They’re right. I don’t feel sad

“Walks into a room and boom! her smile is everything I see.”

Marcy Heisler’s line, with its ornament of an internal rhyme, could describe herself. I met her many years ago when she first came to New York and she looked like what a caricaturist might draw if you said “world’s biggest smile framed with a shock of curly hair.” We had a safe professional coffee date, but when a lyricist meets a composer-lyricist… What I really kick myself about is that a friend of my sister’s, Zina Goldrich, had recently arrived in New York, looking to compose musicals, and I failed to introduce her to Marcy Heisler. Thank God they found each other, for they’re a fabulous songwriting team, universally admired, won the Fred Ebb Award a few years ago, and, this month, Marcy won the Kleban Prize, the largest cash award annually given to American writers. (It’s for lyric-writing.)

So, what makes Marcy such a wonderful lyricist? Several things come to mind: Attention to detail, outstanding humor, word-choices that ring true as the way people actually speak, and a connection to the sort of emotions we all experience. Just yesterday, I eavesdropped on a rehearsal of a musical in which all the characters are hyper-articulate, and, since they’re from different classes and professions, that rings false to me. In Taylor, the Latte Boy, Goldrich and Heisler’s most famous song, the character is flummoxed, and – what’s the word? – under-articulate. Hear how she repeats phrases like “very inspirational” and this continues into vagueness “because of many things.” These things help define the character, giving her such charm, we’re pulling for her (hoping against hope – as she is – that Taylor requites her feelings, despite lack of any indication he does).

It was recently announced that Marcy & Zina’s musical, Ever After, is headed to Broadway. And this news needs a little context. It’s been decades that the world of insiders have known that these ladies write better songs than just about anybody. And yet New York has seen only two of their musicals, and both of those were for young audiences. That shows me that even if a lot of people, especially a lot of songwriters, consider you top-notch, the Broadway powers-that-be might not catch on for years and years and years. Honestly, I can remember feeling a tinge of jealousy over the fact that Minnesota was getting to see a Goldrich & Heisler revue while we in New York were starved for good new musical theatre. And of course I’ve attended those musicals-for-kids without a kid by my side, relishing the great music and lyrics. My favorite of their songs, Hola Lola, comes from one.

Notice how the chorus consists of nothing but the title, repeated backwards and forwards. It’s close to being mellifluous nonsense, and yet it’s so filled with emotion, I cry every time. (Could this have something to do with my lifelong shyness? No self-psychoanalyzing here! – it embarrasses me so.) And then there’s one tiny detail that knocks me out every time: Marcy figured out what gets served at children’s parties in Hawaii. Pineapple pie. Whether in children’s material or more adult fare, one gets the feeling the writer loves her characters. And so we all love Lola and company.

Since Marcy & Zina have written a lot of cabaret tunes, and they both perform them splendidly, it’s easy to just take the leap and admit that what you’re feeling is love for the authors themselves. After you read the following lyric, I ask you: How is it possible not to love Marcy Heisler?

Some people wish for romance on a Gable-Lombard scale
Or for money that can buy their richest dreams
But I don’t wish for seas to sail, or mountain tops to climb
I close my eyes at night, and wish for time
Let me grow old, let me grow wise,
Let lines of laughter crease my eyes
Let me spin stories as I hold court in my chair
Let me knit yards and yards of yesterdays to gather round my knees
And woven in the pattern is a message: I was there.
Some people thirst for knowledge, or a framed advanced degree
That can trumpet I’m important, can’t you tell
But I don’t wish for accolades for insights so sublime
I close my eyes at night and wish for time
Let me grow old, let me grow wise, let lines of laughter crease my eyes
Let me quilt memories, every one a vibrant square
Each one a friend I’ve known and cherished, or a love I’ve won or lost
And embroidered in the blanket is a message: I was there
Before you paint a painting, you need a surface clean
Before you write a book, you need a page
Before your picture dances on the canvas that is life
You must paint the picture with the brush of age
Oh, and some crave admiration, acknowledgment of wit
They revel in the turning of a phrase,
And though the poet in me, yearns to find that perfect rhyme
I close my eyes at night, and wish for time
Let me grow old, let me grow wise, let lines of laughter crease my eyes
Let me hold children as they clutch my wintry hair
Let me knit yards and yards of yesterdays, so when the last comes round
I’ll take the yards and yards of yesterdays and lay them on the ground
And in some faraway tomorrow, when my cast-off scarf is found,
Unwind it and you’ll find there is a message:
I was there

Finally, I only very rarely show myself performing on this blog. This isn’t my favorite M&Z song, but I like to kid myself and believe I inspired it:

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One Response to They’re right. I don’t feel sad

  1. lenschiff says:

    I met Marcy at the BMI advanced workshop; as I recall, she immediately began scheming to set me up with a nice Jewish girl. It’s time these two got the attention they deserve.

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