Alan Bergman performs alone, but his wife, Marilyn Bergman, doesn’t mind. “There are one or two of the songs she likes to sing, but that’s all. Never in public. She’s fine with me being up there.” Of course, by songs he means their songs, the great tunes that he and his better half wrote together: big, famous numbers like “The Way We Were” and “The Windmills of Your Mind.” They even wrote the theme music for the classic TV show Maude (“Isadora was the first bra burner”). And Alan is first to admit he couldn’t have done it without her. “We’ve been working together since, well, let’s just say for 58 years.”
Alan will share the fruits of his half century of marital bliss and musical collaboration with the Lobero audience next Saturday night, and Marilyn will be out in the house. “Six hundred seats,” he said. “Do you think people will come?”
Alan and Marilyn weren’t always together, though they should have been. “We went to the same high school in Brooklyn, though we didn’t meet until we came out to California,” he said. “In fact, Barbra Streisand went to the same school, too. There must have been something in the water.” Much of the Bergmans’ success is directly linked to Streisand, including “The Way We Were,” as well as the music for Yentl, but Alan admits that there’s something almost clichéd about Brooklyn as musician breeding ground. “I’ll tell you one thing, though: If you grew up Jewish in those days, you took piano lessons whether you wanted to or not,” he laughed.
Alan came out to UCLA and studied with the great Johnny Mercer, who wrote “Too Marvelous for Words,” among many, many others. He and Marilyn began writing in the 1950s. “At first, I wrote music and lyrics, but later we worked with composers. I never had the ego to do that,” he said. “Besides, we prefer to write for a melody.”
Like many other songwriters, the Bergmans think poems and lyrics are two different things. Alan won’t hear of much overlap between his own work and W.B. Yeats, laughing loudly at the suggestion. “But there are song lyrics that are very poetic.”
But let’s take “Windmills of Your Mind,” as a kind of argument: “Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own / Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone / Like a door that keeps revolving in a half-forgotten dream.” Bergman chuckled a little, hearing it read out loud. “You know it was for that great movie,” he said, referring to The Thomas Crown Affair. “And the director was great, too. Norman Jewison — he had the scene where Steve McQueen is flying his glider around, and he’s just planned the robbery. It was supposed to be a song about anxiety, and so we got a lovely melody from the composer Michel Legrand, who was also a dramatist. And we thought, anxiety is circular, so we wrote about circles, made it baroque,” he said. “The melody and the function of the song underline the fact that anxiety is circular.”
The Bergmans, who are poets, are also still working, thank you very much. They just got back from Washington, D.C., where they lobbied Congress for artists’ rights in an era of downloads and YouTube. Alan loves to perform and never gets nervous beforehand, even though he started his cabaret career late. “I worry about my voice but never about the songs,” he said. “They’re strong.” The duo is still writing, too, and, like always, writing together. Currently the pair is working on a revival of a musical they originally wrote for television called Ballroom and a show for the Los Angeles Geffen Playhouse. “People ask me why we are still working,” said Bergman. “But why wouldn’t we? If you are lucky enough to love what you do, and then to do it with someone you love, what can be better than that?”
The Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) hosts An Evening with Alan Bergman on Saturday, May 17, at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and info, call (805) 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.