On a warm summer day, ABILITY’s Geri Jewell and David Zimmerman arrived at songwriter Marsha Malamet’s quaint bungalow, which boasts a view of the world-famous Hollywood sign. The host and her tail-wagging pups, MacDougal and Mikey, greeted them. As they settled in, Zimmerman pulled out his notes for the interview as if he’d been studying up!
Marsha Malamet: You have notes!
David Zimmerman: We’ve got notes!
Geri Jewell: (to Marsha) How did you and David meet? I never asked.
Malamet: I watched a video that he was in with Roslyn Kind. This fellow on this web show, Tony Sweet, interviewed you and Rozzie, and you spoke of your project.
Zimmerman: My Next Breath.
Malamet: Right. After that I looked you up online. I remembered Stanzi [Stokes] had pictures of you on her Facebook page. So I said, “Well, he can’t be all bad if he’s friends with her.” I knew I wanted to get involved with that project in some way and connect with you. And then I saw Geri, and said, “Oh, my God, Geri Jewell, are you kidding me? I’ve got to connect!” I told David: I’m newly disabled, and I have to be a part of your project.
Jewell: Oh, wow!
Zimmerman: I went, “Oh, my God, she’s messaging me!” Because I knew your work.
Malamet: I forget that sometimes people know me. And of course I knew of Geri’s work. Who doesn’t know Geri Jewell? I was so excited that she reached out to me via Facebook. So here it is, the triad.
Zimmerman: You said you reached out, in part, because you were newly disabled…
Malamet: I was diagnosed in January 2015 with early stage Parkinson’s, and then a year later Lyme disease, with co-infections. The doctors said my Parkinson’s symptoms are due to the Lyme disease, and that Lyme disease mimics neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, MS, Alzheimer’s, and even ALS.
So I didn’t know what to pursue as a treatment, Parkinson’s, Lyme… In the last two and a half years I’ve been going back and forth. The Parkinson’s symptoms are much worse, as you can see. I have good days and bad days. The good days I can get up from a chair, if I concentrate. But on bad days I can’t, and [my caregiver] takes care of me. If I was 50-percent disabled before, now I’m, like, 75-percent disabled, because I need a 24-hour caregiver. But I’ve got my eye on the prize. I’ve found a great doctor, and I know I can reverse the symptoms.
Zimmerman: Yes, you will. The power of the mind is so amazing.
Malamet: The power of the mind is key.
Malamet: Managing stress and maintaining a peaceful mind is also important. Stress is a killer; it makes all your symptoms worse.
Zimmerman: Being so connected to music as a songwriter seems like it would be healing for you.
Malamet: Yeah, for sure. I’ve been blessed to have many of my songs recorded in a spiritual context. I feel very lucky and grateful. And one of my faves being my Streisand cut.
Zimmerman: Yes! “Lessons To Be Learned!”
Malamet: “Lessons To Be Learned,” which I co-wrote with Allan Rich and Dorothy Gazeley. This is a cute little story: In 1995 I wrote a song called “I Am Blessed.” It was recorded by an English group called Eternal. They were popular like the Supremes in the 60’s. But I didn’t know what had had happened with the song. Remember, this is 20 years ago, and the Internet was in its infancy.
One day I called an English company about a business matter. I said, “Hello, Ma’am, I’m calling from Los Angeles, could I please be connected to So-and-so?” She gave me the worst time, put me on hold, and then came back and said, “Who are you?” I said, “Ma’am, my name is Marsha Malamet. I’m with Famous Music. Could I get some assistance?” Then she put me on hold again.
Zimmerman: Not again!
Malamet: And then the light bulb went on, because I knew my song was making waves in England. So when she comes back on, I say: “I have a top 10 song in your country right now.” And she said, “Oh, what is it?” I said, “ ‘I Am Blessed’ by Eternal.” And then she said, “Oh, my goodness! It’s all over the papers!” I said, “What?” She said, “The Pope requested them to sing that for a private audience with him, and then in a concert for Christmas at the Vatican.” I said, “Well, if it’s all over the papers, could you fax the articles to me? So she faxed me from, like, 10 papers. And there it was…the group Eternal in the company of Pope John Paul II. How many songwriters get to experience that?
