QMH Script for April 2009
John Bucchino Interview
Liza Minnelli & Billy Stritch - That Smile (2000)
Welcome to Queer Music Heritage, and this is JD Doyle. I'm heard every month as a part of Queer Voices on KPFT, and I opened the show with Liza Minnelli and Billy Stritch, doing the song "That Smile." And my regular listeners are probably already wondering why on earth I'm playing Liza Minnelli. They know that my policy is to only play GLBT artists, but I'm going to stray from that a few times, and with good reason. I'm focusing on the music of singer/songwriter, and composer John Bucchino, and I've admired his music for many years. Of course I'm not alone. His songs have been recorded and performed by a who's who of pop and cabaret artists. And John also has had a long association with Holly Near, playing for her in concert and on record. To grab a quick quote, Rex Reed said "If Tennessee Williams was alive and writing tunes he'd be John Bucchino."
In preparation for this show I had a delightful 2 ½ hour conversation with John, and he was very gracious in letting me dig deep into his career. There's a lot to cover and this is one of those QMH shows where the story will continue on the internet version of the show. But let's get started, and John began writing music in the 70's, releasing his first records starting in 1980. He first recorded with Jimmy Haskell, and music buffs will recognize that name as the multiple Grammy and Emmy winning producer and arranger of many of the top names in entertainment.
Tell me about your early 45s on Jimmie Haskell's label
That, you know I'd always dreamed of having a record deal, and being supported in my writing and having a means to get it out into the world. And at the time I was living in Los Angeles, playing in a gay piano bar in Hollywood, and a psychic came in, or a man who claimed he was a psychic, and he came in regularly and really liked my playing I didn't play my own songs, but he said "I'm going to get you a record deal," and I was like "yeah, right, of course." And, son of a gun, he called me and said, "you have to come over right now. I have a man here who is starting a new record label." And the man was Jimmie Haskell, and he signed me on the spot. And then we recorded four sides, and released two singles which got a little tiny bit of airplay. But it was fun. I actually got hear one of them on the radio, which is pretty exciting.
It was a song called "Something As Simple." It was the second release. I was visiting friends in the Palm Springs area, which is where my family moved when I was twelve, and had the radio on in the car, and it came on the radio. Of course I was screaming and really excited. But unfortunately the label folded shortly thereafter and nothing more happened with it, but I did get to experience recording and having things done with lots of musicians and a string section, and it was amazing.
I actually have three 45s. Two of them are the same song on both sides, so three different 45s. And one of them is "Something As Simple," and I think that is the best of the lot.
It's a sweet song.
And I think it wouldn't be a bad song to resurrect.
Oh, I don't know that it's the thing is, anything that I wrote that has any sense of what I thought was pop seems a little bit dated, and strangely the songs that I wrote that were just purely me, that had, you know, where I wasn't trying to connect with what was going on in the world, musically or on radio musically, are kind of timeless, and they still work nowadays because they are just sort of idiosyncratic and not trying to be pop or trying to be anything. They just are what they are.
John Bucchino - Something As Simple (1981)
"Something As Simple" from 1981, by John Bucchino.
I know it's hard to be brief about this, but tell us about your long association with Holly Near.
We started actually working together in 1984. We met through a fellow named Elliot Pilshaw, who recommended me, said that I should send them a tape at Redwood Records, which is Holly's record label, and all I knew, of course at that point, I was looking for another record deal, and I sent a recording of a bunch of my songs. You know, thinking that they would be interested in me as a songwriter. Of course they were a women's label and weren't really interested in men, especially at that time recording for them. But Ronnie Gilbert, the woman who was in the group The Weavers, had started singing with Holly, and Ronnie was going to be doing a solo tour, and she was looking for a pianist, and she happened to come across my tape and liked my piano playing. And so she turned Holly onto me as well, and I ended up working with both of them. And Ronnie, as you noted in your email to me, was the first person to ever do a recording of one of my songs.
great shot from Holly Near's site, of (left to right)...
You've appeared on many, many of Holly's albums.
Yeah, well, we've worked together again since 1984 pretty much the whole time, till the last couple of years, when I took a break to work on my Broadway show, which was kind of all-consuming.
Your first full length recording came out in 1985. That was a cassette tape called "On the Arrow." Could you talk a bit about that release?
Sure. I had a band, and normally I don't play well with others. I mean, I just think of myself as not playing well with others. I think it's because pianistically I kind of fill in all the spaces, so there's really not much room for other people to do anything, and I'm so particular about what I hear with my own songs that it's just hard for me to let other musicians in. Back to "On the Arrow," there was this band that I had put together, and we played in clubs in Los Angeles where I lived. And I thought it was time to do a recording, so one by one, we went into little studios around L.A., as I could afford it, and just laid down these songs that I'd written. Do you have that, by the way? [yes, of course]. Of course, you're amazing.
That tape contains one of the shortest songs I know of, it's only 39 seconds [Is that "A Contact High"?] Yeah, and it's not at all typical of the sound of the rest of the recording, but it's irresistible.
That song like so many songs that I write is something that pretty much word for word happened to me. I think I had smoked pot for the first time and I came home and it was like one in the morning. I remember being in the kitchen and we had sliding doors to the back yard, and I opened the sliding door about half way and then just sort of froze there, kind of in a dream state, my mind going of course a million miles an hour cause I was really high. And my mom walked into the kitchen and said "are you alright?" I mean, I didn't exactly say what's in the song, but that experience is what prompted the silly little song.
John Bucchino - Contact High (1995)
A year after your first tape other people started recording your songs, Ronnie Gilbert being the first. She did an album with Holly Near, and you participated in that, called "Singing With You," and Ronnie did the song "In a Restaurant by the Sea"
She did, and it was so exciting, you know, to have somebody famous. Not only was it a singer recording a song of mine, but it was somebody who was famous. My gosh.
Here's Ronnie Gilbert, from the 1986 album she recorded with Holly Near, called "Singing With You,"
Ronnie Gilbert - In a Restaurant by the Sea (1986)
The funny thing is, though, I never really aspired to have other people singing my songs. I never really even thought of that. It wasn't really about that for me. I always wanted to be the singer/songwriter, you know, that was sort of my image all along. So while it was exciting to experience that it was also, made me a little uncomfortable, and it still does. I have to say I love when people record my songs, but the songs themselves are such personal things that it's a little weird, a little jarring for me, and especially since people have a tendency to want to mess with them. And that is, it's sort of startling and..[a little possessive] well, I'm a little possessive, yeah, I mean it just sort of throws me out of balance.
Also in '86 Elliott Pilshaw recorded two of your songs. He was the second one. His album was called "Feels Like Home," and you played for him and did the arrangements. Well, his album was where I first heard of you, and his version of "It Feels Like Home" is still my favorite. Can you tell me about that song?
Yeah, I can. My first partner when we moved to New York. As I said, I got the record deal with Horn Records, but the next day we were leaving for New York. So we moved here, and actually lived here for about eight months. One of the first times that I was alone in our little, tiny apartment down in the East Village the song just popped out. I was waiting for him to come home, and it just felt very domestic and sweet, and as often happens with me the momentary feeling or experience and generate a whole song, and that's how the song happened.
