5 Songs by Composer Joe Iconis and the Inspirations Behind Them
The Drama Desk Award-nominated tunesmith lifts the veil on some of his classic songs, including "Broadway, Here I Come!"
Joe Iconis, the songwriter behind the Drama Desk Award-nominated Bloodsong of Love, Be More Chill, and the upcoming Broadway Bounty Hunter, is currently in residence at Feinstein's/54 Below, where he and his family of musical-theater rabble rousers will take the stage for upcoming performances on April 17 and May 9. Here, Iconis takes us behind the curtain to reveal the inspiration for several of the songs audience members will hear, from a Smash hit to the opening number for his latest tuner.
Disclaimer: The following are some thoughts about, explanations of, and insights into a few of my songs. They are strictly the opinion of this author and I would never be so presumptuous as to tell You what My songs are Really about. I may think "Blue Hair" is about a girl dyeing her hair blue, but you are perfectly within your rights to think it's about the Rise and Fall of Communism in Russia. I'm probably more correct than you are, but both are valid interpretations.
"Broadway, Here I Come!"
Probably my most well-known song, on account of its inclusion in [the television show] Smash. As many people know by now, the song is about two things.
1. The idea of "making it" on Broadway and all the anxiety and exhilaration that comes along with that, and
2. Jumping off a building, hurtling toward the street of Broadway.
I wrote it when I was feeling very depressed about many things in my life, specifically about how success felt so close and so far. I loved the idea of a sad song called "Broadway, Here I Come!" (the punctuation of the title is hugely important, I think) and once I realized that I could write about reaching my dreams and killing myself in the same song, the thing was born. And now little kids sing it at their elementary school graduations. Life is weird.
"Woman of a Certain Age"
The opening number of my upcoming musical Broadway Bounty Hunter (coming this summer to Barrington Stage Company!) The show is told in the style of exploitation films of the '70s, in particular Blaxploitation films, so I'm letting that inform both the music and the lyrical content. So many Blaxploitation films gave their main characters theme songs (Shaft, Coffy, etc.) so I knew that we needed a really great theme song for our leading lady, Annie Golden. I thought it was important to be to true to those films and introduce Annie's character by having someone else sing about her before the audience gets to hear from Annie herself. It's the musical-number equivalent of giving your star a really great entrance.
"The Goodbye Song"
This is another song that's decidedly about two things. One is a father saying goodbye to his young son. The dad is trying to make it OK so that when the kid looks back, he'll think of the good times he had with his old man, not the pain of his death. It's based on a cousin of mine who died very young and left two little kids behind. The other thing it's about is…the final scene of E.T.…the idea of a father saying goodbye to his kid is the same thing as E.T. saying goodbye to Elliott. The song is full of E.T. references from that final scene like: "Come," "Stay," "Ouch," etc. [and] to me, that final wordless coda that ends "The Goodbye Song" relates to the final series of images of all the main characters, set to John Williams' iconic score. Melancholy mixed with strength mixed with pure, unbridled joy. When we perform the song live, I always make sure to tell The Family that the end of the song should feel like a celebration, like the Wild Things having their rumpus.
This song was inspired by my best friend since childhood who had been living in New York for his whole life and toward the end of his time here was just really over the city. The song was born out of the idea of being so beaten down by your environment that you become completely disconnected. I've always said I'm heavily influenced by film, and this song is the most transparent example of that. The narrative turn is straight-up Hitchcockian — you think you're watching a cynical comedy song about a hipster, but you're actually watching a song about something else entirely. Sadly, the real Kevin has never been in the audience when we've done this song. Hopefully one day.
A standalone song that I wrote when I was feeling generally not-depressed about life! I had the line "gonna put a party hat on my cat" in my head for years and I didn't know what to do with it. When I finally got the idea to use the line as the chorus of a song about an unstable woman, it all kind of clicked. I didn't know how this one would end as I was writing it…I got to the end of the second chorus and I thought, "Hm. I don't think she has anything else to say right now. I wish we could hear from someone else. Maybe one of the neighbors who is looking at her through a window?" I started writing the neighbor and then I realized, "Oh, no, it needs to be The Cat. This song is about the things we do for the people we love." I love this song a lot and it never fails to trip up people who perform it. I've seen a lot of people play it as if it's a silly/goofy song about a crazy cat lady! But it's really about a slightly broken person who thinks there's no one who loves her, and then it turns out someone does. And that makes her feel OK. Maybe just for a moment or maybe for the rest of her life. The song is dramatizing a very important moment. It just doesn't sound important. Because when you add a singing cat to a moment, it never sounds important. No matter how f**king charming the cat is.