They’re Playing Our Song: A Memoir by Carole Bayer Sager (Simon & Schuster, $28.00, 352 pages)
“I loved my parents, but I didn’t want to be like them. I didn’t want to be afraid of life. The trouble was, it was all I knew.” Dani Shapiro (“Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life”)
“Music saved my life and gave me life. It was where I allowed myself to feel fully alive, where it was safe… As long as I stayed in that lane, I was protected from the frightening stories I would otherwise tell myself.” Carole Bayer Sager
Carole Bayer Sager’s memoir – which, in an ideal world would have been accompanied by a CD of her songs (performed by Sager and others) – is an entertaining but somewhat bewildering work. It’s interesting to read about how her songs, beginning with “A Groovy Kind of Love” were written, but there’s an odd dichotomy that pervades her life story. On the one hand, Sager portrays herself as a person unnaturally afraid of almost everything, from flying to performing. But then there’s the ultra confident Sager who writes songs with the likes of Marvin Hamlisch, Burt Bacharach, Carly Simon, Carole King, Bob Dylan and so many others. This is the Sager who hung out with Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Dylan, David Foster, Peter Allen, Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, Melissa Manchester, David Geffen, and so many others.
There’s no co-writer listed, no indication that this memoir is an “as told to…” work. Perhaps if a professional writer-editor had been directly involved, he or she would have pointed out the inherent contradiction in the telling. In addition, a writing assistant might have advised Sager to cut down the long, long list of famous people in her account; this book transforms name dropping into an art! In fact, it might have been easier for Sager to have listed the famous people she has not run across in her existence.
And there are other issues. One is that Sager repeatedly discusses her body image concerns with the reader. Although she is a small woman, Sager has viewed herself as battling weight issues since childhood. Mentioning this a few times would have been understandable. However, it arises time and time again. The repetitiveness tends to wear the reader down. And there’s the matter of her sexual encounters. She’s determined to tell the reader intimate details of her relationships with famous men. Not only is this unnecessary – but for the fact that titillating details may sell a few books, it’s boring.
Where They’re Playing Our Song succeeds is in establishing the case for Sager as an extremely talented and successful songwriter. The book was the impetus for this reviewer to listen to her songs as originally performed and/or covered by many talented recording artists. Before reading this memoir, I was unaware of the song she wrote for Frank Sinatra, “You and Me (We Wanted It All).” For someone less blessed and talented than Sager, writing a song recorded by the Chairman of the Board would have been in itself a life’s work, a definitive achievement.
Recommended, if hesitantly, for music fans and prospective songwriters who will take what they need and leave the rest.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
This book was released on October 18, 2016.