Stephen Bishop - "Separate Lives"

by Bruce Pollock

They're Playing My Song is a column by Bruce Pollock, where he focuses on the one song that had the greatest impact on a particular artist or songwriter's career. Here, he speaks with Stephen Bishop about "Separate Lives," a #1 hit for Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin.

"Separate Lives"

Artist: Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin
Writer: Stephen Bishop
Album: White Nights soundtrack
Label: Atlantic
Year: 1985
Chart Positions: US: #1, UK: #4
Stephen Bishop's career has been defined by several misconceptions. The song "It Might Be You," which he sang in the classic movie Tootsie is perhaps his most famous performance. Most people assume he wrote it. But the lyrics were written by the Oscar-winning team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman ("Windmills of Your Mind," "The Way We Were"), with music by jazz great Dave Grusin. "It was an assignment," Bishop said. "I'd been around for a while. The producers knew what I sounded like and they paid me quite a lot of money to do it. I remember they had me watch about four hours of the unedited movie, mostly with Kenny Loggins' music as a temp."

Bishop's singles reached the Top 40 three times in the '70s, from his first two Gold albums, with "Save It for a Rainy Day" and "On And On" from Careless and "Everybody Needs Love" from Bish. He's had tunes covered by Art Garfunkel, Barbra Streisand, Eric Clapton, The Four Tops, and Diane Schurr, among others. But his most successful song is the #1 hit, "Separate Lives," sung in the movie White Nights by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin. Ironically, most people assume Collins, one of the hottest singer-songwriters of the era, wrote it.

Nevertheless, Bishop got to perform both songs at the prestigious Oscar ceremonies, "It Might Be You" in 1983 (wearing huge Elton John-type glasses) and "Separate Lives" in 1985.

"The first time, I pretty much had a nervous breakdown," Bishop recalled. "I made the mistake of telling people that I was going to do the Academy Awards and everybody went, 'Oh, are you really nervous?' And I said, yes. I said it so much that I got myself into a frenzy. I didn't sleep for more than four or five hours a night for several months beforehand. The worst thing would be to forget the lyrics in front of two billion human beings... and my third-grade teacher. But I was very lucky to have one of my favorite people ever introducing me and that was Richard Pryor. That was pretty cool.

The second time, with 'Separate Lives,' was supposed to be a duet with Melissa Manchester. At the last minute, they decided to just have me sing it on my own. The award was presented by Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly. I thought, This is amazing. This is fate. I'm supposed to get the award this time. But I lost it to Lionel Richie for 'Say You, Say Me,' from the same movie."

In Animal House before Belushi punishes that guitarIn Animal House before Belushi punishes that guitar
According to Bishop's calculations, dating back to his breakout performance of the title song in Animal House in 1978, he has either performed or written and performed songs for 14 different films, including Roadie, The China Syndrome, Summer Lovers, Micki & Maude, The Money Pit, All I Want For Christmas, and this year's Netflix item, Benji. The scene in Animal House where he gets his guitar bashed over his head by John Belushi went over so well that director John Landis cast him in several other cameo parts, the most wonderfully obscure being his role in Michael Jackson's epic music video "Thriller," directed by Landis. "Yeah, I'm in the scene where Michael and the girl are watching something scary on the screen," Bishop pointed out. "I'm sitting two seats over in a yellow shirt."

Making the most of his misconceptions, Bishop is now working on a documentary about "It Might Be You," which has become something of a national anthem in - where else - the Philippines.

"It's just revered over there," said Bishop. "Everybody knows the song, young and old. And everybody knows me. I've played there 11 times. It's really a fascinating place. I'm not sure when they caught on to the song, but by the '90s it was pretty well known. I get a lot of attention when I go there. So, this is a film that documents my last trip. It was just a crazy experience and it's all captured on film."

Perhaps the biggest misconception of all about "Separate Lives" was the reaction of the actress Karen Allen (Animal House, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Starman), whose breakup with Bishop inspired the song. "When I first wrote it, I felt like it was my angry song," he said. "And then I played it for her and she went, 'Oh, that's beautiful.'"
Stephen Bishop:
After we broke up, Karen called me at a hotel and she said, How are you? How are you doing? I said, "You have no right to ask that." And that became the first line of the song.

I had already met with (Separate Lives director) Taylor Hackford and so the song was a combination of what I was going through at the time and stuff from the movie. It was his choice to pick Phil Collins to sing it.

I'd known Phil from when he was in Genesis. He had a huge beard back then. I was introduced to him by Pattie Boyd, who would have been Pattie Clapton at the time. I used to hang out at Eric Clapton's house in the late '70s and early '80s. He had a big castle, with lots of rooms. When I went to England, I always stayed there.

"Separate Lives" actually appears on my album Sleeping With Girls, which was released around the same time as the movie. It was a very limited release. It wasn't really an official album. It was an album that I kind of made up, with older songs and new songs, to promote the song "Something New In My Life," the theme from the movie Micki & Maude. It was actually released only in Hong Kong. I needed the money so I did that album, which I recently saw going for four hundred bucks on eBay!

The way I perform the song is a lot different from the Phil Collins version. He liked my version as well, so these days he does it more like me in concert. I mean, when you say "you have no right," that gets under your skin. He just kind of glossed over it in his original version.

It's an important song for him. It's an emotional song. I've seen him do it in concert and people just love it. It gets their attention.

Doing "Separate Lives" kind of validated me as a songwriter. It was like a stamp of approval. I've written over 650 songs. I came up to LA when I was just 17, trying to make it. I didn't know a soul. I planted all these little acorns and one of them turned into a tree.

When I first started out, I was playing my songs for people in their houses. I played about 30 songs for Barbra Streisand. I was just a little guy trying to make it, driving to her house in my Volkswagen. I remember thinking, I hope I don't have to be in a Volkswagen the rest of my life. She listened to my songs with her boyfriend at the time, which was kind of funny, because they were real cuddly and everything. I played for Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson came by. I played for Michelle Phillips, who was living with Warren Beatty at that time. I was waiting for her to get off the phone and Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson came in. They had just played tennis. So, they were just sitting there, saying, "You're a songwriter, huh?" I sat there talking to them, which was amazing.

While "Separate Lives" was going up the charts, I was in LA, safe and warm, waiting for it to hit #1. It was an exciting time. It was #1 in different countries all over the world. That definitely changed my lifestyle. I made some serious buckaroos.

What I remember most about that time is the song that took over from us at #1. It was "Broken Wings" by Mr. Mister. Now they call that music Yacht Rock and they put me in that category. But I'd rather have Yacht Rock than any other '70s reference. I don't like doing shows where you're thought of as a '70s artifact. I don't think of myself as a '70s artist. I think of myself as an every year artist.

July 19, 2018
More at stephenbishop.com
Photos courtesy of Stephen Bishop
"On And On" Songfacts
"Save It For A Rainy Day" Songfacts

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