Elliott Pilshaw - It Feels Like Home (1986)
Interestingly that song, "It Feels Like Home," was also the first song that was performed in New York cabaret, because when I wrote it I was playing in a piano bar here in New York and someone recommended a singer named Lois Sage to demo the song for me, and I met her, and she then began singing it, even after I left New York. I only stayed, I think for about eight months and then I moved back to L.A. She started singing it in cabarets, and that was sort of the introduction to New York cabaret audiences to my work.
I have two tapes of yours from the late 1990s that I think are essentially collections of demos of your songs, by you and others. One is simply called "25 Songs by John Bucchino." [Wow, how did you, did I send you those?] I don't remember, I think so. I also have "26 Songs by John Bucchino."
Below, John's notes on the "25 Songs" tape
Well, there you go. I think you have more of my songs than my parents do. This is amazing.
My point was, that was probably the next step in getting your music out there.
Well, over my whole career, and friends kind of roll their eyes and laugh about this. Hopefully it's not annoying to people but it's just this compulsion of mine. I love sharing my work. And in fact I have the problem of when I do a CD, a professional CD, I give more of them away than I sell, and it gets expensive, those 25, 26 song CDs were my calling card for a while.
Another demo of yours also showed up on the wonderful 1995 compilation "A Love Worth Fighting For." And it also has gay content.
It does and it's a story song. I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard, where they have the stars on the pavement, and a bus pulled up and a young man and a young woman got off the bus. And that was really all, seeing them, with big backpacks, getting off this bus on Hollywood Boulevard, and I don't know why things stimulate a song but I went home and I made up a story about them. And that became the song "Sweet Dreams."
It's one of your most recorded songs.
Yeah, a lot of people Barbara Cook recorded it, and on my "Grateful" CD I had the extreme joy of working with Judy Collins. And actually something happened while we were in the studio recording that song, which is I don't think it's ever happened quite this way. We were recording it, simultaneously. She was in a vocal isolation booth and I was in the main room playing the piano, and I could see her through the glass. And as I was playing the song about half way through I forgot that I was playing. I mean, it's the weirdest thing. My fingers, it was like automatic playing but I wasn't even thinking about it or aware of it. I was listening to Judy Collins sing my song. I got so wrapped up in her that I literally forgot I was playing. When it was over I didn't remember having done it, and that's the take that's on the recording.
Judy Collins - Sweet Dreams (2000)
Judy Collins and "Sweet Dreams." That's from a compilation you'd hear more about in just a few moments.
I would think a composer would want to keep his songs fairly gender neutral, so that the most people can record them. Is that something you think about?
Ah, you know, I don't think about it for that reason. I think it's a policy that I sort of unconsciously adopted, before I came out. So that I knew that I was singing the love songs to a man, but since there were no pronouns nobody else would know that. And you know it's of course internalized homophobia, or whatever. And then it shifted over into the reason you mention, which is, well it's also really handy to not really have specific pronouns so anybody can sing the song. But initially it was just because I wasn't out, I didn't know to be out, the world was a much less accepting place, and it was safer
Have you written any clearly male-to-male songs?
Ah, yeah, well, there's one there's one about having a crush on a straight guy, there's one verse about it. And it's called "I've Learned To Let Things Go." There no songs really where I sing "oh I love him, I love him, I love him" no but neither are there ones where I say "I love her, I love her, I love her." They're all just about sort of universal feelings that transcend gender
And this is a good time to invite you to check out my website. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. And this is another one of my shows where I had much too much great material for just one hour, so you can find a much longer version of this show on my site. Again, that's at www.queermusicheritage.com, Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Saturday night/Sunday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.
You played on several of the tracks for Michael Callen's "Legacy" album. What was your relationship with Michael?
He was just one of the realest people I ever met in my life. I adored him, I mean, he was an extraordinary human being, really powerful, really charismatic, and passionate and committed to of course gay rights and AIDS education and. God, what an extraordinary fellow. So I was thrilled when he was well, first of all he recorded a song of mine called "Do Not Turn Away," which I had written when my brother was dying.
Yeah, I was going to ask you what inspired that song.
Well, my brother was dying. My mom my brother had a partner for about eleven years, so he was a member of our family as well. My parents have always been completely supportive and wonderful. Both my brother and sister and I are all gay, so it's sort of three out of three in our family, and my parents have been wonderful. My brother was still alive and my mom had gone to an AIDS support group with his partner, and after this meeting she called me in tears, because she said that there was this beautiful 18-year-old boy who had got up and told the group that when he came out to his parents and told them that he was gay and he had AIDS, they kicked him out of the house, and wouldn't have anything to do with him. And she was sobbing, I mean, it just broke her heart, she couldn't imagine how parents could to that to a child, and that's what prompted me to write the song. And Michael gorgeously recorded it.
Michael Callen - Do Not Turn Away (1995)
The year 2000 looks to be the year when huge progress was made in getting your music much more exposure, with the release of both the songbook and CD called "Grateful: The Songs of John Bucchino." Tell us how those projects came about and were tied together.
Well, there was an acquaintance of mine, named Bill Rosenfield, who worked at RCA, and he had a bit of money set aside that he could do sort of a pet project with. I asked him if maybe I could record a CD, and he loved my work but he was looking for sort of an angle for it. You know, what's going to make people curious about this, or what's the hook here. So I thought about it and I realized that over the eight years that I had then lived in New York, I'd met quite a few famous people, famous singers, and in fact that many of them had sung, performed, or recorded my songs. So I called them up, basically, I called up Liza, Liza Minnelli. I called up Art Garfunkel. I called up Judy Collins, and Michael Feinstein and Patti LuPone and whatever, and I asked them if they would be willing to each sing a song on a compilation CD of my work. And, God bless them, they all immediately said, of course, we're totally there for you, we would love to be a part of that. So I called Billy back and said, "well, what do you think of this? I've got commitments from " and then I listed all the fabulous people that had agreed to participate, and he was like "suddenly I'm very interested, let's do this." And that's how it came about.
Visit the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization site for more info like the above
And simultaneously I had just signed an administration publishing deal with the Rogers & Hammerstein Organization, and they wanted to put out a songbook, which made me both smile and grimace slightly, as I said, because it meant getting the songs on paper. And that was an uncomfortable prospect. I don't read or write music, but luckily there's the computer technology was just coming into existence that would enable me to, and that's still the way I write things out, play things on two separate keyboards, the left hand on one keyboard and the right hand on another keyboard, into the computer. And then I email them to a friend of mine, who I've work with for now about twelve years, who just puts exactly what I play, so there's no guessing involved, into a print program.
So anyway, the Rogers & Hammerstein people wanted the songbook, and this album was coming together and I had the idea, well, why don't we make the songbook and the be the same songs, so that one can help sell the other. And that's exactly what we did and exactly what happened. And it got into the world, it went out into the world in a remarkable way, that really did introduce me to cabaret singers especially, and somewhat musical theatre performers, all over the world.
This is the logical time to ask you about the title track, "Grateful".
