Night of the Living Career Dead, Brill Building Edition



First of all, thank you both for making the trip. I know it’s not easy, especially for you, Gil, with your mobility issues. Also thank you for being so understanding not to drag your walker across the sandalwood floor.

Second, I realize that a beachfront resort in Amagansett is probably not the kind of work environment you’re used to. My team says you actually had an office in the Brill Building. Unbelievable. What it must have been like back then, rubbing shoulders with Goffin and King, Leiber and Stoller. I wish I was there the day you dreamed “Connie, don’t paint my crewcut”. This oblique rhyme? “I have a buzz / Because I don’t like to fuss”? Genius.

Third, believe me, I know how important it is to even consider coming out of retirement. I’m not saying this literally, of course. I am not, and have never been, retired, despite the Billboard Hot 100 might have you believe. I still mean a lot to a lot of people. I can fill an average sized suburban hall like the best of them, especially right after a week of PBS engagement when they aired my 2006 special. I probably get a hundred DMs a day from people swearing that “My Tears Won’t Stop” is the story of their lives, and twice as many during ragweed season. I get sampled all the time by artists whose names I can’t quite analyze, but I know I’m supposed to find a threat. I’m part of the fabric of American music. I just can’t make a hit record.

Which brings me to my point, and not too soon, based on how Marty started organizing his pocket change into piles. You’re probably wondering why the singer-songwriter responsible for “I Waited All Night” and “Wracked,” an artist who received a Kennedy Center Honor for “capturing the angsty Zeitgeist of his generation,” wants to meet the composers of “My Cross-Eyed Baby Loves Me Both” and “More Fondue”. It’s simple. Not to be rude, but I need a hit. A track that does what I have always done the best – to touch the deepest, most fragile places in the hearts of my listeners – but in a way that wraps the dog pill in bacon, so to speak. write a new song.

You shake your head, Gil, and forgive me if I say I hope it’s just a reaction to the drugs. But, if it’s actually skepticism, I understand. You think all of my best work has one overriding theme: that the only constant in our lives is pain. But, in a way, isn’t that also the theme of your greatest songs? If “I, the Hollow” is about the futility of trying to control our destiny, isn’t that also true of “This Dog’s A-Walkin’ Me”?

We will bring out the latent depth in your music by filtering it through my interpretive lens. I always smile when I think of “In the Nuthouse Over You”. But take out the maniacal laughter and the xylophone and add a verse about psychiatric drug abuse and you’ve got a pretty scary record. The kind of record I could trace with.

I have some rough guidelines. First, as obvious as it may seem, the song must have lyrics. I only mention it because you had such a huge success with the instrumental “Bicycle Horn Für Elise”.

And these words must be the ones that I can sing. Just my voice, no gimmicks. While I love the bass and falsetto back and forth you wrote for Screamin’ Eamon in “Ro-Meow and Julie Cat,” I don’t think I could do it.

Second, no cheap scams. I’m not here to judge what anyone wrote when the music industry was the Wild West, but I don’t want to record a song that tries to cash in on someone else’s hit. And I won’t do any name checking. So no “Blue Shade Shoes” or “Rock Around the Cork” or “Ferry ‘Cross to Jersey”. And certainly nothing like “The baby looks like Ringo (but he’s yours).”

Also, I think we have to recognize that tastes have changed, in my opinion for the better. There’s a new level of sensitivity there, so let’s avoid the Ellis Island stuff, like “Oy! That ham isn’t kosher” and “Dialect Lullaby.”

You’re shaking your head again, Gil, and it reminds me: we don’t want to make fun of anyone’s personal challenges, no matter how fanciful the approach. I say that, in today’s market, “ET has the DTs” wouldn’t fly. And I don’t mean on a bike.

Otherwise, guys, have fun. Go as wacky as you want. Remember, people expect a certain seriousness from me, but that won’t be a problem. Just take your surefire trading instincts and give them a little tweak. I could never have recorded “The P-Terodactyl P-Twist”. But change it to something like “Dancing Toward Extinction” and it wouldn’t surprise me if it draws comparisons to Dylan.

You’re shaking your head again, Gil. But, filtered through my lens of interpretation, I see a nod. ♦

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