Taking my little girl to the Los Angeles Zoo, I realized so many years had gone by since I’d last been there, I had virtually no memories of the place. Did it always smell like that? And I thought of a song I wrote so many years ago, I’ve no idea where the sheet music might be. Should this blog be a repository for my songs that only exist in memory? Luckily, there’s a story that goes with the song.
During the period we were writing On the Brink – in a way, my first professional work – my collaborator’s cousins came to us with a business proposition we had to seriously consider. (This story happened so many years ago, I’m a little foggy on the details. So, this is another example of my jotting down something before I forget more of it.) The cousins, identical twins, were starting a company that would bring shows to schools. They wanted us to write a show that would introduce children to orchestral instruments. Now that I think of it, there must have also been talk of an idea to merely introduce children to theatre-going.
Although I’d previously written a children’s show that had been produced in England, Through the Wardrobe, I wasn’t certain I could alter my then overly-articulate style into something kids of all ages could appreciate. So, I wrote a few songs to prove to myself that I could do it, and that I liked doing it. One of these involved a lyrical collaboration, and that song was never completed. It’s been my experience – and I know this is very different from most people’s – that collaborating slows the process down. I often end up waiting an uncomfortably long span of time for someone else to come up with their contribution. When I write alone, I can wake in the middle of the night and finish a draft, nobody to run anything by.
The other two songs, though, sounded pretty good to me. One, I felt, was among my ten best creations. The other, to the best of my recollection, goes:
Did you ever stick around after closing time at the zoo?
After everyone was gone, did you ever linger on at the zoo?
Well, I did
And I’m going to
Describe to you
The musical entertainment that’s provided
By a baboon
With a bassoon
Playing a melancholy tune
While he was playing
All the animals were swaying,
“My, how that monk can croon!”
On a bassoon
That talented baboon
Charmed every creature from rhinoceros to raccoon
I wish I had a tape
Of that marvelous ape
Playing on his big bassoon
Playing on his big bassoon
The style adjustment, the enjoyment of creating songs for kids – all of that was there. Could the twins pay us enough to divert us from our long path of putting together our musical comedy revue, On the Brink? My collaborator felt that, since these were his relatives, it would be discomforting for him to handle the financial negotiations. He also knew that I was the son of an executive who frequently hammered out contracts with artists in the TV industry. Had I inherited the right stuff to get us a good deal on this youth theatre project?
I tried to come up with a price related to what it would mean to us, wage-wise, to take time off from On the Brink. I came up with two figures: the amount we’d ask for ($1,000), and the amount we’d accept if they countered with a lower offer. At times like these, it’s helpful to have an experienced agent, but, as creators, we’re all going to face moments like this, figuring out what’s a fair price for our services. I made the call to the twins, told them the number I had in mind, and they said the number they had in mind was $200, far lower than the minimum I thought we should accept. Two-hundred dollars to write a show? This hardly seemed the monetary value of our time and efforts. So, I decided to hold fast and said “I’m sorry, but we can’t do it for that kind of money.”
I felt a bit of pride that I didn’t cave and accept an unreasonable deal, just to be able to brag that I was now a writer who’d been commissioned. And if anyone could appreciate steadfastness in money talks, it was my father. So, I called him and said “You would have been proud of me. I held to my figure, and rejected a low-ball offer.” Dad chuckled and joked “Well, as you know, I’ve never been proud of you.” I thought this was pretty amusing, him saying just the opposite of what he felt, for humor’s sake. So, my father’s quip became part of the story when I told friends the tale of the fruitless negotiation. One friend, for years, echoed the joke, repeating that my father has never been proud of me. When Dad heard that this line was being quoted many years later, he denied that he ever said it.
Which just goes to show what memory can do. Sometimes you have to write things down somewhere just to remember them. Anecdotes, and songs.