Yeah, well, I guess it's sort of my greatest hit, and also, if I'm going to have a greatest hit, I'm really glad that it's a song that says what that song says. You know, it's not just some silly little novelty song. It's something that I really believe in. Something that expresses a sentiment that's really important. The way the song happened, is that I was cleaning house on a Saturday and all of a sudden found myself sitting at the piano singing the chorus of "Grateful," kind of full-blown. It just kind of happened. It's not that complicated of a chorus, but I just started singing it, and weeping and thinking, "what is this? This is important." And then for probably the next two months I would go to the piano and sit and play the chorus and cry, but it was so perfect and so simple and so inspired, that I couldn't bring myself to try to write anything else cause I thought, it can't possibly be as good and it's not going to come from the same place. But eventually I forced myself. It was another Saturday afternoon. I forced myself to write the rest of the song, which at the time felt really kind of cobbled together. And that evening I was going to be having dinner with Art Garfunkel, who had become a friend of mine. And I said "instead of meeting at the restaurant, can you come over here, cause I just finished a song and I think it's kind of good." And he came over and leaned on the piano and listened to it, and I played it for him. He was the first person to hear it. And he said "don't give that to anyone, it's mine." Which is always what you want to hear Art Garfunkel say when he listens to your songs. And two weeks later he had it in his show and he toured Europe and closed his show with it, and then recorded it. And since, my God, that is by far the most recorded song that I've ever written.
Art Garfunkel - Grateful (2006)
"Grateful" by Art Garfunkel.
In 2006 you released on CD another important showcase of your work, called "It's Only Life."
Yes, for years, since I moved to New York, and actually before I moved to New York, people, and God bless them, it's great. Different people wanted to put together a revue, a musical revue of my songs. And I was always open to it, and I worked with several three different people that I can think of, and other people had tried to do it on their own to try to come up with a musical revue, that would work. And the revue is a very tricky form, because you can't really tell a story with songs that weren't written to tell that story. That's really difficult. So, what Daisy Prince, who directed and put it together with me her feeling about it was to put songs together to convey an emotional arc. And it's been sort of the loosest construction, in a way, of any of the attempts of doing a revue, and yet the best, I think, the most emotionally fulfilling. There really is an emotional progression to the songs in the show, that is profound, and sort of metaphysical and sort of uplifting and that is what I always want my music to do anyway. So the fact that Daisy managed to structure this, in a way that achieved that without a story, and without characters is miraculous to me. She's just brilliant.
From that project, so that you could hear the entire cast, is the title track "It's Only Life."
It's Only Life cast - It's Only Life (2006)
We're running out of time for this first hour, but there's so much more to tell about the career of John Bucchino, like his work with Romanovsky & Phillips, and his friendship with composer Stephen Schwartz and how without John, Stephen may have never created his hit musical "Wicked."
And then, we'll hear about John's music in the Dreamworks movie "Joseph: King of Dreams," and of course the Broadway musical "A Catered Affair," with Harvey Fierstein, and much, much more music. Oh yeah, we'll also talk about John's instrumental album called "On Richard Rodger's Piano," from which you've been hearing excerpts under the interview segments.
I want to thank you all for listening and especially want to thank John Bucchino for the wonderful interview. Again there's more to the story, at my site, at www.queermusicheritage.com. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston.
And of course I hope you'll want to find out more about John Bucchino, and for that please visit his website, at www.JohnBucchino.com, and Bucchino is spelled B-u-c-c-h-i-n-o.
I'm closing with one more song from the compilation from 2000, called "Grateful: The Songs of John Bucchino."
On the "Grateful" compilation is another artist I like very much, Brian Lane Green. I remember in 1996 writing a very gushing review of his debut album, which you produced. [yes I did, I did] And he did a stunning version of "Grateful," but also, on your compilation he offered up your song "Taking the Wheel". It's another one many people have recorded. Could you talk about "Taking the Wheel"
Sure, it's an old one. I mean, it's probably 25 years old. That's the interesting thing. As I said earlier on, the songs that I write just from my experience, that aren't connected to any particular musical style or popular style, are really still valuable, and don't feel dated at all, and that's one of them. I think I probably wrote it in 1978 or something, I don't know exactly when, but it's a really old song. And I think that I was in a period where I was grappling with career, sort of paralysis, or nothing was going on. I couldn't get people to listen to my songs. Nobody was interested because I wasn't writing things that sounded like things that were on the radio. And that song I think was an assertion the lyrics are very strong and very forward moving, and I think that was just an assertion of me talking to myself, giving myself a pep talk, and sort of acting as if I was moving forward when I really didn't feel like I was. So I think that's why people may respond to it, cause it's a kind of pep talk that we all, you know, give ourselves periodically.
Brian Lane Green and "Taking the Wheel."
Brian Lane Green - Taking the Wheel (2000)
Above right, I was delighted to meet Brian Lane Geen at the 2006 Outmusic Awards
Holly Near - Bird Gonna Fly (1987)
Welcome to Queer Music Heritage and Part 2 of my interview with John Bucchino. I'm JD Doyle and the opening song was one John wrote with Holly Near called "Bird Gonna Fly." It appeared on her 1987 album "Don't Hold Back." And we didn't have time in Part 1 to get to sort of a surprise I had for John, regarding Holly.
I contacted her and asked if she would contribute a couple questions for this interview.
Oh, my gosh, wow. That's one of the surprises you were talking about, huh? Okay.
She suggested: What is the difference between being a pianist and being an accompanist?
Oh, that's a really good question. That is a really, really good question. To a certain degree, you've got to have your craft down, of course, you've got to be capable, and have a breadth of knowledge of musical style, depending upon who you're working with, of course. But being a good accompanist is providing a support system for the singer that you're working with. And I always feel that there's a sixth sense about it when one is a good accompanist and when the singer and accompanist are really in tune, I always think of when you see a flock of birds, and they're flying and they all of a sudden all turn, and you think, how did they know? How do they do that? That kind of connectiveness is how I see a good accompanist, with the singer that they're supporting. And the trick is too, to be it's not about you, as the accompanist, it's about in a way, when people play my songs, and I see a singer singing my songs, and I've been doing a lot of master classes in colleges with students singing my songs. And the highest compliment I can give their accompanist is: I didn't notice you. You know what I mean? Because it means the accompanist is not doing anything to draw attention to themselves, they're just being supportive of the singer.
She kind of went on in that same vein, and she wrote, something very special happens between a singer and pianist after working together for over 20 years. Can that craft, that intuitive understanding be taught? Or does it only come with time.
Well, golly, I don't think with us it came with time. I think that you know, it's interesting, I don't know if she mentioned this, but the first time we rehearsed she and Ronnie were getting ready to do a six-week tour. I had done a solo concert with Ronnie, first, and then I had to learn all of their individual and duo material for this six-week tour. And so Holly was living in the San Francisco area, and I flew up there and we had scheduled like four hours, or something for rehearsal, and I think we rehearsed for an hour, and, we were done. It was just easy. It's about listening I think a lot to on the part of both the singer and the accompanist, and tuning it. And I don't know that it does take a long time to achieve that if the accompanist and the singer are musically compatible and if the accompanist is listening. You know, like I said, I think we had it from the very beginning.