If they only knew that two queers wrote it, the Vatican would be turning in their robes right now! (laughter) Two gay people wrote the song that the Pope requested personally. If that isn’t spiritual in a way—
Zimmerman: Oh, my goodness, yes!
Jewell: All your songs come from the heart.
Malamet: Thank you. Remember, now, I don’t write many lyrics. It’s my music. It’s my chords. Some songs I write the melodies. Other songs I’m just writing the chords and the arrangements. But the vibe is there. And my collaborators are all sensational. They write great lyrics. It’s my path, what I pre-birth decided, would be my path.
Jewell: How old were you when you realized that you had a special talent for music?
Malamet: I used to visit my paternal grandma every Sunday. She had a piano, and I’d make a beeline for it, and I’d sit there, fiddling around and coming up with little melodies. I must have been all of 7 or 8. My parents never noticed it. They just went into another part of the house, while I’d sit at the piano, improvising.
Fade out, fade in and I’m like, 10, 11. My father has an accident in a taxicab in Brooklyn. There’s an out-of-court settlement, so he has extra money. His brothers, who were in the house hearing me tinkling the ivories, called him and said, “Lou, with this money you must buy Marsha a piano. She has some sort of talent. You must.”
Jewell: Oh my goodness!
Malamet: They intervened because my father was a gambler, and they were afraid that he’d lose the money at the track. So he actually bought me a piano. After I got it, I was in the house 24/7, playing it.
Jewell: Did you have lessons or were you self-taught?
Malamet: I was self-taught to a degree, but I had a piano teacher, too. Her name was Mrs. Lefkowitz. She looked like a fat Julia Childs.
Zimmerman: (laughs) I love it!
Malamet: She was like, “Oh, Marshaaaa! !” And she walked at an angle. She had these bosoms, and they tipped her, it was so funny. Every time she’d walk in a room, I thought she’d fall. She used to come once a week. But I never practiced, because I was so advanced I didn’t need to. She just sat down and I did whatever she wanted or I made up things.
So anyway, one day she spoke to my mother, and when she left that day, my mother said, “Marsha, why don’t you practice?” I said, “Mom, I don’t need to. I got this.” And she was just following what Mrs. Lefkowitz said, trying to get me to practice. I said, “Ma, this is first grade. I’m in graduate school already. Stop it,” and that convinced her. But the main moment that really changed my life forever, as far as being a songwriter is concerned, came when I watched The Garry Moore Show. It was 1962, and I was 15.
Malamet: There was a strange, intriguing, brilliant woman named Barbra Streisand, who sang a song, and I became obsessed. I wanted to know everything about her. She inspired me so much, and that’s when I started writing and singing melodies.
Zimmerman: What was it about her that inspired you?
Malamet: Emotion. Pure, unadulterated emotion. I never heard a voice emote lyrics so perfectly. It was amazing. And her look, her sound, those fingernails, it was the most intriguing, unique thing. She hit a chord in me, literally and figuratively.
Jewell: Did you try to contact her immediately?
Malamet: Not at first. For four years, I bought those movie magazines. She may have had a little article. I think she was doing Funny Girl or I Can Get It For You Wholesale. If she was on TV, I had to block everything else out… And in 1966, I was writing songs and I wanted her to sing one, that was a given. At the end of that year, in December, she gave birth to a son. I had this idea to write a lullaby for her to sing, so my lyricist at the time and I wrote this lullaby.
Zimmerman: “For Jason.”
Malamet: “For Jason.” I recorded it in Brooklyn. It was on a 45 record. I tried getting it to her. Nothing happened. So I just put it aside and that was it. And I told this in an interview for All About Barbra magazine: Forty-five years later, I’m sitting in Jason’s kitchen, drinking tea, working with him, and I brought the lyric, the original lyric of this lullaby.
Jewell: Oh, wow!
Malamet: And I sang it to him acapella. And it was one of the most incredibly moving moments of my life. How do you write a song in 1966 and then in 2011 have the chance to sing it in person to the one who inspired it in the first place? He was moved; it was a magical moment.
Zimmerman: And you were writing songs for him at the time?
Malamet: Yes, he asked me to work with him when we met at a Marianne Williamson lecture. You see, spirituality follows me and follows everything that I do. And I was there, and I was not having a good day, until Jason passed me. In 1995, his mother recorded my song.
