Kaye’s Ballad

This didn’t find it’s way into into the episode about Kaye Ballard, but I thought it was a heartbreaking detail and wanted to give it some sort of attention. The composers Kander and Ebb have come up a couple times on the program, most recently with regard to Ben Vereen performing “Mr. Cellophane”, but also in connection to Joel Grey’s performance of both “Wilkommen” and “Razzle Dazzle” on his episode.

My favorite way to start a research project is to find a memoir or biography of the host. I start with my local public library, and then move to eBooks for they might provide availability. Then if both those access points fail, I’ll do a search of scanned pages in the massive Google Books infodump for the name of the host and see if they have a memoir I can hunt and peck through the limited preview, or if they show up in other people’s recollections.

Kaye Ballard fell into this last category. Not recognizable to have stayed in circulation in my small city library — if she even had enough profile to have been purchased in the the first place — I struck out in terms of full-text access. But exceprts served me fairly well, always allowing for the strangeness of Google not always showing you the same pages, depending on browser, cookies, copyright, and other unknowable factors.

The following screenshots were taken to prevent having read something, and then going back to check it a couple days later only to be told that those pages have never been allowed for viewing, and we’ve always been at war with East Asia. The first page capture from the interviews with Kander and Ebb in Colored Lights: Forty Years of Words and Music, Show Biz, Collaboration, and All That Jazz, where first Kander and then Ebb talk about their personal and professional collaboration with Kaye, starting with writing “My Coloring Book” for her, and then “Maybe This Time”, both of which were made more famous by other performers. Kaye then tells her side of the story of having both those songs be made for her, specifically, and then watching the music flourish in the popular consciousness when attached to someone else.

Colored Lights was published in 2004, where Ebb says, “I still talk to Kaye once a week.” Ballard’s memoir, where she says that “Even after all this time it hurts to recall [the] experience” of having been lied to by Ebb was published a year later. How I Lost 10 Pounds in 53 Years has a blurb by Ebb on the cover. As much as Ballard’s story feels like her trying to correct the record, some sort of détente must have been reached for Ebb to have been given a preview copy with those feelings rawly recounted in it, and for him to still tell people, “I loved it, and I love her.”

Liza with a “Z” opens with a card that says it was recorded on May 31, 1972 — making it fit neatly in with our fifty year perspective remit — and closes with a medley of songs from Cabaret, which had been released on film only 14 weeks prior. So while Ebb speaks about Liza having included “Maybe This Time” in her nightclub act — and Wikipedia lists it as having appeared on both a 1964 and 1970 Liza album — the specific attachment of the song to the culmination of Sally Bowles’ emotional arc was incredibly fresh at the time of With a “Z”, as the song had not been featured in Cabaret‘s stage run. I’m sure my contemporaries who love that song love it in no small part because of its link to that character narrative. I certainly responded to it that way while watching the film, recognizing that while it was constructed musically as an extremely effective emotional crescendo, it was sharpened so much more because of the broken hope that Bowles brought to it. But I don’t think I can listen to it now without hearing Kaye Ballard reflected in those lyrics and thinking of the song as a kind of stolen valor for Liza. Ebb and Ballard may have reconciled. I think I’m going to carry that grudge for her for a little while.

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