This is Billy Steinberg singing “Like a Virgin.” He puts a totally different spin on a song about a girl who equates falling in love with being deflowered. When Billy sings it, it’s gender neutral. We all fall. And sometimes a fall feels like the first time. Boy or girl. I dig it. I hope you hear him sing it one day.
Last week, at a local fundraiser for Senator Ed Markey, a creators' rights advocate, I spied Marilyn and Alan Bergman, the husband and wife team responsible for the lyrics of "The Windmills of Your Mind,” "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life," "How Do You Keep The Music Playing." (If you're really young you may not recognize these titles. Trust me, they're really good songs.)
The couple, now in their 80s and 90s, who in their career have earned 6 Academy Award nominations, multiple Emmys, Grammys, and three Oscars, were sitting quietly on the side of the room in adjacent arm chairs. He was leaning toward her holding both her hands. While the event-goers buzzed about, I crept softly in their direction, crouched down beside Marilyn (a risk for me as there’s no guarantee I'll be able to get up these days), and introduced myself. This wasn't easy. For a gal who can tawk, I am often tongue-tied when in the presence of greatness. What if you wind up putting your foot in your mouth? What if you open your mouth and absolutely nothing comes out?
Fears must be overcome.
I heard Alan tell Marilyn that he was going to see about a beverage. She asked him, “But who will keep my hands warm?” Umm, I can think of someone.
I took her hands. I truly wanted to keep them warm. But I can’t deny I was hoping something other worldly would transfer over. I know, I know. I have gifts of my own. But her’s are on a whole other level.
I asked what keeps her busy these days—this is how I choose to inquire of one’s activity level instead of the usual, ”what are you working on?”—because if you’re not working on anything or if nothing you’re working on is coming to fruition, it can be a complicated question in the music business. Not that I thought it would matter to Marilyn and Alan if they didn’t have a single burning up the charts. Still. Marilyn looked at me like I was from Mars. “Well we write, of course. Every day.”
Silly me. Foot in mouth out of the gate.
Moving on. Trying to find things in common. “Do you have children?” (Children are always a good subject.) “Yes, a daughter,” she replied. “You’re only?” “Yes. Do you have children?” “Yes,“ I said. “I have a daughter too.” To which she replied, ”If you only have one, it has to be a daughter.” I agreed of course, but that’s because I have a fabulous daughter.
Alan returned. Marilyn told him I was a songwriter. Alan posited that songs have no melody any more. Yes, modern songs are of a different, shall we say ilk, than they used to be. I try not to judge. But I do. I judge. We talked about why today’s melodies are well, not as melodic. Technology, we say. Computers. I took the opportunity to tell them of my book which journeys through post digital changes in the creative process. They said they’d like to read it. :)
Needless to say, there are plenty of contemporary songs that slay me...Leon Bridge's, "Bet Ain't Worth the Hand," Camilla Cabello's "Never Be The Same," Lauv's "I Like Me Better." But then...there’s “The Way We Were.”
As not to hog the couples' attention, I returned Marilyn’s hands to Alan, told them what a thrill it was to meet them and headed over to the bar for a glass of rosé. Soon, the room quieted. The crowd moved in tighter. Something was happening. Of course it was. It was a fundraiser!
Our lovely hostess introduced Pierce Brosnan who spoke about his friendship with Senator Markey. After an eloquent speech about our country, the environment, music, and life, the Senator yielded to an invitation that called Alan Bergman front and center to sing one of his…masterpieces. What?
F*ck the rosé.
I hopped off that bar stool so fast, “excused me’d” through the crowd, weazeled my way into a little spot next to the piano and I braced myself for greatness.
Bill Cantos lowered his hands to the ivories.
This is gonna be good.
For the next 4 minutes Alan Bergman sang “The Way We Were.” I was transfixed. No texting, no wondering if I got that email, about that flight I didn’t book yet. For 4 minutes, I forgot about the madness on cable. For 4 minutes the world stood still.
Once I stood next to a piano while Elton John played “Your Song.” It was right up there with that.
My eyes watered. That’s good. This is what it’s about. This is how, every once in a while, an extraordinary song makes us feel. A song which perfectly captures looking back with nostalgia on someone we once loved. Probably still do. Thank God not all songs are that good. I’d be a blubbering mess. Oh and also? I couldn’t help but project an added melancholy, 45 years after Babs sang it to Bob, of Alan and Marylin—the masters themselves—looking back on their lives together.
I'll tell Alan and Marilyn all this in the card I'll mail them with my book—my small almost insignificant gift to them in exchange for their enormous gift to us.
No matter how gloriously any recording artist delivers a song, there’s simply nothing like hearing the songwriter who wrote it sing it. Perhaps not as glamorous or controlled but there's a primal element in the the voice of the writer from whom the song emerged that nobody else can own.
And now without further ado, I give you, Alan Bergman singing “The Way We Were.”