Taking a break from the music, tell me about your involvement with the 1989 TV movie "My Boyfriend's Back"
Oh, my God, that's amazing. Well, Holly was friends with a TV actor named Jill Eikenberry, and she and her husband were in a television show called "L.A. Law." And Jill had gotten this TV movie, called "My Boyfriend's Back," that she was going to be in with Sandy Duncan and Judith Light. And she asked Holly if Holly knew anyone that she could work with, because the three of them were going to be doing their own singing. They played a girl group from the 60s that was reuniting and they needed to do their own singing, and Jill really needed somebody to coach her and help with her singing. So Holly recommended me, so I went over and met with Jill. And then Jill told Judith Light about me, and I went over and worked with Judith as well. And we worked together and I helped coach them, and they wanted me there on the set, and said, well, gee, there's a small part in the movie for our accompanist, and maybe we can get you that part. So I ended up having a part in the movie as well, as their accompanist, just so they could have me around. It was my one professional acting experience; it was really fun
In 1990 your second release was called "Solitude Lessons" and more of your most well-known songs show up there. In particular could you tell me about "Until the Balance Tips"
Sure, gosh, I don't remember writing, as it is with most of the songs. I kind of don't remember writing them, they kind of just happen through me, and then they're done and it's sort of a miracle. So I don't remember what I was experiencing when that song happened. I have a feeling that it was the political awareness that was sort of growing in me, sort of as a result of working with Holly. Most of the songs that I wrote before that were really personal, and mostly love songs, mostly unrequited love songs, and I sort of call them my "I want you and you don't want me and I'm really miserable"-songs. I think "Until the Balance Tips" was an attempt at writing something a little more conscious of the world.
"Until the Balance Tips" also was used on an AIDS benefit CD, "Feeding the Flame."
It was, it was indeed. People really like that song.
John Bucchino - Until the Balance Tips (1990)
I think that's a wonderful song, John doing his own composition "Until the Balance Tips."
Tell me about working with Romanovsky & Phillips.
Ah, I love those guys. We had so much fun. Brilliant, wonderful musicians, dear friends, politically, again I think with Holly I think I experienced a level of political awareness, but it largely had to do with peace politics, you know, world politics, things like that, and some gay and lesbian issues. But with Romanovsky & Phillips they were all about gay rights but with such a great sense of humor. I would encourage your listeners who may not be familiar with their work to go out and find some
If they are my listeners, they are familiar.
They are...oh good, thank you for promoting them, they're just brilliant. They are still and they were then just doing extraordinary work.
Well, you produced their album "Be Political Be Polite"
Yes, I did, I did, and tricky, there are delicate personal politics involved, especially when people have strong opinions, and when it's your own music you always have strong opinions, so it was a complicated process. We got through it well, I think, and remain really dear friends, but it was tricky, you know, as it always is, it was a tricky it was a wonderful, enjoyable, hysterical, cause we laughed a lot, complicated process
You and Ron wrote a song together "A measure of sadness"
Yes, we did, we did, that's a sweet little song. I haven't thought about that for a long time. I think that as with most of those rare times when I've co-written, most of the time it's been, I'm given a lyric, you know and I think that was the case here, when Ron had a lyric.
Well, Ron has told me you both had short-lived crushes on each other, [oh we did] and each wrote a song for the other.
I'm trying to think of what songs, what was his?
His was "He Wasn't Talking To Me."
Oh, right. Well see, the tricky part about that was that I was in a, I was in a relationship, and I think that is probably what his song has to do with. Gosh, I'm trying to remember what song I wrote for him
It was called "Air"
Oh, of course it was. Wow. You know more about me than I do. I think I just need to call you up and ask you things from time to time about my own life. Wow. Oh, it's a very sexy song, this "Air." I wish I had a copy of it I could send to you, cause it's pretty hot. Wow. Yeah, it's all about, you know, unrequited lust
Well, I don't have that song to play for you, but I do have the song John and Ron wrote together, called "A Measure of Sadness." It's from Ron's 1992 solo album "Hopeful Romantic."
Ron Romanovsky - A Measure of Sadness (1992)
I want to slip in another lesser known John Bucchino song. Australian artist David Campbell sang it on his 1997 album "Taking the Wheel." Besides the title track and the song "Grateful" it also included the very nice song "Gentle Souls and Tender Hearted Fools." [note: this was co-written by Lindy Robbins]
David Campbell - Gentle Souls and Tender Hearted Fools (1997)
David Campbell. For some of my listeners I need preface the next question I asked John, and it's about Stephen Schwartz. Stephen is famous for the Broadway hits "Pippin," "Godspell," and "Wicked," to name just a few, movies such as "Prince of Egypt," and has won several Grammy and Academy Awards.
Holly Near was a very pivotal person in your career, and according to my research around 1989 you met another pivotal person, Stephen Schwartz. Tell me what influence he had on the direction of your writing.
Ah, okay. I met Stephen because he happened to accompany Ronnie Gilbert in a benefit, and she wanted him to play "In a Restaurant By the Sea," my song, to accompany her on that song, and he had to learn it from a recording. And he really liked it and he asked her, you know, who wrote this song and do you have any more of his stuff. And of course she did, she had a cassette of a bunch of songs of mine, and she gave it to Stephen, and I got a phone call from this famous, fancy New York theatre writer guy. And he called up and said he was going to be in L.A. and could we get together. And I was I didn't know much about him, but I knew he was famous, and I always had this sort of drive to share my work with anybody that might be helpful. So we got together, and he was staying at Dean Pitchford's house, Dean Pitchford who wrote "Footloose," the songs for "Footloose," and such. And we sat at Dean's grand piano and Stephen played me some songs and I thought, he's very good, this Stephen Schwartz. And we became best friends.
And the influence I would say, when we met, Stephen had only written songs for a concept, for a context, for his theatre piece mostly. And he had not written songs just because he felt something, which I found really unusual. I was at the opposite end of the spectrum. I had only written songs out of personal experience, and not for any particular context. So the thing, I'd say the greatest influence is that from the moment we met he started encouraging me to write for theatre, and I started encouraging him to just write because he felt things. And he now has two CDs of songs that he wrote just because he felt things, and I've written a Broadway show. So I think we've influenced each other, in numerable ways
I understand you had an indirect role in the creation of the musical "Wicked"
I did, as a matter of fact, and I'm quite proud of that, and quite happy that it turned out certainly the way it did, my goodness. And that is, that Holly and I were doing it was pretty much the best gig that I ever had, that Holly and I ever had. Which was, a wealthy lesbian was having a lesbian music conference, music festival, on Maui. I mean, how good is that! And then she invited us to come, and paid us, handsomely as I recall, and put us up in a great hotel, on the beach in Maui for five or six days, and we had one performance. The cushiest job ever. So Stephen at the time was in Los Angeles working on, I believe it was "Prince of Egypt," the movie for which he wrote the songs. And I called him up and said, Okay, I'm going to Maui, I'm going to have a great hotel room. I've already called, they can give me a room with two big beds in it, and it's right on the beach. Fly over. It's going to be me and 300 lesbians. Please come and keep me company. And so he was like, yeah, absolutely. And he did in fact fly over and Holly and her then partner and Stephen and I on one of our days off went on a snorkeling trip. And we were on the boat going out to this snorkeling spot and Holly said, "I just finished the most interesting book, called "Wicked." And she told us the story, and Stephen told me afterwards that as soon as he heard the premise of the story, he thought it was the best idea for a musical that he'd ever heard in his life. And when we got back to land, before he even read the book he called his lawyer and said, find out who's got the rights to this. So, all I'm saying is, if I hadn't invited him to come to Maui, there might not be a "Wicked."
It was an easy answer when I asked if the song "The Artist at 40" was autobiographical.
Completely. Well, actually they're all autobiographical, every single song, all of the issues in the mid-life stuff that comes up for somebody when they turn 40, a lot of it for me as a writer was crammed into that song, definitely
John Bucchino - The Artist at 40 (1995)
Another demo is by Lois Sage. And you already mentioned that she was the first person to perform your work in New York. And the demo I'm thinking of is called "A Friend to Them All" and is one of your most lyrically gay songs that I've heard.
