By Chris Shapiro
The time on my watch reads 6:25pm. I have five minutes to wait. Lying back on my hotel bed, I watch the Weather Channel broadcast predictions of a monstrous snow storm expected to arrive in New York City within 48 hours. A second storm, coming down from Alaska, is projected to hit the Ohio and Pennsylvania area around the same time. I have a short window of opportunity for safe driving conditions without being caught in either conflict. What’s my boss’s reply going to be Monday morning if I call him with the fact that I’m snowed in on Long Island?
6:30pm sharp. I turned the television down and make a call. It’s a few rings before he answers.
“Hey, Chris, where you at?” Eddie Money asks.
I’m still in my hotel room but I can be at the theater in ten minutes.
“Alright, give me a call when you get here,” he says.
I hang up and turn to my friend Sharon who traveled out to Long Island with me to see Money’s play “Two Tickets to Paradise.” We have ten minutes to get to the Madison Theater, to which neither of us has been to before. She grabs her GPS and we jump in the car.
A few Garmin recalculations later, we arrive at the Madison Theater located on the Molloy College campus.
Immediately, upon entering the lobby of the theater, I give Money another call. This time, I get his voicemail.
Looking around I spot the box office and Money’s merchandise table. I go to call again but happen to glance to my left. Glenn Symmonds, Money’s drummer of twenty plus years, sits in a lobby chair wrapping his drum sticks.
He recognizes me and gives me a big smile.
“Here to do some interviews tonight?” Glenn asks, “Did you get a hold of Eddie?”
I explain I spoke to him earlier but can only get his voice mail now.
Glenn calls over to Paul who’s setting up the merchandise table. I introduce myself and Sharon to him. He instructs me to wait while he retrieves two tickets from the box office for me. When he returns, I tell him I can’t seem to get a hold of Money.
“Come with me, I’ll take you down to him,” Paul says motioning for us to follow him.
We enter an elevator to the lower level. We talk with him about our drive out to New York earlier in the morning. He’s impressed by our distance traveled for the show tonight.
The elevator door opens and we step out into a hallway leading to the dressing rooms. It’s filled with cast members performing warm up routines and stretches. The air has a charge of excitement to it.
Lee Beverly, Money’s bassist, walks towards us. We smile and exchange greetings.
Paul brings us to the dressing room. He opens the door and we enter.
“Eddie, I have someone here to see you,” he says.
I spot Money in an instance. He sits in the corner of the room in a black suit with a cross necklace hanging from his neck. Actors and cast members of the play stand in a group to my right next to a coat rack filled with costumes.
Money sees me and calls me over to sit down next to him. There’s food and snacks on a table close to where he sits. I introduce my friend Sharon and we talk for a moment.
Money cares about people. He takes an interest in you and when he talks to you, he truly wants to know about you. He asks me how I’ve been since we’ve talked last. How’s my girlfriend, how’s the job, how’s the script I’ve been writing.
“You want a cookie? Have a cookie they’re delicious.” Money offers us with genuine hospitality.
I know his time is precious and show time is less than an hour away so I turn on my tape recorder and we start the interview.
On my ride to Long Island, I asked myself how did Money know he wanted to tell his story and why in this format.
“You know, when I’m looking at Jersey Boys, the whole thing reminded me of the camaraderie that the Four Seasons had, we had the same kind of camaraderie that they did with my band the Grapes of Wrath. We were all like brothers,” Money explains.
Money pauses for a second before continuing, “I got to meet Frankie Valli a couple of times, a real gentleman. We did a couple TV shows together and unfortunately he lost his daughter to a drug overdose. Well, I’m looking at this Jersey Boys and it reminded me of my band and the thing is, I had a major drug overdose too which, almost killed me, and then I came back with my biggest record No Control. So I just started thinking, why not turn this into a play, it’s very interesting.”
I read that Money wrote seven new songs for his play. I want to know how they originated. Did he have them sitting on a shelf and he was able to work them into the play or did they come to life as he wrote the play?
