Songwriter Interviews

G Tom Mac

by Jeff Suwak

Share this post

The call of a children's choir acts as a haunting refrain throughout the 1987 cult-favorite film The Lost Boys. "Thou shall not fall," the choir sings. "Thou shall not fear." Perhaps most memorably, the singsong declaration pops up during the movie's climatic fight scene, just after Jason Patric's Michael leaves Keifer Sutherland's David impaled and inexplicably smoking upon a pair of animal horns.

The lines come from the chorus for "Cry Little Sister," which in addition to being the film's theme song, is the most widely recognizable work penned and performed by G Tom Mac (aka Gerard McMahon; aka Gerard McMann).

In many ways, "Cry Little Sister" has transcended the horror-comedy that spawned it. Nearly 30 years after its release, the song still regularly inspires fans to send messages of appreciation to its creator. Perhaps because McMahon chose to make the song about a rejected youth's longing for family, rather than simply playing up the vampire spectacle of it all, he has created a work that resonates to this day.

"Cry Little Sister" is hardly the only McMahon song to have entered the popular consciousness. His 40-plus-year career has been as enduring as it has been eclectic; you might not know his name, but you've likely heard his work. His songs have appeared in Chasing Amy, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and All the Right Moves. He has also left his mark on television shows such as Scrubs and Witchblade. He's written songs for, and with, Carly Simon ("Give Me All Night" from 1987's Coming Around Again), Roger Daltrey (most of the 1992 album Rocks in the Head, including "Days of Light"), and Chicago (appearing on multiple works, including Twenty 1). Last but not least, he's recorded solo and as frontman, starting with the 1976 album Gerard by the Colorado band of the same name and going right up to 2007 with Thou Shalt Not Fall, under the moniker G Tom Mac. He isn't done yet, with more projects planned for the near and distant future.

In many ways it all started with a song inspired by a random encounter with a lewd lady somewhere in the Midwest, and a song destined to open an album by one of rock's most iconic bands.
Jeff Suwak (Songfacts): Kiss used your song "Is That You?" as the opening track on their album Unmasked. In an interview, you mentioned that the song was inspired by a real-life encounter with a "Bettie Page leather-looking girl in a hotel somewhere in the Midwest" who offered to give you a "good thrashing." In that same interview, you mentioned that the writing of this song represented a critical point in your development as a songwriter. Could you expand on that a bit? Why did this experience impact you so much artistically?

G Tom Mac: Yeah, "Is That You" was inspired initially by a rather attractive "dom" girl. That was one of the many assorted girls of the "Rock" order. She had the idea I'd be into that sort of thing... Not!

But, it got me some inspiration. I must have shagged a more traditional one for the remaining inspiration of the song! Ha!

The song was definitely a songwriting-defining hour that I could have built a career around, but I chose not to use it for my own first album and let Kiss have it, instead. I was more into going the route of edgier, eclectic, and more challenging writing for myself.

Songfacts: Keeping with "Is That You?," you said that you decided you'd rather write about the "Bettie Page leather-looking girl" than take her up on her thrashing offer. How exactly did that situation resolve itself? It's hard to imagine she took rejection lightly. Did you ever see her again?

G Tom Mac: Yes, writing about it was less painful! Ha! I think she was upset that my innocent face passed on her, but I'm sure she got over it with another roll-through-towner! Maybe Pete Townsend or Gene Simmons!

Nah, never saw her again... I don't think!

McMahon was hired to write "Cry Little Sister" for The Lost Boys film, but he didn't want it to be limited by being a "vampire song." So, he drew on something more universally relatable — a rejected youth's longing for family — to give it more depth. This may explain why the song continues to inspire and move people 30 years later. Eminem even took a bite when he sampled it on his 2010 track "You're Never Over."
Songfacts: In the past, you've talked about how countless fans have shared stories about "Cry Little Sister" deeply affecting their lives. Though fans of Lost Boys will always connect the two in their minds, the song has transcended the film and taken on a life of its own. Did you sense that this would happen when you wrote it? Was there a moment where you knew you'd nailed it and made something special, or has its enduring success surprised you?

G Tom Mac: I didn't even think "Cry Little Sister" would make it in the film Lost Boys, let alone be the theme song to the film. Yes, I felt something when writing it, that it felt every bit of me and I was committed to it no matter what happened in regards to Lost Boys. It's phenomenal how it's come this far with millions of fans and millions of stories!

Songfacts: A good bit of your music has been written for film and television. What's your artistic process like when coming up with tunes for these forms of media? Does it differ much from when you are writing songs without such prompts?