Jewell: The lullaby?
Zimmerman: “Lessons To Be Learned.”
Malamet: “Lessons To Be Learned.” So this is like 16 years later, and he’s walking towards me, and as he passed, I said: “Hi, I’m Marsha Malamet. Your mother recorded my song, “Lessons To Be Learned.” He said, “I know you.” Then he told me that he needed a coach. He wanted to write songs, and asked me to help him. And I’m thinking, I’m talking to Barbra Streisand’s son.
I gave him my number. He said, “I’ll call you at noon.” Wouldn’t you know, at noon the phone rings? It’s Jason Gould. And for those couple of years, we worked together, and I’m very proud of our work. I introduced him to my collaborators, I found him a vocal coach, and a producer, Stephan Overhoff, who I worked with exclusively. Recently, Quincy Jones came on board and now the record is ready.
Zimmerman: The new one?
Malamet: Yes. Hopefully, it will find a home and be released this year.
Zimmerman: Now, the first song that you wrote for Jason was called “Morning Prayer.” How did that come about?
Malamet: My fabulous lyricist Liz Vidal, Jason, and I were in my house writing, and we clicked. He had written a part on the piano that he already liked, and I liked it too, so we used it. And we were off to the races. But this is another amazing thing: That I was such a fan of his mother’s, who would have thought that years later, I would record with him, and it’s the first cut on the EP! The first thing you hear is my piano. It’s like Pinch me! And he’s actually quite a beautiful singer himself, a great guy, and so gifted.
Zimmerman: Such a beautiful voice.
Malamet: It is! It was great working with him.
Zimmerman: Do you see a connection between your life and the music that you make?
Malamet: The intensity and the passion, the force and the love that I put into my music has helped me in my illness, I can’t even explain it.
Jewell: I do know that music is the only thing that requires both the left and right brain to work together. There’s nothing else that can do it.
Malamet: That’s a good point, Geri.
Jewell: It’s a high spiritual vibration—if it’s good music.
Malamet: Music is part of my soul, and this illness has made me more compassionate. My heart is open. I cry at the drop of a hat for other people’s suffering, so this illness was the perfect solution to my self-centeredness. Okay woo-woo moment: I choose this to evolve through reincarnation. We all do.
Jewell: I was just going to ask you that.
Malamet: I believe we come back time and time again, and have hundreds of past lives.
Jewell: Do you believe that we connect with the same people we connected with before?
Malamet: Absolutely. We come in, and we have groups. We travel in groups. We’re always changing roles. Let’s say if Nancy is my caregiver now, and I’m the patient, maybe in another life I was the caregiver and Nancy was the patient, so we experience the other’s perspective, and work out some issues we continually have, lifetime after lifetime, until we finally resolve it and it ends.
Zimmerman: I feel like that’s why when we met, we connected. That’s why when you and Geri connected; we all felt a bond.
Jewell: It’s amazing.
Malamet: Yes! All right, you have to indulge me here.
Zimmerman: Indulge, indulge! (laughs)
Malamet: So, we have lifetime after lifetime to perfect and evolve, but what happens between the times of each incarnation? We plan, we choose certain things to experience, and people are at the top of the list. Who knows? Maybe we all chose this time, this place, to share, to experience one another. And now it gets fun. Maybe we wrote this in our life script to have this interview now, for this particular magazine, so we would help and inspire people.
There’s a guy named Robert Schwartz who wrote a book called Courageous Souls. I would suggest you read it. It’s about the notion that we plan our life challenges before birth. We have to be courageous to even choose to come back to this earth because it’s not very pleasant, especially now. We all are warriors in some sense, and I believe we are all looking to heal, whether we know it or not.
Jewell: We’re spiritual warriors.
Malamet: Right. If we do decide to come in, we have consults with our spirit guides and our angels and we write up an overview, like a PowerPoint of our life. Of course, there’s free will and there’s things that happen, but basically we created our lives.
Zimmerman: And then jumped in?
Malamet: We jumped in. “Aaaaah! Waaaah!”
Jewell: “Why did I agree to this?”
Malamet: Right! Exactly!
Zimmerman: I always say that when I popped my head out of the womb, I said, “Push me back in!”
