“NIFTY AT 90”

Philip Johnson’s 90th Birthday Song

Written and performed by Christopher Mason

At The Museum of Modern Art, July 8, 1996,

And at The Glass House, May 6, 2008.


(To the tune of “When I’m 64”)

Nifty at 90, sharp as a tack,

No fumbling retiree,

The whippersnapper Alfred Barr was smart to seize

Now is MoMA’s eminence gris;

Architect, patron, curator, trustee,

He’s held almighty sway;

The self-proclaimed whore

Is ready for more

And he’s 90 years old today!

 

The parties are numerous, there’s hoopla galore

For such antiquity;

By the time the celebrations cease to be

He’ll have reached a full century;

Cultural icon, proponent of change

He’s kept the zeitgeist on its toes;

By far the grandest

Propagandist

He loves change, and boy, it shows.

 

(to “To Keep My Love Alive” by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart)

Bold International Style, he directed it,

He fostered it and practiced and protected it,

Then caused a mighty stir and rejected it

To keep that love alive;


The modernism of Le Corbusier

Had dazzled him and banished all his blues away

Then suddenly he said, “That’s old news today”

And kept that love alive;


His swipes and gripes at Gropius

Grew copious perforce,

Release from Mies left purists pouting

At his change of course;


His latest fling is far from quotidian,

We’re told as of his post-meridian,

He loves those crazy curves non-Euclidian

To keep that love alive.

 

(to “When I’m 64”)

Famously generous right from the start,

He’s a MoMA’s boy;

When the trustees’ courage failed, or some such lapse,

Philip’s gifts filled multiple gaps;

One famous snag,

Jasper Johns’ Flag,

He solved the whole shebang;

A similar dilemma,

“The Stairs” of Oskar Schlemmer,

Is here because Philip sprang.

 

Watching his garden from up in the Tower,

One of his rooms with a view,

Philip, still so youthful, can look down and dote

On Rodin’s Balzac, Picasso’s old Goat;

But at the Glass House upon his demise,

When he leaves that place sublime,

The crowds will throng to view it,

And snap their cameras through it,

But they’ll have to wait a long, long time!

 

(to “To Keep My Love Alive”)

Oh Philip loves to quote Heraclitus,

Who said that change should thrill us and delight us,

Stick to what’s old hat and it’ll smite us,

Philip’s kept that love alive;


His other favored philosophe is Nietzsche,

Yes Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was his teacher,

Stick to Nietzsche and life steps right up to greet ’ya,

Philip’s kept that love alive;


Post Moderdism’s apogee, was AT&T, folks say,

So once it was completed, he said, “All that’s passé.”


But Philip makes you feel that there’s a thrill ahead,

A sense of something great beyond the hill ahead,

Because he knows to move on while he’s still ahead

To keep that love alive.

 

(to “When I’m 64”)

King maker, champion, cultural czar

From a Four Seasons banquette,

He’s an energetic and enthusiastic pup

A wondrous boy who never grew up;

We’ve loved his by-line up in the sky-line,

It’s wild but true,

The man who brought the Bauhaus

Right to our house

Can build a curvy Monsta

Any time he wants ta’

Happy birthday to you!

 

Christopher Mason - New York City - July 8, 1996


***


“A MAN FOR THE FOUR SEASONS”

Written and performed by Christopher Mason

at a lunch honoring Philip Johnson

at the The Plaza Hotel, New York, for the

New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation, October 20, 1994


(to the verse of “A Room With a View”)

Philip finds Heraclitus

Wrote much to delight us

In advocating change,

It's change Philip's happy to arrange;

An elixir of youth,

He's living proof

Its results can be sublime -

His buildings are the beacons of their time.

 

(to the CHORUS of A Room With a View)

He gave us Rooms With A View

He knew!

He brought the Bauhaus

Right to our house,

Embraced

A revolution in taste;

International Style

Made him smile - for a while,

He found Le Corbusier

Melted his blues-away

But Mies

Arrived with valise!

And 'though in some ways he's regretted it,

Developers were thrilled -

Modernism's cheaper to build!

Some knock-offs were bad,

So sad,

But at Seagram's we gaze upon

Their modernist Parthenon -

First class - like Philip's house made of glass.

 

We've loved his by-line

Across the skyline,

How dazzling it must be,

When a fellow looks up to see

His own glass menagerie!

With wit rhetorical

He's the oracle,

A maverick heaven-sent;

With far more reasons

Than there are Four Seasons

He's a living monument!

 

(to “You’re The Top”)

Thanks to fate, and by strange projecture,

He's the George Burns of architecture!

He's the dean, the pope, and the shining hope we crave -

He's the king, the palace, the brimming chalice, the errant knave;

All his faults, he will state quite starkly -

Philip sees through a Glass House, darkly,

Though he knocks misguided thinkers off their thrones,

He's the Glass House dweller famed for throwing stones!

 

(to VERSE of A Room With a View)

By far the grandest

Propogandist,

History clearly shows

He's kept the zeitgeist on its toes;

His gripes at Gropius

Grew more copious

Purists went berserk

When he said "Form Follows Function" didn't work!

 

(to the CHORUS of A Room With a View)

He gave us AT&T -

With glee,

And when they'd finished building it,

Polishing and gilding it, said,

"Post-Modern is dead!"

He loves promoting the new,

It's true,

Like a General in a drill room,

At his table in the Grill Room,

Once weighed, reputations are made.

 

(to VERSE of You’re The Top)

Still tall and slender

With full agenda,

His eighty-eight years beget

An elegant silhouette

With the straight gait of a young cadet;

In round-rimmed spectacles,

Corb collectibles,

He's made detractors jump

For he defies his critics with surprises -

His new best friend is Donald Trump!

 

(to the CHORUS of You’re The Top)

Philip's first!  He's the Glass House Dandy

With a smile and a sharp stone handy,

He's the inovationist, preservationist whiz,

He's the MoMA gift horse

Who helped us shift course,

The credit's his,

He's the top, for beyond all measure

He's a landmark, a national treasure,

And though we know he's shy we'll try en masse -

As befits the Prince of Change we raise a glass!

 

Copyright: Christopher Mason - New York - 11:18:94


***


“PHILIP'S CHANGED HIS MIND”


(to the tune of “Blowing in the Wind”)

Where did modernism go?

Philip Johnson loved it so,

Then that bold new Bauhaus way

He deemed passe,

"Less Is More" just had to go -

Weep for poor Mies van der Rohe!

Glass boxes seemed refined

‘Til Philip changed his mind.


Now Post-Modernism's out,

Thanks to Philip's guru clout,

All that Eighties Chippendale

He finds so stale;

All that borrowed history

Seems an ancient mystery,

Some folks are in a bind

Since Philip changed his mind.


When will Decon ever end,

Now it's Philip's latest friend?

Poor Frank Gehry's looking vexed -

What's coming next?

It should be no great surprise

To hear of Decon's swift demise;

When history blinks we find

That Philip's changed his mind!


Copyright: Christopher Mason - New York - 10:18:94