Gary James' Interview With Songwriter
Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann wrote the songs that spoke to a generation. It's hard to imagine what the 1950s and 1960s would have been like without this songwriting team. Just some of the songs they've written include "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'", "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place", "On Broadway", "Only In America", "I Just Can't Help Believing" and the list goes on and on and on. In 1987 Cynthia, along with her husband, was inducted into The Songwriters Hall Of Fame. In 2010, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann received the Johnny Mercer Award, the highest award you can receive from the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. These days you'll find Cynthia Weil writing books. Cynthia is the author of Rockin' Babies" (Sterling Publishing Co.)
We talked to Cynthia Weil about that book and her songwriting career.
Q - So Cynthia, were you a Rockin' Baby?
A - Was I a Rockin' Baby? You know, I don't think so. I was really a very good baby. A very repressed baby. (laughs) I tried to behave because my older brother had been a Rockin' Baby.
Q - He never pursued a musical career?
A - He didn't. He went into real estate and did fine. He never got into music.
Q - He likes music, doesn't he?
A - I'm sure he does.
Q - And probably has listened to some of your songs.
A - Absolutely.
Q - Have you gone out and done book signings in support of Rockin' Babies?
A - Yes. Usually it's hard to get publicity for board books, but Sterling, our publisher, has set us up with signings at Barnes And Nobel, a place called The Pump Station, which is a very big baby site. You know, we've been around.
Q - People came out because they recognize your name.
A - Actually it's a real combination because people come out who knew my name from Rock 'n' Roll and people came out who knew my daughter. (Dr. Jenn Berman, co-author) because she's a parenting expert. She had a book out called Super Baby that was an L.A. Times best seller. So she had the credentials and I had the Rock.
Q - So, your contribution to the book was what, the text?
A - Jenn and I contributed the text and we had an illustrator who did the illustrations. There's a video on the site
(www.RockinBabiesBook.com), that kind of talks about how we came to write it and it's kind of a cute story. So maybe you can take a look.
Q - Alright. Are kids reading books these days?
A - Well, this is such an elemental baby book that parents read it to their kids. The fun of this book is parents get it on one level and kids seem to get it on another. I think kids are reading these days. The whole Hunger Games and Twilight and all that, brought kids back to reading as did Harry Potter. That was the first catalyst.
Q - It seems that people are turning to electronic devices to read books, like the Kindle. Book stores like Waldenbooks and Borders have gone out of business.
A - It's a whole different world now, just like music has become a whole different world. You kind of have to keep adapting to the current slant of whatever it is you're doing.
Q - Speaking of songs, are you still writing songs?
A - Well, Barry and I kind of took off a couple of years because I wanted to do some prose writing and he is writing his memoir, which he is still writing. It's just recently that we, I would say three or four months ago, that I really started missing songwriting. So, we got back into it and it's kind of fun doing it after we've been away for awhile.
Q - When you write a song today, what then happens to it? Do you have a publisher who goes out and tries to place it with a singer?
A - We do have publishers for certain things and now we publish everything ourselves. But having the contacts we do, we sometimes think of who it might be good for and send it to their A&R person or send it to their manager or kind of find out what's happening and who would suit some of the songs we're writing.
Q - Now, Barry is writing his autobiography, but you won't write yours?
A - Absolutely not. First of all, I can't remember anything. Secondly, I'm too private for that. I'm a little scared to read his and find out what he's gonna say. (laughs)
Q - Scared? What is there to say that would make you scared?
A - I don't know. I have a feeling I'm gonna find out a lot of things I didn't know. Some may be good and some may be bad.
Q - Well, let's hope it's good!
A - Let's hope so. (laughs)
Q - Where did this ability to yours to write so many different kinds of songs come from? Have you any idea?
A - I absolutely have no idea. Both my parents were un-creative. My mother's sister, who I was very close to, was a dancer and a literary agent. She was the only person in the family who I felt understood me. I think I was creative from the get-go. I think it's something you're born with. I always loved reading and I always loved making up stories. I loved music. So it all came together.
Q - Every song you and Barry wrote is different from the one before it.
A - Yes, exactly. It's a great talent to have as a songwriter. When Barry tried to be a recording artist, it wasn't really a great talent to have because he never kind of had a sound or a theme that was his because we could do so many things as songwriters. He actually thought he could sing all of them. (laughs) He couldn't.
Q - Take a song like "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling". Your contribution would be words and Barry's would be the music?
A - Usually. I write all the lyrics and in that particular song I think it has an opening line, which is considered one of the best of all time, and it was Barry's opening line.
Q - Paul McCartney was once interviewed by Barry Goldberg and he asked him where this talent to write songs came from. I saw Paul flinch. He was visibly shaken by that question. It was like he didn't know the answer. Do you feel the same way? You really don't know where this songwriting ability comes from?
A - You know, I don't know where it comes from, but I know there have been times when it's left me when I felt, whether it's writer's block or blank, and Barry's given me a melody or someone else has, and I couldn't get anything and I thought "Oh, this is what other people feel like all the time." But usually a melody speaks to me. I prefer writing to a melody, but I can write any way anybody wants to work. When I hear a melody that I know is good and I can't come up with an idea, I think "Oh, this is what the rest of the world hears."
Q - Are you constantly keeping up with the world around you, feeling that something you might read or something you might see on TV will spark an idea for a song?
A - No, not consciously. You know it's funny, I remember a song I didn't write that I think is a great song, but it was the Aerosmith song that Diane Warren wrote, "Don't Want To Miss A Thing". I remember having an interview with Barbra Streisand when she and James Brolin had just gotten together. She said something about, "He says to me, Don't go to sleep. I'll miss you." And I thought "Oh my God, Diane heard that and she got it. I heard it and I didn't get it."
Q - When you write a song that becomes a hit, how in your mind do you follow that up? What's the thought process? You do seem to rise to the occasion.
A - When we're writing, we don't think in terms of hits. We think in terms of songs and good songs that make us feel good about writing. If they happen to be hits, that's great. At the very beginning when we were with all the music, when we were kids in New York in the '60s, there was a great camaraderie and a great competition up there, so it was much more than thinking about hits and there was more living your life by the charts. But that disappeared as we got a little more mature.
Q - Has there ever been a time when you've written a song and then it's given to an artist to record and you hear it and you say to yourself "That is not the way I envisioned that song to have been recorded"?
A - Unfortunately, many times. But I'm not giving you an example. (laughs) I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. There's also times when we've written songs that we've thought "that's not really great" and they've been recorded and they've been hits. (laughs) Sometimes it's hard to know.
Q - As I listen to Justin Bieber's "Baby", I think, Cynthia Weil could have written a better song for him.
A - Well, that's something very tricky to have me comment on. I think Justin Bieber is really talented. At all times there are songs that are not the greatest songs that are brought to life by the sheer talent of the person singing it. He's been a phenomenon and I think he's grown tremendously.