Baby Talk, from Watch the Birdie (Day 49)

CG and Olan Mills portrait 2Baby Talk, the third song in Watch The Birdie, is arguably the song from which the whole show eventually sprang. It was written 30 years ago, at a point in my life where I’d just become a new father, a change in my life that opened my mind and my heart to what would turn out to be a rich vein of personal experience I would explore in many subsequent songs. More details after the track (again, 2008, Philly Music Theater Works) and the lyric, below…

She calls her mom’s advice a crock,
She claims her life is a ball,
But one day, with a shock
Her biological clock
Will sound its wake-up call.
She’s not what you’d call dumb,
Yet all too soon
Her resolve will fade.
Yes, even the stalwart must succumb.

Remember conversation?
My friends enjoyed discussing the news
The kind of topics that challenge the brain:
Pollution, Wall Street and Saddam Hussein.
But since they all had babies,
I think their interests have started to change.
World affairs no longer matter to them.
They’d rather talk about their baby’s b.m.!

Goo goo ga ga
Cootchie cootchie coo
Little Judy did a doody doo
Baby talk’s the only talk they can do ¬
Have you noticed it too?

Remember art and culture?
Our talk was always stylish and smart,
Discussing Sondheim and Francois Truffaut,
And poets and painters we knew were nouveau,
And when it came to fiction,
We went for guys like Pynchon and Barth,
But now when it comes to artistic affairs,
My friends are all into the three little bears!

Goo goo ga ga
Cootchie cootchie coo
They cut loose with Mother Goose and Pooh
Baby talk’s the only talk they can do ¬
What’s a grownup to do?

Many a parent with a Ph.D.
Has strained bananas where their brains used to be.
I wonder what their education was worth?
Is their life after birth?

Remember dinner parties?
They used to take us weeks to prepare.
Cajun cooking and nouvelle cuisine
And dishes from Bon Appetit magazine.
But since they all had babies,
My friends have switched to easier fare.
Instead of serving you prawns and pralines,
They’re likely to whip up some weenies and beans.

Goo goo ga ga
Yummy yummy yum
Something gummy in your tummy-tum
Baby food’s the only food they can chew!
I’m afraid that it’s true.
Only one thing to do…
Guess i’ll have me one too!

This song has a rich history and has been performed onstage as much as anything I’ve written, I guess. It was first performed in a cabaret show produced by the American Music Theater Festival at the Palladium on the Penn campus in 1985. What’s significant about that date? Well, we were parents with an infant son, for one thing, so the song was written from first-hand experience. We had moved to Syracuse in August of 1985, shortly after Alex was born. I’d spent the previous couple years trying to ingratiate myself with the founders of AMTF, Eric Salzman and Marjorie Samoff, and had been given the opportunity to develop a cabaret theater that didn’t get off the ground during their inaugural 1984 season. However, when Syracuse offered me a position as Head of MT, I had to hand off the cabaret theater initiative to Joe Leonardo at Temple, who directed the Palladium production. (He had the good sense to cast a Philly singer named Mary Ellen Grant in that production, the beginning of what would turn out to be a thirty-year friendship with this remarkable artist and teacher.) I traveled back to Philly from Syracuse to attend the show – though I have to confess, the real high point of that trip was seeing The Gospel at Colonus on the Annenberg Center mainstage. You know – the one they made the DVD of? That one’s still on my top-five list of musical theater experiences.

Baby Talk and Re/Birth (the two songs I wrote for the Palladium cabaret) and Catch Me, Daddy (another song that emerged from my experiences as a first-time dad) were the songs that made me realize that family was a subject I could write about with humor, with honesty and with passion, and got me thinking about Watch The Birdie as a musical “family album.” The first form the show took was an all-song revue performed by D’Arcy and me with our dear friend Gary Pagano as a third singer and Harvey Price on the drumset; we performed that in Philly at a basement venue called The Actors Center at the Bourse in 1995, and got a review in the Philly Inquirer that praised my lyrics. Emboldened by this response, we took this show to Don’t Tell Mama in New York City, and I’ve written elsewhere about Sidney Myer and the catastrophic incident of the Volvo on the Turnpike.

When I discovered the Bishop’s collection of short radio plays, Family Snapshots, I saw the opportunity for a mash-up of their short scenes and my songs; that’s the version that we premiered at UArts in 1998. In that iteration, the introduction of Baby Talk song got a much needed face-lift, and that’s the lyric I’ve reproduced above. The 2008 version at Philly Music Theater Works incorporated additional songs, mostly out-takes from Gemini the Musical that I’ll identify when the time comes.

In short, this musical is very much like a family album for me. Each song vividly evokes for me the circumstances that led to its composition, a library of memories that is intensely personal. I hope these notes will enrich your experience of the songs.

If you missed them, these are the songs already posted on Project 194; the links on the right are songs chosen at random from previous posts. Want to contribute to my interactive composition, “Hear My Song?” Read more here. Want to receive daily songs delivered direct to your inbox? Sign up here!

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