Barry Harman

Here are two interviews with Barry Harman, who was the writer of the songlyrics of the songs in the Jem cartoon.

An interview with Barry Harman
By Tom Tsafaridis

Please tell me a little about your background? Where are you from and how did you become involved with Jem?

"I'M A WRITER/LYRICIST WITH PRIME TIME TV & BROADWAY CREDITS. I GRADUATED HARVARD AND MANAGED TO GET A JOB ON "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW," THEN WENT ON TO WRITE FOR CURRENT SHOWS OF THE DAY LIKE "ALL IN THE FAMILY" & "THE JEFFERSONS." I WON TWO EMMYS, ONE FOR CAROL BURNETT AND "ALL IN THE FAMILY." I THEN RETURNED TO NY TO PURSUE A CAREER IN THEATRE, AS WELL AS MOVING INTO EDUCATIONAL TV, WHICH ANSWERED A NEED OF MINE TO DO SOMETHING WORTHWHILE WITH MY TALENTS. "JEM" IS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE VERY FEW SHOWS AIMED AT A YOUNG AUDIENCE THAT I PARTICIPATED IN THAT WASN'T INHERENTLY EDUCATIONAL (THOUGH THERE ARE LOTS OF PRO-SOCIAL THEMES SPRINKLED INTO THE STORIES AND SONGS). OVER THE YEARS, I WROTE QUITE A FEW SONGS FOR SERIES FOR SUNBOW PRODUCTIONS, WHICH PRODUCED "JEM," INCLUDING "MY LITTLE PONY" AND THE CURRENT "SALTY'S LIGHTHOUSE." ON BROADWAY, I WROTE THE MUSICAL "ROMANCE/ROMANCE" (BOOK & LYRICS) WHICH STARRED SCOTT BAKULA AND WHICH WAS NOMINATED FOR FIVE TONY AWARDS, AND I'VE HAD TWO OTHER SHOWS OFF-BROADWAY WHICH WON VARIOUS AWARDS. I CURRENTLY HAVE THREE NEW THEATRE MUSICALS IN THE PIPELINE. I'VE DONE A GREAT DEAL OF HEADWRITING FOR EDUCATIONAL TV SHOWS AS WELL- MOSTLY PRE-SCHOOL SHOWS, SUCH AS "ALLEGRA'S WINDOW" FOR NICK, JR. AND "BIG BAG" FOR CHILDRENS TELEVISION WORKSHOP. OTHER CREDITS I'M PROUD OF ARE THE EMMY & PEABODY AWARD WINNING FAMILY SPECIAL ABOUT RELIGION FOR HBO, ENTITLED "HOW DO YOU SPELL GOD?," AND A PBS "GREAT PERFORMANCES" SPECIAL ABOUT THE CLASSIC BROADWAY MUSICAL LYRICIST OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II."

About how long did it take you to write a Jem song?

"THAT REALLY VARIED. SOME TIMES YOU CAN WRITE A SONG IN A HALF HOUR, SOMETIMES IT TAKES DAYS. BECAUSE "JEM" HAD TO BE WRITTEN ON A SCHEDULE, I RARELY HAD A HUGE AMOUNT OF TIME TO WORK ON ANY ONE SONG, BUT BASICALLY, YOU TAKE THE TIME THAT'S NEEDED. FINDING THE RIGHT "HOOK" IS WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT."

How did you feel when you heard Britta Phillips (singing voice of Jem) bring your songs to life. Where you happy with her performance?

"I THOUGHT SHE DID A TERRIFIC JOB. I LIKE AND LIKED HER VOICE AND SINGING A GREAT DEAL."

Did you write any songs that were not used it the series for any particular reason?

"NOT AS I RECALL, THOUGH I BELIEVE THERE WERE A FEW EPISODES THAT DID NOT GET MADE. UNDERSTAND THAT WE WERE TURNING OUT A HUGE NUMBER OF EPISODES IN A SHORT TIME SPAN, WITH THREE NEW SONGS PER EPISODE, SO IT'S KIND OF HARD TO KEEP TRACK OF ALL THAT. I BELIEVE I WROTE OVER 180 DIFFERENT SONGS FOR JEM. AT LEAST, THAT'S WHAT MY CONTRACT CALLED FOR."

