Michael’s Song

July 9th, 2011

Robb wrote me some time back, saying he had a blog he wanted to share about the time we lived in, and destroyed, his parents’ condo.  I got it and read it and got a lump  in my throat.  Robb will kill me for this, but beneath that spiky exterior there’s a soft center and in the soft center there’s a really good heart.  No more from me, except to say that the kid in the picture is not actually the kid Robb is writing about.

As these Chronicles of Tim march toward literary immortality, they have touched, from time to time, on our days in college, our rooming together in the infamous Condo, and our performing in various musical configurations culminating in the remarkable (in retrospect) Pleasure Fair. I was a member of that group, a role player in the events of this period and, through the good graces and hospitality of Tim, an occasional contributor to these blogs.

However, there was another character in this story upon whom the spotlight fell only momentarily, but who I think deserves a few words of description.

During the last series of Pleasure Fair related blogs, some of the more observant, or terribly interested, or desperately bored readers, may have noticed a response from one Michael Zimbert, who played the role of the kid next door.

Michael said he was fourteen or fifteen when he knew us (I remember him as twelve or thirteen) ((we don’t have to argue, it was 1966, how old were ya Mike?)) but he accurately describes how he found a number of excuses to hang out with the swingin’ dick, hippie, college musicians who were sending up such a din from across the alley.

Michael was the perfect kid to do it. Bright and immensely personable, he could immediately fit in with a much older crowd. He asked a million questions and offered numerous critiques and observations but he possessed that Ozzie and Harriet quality that made his next door visits seem part of the natural order of things. Seeing that songwriting was our focus, he started bringing in his own songs, the first of which was the unforgettable Avocado Head.

He started playing piano and settled into a strange jazzy pop-chord style somewhat reminiscent of Mose Allison. He flirted briefly with the idea of going pro but eventually became a lawyer, playing for his own entertainment.

I’ve kept contact with him through the years and, at some point in the eighties, felt absolutely compelled to write a song about him. I don’t for a minute think of song lyrics as poetry but this one seems to me to be readable without the music. So now that all this has been exposed as nothing but a sneaky lead-up to a song pitch, I’d like to share with you…

Michael’s Song

Basically this is Michael’s song, so get your own
Leave him alone
He will be playing it all night long
It’s Michael’s song

He thinks of music as a state of grace
Where he would like to find a little place

Haunting fifties melodies go with him
(little problems with the rhythm)
But there was this one moment when he knew he could play…
… the music was dated, the dream sort of faded away.

Then came the wife and the house and the dog and the family
He went to school and he finished up, taking his law degree
So he did succeed
But he can’t shake the feeling that something is terribly wrong

Basically, then, this is Michael’s song, the choices made
And he would not trade
No, but the music is almost gone
He’s down to one song

By day he works for his attorney’s fee
By night he plays for all eternity

It’s the only tie that’s left to bind him
To the life he left behind him
So he keeps on playing it like a reverie

More like a litany, yes, even desperately on

Cause there’s the wife and the house and the dog and the family
Look at those faces and you know that they need security, maturity
So he faced the music and knew that he had to be strong

Basically then, this is Michael’s song and his alone
Maybe it ought to be known

The song came to me in such a complete form I was unwilling to tamper with it but it’s a weird amalgamation of classical, jazz and Broadway which makes it unrecordable by anybody. So I asked Tim if I could borrow his blog for a combination debut/gold watch retirement ceremony.

Thanks, one and all.

(If you want to hear the song, music and all, click here.   Michael’s Song This is a piano demo, made around 2004, featuring the excellent Chris Willis on vocals)

19 Responses to “Michael’s Song”

  1. EverettK Says:

    Wonderful, Rob. Well written (blog and song)!

    See, Tim, I can be nice.

  2. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    The song is truly haunting, and very poignant. How many of us could relate to “Michael.” Thank you for the music.

  3. Suzanna Says:


    Thanks for another great post. Really enjoyed listening to the song. This is a universal theme for those of us who have raised a family, and any performer on Broadway would be extremely lucky to have this song to perform. Was that you playing the keyboard? Thanks for sharing this, Robb!

  4. Stephen Cohn Says:

    Robb – Beautiful song that does a great job of capturing the poignant mood of living with the choice. The vocal arrangement is very effective and interesting – much emotion created with simple means. Who was the amazing vocalist? I like the way the piece crosses stylistic boundaries in order to authentically say what it has to say.

    I had a student once who had a real gift for composing – music just poured out of her almost uncontrolably. At one point in her life she decided it was impractical. She quit music cold and became a successful executive. Shortly thereafter she began to develop strange physical ailments she had never before experienced – doctors didn’t have a clue. When she started to compose again regularly, her health returned.

