(From the LARB Questionnaire:)
Best piece of advice you ever received?
When I was twenty-one and conducting the biggest hit on Broadway, I had dinner with Phyllis Diller and Ann Miller. (How's that for an opening sentence, all my novelist friends?) Phyllis looked across her pasta and gave me a piece of advice I have never forgot, a piece of advice I didn't really understand at the time, or rather didn't believe: "Kid," she said, "never expect ANYONE to help you. No one ever will. Trust me on that. You do it all yourself. Every last Goddamn thing. And you do it all the time, every day." Now that I'm 51 all I can say is, "How true, Phyllis. How true."
Who reads you first?
As I'm primarily (I hope!) a composer, the question really is, Who listens to you first? Easy. For 30 years, my companion, partner, significant other, oh heck, whatever the term is, my sweetheart was the best critic a composer could ever have. Although not a musician by profession-he trained horses--, he had the most critical ear and unfailingly good judgment about music, especially vocal music, of anyone I have ever encountered. What more could someone want? If he liked something, I was golden. If he didn't, it went right into the trash. Most of the time. There was one song I wrote, or rather, one melody, he absolutely loathed. He made me cut it from every show or every album I tried to shoe-horn it into. Unfortunately we never agreed to disagree. He was adamant. Despite me telling him incessantly how Blue Moon and Getting to Know You also appeared in several shows before they landed. He hated the song so much, no matter what new title or lyric I gave it, he would invariably attack my producer and say, "You're not going to let him put that rubbish in your show, are you? That cut-out. That old-news-rewritten crap!" You got to love a man like that. And I did.