Naptime For Bonzo: Proutt, Gary, and Margaret Wise Brown
I laughed out loud when, at the beginning of a recent interview with Charlottesville's Emily Gary, she began with “Can I just talk to you like you're a real person?” I knew a girl once (and beautiful she was) who used to say pretty much the same thing, usually right before her boyfriend kicked sand in my face, but I showed him. I became a real person, by golly. Emily, in that same vein, has recently become a real musician.
She was a musician before, mind you, even before tying up with Tom Proutt around 2003, the two playing under the moniker Tom and Emily. But she recently, according to her seeming logic, jumped the shark. You see, Tom and Emily are part of a package put together by Emily's sister-in-law Amy Gary and Sterling Publishing (now part of Barnes & Noble) of unpublished works of famed childrens author Margaret Wise Brown. Titled Goodnight Songs, the package contains book (featuring illustrations, one per song, by award-winning artists) and music, on a CD attached prominently to the inside cover, one song to each poem. It is huge for two reasons. This book contains the first of a treasure trove of heretofore unpublished Brown works found a handful of years ago in a trunk stored by Brown's sister, and the CD introduces a new duo (Tom and Emily) to the world of childrens music.
Those who don't know Brown maybe recognize the title Goodnight Moon. I had somehow missed the book and the title, but all of my friends -- all of them (though the guys would not admit it) -- assure me that the book was a landmark book for them in their early years. Delving into Brown just recently, I can only imagine the impact of her writing on little ones. I more than likely would have worn the book out, had I known.
So, yes, Emily Gary is excited. And was probably afraid of what she might say during one of, thus far, her very few interviews. Proutt is also excited. This is bigger than anything he has hitherto been attached, outside his work with Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers. But this whole thing did not happen overnight. It was at least a ten-year process. The work was completed and submitted in 2013. The year Tom and Emily began playing together was 2003. You do the math.
“We were given suggestions for the collection and over that period of ten years, we looked at some 800 pieces, but some of them were like three or four lines long,” explained Proutt. Some of the pieces were written on scraps of paper and napkins, but all were on word files. When I looked at something and it struck me, I thought let's go for it, which was maybe three or four dozen of them. Out of those, Amy came out with 25 or so and out of those, we settled in.”
Amy shopped it, finally working out a deal with Sterling Publishers and the real work began. Tom and Emily had been working toward it for years, so all they needed to do was perfect the songs and arrangements they already had. Amy and Sterling honed it down to twelve, illustrators were lined up and all that was left was the book itself.
Was Tom ever worried? No.
“I felt confident from the very first,” he said. “I knew I was honoring the time period and the music. That's how confident I felt.”
Having a writing partner helped.
“I wrote all of the music with Emily. We share co-writes on it. Mostly, I would come up with something and she would go through it and add or change things. The process was awesome. It was something, taking four lines and turning it into a two-minute song. I didn't struggle with it. It's what I do. I love it. I felt a real connection with Margaret Wise Brown. Whatever someone handed me that she wrote, I felt like I could channel it.”
Tom and Emily are now working on a second album of Brown songs. Tentatively titled Songs of Nature, I'm betting the songs are about--- uh, nature? Okay, I'm not a childrens music kind of guy. But I will bet you this. Whether Goodnight Songs wins a Grammy or not... What? I didn't tell you that they are in the early stages of possibly obtaining a Grammy nomination? My bad. But whether it wins a Grammy nomination or not, the kids and mothers and dads and gramma and grampas will be all over it the second they hear it is available.
By the way, it's Emily's voice that does it. Don't tell Tom. He has a fragile ego.