From journalism to songwriting, David Sherman has his way with words
A couple of weeks ago, we walked into the Mariposa Café in N.D.G. and to our great surprise, there was former newspaper colleague David Sherman, guitar in hand, about to sing his own music before a live audience.
There seem to be no bounds for this Montreal-born journalist, editor, broadcaster, script writer/producer, playwright and now singer-songwriter. And he’s only 59.
The last time Sherman was in the public eye was this winter, as writer of the hit play Joe Louis: An American Romance, directed by Guy Sprung at Infinitheatre. It is a retrospective on the heroic and tragic life of the great American boxer who died impoverished in 1981. It is, Sherman says, a story of celebrity and racism, and if you missed it, a new version is in the works.
In June, he launched his first CD, If I Could Run (Big Fat Truck), a lovely series of lyrical ballads about loving, leaving and returning, yearning and reflecting. It’s an emotion-rich chronicle in song. Sherman has a way with words, whatever the medium, and his songs, delivered in a somewhat unpolished voice, are replete with sincerity and awash with poetic wisdom.
It’s been a long road. Sherman paid his journalistic dues with several local organizations, including the Montreal Star, The Gazette, Sherbrooke Record and many others. From an early job in the 1960s putting out a mimeographed school newspaper at Chomedey Polyvalent High School, he rose quickly in the journalistic hierarchy, starting as a copy boy, doing a stint in the circulation department, honing his writing skills as a reporter and finally working as copy editor. During that time, he took a stab at the challenging world of documentary filmmaking, focusing on such subjects as Expos left-handed pitcher Bill (Spaceman) Lee. He then had a theatre epiphany:
“I saw Michel Tremblay’s The Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, and I was really struck by the fact that the entire theatre was in tears at the end.”
Sherman had an idea and wrote his first play, Montreal Mitzvah, about a Jewish family trying to deal in a humorous way with intermarriage and the polyglot cultures of the city as they affected the family.
Sherman’s script ended up at Centaur when then-artistic director Gordon McCall liked it enough to ask for some rewrites. It was not produced, but after his second play, Have a Heart, Sherman was appointed playwright-in-residence. That stint acted as a sort of finishing school, where Sherman took part in “rehearsals, readings and auditions” and learned a lot more about theatre.
He then wrote The Daily Miracle, based loosely on his experience as a Gazette copy editor, where the night staff works under tremendous time pressure to put out the paper on a daily basis with ever-diminishing resources.
Sherman got hooked on theatre because, even as his work reflects the Montreal culture, “theatre, unlike film, is all imagination, and you can do plays on a shoestring.” Sherman has no fewer than three projects in the works, including a revival of Joe Louis, which “requires a rewrite,” and The Finger, a sex comedy now in its “third or fourth draft.”
What looks like his most ambitious challenge is a musical, based on the Boîtes à Chansons that mushroomed in Montreal and across Quebec in the late 1960s as showcases for Quebec’s nascent singer-songwriters. It will feature the songs of the era, and a political rebel named René Lévesque is among the characters. If conditions are right, Sherman expects to see that produced in 2012.
Getting back to the music, Sherman recorded a couple of CDs with multi-instrumentalist Josh Lebofsky, originally as a memento for his son Amadée.
“I would give them to people. Then I started getting calls from people asking for copies to give to their friends.
“When Francine (Pelletier, journalist/documentary filmmaker) and I got engaged, I wrote a song, I played it in front of 80 people at the party.”
After being fired from a job editing the magazine Feature at Astral, part of a downsizing move—he received no severance pay and says he’s suing—Sherman met a record producer at Big Fat Truck Productions who instead of just buying the songs, offered a recording contract. “I recorded about 40 songs, we made a selection, brought in a couple of producers, some musicians, and produced the CD with 11 songs.”
Their genesis is in the melodies that come to Sherman as he strums his guitar, where themes and moods emerge. The words follow.
“The music creates a type of ambience. The mood comes from the guitar, and I don’t really know why these things come. A lot of it comes from the subconscious.
“It’s a way for me to express emotion.”
At one point, he remembers writing “three or four songs a week,” but now that his music career has entered a new phase, he spends more time on each song.
Sherman finds he works best in the country, and it doesn’t feel like work.
“I think it’s pretty remarkable at this stage in my life that I can be offered a recording contract, and work in the theatre, and do these things—even if they don’t pay.”
To download If I Could Run, visit iTunes—your kids can help you get set up there.