Friday, February 9, 2007

Birth of a Musical

Pigeonholes was incredible. It had only one problem. It took a day to set up and pull down. Not a lot of time for a show. But our plan was to rent a theater on dark nights (Mondays and Tuesdays) for a month or two, get some press, create a buzz then move to a bigger and better theater and perform on the big nights.

This meant setting up my piano, stool, surround-sound, mics and big screen on a stage that already had a set on it from the main show and using whatever lighting setup they had, too. Fitting in to this scenario proved impossible.

So we came up with an idea that would undercut the undercut. We would go even further to make a show easy and cheap to perform. It would have to be able to be set up the same day as the performance. I would have to be able to do it without a lighting and sound technician. Naomi and Stu would have to handle the crowd, mailing lists and merchandise sales. One of them would also have to do what little lighting cues there would be. It would all have to fit in my Honda Element. And I would have to create it fast! We need to get on stage soon after we set up in Florida because right after we sell the house, the profits from the sale is what we'll be living on.

Now all I needed was an idea. What to do a show about. Well, they always tell you to write about what you know. Mostly what I know is me. My philosophy, beliefs, sense of humor. I needed a string to tie the music together. I racked my brains for a few days and finally came up with the idea that the ups and down of being a composer could be interesting to an audience. Especially if you've been around for a while and had some credits. People might want to know what it's like. And that would also be a natural way to get music into the story.

And instead of writing all new songs for the show, I could make it a review. Take songs from my many CDs that fit the premise. This would make writing the show go much faster and also be a great way to introduce people to my various styles of writing.

Now all I needed was a title and enough ideas to put on a good, entertaining (and possibly enlightening) one and a half hours. The title struck me out of the blue. Thank You, Dan Rather.
Thank you for thirteen years of royalties. Thank you for screwing up and ruining my life. (That last sentence is a joke, for anyone who doesn't know me personally. I never blame anyone else for my circumstances. But as a title, it can evoke both meanings. Thus, making it more memorable.)

The title also might be newsworthy. Or at least create some mystery and stick in your mind. Stu and Naomi loved it. Now they just had to wait for me to write it.

The writing came easy. Memorizing a show where I opened my mouth and didn't stop singing or talking for an hour and a half was the hard part. At present, I'm still perfecting the monologues. I've almost got it down. Just need to get it so down cold that I don't have to think of the words, just perform them.

Well, as I write this, we're waiting for escrow to close so we can make the big move. The next post will be written from sunny Florida. I'm really looking forward to dangling my chad at the next election.

next post

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Goodbye To San Diego

I spent the first half of my life in Brooklyn, NY. At age 21 I got married to the best friend anyone could ask for. We lived our first few years of marriage in Brooklyn. Then we moved to San Diego to get a new start in life. Twenty five years later we have to sell the old homestead and move back east. Fort Lauderdale Florida. Another new start.

Why Fort Lauderdale? Well, for one, my parents are getting up in age and that's where they live. We've only seen them once a year since we moved out to San Diego. Secondly, my brother is in Miami. And lastly, my friend and partner, Stu Wiener, is also in Southern Florida. All my other siblings live in New Jersey and always come to Florida to visit my folks, so we'll get to see them too.

At this point I have no idea what the theater scene is in Fort Lauderdale. I know it's not a mecca for theater, but we have no choice. This will be our designated place to get the new show off the ground.

From the time we decided to sell the house and move, to the time we actually get on the plane, would be 6 months. I won't go into the details of getting the house sold except to say that it was a very long nightmare. And all the while we couldn't earn a living or get on with our lives. Money was going out fast and nothing would be coming in till we got relocated and put the show on and actually sold tickets.

We're going to miss San Diego. It's a beautiful place. But there was no work to keep us there. And all our family and friends were back east. We'll miss the hills and climate and how people always made fun of the way we tawked.

Goodbye left coast.


A Little History—Part 3

It's been 6 years since I decided to quit the jingle biz and do what I always wanted to do in the first place. Despite our best efforts we haven't been able to get Pigeonholes a home in a theater even though we got raves from everyone that saw the show or DVD.

While all this has been going on, Dan Rather's ratings have been slip-sliding away thanks to some faux pas that chipped away at his credibility as an anchorman. But on September 8, 2004 Dan made the final fatal blunder. Just weeks before the presidential election, Dan had the proof that George Dubya had a shady military past. The documents turned out to be forgeries.

This, and the fact that Dan took a while to own up to it, was the nail in the coffin. He announced that he was leaving CBS. Bob Schiefer was to be his temporary replacement while they looked for someone permanent.

Holy crap! Would they keep the music? If not, what would I do. I've already spent a lot of cash on getting Pigeonholes to where it is. If I lose the CBS airplay checks, could I get a replacement income fast enough? Was this a blessing in disguise? The fire under my ass to finally get my career going?