“I wrote the songs for the play. I wrote a song called ‘California Here I Come’ it’s a really cool tune. They’re not rock and roll tunes which is what I’m very proud of. They’re like Broadway tunes. You know, they’re like something out of Jersey Boys, or Carousel, or West Side Story, or Annie Get Your Gun or Damn Yankees. It’s very Broadway. I grew up, you know my parents went to a lot of Broadway shows. You can talk to anybody in New York, Long Island, like Matt’s [Matt Burns] from West Babylon; we all grew up in New York. We got that Broadway running through our blood.” Money explains.
Two people enter the dressing room. It’s Symmonds and his fiancée Tami. They have to ask Money a few questions about the merchandise table. Money is donating the money from the merchandise sales to a charity he supports, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.
“Hi Tam, how are you baby?” Money says.
“She’s in the interview now.” Symmonds jokes.
“Try these cookies they’re great! Tami these are great!” Money says before answering their questions about the table.
Money turns back to me and we continue.
I ask Money about Bill Graham, the famous concert promoter who acted as a mentor to him. I’ve read about Graham but I want to learn about him from someone who knew him.
“He actually came from Russia. With five hundred kids he walked all the way to Paris and two hundred and fifty of them died from starvation on the way there. And his sister Ester was in Auschwitz she still had the tattoos on her arm and he had a tough childhood. And he came out here, started at the Fillmore East and the Fillmore West and he was managing the Grateful Dead and he was managing Janis Joplin. He started with these rock ‘n roll venues on the east coast and on the west coast and he started making a lot of money because he was an honest guy. He actually was the one who started the rock ‘n roll t-shirt. He was the one who actually started putting something on a t-shirt and merchandising it, yeah. He was my manager for a long time and we were very close,” Money says.
“I met him [Graham] in about 1976. I did a show called ‘Sounds of the City’ which was like amateur night at one of his big clubs and we videotaped the whole thing. The band sounded really, really good and I had already written ‘Two Tickets to Paradise’ and ‘Baby Hold On.’ You know, I had written a lot of songs before he signed me. I just didn’t get signed and started writing, I had an arsenal of songs before Bill Graham signed me, enough for two albums,” Money says.
After signing with Graham and Columbia records, the team set out on a long run of promotion. They did Saturday Night Live, the Tonight Show,Merv Griffin, Midnight Special, Mike Douglas, and Pat Sajak. Money’s singles rocketed up the charts and his albums started selling millions. He was commanding, “one thousand dollars a minute for a 75 minute show.”
The self-reflection required by Money to create his play, what did it cause him to realize about his own life and success?
“You know, when you get the breaks, there’s a lot of people out there who are just as talented as I am. Maybe not as talent or maybe not as good as showman but you know it involves a lot of luck too. It’s not all destiny. I mean there’s some really great songwriters out there and great keyboard players and great guitar players that deserve to have a deal but they don’t have the right catch to the right song or the right gift to gab. It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Money says.
I know my facts on Money. He’s had 17 singles chart on the Billboard 100, albums certified gold, platinum and multi-platinum, Grammy nominations and even toured with the Rolling Stones. He’s one of few artists who charted singles and albums in the 70s, 80s and 90s. He’s had three decades worth of hits. Out of this entire collection of work, what stands as his proudest achievement as an artist.
“I guess it would be No Control. I thought the first record was good too. I mean all the records I thought were good. Playing for Keeps was a great album too,” Money says.
What future he has envisioned for his play. This is the second run. Will there be more?
“I’d like to take the thing to Broadway if it happens,” he says. “It’s been getting really good reviews in New York. I’ve been on CBS radio with Scott Shannon. I’ve been on all the radio stations. TV’s been really good to me. We did Live at Five. There’ll be some people here tonight. So, I hope the play goes.”
I mention the film version of Jersey Boys, the Broadway show that served as an inspiration for Money starting on his endeavor.
Money explains he doesn’t have similar plans for his play, “Once you put something into a movie you lose that Broadway mystique. You lose the mystique. I don’t want to lose my mystique on Broadway. I’m never going to make a movie out of this.”
Knowing he has to prepare for the performance, I end my interview. I thank him for his time.
“Alright Chris, get out there and enjoy yourself,’ Money smiles.
