How does the sausage of music get made? An obit in the New York Times, by Neil Genzlinger, gives us a glimpse. (By the way, the obituarist and I could start a company, called “Genzlinger & Nordlinger.” I put my name second, not out of modesty, but because the company name as a whole sounds better that way.)

The obit begins,

Monty Norman, who in the early 1960s reached into his back catalog, pulled out a song about a sneeze and transformed it into one of the most recognizable bits of music in movie history, the “James Bond Theme,” died on Monday in Slough, England, near London. He was 94.

“Song about a sneeze”? More on that in due course.

The composer was born Monty Noserovitch in London. His father, Abraham, made cabinets, and his mother, Ann (née Berlyn), sewed dresses.

In the early 1960s, Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli were about to launch their James Bond movies. The first was to be Dr. No. They asked Monty Norman whether he would like to write the score. He was not particularly keen on the idea—“until Mr. Saltzman threw in an incentive,” as Neil Genzlinger writes. That incentive was “a free trip to Jamaica, where the movie was being shot, for him and his family.”

“That was the clincher for me,” Norman would relate. Whether the movie was a flop or a hit, “at least we’d have a sun-sea-and-sand holiday.”

But what would he do about a theme? The obit tells the tale:

He was struggling to come up with the theme, he said, until he remembered a song called “Bad Sign, Good Sign,” from an unproduced musical version of the 1961 V. S. Naipaul novel, “A House for Mr. Biswas,” on which he and a frequent collaborator, Julian More, had worked.

“I went to my bottom drawer, found this number that I’d always liked, and played it to myself,” Mr. Norman said. The original (which opened with the line “I was born with this unlucky sneeze”) had an Asian inflection and relied heavily on a sitar . . .

Man alive. Norman said he discerned in this music—this corny (frankly), Orientalist music, a novelty song—the “sexiness,” “mystery,” and “ruthlessness” of James Bond. “It’s all there in a few notes,” he said.

This is the Biswas song. This is the James Bond theme. Which do you prefer? The second one, I feel sure. But isn’t it interesting to see—to know, to hear—how this sausage got made?

The Biswas musical was never produced, as the obit of Monty Norman tells us. But I would like to tell you this: A House for Mr. Biswas stands as one of the greatest reading experiences of my entire life. I got to know the author, Naipaul, a little through his dear friends, David and Clarissa Pryce-Jones. Lady Naipaul—Nadira—is a dear friend of mine, as are David and Clarissa. The last words I ever spoke to Naipaul were, “I hope you don’t mind my saying it again: A House for Mr. Biswas was one of the greatest reading experiences of my whole life.” He seemed pleased. And I am pleased.

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