About three years into my songwriting career I was given a unique opportunity. I was a contract writer at A & M records when Herb Alpert (the A) commissioned the brilliant French Composer Michel Colombier to write a symphonic piece. When Michel decided to add lyrics I was chosen to write them.
It was an exciting and unexpected stroke of luck for an unknown kid from the sticks. It meant traveling to Paris to meet with Michel, hear his music and then provide the lyrics to the ‘pop cantata’ we called ‘Wings’. In his music I would hear and write a tale of man’s desire to find wings of freedom from fear. Ironic.
The studio purchased a round trip first class ticket to Paris for me and I was on my way. My first trip to Europe. Sitting up front with the champagne flowing. Suddenly I was starring in my own …
Nightmares may be a little dark. Call them negative fantasies. Packing my shabby little suitcase for the flight I imagined it floating amongst the other wreckage on the ocean waters. The thought that echoed loudest in my head was “How sad that he died before he could do his best work. The world was robbed of a great collaboration. We’ll never hear those wonderful songs.”
Of course, the plane survived the flight and I was inspired by Michel’s intensely beautiful music. While I gave myself great reviews for the work I was doing there was very little feedback from my collaborators. Michel and Herb Alpert were satisfied but in the studio I felt like an outsider. The orchestra was French, the great rhythm section French. Little or no English was spoken so I wasn’t exactly the star of the show. Treated respectfully there was little ‘awe’ in the way my words were received.
After a few weeks I was off to finish the work in Los Angeles where the final vocals would be recorded. As I packed for my flight back to the states…
Yes. Again. ”How sad that he never finished what clearly would have been his best work. Blah blah … suitcase floating on the waters of .. etc. etc. etc.”
What was going on? I believe the fantasies were inspired by fear on the way over and ego on the return flight. The fear that I might not be able to do the work was easily handled by my unconscious. A little midnight splash in the Atlantic and there’s no need to worry about those silly words.
The sessions in Paris should have filled my heart with pure gratitude for the chance to work with a genius. Sadly, that was not the case.n A marvelous lesson in humility was met with a rebounding ego that said, “Won’t they be sorry when they realize he won’t be able to finish the work.” An infantile response to the lack of praise that I’d decided I deserved.
It’s an embarrassing recollection. But like so many life lessons it provides insight into the way I now choose to live. Today I am amazed that I was given the chance to work with Michel. Thank you Maestro. It was an honor. Today, when my mind becomes an illogical escape artist, running from something I don’t want to deal with, rather than allowing it to terrorize me I remember Michel and my first trip to Paris. I’m reminded that there is a creative and loving universal source that provides all my needs, including the words if they are meant to be written.
Michel passed away at the age of sixty-four. He was kind, generous and immensely talented. If you’d like to experience his brilliance listen toEmmanuel, an oboe solo from the album that I felt needed no words. It’s a remembrance of Michel’s child who’d passed away shortly before we met. It’s music that needed no lyric to describe pure love and the loss of a child. I think it is his masterpiece.
Blessings and thanks from today’s vantage point of Gratitude and Trust.