POST 43: "Paradise Cafe"
I'm a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.” Mother Teresa
In March of 2012, Barry was interviewed by Steve Baltin of Rolling Stone Magazine and in response to a question about the direction he was taking his music, Barry responded, “I believe in my writing…I am a songwriter.”
This has led me to connect to Barry in a different way as I hear the music and read his lyrics. I realize what I missed from the beginning is that Barry is a consummate storyteller. As I began to read the interviews from the 1990s, I learned of his love of musical theatre, and how all the commercial success was quite a surprise. Yet from the time he reprised the famous 19th Century temperance musical, The Drunkard, in 1964, many of Barry’s songs are mini-stories. From songs such as: “Seven More Years,” “Sandra,” “A Nice Boy Like Me,” Bobbie Lee (What's The Difference, I Gotta Live),” Sunday Father,” “Freddie Said,” Come Monday,” Not What You See,” Brooklyn Blues,” Where You Go,” “Trainwreck” to just name a few. Barry’s catalogue is infused with storytelling. “Copacabana (at the Copa)” easily lent itself to becoming a fleshed out theatrical story on TV (1985) and on stage (1994-1996).
So as I look at this, coming from someone who has written approximately 341 songs, 48 albums, and 57 singles, I figure he must know what he’s talking about.
For forty years I have shredded my writing. I didn’t believe in it. I was ashamed of it. According to the Politburo, anything I wrote was a load of shit. Through this long wilderness journey a slow, difficult transformation has occurred. The Handbook is gone – well at least it is inactivated. I have real angels in my life, and I have badass angels “who know how to bury the body and keep the shovel in the trunk” kind of angels. I have the heavenly ones too that shove me to write now, who point out ideas, and keep sane on the Belt Parkway traffic jams.
The biggest shift that has happened is this: I no longer tear up my writing. Even the writing that is truly crap. Those godawful first drafts that make you want to drink yourself to oblivion and shove ten pounds of chocolate down your throat. I have learned that not every sermon I write is a masterpiece – and I live another week to start over. My dear husband has taught me this – the one with the gift of speaking without notes. Just do it. Say it. It is never finished. Then go on.
As a result, writing and I have gotten on better terms. Writing is beginning to trust me more since I’ve put the scissors away. I am beginning to trust writing more, and yes, trust God more, because after the shitty first draft comes a less shitty first draft, then something that doesn’t smell so bad, then, all of a sudden, something so beautiful emerges that I gasp and want to cry. I’m hearing the song now, God, what you’ve been singing to me for so many years, it is coming through now loud and clear. More or less. For once in my life, I am writing, draft after draft, I have added a new paradoxical commandment to Mother T.’s list:
“What you write may line the cat-litter box tomorrow. Write anyway.”
Give the gift of music to the next generation through donations to:
The Manilow Music Project
8295 South La Cienega Boulevard
Inglewood, CA 90301
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