G Tom Mac: It's a combination of understanding the film's story and applying my own life's experience and internal inspiration — that of imagination or true life's observations. TV is more of a case of them licensing my songs from my catalog — something they're looking for that works for a show. I did write a theme for the FX show The Immortal in early 2000 which was quite challenging.

Songfacts: Your Wikipedia page mentions that you wrote your first single at age 16, with a band named the Strangers. Is that true?

G Tom Mac: Yeah, it was a piece of fluff of a song! But, it proved I could write. It was called "Don't Ever Leave Me," kind of a '60s Zombies-type song. I probably could still play it, but I won't! We, the Strangers, recorded it in a first-time ever pro-recording studio. No release, just the beginnings of the experience.

Songfacts: You've got a song titled "Under Your Skin" on Thou Shall Not Fall. Upon first listening, it very much felt like you were going for someone's throat with the tune. After a few more listens, though, I get the impression that there is something heavier than "needling" your enemies going on in the song. Care to expand on its inspiration and/or meaning?

G Tom Mac: "Under Your Skin" was me being the pure love heroin to someone that was never pleased with any guy she'd be with — as in, if you can't feel my angst and intensity then you're completely fucked up emotionally! But, then again, fully knowing I was to be destroyed by the very narcissistic ways of her actions. But, it's actually more of an observation of the trendy and lost.

Songfacts: One of your more recent creations is a song titled "Clone the Method." It was inspired by the show Orphan Black. Care to discuss what you were going for with it? How much of it was written directly about/for the show versus how much was about your own thoughts about modernity, spirituality, and technology? On a less contemplative note, were you commissioned to write that song, or did you simply write it out of inspiration from the show?

G Tom Mac: I love the BBC America series Orphan Black and no, I wasn't commissioned to write it. I, for the longest time, have been fascinated with the idea of the world's future of stem cell research turning loose on our planet, therefore creating and darkening the future.

Cloning of youth is what I was creating in my song, if you watch the video. Whereas youth destroys the elder and stays young forever, some clones desire to grow older for wisdom's sake. It gets deeper than what I'm saying, but I'm only here to offer the song as a "think about it, y'all."

Songfacts: "Greatest Days on Earth" comes off, at first, as a song of simple, sentimental domestic bliss. Yet, the chorus lets us know that this bliss is in the past, telling us that the "greatest days WERE you and me." The past tense gives the song a bit of melancholy that sits heavy in the heart after listening. Was that what you were going for with the song? What inspired it?

G Tom Mac: The song was based on the one real love in my life that never got replaced. The circus metaphor was the best way to describe the intensity of all that transpired throughout that relationship. An act of emotional death was how it had to end, given that the circus was no longer to continue and "the greatest days on earth, were you and me."

Songfacts: You've stated that Thou Shalt Not Fall's "Secrets of Oz" is about the persistence that people show in looking outside themselves for answers to their own existential yearnings and desires for self-understanding. You imply that the quest for those things is one that we must make on their own. What role, if any, does making your music play in your own philosophical/spiritual quest? And what role, if any, do you think that music in general can play in the quests of other individuals?

G Tom Mac: I only know that I write, in philosophical terms in the case of "Secrets of Oz" (again a metaphor), for the search of one's own happiness and/or flight to get out of pain. Much of that song is about prescription drugs; whether opiates or mood-adjusting, it's clear we are a society so desperate to feel better and bigger and non-embracing of the very thing the Oz said to Dorothy and the other three: "you have it in you to be you."

But... of course, they did walk through a poppy field previous to his philosophical mighty words! Ha!

Songfacts: Keeping with the "existential quest" thought: In the '60s and '70s, it would not have been considered far-out or strange to suggest that music could serve a spiritual or philosophical function and help people better understand themselves. In those eras, music was considered culturally and psychologically transformative. Do you think this has changed today? As you look back over 40-plus years of being both a musician and listener, how do you think things have evolved or devolved in the way that the audience looks at music?

G Tom Mac is an artist who refuses to be pigeonholed or homogenized. Even his name defies convention. Born Gerard McMahon, he switched to Gerard "McMann" in 1986 after reporters kept spelling it wrong. He went back to McMahon following the passing of his father. Then, around 2000, he started performing as "G Tom Mac." At one time, it seems, he went simply by Gerard. Some friends and collaborators, such as Roger Daltrey, simply call him "G." We're going with "G Tom Mac," his latest monicker, in this interview.
G Tom Mac: Oh yes, it's changed, and there are young artists delivering incredible, inspiring lyrics that are fun for listeners, far less preachy and more potent and fun-poking at these ever dark times we live in!

