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Bronfman's Lyricist Career Gets Some Help From Friends

The former chief of Universal Music has written words for more than a dozen recordings in the last 20 years.

November 28, 2003|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

Intimacy, I bless you

I worship at your feet

You're the gentle breath on an open sore.

Those lyrics, from the obscure 1995 song "Intimacy," were penned by one of the most influential figures in the music industry. But his power does not flow from a flair for romantic imagery.

The lyricist is multimillionaire Edgar Bronfman Jr., former chief of Universal Music. He now heads an investment group paying $2.6 billion for Time Warner Inc.'s music division, which, like other record companies, has suffered from plunging CD sales.

Bronfman, 48, an heir to the Seagram Co. whiskey fortune, sees himself not only as a corporate titan but as a simple poet with a specialty in sentimentality -- i.e. "Where does our love go when love goes away?"

He leaves the art of composing melodies to others with sparkling track records. One is veteran songwriter, arranger and producer David Foster, who has worked with such superstars as Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion.

It was through Foster that Bronfman landed a bona fide hit. The two collaborated on the Dion single "To Love You More," first released in Japan in 1995. The song, which Bronfman wrote under the pseudonym Junior Miles, later reached No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts.

Foster, who has won 14 Grammy Awards, said of Bronfman, "He's a songwriter at heart."

And a fortunate one too, according to industry skeptics.

"Very rarely does an unknown get a song on a Celine Dion album," said one longtime composer of music for television and film, who requested anonymity because of Bronfman's clout in the business. "Certainly his position gained him access and perhaps leverage ... because he's a big guy and if you're not on his label now, you're maybe on his label down the road."

Dion's label, in fact, was Sony International, a rival of Universal Music, of which Bronfman was chief executive at the time. That's not to say his own company had given him the cold shoulder.

In 1996, Bronfman (using the name Sam Roman) teamed up with another well-known singer-songwriter, Bruce Roberts, to write the theme song for Universal's action movie "Daylight," starring Sylvester Stallone.

By then, Roberts' credits included gold-record compositions for Patti LaBelle and the Pointer Sisters -- as well as a No. 1 hit in 1979 for "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," a duet recorded by Streisand and Donna Summer.

In promotions for "Daylight," Universal gave unusually high prominence to the composers of the movie's theme song, "Whenever There is Love," which was recorded by Summer and Roberts. ("All that is simple and good / lives in the places you stood.")

An ad also appeared in the trade publication Variety asking voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to consider the movie in 17 Oscar categories, including best picture and best original song.

This despite the fact that the tune did not crack the top 40 on the pop charts and the film lost money at the box office.

A few weeks ago, over lunch in New York, Bronfman asked his composer friend Foster whether he would be interested in producing a new version of "Whenever There Is Love."

"He said we should rework it," said Foster, an executive at Warner Bros. Records. "It would be great. For him, it's all about the song and the music."

Although Bronfman's music career has benefited from his corporate profile and connections, Roberts and others praise the executive's devotion to the industry at a time when many are writing its eulogy because of piracy and sagging sales.

"It's very rare to find someone who understands the creative process as well as the business process," Roberts said. "He understands the art of songwriting."

Roberts, who has known Bronfman since they were in their 20s, described his collaborator as "a really gifted writer" whose lyrics "reflect an emotional realness and intimacy."

Celine Dion's business partner and husband, Rene Angelil, said the singer was impressed with Bronfman when they first met in 1995 in a Los Angeles recording studio.

"He acted like he was a young writer who is struggling and finally has a big star singing his song," said Angelil, who recalled Bronfman poring over his lyrics and making last-minute changes as Dion was practicing early versions of "To Love You More."

"We were impressed with having a man like that, of his stature, being so passionate about a song he wrote," Angelil said.

In all, during the last two decades Bronfman has written lyrics for more than a dozen recorded songs, most of them with Roberts. The pair's only big hit came in 1985 with the song "Whisper in the Dark," recorded by Dionne Warwick.

Four years later, the singing duo Ashford & Simpson recorded a Bronfman-Roberts song titled "In Your Arms." The song was not warmly received by at least one magazine reviewer, who called it "insipid."

But on a more positive note, the writer for People Magazine quipped, Bronfman "can always fall back on the family business."

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