Malamet: Well, hey, my mother was in labor 48 hours. Did she want to have a baby? I mean, I’m sure she did, but there was some fear involved. Anyway, so this is what we do. We create our lives on some level. So of course we connected, because I wrote you into my script to be at this time and place, and that we were going to all be friendly. There’s an unconscious acknowledgment of the familiarity of it.
Zimmerman: And what’s making me tear up right now: We all have helped each other in the short time that the three of us have known one another.
Malamet: We’re basically on the same page. I want to help you, you want to help me. I want to be creative with you, you guys want to be creative with me.
Jewell: I have to tell you, that story you told early about The Garry Moore Show is really interesting, because my idol wasn’t Barbra Streisand—sorry, Barbra!—it was Carol Burnett! Mom used to say, “I don’t know why you are obsessed with Carol Burnett! The only thing I can think of is that when I was pregnant with you, I watched The Garry Moore Show all the time; you must have heard it from in here!” So when you said that, I was like, “Garry Moore!”
Malamet: So look, we have another connection. By the way, Carol Burnett is a bloody genius.
Jewell and Zimmerman: Oh, yes!
Malamet: You hitched your wagon to a brilliant actress and comedian. She and Lucille Ball were it…period. They’re the queens and everyone else is below. It’s these people who inspire us. God knows what I would have written if I hadn’t heard Babs singing, “A Sleepin’ Bee,” and all her songs on that first record, which was so spellbinding. I walked around in a daze. My mother would say, “Marsha, time for lunch!” I didn’t eat. I wasn’t hungry. Barbra sang over those little speakers and I was transported into heaven.
Zimmerman: When I saw Streisand and Hoffman were to play the parents in Meet the Fockers, I said, “Listen, they must have a role for a cousin somewhere. They must have a wedding or a bar mitzvah or a bris! I’ve got to be in that movie!” And ultimately, I got to play Dom Focker. I was on the set for one day, and it was amazing and wonderful. When I see those little residual checks that say Meet the Fockers, I smile.
Malamet: You set your intention.
Zimmerman: Because I always thought, “I’m the love child of Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman.” (laughs) You have a connection to Dustin; tell us about it.
Malamet: Midnight Cowboy floored me. The pathos of his character, Ratso, made me weep. Dustin is our Jewish De Niro.
Jewell: Maybe 10 years ago, I was invited to a speech Dustin Hoffman gave at UCLA. I got a front-row seat because I’m hearing impaired. He spoke for two hours about his life and career. I just sat there like, “Oh, my God!” And then when it was over— and you can relate to this—my back pain was so severe I couldn’t get out of my seat. Everybody was getting up and shaking hands with him, and I was sitting there, trying to get up, but couldn’t. He pushed through all those people and came over to me and said, “Let me give you a hand.” He helped me up, and I had tears in my eyes.
Malamet: I love that! There’s a humanity about him. The reason why I also have a little affinity for him is that, in 1978, I was hanging out at Catch A Rising Star in New York where I performed.
Jewell: I performed there, too!
Malamet: A lot of us did. So he comes in. I was with friends. For half an hour, he tried to pick me up. He was schmoozing heavily. I thought his flirting was cute. Of course, I knew who he was. He didn’t know that I was gay. If I were straight, we would have gone to a hotel. After that I had a warm feeling for him. At least he had good taste. (laughs) He has this twinkle in his eye, and he’s such a brilliant actor. That’s sexy to me.
Zimmerman: On the set of The Fockers, when they called “cut,” I was in a haze because I had been so focused. And then I heard “playback” of the scene, caught a glimpse of myself, and heard muffled laughter. Somebody grabbed my hand and started shaking it hard. He said, “Good s—, man, good s—!” And I turned and it was Dustin Hoffman.
Zimmerman: And I said, “Thank you.” I was standing there like, “Okay, I can die happy now.” Such a mensch he is. You know, there was something I wanted to ask you. Tell me about the poem, “Again…”
Malamet: It’s something I’m proud of. I’m not a real lyricist per se, but when I get inspired it comes out. A couple of my records that are—shameless plug— on iTunes, Amazon, and CD Baby, are songs that I wrote the lyrics to. For months I had the melody to that one written, and I wanted to set it with my own lyric. But the lyric wouldn’t come to me. I was sitting there and nothing. When that happens, I give it up and I let my higher self-dictate what it is. And one night, one of the only times this ever happened, this lyric, this poem just came to me. I wrote it in an hour, which is amazing for me.
