“My Whole Life, I Don’t Know What This Song Means”: The Musical Legacy Of Nora Ephron

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Nora Ephron Music
After I heard that Nora Ephron, the author, director and screenwriter behind When Harry Met Sally (arguably the best movie ever), had died, I went into that brief mourning period that we all go through now that it’s 2012 and we mourn via blog memorials and Facebook statuses. I found clips from Sleepless in Seattle I hadn’t watched in years, and I listened to “Coming Around Again,” the song that provided the soundtrack to Heartburn, the film Ephron wrote in response to her divorce from Carl Bernstein.


The song, written and performed by Carly Simon specifically for the film with lyrics Ephron fed to Simon, marked my first passionate love affair (as a ten-year-old) with adult contemporary music. More important than that in pop cultural significance, however, it was the first of many collaborations between the two women. As Ephron put it in a Lifetime Intimate Portrait (!!) of Simon from 1995, “I don’t think there’s a right word for what exactly it is when somebody so completely captures, musically and in words, entire emotional sections of your life.”  It’s funny because that’s kinda how we feel about a lot of Ephron’s work. So much has been made about the woman’s humor, her passion for food, her love of love. But what about her music choices?

Ephron doesn’t have that distinctive connection between music and her movies the way, say, Martin Scorcese or Quentin Tarantino do, but I think for a certain age group (where my early-thirtysomethings at?) and especially a certain gender (am I right, ladies?), we can’t hear certain songs without instantly connecting them to one of her protagonists. Harry and Sally’s realization that they’re in love, set to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne,” Annie waiting on top of the Empire State Building in the “Wee Small Hours Of The Morning.” While Simon played a huge role composing and performing for several of Ephron’s films, including Heartburn, Sleepless In Seattle, and This Is My Life, Ephron’s other musical go-tos weren’t necessarily artists as much as they were themes. Pick any of her biggest films and you’ll find some combination of the following: New York songs (“I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City,” “Autumn In New York”), showtunes (“Surrey With A Fringe On Top,” “Tomorrow”), old standards (“It Had to Be You,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”), and Christmas songs (“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Remember (Christmas)”, “Jingle Bells”). I don’t know why she used this formula, and it’s too late to ask now, but it worked, so why mess with it?

Ephron passed away yesterday at 71, and I might have only been a kid when I discovered her films, but really I was ten going on forty, just waiting for the day I would be playing Pictionary with friends on the Upper West Side some night in my adulthood. She made it clear that even though life wasn’t perfect, every heartbreak has some humor, and every walk in Central Park can be subtly scored by Gershwin, at least in your mind.
[Photo: Getty Images]