Q and A

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Who are the songwriters you most admire?
Of those who were writing songs when I was growing up and whose music is still in my head, my short list would include: Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Carol King, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman and Bob Dylan, to name a few. I should also mention Tom Lehrer, whose satirical songs from the sixties are still as entertaining and relevant as ever.

Later, I discovered the lyricists and composers whose work comprises the Great American Songbook: Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rogers and Hammerstein, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, etc., etc. I wouldn't have been caught dead listening to Cole Porter when I was 15 and trying to sound like Dylan. But I can't imagine a world without Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, and Richard Rogers. And of course, Stephen Sondheim.

When did you start writing songs?
Kindergarten…. a little ditty about birds, bees and apple trees, the kind of song you'd find in the American Singer. Then in first grade I wrote a song about my kindergarten sweetheart, who had broken my heart by moving at the end of the school year to a suburb far way -- farther than I could ride my bicycle, in any case. I wrote more songs once I learned to play the clarinet and the guitar, and could write them down on staff paper. Most of them -- no, all of them -- weren't very good. It helped when I stopped trying to write Dylan-esque poetry and started writing scenes and sketches for musical theater. Suddenly you had a song that was being sung by a particular character, to another character (if only him or herself) at a particular point in time, for a purpose. The song has a reason to exist, other than that you have a nice melody that needs some words before anyone can sing it. That solves a lot of problems.