Historically Crushed: Alexandra Monir on George Gershwin
Young Adult Romance Authors share their biggest historical crushes with RomanceatRandom readers. Today we hear from Alexandra Monir, author of Timeless.
When I sat down to write Timeless, my mind filled with the image of a boy and girl at a piano, exchanging a close look as the boy’s hands swept across the keys and the girl sang from a freshly-scribbled sheet of lyrics. Being a singer/songwriter myself, it made sense that I’d imagine my romantic leads, Michele Windsor and Philip Walker, as songwriters. Few things in life are as personal as writing music, and I was drawn to the idea of these two characters falling in love through song. Additionally, as I dreamed up the character of Philip, I found myself thinking of another man born around the same time in history—George Gershwin, my historical crush! And so I loosely based Philip’s character around Gershwin, musical hero of the 1920s-1930s.
One of the most accomplished composers in American history, George Gershwin is the master behind enduring symphonies such as Rhapsody in Blue; hit Broadway musicals featuring beloved, standard songs like “I Got Rhythm” and “Someone To Watch Over Me”; and the groundbreaking modern opera Porgy & Bess. He weaved seamlessly between popular music and classical, his listeners flooding venues as diverse as opulent concert halls and Prohibition-era jazz clubs to hear him play live. George was universally admired—no one could dispute his incredible talent, and millions of women swooned over his handsome photos on the cover of Time Magazine and in the pages of the Hollywood glossies. Before his untimely death in 1938, it seemed that George Gershwin had the world at his feet.
The fictional Philip Walker of Timeless and the real-life George Gershwin were both born in 1890s New York, but their backgrounds were vastly different. George’s parents married shortly after immigrating to the United States from Russia, and he grew up in a humble home in Brooklyn with three other siblings. On the other end of the spectrum, Philip was born as heir to the aristocratic Walker family. He grew up in a series of lavish homes, most notably the Fifth Avenue mansion next door to Michele Windsor’s, and as he approached adulthood, he was one of the most eligible bachelors an heiress could hope to marry. But like George, Philip was far more interested in music than society, and the two of them would have shared similar musical influences beyond the standard classical fare of the day.
While racism’s ugliness permeated much of the early-twentieth century, George Gershwin celebrated and promoted black music, from frequenting the nightclubs of Harlem and incorporating the new jazz sounds into his own songs, to penning an entire opera based around the music of the South. In Timeless, Philip is ridiculed for playing what was in 1910 deemed “race music,” but he stays true to his passion for the new ragtime rhythms, believing as George did, that music was no place for racism but instead should bring together people of all cultures. I was always inspired by George’s stance on equality in an age when open-mindedness was far from the norm, and I wanted Philip to possess these same honorable traits.
Today, you can hear Gershwin music on Broadway in the revival of Porgy & Bess and in a brand-new musical called Nice Work If You Can Get It, featuring classic songs written by George and his lyricist partner and brother, Ira Gershwin. If you attend a cabaret or jazz performance anywhere, chances are the artist of the hour will be performing at least one Gershwin hit, just as nearly all the major classical orchestras worldwide have Rhapsody in Blue in their repertoires. George Gershwin’s presence is felt far beyond 1938, and I have no doubt that the world will still be playing his songs in the century to come. As for what became of his fictional counterpart, Philip Walker?
You’ll just have to read Timeless, and the forthcoming sequel Timekeeper, to find out!
|At the age of 25, author and recording artist Alexandra Monir released her popular debut young adult novel, Timeless. Alexandra currently resides in Los Angeles, California, where she is at work on the sequel to Timeless, as well as further projects in writing and music.|