The day came when Schiefer took over as anchorman. I watched with baited breath. Ya Ha! They kept the theme music! I got a reprise from the Governor! But how long will it last? Will they keep the theme when they get the new permanent anchorperson?

The ratings for the CBS Evening News started to climb. I got chills. Would this mean they might keep Bob and the theme. After all, they have many years of recognizability in that theme. It wreaks "AUTHORITY".

Then it was made official. CBS found their new savior. Katie Kouric. She would take over starting September of 2006. So, I mustered all my nerves into one ball and made a call to the director of the news program to ask if they were changing the music. They were. I asked if I could be in on the gang-bang. (Gang-bang is the term used when lots of composers are all submitting demos for the same project.) Being that I had written and produced music in the past for CBS (Connie Chung's Eye To Eye, Bryant Gumbel's Public Eye and others) he said sure.

I wrote several themes and sent them off. A few weeks went by and I found out they gave the theme to some young upstart. Some guy who scored Titanic and a few dozen other hit movies.

The shock finally set in. We'll have to sell our house and live off the profits while trying to get my CDs and shows to actually make money. At age 59 we were going to be starting over.

At least we had the house to sell.

(A few days after we decided to sell the house, all the newspaper and TV reports started running stories that the housing market bubble has finally burst. Oh well. We needed a challenge.)


Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A Little History—Part 2

How does a mid 50s guy with not a whole lot of hair (don't tell my wife—she's short and hasn't noticed yet), get his music to the public? I could play for $50 a night in bars. Nah! I could go on tour doing concerts but who is going to show up if they never heard of me. And radio? Even big stars from the 70s can't get played. The big record companies are only interested in a quick buck from artists that will be a clone of the last big hit. So what could I do that would bypass all these problems?

Theater! Do a one man show. That would get me back into performing, introduce the public to my music and we could even sell CDs at the show! We would even get a mailing list. Pigeonholes was a brilliant idea. Except for one thing. I hadn't performed for twenty years. And most of the time I was performing I was behind a piano or guitar. I'm no Robin Williams or Whoopi Goldberg. How am I going to keep an audience interested for and hour and a half? It's got to be more than just me playing and singing my songs.

Then this little gem of an idea grew wings. I've always loved art. I've always wanted to get into film or video. What if I took all the things I love to do and put it all into one show. Live performance that interacts with a screen showing my animation and video. The creative possibilities were limitless.

Only one thing—I never did animation or video either. But I'd love to learn. And with the state of technology these days, one man can do almost anything with a computer and the right software. So I bought the latest Mac, got thousands of dollars worth of software and a hundred pounds of manuals and started to write the show and learn my stuff.

It took one year to write the show and record the CD. Then another two years to do the video and animation. Sometimes I'd spend a whole week doing a short piece of animation only to realize it would have been better to do it in a different program. So I'd start over.

During this time, I had no idea if I'd be able to set it all up on a stage. I'm not familiar with projection technology or lighting problems. (How do we keep me well lit without washing out the screen?) Fortunately for me I met a guy named Brad Gardner who knew everything from video and audio to managing a theater. He's even a handy man and Sushi chef. With Brad doing the sound, lights and everything else, I was able to concentrate on performing.

Stu and Naomi (my wife and business manager) and I worked at getting people in to see the show. We needed to get as many theater folk in as possible. We'd be funding two showcases. The first was three nights in San Diego. I won't go through what it took to pull this off, but it was a great success for our purposes. The show worked!

Then it was on to seven performances at the Stella Adler Theater in Hollywood. Stu got his friend, actor-writer, Dominic Oliver to contact all his theater friends. Stu got a hold of all his friends from theater and the music biz, and once again, it came off wonderfully. My head got about three inches wider from all the comments I heard. "Genius!" "Brilliant!" "How can one guy do all that?!" And this was from people in show business. People who don't hand out compliments frivolously. Big shots, too. Fame and fortune, here we come!

I have never seen a reaction to anything I've done like the reaction this show got. Not just a great reaction, but wildly enthusiastic raves! We were all very disappointed that we didn't get an immediate place to perform. We're still looking to get a co-producer or theater to put it up but in the meantime we needed to regroup and find out what to do next. Waiting was never an option.

Meanwhile, I was spending LOTS of money and except for the CBS Evening News checks, there was no other income on the horizon. And Dan's ratings were not good. If they got rid of Dan, would they keep the theme? Or would they want to change everything and start fresh.

Looked like my easy ride was starting to wobble a bit.

(Continued in Part 3)

(Luckily we've got a DVD of the Stella Adler performance. It's available at

A Little History—Part 1

Back in the 70s I was going to be a rock star. I had dozens of songs and over the course of the decade, I got three recording contracts with major labels.

The big-wigs at these labels saw me as the next Barry Manilow. And why not. I wrote ballads, I played piano. But Barry never wrote songs about the destruction of the rain forest, the plight of vets coming home from the war and lady's thighs. Somehow I never quite got the "hit record" thing down. They'd all start out right, but then I'd get bored and the songs would take a right turn right off the pop charts. (Although I did have a top 10 Billboard Dance Club charted record with RCA called, In The Jungle.)