Of the dozens of songs you've written for the series, are there any that you are particularly fond of? Do you have a favorite song?

"AS I SAID, IT WAS MORE THAN DOZENS OF SONGS. SOMETIMES YOU LIKE THE LYRIC BETTER, SOMETIMES THE MUSIC, IN THE FINISHED PRODUCT. I SEEM TO RECALL "LIKE A DREAM" AND "SHE'S GOT THE POWER" AS TWO SONGS THAT CAME TOGETHER FOR ME FAIRLY WELL. TRUTH IS, I'D HAVE TO RE-LISTEN TO THEM ALL TO DECIDE TODAY. ANYONE OUT THERE HAVE THEM ON CD? I'D LOVE TO GET A COPY! BELIEVE IT OR NOT, I ONLY HAVE THE SONGS ON SOME CASSETTE TAPE SOMEWHERE, ALONG WITH SOME VIDEO TAPES."

I want to thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions and thank you for the great music. It was truly inspirational.

"THE NICEST PART ABOUT DISCOVERING ALL THE "JEM" WEBSITES HAS BEEN LEARNING THE ENORMOUS IMPACT THE SHOW SEEMS TO HAVE HAD. WE DIDN'T REALLY KNOW THAT AT THE TIME. OCCASIONALLY I'M ASKED TO LECTURE ABOUT MY WORK TO COLLEGE STUDENTS, AND INVARIABLY THE CREDIT THAT CAUSES MOST EXCITEMENT IS WHEN THEY LEARN I WROTE THE LYRICS TO "JEM.""

An interview with Barry Harman

How did you find out about the job of writing the Jem songlyrics?

"I WAS OFFERED THE JOB, THROUGH MY ATTORNEY. I HAD DONE A HUGE AMOUNT OF LYRIC WRITING FOR SUNBOW PRODUCTONS OVER THE YEARS, AND THEY BASICALLY OFFERED ME THE JOB OF LYRICIST ON JUST ABOUT EVERY PROJECT THEY DID THAT INCLUDED SONGS. IN ADDITION, I WAS FRIENDLY WITH STEVE HASSENFELD, WHO WAS ONE OF THE CO-OWNERS OF HASBRO TOYS (HE IS NOW DECEASED), WHO OFTEN ASKED THAT I BE GIVEN JOBS ON THE SHOWS WHICH WERE BUILT AROUND HIS COMPANY'S TOYS."

What did the process look like when writing a Jem songlyric, what did you have to go by, was the music or songlyrics written first?

"I WAS GIVEN A SCRIPT (OR SCRIPT OUTLINE, BUT MORE OFTEN A DRAFT OF A SCRIPT) WHICH INDICATED THE THREE SONGS FOR THAT EPISODE. OFTEN THERE WAS A TITLE INDICATED, THOUGH I CHANGED THAT AS OFTEN AS I KEPT IT. IN ALL CASES THE LYRICS WERE WRITTEN FIRST ON THE JEM PROJECT."

Which group or character in the Jem cartoon did you most enjoy writing for?

"THE MISFITS, DEFINITELY! IT'S MUCH MORE INTERESTING TO WRITE SONGS FOR THE BAD GUYS, AS ALMOST ANY WRITER WILL TELL YOU, AND MORE LIBERATING. JEM & THE HOLOGRAMS WERE SWEET, BUT IT'S HARD TURNING OUT SONGS THAT ARE ALL SO POSITIVELY BASED. I THINK WE DID A DECENT JOB, BUT IT'S MORE FUN MISBEHAVING!"

Did you feel you got to express yourself writing the Jem songlyrics, or were the themes of the songs very much controlled to fit into the stories of the episodes?

"WELL, THE THEMES WERE A GIVEN, BUT AS THEY WERE ALL PRETTY UNIVERSAL, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN HARD NOT TO EXPRESS MY FEELINGS IN THE SONGS."

Did you decide the titles of the songs?

