Richard Marx’s first single “Don’t Mean Nothing” took radio by storm in 1987, its cynical take on showbiz became popular with the help of three Eagles on the track supporting the 23-year-old singer / songwriter and a film in noir and white video that has seen a strong spin on MTV.
This song sparked a remarkable run for Marx, when he became the first male artist to land his first four singles from a debut album in the top three of the pop charts. His follow-up album, Recidivist, went multi-platinum and made him the first male artist to have his first seven Top 5 singles, songs including “Endless Summer Nights”, “Right Here Waiting” and “Should’ve Known Better”. By the mid-90s, however, Marx‘s pop stardom waned and he changed course to write songs for other artists, scoring hits and Grammys for songs written with or for Luther Vandross, N Sync and Keith Urban, among others.
In his new memories, Stories to tell, Marx does not reveal an unexpected seedy side or a mess of his celebrity colleagues. He also doesn’t get political and roast racists like he does on his gleefully secular Twitter feed. Rather, it tells the remarkable story of a Chicago teenager whose demo fell into Lionel Richie’s hands, and a phone call encouraging Marx to move to Los Angeles and try to be successful in the music business. Marx followed Richie’s advice and Stories to tell tells how this decision led to working with people like Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers, and Chinese gun gangsters who once chased Marx through an airport in Taiwan after a show.
Marx, 57, who last played Spokane a few months before the pandemic, called the Interior to discuss Stories to tell; this interview has been edited for length and clarity.
INTERIOR: Is there a difference in the nervousness you feel when releasing your first book compared to an album?
RICHARD MARX: It’s very different when I release a new album. I really have excitement, nerves, what’s the matter. But no matter how many times I release an album, I always think somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m going to release another album in a year, maybe two years. I’m not going to publish another memoir, I can’t imagine, so for me there is a little weight to that that wouldn’t exist with a musical release. It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time.
Writing a book was something in the works for a while, or were you pressured to write?
The troubadour show I do, which is just me and the audience, I talk a lot. I tell stories between songs because that’s really the subject of the show. And I was evaluating the success of each night’s show in my mind not by the applause for the songs, but “Did I hit the punchline? Did I get the laugh I used to have to?” that time?” And I realized that each of these stories was its own chapter in a book.
So I started writing them down and trying to write them in a way that sounds like I’m telling you the story over a drink. But it was never, in my mind, a memory. I’ve always been so private, people don’t really know my life. They know my songs. It was really when [publisher] Simon & Schuster got involved and pushed me to write a little more about my life and my journey, in addition to writing the stories of these records that I made and the people with whom I worked. But still, if you read the book, it’s a lot more career-focused than people-focused.
Was it uncomfortable to go into personal matters, to talk about your family or the loss of your father?
The passage about my father was something I felt compelled to write about, not least because it was such a monumental event in my life, and truly the only real tragedy I have experienced so far in my life. . And I also wanted to write it in a way that made sense to people reading it, who might need to read something like that and feel like they’re not alone. It was hard, but as I was writing more personal stuff, even the end of my marriage or my relationship with Daisy [Fuentes, former MTV host and Marx’s second wife], what I ended up writing was what I felt was not a breach of my privacy. I wrote exactly what I felt was right and comfortable for me to write.
Do you read many memoirs or biographies of musicians?
I am a reader in general, but over the past 10 years I have turned to memoirs and biographies. My favorite, and most enjoyable to read, book of the past 10 years was not a memoir, but the two-volume biography of Frank Sinatra. The first volume is entitled The voice and the second is called President, by James Kaplan. It’s a comprehensive account of Sinatra’s life, and I couldn’t let go. I remember reading it; I was on tour. And I have the best job in the world. When I’m on stage, I’m a thousand percent invested. But when I read this book, there were times I would play “Right Here Waiting” on the piano and I would think, “Dude, I can’t wait to get back to the hotel and read this book.” I was obsessed.
One of the things that struck me was that even though you had all this success right away, you were remarkably aware that there was almost an expiration date so someone could stay sexy. in the world of music. Where does this self-awareness come from?
I was attentive to careers and the length of careers. And there may have been a bit of cynicism, even at this young age. There are so few exceptions to the rule, but most careers, even if you have a really big career, it’s usually five to 10 years in terms of being on the charts and being successful. . Music is cyclical, and it moves on to the next generation, and the next decade is different, it should always change.
I remember seeing careers cool down, and in some cases they just disappeared. And in other cases, they just turned into what I’m doing. I’ve always released records, but I never had any great illusions about having hit songs. It was my turn for 10 years in a row, then it was someone else’s turn. It helps to have a healthy attitude about it. And in my case, at the end of that 10 year period, I immediately started continuing to have hits, but not with myself singing them. I focused on writing songs for other people and had those other 20 years of success that way.
You also seemed to have this confidence when you were a new teenager arriving in Los Angeles, thinking that you could write for an established star like Kenny Rogers (“Crazy”), or play with someone like Lionel Richie. Was this confidence innate, did you know you had chops?
I knew I had chops. I don’t think it was bravado, I don’t think I was arrogant that way. I was just convinced that I had written great melodies and that I could prove that I could build a song. But it wasn’t until someone like Kenny Rogers said, “Yeah, I’m gonna do this song,” then it became a hit, that validation changes everything. If your trust is made of paper, all of a sudden it’s made of steel.
I tend to think of bands and musicians in terms of the “scene” they come from, but with solo singers / songwriters like you, you seem to me to be lone wolves, alone out there. Is there a sense of community among the singers / songwriters?
It depends on the singer / songwriter. There are a lot of people who have had great careers as collaborators. JD Souther, for example, he certainly had a remarkable career as a songwriter, and he was someone I always really admired, but his biggest hits were all songs he wrote. with other people. And there is no song that Elton John wrote alone. And then there are people like me who, most of what I wrote, I wrote on my own. I also collaborated with a lot of people, but the biggest songs, the biggest hits, the majority of them that I wrote myself. So there is the meaning of the lone wolf in there. Collaborating and cooperating with someone is always a dice game in this. You may end up with something even better than you would have achieved on your own, but there is also the possibility that you will dilute what you may have created on your own.
You released a new album right before the pandemic hit (Unlimited), then the whole world entered this insane period. Eighteen months later, has your attitude towards work changed?
Yes, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t really writing. Part of the job was working on the book, which is a whole different muscle. I had just released an album, so I had written a lot a year ago for it, so I felt like I could take a little rest while writing. But to be honest with you, the year has been kind of calm and calm and just kind of hiding with Daisy. I didn’t have to write at all.
I think I wrote a song last year and changed. And I was fighting for it. I was like, “What am I if I’m not a songwriter?” Why don’t I want to come in and finish a song? Well, that’s because that was exactly what it was that year. And now that I’m going to start doing shows again, I’m sure the other thing will just kick in. ♦
that of Richard Marx Stories to tell is available in bookstores now.