Eventually I needed to start making actual money. So I got into the jingle biz. And the money came fast and (almost) easy. Twenty years went by in a flash.

In the mid 90s I decided I needed to get back to doing something for the love of it. So I began work on a musical. I put together an outline for a script and started writing songs that would fit the concept. Because I was doing this in my "spare" time, it took three years to finish the double CD. I released it on my newly formed record label, Wire Duck Records, and got to work on completing the script.

Being my first script I did many things wrong. The show was big. Too many people to be commercially viable (unless you've got an extra 12 million lying around). Also, the subject matter was controversial. The show is called Meat Street and basically exposes the dirty little secrets of the Mental Health Industry. Not an easy topic when you consider how many people these days are wearing their mental disorders as a badge and taking antidepressants like candy.
I did get to see Meat Street in concert at the Florida Fringe Festival and Florida Movie Festival. We also had a showcase in Orlando. Meat Street is now in it's 19th rewrite. The cast is smaller. The story is more concise. But I took the lessons I learned about writing and producing a musical and wrote another musical called, Jingle This!

Jingle This! has just 5 actors, a small band, one act and no controversy. It's just a fun little show. And guess what! Almost all of the theaters that read the script and heard the CD loved it! Of course they all had some reason or other for not being able to put it on right now, but I got some of the best rejection letters you ever saw.

Somewhere along about the mid 90s, the music production company I was a partner in (Patterson, Walz & Fox) got to do the theme music for the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. Even though I was just a co-writer/producer for the theme the checks were big. This was better than a hit record as far as airplay money was concerned. For as long as Dan's show kept the theme, I'd get quarterly fat checks. This money made it possible for me to start my record company and have a studio in the house that Dan built. Dan was truly supporting the arts. But I digress.

Anyone in the theater business knows how long it can take to get musicals produced. So my long-time friend and partner, Stuart Wiener, came up with the idea that I should write and perform a one-man show. This would be so cheap to produce that we'd have no problem finding a theater for it fast.

I loved the idea. In fact, I loved it so much I decided to take the BIG PLUNGE. Since I was still getting enough money from CBS to (almost) pay the bills, I decided to quit the jingle business and devote my full time to writing and performing the one-man show. At age 54 I would be starting over. And Dan's Texas smile was going to help make the transition.

The show was Pigeonholes.

(Continued on Part 2)

My research into the mental health industry also lead to my new book, News From Meat Street: Life On A Planet That's Lost Its Soul. You can see a free preview and rate and review it.

A New One-Man Show

"On September 8, 2004, just weeks before the presidential election, CBS News anchor, Dan Rather had the proof that George W. Bush had a dubious military past. The documents he used as proof turned out to be fakes. But instead of apologizing, Dan blamed the Republicans.
"I'm Neal Fox, co-writer/producer of the theme music for the CBS Evening News With Dan Rather. For 13 years every time you would hear (plays theme) — cha-ching! Money would go into my pocket. Good money. I came to expect that money. Thank you, Dan."

These are the opening words of my new one-man musical revue, Thank You, Dan Rather.
For 15 years I was a partner in the company, Patterson, Walz & Fox. We did music for hundreds of commercials as well as themes for NBC, CBS, Fox and others.

I co produced the music and wrote some of the "bumpers" for Dan's show but my partner Rick wrote most of the main theme. We all went down as co-writers. That's the way we worked it. No matter which of the partners did the actual writing, we all shared in the BMI (airplay royalties).

So for 13 glorious years I got big fat checks from BMI four times a year. What a gig! Till Dan started making some big anchorman no-nos.

For the most part, I always hated writing music for clients. From the age of 16 I wanted to be a rock star. Write and record my own music. Sell albums and do concerts. By an unfortunate stroke of fate I ended up in the jingle biz. Then the checks started rolling in — and that's how they got me!

Now I could buy the computers, synthesizers, guitars and software I craved. Now I had the tools to make all the music I ever wanted to make. Except now I was working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, writing for CLIENTS. A real trap. I've got all this stuff—but no time to use it for me.

So, now in my 50s, I quit the jingle biz and decided to change careers. Back to my original dreams. Dan, however, got himself... let's say, he "left" CBS. Now the stakes are raised. The big checks will stop very shortly. That will leave me with almost zero income. Everything depends on succeeding with my new career. Will it be a success, or will I be looking for a job as a Greeter at Wal-Mart?

Stick around. This blog will chronicle the adventure from the beginning: selling our house, moving to Florida, looking for a theater and all it takes to make the show a success.

Click on the link below to hear the opening song and get familiar with the show. Then read the posts in order. Hope to see you at the theater in a few months.


(Next Post)

(Click here to hear "Dan, You Da Man", the opening song from the show)