Romance is so different now, there's a more "about me" attitude than ever before, and certainly a caution toward never "making the mistakes my parents made," but that is more of why I find myself more interested in my millennial fans out there. I've never been one to be stuck on the music times I grew up in. I need fresh surroundings and new sounds and attitudes to invigorate my purpose to creating and just plain being alive.

Songfacts: Of all your many movie and TV songs, do you have any favorites?

G Tom Mac: No.

Songfacts: Do you watch the films and shows your songs are on after they are completed? How does it feel when you see the final product of music married to image?

G Tom Mac: No, I don't really have that desire to watch once I'm satisfied with what I accomplished. Mind you, it's OK if something comes on TV and gives me a moment to reflect on what I did, but I'm much more of a "moving-on" guy.

Songfacts: You wrote or co-wrote just about every song on Roger Daltrey's Rocks in the Head, including "Days of Light," which hit #6 on the Rock charts. What was it like working with Daltrey? He has said the two of you have a great working relationship. What was the dynamic like working with him on that album?

G Tom Mac: Of all the famous artists I've written for or with, Roger is one of the most brilliant song interpreters. He had one of the last century's most powerful songwriters ever as a bar set extremely high to prove that point with — that being songwriter being Pete Townsend.

I loved writing for and with Roger, not to mention the grueling hours of producing that album, in which we both could have killed one another, but we ended up feeling incredibly satisfied with our bang-up job and remain best mates to this day.

Songfacts: You have endured, both professionally and artistically, for a long time. Many musicians are eaten up by the industry, but you've been going strong consistently for over four decades. What is the secret to your fortitude? What drives your artistic vision and prevents creative burnout?

G Tom Mac: Not getting caught up in negative crap and avoiding the Sharks! I'm a damn good detector! And I live in the moment best I can! And I work out five days a week to stay sane!

But, most of all, I'm driven by the people I meet in life, the fans that are of all ages. They speak the truth of all they appreciate from my work... that keeps me oiled!

Songfacts: Fast Times at Ridgemont High lives forever in the souls and psyches of children of the '80s. What's it like having "The Look in Your Eyes" in such an enduring cult favorite? Do you still hear from fans about it? How does the song stack up for you, in comparison to your other creations? Do you still play it live?

G Tom Mac: That film was such an iconic one to be part of. I thank Cameron Crowe for his impeccable music taste to have included me on that soundtrack. Yes, fans do reach out and let me know how much my song from that movie means and meant to them.

I think it stands up well actually. It'd be a great country song in today's modern country world, but should be sung by a female artist in my opinion.

No, I haven't played it live in years, but now maybe I will!

Songfacts: Music producer Bob Ezrin said that "Cry Little Sister" keeps turning up again in the popular consciousness simply because it's great art. At the same time, many people talk today about how the internet has made art and music "disposable," meaning that much material, even good material, gets buried and forgotten under a deluge of content.

As a songwriter, do you feel like the battle to make individual works of art stand out from the crowd has gotten more difficult, or does great art still always prevail in the end?

G Tom Mac: Loaded question! But Bob Ezrin is right, great work stands the right of time to reinvent it, discover it and never be disposed of! I'm glad "Cry Little Sister" has that going for it. The digital age and all its destroying of music's commerce is a long way to the future bank; it won't go back, so we have to of course continue to make awareness that music is a valuable commodity, but what does that mean to a "Free music" generation? A lot to figure out, and I can't see this interview going on that long!

Songfacts: What skills are specific to writing for music or television? Are there any? If you were mentoring a young songwriter trying to break into this particular niche of the music industry, what would you tell him or her?

G Tom Mac: Study how to apply music to the motion and emotion on film. Yes, study it from scores to songs is my best advice. Then find music supervisors to schmooze with, and get frustrated, and then expect the unexpected!

Songfacts: 2017 will mark the 30th anniversary of Lost Boys, and you've got some touring scheduled. You also have a new album in the works that will coincide with the event. Is this album related directly to the film thematically? Can you tell us a bit about the content that will be on it?

G Tom Mac: I had written over 30 songs before finally realizing none of them were up to the bar that I wanted to achieve in making my next album; however, in January (2016) I hit such a nerve and sound with my producing partner Gabriellis Kaye that my songs just started to feel as if they were writing themselves, and greatness came rolling into my heart and soul. So, LoSt BoYs' 30th 2017 will be showered with my best music work EVER!

Songfacts: What else is next for G Tom Mac?

G Tom Mac: I appear in the feature film Grey Lady, along with Eric Dane. I did the music to it as well. The film is directed by John Shea and will be in theatres October 2016.

Many live shows now being organized around the work for my 2017 LoSt BoYs tour, with amazing merchandise to go along with my new album!

June 1, 2016
Get more at gtommac.com

More Songwriter Interviews

Comments

Be the first to comment...