Project 194, Day 8: Fix Me!

Today’s song was captured on reel-to-reel tape in a 1979 performance. The show: Better and Better, a “neurotic rock show” premiered by the Pittsburgh Park Players, a summer theater project produced and performed largely by students in the Carnegie-Mellon University Drama Department. The singers are a therapist and some patients who have gathered for a group session: Tamara Tunie, Rob Marshall, Julie Ostrow, Roberta Fox, Alex Beresniewicz and Molly McCloskey, with Troy Curvey II as the (non-singing) Shrink.

All across the nation,
There’s a chorus of dismay.
People looking at their situation,
Wondering how they got that way.
Looking for a new prescription
To mend their troubled spirit.
Listen, can you hear it!
They’re saying “Fix me! Fix me!”

Talking ‘bout the symptoms
Of our national disease.
No where else on earth
Can you find invalids like these.
You only need to look around
To see the signs of their distress.
They’re sending out an S-O-S.
They’re saying “Fix me! Fix me!”

Fix me, Doctor!
Heaven knows I’ve tried!
Fix me, Doctor!
Fix this pain inside!
I’d be glad to submit
To this self-help shit.
Something’s got to have a little benefit.
You think I’m doing this just for kicks?
I really need a fix,
So won’t you Fix Me?

Bad boy! Naughty me!
What a disappointment I turned out to be!
I’d like to be mature,
Be like my daddy is,
To be less insecure.
I’d like to, sure, but… gee whiz!
Grow up! Straighten out!
That’s the way my mommy
And my daddy always shout.
How can I be self-assured
When everybody tricks me?
I can’t wait until I’m cured.
Daddy, won’t you fix me?

I tried to re-enact my birth
In the bathroom just last week.
The folks downstairs got angry
When my bathtub sprang a leak.
They sent for a policeman
When they heard my primal scream.
You shoulda seen me steam.
Oh, can’t they fix me? Fix me?

I took up meditation,
Tried to chant my blues away.
But I forgot my mantra,
And I didn’t have the nerve to say.
I tried to get back to the earth,
But all I got was dirty.
My god, I’m almost thirty!
I wish they’d fix me! Fix me!

Fix me, Doctor!
Any way you can!
Fix me, Doctor!
I’m a desperate man!
I had a friend suggest
That I study “est,”
But I just didn’t “get it,”
As you might have guessed.
There must be something I’ve overlooked!
Boy, I’m really hooked!
I wish they’d Fix Me!

They say we’re only faking.
They say our illness is psychosomatic and chic.
They say we’re really acting,
So folks will feel sympathetic.
It’s just a mystique.
But whether or not it’s real,
We feel the pain.
It’s not that we’re vain, not merely.
We’re suffering most sincerely.

Yes, there’s more lyrics – this is a long sucka – but let’s get to the commentary!

In the summer of 1979, the Park Players presented free performances of three shows on a portable outdoor stage in Pittsburgh parks. The repertory included my show Better and Better and a children’s show called Noodle Soup (which I directed and composed a couple songs for), but the main feature was a production of Jones and Schmidt’s musical Celebration, choreographed by a CMU undergrad listed in the program as “Robert Marshall.” Robbie, as we called him, also played Orphan in Celebration and a nerdy character called Wing Tips in Noodle Soup; he can be heard on this track singing the “Bad boy!” section of “Fix Me.” Thirty five years later, Rob is the successful director of films like Chicago, Nine and, most recently, Into The Woods. Tamara Tunie, another member of that summer’s troupe, can be seen in a recurring role in Law and Order SVU these days and recently did a cabaret at 54 Below called “Legends from the ‘Burgh.” (I’m guessing her Park Players experience was not among her Pittsburgh legends.) You can hear her on the stanza “A pill to make me happy.” I’ve been able to maintain contact with a few of these amazing artists, and with luck, the internet will help me reconnect with others.

Shows like Company and A Chorus Line had an enormous influence on my idea of what a musical could be. In the seventies, there was a lot of talk about the “concept musical,” shows that were “about” a subject (e.g., marriage, dancers) but offered a minimal story line. Better and Better (which I revised and remounted in 1984) was “about” self-help, and my idea was that the stories and struggles of the characters would emerge over the course of a therapy group session. People showing up for a summer evening’s entertainment at, say, Point State Park were undoubtedly puzzled to be presented with my story-less melange of satirical songs, but hey, it was free, right? And we all had an amazing time making it!

I have to give a shout out to the band: Jon McCutcheon on drums, Jason Miller on reeds, Kevin Clark on percussion (how about that xylophone?), Joe Waterkotte on bass and Joe Kamm on keyboard. Having been a music director and instrumentalist on plenty of shows, I know they seldom get the recognition they deserve.

One more thing: the program reminds me that Better and Better was (and is) “dedicated to D’Arcy Webb,” with whom I had recently begun a terrific romance that has continued for 35 years. Being married to D’Arcy did a lot to “fix me,” and I daresay she’d make the same claim.

If you missed them, these are the songs already posted on Project 194. Want to receive daily songs delivered direct to your inbox? Sign up here!

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