  5. Malcolm Searles Says:

    WONDERFUL ! I LOVE that song 🙂
    Another fantastic to the Royer archives. I can’t believe you haven’t shared that one before. Unrecordable ? I could think of a number of artists who could do that song justice … although I must say that Chris Wills turns in a superb performance as it is. Thank you …

  6. Malcolm Searles Says:

    Another fantastic ADDITION that should say 😛

  7. John Lindquist Says:

    This blog never ceases to amaze, educate and entertain. And now to hear the great Chris Willis singing an incredible Robb Royer song that totally grabbed my interest from the get-go. And a true story too! What a deal. Thank you, Robb!

    It ought to be known. Watch out, Broadway!

  8. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, everybody —

    Let me start by saying that this has been a thrill for me, because I’d never read those lyrics or heard the music before. Jeez, I have talented friends.

    Everett, agreed on all points, and if you’re ever going to be nice, this is the post to do it on.

    Lil, thanks for saying all that. I wish you could all have met Michael when he was a kid. He was (and still is) pretty extraordinary.

    Suzanna, what you say about raising a family is especially interesting because most kids, I think, go through a long period of being centered in their creativity – there may be kids who don’t have it, but I haven’t met them – and then school and bad teachers and reality and crappy jobs gradually pull them out of it and put them on a path that satisfies completely different needs. And, as Robb’s lyric says, there are real satisfactions in loving, supporting, and caring for a family, but that music from childhood is always in your ears, even if you’ve stopped listening to it.

    Stephen agreed on all points. The vocalist is Chris Willis, and he’s prodigious — AND he reminds me a little of the late, great Jimmy Griffin. I think there are lots and lots of cases of unusually creative people falling into illness, both physical and emotional, when their creativity was dammed up.

    Hi, Malcolm. Isn’t that a great song? And I knew about it before you did, nyaa nyaa nyaa. Wait, that’s not in the right spirit at all It’s a wonderful song.

    John, thanks for the nice verbs about the blog. I’m lucky enough to have friends and relatives come in and do the heavy lifting from time to time – Robb now, and my brother Mice upcoming.

  9. Jessie Says:

    Hi there,

    Just wanted to say that this is one of my absolute favorite songs of Dad’s and Tim you are a sweetheart to allow a forum for it.

  10. Robb Royer Says:

    Thanks everybody… boy this is fun! Tim slaves everyday over a hot keyboard with his brilliant creativity and knowledge to create a blog and keep it going and every once in a while I get to waltz in and out. Thanks Tim and thanks again everyone for the nice comments.

    Suz… yeah that was me – with a little help from pro tools.

  11. Larissa Says:

    Just an echo here but definitely awesome. I was sort of the tag-a-long kid when I was little because for a while everyone on my street was older than me and they were getting into way more fun (aka trouble) than I could on my own. This is a great ode to that part of growing up. (c: Thanks for sharing! And yes, as always thanks to Tim for providing such a great platform for great ideas to get shared.

  12. Annie Says:

    Please, Tim and Robb, talk about Michael’s amazing family, too!

    Dramatic, lovely and sweet song/ode to Michael. Thank you, Robb. Once again, impressed.

  13. Vena Says:

    Can a song be radiant? This song is loveliness in vocals and lyrics. I’d not heard of Mr Willis until today, but I can say I’m a fan now. My goodness. You wrote a beautiful, beautiful song, Mr Royer.

    Thanks for this, Tim!

  14. Robb Royer Says:

    Larissa – I swear we weren’t the ones who corrupted Michael… or maybe we were.

    Annie – I assume you are the Annie who’s my ex or how else would you know about the Zimberts? Be glad to tell more tales. Just gotta work out format with Tim.

    Thanks so much. Chris left Nashville or I would have done a lot more with him but I am thinking about releasing some of the other stuff we did on a new blog site. He went to New York and has an active career doing vocals on dance records with some of these hot re-mix guys.

    Thanks to all.

  15. Robb Royer Says:

    Sorry, that last comment was for Vena. Somehow I scrooded it up.

  16. Sphinx Ink Says:

    Wonderful song, wonderful vocalist!

  17. Michael Zimbert Says:

    ROBB: played this for me many years ago, I cried then… and still get tearful when I listen to the chords, and the way Chris weaves all his voices (Robb told me recently he does all the voices on this)…. the way Robb captured my choice at a time in my life and put in words “exactly” what my love of music and family are with chord changes that truly are chords and changes that I love… I told Robb back then and recently “every word is true”… the “ought to be known” (with Chris taking the vocal out to some land in the 9th, 11th or 13th zone (steve would know ) is truly where I live.. Thanks Robb and all that were apart of those days before Michaels Song came into being…….. one thought… and I go back in time….. and as it was said…” what a time.. it was…. it was.. a time of innocence….a time of confidences…..hold on to your memories… thats all that is left you”

  18. Kat Z Ross Says:

    What a wonderfully intricate, poignant, and beautiful song! Thank you to Robb for writing, Tim for posting, and Michael for being the inspiration.

  19. Robb Royer Says:

    Kat, thank you for writing (and thanks again to Michael, too, for your generous response. You never know how someone is going to react to being portrayed) Kat, I never knew you as an adult, only as a beautiful, tall, flowering child. I hope my little verbal snapshots of your family have brought back some pleasant remembrances.

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