Words Matter: The Lyrics of Anya Turner & Robert Grusecki

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Words Matter:
The Lyrics of Anya Turner & Robert Grusecki 

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Some see life as a novel
Some picture a play
Some imagine the opera
Or story ballet
I say life is a jumble of sketches and songs
All tied up with a theme
Namely, “wake up and dream”
For I’ve lived enough dreams
To be sure this is true
I say life must be a revue
Life must be a revue…

Anya Turner and Robert Grusecki have been writing together for almost 35 years and sharing their lives for a bit longer. Seven CDs, 6 songbooks, well over 100 songs, and innumerable cabaret and off-Broadway shows followed, mostly featuring them singing their own material, though their works have been covered by such luminaries as Karen Akers, Donna McKechnie, and Steve Ross.
And now they have assembled all of this into one gorgeous book entitled Words Matter: The Lyrics of Anya Turner & Robert Grusecki.

The name is slightly inaccurate since this is far more than just a collection of lyrics, superior though they be. A cornucopia of personal and professional photographs, reproductions of posters, and the occasional drawing illustrate this compendium, as do brief essays, behind-the-scenes tales, personal memories, monologues, and the original introductions to songs from cabaret shows. Each song is provided with its own pedigree as well, listing the date of completion, its live performance dates, as well as any recordings.

We wrote a show
It played Off-Broadway
We were so sure it would not fail
We wrote a show
It almost killed us
But we have lived to tell the tale

For those unacquainted with their work, the couple write about a wide range of subjects, both personal and topical. Of course, there are a good number of “show biz” tales, but there are also family histories, observations of life in New York City, and such varied topics as trans-life (“Caitlyn”), technology (“Cell Phone”), and politics (“Dude Gotta Go”). Their tone can be surprisingly sarcastic (“Shallow Bitch,” “Thinking shopping till I’m dropping constitutes the Holy Grail”), and then deeply philosophical (“My Chosen Family,” “Bloodlines are given, heartlines are made”).

These creations arise from an unusual working process.
There is no clear-cut division of labor with one writing the music and the other the lyrics as is so often true with such partnerships. They sit down and decide on a topic and an approach to it and then split up to each write a song. Later they reunite to share what they’ve created and merge them together until it is an original work of its own and neither can exactly trace their individual contributions.

And for those who have never heard performances of these song stories, a nine-track sampler is included that features a wide range of their styles from their first hit, the compassionate “Ordinary People” (“Ordinary people living ordinary lives dream the most extraordinary dreams”) to the hesitantly hopeful recent “Something New (in the New Year)” (“Nowadays when dreams are so few all I want is something new”). All of these feature Turner’s fine mezzo-soprano—it’s fun to hear how it has grown richer and more knowing over the years—with contributions from Grusecki’s sweet bari-tenor and the latter’s always deeply felt piano complement.

So dare to dream
A winter’s dream
And then ev’ry care
Will scurry

Don’t worry how
It all will end
Winter turns to spring
When we all begin again
All begin again

The team’s most recent project has been a series of music videos, “Songs of Comfort,” inspired by the Pandemic, both highly political (“Come November”) and intensely personal (“What I Miss”). Without a doubt, this offering contains some of their richest and most caring work. In this wonderful new book for those who treasure lyrics, one can go on their journey with them as their creations mature—the songs are arranged in order of composition with a helpful index in the back giving an alphabetical list of what is included, as well as a separate index of the essays.

All Things Turner and Grusecki can be purchased at their website AnyaRobertMusic.com.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."