Turning it looseThe bumpy road to successful songwriting means making music that seems simple, accessible and brief.
Dean Pitchford, the brains
behind the music of "Footloose,"
returns for the St. Louis opening
By Tim Ryan
"But simple ain't easy," says 1968 St. Louis School graduate Dean Pitchford, the Oscar-winning song- and screenwriter who wrote the 1984 film "Footloose" and the lyrics for the title song of the motion picture "Fame."
Pitchford returns to Honolulu for today's opening of "Footloose" at St. Louis School's Mamiya Theatre. The premiere is dedicated to Pitchford's sister, Patricia Pitchford Colodner, a victim in the Sept. 11 World Trade Center tragedy.
Pitchford's forte is writing memorable and catchy music that listeners can relate to lyrically and emotionally. To get there is "excruciating," he said.
Writing the lyrics for "Fame" with partner Michael Gore took more than a month of 10-hour days.
"I can't tell you what embarrassing, terrible garbage we had to write to get to the final version," he said. "It was truly awful."
Pitchford filled dozens of tablets writing "Fame"; the most remembered lyric took 10 days.
"We'd had at least two dozen false starts and I had written countless lyrics," he said. "Then after a pizza dinner Michael played the melody and I just yelled out 'I'm gonna live forever' without even thinking about what I was saying."
His writing partner yelled "Oh God, write that down!"
"I used to think if I just let it go for a couple days that I'd wake up and it will be there in my mind," Pitchford said. "Guess what? Nothing.
"The whole idea of you going to sleep and the shoemaker's elves finishing it doesn't happen. You have to fill tablets with ideas and thoughts and rhymes, then maybe in a week you remember that on page 11 of the first tablet you can hook a lyric up with something on page 27 of the second tablet and then you just have the germ of something."
The duo wrote 13 songs for "Fame"; three made it into the film. It took Pitchford more than four years to convince a studio to make "Footloose," the story about a kid who reminds a minister that it's no sin to be young. The 1984 hit film starred Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow.
Pitchford wanted Kenny Loggins to sing the title song all along. "I kept thinking if the boy had a voice whose voice would it be and I always came up with Kenny," he said.
Pitchford and Loggins came up with 22 melodies, including "I'm free" and a bare bones version of "Footloose." Loggins went on tour to Japan and by the time he returned to Los Angeles, Pitchford had the lyrics.
"I went to Kenny's house on Mulholland Drive to finish the bridge and as soon as I walked in he said we first had to watch the final episode of 'M*A*S*H,' " Pitchford said.
By the time the show was over, Loggin's children were asleep so the two retreated to a laundry room to keep the noise down. The nine-song score -- featuring other popular composers such as Tom Snow, Sammy Hagar and Eric Carmen -- sold more than 16 million copies, spending 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart, and holds the record as the largest selling soundtrack in CBS (Sony) Records history.
Pitchford has sung and danced on Broadway, made TV appearances and commercials, and directed films. He's had songs on the last two Barbra Streisand albums, is writing a song for Johnny Mathis' next Christmas record, doing screenplays for Disney, including "Mulan 3" and "Footloose" for "the Wonderful World of Disney" on ABC, and just completed a song for "101 Dalmatians, Part 2."
Pitchford's interest in theater began as a pre-teen when his mom was a volunteer for Honolulu Community Theatre. "I knew I wanted to be up there," said Pitchford.
While attending St. Louis, he was cast in HCT's "Oliver." The experience made the 10th-grader's dream to perform on Broadway seem doable. "I said, 'This is crazy but one day I'm going to go to Broadway.' "
Five years later, at 21, he performed in "Pippin" on The Great White Way. And now "Footloose" has come home to his alma mater, dedicated to Pitchford's sister.
"She was on one of the floors where the first plane entered," he said. "We were best friends."
Pitchford will return to Honolulu in June with his brother-in-law and his brother-in-law's two children to show them "where mommy grew up."
"I'll be their guide," he said. "I know she'll be there with us."
"Footloose"Dedicated to producer and St. Louis School alumnus Dean Pitchford's sister Patricia Pitchford Colodner, a victim of Sept. 11
Where: Saint Louis School's Mamiya Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 p.m. March 21 to 23, and 2 p.m. March 24
Tickets: $100 for today's premiere; admission for other performances are $15 general and $10 for students
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