Dying Is Easy, Musical Comedy Is Hard

By Neal Comment

I’m usually sympathetic to Henry Alford‘s contributions to the New York Times Book Review, but I have to say that I thought his attempt at crafting showtune parodies of popular literature wasn’t up to snuff. Oh, there’s a decent couplet here and there (“human pride makes human goblins / wunderkinds have wunderproblems” was particularly nice) but the overall impression was weak. Of course, it could just be that I have an impossibly high standard when it comes to this genre, having been spoiled by the work of Ben Greenman. See, for example, “If I Did It!: The Musical” or his even better lyrical interpretation of Mel Gibson’s DUI incident or last week’s distillation of the Rosie/Donald feud.

Where Alford’s generally happy to just score a few points off broad themes, Greenman’s parodies have narrative thrust, even complexity of character. Why he hasn’t been spirited away from his New Yorker editorial desk to write actual lyrics for actual musicals is beyond me, but in the meantime, if the NYTBR ever wants to dip its toe into this water again, he’s the guy they’d better hire to do it.

Here at the ‘Cat, though, we can’t afford him, so we’re going to have to ask you, our readers, to write us a musical parody of a fiction or nonfiction book for free. We’ll publish the best submissions we get on Friday morning, and we might even throw the floor open to voting if we think there’s something to it. I’m only setting a few restrictions on your creativity:

  • No A Million Little Pieces parodies. Too easy.
  • The Corrections is also right out. South Park can get away with singing fecal matter, but not you.
  • Likewise, since there’s no improving upon “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball,” you can’t use Norman Mailer‘s The Castle in the Forest.
  • If it’s actually been adapted for the stage, it’s off limits. I recognize you probably could do a better job at adapting The Vampire Lestat than Elton John and Bernie Taupin, but those are the breaks.
  • Frankly, we refuse to consider anything that rhymes “Hannibal” with “cannibal.” We’re just funny that way.

Other than that, turn any book you want into lyrical verse. Just try to keep the length reasonable—somewhere between one of Alford’s songs and Greenman’s full librettos should do nicely. And have fun!