Marin Arts & Culture May 2017 - Page 19

It seemed like everything was in readiness. We had done what had been asked: We wrote the song, recorded it and were all ready to present it. But then, everything went south—actually, to San Francisco. The day before the song’s official designation, the San Francisco Chronicle published the story, and that changed everything. From out of nowhere, every songwriter and his mother cried foul. “Wait a minute,” they cried. “Give me a chance to write a song. My mother wrote a song. Why don’t you consider hers? What kind of backroom sweetheart deal is this?” Who knew there would be such interest? The Golden Gate Bridge Board of Directors (the Bridge Board) stepped back from their request, and the announcement was put on hold. Not wanting to inflame public sentiment or create needless conflict, they came up with a solution they thought was fair. “We’ll give everyone a certificate, thank them for their submission and choose no formal song.” That didn’t strike us as fair. After all, we had done what we had been asked to do. We had not only written the song, but had financed the recording and the video ourselves, and presented them with a final product. And now this? Although Bridge Board members are truly dedicated public servants, they’re not in the business of choosing the next “American Idol.” They have an American icon to oversee, and they just wanted this whole thing to go away. But, due to my broad background and experience, including politics, running for public office, serving as an aide to Dianne Feinstein, going through a local CORO Public Affairs Fellowship program, being an ABC radio talk show host and a San Francisco Examiner and independent newspaper writer, I knew how to lobby and apply pressure to sway public opinion. To this day, I’m proud of the full-court public relations and lobbying campaign we pulled off. We were in the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Marin Independent Journal, editorials in the San Francisco Independent, and KCBS, KTVU, KRON and KPIX. After that, Mayor Willie Brown proclaimed it San Francisco’s official bridge song. We received a host of supportive letters from Senator Dianne Feinstein, the San Francisco Giants, the director of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Hotel Council of San Francisco, then State Senator Quentin Kopp, former city deputy attorney and current San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of Public Policy Jim Lazarus and many others. In the end, our support was overwhelming. The Bridge Board took notice, reversed its position and stood by its original offer. Little did we know that our problems were just beginning—there can be just as many challenges with success as with failure. With the lavish attention came an inflated sense of self. My beloved late songwriting collaborator hired a law firm to negotiate a final deal with the Bridge Board, and those negotiations dragged on for more than a year. The result: a slightly better deal than we were originally offered, but the loss of a full year’s momentum, and most importantly, what I perceived as an understandable loss of good will from the Bridge Board. It took a full decade to be reunited with the bridge “family.” For the bridge’s 70th birthday, my wife Meredith produced and I re-recorded the song at Michael B. Sutton’s studios in Los Angeles with a fresh arrangement. In collaboration with Sutton, we had a documentary produced on the history of the bridge. We repackaged the two together with liner notes by California state librarian and historian Kevin Starr, who wrote, “The bridge. The song. The film! Noah Griffin and friends have added new luster to our pantheon on the Pacific.” We were invited to a small 70th anniversary luncheon hosted by the Bridge Board where I performed the song. On the occasion of the bridge’s 75th anniversary, Kevin Starr mentions the song in his bestselling masterpiece, The Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge. He writes: “The sense of the bridge as a recognized part of the permanent life of Bay Area life pervades the effort of the Bay Area songwriting team of Bob Voss and Noah Griffin, whose song ‘‘The Bridge Golden Gate” (1997), suggests the bridge as an easy available source of continuity and comfort for Bay Area residents in one or another stages of life’s journey.” On that exact anniversary, May 27, 2002, I interviewed Kevin Starr on the stage of the Throckmorton Theatre. At the invitation of Bob Stafford, Kevin and I further teamed up to participate in a bridge celebration hosted by the historic Pacific-Union Club atop Nob Hill. The city did throw a huge 75th anniversary bash befitting, along with the cable cars, one of the two most recognized symbols in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge. Although I requested that the song be included, nowhere in the city’s official celebratory festivities was it heard. Flash forward five years. The bridge’s 80th anniversary is coming up but strictly under the radar. No bells. No whistles. No nothing. But for the 80th birthday, we are re-releasing the song with the documentary and the Kevin Starr interview. With Tony Bennett now being 90, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” has an unshakeable place in the hearts and minds of locals and fans around the world. Perhaps it’s time for a new song to take its place alongside the city’s official song. After all, it took 10 years after it was written for Bennett’s song to catch on; at a 20-year interval, double my dues have been paid. In a special ceremony the Marin Board of Supervisors honored “The Bridge Golden Gate.” Orphaned no more. MA&C MARIN ARTS & CULTURE 19