It is, and that song of course comes from a real experience. When I was playing in a gay piano bar in Santa Monica, called The Bar Sinister, which always cracks me up, on Main Street, but anyway, I played in this piano bar, and there was this woman who came in almost every night, and she was a nurse, and she drank a lot, and I just sort of wove the song around her. And it's basically about a woman who hangs out, you know, in a gay bar and lusts after the men that she can never have. And I think that it is also part of my story in that I always seem to lust for people that I can't have. That seems to be a pattern with me, as well.
Lois Sage - A Friend to Them All (1995)
I think "Not a Cloud in the Sky" is such a moving song, one that I could personally relate to since I lost my partner recently. Could you talk about that song?
Sure, it was written, actually for the first musical that I wrote, which was called "Urban Myths." It doesn't exist really anymore. It was a series of seven short urban legends basically, that a playwright friend, James Waedekin and I turned into seven short musical pieces that formed a show. And the last piece, the seventh one was an AIDS myth that we made up. It was an urban myth that we would like to see, and it's the story basically of a miraculous healing is what happens at the end of it, and the song "Grateful" was used in that as well. It's about a man who is dying, is actually preparing to have it's called Last Supper, has his love make a big dinner, and he's preparing to kill himself, cause he's dying rapidly anyway, and he's in so much pain that he's going to take a bunch of pills and end it. But "Not a Cloud in the Sky" happens at the very beginning of that piece, of that little urban myth. And it is in fact his partner alone on stage ironing very meticulously and singing basically through clenched teeth, cause he's not allowed himself to experience the grief of his partner's illness and impending death. So he just holds everything in. it's interesting, in writing that song, sometimes, and I love when this happens, I don't know where the songs are going to go, and I wrote it as my brother was dying, so there's a parallel there. But actually I started to write it for a much more mundane reason. I had just been out somewhere, and there was this fellow to whom I was very attracted, who basically snubbed me in a kind of harsh way, which really hurt my feelings. And I found myself coming home and literally scrubbing the grout in the bathroom tile. And basically it was exerting control, because I certainly had no control over making him like me. And so I found myself doing things that I could control, and being meticulous. And then I started writing about myself being meticulous and anal retentive and whatever, and thought it was going to be about that, but then it started to veer in a very different direction and be about someone who's meticulous and controlling the situation because their partner is dying and they can't control that. That's how that song happened.
John Bucchino - Not a Cloud in the Sky (2000)
That comes from the "Grateful" compilation and was sung by John.
Also in 2000 you joined the movie music world. Tell me about your involvement with "Joseph - King of Dreams" (2000).
Ah, well, it's funny, cause Stephen Schwartz had written "The Prince of Egypt" for Dreamworks and he would tell me stories about working with, sort of interfacing with the corporate entity, and having meetings with Jeffrey Katzenberg, and it all sounded absolutely terrifying to me, and I couldn't imagine doing something like that. And then by a bizaare series of coincidences a friend of mine knew a producer at Dreamworks and asked me if she could give her some samples of my work, because they were looking for somebody to write for this movie and I never expected to get it, and I did. And there I was in the same situation that I thought would be so terrifying when Stephen told me about his experiences.
And it was. It was really hard and really scary and I think that seems to be a recurring lesson for me. Perhaps the lesson is to realize that I don't like collaboration, I'm not sure which. But it was a hard thing to do, to have somebody tell me what to write, you know, to have assignments, and then to have meetings and dissect it, and talk about every syllable and every note, tear it apart, cause that's the exact opposite of what the creative process is for me, which is fluid and intuitive and almost like a dream state. And it's the opposite of over-analyzed. It's accept it, I just let it come through. I don't question it. And it's a miracle, and I don't want to mess with it. And yet in the context of writing for something, whether it's a movie or a theatre piece, you scrutinize, so it was a lesson.
It turned out pretty well.
It turned out I'm very proud of it. It turned out really well. There was one moment that was really interesting. There's a song called "Better Than I," which is sort of the big song from the movie, and it actually won the Video Premiere Award for the Song of the Year, because they thought about possible releasing it as a theatrical release film, cause it was turning out so well, but at that point the animation wasn't quite up to the standard that it would have needed to be, so they couldn't do that, so it just went direct to video.
The writers had asked me to write this they said, like we've got four pages of dialogue and information, can you turn it all into a song. And so I did, you know it had a lot of stuff in it, so it needed to be, it couldn't be concise. And I sent them a little recording of it and they loved it and everybody was liking it and I went out for a week and at the end of the week I had to play it live for Jeffery Katzenberg, always daunting. And I went out there, and they pumped me up all week. We were having meetings about other songs and stuff and it was "oh, Jeffery's going to love this, and it's fabulous, it's fabulous" and so I got to Friday and I had to play it for Jeffery. He hated it. He absolutely hated it. And just ripped me to shreds basically, and said "we need an anthem, we need something that's going to soar, we need something that's going to break our hearts." And I left the meeting thinking, that damn Jeffery Katzenberg, what does he know, this was really good and he's an idiot, and blah blah blah. And I'm going to quit, I can't do this. And I flew home, sort of gnashing my teeth the whole time, and eventually I was really in a state of despair, and interestingly the state that I was in was the same state that the character was in, at the moment of this song. And so I wrote a song, certainly getting into the song, expressed the despair that I was feeling, and it's a song called "Better Than I," which starts out "I thought I did what's right, I thought I knew the answers, I thought I chose the surest road but that road brought me here." Well, yes, that's where Joseph is but it's exactly where I was with regard to writing the song. So it was one of those things where my own life and the character's experience completely intersected, and gave birth to one of my favorite songs that I've ever written. So that Jeffrey Katzenberg is a smart fellow.
David Campbell - Better Than I (2000)
That was "Better Than I" by David Campbell, and he does a version of it on the "Grateful" compilation, but we just heard the bigger, full orchestra version from the movie.
One more song from the "Grateful" compilation, and it may set a record for being a song most about longing. Tell me about the song "Unexpressed"
Well it is in fact my favorite song that I've ever written, and it didn't start out to be that way. I wrote it, and went, nah, and put it away. And forgot about it, for maybe a year or so. And in '92 when I was packing, to leave Santa Monica and move to New York, I was putting my lyric books in a box. I remember exactly where I was sitting, on the floor by my piano, putting lyric books in a box. And sort of thumbing through them and I came across "Unexpressed," and thought, how did this go again, and went to the piano and play through it and thought, God, that's kind of that's not bad, why did I put that one away, gee, I kind of like it. And then over the next few months, or whatever, I kind of felt myself playing it over and over and over again, and kind of falling in love with it. And I have no idea how it got written. I don't remember what was going on in my life, you know, where it came from
Gavin Creel - Unexpressed (2000)
"Unexpressed," as sung by Broadway actor Gavin Creel, who was also in the cast of "It's Only Life"
Above, Gavin Creel, and, his CD has nothing to do with John Bucchino's music, but I love it...:)
In late 2000 you were also involved in a project led by the legendary Hal Prince. Tell us about "3hree"
"3Hree," well, another one of those big surprising theatre experiences. I became friends, when I moved to New York, with Hal's daughter, Daisy Prince, who's also a wonderful director, and she was friends with the circle of friends that I had in New York, so we met soon after I moved here. And then through her of course I got to know her dad and her mom, both of whom I adore, and both of whom really respect what I do, and are very, very supportive. And so Hal was putting together an evening of three short musicals and asked if I had anything to contribute, so we took one of the pieces from "Urban Myths," one of those urban legends, called "Lavender Girl," and we expanded it. And Scott Schwartz, Stephen Schwartz's son, directed it, beautifully, and we put them when we added that, and that is the middle piece of this show, which eventually became a show called "3Hree," which is the number 3, and then h-r-e-e, it's spelled kind of weirdly. And we did a recording of it, we did it in Philadelphia at the Prince Theatre, interestingly. But it was a great experience. Hal, while he didn't direct our piece, he directed the last third, you know, he oversaw the whole thing and I got to see you know, I knew him as a friend but I got to see him in action a little bit, which was fascinating. A brilliant fellow who has more Tony's than anybody else alive, he's got 20 or 21 [note: also 16 Tony nominations].
