We had a lovely chat with a Quebecois producer who's interested in our military families drama GONE TO SOLDIERS. Trying to explain the title, I went looking up "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" which I used to sing at summer camp. I discovered that, first of all, Joan Baez doesn't sing "Gone to soldiers every one," she sings "They're all in uniform." But more importantly, I found that that Pete Seegar only wrote the first three verses of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone." Joe Hickerson wrote the last two, which bring it round and make it circular. And that's what made it into a classic that chokes me up every time I hear or play it.
It's the simplest of songs. But it's not the harsh lyrics that get you. It's the soft ones. It's not the overloaded lyric, "Where have all the soldiers gone? / Gone to graveyards every one." It's the next verse, "Where have all the graveyards gone? / Gone to flowers every one," that makes you realize how it's all going round and round and round, and when will they ever learn?
Bless you, Joe Hickerson.
Sometimes it's not the first creator. Solomon Linda came up with a great riff for "Mbube," the lion song, and had a small hit in Africa. Pete Seeger (him again) turned it into "Wimowe" and had another hit. But it's not until the songwriters George David Weiss, Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti added the simple but somehow haunting lyrics, that the song caught fire and became a classic: "In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight. In the jungle, the quiet jungle, the lion sleeps tonight."
Not much in the way of lyrics, but somehow they are perfect, and they make me choke up when I hear them. (It is good that the lion is sleeping. No one will come to any harm.)
Writers, particularly writers unions, have a prejudice that the first writer should take the screenplay all the way. And some screenplays are perfect as written (BASIC INSTINCT and UNFORGIVEN were shot as written).
But sometimes you need a few people to add all the heart and soul that's needed to take it where it needs to go.