David Frishberg

From BR Bullpen

David Lee Frishberg

Biographical Information[edit]

David Frishberg is the composer and "lyricist" of Van Lingle Mungo, a 1969 be-bop song. After his original lyrics for the song were rejected, Frishberg found inspiration by browsing through his copy of the new Baseball Encyclopedia and stumbling on the unusual name of Van Lingle Mungo. He proceeded to write a song whose lyrics include only the names of major league players and the words "and" and "big". It remains Frishberg's most popular song decades later. His other most famous song is "I'm Just a Bill", from the Schoolhouse Rock series, a song about the legislative process.

Growing up in St. Paul, MN in the 1940s, he was a rabid fan of the St. Paul Saints of the American Association and even did some work as a helper to broadcaster Dick Siebert, keeping statistics and running various errands for a few games. Music soon eclipsed his interest in baseball, however, and he was largely self-taught. His older brother Mort, and Jimmy Mulcrone, who were more knowledgeable, served as mentors and gave him some lessons about musical theory and keyboard harmony.

He went to the University of Minnesota to study journalism, also joining the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) as a way to get out of the draft at the time of the Korean War. He would have preferred to be a music major, but his formal training was too skimpy to make that a possibility. He then served a couple of years as an Air Force recruiter in Salt Lake City, UT, completing his military obligations. He moved to New York City immediately afterwards, beginning to work as a pianist for various jazz performers and also began songwriting. While he never had anything close to a hit in those early years, some of this early material has since been covered by various jazz players; much of his songwriting was command work, however. He also worked for a time in California, writing music for television for a short time.

In Van Lingle Mungo, he used names of ballplayers he was familiar with mostly during the years of wartime baseball when his fandom was most avid. Thus the John Antonelli mentioned in the song is the 1940s infielder, not the better-known pitcher Johnny Antonelli, who came up a number of years later. In an early version, he had Roy Campanella, but changed it to Art Passarella, an umpire, in order to fit the time span. He also tried to rhyme, and was embarrassed when he realized that Bobby Estalella's name does not rhyme with Danny Gardella, as it's pronounced "Esta-leya" in Spanish ("I only ever saw his name in print", he explained). He also mangled the pronunciation of Johnny Gee (whose name in fact rhymed with "ghee"). Because he chose players with somewhat improbable names, many listeners did not understand what the song was about and thought it was written in some foreign language, maybe Portuguese as the song is in the bossanova genre.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Stew Thornley: "Dave Frishberg", in Bill Nowlin, ed.: Van Lingle Mungo: The Man, The Song, The Players, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2014, pp. 8-12. ISBN 978-1-933599-76-2

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