Rupert Holmes dons yet another hat
By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY
SCARSDALE, N.Y. In his 20s, Rupert Holmes
became a singer/songwriter "because it was the only way to guarantee
that someone would sing the songs I was writing." That wasn't such a
problem after Barbra Streisand asked if he'd like to work with her,
which he did on six albums and several movies. A decade later,
Joseph Papp, the legendary theater producer, told Holmes, "Each of
your songs is like a little musical. Did you ever think of writing a
musical?" That led to The Mystery of Edwin Drood, inspired by
Charles Dickens' unfinished serial, for which Holmes won three Tony
Awards. A decade after that, Random House editor Jonathan Karp, an
inspiring lyricist himself, asked whether Holmes wanted to write a
"Of course I did," he says. "I want to write in
every medium before I'm done."
At 56, Holmes, a composer, playwright,
producer, screenwriter and singer, is a debut novelist. Where the
Truth Lies, (Random House, $24.95), released this week, is a
send-up of the '70s and of the entertainment industry wrapped in a
murder mystery. (Related item: Read an excerpt from Where the Truth
Holmes' work is better known than he is. Karp
suggests that's because he rarely does the same thing twice.
He's most widely known as "The Piña Colada Guy"
for his No. 1 hit from 1979, Escape/The Piña Colada
Song, a last-minute addition to an album he wrote and performed
that was heavy with ballads and needed "something up-tempo."
It has become the song that won't go away. It
pops up in movies like Shrek and The Sweetest Thing,
in which Holmes and Cameron Diaz sing a duet. But he's on the radio,
"the story of my life."
His mother, who was British, named him after
Rupert Brooke, the poet killed in World War I. His father, an
American jazz and classical musician, taught him Mozart's 40th by
the time he was 4. At 6, Holmes wrote a song, Nobody Loves
Me, a "Vegas-kind of tune," he says, and sings a verse.
He dropped out of college, Manhattan School of
Music, to work in music, although "I was saying I was in the music
business about three years before the music business knew about it."
His novel is inspired by his experiences as a
wide-eyed, struggling singer/songwriter who "wandered into another
world" in Hollywood after Streisand discovered his debut album,
The novel deals with the costs of fame and the
delicate relationship between two people who perform together. Its
major characters are a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis-like comedy team
who get involved with a young, scheming, female journalist.
Holmes say he's intrigued by "the trust that
must exist between any show business team who put their lives in
each other's hands, whether they're an aerial act or magicians or
comedians, and what happens when they no longer trust each other."
He also deals with the role of the straight man
in a comedy team, a theme of his play, Say Goodnight, Gracie,
last season's Broadway sleeper hit, about George Burns and Gracie
In his novel, Holmes writes that a "straight
man usually has better comedy timing than his partner."
Over lunch, Holmes offers an example: the under
appreciated talents of Bud Abbott of Abbott and Costello. He
compares comedy to music: the partner who gets the laughs is the
orchestra; the straight man is the conductor.
Holmes set his novel in the '70s because "it
was a terrible, luscious, sordid, exhilarating, unforgivable era ...
often as lacking in substance as a can of Tab cola, but opulently
rich as a backdrop for comedy and intrigue."
With Melissa Manchester, he wrote a title song
for it, saying, "If movies can have title songs, why not novels?"
Manchester's performance can be heard on his Web site,
He lives in Scarsdale, a suburb he values for
its tranquility and the 35-minute train ride to Broadway. He's
married to a lawyer and has two teenage sons and the memory of a
daughter, Wendy, who died in 1987 at age 10, from an undiagnosed
"I can't begin to tell you what that is like,"
he says. "And you shouldn't have to know. But you survive and you go
on ... " His voice trails off.
In his acknowledgements, he writes of Wendy:
"the enduring memory of her goodness and grace has become what
passes for my conscience. She was a beautiful, brilliant, gentle
girl who was entitled to a lifetime."
He also writes that his younger son, Tim,
"carries the weight of autism with literally unspeakable courage. I
live and long for the day when he can talk to me and tell me what he
has been feeling all these years." His older son, Nick, who was born
after Wendy died, "did nothing less than save his parents' lives. He
gave us hope."
Holmes rarely performs anymore, but he warns
bookstores he's willing to sing during his book tour. "A big band to
back me up would be nice."