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In tune with Marsha Malamet: From Peter Allen to Streisand and son
by Todd Sussman
2018-01-04

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She has written for some of the best musicians and singers of the past 30 years. From the pride parades to the top of the charts, this songwriter is hitting all the right notes. Windy City Times spoke with Marsha Malamet about her new work.

Windy City Times: Your composition, "Love Don't Need a Reason," became an iconic anthem in the fight against AIDS. It was played at many marches and parades for this cause and continues to be played today. You wrote it with Peter Allen and Michael Callen in 1985. Why do you think this song resonated?

Marsha Malamet: Because it wasn't preachy or political. It was an expression of love, devotion and passion. It was about personal feelings. The context surrounding the song was the epidemic, the scourge. People instantly identified with a song that spoke the emotional truth of friends and lovers that were sick and dying.

WCT: When you three were composing this, did Peter and Michael—who both eventually succumbed to the disease—discuss their own health and how it changed their lives?

MM: The song is more about the emotional state and reaction rather than somebody's diagnosis. While we were writing the song in Peter's Manhattan penthouse, Peter and Michael never spoke about their personal situation. Being close with Michael, I was privy to his journey. Peter and I had a professional relationship. We focused solely on the songwriting.

WCT: Many artists and choruses have performed "Love Don't Need a Reason" over the years, but fans may not realize that you, Peter and Michael composed this song as a potential theme for the planned movie version of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, when Barbra Streisand first expressed interest in turning the play into a film. The proof is in the first line: "If your heart always did, what a normal heart should do … ." Was there any wish discussed back then that Barbra would lend her voice to the song?

MM: Our goal was to write a great song to express what was unexpressed at that time. Of course, Michael was a huge Barbra fan. We know he was excited about the potential for Barbra to sing this. Any songwriter would be over the moon to have the great Babs record one of their songs, but that took a back seat to the writing process.

WCT: Barbra did end up recording a song you wrote a decade later, "Lessons to Be Learned" from her Higher Ground CD, which entered Billboard at No. 1 ( 1997 ). Tell me about that experience.

MM: This recording meant a great deal to me and my co-writers, Allan Rich and Dorothy Gazeley. I am a spiritual person, and her singing a song on an album addressing faith brought it to a new level. I hoped—but I also believed—Barbra would one day record a song I wrote, so when she did, one of my first thoughts was a sense of completion. To top it off, she nailed it. Of course she did!

WCT: Speaking of Barbra, you contributed four original songs to the new CD, Dangerous Man, by her son, Jason Gould ( produced by the legendary Quincy Jones, Stephan Oberhoff and Jason ). Four songs … written with and for Jason. It sounds like you clicked as collaborators.

MM: Jason and I clicked because our musical sensibility is pretty much the same. Then again, there's chance. A chance meeting put it all into motion. Now remember, I brought in two of my collaborators, Liz Vidal and Alan Roy Scott. It was written in the stars. The end result is on this record.

WCT: Both you and Jason are out artists. Do you think that also enhanced your collaboration?

MM: I believe so. There's an unspoken and subtle familiarity when people share a common truth.

WCT: There are not too many male vocalists, even today, expressing their feelings via song to another man, as Jason does on the title track, "Dangerous Man." When you were working with him on this, did he share his thoughts on the lyrics?

MM: What he wrote is his sharing. He wanted to express this specific relationship. The song is very direct. If anything, Jason is self-reflective and self-aware. He strives to be honest within himself. So why not sing something that is authentic to him, and I respect that.

WCT: Jason's album was No. 1 on the Amazon Pop Vocal digital chart. Do you see mainstream music as being more accepting and more embracing of same-sex themes?

MM: Yes. It's been a long time coming and it's here. The climate is such that there is still homophobia and bigotry all over. However, television and movies have more gay characters than ever before. Social media has changed the landscape, too, giving more artists the chance to express themselves without having to go through the filter of executives. The music world is finally catching up. Now artists that would not normally break into the mainstream have an open door to create honest material and reach the masses. It's an exciting time.

WCT: One of the cuts on the album, "Morning Prayer," originally appeared as a ballad on Jason's self-titled EP, released in 2012. But now it has been re-imagined in full rhythm and called, "Morning Prayer ( Tribal Version )." Tell me about this change.

MM: With the ballad, there is a sense of yearning and melancholy. The new tribal version is altogether different … more rhythmic. This change basically turned the song into something much more immediate and powerful. The added drumbeats and tribal vocals create an uplifting musical environment. Although the lyrics may be the same, the contrasting arrangements give listeners two totally different experiences.

WCT: This is a very prolific time for you. In addition to the new Jason Gould album, you are releasing a retrospective where you are both the singer and the songwriter. What can your fans expect with this release?

MM: They can expect three records, two of which are available now. The third will be out in the latter part of 2018. The first release, a 5-song EP called The Natural Thing to Do, includes material from the late '90s and early '00s. It's basically some of my strongest gay-themed work. The second album, Vintage, contains demos I sang that have an intimate, cabaret-like flavor. Fans can hear my version of "Love Don't Need a Reason" on this. The third release, titled Stay True, will contain some new material, including a very personal song about my mother. I wrote it during a rough patch. It was so cathartic. The process of writing it was like condensing five years of therapy into a four-minute song.

WCT: Your EP, The Natural Thing to Do, features a beautiful song called "Too Much Time Between Us." I noticed you are singing directly to a woman.

MM: A dear friend and collaborator, Lindy Robbins, wrote this with me. I started talking about this May-December relationship that had just ended, and Lindy's brilliant lyric captured what I was feeling. Because this song was my story, I had to sing the pronoun "she" or else I would have felt like a fraud. I know gay singers out there who still sing "he" even though they mean "she." I do not judge them at all. However, for me, I am at the point where I am comfortable enough in my skin to sing about my heart's desires.

Dangerous Man CD is available on Amazon.com at

www.amazon.com/dp/B07895QTBF/ref=cm_sw_r_em_api_c_WsTqAb7R9PN40 .

For more information on Marsha and to purchase her recordings, visit www.marshamalamet.com .


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