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For ’80s heartthrob Richard Marx, it’s all about the music

Richard Marx (pictured here in 1988) worked with Madonna, NSYNC, and Luther Vandross, and wrote the massive hit “Right Here Waiting.” In a new memoir, he tells the stories behind the songs.Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Don’t expect Richard Marx’s book “Stories to Tell: A Memoir to be a salacious tale packed with celebrity gossip.

Yes, the singer-songwriter has worked with some of the biggest stars in the music industry, from Madonna to NSYNC. Yes, he was a heartthrob (that hair!) whose hits, including “Right Here Waiting” and “Endless Summer Nights,” made him a 1980s MTV favorite.

Marx, now 57, would never have written a gossipy book. Almost apologetically he writes in Chapter 1, ”To say I had a pretty idyllic childhood would be to say Pavarotti could carry a tune. I had no particular trauma.”


That means Marx’s memoir is all about the songs, from starting his career with Lionel Richie, to writing a track for Barbra Streisand (1989′s “Right Here Waiting”) that she rejected — because Barbra waits for no one! — which meant it could become Marx’s own epic, international hit.

Marx — also known for his takes on Twitter — took a phone interview with the Globe to chat about the book (available Tuesday), which is packed with tales about songwriting, gratitude for the people who helped him write and perform, and just a bit about his love story with his wife, TV personality and former MTV host Daisy Fuentes.

Q. The book makes it clear how prolific you’ve been with songwriting — for yourself and others. [Marx co-wrote Luther Vandross’s ”Dance With My Father,” as well as NSYNC’s ballad “This I Promise You.”] I wondered about the effect of the past year. What was your relationship to writing during the pandemic?

A. It’s the first time in my life where I was not productive musically. I have so many voice notes — I know there are a lot of little Mp3s in there that are going to be great. But what I’ve always done up until COVID is to be pretty diligent about going through and fleshing out those ideas and choosing 10 or 12 to make a new record. …


I had just put out an album right before we locked down. The last thing on my mind was writing songs, and it continued for a long time. It kind of freaked me out. After a couple months I looked at Daisy and said, “I’m not writing and I don’t want to write.” And she goes, “You’ve written enough.” [I said], “No, I know, but I still want to write like 1,000 more songs.” But for the most part, I just was really adjusting to the stillness.

Q. Reading about the start of your career — and your eventual stardom — it becomes clear how different your path would have been with social media. Growing up, I [a 44-year-old] knew very little about you, your background, or your marriage. [Marx’s ex-wife is “Dirty Dancing” actress and dancer Cynthia Rhodes.] Do you think that made it easier for you as an artist? Compared to what musicians and stars share and experience today?

A. I think what you’re alluding to is something I’ve been talking about for years, which is that there seems to be little to no mystery about anyone. You know, Bruno Mars is one of the only exceptions. I’m such a massive fan of his, and I think he’s maybe the best pop singer we have right now, and an amazing performer. And you know what? I don’t know jack [expletive] about Bruno Mars. I like that. I like that I don’t know who he voted for or what he likes to eat for dinner. It’s all about the music.


Q. I never thought enough about pop music as fiction writing until this book. Your song “Hazard” now seems like great fiction while others are so personal. What comes more naturally as a songwriter for you? The real or imagined?

A. I don’t know that one’s more effortless than the other, because they’re just different. You have to do both. I’ve written hit songs that were relationship songs where there’s not one line that’s autobiographical. I’ve got a scenario in my head, and I can put myself in it, in a fictional way. And because a lot of those songs I wrote when I was in my early 20s — I’d only been in one real relationship, which was my first marriage — I was sort of limited. … There’s a song that no one knows from an album I did in 2000. A song called “Boy Next Door,” about, you know — every time you hear about a serial killer, they go, “He was just like the nice boy next door.” And I wrote a whole song about a serial killer. It was a great exercise for me as a writer.

Q. I want to talk about gender and how you write about women artists. I loved every part about Barbra Streisand, from her rejecting “Right Here Waiting,” to you making the point that when people call her or other women “difficult,” they’d never say that about a man in that position.


A. I just see men so easily dismiss the opinions or thoughts of women, even women who’ve accomplished what she’s accomplished. I wanted to highlight that a little bit, and these are conversations I’ve had with her, actually, over the years. Some of that is from knowing her and seeing the frustration that she’s experienced from being dismissed, being talked over.

The cover of Richard Marx's "Stories to Tell."Associated Press

There’s a similar kind of thing in [my] brief chapter about Madonna. I felt like she was just such a massive celebrity that I assumed she would not be in the studio when we were working on her record, and if she were there, she would probably just be a diva pain in the ass. Well, it turns out she produced the session — she knew exactly what she wanted, she was a total pro. She was one of the best producers I’ve ever worked with, and she was good at communicating. I was just falling in line with the, “Oh well, anybody who’s that famous and who’s all over the tabloids is probably not going to have any clue as to what they’re doing.” It was an unfair assumption on my part, and it was a great surprise to be schooled.

I was raised in a household where my mother came into her strength at a time when the Women’s Liberation Movement was in full swing. She was subservient in the ways that she needed to be subservient. ... [Then] she was like, “No, not anymore. This is going to be an equal partnership.” Watching that happen — even watching the conflict of it happen — just made me respect my mother so much more. I don’t know whether that had anything to do with it, but all through my life I’ve been attracted to women who are strong.


Q. When I told my sister that “Right Here Waiting” was written for Barbra Streisand, she asked if Barbra had ever covered it, after the fact.

A. No, but that’s the beauty of her. The reason she didn’t cut the song when I offered it was because lyrically she found it, from a female standpoint, to be weak. She said, “I’m not going to be right here waiting for anybody.” It’s such a Barbra Streisand line. It cracked me up. If you think about it, she doesn’t sing songs from a victim-y or weak place.

[Later], I wrote a song that she did with Vince Gill. She was getting ready to do an album; I’d become friendly with her at that point. She said, “Let’s talk about it, maybe there’s something you could write for it.” She was still kind of new in her relationship with [James] Brolin, who’s the greatest guy — just such a great couple. I said, “Just talk about how you’re feeling. What your relationship is now.” And she said, “It’s kind of amazing. I dote on him. He’s everything I want him to be.” And I said, “You know, you could do a song called ‘If you leave me, can I come too?’”

I laughed for a second and then she said, “Wait, wait, no, you could write that. There’s something really sweet about that.” And so I went home and I ended up writing “If You Ever Leave” [a song with the lyrics “If you ever leave me, will you take me with you”]. Like, I love you so much that if you leave I’m going to be really really bummed out. That’s not weak. That’s just loving.

Interview was edited and condensed. Meredith Goldstein, who learned to play “Right Here Waiting” on a keyboard during lockdown, can be reached at Meredith.Goldstein@Globe.com.