Review: Anyone Who Had a Heart, By Burt Bacharach
Great songs, but foggy snapshots
Burt Bacharach, the Grammy and Oscar-winning composer famed for hits including "Walk On By", "What's New Pussycat?" and "Do You Know The Way to San José", certainly has some tales to tell. There's the time he found Marlene Dietrich in his hotel room washing his socks. There's also the time he was invited to perform at a reception at the White House, during which President Reagan fell into a deep sleep.
Bacharach's autobiography, written with the journalist Robert Greenfield, is a Who's Who of the people who powered the entertainment industries from the Sixties onwards. It is, in many ways, an intriguing tale of how a Jewish kid from New York with a musical streak rose, alongside his writing partner Hal David, to become one of the most unashamedly commercial and in-demand composers of his time. But it's also a series of foggy snapshots that prompt the reader to question just how engaged Bacharach was in writing the book. For much of the time, Bacharach lets other people do the talking. Anyone Who Had a Heart is littered with lengthy reminiscences from girlfriends, wives, friends and collaborators. As such, the narrative is disjointed, often repeating the same anecdotes from differing points of view.
Bacharach, who is now 85, deserves some credit for allowing some of these testimonies through, however. His second wife, the actress Angie Dickinson, calls him a "son ofabitch" while his third wife and songwriting partner, Carole Bayer Sager, notes: "Nothing changes with Burt when he changes wives. The only thing which changes is the wife, but his routine remains the same."
While Bacharach the artist comes over as a preternaturally talented perfectionist, Bacharach the husband and lover is self-centred and cavalier. His attitude to assorted conquests – some have "great tits", others are "dogs" – leaves a nasty taste.
More complex is his relationship with his daughter, Nikki, who suffered from an unspecified condition, later recognised as Asperger's, and who committed suicide in 2007. Bacharach's shame and frustration at how he handled her illness seeps off the page. "No matter how much I had tried to give Nikki," he says sadly, "I still wound up hitting the wall."
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