Brandeis University Press, 353 pp., $29.95
Largely forgotten by today's arbiters of retro-hip, Allan Sherman was, for a few years in the Sixties, one of America's most popular and visible entertainers. His knack for witty, explicitly Jewish-flavored song parodies made him an unlikely superstar, topping the charts with three consecutive albums and smash 1963 single "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah." Just as his gentle, pun-filled tunes had a depth and artistry few fans understood, Sherman was a far more complex character than his affable public persona suggested. Deeply insecure and emotionally unequipped to deal with sudden fame, he set off on a self-destructive course that cost him his family, his wealth, and eventually his life, dying in 1973 at the age of 48. Mark Cohen gives this singular figure his due in the exhaustively researched, engagingly written Overweight Sensation, providing an illuminating account of the artist's tumultuous early life and shedding new light on his unlikely rise and heartbreaking decline. Sherman's songs don't always bear up to the scholarly analyses Cohen applies, but more often than not, the author provides valuable insight into his subject's deceptively earthy art and complex personality. Worthy of note is companion CD There Is Nothing Like a Lox: The Lost Song Parodies of Allan Sherman.
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