Fran Landesman made her life into an art form â€” not least because of the exuberantly public extramarital sex life she delighted in sharing with London tabloids. But her lasting footprint was the mordant, biting, yet strangely tender lyrics she used to chronicle the worldâ€™s lovers, lunatics and losers.
Her song â€œThe Ballad of the Sad Young Menâ€ â€” whom she described as â€œdrifting through the town, drinking up the night, trying not to drownâ€ â€” was recorded by Roberta Flack, Petula Clark, Rickie Lee Jones and, in an instrumental version, the pianist Keith Jarrett. With music by Tommy Wolf, it became a jazz standard.
Another song she wrote that became a standard â€” but, like â€œSad Young Men,â€ never a hit â€” was â€œSpring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.â€ It sprang from Ms. Landesmanâ€™s asking jazz musicians to put T. S. Eliotâ€™s phrase â€œApril is the cruelest monthâ€ into their own words. Its music was also composed by Wolf. Bette Midler and Sarah Vaughan were among the many who sang it.
Ms. Landesman also published five volumes of poetry, some of it raw. The poem Bette Davis memorized, â€œLifeâ€™s a Bitchâ€ contains the line â€œFirst love makes you itch, then it dishes you the dirt.â€
Ms. Landesman died on July 23 at her home in London at 83. Her death was announced on her official Web site. She left an epitaph, something she said on more than one occasion: â€œIt was a good life, but it wasnâ€™t commercial.â€
Frances Deitsch was born in Manhattan on Oct. 21, 1927, attended Temple University and the Fashion Institute of Technology, and fell in with the group that came to be called the Beat generation. She thought Kerouac was â€œthe best-looking man Iâ€™ve ever seen,â€ and the feeling seemed mutual. He and Allen Ginsberg serenaded her with bongos. â€œBe my girlfriend, Iâ€™m so lonely,â€ Kerouac pleaded.
But she ended up marrying Jay Landesman, who published Neurotica, a magazine that gave the Beats a platform while seeking to explore Americaâ€™s â€œinner darkness.â€ â€œHeâ€™ll make a good first husband,â€ she decided.
They were wed for 61 years; Mr. Landesman died at 91 in February. They had a remarkably open marriage in which each brought partners home to sleep in separate bedrooms. Everyone then had breakfast together. Their teenage sons, Cosmo and Miles, were appalled.
In his 2008 book, â€œStarstruck: Fame, Failure, My Family and Me,â€ Cosmo Landesman wrote: â€œThe thing that upset me the most was their dress and appearance. I can remember when I thought of having them committed to the Institute for the Criminally Dressed. It was parentsâ€™ day at school. They arrived looking like two hippies who had failed the audition for the musical â€˜Hair.â€™ â€
Soon after marrying, the couple moved to Mr. Landesmanâ€™s native St. Louis and started a nightclub that became one of the hippest in the Midwest. Called the Crystal Palace, it booked performers like Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand and Lenny Bruce â€” who, she liked to recall, once urged her to leave her husband and run off with him: â€œLetâ€™s you and me go on the road and send him a little money every month.â€
The Landesmans collaborated with Wolf on a musical called â€œThe Nervous Setâ€ as a vehicle for Ms. Landesmanâ€™s lyrics. It was a smash in St. Louis, then flopped on Broadway. They moved to London, where Ms. Landesman continued her career as a lyricist, singer and poet. (Mr. Landesman wrote, founded a publishing company and managed the career of a kung fu stripper.)
Since the mid-1990s, Ms. Landesman, who is survived by her sons, collaborated with the composer and pianist Simon Wallace on some 300 songs and kept performing.
Last March, the singer Shepley Metcalf performed Ms. Landesmanâ€™s songs in Manhattan. The New York Times critic Stephen Holden likened the lyricist to â€œa cranky, jazz-steeped Beat Generation Dorothy Parker.â€
He continued, â€œIn those days of hanging out in bars into the wee small hours, dragging home strangers whom you canâ€™t remember the next morning and generally acting in the name of hip, dissipation was a competitive urban sport and Ms. Landesman one of its champion chroniclers.â€
But she long ago gave up the sport herself. â€œWhen you reach 60 â€” forget it,â€ she said in 1998. â€œI think itâ€™s unattractive after that.â€