Text and photos by Armando Gallo.
Golden Globe winner Amanda McBroom is the writer of “The Rose”, one of the most beautiful original songs written for a movie. The movie of the same title discovered Bette Middler as a great dramatic actress, but it’s the song with its classic lyrics about love and the struggle to find it and define it that wins over audiences still today. The line “When the night has been too lonely and the road has been to long/ And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong” doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house.
I met Amanda, a very vibrant and creative lady in Culver City on gorgeous summer morning. The actress, singer, songriter has recently been busy promoting her latest Nashville CD, “Voices”, and she drove to town from Ojai, where she lives with her husband of 40 years, Broadway baritone George Ball.
Amanda was born in Burbank, Aug 9 1947, the daughter of film star of the 40s David Bruce and a drama teacher. She was destined to follow in the family footsteps and she began acting at the age of 3. Writing songs was always a hobby as she worked as an actress in films and many TV show until her late ‘20s. The Rose was a miracle waiting to happen.
The Rose is now a classic, but it’s a song that has no bridge and no hook, how did you write it?
I was driving down the Ventura Freeway, I was driving home to Woodland Hills, and this wonderful song came on the radio. Do you remember a song that Leo Sayer sang called “Magdalena”? A great songwriter named Danny O’Keefe wrote it. And the line that said, your love is like a razor, my heart is just a scar, which I thought was just the sexiest lyric I’d ever heard in my life. And as I was just driving I said, that’s really cool, but I don’t think love is like a razor. What do I think love is? And literally, some hands came down and pulled open the top of my head and these words just started pouring into my brain. I don’t know where…
As you were driving?!
As I was driving. It never happened to me before. It has happened to me twice since then but it had never happened to me before. And I was just reciting it to myself over and over again because I didn’t have a tape recorder…So I just drove home as fast as I could and I ran into the house past my husband who was watching football in the other room. I said, I can’t talk to you right now. And I went and I picked up my pencil and 15 minutes later it was there. And I called my husband in because I always played for him whatever little thing I had written. And I played it for him and he looked at me, and he said, you just wrote a standard. And I said, don’t be silly; nobody’s ever going to hear this. Maybe if we get drunk at a Christmas party or something. And he said, mark my words; something is going to happen to this song. And then quietly, like a couple of years later, yeah, something happened.
You got nominated for a Golden Globe and you won?
I got nominated and I won! … I have to backspace a little bit before then because I wasn’t a songwriter per se. I was and am an actress and I had been writing little songs as a hobby for a while. And “The Rose” just was one that sort of appeared at a certain point. And I have a dear friend, a girl named Michelle Brourman who is now my pianist. And she said, there’s this movie coming out called “The Rose” and they’re looking for outsourced material. She was a professional songwriter. She said, do you want me to submit your song? And I said yes. I didn’t know about submitting songs. I had this little el cheese-o cassette here. I said here, take the cassette, and I didn’t expect anything more to come of it. And when they decided it was going to be in the film I was absolutely astounded.
I remember that at the time, Paul Rothchild, who worked with the Doors and Janis Joplin was the music supervisor for the movie and he had 3000 songs to choose from?
Yes. There was so much great outsourced material. But they weren’t so sure they wanted to use my song, because they considered it a hymn and everything in the movie was rock and roll. But Paul Rothchild, bless his heart, just said, listen to this one again. And they listened to it and they decided that…it was between that one and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” as to what song they were going to use. I remember when I finally got to see the screening of it, I’m sitting there and I’m all excited, my god, the song I wrote is going to be in a movie. And the movie goes on and my song is nowhere. And I go, haaaa, the song has been cut. Oh, what am I going to do? The movie’s over, she’s dead, the credits are rolling, my song’s been cut. And everybody’s getting up and rustling their popcorn and then the piano starts, the little ding, ding, ding. And I thought, wait, what? And everybody stopped, sat down, listened to the song and started to cry. And the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I said, something just happened here and I don’t know what this is?
And here comes the Golden Globe nomination?
And then when it got nominated for the Golden Globes, I had no idea what the music industry was all about. I didn’t know from writing for anything. So it was like I was thrown head first into the biggest swimming pool in the world. And when I was nominated for the Golden Globe I was beside myself. And then they said, and you’re going to sing it at the ceremony.
What do you remember of the Golden Globe in January 1980?
