George Sarant

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REMEMBERING PAUL AND DONNA

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It was during a summer more than three decades ago while I was staying with my friend Paul Jabara in Hollywood that I met Donna Summer. Being young and foolish and having made the rounds with starlets, I thought I was a Casanova at the time with irresistible charms, so I propositioned her. She, being a good Christian woman, just smiled and said “Honey, I don’t have the time,” and from then on,I’m embarrassed to say, I was labeled as the lover boy. At that point Paul’s song “Enough is Enough” with Donna and Barbra Streisand was in production and subsequently became a huge hit. Paul was the only one in the world who could have pulled that off, for reasons that will become clear. But first I want to say something about Donna. 

Donna Summer was a stunningly brilliant singer with an astonishing range in octaves and she was very much a part of the whole creative process in her recordings. I believe her collaborations with the German composer Giorgio Moroder are some of the greatest recordings of any kind ever made and all hold up today. I don’t think “I Feel Love” has ever been absent from the dance floor since its inception and you will still probably hear it in any club you walk into. Their work really reached its creative pinnacle with the double album Once Upon A Time, which is still available, like many of her other records. She was the lead singer of what was basically the last creative new wave in popular music. I don’t think there has really been anything at all original since disco (not counting rap, which is more a sort of poetry than music to me) and everything since has basically been recycled. It was on the crest of that last wave that Paul really came into his own.

Paul Jabara had boundless energy and drive and his incredible persistence enabled him to realize whatever ambition he fancied. He was unstoppable.  Indeed hIs mother once told me that Gore Vidal (Paul really got around in his short life) said that no one but Hitler had more ambition than Paul Jabara- or maybe it was the other way around- and that was before he had even really hit it big. He was always like that. During my teenage years, apart from my best friend Geoffrey, no one was closer to me than Paul and we shared countless experiences growing up in Brooklyn. Back then I was kind of gawky, serious, naive, and hopelessly romantic, constantly falling in love from age 13 on, and he was like a squire for me, intervening in one fumbled passionate infatuation after another, while I in turn protected him from getting beat up. I realize now that despite his seemingly childlike innocence at the time, he was shrewd, more mature and knew me better than I knew myself. It was in his basement that I first seriously made out with a girl, and he used to record everything on an old Hitachi tape recorder, including a lot of embarrassing confessionals from me that he surprisingly still had many years later.

He was always obsessed with show business, and had more nerve than anyone I have ever known, being devoid of anything in the way of shame or inhibitions.  He managed to easily work his way backstage to most of the shows on Broadway and make friends with the cast, and later when I started driving at 17 we had a hell of a time in all the hottest nightspots of the era thanks to Paul’s incredible ability not only to get past any barrier but to connect with the biggest stars. He was totally unfazed by celebrities, perhaps because he knew he was going to become one. Back then his focus was on the stage, and curiously there was absolutely no indication that he would become a successful songwriter. While he coached me to improve my style and appearance, I actually gave him piano lessons and tried to teach him to read music, which he never did learn, yet he was still able to produce one hit after another. 

Years later in Hollywood I treated him at various places because, incredible as it seems, despite having an Oscar and a string of hits, he was short of cash and wasn’t making any more money than me at the time, which just shows you how corrupt show business is. But at that point it was also true that he didn’t have to pay at some places. He was at the pinnacle, able to recite an impressive list of stars he wouldn’t take calls from (that being an indication of high status in the weird world of Hollywood), but somehow the financial rewards were eluding him, although royalties eventually did kick in. He was always restless and couldn’t sit still. In a restaurant he would bounce around from one table of show biz types to another, exactly the way he used to when we were kids hanging out in a Bay Ridge ice cream parlor. He was unstoppable, and when he wanted something, resistance was futile. He once locked Donna Summer in a bathroom and refused to let her out until she agreed to sing his song, never able to take no for an answer. That turned out to be fortuitous for both of them, and the rest is history. And so although they are gone their anthems will go on and on. 


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Written by georgesarant

May 18, 2012 at 5:31 PM

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