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In song, Frishberg's scratchy voice can resemble the mercurial intonations of male puberty; now it is at a more even keel. Discussing nostalgia, he is talking about songwriting, a successful venture for him on at least 125 occasions, beginning in the early '60s. Often these songs take a sardonic swipe at the present: "Quality Time," his latest, pokes fun at what "typifies the vocabulary of a certain kind of person, I guess you'd call a Yuppie." "I'm Hip," lyrics he wrote to music by Bob Dorough, is about the in-crowd of another decade.
Some of his songs have been one-shot things, "something done for a specific purpose that never arrives again," Frishberg says. For the Burt Reynolds' movie, "Paternity," he wrote lyrics (and sang on the sound track) a title song "that concerned itself with baby talk. I'd never have a use for that again." Another song he never sings is one of his most famous. "I'm Just a Bill," written for a television children's series, it is "about how a bill becomes a law in Congress." His song most recorded by others is not his favorite. "Peel Me a Grape" sounds, he says, "like the first song I ever wrote. I think I write a lot better now."
Frishberg usually starts with lyrics. An exception is "Van Lingle Mungo," in which he has strung together the unusual names of baseball players. "I composed a complete melody I thought was nice, Brazilian-inspired, then tried to fit lyrics," he remembers. "I had several sets. One began `Please, Mr. Nixon.' Another was about salmon swimming upstream. All were pretty lame. One night I was reading the baseball encyclopedia and ran across Mungo's name. I found myself humming that to an important part of my song and then I went through and collected other names and put them together in a crude rhyming way which seemed to work."