I remember the Golden Globes being probably the most astounding evening of my life. My husband, we were newly married at that time, said, we’re going to get a limo. We took a limo when we went to the Golden Globe. I bought a gown at Trashy Lingerie. And Suzanne Somers, who was supposed to present my award was wearing exactly the same dress and filling it out really better than I did. (Laughs) I remember that the two of us were beside ourselves laughing. And I remember very clearly I was also hyperventilating, because “The Rose” is a really hard song to sing when you’re nervous because it’s really slow and the notes go on for a long time and they’re really quite…when your heart is pounding into your vocal chords. But Debbie Reynolds walked up to me and grabbed my hands and she said, are you scared? And I said, yes. And she said, ok, this is what you’re going to do. She gave me like Lamaze breathing exercises just standing in the wings. And she calmed me right down. And I walked right out and I looked in the audience, and there’s a table with Bette Midler and there’s a table with Paul Newman and there’s the table with Kirk Douglas. There wasn’t anybody who wasn’t a legend in my heart, surrounding me on all sides. And I thought I was going to die. It was just…and they listened, which was astounding…because I was sure that everybody was just going to drink their wine and have their martinis and eat their supper and pay no attention, but everybody listened to the song. And that was an amazing experience for me.
The way this song came to you was it like a miracle?
If there’s such a thing as a miracle this was a huge miracle in my life. Not only did it change my life forever, and it scared me to death because all of a sudden people kept looking at me as a songwriter. And I kept saying, I’m not a songwriter, I’m an actress. I’m an actress, give me a play. Finally my husband said, what’s paying the mortgage right now? And don’t you think you should take responsibility for this gift that you obviously have? And when he said that I was, ehhhh? I guess I better take responsibility for this.
Were you afraid that you could be a one hit wonder?
Of course, of course. And from “The Rose” came my recording career, because Lincoln Mayorga, who’d been the keyboardist for Bette’s recording of “The Rose”, I sang backup, I sang the high soprano on the recording and he said, I want to record you. And I said, oh yeah right, sure. Because it had been a dream of my life to have a record. And he had this major audiophile label called Sheffield Lab. And they recorded on the soundstage at MGM. And he said, I’m going to record you on my next album. And it was audiophile, direct to disk, you cut the entire side without stopping, as many times as it takes to get it. So I think we cut the entire side with me standing in the middle of the orchestra, the orchestra surrounding me completely. And then we cut it like, seven times. And then they said, we got the take. They grab it off the turntable, , wrap it very carefully, race like hell to Santa Monica, have it silvered so it was preserved and then stamp it. And they could only do 100,000 copies and then they had to go to the second take because it would be worn out, the master would be worn out. But the audiophile was unbelievable, the quality was astounding.
You have been involved with a classic show for years, “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris”. You still doing it?
I got involved with that show when I met my husband. He was playing the lead at the Marine’s Memorial Theater in San Francisco and wound up doing the show too in national tours and European tours. I’ve been performing “Brel” for about 40 years now everywhere I can.
Did Jacques Brel influence your writing?
Oh yeah. When I finally heard his music and realized…both in writing and in performing, his withering honesty and his telling. As you notice there’s no hook, there’s no bridge, all there is, is powerful emotion and fury and sexuality. His songs are monologues. My songs for the most part are monologues, dramatic monologues. And as my husband always said to me, stand still and tell the truth. And that’s what “Brel” did, just stood still and told the truth. And he was really influential on the way I write.
You have a brand new CD called “Voices”, recorded in Nashville financed by a kickstarter campaign. How did it happen?
I didn’t have the money to do it myself. Because I’m my own label. I’m not rock and roll. I’ve been an independent label since the very beginning. I was one of the early women to form an independent label, back in 1980, right when “The Rose” happened. I financed all of it myself. At the time we has record companies and record stores. These days it’s different, and my beloved producer Fred said just do a crowd funding. And it was the most astounding affirmation, if for no other reason I’m very grateful that I did that. And then we went to Nashville and Fred said; You haven’t recorded “The Rose” in 20 years, you have to record it again as a duet. Do you want to do it with Bette? With Taylor Swift? Who do you want to do it with? And Vince Hil’s name just leapt right into my head because I think he’s one of god’s great voices. And Fred says, he’s my friend, I’ll ask him, all he can say is no. And Vince being one of the nicest men in the world said, sure. And the thing I love about it is you get both the masculine and the feminine sound, which gives it much more of a universal appeal. And when he opens up his mouth, and in my key, up in the stratosphere, it’s just so beautiful.
What’s your next project?
I’m on vacation, the pantyhose are in the drawer until September. Then I’ve got a series of concerts to do. I’m going to London, I’m going to Utah. I’m going to do some with a fabulous jazz singer. Do you know Anne Hampton Calloway? She’s awesome. And we’re really good old friends, we’ve written several things together and we’re doing a series of concerts and will be in the area, down in Orange County at Sagerstrom in Costa Mesa , October 5, 6, 7. And then who knows? Every time I say, I’m burning the pantyhose, the high heels are going in the trash, I’m going to stay in the garden for the rest of my life…the universe always says, are you sure?