From We Can Be Kind to Listen To My Heart, Help Is On The Way, We Live on Borrowed Time, Trust The Wind, I'll Be Here With You and hundreds more, David Friedman has written songs of inspiration, love and hope that take on new emotional meaning in these challenging times. With 5 Broadway shows, his own Off Broadway Show , 8 Disney Films, 3 television series and recordings by such artists as Diana Ross, Barry Manilow and Nancy LaMott to his credit, David has, in recent years, come to realize that his true mission in life is to help heal and enlighten people in whatever ways he can.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’ve had many careers related to theater and writing. I started out as a Broadway conductor, conducting musicals like Grease, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Song and Dance on Broadway. I then went to Hollywood and conducted and vocal arranged movies such as Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. At the same time I was doing that, I was writing songs and developing musicals of my own, and also producing CD’s and writing for the extraordinary singer Nancy LaMott, and working with many others in the cabaret scene. At a certain point I shifted my focus exclusively to composing, writing songs for Disney Films, other film projects, TV series and artists like Diana Ross and Barry Manilow. I did a ten-year stint on the Today show, writing a song a month with Kathie Lee Gifford for the “Everyone Has a Story” segment. I then got involved with Unity, a New Thought Spiritual movement and began to write books on metaphysics, creating a method called Thought Exchange which I taught all over the country, while continuing my writing career and having an award-winning hit show Off Broadway called “Desperate Measures.” More recently, I’ve been taking my more well-known anthems and turning them into books like We Can Be Kind and, most recently, Help is on the Way.
How did this book come to be?
My song “Help is on the Way” was written as an anthem of hope in the age of AIDS. It was first recorded by Nancy LaMott, for whom it was written, and then became the themesong for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, being sung each year by a different Broadway star at the close of their annual fundraiser, “The Easter Bonnet Competition” which consistently raised millions of dollars for the cause. With the recent pandemic, the song once again became and anthem of hope, with videos and recordings abounding. I had had success turning my song “We Can Be Kind” into a book, with each chapter being a line of the song with stories and anecdotes on that subject, so I decided that I would bring the “Help is on the Way” message to the world in a similar fashion.
Help is on the Way reads as if it’s written to a close friend. Did you think about your audience while writing it? If so, who do you hope your readers might be?
When I wrote the song “Help is on the Way,” I thought of people around me who were having challenges, and asked myself, ‘What specifically might it be helpful, comforting and inspiring for each of them to hear?’ and I would address each line to a specific person with a specific problem. As far as audience, since we all have moments when we can use inspiration and when thoughts of possibility and hope can help, I think that there isn’t a person in the world who wouldn’t be comforted, encouraged and inspired by reading this book. Individuals, organizations, corporations, fundraisers, people in relationships, people struggling with money or personal relationships or life challenges. It’s addressed to all of them.
What about composing has informed the way you write?
As a composer, I learned that I don’t write the songs, they’re already there and I open up to them. I’ve brought that into my writing. I sit down, I “open the door to the infinite unconscious” and I let it come through me.
Community is clearly an important part of your everyday life. How, in this past, often isolating year, have you maintained or reached for a sense of community?
I have actually found that Zoom has been an extraordinary tool. I established classes on Zoom that have proven to be very intimate and valuable and have kept us all connected. And frankly, because of all the time we’ve had and because we haven’t been running around, my partner Shawn and I have spent a lot of time on regular weekly Zoom calls with friends, contacting people we don’t often get to be with, and really connecting in ways that we didn’t have time for when we were driving back and forth to New York, out and about every night, etc. So, in many ways, I felt more connected to people.
Help is on the Way was inspired by a song you wrote during the AIDS epidemic and which helped raise millions for humanitarian causes worldwide. As we gear up to fully reopen in the United States, what do you hope we remember, or learn, from this incredibly trying time?
I hope we remember that no matter what the challenge, no matter how hopeless or frightening it seems, there are ways to get through it. We got through this one, and we’ll get through other challenges. I also hope that the time people spent alone with themselves, being introspective, thinking, meditating, praying, “not knowing” will reverberate in terms of self-awareness, kindness and taking more time to be still and to connect.
You’ve composed music for many, many hit musicals. What do you love most about the theatre—and what did you miss most about it this past year?
What I love about theater is that it’s so collaborative and uses all my skills. It’s about working with people, it’s about communicating joy and hope, connecting to and identifying with challenges and sorry, it’s about music and people coming together, about everything good and exciting and meaningful about life. Frankly, for me personally, I was pushing so hard in my theater career that I needed the time off. At the beginning of the pandemic, as I describe in my book, I decided to take the “risk” of “letting go to life” and seeing what life gave me, rather than clinging to trying to push and control. And it’s something that has changed me as I contemplate what I want to do next. But regardless of what I do next, it will be exciting and comforting to have Broadway back where it belongs. There’s a special feeling about being in the theater district, and a truly special feeling about the community that puts on the shows.
It seems that one way to maintain a spirit of openness and hopefulness is to try to remember the serendipitous, everyday miracles. When writing Help is On the Way, did you have a journal to refer to or did all of these memories and stories suddenly come back to you during the writing process?
I have a memory like a steel trap when it comes to stories, jokes, funny or moving things that happen to me and to my friends. These stories are all sitting there waiting to be told and they pour out of me when needed. In writing Help is on the Way, what was useful is that each chapter title is a prompt. I would write out the line and then sit quietly and see what stories came to me from my history that pertained. Sometimes I would have to wait a few days or months for the right stories to come. Sometimes they came instantly.
What are you working on next?
In many ways, as has usually been the case in my career, I’m not sure. But while I wait for specific inspirations, I’m working on getting the Audio book of Help is on the Way out, I’m working on a web series that I really love called “Koga and Friends” about a little boy who does martial arts and helps his friends solve their day-to-day problems via mediation, kindness, and martial arts. We’ve done four episodes online and have gotten about 250,000 hits. I’ve reached out to several wonderful songwriter friends and am writing songs with them to get that muscle going. I’m doing several charitable projects and other things related to our all getting back on our feet. And I’m waiting to be surprised. As I wrote in my journal this morning: “One Phone Call, One Break, One Meeting, One Idea, One Thought can change EVERYTHING!”