And here's a song from the show "3Hree," from the segment "Lavender Girl," written by John. It's the song "Dancing," sung here by Patti LuPone.
Patti LuPone - Dancing (2000)
This is JD Doyle, with Queer Music Heritage, and I'm going to close Part 2 with one of my very favorites, but I hope you come back for the last part of my three-hour special on the music of John Bucchino.
Another very popular song is "If I Ever Say I'm Over You." I think it's just gorgeous
Yeah, and that was the end of, of course it seems, the end of a relationship, and I'm over him.
Well, I've thought that if there's ever one of your songs that I would love to hear done by Barbra Streisand, that's the song.
Ah, yeah, well I've been trying to get to Babs for years. That would be, that would be remarkable. Her's of course is the voice that every singer, every writer dreams of hearing sing their songs
Well, we don't have a version by Streisand, at least not yet, but one of the first people to record the song is a favorite artist of mine, Suede, from her 1992 album "Barely Blue."
Suede - If I Ever Say I'm Over You (1992)
Michael Ferreri - A Dream (2000)
I'm JD Doyle and welcome to Queer Music Heritage and Part 3 of my April show, and my John Bucchino special. I opened this part with a song by Michael Ferreri. In 2000 he released his only album, called "Sweet Dreams," making John's song the title track. But he included on his album a more obscure song John wrote called "A Dream."
Composer Adam Guettel sang "unexpressed" on the "Grateful" compilation, but he's also Richard Rodger's grandson, who owns the piano used on another album of yours.
He is, and he does own his grandfather's piano and again, if you live long enough you just to see little lines of connectiveness and little big actually, circles of completion of things, and the first show music that I ever heard was "Carousel." My mom had little box of 45 records of the musical "Carousel," by Rodgers and Hammerstein, so Richard Rodgers' music was among the first music that I ever heard. Well, of course, flash forward 40 years or so, and I suddenly am represented by The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, and living in New York I've gotten to know Rodgers' daughter, Mary, Mary Rodgers, and her son Adam Guettel, who as I said is one of my favorite composers, songwriters that there is, but also has his grandfather's piano and also, at the time anyway, had a recording studio when he used to have a wonderful apartment here in New York with his grandfather's piano and a recording studio. So over the years, people had I started playing piano when I was one, just playing by ear. My grandmother had a piano and I would noodle around on it, and it became my favorite toy, and still is and never took piano lessons, and it just sort of evolved, organically. And people over the years said that I should do a solo piano recording, but I just sort of took my piano playing for granted, and thought, well, it's just what I do, but there's no reason to document it. Until I had this idea to do a recording of Richard Rodgers' music, improvisations on Richard Rodgers' songs, on the piano that he actually wrote them on, so that's what I did. Just kind of winged it, and over several recording sessions and played every Rodgers song I could think of in whatever wacky way popped into my fingers. I didn't really plan them. And then I just took the complete, best versions of song and didn't edit anything, didn't fix anything, made it into this CD which I did, you know, produced myself, released myself in my website. We should mention that website, don't you think? Would that be alright? [We will] Good, but anyway, it's called "On Richard Rodgers' Piano" and I am perhaps more proud of that than anything I've ever done.
From that album it was hard to pick, but here's John's interpretation of "Where or When."
John Bucchino - Where or When (2003)
I think the song "The Line Forms on the Right" is a fun song, tell me about that one.
Hah! Stephen Schwartz and I had never written anything together and he was doing one of his CDs of God, I don't remember if it was the first one or the second one, [note: it was the second; "Reluctant Pilgrim," in 1997 was the first one] of songs that he wrote, you know, just out of his own personal experience, which I had suggested that he do. And so it seemed appropriate that, that we should do something together. And he had this lyric, and he asked if I wanted to try writing music to it, and so I did, simple as that. It was really fun.
By the way, I did meet Stephen, very briefly, I was at an Outmusic showcase, in I think 2006, and he was performing with Brian Lane Green was performing, Lee Lessack was performing, and I kind of nudges Lee, "introduce me."
Yeah, he's a wonderful fellow. Well both Lee and Stephen actually, I know them all, yeah, but Stephen's just the best.
From the Stephen Schwartz album from 2001, called "Uncharted Territory," here's the song "The Line Forms on the Right."
Stephen Schwartz - The Line Forms on the Right (2001)
You don't often collaborate with other song writers. Is this by design?
Ah, kind of, you know, it feels like cheating, somehow, I know that seems silly, but it's like since I can do both, I kind of like doing both, so there's a wonderful alchemy, for me anyway, that happens between a lyric and music that is different when it's my lyric and my music, I'm just more in the process. It's painful but really rewarding. But I have, interestingly, recently, and maybe you're going to get to this, been thrown into a collaboration that I never expected, recently, on a children's musical, called "Simeon's Gift." It's based on a book by Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton, and I got to meet them when they put out the "Grateful" children's book, based on my song. And then Julie called and asked if I would consider writing just the lyric to a children's musical with them. And my initial reaction was, wait a minute, I do both, no, I don't want to write just the lyrics. But, first of all because it's Julie, and she's an angel, and the dearest, most wonderful person as extraordinary and wonderful as you think she might be, she's even more so. You can't imagine. She's an angel. She really is.
So, I would do anything for her, anything to work with her. But also, "A Catered Affair" was really getting intense, and the preparations for Broadway were coming on, and I thought, well, wait a minute, this will actually be easier to just write lyrics and not have to deal with all the music preparation for this children's musical, cause I'm going to be busy with "A Catered Affair." And I ended up writing lyrics to, and the music was by Julie's long time musical director and conductor, a British fellow named Ian Fraser, who is in his 70s now, and I didn't know him, but it turns out he is so brilliant, and it was such a gift to get to work with him, and such a delightful, painless, and really fun process of I didn't meet him until we'd written the whole score, cause he lives in Los Angeles. We did it all long distance, and sometimes he would send me music and I would fit in lyrics to it, sometimes I would send him lyrics, and he would write music to it. It was a really kind of free form, beautiful process, and Julie and Emma and I would have long phone conversations about what people should be singing about, and things like that, and actually that it's called "Simeon's Gift," and it's part of a concert evening that Julie hosted, where the first half of the concert, with symphony orchestra, the first half was an all Rodgers and Hammerstein program, with five great Broadway singers doing different songs, and Julie actually even sang a little bit. She sounded great. And then the second half of the program was a concert presentation of "Simeon's Gift," orchestrated, for full orchestra as well. And they did it at the Hollywood Bowl, and for two performances, and I'm hoping that they do it more, cause it's really beautiful.
Has it been recorded?
