Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Michael Bolton gives fans a backstage pass to his 40 years in the business in “The Soul of It All: My Music, My Life.” Famous for singing hits like “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” and “When a Man Loves a Woman,” he reflects on a lifetime in the music industry.
Somewhere in my forty years as an artist and performer, I picked up a reputation for being a serious guy.
Many of my fans don’t realize that I was never bar mitzvahed because I was the kid betting on the dreidel in Hebrew class and smoking cigarettes during breaks. If you were beaned by a water balloon or splattered by a flying tomato in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, it was likely launched from the rooftops by yours truly.
You may be surprised to learn that I’m secretly a prankster and a fun-loving kind of guy.
That’s why I did not hesitate when Saturday Night Live’s Lonely Island crew called me to join them in a music video.
Well, maybe I hesitated a little. I mean, these are the guys who convinced Justin Timberlake to put his dick in a box—and sing about it. He was freakin’ hilarious, and of course Justin made it look fun and easy, just as he would any other video.
Justin’s video won a Creative Arts Emmy for outstanding original music and lyrics, and he seemed to enjoy himself doing it. I was a fan of the Lonely Island guys and thought it would be fun working with them, though I worried what they might have me do. As hilarious as Justin’s video was, I found it a little scary to contemplate what they would come up with for me. Justin sang in the Baptist choir as a kid. I sang on crusty street corners for spare change.
The SNL guys assured me they wanted to build a hip-hop song around me singing “a big sexy hook.” They thought I’d be perfect for the job.
Jorm later told an interviewer who asked about my role in the video, “You can’t fake funk like that.”
From the start, Andy, Kiv, and Jorm promised to come up with a shocker skit that people would want to watch again and again, and they did just that.
The next thing I knew, I was in a crow’s nest on a pirate ship decked out like Jack Sparrow, doing Forrest Gump on a park bench, cross-dressed as Erin Brockovich, and flashing my guns as Scarface.
And that was the tamest idea they came up with.
Initially, the mad geniuses of the Lonely Island presented me with a “Lord Boltron” song and video concept that involved violating laws of nature and each of the Ten Commandments, repeatedly.
It was hilariously funny, but really, really raunchy.
Now, that’s what I expected from these boys without borders, the creators of family classics such as I Just Had Sex, 3-Way, and Jizzed in My Pants. I loved those videos and the Lord Boltron bit, too. But I was concerned that the proposed Lord Boltron video might slightly upset my fans, because the first script was more than disturbing.
So we met for a creative session in L.A. to try to come up with something not quite so dark but still funny. When we met, I told
We hatched out some more ideas for our music video at that meeting. Honestly, they were so busy with SNL and all of their movie and record projects, I didn’t know if I’d ever hear from them again. But over the course of an approximately eight-month period, they somehow found time to come up with a script I could do. When they showed me the final Jack Sparrow concept, I loved it!
We met in New York City for two seventeen-hour days of filming the video. Our locations were the Buddakan restaurant in Manhattan and Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Andy, Kiv, and Jorma were a pleasure to work with—funny, entertaining, respectful, and thoughtful—despite the tight deadlines. This is a team of guys who collaborated so well on every detail. Andy, Kiv, and Jorm also went out of their way to include me in making decisions. They kept coming up with new twists and gags on the spot. Then they’d run them by me and make sure I was on board, and they had trusted me to ad-lib and stack harmony parts all over the choruses of the catchy little ditty they wrote.
They kept me laughing through the whole process. I think all three of them were shocked when I agreed to a traumatizing scene in which I dressed as Erin Brockovich and breast-fed a doll. Unfortunately, that scene didn’t make the cut. It may have been too over the top even for the Lonely Island team, but I would have voted to keep it.
To my amazement, they had the music video ready for prime time within forty-eight hours. I went to the music video’s premiere on SNL in New York. I was too nervous to sit in the audience, so my manager Christina Kline and I watched from the back of the house. When they introduced our video, I couldn’t breathe until the first waves of laughter came from the audience.
They loved it!
A fellow Connecticut resident, the phenomenal singer, song- writer, and guitarist John Mayer, was on the set when the video premiered. He was certain that it would go viral and become a huge hit.
“People are going to go nuts,” John told me. “They won’t expect this from you, and new fans who don’t even know your music will . . . well, you’ll see in the morning.”
My daughter Isa, an expert on social media, began monitoring the video’s views on YouTube as soon as it aired. When I walked downstairs the next morning, she looked up at me and said, “You are not going to believe what is going on.” Jack Sparrow was already approaching a million views. She read me comments that included “OMG, I can’t get this song out of my head!”
Just as John Mayer predicted, my music video with the Lonely Island guys went viral and, at last count, had more than ninety million views on YouTube.
Sometimes you have to take risks in life, and this one paid off in a huge way. Ours was the third-most-viewed video on YouTube in 2011, and it received an Emmy nomination, so we were invited to perform it live at the awards show for millions of viewers around the world.
Now I can’t walk through an airport anymore without receiving high fives and fist bumps from eighteen-year-old guys screaming, “Captain Jack Sparrow! Dude, you rock!”
Andy, Kiv, and Jorm, you can call me anytime to do another music video.
So there you have the tale of my latest adventure in a music career that I began seeking at the age of nine while singing in my bedroom closet. What follows is the backstory. You will find many twists and turns—some of them as wild as those in the Jack Spar- row video.
You will also learn about the “soul of it all,” the passion, hard work, striving, sacrifices, joy, and faith it takes to keep the dream alive. It has taken all of that and then some to build and sustain an incredibly rewarding career for more than four decades.
Excerpted from the book The Soul of It All: My Music, My Life. Copyright © 2012 by Passion Lit, LLC. Published by Center Street, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.