"IT VARIED. TITLES WERE SUGGESTED, BUT AS CHRISTY MARX & THE PRODUCERS ARE NOT SONG WRITERS, THEY'D OFTEN SUGGEST A PHRASE THAT WAS RIGHT IN TERMS OF CONTENT, BUT DIDN'T "SING" WELL - SUCH AS WORDS THAT WERE DIFFICULT TO PRONOUNCE, OR PHRASES THAT DIDN'T SOUND COLLOQUIAL OR WEREN'T HIP ENOUGH FOR A POP SONG."

Did you also write the Jem theme songs and the songs in the Jem doll commercials?

"NO. THE ORIGINAL THEME SONG WAS WRITTEN FOR THE PILOT, BEFORE I JOINED THE SHOW. AND I DON'T WRITE COMMERCIAL JINGLES, EVER. NEVER HAVE, NEVER WILL. JUST NOT MY AREA OF INTEREST."

Did anyone else ever have any input on the lyrics of a song, after you had written it, but before it got included in the Jem cartoon?

"OH, SURE, THERE WERE THE PRODUCERS WHO READ THE SONG LYRICS AND WOULD MAKE COMMENTS - AND THE COMPOSERS WOULD SOMETIMES ASK FOR CHANGES AFTER THEY GOT A MUSICAL IDEA THEY LIKED WHICH MIGHT AFFECT THE LYRIC. THAT'S THE NORMAL WAY SONGS ARE WRITTEN. IN A GOOD COLLABORATION, THERE ARE ALWAYS CHANGES. WHAT MATTERS IS THE FINAL PRODUCT, NOT YOUR EGO."

Did you write any songlyrics that didn't make it into the Jem cartoon, any you were told couldn't be used or needed to be heavily re-written?

"I HONESTLY DON'T REMEMBER. I'M SURE THERE WERE LYRICS THAT WEREN'T USED - SOMETIMES STORIES CHANGED, SO WE HAD TO REVAMP THE ORIGINAL IDEAS FOR THE SONGS. AND SOMETIMES, THE PRODUCERS HAD A SPECIFIC VISUAL IN MIND THAT WASN'T INDICATED IN THE SCRIPT, SO I WAS ASKED TO ACCOMODATE WITH PHRASES THAT WOULD ACCOMPANY THE VISUAL IN THE JEM SONG "VIDEO." MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, THE VISUALS DERIVED FROM THEM READING MY LYRICS, WHICH I TRIED TO INFUSE WITH AS MANY VISUAL IDEAS AS I COULD."

Is there a particular Jem songlyric you are extra proud of?

"THAT'S LIKE ASKING A PARENT TO CHOOSE WHICH IS HIS FAVORITE CHILD. THERE WHERE A LOT OF SONGS WRITTEN FOR JEM - I CAN'T EVEN RECALL HALF OF THEM UNTIL I SEE THE LIST. I STILL ENJOY HEARING "LIKE A DREAM.""

Around when, was the first and last Jem songlyrics written, or how long was the time period?

"THIS IS GOING BACK A BIT. IT WAS IN THE EARLY 80'S, IT WAS OVER THE PERIOD OF ABOUT A YEAR AND A HALF, BUT I CAN'T RECALL THE EXACT DATES, SORRY. I DO RECALL HAVING TO TURN OUT FROM 3-6 SONGS IN A WEEK'S TIME AT OUR BUSIEST; WE WERE ON A VERY TIGHT SCHEDULE."

Did you know that the characters Kimber and Stormer were the ones who were credited as the songwriters of their groups in the cartoon?

"I THINK I WAS AWARE OF THAT, BUT I DIDN'T TAKE OFFENSE. MY JOB WAS TO CREATE SONGS THAT THE AUDIENCE WOULD BELIEVE THE CHARACTERS HAD WRITTEN. IF PEOPLE ACTUALLY BELIEVED KIMBER AND STORMER WROTE THE SONGS, THEN WE DID A GOOD JOB. BESIDES, WE WERE CLEARLY LISTED IN THE CREDITS."

How did you like the Jem cartoon?