It was about how when you say goodbye to someone you love, and you want to be there but can’t, so you have to do something. You maybe have to go away for a day, a week, a month, the separation is so intense that in my mind, I think, “Oh, if I could just love her again, one more time.” That’s what inspired this lyric. It goes back to ancient times because love has no boundaries. So I think on some level I wrote this song for one of my past lives that was during Sappho, the Greeks, the Romans, whatever, that whole time in history. I really feel that… It translates into the old Celine Dion song from Titanic?
Zimmerman: “My Heart Will Go On.”
Malamet: That’s it. That’s why the song was such a megahit. This is true. Even if we pass, the love is there. It’s real. Because the only thing in life that’s real is love, not hatred and fear. The opposite of love is fear. And this planet is in a lot of fear now. But hold onto your hats, because it’s going to turn around.
Zimmerman: The yin and yang is going to balance out?
Malamet: This planet will balance out soon.
Zimmerman: It’s got to. I remember reading that you opened for Eartha Kitt. I loved her.
Malamet: That was my big debut at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. There’s a story connected to that.
Jewell: Why does that not surprise me?
Malamet: I had a great fear of performing. I used to get panic attacks while I was showering and getting dressed. My throat would tighten, and I had sweaty palms. By the time I got to the club I was soaked in perspiration and couldn’t talk.
Jewell: When was this?
Malamet: Throughout the ‘80s. I was in therapy at the time. I got booked to open for Eartha, and a wonderful male trio called Gotham. They were all my friends. I was looking forward to it, but of course I freaked out at a venue of 80 seats, and now I was in a Lincoln Center hall with over a thousand seats.
So I went to therapy that week and I said. “Vivian, you’ve got to help me.” She walked me through it. Luckily, I had two months. I forgot her process, however, by the time of the performance, I was a chill ball. I was so confident. I was like, “I got this.” And I got up on stage and there was a moment when I saw my background girls, and this amazing grand piano and I sat down, took a deep breath, and went: “Okay, Marsha, this is what it’s all about,” giving myself a little validation. I started playing and got a little nervous. But my therapist told me what to do in my mind. I had the sense to deep breathe. It’s something you can do between the notes, staying conscious of the breath. Luckily it was a ballad and it went flawlessly. I worked out my phobia and my stage fright by playing Lincoln Center.
Jewell: What are the odds!
Malamet: It’s one thing to hear 80 or 100 people applaud, but a thousand is an out-of-body experience. It’s visceral. You feel it in your bones.
Zimmerman: It’s a rumble.
Malamet: And it’s addictive. Who doesn’t want to be applauded by thousands?
Zimmerman: I’m going to say a title, and you tell me the first thought that comes to your mind. “Why Did You Promise Me the World?”
Malamet: I was down on my knees for that one, too. My girlfriend had left me after we were together for close to five years. It was my first big breakup. I didn’t get dressed for a month… So what does a songwriter do to mitigate the pain?
Zimmerman: She writes.
Malamet: She writes. That song came out fast and furious. And when I finished it, it was cathartic because, I said, “At lease I acknowledged myself for the grieving.” When I listened to it, it really helped. And then a couple years later Barbara Cook recorded it. That’s when I knew that my breakup wasn’t in vain. I was thrilled that a woman of her stature would sing my song. Barbara Cook was the queen of Broadway, even then.
Jewell: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Malamet: She used a lot of the new songwriters in the late 70’s.
Zimmerman: So she had heard you sing the song?
Malamet: She used to come to some of my gigs and heard me perform it. Barbara and Wally Harper, her musical director, decided to do a record by the new kids on the block, so to speak. The new writers who were singing their hearts out in the cabarets of New York. She also picked a song by the brilliant Janis Ian. I was in great company.
Jewell: Oh, wow!
Malamet: Barbara did “Stars,” which will make you will bawl. She was so brilliant. I’m very lucky to be on that record. My song has a very bombastic chorus, the queen of Broadway sings like a pop-rock queen. It’s unbelievable.
Jewell: So you had to be in your feelings many times in your life.
