If you were to ask any songwriter what their favorite song is, most of us would answer, “The one I wrote today.” We can’t help it. It’s our newest baby, our shiny toy, and the one whose luster hasn’t worn off yet. We’ve still got hopes and dreams for it, because all possibility lies in the moment before anyone’s had a chance to criticize or reject us – oops, I mean it.
For professional writers who write songs for other people to record, a lot of time is spent guessing what will speak to a particular artist or fit a particular project. We’ve learned how to craft a song, and if you’ve been doing it long enough, what constitutes a hit (minus the pixie dust requirement, that is). But I’d venture to say that that is not how or why any of us started, or at least it is not why I started.
If I can speak for my kind here, I’d say we started because we simply had a piece of our soul that longed to be expressed in this particular way. And though I’ve written in a lot of different mediums since, I would still say this is true. In fact, if I were advising young whippersnappers starting out, I’d tell them, “Write the song that only you can write.” Come to think of it, that’s really not bad advice for anything we do in life. You know, it’s that “we’re all unique like snowflakes” thing. Blah, blah, blah.
Several years ago, I wrote a song that was birthed, as many songs are, on a napkin, in a restaurant on 9th Avenue that no longer exists. I was living in Nashville and just visiting my native New York. I was mostly writing country songs at the time, but this song was decidedly not going to be that. It was a bluesy song, the kind I envisioned in a movie scene where the protagonist is broken-heartedly meandering the cold streets of Manhattan as the darkest hours of night give way to the break of day. In my head, it had the feel, the grit, the forlornness of a lone soul in a city of millions. I heard the saxophone whaling away in my little head as I scribbled lyrics ferociously, naming all the crowded landmarks in New York where one would be surrounded by people, yet feel utterly alone.
I made a demo of the song when I got back to Nashville, with incredible musicians, albeit no New Yorkers. I was thrilled and excited, but then, as the saying goes, “All of a sudden, nothing happened.”
No matter where I pitched the song, to whom, or for what purpose, there were no takers, and eventually, that smoking hot blues song was relegated to the pile with the rest of the songs I had written for which nothing happened. This is a tale most writers tell. I am, by no mean, alone in this.
Fast forward to more than a decade later…
Remember Studio 54? In the 70’s, it was the hottest nightclub anywhere on earth. Anyone who was anyone was seen there, doing god-knows-what with god-knows-who. There, the worlds of fashion, celebrity, and disco collided with sex, drugs, and the occasional live animal. Sure, that was more than thirty years ago, but Studio 54’s romanticized allure has been perpetuated by countless books and movies made about it since its demise.
Now, it is the newly reincarnated 54 Below, and it is a swanky supper club that hosts anyone who’s anyone on Broadway and in the surrounding music worlds. It’s got a palpable history that can be felt as you walk down the staircase and into the inner sanctum where the action was and is.
When Corinna Sowers-Adler said she was going to be doing a show there, a New York moments themed show, I sent her that song I had written on a napkin about three blocks from where the club is located. The funny thing is I really didn’t think the song would stylistically be her cup of tea or necessarily a good vocal fit. I had heard her sing everything from opera to musical theater to a Martina McBride country song in her shows. But a smoky blues number with a legit soprano voice? Could that really be a good idea? What the hell, I thought. All she could say was no…which she didn’t. Instead, she said she loved it and wanted to do it in her show.
Did I mention that the demo was sung by a guy?
I sent Corinna the lead sheet for the song. (That’s the melody, lyrics and chords written out.) I couldn’t begin to imagine how it would sound, be interpreted, arranged, and presented. That was not my piece of the puzzle to fill. All I knew was that this song would finally be heard, and to a writer, that’s all that matters.
I walked into the venue last night, the night of the show. When I saw the saxophone sitting on the stage, I began to feel excited. And the upright bass. Oh yeah, baby, now we’re talkin’!
When Corinna took the stage, she captivated the audience with her warmth, and humor, and of course, that glorious, glorious voice of hers.
The band, comprised of Markus Hauck, Christian Fabian, Amy Platt-Crafton, and Colleen Clark, was nothing short of stellar. And somewhere in between the songs by Harold Arlen and Stephen Sondheim, and the ones by Billy Joel and Joni Mitchell was the one penned by me. As songwriting company goes, that was some damned nice company to keep.
Corinna Sowers-Adler’s rendition of “Even New York…” exceeded my wildest dreams of how well this song could be interpreted and brought to life. And for those few brief, shining moments of Corinna singing that song, my life choices didn’t seem like some horrible mistake, and the heartbreak of romance gone awry, which inspired the song in the first place, seemed like a small price to pay for the redemption of this full circle moment – in this iconic space – in New York – more than a decade later.
We can’t know the way life is going to unfold, or what hidden gems of opportunities will come our way when least expected. We can only know that what emanates from our heart is never in vain, and that any given moment holds within its reach, the possibility for that which is greater than we can even imagine.
Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.
Me & Corinna Sowers-Adler post show at 54 Below