"I THOUGHT IT WAS SORT OF KICKY - A SOAP OPERA FOR KIDS WITH MUSIC. IT WAS CERTAINLY DIFFERENT THAN MOST SHOWS. I LOVED THE "VIDEOS," WHICH MADE THE SHOW (AT THE TIME) SEEM FAIRLY HIP FOR CARTOON."

How did it feel hearing your words coming out of the Jem characters?

"I LOVE WRITING FOR CHARACTER - I WRITE FOR THE MUSICAL THEATER, AND THAT'S WHAT I ENJOY MOST - SONGS WHICH FEEL APPROPRIATE TO THE PEOPLE SINGING THEM. SO MY ANSWER IS - I ENJOYED IT!"

Have you kept any of the material, papers and notes from writing the Jem songlyrics?

"I KEEP ALL MY WORK RELATED PAPERS, BUT IN STORAGE. TO BE HONEST, I HAVEN'T LOOKED AT THE JEM PAPERS FOR MANY, MANY YEARS."

Who were you in contact with during your time on Jem, did you get to meet the singers and hear them record?

"MOSTLY, I WORKED THROUGH THE PRODUCERS AT SUNBOW - JOE BACAL, HIS SON JAY BACAL, OCCASIONALLY TOM GRIFFIN, AND CAROL WEITZMANN, WHO RAN THE OPERATION. I TALKED TO THE COMPOSERS WHEN WE NEEDED TO - I ONLY SPOKE WITH CHRISTY MARX A FEW TIMES, BECAUSE MOST OF HER WORK WAS DONE PRIOR TO MINE."

Have you done any work outside of Jem with any of the people from Jem, and do you still have contact with any of them?

"I THINK I'VE DONE SOME WORK WITH FORD KINDER - IN THAT I WROTE LYRICS AND HE PROVIDED MUSIC FOR OTHER SUNBOW PROJECTS. I CONTINUED TO WRITE FOR SUNBOW FOR MANY YEARS AFTER. MOST RECENTLY, I WAS HEADWRITER AND LYRICIST FOR THEIR EDUCATIONAL TV SERIES "SALTY'S LIGHTHOUSE," WHICH IS CURRENTLY ON THE LEARNING CHANNEL."

What are you doing nowadays?

"I CONTINUE TO WRITE FOR THE THEATRE AND TV. I HAD A SHOW ON BROADWAY, ENTITLED "ROMANCE/ROMANCE," WHICH WAS NOMINATED FOR FIVE TONY AWARDS AND STARRED SCOTT BAKULA (WE DEBUTED THE SAME YEAR AS "PHANTOM OF THE OPERA." THEY'RE STILL RUNNING'' WE'RE NOT, THOUGH THE SHOW PLAYS ALL OVER THE COUNTRY AND THE WORLD. I HAVE BEEN HEADWRITER (AND LYRICIST) ON A NUMBER OF EDUCATIONAL SERIES FOR PRE-SCHOOLERS, SUCH AS "ALLEGRA'S WINDOW," WHICH WAS ON NICK AND IS NOW ON NOGGIN, "BIG BAG" WHICH WAS ON CARTOON NETWORK AND WAS PRODUCED BY CHILDREN'S TELEVISION WORKSHOP (WHO ALSO PRODUCE "SESAME STREET"), AND ANOTHER SERIES ON ANIMAL PLANET, ENTITLED "ONCE UPON A TREE." I HAVE THREE BROADWAY BOUND SHOWS I AM WORKING ON, AND I WROTE THE EMMY AND PEABODY AWARD WINNING HBO FAMILY SPECIAL "HOW DO YOU SPELL GOD?" I ALSO WROTE A PBS "GREAT PERFORMANCES" SPECIAL, A TRIBUTE TO OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II, WHICH WAS HOSTED BY JULIE ANDREWS."

Could you imagine writing the songlyrics, if Jem made a comeback?

"THERE ARE ALWAYS MORE SONGS TO BE WRITTEN...BUT I'M NOT EXPECTING JEM TO RETURN. HOWEVER, THEY'RE COMING OUT WITH A MOVIE OF "JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS" - SO WHO CAN SAY?"

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