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Dennis Livingston

I came to cabaret and musical theater songwriting relatively late in life. This might seem strange when you know that I grew up in New York (at 562 West End Ave.) with a mother who had been a big band singer in the 1930s and a father who was a prolific and successful songwriter from that time through the 1960s. (For more about them, go to ABOUT JERRY.) But my own musical and professional tastes ran in other directions for a long time. Perhaps not entirely by chance, my musical interests veered completely away from my dad's world toward classical music and from piano, on which he was highly skilled, and on which I had the obligatory lessons, to flute, which became my main performing instrument. This meant that when dad moved our family to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, I entered Beverly Hills High School (Class of 1957) oblivious to the charm and power of early rock & roll. I hung with my fellow musicians from the school orchestra who took the classics seriously. But my musical choices were even more esoteric than that, for a teenager. While almost everyone else was grooving on Bill Haley and the Comets, my passion was saved for 20th century tonal composers. I loved Bartok, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Copland, Hovhaness and that ilk. While I now listen to a very broad array of styles - including jazz and musicals, to which I was utterly indifferent as a kid - those early favorites still influence my work as a songwriter. (You can hear my pieces at the SONGS page.) At the same time, it was apparent early on that I had a scholarly bent. I was studious, a voracious reader (mostly science fiction, then and now) and loved organizing information. After attending the University of California at Santa Barbara (Class of 1961), I fell into what seemed the obvious decision to become an academic and headed east to Princeton for graduate studies in political science. I ended up pulling together my interests in international relations, science and technology to write a PhD dissertation on the influence of technology on international law. Yes, I'm Dr. Livingston, sort of, but don't you dare try that one. My academic career lasted from 1964 to 1989, taking me to the University of California at Davis, Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY), where I pioneered courses on future studies, science and government, and science fiction literature. When you contemplate that list, it's clear why my academic life eventually ran its course. I didn't fit in any respectable political science department nor did my writing match the expected mold. After my third denial of tenure, I got the message. Time to move on. What does an ex-poly sci wonk do? I headed for Boston to live near my daughter and found a job for several years as a policy analyst in the state anti-poverty office. Though the work had its rewards, my timing was not propitious. The election of President Reagan, and an equally conservative governor in Massachusetts, led to the consequent decimation of many of our programs. I was not needed. Time to move on. What now? It's the mid-1980s. There's this computer thing on the horizon. My trusty sci-fi antennas go up. Here's a machine that looks like it may change the future I've been reading about all my life. Surely there's some technology-policy angle I can exploit. I read a lot, talk to people, knight myself a guru on "the office of the future" and begin giving lectures and writing articles on this subject. This experience led me to my next career. Boston in the 1980s was a thriving center for the computer industry and its related trade press. I decided I could be a computer journalist and ended up at High Technology Magazine (a sister publication of Inc.) as Senior Business Editor. After a few years, the magazine folded and I became Senior Editor of Systems Integration (published by Cahners, a major trade press house). I hit a great groove at this place, traveling the country to develop case studies on the use of multi-platform computer networks in the business world, garnering on the way an award from the Computer Press Association in 1989 for best feature story of the year (a look at NASA's plans for a space station). But the trade press is a fragile beast, entirely dependent on advertising dollars. When those dried up, this publication could not survive. Time to move on. What's next? Back to the future By the early 1990s, my parents had died and I faced a big decision. During the past decade, I had been taking a growing interest in the business side of my father's career, which was focused on the company he had set up long ago to own, administer and promote his copyrights. At the same time, I had begun trying my hand at songwriting, first turning out two children's musicals, then working on cabaret songs. I had the option of selling my dad's catalog. Naw, think I'll hold on to it. Something told me nostalgia for music of the past was coming back as boomers aged and besides, this stuff is interesting. In a strange way, the kid who once wouldn't be caught dead whistling pop music ended up right back home. I appreciate the irony every day.
Works included on programs sung by Gregory Wiest:
Three Songs
Recordings available on this website:
Ordinary Day, An, Mp3