YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

'Juno' gives rebirth to songwriter's career

January 30, 2008|Joe Burris | Special to The Times

BALTIMORE -- Barry Louis Polisar and his family settled into their seats at a Bethesda, Md., theater as the lights dimmed and the stream of previews gave way to the munching of popcorn, just before the movie's opening number.

"You should tell them you wrote the song," said his wife, Roni. "Maybe they'll give us free tickets."

"Shhhh!" said the couple's twentysomething twins, Evan and Sierra, perhaps recognizing their father's urge to be incognito.

He worried about how his 1977 song "All I Want Is You" would be featured in the then-newly released "Juno" -- and whether more than 30 years as a children's author and entertainer would be tarnished by a momentary mocking of his work on the big screen.

As it turns out, that "Juno" spot has garnered the Silver Spring, Md., resident more mainstream attention than any previous milestone, which included playing at the White House and hosting a nationally syndicated children's show.

Polisar's MySpace page, which had 15,000 hits before the release of the film, has had about 150,000 since. Visitors have downloaded "All I Want Is You" from the page nearly 30,000 times. His song is referenced on Google 7,900 times and has been featured on YouTube.

What's more, eight couples from around the country have contacted Polisar requesting permission to use his song during their wedding -- including two couples from California who offered to fly him out to sing it.

"It's a real eye-opener what national exposure can do," said Polisar, 53, still amazed at how one motion picture has made a contemporary hit of a song that he released when Jimmy Carter was president.

The song is played during the opening credits sequence of "Juno," Jason Reitman's Oscar-nominated film about a razor-tongued teenage girl confronting an unexpected pregnancy that has become something of a cultural phenomenon, grossing upward of $100 million since its release last month. The "Juno" soundtrack is No. 1 on the iTunes soundtrack chart and No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart.

"I've never had a runaway hit; that's not what happens with children's music," Polisar said. "Being attached to 'Juno' is a real interesting experience. I'm being reunited with fans who, 25 to 30 years ago, had my records as kids. They're sitting in dark movie theaters and all of a sudden my song comes up."

Polisar pens songs that are as timeless as old commercial jingles. He parodied diaper rash. He fictitiously juggled babies on an album cover. Occasionally, he crafted songs about love and friendship. "All I Want Is You" is about a man hoping to win his true love's hand in marriage.

All I want is you, will you be my bride?

Take me by the hand and stand by my side.

All I want is you, will you stay with me?

Hold me in your arms and sway me like the sea.

The song struck a chord with "Juno" director Reitman, who was surfing iTunes for another song when he came upon "All I Want Is You."

"I fell in love with the song's cadence and charm," Reitman said via e-mail from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. "It specifically played into the idea of who we are and what we look for in one another. This was a major theme in 'Juno,' a film that speaks to the idea of being yourself and following your heart."

"I have always been a big fan of opening title sequences; I find them crucial for setting tone," Reitman added. "I narrowed it down to a few songs, but nothing quite had the spark of Barry's twining voice against his harmonica and guitar."

Polisar has made a living of crafting such songs since he launched his career in 1975, while attending the University of Maryland as a literature and film major, with hopes of becoming a teacher.

Friends who had heard his catchy songs encouraged him to record them, and he ultimately made two albums, the second of which contained "All I Want Is You." Polisar offered the albums at $4 each and managed to sell a combined 50,000 copies.

From there, he made a living recording albums and writing children's books -- with such titles as "Dinosaurs I Have Known," "The Haunted House Party" and "Peculiar Zoo." Poems from the latter book were featured on former first lady Barbara Bush's national radio show on ABC, leading to a concert appearance at the White House in 1991. Polisar also was host of the Emmy-winning syndicated children's show about educational travel, "Field Trip," from 1994 to 1997.

Before "Juno's" release, Polisar called Reitman, concerned that the movie's lead character might be shown turning off a radio in disgust as "All I Want Is You" played. Even after being assured that his song would be treated favorably, Polisar was apprehensive as he headed to the theater.

"I just wanted to watch it and get it over with and say that it was really cool," Polisar said, recalling the moment. "And, it was cool."

Los Angeles Times Articles