There’s a good chance that if you peruse your record collection (or your iTunes library, for all the young folk out there), you’ll find a couple of songs written by celebrated singer/songwriter Burt Bacharach.
The man has certainly penned many a classic composition: “I Say a Little Prayer,” “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” “What’s New Pussycat?” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” “That’s What Friends Are For.” Many of these songs have been covered or redone by other artists, often becoming signature hits for them. (Personally, I’ve always been a fan of Isaac Hayes’ bad-to-the-bone versions of “Walk on By” and “The Look of Love.”)
While the careers of such artists as Tom Jones, the Carpenters, Dusty Springfield and Bacharach muse Dionne Warwick skyrocketed thanks to singing a Bacharach song or two, Bacharach has also recorded and performed many of these songs himself – which he will do Wednesday at Durham’s Carolina Theatre.
Even at age 86, this Kansas City boy still enjoys hitting the road with his band of singers and musicians, just plowing through his extensive songbook. “We do about an hour and 50, an hour and 45 onstage, and we just do song after song and try to get everybody’s favorite in,” says Bacharach, calling from the music room of his Pacific Palisades home in Los Angeles.
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No matter where he performs, Bacharach is certain he will be playing for an appreciative, diverse bevy of faces, whether those faces are fresh or a bit withered. “In the audience, very often, I will have maybe a grandmother and her granddaughter, who’s maybe 19,” he says. “You can’t plan something like that. It just doesn’t work that way. You cannot plan it – that you’re gonna be able to cross generations like that.”
For Bacharach, getting different generations to come together and enjoy his music is nothing new. In his 2013 memoir, “Anyone Who Had a Heart: My Life and Music,” Bacharach remarked on how the songs he wrote in the ’60s with his late writing partner Hal David were reaching both younger and older audiences. In our interview, Bacharach says his songwriting intentions are always to “make the people feel good or touch something in them, in their being, to make them happy or make them feel good or remember.”
Although Bacharach has garnered many awards and achievements composing romantic, uplifting ditties (he’s received six Grammys, three Oscars, two Golden Globes, an Emmy and the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song), he has dealt with his fair share of tragedy. He’s been married four times – his ex-wives include actress Angie Dickinson and former songwriting collaborator Carole Bayer Sager. His biggest blow came in 2007 when his autistic daughter, Nikki, committed suicide at age 40.
In his autobiography, Bacharach wrote that it wasn’t until she was 34 years old that he found out she had Asperger’s syndrome. (“Back when Nikki was born, no one knew nearly as much about this disease as they do now,” he wrote.)
When Bacharach was being convinced to write a book, he wanted to make sure he captured both the joy and the pain that he has endured. “There’s only one way to do it, and that’s to be open and to be totally honest,” he says. “And, if you want to know me, it’s a pretty good inroad to find out who I am. What I’ve done right, what I’ve done wrong – it’s all there.”
Bacharach also continues to churn out new material. No stranger to the Broadway stage, he’s working with Elvis Costello on a musical version of their 1998 collaborative album, “Painted from Memory.” TV showrunner Chuck Lorre (“Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory”), a fan of the album, has written the book with Tony-winning lyricist Steven Sater (“Spring Awakening”).
“Elvis and I have written 10 new songs for the show, in addition to the six or seven that were from the album,” Bacharach says. “We have a very good team there. … We all have to be in the same place, which is the hardest thing to do. So, it looks like the fall, maybe September, we’ll be able to be either in New York or in LA to get this thing up to the next stage of development.”
There’s no doubt he will get this show up and running. As he’s showing in performance halls all over, the man refuses to let anything hold him back. As long as he’s around a piano, Burt Bacharach will get some tunes out to the world.