Sadly it has not been recorded, but there's talk about a tour of Australia and Japan with it, with various symphony orchestras there. So, anything that gives me an excuse to travel, I'm all for.
Well, I didn't know about that project, but I was going to ask about working with Lindy Robbins.
Lindy Robbins, Click for a quick Bio..you WILL be impressed...:)
Oh, and Lindy is the person with whom I've collaborated the most, and one of the only people I wrote one song with Stephen, I wrote a couple with Amanda McBroom, and then I wrote the "Simeon's Gift" score with Ian, and Lindy, I've written 12 songs with, all of which she's written lyrics and I've written music. She was just a friend, and she kept bugging me to write with her, and I think she's the first person that I collaborated with, actually, and she kept pestering me, and finally just to shut her up, I did one, and it turned out really well, cause she's a miraculous lyricist, she's really good. Actually she's had quite a bit of success now. She lives in L.A. and I love the stuff that we've done together. Very few people have heard it, but it's some really great songs.
Brooks Ashmanskas - On My Bedside Table (2006)
From the "It's Only Live" recording obviously another autobiographical song, called "on my bedside table", as done by cast member Brooks Ashmanskas
Yes, utterly autobiographical, and it came at the end of yet another failed relationship. Oh, my. You know, it's interesting cause different emotions were coursing through me as this relationship ended, a lot of wallowing, a lot of sadness, a lot of poignant memories. And I had written a really beautiful poignant, sad, tragic song about the end of the relationship, and that lyric was in fact on my bedside table, as what a note from Sondheim and my glasses and all the things that are mentioned in the song. And I was lying in bed and all of a sudden I just got really pissed and really angry about the end of the relationship, and at the person, at the guy that was at the other end of the relationship, so "On My Beside Table" is an expression of that frustration and anger, which is I think healthy.
I get the impression that there's a sign on the Holland Tunnel that says, "If you go in New York, don't date John Bucchino, because if you break up, he'll write a song about you."
Well, yeah, but, you know, but if you don't break up I'll write lots of songs about you. I hope that's not the case, though given my romantic life that might be true. I'm not sure. I just have been focusing on career for the last however many years, and have been flying solo, but I think I'm getting ready for another one. I think I'm ready for another one. So if you know anybody, let me know.
Up next is the only male version I know of for John's song "The Song With the Violins." The name of the act is Three Dollar Bill, of course as in queer as a three dollar bill, and they are: vocals by Greg Anderson and piano by Nate Buccieri. Their 2006 CD is called "The Heart of a Good Song," and the album specializes in the work of gay composers. Here's Three Dollar Bill, and "Song With the Violins."
Three Dollar Bill - The Song With the Violins (2006)
Okay, I know you've been wondering when we would get to the Broadway show "A Catered Affair." That would be now.
Around 2004 another pivotal person entered your live, Harvey Fierstein
Yes! That wonderful fellow. Yeah, he heard the "Grateful" CD and wrote me a fan letter. We have mutual friends so he got my address and wrote me a fan letter. And I felt, well, that's wonderful and put it away in my box of letters that I keep. And then about a month or two later he wrote me another fan letter, saying "I can't stop listening to this CD, I'm addicted to it," and my God, saying all kinds of nice things. So I got his number from our mutual friend and I called him up and said, "do you want to have dinner?" And he said, "yeah, in fact, there's something I want to talk to you about." So we had dinner and he told me about "A Catered Affair." It had originally been a Paddy Chayefsky teleplay from the 50s, and then became a Bette Davis movie, with Ernest Borgnine and Debbie Reynolds in it, with a screenplay by Gore Vidal. And Harvey had fallen in love with it, and wanted to turn it into a musical, and asked if I would be interested in writing the music and lyrics, and I said, "no." Cause it scared the crap out of me. You know, the prospect of writing with this big, famous person. And I really wasn't that comfortable writing for theatre. I'd never written a full-length, only "Urban Myths," which was short pieces sort of strung together, and it just scared me. It was really intimidating, and I just didn't want to go there.
But he persisted, and eventually, after a dinner with Stephen Schwartz the other thing was, I didn't know if it was a good idea for a musical, and I didn't want to spend years of my life working on something that was going to not go anywhere. So, I wanted Stephen to hear about it, to see if he thought it was a good idea. And he in fact thought it was a really good idea, that I think you should do it. I still wasn't convinced, so I went to Harvey's house, cause Stephen and Harvey both live in the same town in Connecticut, and I went over to Harvey's house, and was sitting on his fabulous couch, in his fabulous living room, overlooking his fabulous swimming pool and the rolling hills of Connecticut, without another house in sight. And still I was waffling about doing it. And he said, "Listen, cookie, 'La Cage' bought me this house. What are you going to retire on?" And I said, "I'll do it." And so we did.
In the liner notes it says book by Harvey, music and lyrics by you. How did that meld together?
Very, you know, very smoothly, very smoothly, surprisingly smoothly. It was such a pleasant surprise that the whole thing came together as easily as it did. Harvey wrote the book, as a play. He wrote it as a play, rather than leaving gaps, and saying "put a song here" he just wrote it straight through, as a play. And then sent me a copy and said, "look, you read it, I'm going to look through it. Let's each make a list of where we think there should be songs. And the we'd get together and have dinner and talk about our lists." And so I did, and we got together, and our lists were virtually identical, which is a really good sign of course. It meant that we were on the same page, as where we thought song moments should be. And he can be a little fussy, he's such a creative spirit that I think when he's not busy and involved in something I think that he could have been calling me, and "how are you doing, and what's going on" and sort of nudged me a little bit. But actually, right after that he wrote the book for the show between "Hairspray" and "Fiddler on the Roof." So he wrote it, we talked about where songs should go, then he was completely absorbed in doing "Fiddler," which was perfect. Because it gave me the time, the uninterrupted time to just fit songs into the places where we thought there should be songs, so what I did was just sort of take out a chunk of his prose, take that out of the sort of dramatic arc, and replace it with a song that hopefully achieved the same thing. So it really was just a series of assignments, and it was pretty easy actually.
My favorite song from it is "Don't Ever Stop Saying I Love You."
Yeah, that one Harvey actually gave me the title for. That's all, he said "I think there needs to be a love song here and I think that the young couple doesn't want them to be like her parents, who never tell each other they love each other." And so he said maybe it could be a song called "Don't Ever Stop Saying I Love You," and that was all I needed and you know, in a musical you want the sort of stand-alone love song, love ballad, and I'm really proud of it. It reminds me of sort of an American classic popular song, like Irving Berlin or one of those guys. It feels like that in a way to me, like it's sort of classic.
So that's the song that will have a life beyond the show?
Well, one can only hope.
And rather than play for you the song from the soundtrack, I've got something special to share with you. The song was originally a duet, but John sent me a demo of the song re-structured as a solo. In that format it will lend itself more easily for solo performers. Here's Milena Govich and "Don't Ever Stop Saying I Love You."
Milena Govich - Don't Ever Stop Saying I Love You (2008)
Did the musical live up to your expectations?
