Monday, May 23, 2011


Pop cultural history seemed already to have forgotten Joseph Brooks.  His most famous achievement, the lugubrious pop song You Light Up My Life, was a massive hit back in 1977, winning an Oscar and a Grammy, but it quickly became a thing to be mocked, then, soon enough, ignored--even radio stations that regularly program "the biggest hits of the seventies" usually leave it off their playlists, though it was the top-charting song of its year.

The odd thing about Brooks, though, was that he kept doing things, whether anyone wanted him to or not.  He'd become a millionaire cranking out commercial jingles, and he used his money to fund a number of vanity projects.  He wrote and directed the movie You Light Up My Life, designed as a showcase for his songwriting, and it was a modest hit, largely due to the popularity of the title song.  But it was enough to convince him he was an auteur--he followed it with If Ever I See You Again, a drippy romance about a successful pop songwriter forcing his way back into the life of his ex--Brooks starred, despite having zero screen presence and a vaguely reptilian appearance--and Headin' For Broadway, about a group of hopeful kids willing to do whatever it takes to find stardom.

These were movies nobody could possibly want to see, and predictably, they flopped.  Somehow, Brooks kept working.  A few years ago, he became something of a laughing stock with his Broadway musical In My Life, a misguided semi-romantic trifle which he wrote, scored, produced and directed.  Stage musicals are usually collaborative affairs, but Brooks refused any kind of assistance for his terrible show--he would do exactly what he wanted, and he wasn't going to let anyone tell him no.

Not that he would have listened.  The word "no" clearly meant nothing to Brooks, who was due to stand trial for sexual assault on over a dozen women he had lured to his Upper West Side apartment with promises of some kind of work in some unspecified project.  He posted ads online and held private auditions.  When the naive young hopefuls appeared at his door, he offered to show them his Oscar, he poured them wine, asked them to perform a scene he'd devised.  Then he raped them.

Even in the New York tabloids, Brooks' unfolding legal saga was never front page news.  He just wasn't big enough, famous enough.  No matter how hard he tried, how much money he made, he was always a show-biz also-ran.  He killed himself over the weekend, a miserable end to a worthless existence, and The Post and The Daily News both buried the story in the back pages.  Nobody cared about his fucking Oscar.