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17 October 2002

I just found myself on Actually, if you do a Google search for "lyrics by Bev Sykes" it brings up this site. What a strange feeling. You can actually order the CD from this site, though it's better to order it from Youth Guardian Services so the money actually goes to Steve and Jimmy.

When Steve was writing the songs for this new show, he said he needed a song about Catholics (because Jimmy was raised Catholic) and that, as a Baptist, he couldn't relate to being Catholic. (The show tells the story of their mutual lives, separately and together, and since Jimmy once wanted to be a priest and Steve wanted to be a minister, religion was a very big part of both of their lives.) He asked me to write lyrics about the frustrations of being a Catholic. I'm not a lyricist. I've written some parody lyrics for Gilbert & Sullivan songs, but never just writing lyrics.

He suggested that I take a Gilbert and Sullivan song, not tell him which song it was so he wouldn't be influenced when he wrote the melody, and rewrite the lyrics to that, since that's something I know how to do. "Write about anything. Birth control. Divorce. Confession. Anything."

I thought about it for a long time and thought about posible songs to use. I thought about the beginning of my break with the church: Birth control. How frustrating it was, as much as I loved them with all my heart, to realize that I was averaging a baby every year and a half, with no apparent end in sight and there was--and still is--a ban on use of birth control by the church. At that time I said that the day the Pope showed up at my house to change diapers is the day I'd listen to what the church had to say about birth control. So I took that as my starting point--how to write a song about birth control.

Then, while thinking about my favorite song from one of G&S's lesser known operettas, "Utopia Limited," I thought of the phrase "the house is never tidy and the pope won't change a didy." That did it. I giggled so much at the thought of the pope showing up at my house to change diapers that the song took off from there.

With Steve's enthusiastic response ("That's great...more! more!") the lyrics started to flow and before I knew it, "Us Catholics" was born. At that time Steve thought he was writing a "God musical" and it hadn't really taken solid form. When Jimmy began to write the play, it turned out to be the story of two religious gay men who struggled with their relationship with God and found each other and Ethel Merman.

The song became Jimmy's, but since it's set in the years prior to the birth control pill he had to revise my lyrics a bit. He sings it as a complaint song sung by the ladies of the Rosary Society of St. Rocko's of Poughkeepsie, New York. I had written:

I cannot use the pill or else
My soul will rot in Hades
The IUD's a no-no
And no condoms for the ladies

That didn't work for the early '50s, so Jimmy changed it to

I cannot use a diaphragm
My soul will rot in Hades
No artificial methods
Only rhythm for the ladies

But the song then goes on to talk about the frustration of trying to explain to a priest that you've come to the end of your rope, and having the priest essentially pat you on the shoulder and say "God will provide." As Jimmy sings it (and as Steve wrote the music) it's a very funny song and I'm so proud every time I hear it. I'm also thrilled to have it on an official Original Cast Recording.

I started writing lyrics--or, more accurately, RE-writing lyrics, since I don't consider myself a real lyric writer--I just turn someone else's song into something funny--back in about 1994 when Gilbert and I collaborated on "Major General Hospital," a funny show which made fun of the medical profession and was a big hit.

I love writing lyrics with Gilbert. We worked well together and seemed to always be on the same page. We had our "positions." He had to sit at the computer, I sat at the chair next to his desk (we tried reversing them, since I was the better typist, but we couldn't seem to create that way). When I wasn't able to get to San Francisco to work with him, we would do it on the phone (this was before e-mail, before the Internet. How he would have LOVED the Internet!)

After he died (we did three shows together), a committee was formed to continue the yearly original shows and I wrote several songs over the next few years.

Then my friend the very talented Steve Peithman (there are too many Steves in my life!), asked me to collaborate with him on a show for the Davis Comic Opera Company. He had in mind to combine "Pirates of Penzance" with "Casablanca" and "The Pirates of Casablanca" was born. I wrote a song about a Hungarian gourmet vegetarian chef to the tune of "Modern Major General." Things like:

At Wendy's or MacDonald's
on the hamburgers I quickly fell
I never missed a chance for all that
greasy food from Taco bell
A dozen ballpark franks
I could ingest with quite a lot of ease
I never, no I never looked
at lettuce, spinach, kale or peas.
I ate a lot of butter and
I drank a lot of alcohol
Till doctor said I had to work
to lower my cholesterol

...and that's how he became a vegetarian.

The show was a big hit with the Davis community, which had never seen anything quite like it before. Five years later we followed it up with "A Streetcar Named Mikado", which won the 1999 Elly award (Sacramento's equivalent of a Tony) for best new musical.

I don't fancy myself a real lyricist, but I sure have fun with these parodies. And I love it that I've had a part in an original musical. I hope there is more musical collaboration with both Steves.

Quote of the Day

Wagner's music is better than it sounds.

~ Bill Nye

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One Year Ago
Zippers and Spinach and Kidneys
What is the proper protocol when discovering that the gentleman with whom you are doing business is in danger of really letting it all hang out at any moment? Especially when your eyes are compulsively drawn to the site wondering if you should say something.

Two Years Ago
Some Days are Diamonds
As the John Denver song goes, some days are diamonds, some days are stone . I’d have to put yesterday in the “diamond” category.

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