“If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change”: this is the key point of “Man in the Mirror”.
While I was in Naples to get home, this song was playing on the radio, and it reminded me of the impact that “Man in the mirror” had on my life. It was great, and “Man in the mirror” was the focus of the paper that I handed to the oral examining board for my high school final exam.
The special guest of this interview of MentiSommerse.it is Siedah Garrett, songwriter and author of “Man in the Mirror”.
You played a role in the writing of “Man in the Mirror” and, recently, you recorded this song with BoA for the 30th anniversary. “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change!”. A song with a really up-to-date message, don’t you think?
Yes, it was an honor for me to record the song as a duet with BoA, widely recognized as the Queen of Kpop. 30 years of “Man In The Mirror”, it’s been an incredible story.
I’ve recently been traveling around the country to speak to students at schools and colleges about taking responsibility for their lives, actions and surroundings, you know, the principles of the lyrics in the song. While at an elementary school, the very young students sang the song to me, and knew all the words, mind you. That song is 30 years old! The kids were just eight and nine! It was insane. You may not know this but, “Man In The Mirror”, is played somewhere in the world, once every eight seconds! Who wouldn’t be proud to be associated with a song that has such longevity, that has cross-generational appeal and has such a universal message. The song has meant so much to millions of music lovers around the world. As a lowly songwriter, it is my gift to the world.
You were on tour with Michael Jackson for “Dangerous World Tour”. Do you have a specific memory that you want to tell us about that tour?
Chil’, touring with Micharl Jackson at the height of his career, was like touring with the baby Jesus! Everywhere we went, there’d be hundreds of people waving and chanting outside of his hotel. “WE ARE THE WORLD! WE ARE THE CHILDREN!”. On the “Dangerous World Tour”, there were three tiers of hotels. ‘A’ hotels housed Michael and his immediate crew, hair make-up, wardrobe, friends, and his personal guests. ‘B’ hotels accommodated the band and the singers. And ‘C’ hotels, typically were for the dancers, and crew members. In some places in Europe, there was no ‘B’ hotel. In which case, we had to be with Michael at his hotel, and we knew we weren’t gonna sleep well on those nights, due to the crying, yelling, chanting and singing. Like a séance going on, all night. They’d chant his name, “Mi…chael…Mi…chael”. They’d sing him his songs. He loved it. And then when the hoopla would calm down, he would peep through the curtain, wave a glitter gloved hand, and it would start all over again. It was CA-RAZY!
On the “Dangerous Tour”, we were at a soccer stadium in Germany and the band was on stage playing, “Man In The Mirror”, and I wanted to hear how it sounded in the actual arena. So, I went into the middle of this soccer field, somewhere in the middle of Germany, just listening, right? Suddenly I see this woman heading towards me. She was one of the producers assistants. She made her way over to me and said, “Excuse me Siedah, do you know Bill W.?” I said, “Bill who?!” She went on to tell me that Bill W., was the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). When I asked her why she asked me that question, she answered by saying, “Someone somebody told me that you wrote, that song. I said yeah, but I didn’t get the correlation. She went on to say that one of the tenants of AA, is that if you want your life to change, you have to start with yourself. She went on to say, “I have to tell you something. There was a point in my life when I was really unhappy, and I wanted to hurt myself. I thought about it for a while and then this record came on the radio. I went out to buy the record and played it. I listened to the words of that song over and over and over again, until I didn’t want to hurt myself, anymore”. She started crying as she told me the story, and of course, I started crying, and there we both were, standing in the middle of a field, in the middle of the afternoon, somewhere in the middle of Germany, balling our eyes out! It was in that moment, that I realized the absolute power of music. Music can save lives!! That’s real. That made a powerful impact on me, and that’s why I will never write anything that I’m not proud of.
That tour was a true education. I learned so much from listening to him, and watching him perform every night. He was absolutely astounding to watch onstage. He was an absolute perfectionist. We played stadiums, and he seemed to make a personal connection with every single fan.
