Remembering Burt Bacharach: That’s What Shrinks Are For!

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Do you have any songs with special meaning to you?

friends

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The popular songwriter Burt Bacharach did not quite live long enough to make this year’s Valentine’s Day, having died at the age of 94 on February 8th. Yet his songs, often done in collaboration with his lyricist partner, Hal David, will live on for many more Valentine’s Days.

His songs were especially popular in the late 1950s and 1960s, with a revival later in his life. Dionne Warwick was his singer of choice, as she, as my singing wife pointed out, was able to smoothly navigate the tricky rhythms, unusual notes, and chord progressions.

Words are especially important for Bacharach and us. Our words, at their most effectiveness, are designed to be acceptable to patients, and comforting enough to reframe erroneous thinking or resolve conflicts. Though Bacharach’s words are clever on the surface, they also often convey deeper meaning.

Like for so many popular songs, love is the most common subject matter. It was also a common focus for Bacharach, as these titles suggest:

The Look of Love
What Do You Do When You Fall in Love?
Only Love Can Break a Heart
What the World Needs Now

For me, right now, his song that I listen to most is about love for a friend, a best friend of 70 years, who died on December 1st. It is “That’s What Friends Are For,” which was a hit at an AIDS fundraiser. Here is how I use it therapeutically.

There are 2 versions that I watch on YouTube, both led by Dionne Warwick with varying friends. I watch them about every other day to see how my grieving is going by how much I cry. I will do so now. I am down to moist eyes punctuated by some tears.

The version that I like best is when Stevie Wonder, who is on both, alters a word in one line. Instead of singing “that’s what friends are for,” he sings that’s what Steve is for.” The audience catches it and calls out to him.

I hope that’s one of the things I have been for: to be a good friend, husband, father, son, and psychiatrist, doing the best I could for others. That’s one of the things that a great song is for. Perhaps you have some like this for yourself.

In fact, a reader brought us this song to mind about regret, the topic for yesterday’s column. I can even see that these lyrics from the song “Pack Up Your Sorrows” being applicable to clinical psychiatry:

“But if somehow you could pack up your sorrows
And give them all to me
You would lose them, I know how to use them
Give them all to me . . .”

These musings leave me professionally wondering if Bacharach ever thought of this line, sort of like the revision that Stevie Wonder made:

In bad times, that’s what shrinks are for!

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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