Ah, God, that's tricky, again collaboration, and not the collaboration with Harvey, cause as I said that was really pretty effortless and joyful. But then a lot of people come piling in and Harvey warned me about that. He said, "you know this isn't going to be ours, once we have producers, once we have a director, and actors and everybody is going to be messing with it." And that was hard for me. But what we ended up with is a beautiful piece of art, and I am very, very proud of it. I think that it was publicized at the start a little bit wrong, in that I think that people were expecting to see Harvey be Harvey, be bigger-than-life comic, genius, wonderful Harvey, in this show about marriage. And I think they were thinking "Father of the Bride," or something, and it's not. It's really much more like a [it's not his story, it's not that character's story] right, and also he's not being as much of a character as he usually is. He's toned down, and also it's kind of like an Arthur Miller play a friend of mine said, it's sort of like "Death of a Salesman" with songs. And it kind of is, it's pretty intense.
I mean of course there's humor in it, but also it's a family drama. And the songs there are no dance numbers, we did not have a choreographer, so I think it's what Rodgers and Hammerstein and those people did, taken to an even greater degree, what they did as far as integrating the drama and the music, where people some people said, I didn't even notice she was singing she was talking and all of a sudden she was singing, but it was just so seamless that it and that's a very different thing for theatre.
And the people who got that, really loved it, and many, many people in the artistic, the actors, the other directors, absolutely adored the show and thought it was the best thing they'd seen in years. You know, remarkable and groundbreaking and all those wonderful words. And some of the press felt the same way, and other press people didn't get it at all, and sort of criticized it for not being what they wanted it to be, which was, you know, having dance numbers and being a more traditional Broadway show. But I think it was very powerful. What I want all of my work to do is to be emotionally affecting, and the fact that people were not able to leave the theatre because they were sitting in their seats, sobbing, I think is a really good sign. So it made me very proud.
Coming up is a QMH exclusive, and I thank John for sending it to me.
Tell me about the demo you sent me of "79th Street Station".
Oh, you liked that little song? I don't, oh, actually I do remember, this is actually kind of a good story. I was in Denmark with Holly, and it was wintertime, maybe not the best time to go to Denmark. It was beautiful, but boy oh boy, was it cold. And we were staying at the home of some friend, and I was under a really cozy comforter. They have the best down comforters in Denmark that you can imagine, and I had a dream. I had a dream about Joni Mitchell, who is one of my favorite songwriters. And in this dream, I was coming out of this the friend with whom I most stayed before I moved to New York, the friend that I stayed with lived on 79th street. And so I had this dream that Joni Mitchell and I were walking out of the 79th street subway station together, and she was asking me why I hadn't written any songs in a while, and we were just chatting. So that was the dream. And then I had that kind of gnawing feeling, sort of scratching on the inside of my head, telling me to wake up and write a song. And I didn't want to wake up, cause I was so cozy under that comforter, that I didn't want to get and find a pencil and a pad and be in the cold of the room. I wanted to be under that comforter, and so that's where the chorus comes from, you know, do I want to open my eyes, what will you give me if I open my eyes. It's like, if I open my eyes and write a song, muse, which I was casting Joni as, are you going to give me something good? Is it really going to be worth getting out of this comfortable bed to write it down? So it's a kind of strange, poetic, convoluted combination of a dream and reluctance to enter into the writing process.
John Bucchino - 79th Street Station (1988)
Of what song that you've written are you the most proud?
Oh golly gee whiz, I like the ones that don't feel like they've come from me, that feel bigger than me. Well, as I said, "Unexpressed" is my very favorite, so I'm really proud of that, the music just makes me happy. Of course I'm proud of "Grateful," because I love what it says, and the energy that it puts into the world, at a time when I think we need any kind of positive energy we can get. And I get a lot of emails from people saying that song really touched their hearts. Other than that, I don't know that there's individual songs as much as just the overall body of work, and the diversity
I asked a long time ago, I asked Suede to pick her favorite song that she's recorded, and she kind of got this horrified look, choose among my babies?
I know, well that's why I said before, which child, pick a favorite child. I know it's an overused image by writers, but it's really true.
And she's recorded several of your songs
She has, and beautifully. She's fantastic, my gosh. We've talked about even working together. I don't know if that will ever happen, but I'd love to play with that, that would be great fun.
Suede - Puddle of Love (1992)
That's "Puddle of Love," another track by Suede, from her album "Barely Blue."
How much is art and how much is craft?
I think the craft, I think it's kind of a zen thing. There's a book called "Zen and the Art of Archery," that I really loved, and it talked about, in zen, you master the craft, to the point where inspiration can come through you, and you've got the craft down. And so the art can happen. And I think because I've done it for so long, and I think the craft is kind of taken care of I mean, there's always more to learn, my God, of course, but I think there's a certain level of craft that I've achieved that enabled the art to happen through me, because I have the tools to get it documented. Does that make sense?
Is there an overall message to your work?
I don't think there's an overall message but somebody once said that I seem to be a little obsessed with time, and the shortness of time, and I hadn't noticed that but when she mentioned it I think that may be true. I think that the work expresses whatever I happen to be going through in my life and I'm on a spiritual journey. I mean, I am on a spiritual journey and I'm trying to absorb things and learn about how to grow as a human being, how to grow as a spirit, how to grow and evolve in every way. And I think that that progression, that journey, that learning curve of mine is plays out, to one extent or another in every song that I write. So I don't think that there's one theme, but I think that who I am certainly pours into everything that I do. And there is a spiritual perspective which I'm proud of, and I think that is resonant for people especially nowadays when we're looking for some rhyme or reason and some progression toward a greater spirituality in their own lives.
Your answer ties directly into a quote I wanted to read. It was a review by Stephen Holden in the New York Times. He wrote that "Mr. Bucchino's flowing, finely made piano ballads describe an urban single life in which relationships come and go in cycles of yearning, fulfillment, heartbreak and healing, and romantic love is a serious quest undertaken as a race against time"
He kind of nailed it, didn't he, that Stephen Holden. Well, that sounds good, okay. I'll buy that, yeah, sounds good.
And I love the possibilities of the lyrics of the first verse of this next song. They go "Last night I played a song for you, amid the social whirl, I sat there to the left of you, and to the right, your girl." So, this could be straight, gay or bi, depending on who's singing it, and the dynamics. Here's Cris Williamson's version, from the 2003 album she released with Holly Near, called "Cris & Holly." The song is called "I've Learned to Let Things Go."
Cris Williamson - I've Learned to Let Things Go (2003)
I'm not sure you're going to know the answer to this question. Excluding the musical "it's Only Life," what artist has recorded the most of your songs.
No, but I bet you're going to know it, aren't you! What artist has recorded .well, Suede has recorded quite a few [only four] Only four, so someone has recorded more than four, wow, I give up, who? [Bill Wright] Oh of course, well I worked on that. I should have known that. Oh see, that was a trick question. [no, it wasn't] oh, I know
And John played piano for the late Bill Wright, on his 1995 album "Always Love." On his two albums, Bill recorded seven songs written by John, including this one, called "Something Spontaneous."
Bill Wright - Something Spontaneous (1995)
This brings us the end of my special salute to the work of John Bucchino. Again I thank him for the interview and you for sticking with me this long. Where most people would just do an hour show and be done with it, well, I just can't resist trying to really do justice to the artists I cover, I feel like I'm capturing history, and in this case I ended up with three hours of his wonderful music and commentary. So I appreciate your patience in taking this journey with me.
Okay, I wasn't going to repeat a song during this special, but I can't resist closing Part 3 with John's greatest hit, "Grateful," this time I'm taking it from the "Grateful" compilation, and it's ably done by Michael Feinstein.
Michael Feinstein - Grateful (2000)
Above left, with Michael Feinstein & Amanda McBroom; right, just Michael