Do you remember your first meeting with Michael Jackson? How was your first experience with him?
It was so strange because, after Quincy Jones played “Man In The Mirror” for Michael, he called me from the studio, and said “We’re in the studio recording your old piece of song”. It sounded like he was saying that Michael thinks the chorus is too short and would like you to add a little tag on the end… but Quincy was constantly being interrupted by a soft voice in the background. Finally, Quincy Jones says wait a minute. And then Quincy Jones puts MJ on the phone!! I didn’t want to seem too excited, so I went straight hotel operator. In my professional voice I said, “How can I help you?”. The first thing Michael says to me was “I love this song”. The second thing he says to me was, “and I love your voice!”. A few days later I got a call from Quincy to come to the studio to hang out. In the studio were Quincy Jones, Bruce Sweden (an amazing engineer), and Michael Jackson. Quincy says “Michael says the song is in a key that’s too high. Can you sing it in a lower key?” I’m like, “Yeah”. I’m going into the studio and Michael starts following me with this big ass video camera, right? And I’m walking in the booth like…What are you doing? He says, “I want to video tape you singing your song. I said, “Why?”. He said, “because I want to sing it like you”. I said, “Great Mike…All of my friends are going to believe me when I tell them – He wants to sing it like me, right?”. So I sing the song and Michael and I are hanging out and a couple of days go by because we did a lot of background parts. The whole song is just Michael and I from beginning to end and then the choir is added on to us. On a following day, Quincy and Michael asked me to record the female lead vocal on a duet, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, and that became the very first single from the Bad album. A few years later, I co-wrote the song “Keep The Faith” with Glen Ballard and MJ for his Dangerous album, and then he invited me to tour with him on his Dangerous World Tour for 18 months!
In 2008, you won a Grammy Award as a songwriter for “Love You I Do”, from Dreamgirls. Is there something special that bind you to Cinema and that you want to tell us?
Oh, yes, I’ve always been attracted to writing music for film and television. My assignment for that song, “Love You I Do”, was to write a song for the scene between Jennifer Hudson and Jamie Foxx, where Jennifer’s character could not bring herself to say directly how in love she was with Jamie’s character. The song had to serve as a third actor in the scene. In addition to the Grammy Award, that song also garnered me my first Academy Award nomination, and led to other songwriting opportunities in film. I also had the pleasure of collaborating with the legendary musician/composer Sergio Mendes on the animated film RIO, and one of those songs resulted in my second Oscar nomination.
And what about the social relevance of Motown?
Motown Records was “everything” to me during my youth, and was such an important part of exposing the original music of African Americans to the rest of America, and the world. The label played a crucial role in expanding the opportunities for our community’s musicians, producers, arrangers and artists, and in breaking down the walls of segregation and marginalization. This really cannot be overstated, or overlooked. On a more personal level, my very first top 5 single “Don’t Look Any Further” was a duet with ex-Temptations member Dennis Edwards, and was released on Motown Records.
Siedah, what’s your future?
I am transitioning from writing songs for artists, to writing lyrics for musical theater. My first project is the musical “My Silent Night”, which has been commissioned by the City of Salzburg, Austria, where the popular Christmas carol was composed, and which is celebrating it’s 200th anniversary this year. I am part of a creative team which includes Academy Award nominated composer John Debney, and the musical is scheduled to debut this coming November at the Felsenreitschule Theatre in Salzburg, which was featured in the classic film “The Sound of Music”. Also, I’ve recently started writing for the forthcoming musical adaptation of the iconic film “The Pursuit of Happyness”, which starred actor Will Smith. My collaborators include Grammy Award winning music composer/producer Harvey Mason, Jr.
Other than that, I am very passionate about knitting, crocheting, and other crafts. In fact, I’ll be launching my own podcast series, called “The Uppity Knitter”, which will feature celebrity guests sharing stories about their unusual hobbies, and little known accounts of their lives behind-the-scenes and on tour. Stay tuned…
Special thanks to Siedah Garrett and Erik Nuri for the availability.