8:05pm. Sharon is reading her play booklet while I observe the stage from my theater seat. I see Symmonds, Chris Grove, Money’s keyboardist, and Beverly enter the music pit.
The lights go out. There are whispers in the dark as anticipation builds. A flash of light explodes on the stage illuminating Money. His presence electrifies the audience and they respond with cheers and applause.
Money’s the narrator and begins his story. He introduces the life of a rock star as, “the ride of your life.” It’s a ride that can be just as rewarding as it is “dangerous” Money says.
He lists numerous stars who died in their prime as a result of over indulgence. Walking toward the middle of the stage, he poses a question, “I survived. Why? I don’t know.”
The reflective tone in his voice acts like a hook that pulls you into his story and life.
Money turns the story over to young Eddie played by the talented Matt Burns who enters wearing a police man’s uniform.
In the first number, “Two Tickets to Paradise,” Burns seals the deal as believable young Eddie Money. Without a doubt, he has the vocal gift to sing Money’s songs.
In the following number, Burns demonstrates spot on signature stage moves of Money while performing, “Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star.” From the way he grabs the microphone, to how he infuses attitude and energy into his moves on stage, he embodies the persona of the man he’s playing and as an audience member you believe you’re seeing the real young Eddie Money on stage.
“California Here I Come” captures the essence of the story. It tells the dramatic need of young Eddie. He must choose between two different worlds. There’s reality where he has a good job as a cop following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Then, there’s the world where his dreams live. It’s the world of stardom. In this scene, we see the journey of Edward Mahoney to Eddie Money begin.
Helen Proimos plays Dottie Mahoney, the mother of Money. Her character is given an extremely emotional number with, “I Always Want the World for You” to which Proimos performs with perfection. It’s a tearful scene because it’s a mother’s heart confessing her love to her son.
The scene that steals the first act is performed by a trio consisting of Riley Van Eron, Kassidy McGlynn, and Sydney Linn who portray Money’s three younger sisters. They perform, “When I Grow Up” with an impressive amount of talent for their age. The performance sparks remembrance of the innocence we have as children and the simplicity of life when we live in our dreams.
With the start of the second act, we see the love story between Money and his future wife to be Laurie, portrayed by Jenna Ghidaleson, unfold.
Also, during the second act, Karen Van Eron displays her talents as choreographer with the number “Mr. Jitters.” Not only is this the best choreographed ensemble scene but it also packs a powerful message that runs as a sub theme to the play.
The song, “Dancing with Mr. Jitters” is about drug addiction and the dangers it has in store for a person. The scene is both artistically charged and latent with meaning. Director John Blenn has the stage saturated in a red hue as the ensemble dances with an addictive hunger before the character Mr. Jitters. It’s as though their souls are being extracted from their bodies.
As narrator, Money explained his problems with drugs. The higher he climbed the more drugs took over. He said he used them to fill the void during the time Laurie was absent in his life. They took him to a point where he lost control and he became the man with no control.
“They call it dope for a reason. You gotta be doped to use it,” Money says.
The “Mr. Jitters” number closes with young Money crashing to the floor due to a drug overdose.
We then see young Eddie in a hospital room falling in and out of consciousness. Money narrates the scene saying he remembers the orderly asking for his autograph in hopes that it might be his last which the orderly thought he would be able to sell.
The days pass. Finally, young Eddie reemerges. There’s a terrific interaction between Burns and Patrin Jones, who plays the orderly, as young Eddie regains consciousness and remembers his overdoes and Laurie. This is followed by Burns’ best vocal performance of the play with, “The Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore.” You forget Burns is an actor while he sings with convincing emotion this beautiful song about lost love.
Burns carries this emotion over to the number, “Hard Life.” A song that acts as a narrative to Money’s pursuit of his dream.
Laurie returns to Money’s life with the number, “Take a Little Bit of My Life” and it marks the beginning of his comeback.
With the success of his biggest album, young Eddie stands in front of the largest concert audiences in history at the US Festival and on top of the world with his career.
