbert’s.
For one thing, Mr. Gilbert’s tendency is to assume always that New York equals America. Perhaps in New York, nowadays, people don’t sing. I can assure him that they do elsewhere — in Vermont and Iowa and Wisconsin and Utah. His feeling that America now swings where it used to sing is true partially; what he forgets is that many of his old-time melodies were dance tunes, and that many modern dance tunes are widely sung. And his inadequate knowledge of American history leads him to quick and superficial summaries of periods.
With all its superficiality, Lost Chords is amusing and informative. If Mr. Gilbert knew as much about history as he does about songs, it would be a valuable book indeed. W. S.