My Thank You Note to Barbra Streisand

I seldom talk about it, but if you know me long or well, you know. And I have my mother to thank for it, because I am fairly certain that she was listening to Funny Girl when I was in utero. (My father's influence, on the other hand, was more along the lines of Man of La Mancha, which explains an awful lot about my outlook on life, but that's a story for another day.)

I believe I entered the world singing, "People, people who need people..." and it's been a slippery slope ever since.

As her new album, Encore Movie Partners Sing Broadway debuts at #1, and she wrapped up what she said will be her last concert tour ever, it seems only fitting to pause and reflect for a moment on the road taken, the choices made, and the life lived. Oh, I don't mean hers. She's sifting through that herself for her memoir. I mean mine - because my life could easily have gone in a whole different direction.

Any lifelong fan of an artist will tell you how the artist's music was the soundtrack of their life. We can all recount our milestone moments by the songs we were listening to at the time.

But this little girl wasn't just singing along to Streisand songs that were well beyond her years. She was reading the liner notes, and memorizing who wrote what. I was probably the only eight year old who knew what ASCAP was.

It's only hindsight that enables us to put the puzzle pieces together. I was enthralled with more than merely the magnificence of Barbra Streisand's voice. I was given the key that unlocked my life's journey - songs. Though I could not have articulated it in my youth, the songs I loved made me feel understood and less alone in the world. And that became what I wanted to do - write songs so I could make other people feel that way, too.

Because of Ms. Streisand's choices, I learned the craft of songwriting from the very best there ever was. I studied with the likes of Michel Legrand, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, not to mention Jule Styne, Johnny Mercer, and Rodgers and Hammerstein. I soaked up words and music like a sponge. But I also unknowingly soaked up form and structure, storytelling, melody, and poetry in the form of lyrics.

I began writing songs when my age was still in single digits. And the voice I always heard singing them in my head was Barbra Streisand's.

She wasn't someone I idolized the way people, especially kids, often do. There were no posters of her on my walls. I didn't copy her haircuts or her clothes. I did, however, wear out the Superman record and annoy the crap out of my brother by singing along with it into my hairbrush "microphone" at the top of my lungs. (Small price to pay for my future career, if you ask me.)

I'd love to tell you that my music career has been easy and smooth, clear sailing. I'd love to tell you that, but it's nowhere near true. What is true is that Barbra Streisand's greatest gift to me turned out to be less about her singing voice than it was about her voice as a human being - as a woman in a male dominated business, as an activist for issues critical to our survival, like clean air and water, and as a philanthropist who saw that nothing was being done in research for women's heart disease (the #1 killer of women, by the way) so she opened her mouth and her pocketbook and did something about it.

She forged a path by simply doing it, while being maligned for having a vision and not settling for less than its full manifestation.

As someone who has stood in a recording studio filled with male musicians and engineers who were less than thrilled to be taking directives from a girl, I can tell you that Barbra Streisand having done that before me may not have made it any easier, but at least I knew it could be done. And that prevented me from taking my toys and going home.

Talent is a God-given thing. Who gets what really has nothing to do with us. But who we are as human beings, what we speak up for, what we accept, and how we choose to show up in the world and use our gifts, is up to us. What we create with our lives is our rent, if you will, for being inhabitants of the planet and members of humanity.

I don't know if Barbra Streisand will ever record my songs. But I do know that the little girl who listened to her grew up to be a professional songwriter and found her own voice. And for that, Barbra, you will always have my heartfelt thanks.