Burns beings singing the classic “No Control” song. Suddenly, the lights go out and the stage is dark but the music continues to play. The lights return and Money commands the stage. He finishes the song and leads directly into a string of smash hits, “I Wanna Go Back,” “Take Me Home Tonight,” “Walk on Water,” and his masterpiece “Two Tickets to Paradise.”
As I listen to Money sing and watch him interact with the audience, I have a moment to reflect on the play and I realize the catalysts of the play; conflict.
Conflict drives life. It triggers innovation and creativity. It drives the human soul. Without conflict, there would be no progression forward in our world because as humans we strive to overcome and achieve. Money incorporates this masterfully into his play.
In the play, there is conflict of leaving his mother and the world he felt safe and loved in. Conflict with drugs. Conflict over control. Conflict within his band. Money had the work ethic and determination. His band wanted to protest and join in the social unrest of the time. There was the conflict of the era itself. The sixties and seventieths were challenging traditional social values. The war in Vietnam raged for years. And of course, there was the conflict of being in love, loosing that love and then being able to find it again.
Yet, the main conflict centered on this: living for a dream verse accepting reality. The earlier number, “California Here I Come” displayed the decision to live for a dream and it was grounded in optimism and innocence of youth. But there was a scene during the second act where young Eddie and his band desperately wait for a call from Bill Graham. It showed what happens when that dream doesn’t arrive in a moment’s notice.
They had no leads for record deals, no jobs, and no money. Young Eddie was at his wit’s end. His brother was missing in action in Vietnam. His mother worried sick about him and his brother. She wanted him to come home. She needed him to come home. Reality was at conflict with his dreams. He was at his breakaway point.
The breakaway point. It’s the determining factor between those who have success and those who don’t. Everyone has a talent or ambition but only a handful make it. They’ll take it so far before outside stressors cause them to buckle under. They breakaway from their talent and apply their skills to secondary jobs and careers and the life of the talent dies.
This didn’t happen to Money. When he was living on food stamps, in a dirty apartment with hardly enough money to buy a can of ravioli, he didn’t allow the outside stressors, the conflict in his life, to penetrate his talent. He stood firm during the fires of tribulation and he made his dreams his new reality.
You have to put the talent ahead of your needs and even your wants. If you follow your talent, make it your center, you will attract everything else you need. Whether you need money, food, or contacts, if you place your talent at your center, you guarantee yourself success. Keep the talent alive.
It takes something special within a person to do so. The person has to have heart to make it. To steal a line from John Wayne, a man’s got to have grit and Eddie Money’s got true grit.
To close the show, Money has three Marines join him on stage. The audience members rise and Money salutes the soldiers while singing, “One More Solider Coming Home.” The song makes the heart swell with American pride. It serves tribute to all men and women in uniform and is a personal salute to Money’s brother, a Vietnam veteran. Watching Money perform this song, you witness the story of the man come full circle and you know he never forgot where he came from or the family who loved him.
The audience gives a standing ovation and the play comes to a triumphant end.
Slowly, the theater empties into the filling lobby as fans line up at the merchandise table for a chance to meet Money and grab a photo together. Burns and Symmonds join Money at the table where they meet and talk with fans.
Sharon and I wait for the lobby to empty. After a bit, I walk over to the merchandise table.
Money and I shake hands.
“So what did ya think? Think we can take it to Broadway?” He asks me.
He smiles and signs an autograph.
“It’s going to be even better tomorrow but you probably can’t make it tomorrow huh.” Money says.
I would love to but I have two winter snow storms to ride out. I let Money go back to signing autographs.
Paul walks to the table and I thank him for all his help. It’s getting late and the crowd has thinned. Paul starts to lead Eddie toward the elevators. Acting on a fan based impulse, I asked Symmonds to sell me a poster. He hands me a poster and a marker. I tap Money on the shoulder and ask him to sign my poster, for the scrap book.
He turns back to the table and writes a note on the poster.
“Hey, thanks for coming,” He says signing his name.
I watch him walk through the crowd of devoted fans stopping whenever someone asks him for a photo or an autograph and I know he will always have two tickets to paradise. He’s a living legend whose music and story will serve as an inspiration for anyone who calls themselves an American. That’s why he made it. He’s a man with a heart. A man with true grit. He’s Eddie Money.