Malamet: Many times. I have the scars to prove it. I was scraped off the floor, the basement, walls, everything. I’ve also have had tremendous highs. Now with this illness, I’m not a victim, and I will do my best. Since I’ve had so many good things happen in my life, why wouldn’t this be another good outcome for me? I’m convinced that once I find the right doctor that will make a big difference. It’s been a little tricky finding the right one, because they all have different protocols. So I have to go with my intuition, and do my research. The good news is, I’ve found a medical medium. She’s going to read my body and get in touch with what I really need. I’m looking forward to that.
Jewell: That’s what Edgar Cayce did.
Malamet: Exactly. She’s going to do that for me. I’m going to set up an appointment. It’s time to bring in the big psychic guns. This illness has made me see what’s really important.
Zimmerman: You sure are loved. You know that.
Malamet: I know. I love you.
Zimmerman: We love you.
Malamet: It’s funny, isn’t it? These are tears of joy, a breakthrough of possibility.
Zimmerman: What brings you the most joy?
Malamet: I love when people are real, and don’t have any pretenses. Meeting people who have no agendas.
Jewell: Yes! (claps)
Malamet: When people are authentic, they see me. It’s a two-way street. And any kind of music brings me joy.
Zimmerman: Your music gives so much joy to others.
Jewell: I agree.
Malamet: When you create something, you take yourself into that creation. And you take it and give it to other people. Serve other people. And that’s the miracle.
Jewell: Remember when we talked earlier about spiritual contracts? I believe that we chose to come into each other’s lives at this time.
Jewell: Because this is when we all agreed that we were going to need each other the most. Maybe, had we met years ago, it would’ve been like, “Hello! Hi!”
Malamet: “There’s Geri Jewell and David Zimmerman. Hi, guys!” But this is much deeper.
Zimmerman: And it’s this kind of connection that keeps me breathing.
Malamet: It’s like, “Let’s have a ball. Even with a little disability. Let’s utilize what we came here for.” And I am suffering to a point, but I am more deeply happy in the solar plexus of my body than I ever
Zimmerman: What do you want the most at this moment?
Malamet: I want to be able to get up from this chair without anyone helping me. I want to keep healing body, mind, and spirit. More of an independent life, and to just keep doing what I’m doing, keeping my heart open. Being vulnerable, having dreams, and even accepting the funky stuff.
Zimmerman: It’s the struggles in life that make you who you are. Like, with my heart attack, it changed me. But I got through it and onto the next level.
Jewell: I came into the world with a quote-unquote “disability,” cerebral palsy. I never had anything to compare it to. People have said many times, “That’s so much easier than acquiring a disability later in life, because it’s a whole different psychological challenge.” I would have to say that I agree to a point, but I spent my childhood doing what you guys are doing now, so that I could learn to adjust and accept the beauty of it later. So it is a struggle, you just go through it in a different way.
Malamet: Absolutely. That’s a great point. I really believe, on some level, that I chose a physical disability. I know it sounds crazy. I was forced to pick something that showed my fragility and my vulnerability. There are no accidents.
Jewell: And truthfully, I want to do it right in my own life because I do believe if we screw up radically, we have to come back and do it again.
Zimmerman: Oh, no, please! (laughs)
Jewell: And the thought of me having cerebral palsy twice is like, “No, no, no, no. Once I can deal with, and I’m going to do it right so I don’t have to come back and do it again.” (laughs)
Malamet: Right. But of course, remember, you choose on the other side how you want to work out some karma, learn your lessons. We’re all learning.
Zimmerman: We get to choose that?
Malamet: Oh, absolutely.
Zimmerman: You know, we could have a 20-hour interview; we could keep going for a week. There are so many singers you’ve written for: Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, Patty Labelle, Sheena Easton, Luther Vandross, Peter Allen… Such a history you have!
Malamet: I’ve had so many diverse artists recording my songs, from Meatloaf to Jessica Simpson, and from Chaka Khan to Sesame Street, and Meatloaf and Jessica recorded the same song.
Zimmerman: The same song?
Malamet: Yes. How crazy is that? And then throw in the mix Barbara Cook—may her soul rest in peace—to Judy Collins. The only genre that hasn’t been fulfilled is rap. Any of your rappers out there—
Zimmerman: “Call up Marsha!”