By Hannah Natanson Dec. 2, 2019 at 6:00 a.m. EST
Shortly before he turned 100, Alan R. Tripp wrote a poem.
It was about life, and getting old, and losing friends — and it made Marvin Weisbord, his fellow resident at a Pennsylvania retirement community, want to sing. Weisbord decided to set it to music as a surprise gift for Tripp’s 100th birthday, and pretty soon the two men were listening to their own, original song.
“I was very happy, he was happy,” Weisbord said. “Next thing you know, I have another poem on my desk” — and, two years later, Tripp and Weisbord have teamed up to release an eight-song album, the “Senior Song Book.”
The album, released Nov. 15 and available for purchase online or as a CD, features modern lyrics set to tunes reminiscent of Cole Porter or Irving Berlin: “the great music of the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, [but] the words are looking ahead to the 2020s,” Tripp said. Tripp, 102, served as lyricist and producer; Weisbord, 88, set the lyrics to music, organized the jazz band and played piano on all the songs.AD
Neither Tripp, who had a career in advertising, nor Weisbord, a former consultant, have ever written and produced music before. They believe they are the oldest songwriting duo in history.
“I’ve never had so much fun in my life, and I never expected to be doing this in my old age,” Weisbord said.
Tripp snorted, interjecting: “He doesn’t know anything about old age.”
As the eight songs reveal, the older balladeers have a wealth of life experience to share. The tunes touch on subjects ranging from the bliss of true, reciprocated love (“Wonder Woman”) to bad breakups (“Goodbye, Goodbye Forever”) to the need for self-reflection (“Looking in the Mirror”).
Every single one, Tripp insisted, is relevant to both older and younger people, reflecting the fact that their target audience is “well, everyone.” That holds true, both men said, even for a number that seems particularly meant for the elderly: “I Just Can’t Remember Your Name.”AD
You’re so engaging, but we’re both aging
What once was on the tip of my tongue
Seems to elude me, so I say crudely
It ain’t like it was when I was young . . .
I know I oughta kiss you, but baby there’s an issue
I just can’t remember your name.
“That turns out to appeal to both younger and older people,” Tripp said. Perhaps “because the lyrics reflect how does a real adult look at life, and what’s going on with life today.”
Still, the duo admitted, their music — professionally recorded in a Pennsylvania studio over the course of four weeks in September — may have a special draw for people who grew up listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, for people who remain faithful devotees of the Great American Songbook. Weisbord pointed to a theory he read recently in a book (“This is Your Brain on Music”): The music you remember your whole life is “the music you heard when you were 14 years old,” he said.AD
“So now we’re giving people who are 64 years old a chance to be 14 again and get new songs in their heads,” Tripp said.
“There’s no new music being written for people in our age bracket,” Weisbord added. “So we’re writing songs that are recognizable, in genres that are recognizable, with lyrics telling stories about what our lives are like now.”
On average over the past two years, Tripp and Weisbord probably spent between 30 and 40 hours every week crafting the lyrics and music for the album, the two men estimated. Each man worked in his own office, set in apartments about 200 yards and a short elevator ride apart — a distance it takes Weisbord “less than two minutes” to traverse on foot, he said.
They typically worked in the mornings, given that both are morning people, and the collaboration proved harmonious in all senses of the word.AD
“We had very little in the way of disagreement,” Weisbord said. “Our musical sensibilities and tastes are very parallel. It’s not like I was trying to sing a ballad to someone who likes hip-hop.”
The pair funded the entire album themselves, paying for the use of a studio and relying on the talents of Weisbord’s band, the Wynlyn Jazz Ensemble, as well as five singers recruited both from the band and the two men’s retirement community, Beaumont at Bryn Mawr.
While Tripp said the price tag came to “a lot,” he declined to name the exact figure. Neither man wanted to release the album to earn money, they said, and they don’t especially care whether they recoup the cost. “It was a labor of love, first and foremost,” Weisbord said.
The “Senior Song Book” is available as a CD for $16.95 and is downloadable online for $9.99. Tripp and Weisbord said they haven’t been tracking sales, but, according to CDBaby.com, the CD version is already sold out. Interested buyers can add their names to a waiting list.AD
Though apparently careless about their sales numbers, Tripp and Weisbord have taken an avid interest in more human responses to their album release. Both were pleased by the reaction of fellow Beaumont residents, who began singing along almost immediately (the lyrics are available online) and who sometimes even stood up to dance.
Weisbord heard “positive things” from his children and grandchildren. Tripp, meanwhile, has received roughly two dozen emails and letters from across the country — including from professional musicians — praising the album and asking for a copy of the CD. The duo also earned a feature segment on a local TV station.
“The reception has been far better than I had any dream of expecting,” Tripp said.
“Neither one of us ever anticipated this,” Weisbord agreed.
As for next steps? Both men would love to see their album used as the soundtrack to a film. Something that would “have the audience crying,” Tripp said. Weisbord added, “Or laughing!”AD
In the immediate, though, they’re content to revel in the album as irrefutable proof that older people can — and should — push themselves to try new things, to accomplish the unexpected. Weisbord said he is overjoyed to find himself “continuing to grow at a time when most of my peers are dead.”
Tripp, though scoffing at the idea of a secret key to his longevity, did offer one piece of advice. Everyone, everywhere is “able to do something,” he said.
“Whether it’s writing, knitting, whatever — it’s wanting to do it well that makes the difference,” Tripp said. “Whatever your skill or hobby is, if you try to do it as best you can, and then a little better than that, that will make you happy.”