Sunday, July 17, 2005

A Finagler's Fine-Tuning

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...Okay, so Michael Feinstein and Lifestyles Magazine were meant to be a shidduch.

First things first: write a proposal letter to the Lifestyles editor. So I sat and composed an award-winning letter of who Michael was and why he should be featured in the magazine. And then I wrote a (equally award-winning) presentation of who I was, what I did and what I'd written before -- not much, anyways.

But I got a green light, and that's all that mattered!

Next thing to do was find out how to contact Michael's people to arrange for an interview with him -- it was September now and I had about a six-week lead time, enough I figured to get things arranged.

First I contacted the Toronto venue where he was to be performing and they gave me the record company name. The record company provided me with the management company in L.A., and the management company got a letter from me. (I am much better in writing than I am on the phone, and I look for every excuse to write letters or e-mails so as not to have to telephone places)I was asked to forward a sample copy of the magazine, which I did, and then got the green light from them...and a press kit and a CD sampler. I was told that closer to the time, I'd be getting a call from the record company to schedule the actual interview with Michael. I was elated; I was on a roll.

I incorporated the information from the press kit, the influence of Michael's music playing in the background, and did loads of online research at home and at the public library, finding press clippings, etc. I'd suddenly became an expert on the life and times of Michael Feinstein up until that point.

The L.A.-management company heard from me again when I requested photos to accompany the piece, and although they had a standard publicity shot or two, it was the "back home, growing up" photos I was seeking for such an in-depth piece. And so, my name and number and request was passed on to the next best person, Michael's mom, Mazie Feinstein. She contacted me one day, asked what sorts of photos I'd need and said she'd send an envelope to me but would need them back. Of course she'd need them back: there was Michael with Liza Minnelli (she'd sort of helped him with a Hollywood entree into the music scene), Michael with presidents, Michael with Ira Gershwin, Michael as a little boy with microphone in hand and singing at a family simcha back in Ohio.

So I'd done the prep work and then the week of the concert, I got a call with a place and time to meet Michael: 12 noon, Four Seasons Hotel, the day after the concert, for a 20 minute personal interview. I began to wonder: Did I bite off more than I can chew? Yes, I'd come out of left field to land a magazine article in a glossy-pseudo international prestigious magazine; I'd managed to make all the right connections to land an interview with someone whose music I adored (and whose looks weren't bad, either!);I'd prepared; knew tons about his background; had a list of questions ready; microcassette player was ready -- I should be ready. But was I really going to be ready?

Okay, the concert came and went, and I loved it so much -- Michael's talent for musical interpretation of old standards, his interjection with personal stories of great American songwriters, and his natural charisma entrance an audience of fifty or a thousand people. That in itself is a talent.

Taking the subway downtown to Michael's hotel, all I could think was: Will my tape recorder work? Will I get all the information I'm seeking? Will I come across as a total newbie at this? And lastly: What the hell did I get myself into?

I arrived at the front desk, asked for his room number and called from a house phone. He answered, I announced myself and he told me to just give him a few minutes and then come up to the room. I did as asked and then eyeing my watch a few times, decided that enough time had passed: I was ready for Michael and Michael was ready for me!

He answered the door, let me in, asked if I wanted/needed anything, to which this nervous Pearl replied jokingly, but in more of a murmur, "A stiff drink." I really wanted to say, "Could we sing a duet?" His room was a suite that had a sitting area and separate bedroom. The sitting area had a piano against the wall, where I guess he'd been practicing before the concert, and I wanted to "make beautiful music" together with Michael Feinstein!

In any case, he was very congenial, asking if I preferred to sit on the couch to ask my questions, or at the round turned into a round table discussion...and the assigned 20 minutes turned into 40 minutes (I think generally unheard-of in the realm of journalistic interviews...personal interviews often also being out of the norm). We were interrupted by a phone call, which happened to be the next appointment for Michael. I was very fortunate I'd been granted a face-to-face interview rather than a phone interview.

The interview, the concert, the idea and the following through of my idea, dealing with Michael's mother at least a couple of times (I called her again after the interview to get some more "insider information" on her son), and seeing my name and my article and the photos I'd managed to get to accompany the piece were a WONDERFUL and memorable experience for me. It didn't hurt that the particular issue the article finally appeared in had a cover story of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (he was still alive at the time), thus making it somewhat of a "keeper" issue for many more people than just myself!

More than anything, I think I was most proud of the fact that I'd had one of my offbeat ideas, had done everything possible to accomplish what I'd set out to do, and accomplished it. Yes, I was insecure in many ways about it, continually doubting the events I'd set in motion, but pleased with the final results and the more-than-personal touch I'd brought to Michael Feinstein's story.

Every now and again, I pull out that issue of Lifestyles Magazine, reread the beautiful story/interview with the late, great Rebbe Schneerson, and then turn several more pages and admire my own words, knowing that behind every story is another story just waiting to be told...


cruisin-mom said...

Pearl, I love your story. I happen to be a Michael Feinstein fan (are you old enough to have watched the show "30 Something"? He once had a great guest spot on that show). Good for you on this accomplishment! If you get an interview with Harry Connick Jr...can I come along?!

Anonymous said...

Best regards from NY!
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