Why do we read history, biographies, autobiographies and memoirs? To find out more about a particular subject or to learn about it in the first place. (And a little bit of juicy gossip never hurts either.) The best of these genres not only entertain and illuminate, but make us want to pursue the subject further. Such is the case with Charles Fox‘s delightful autobiography, Killing Me Softly: My Life In Music.
The title of the book is no fluke. Fox is probably best known for his 1975 Grammy Award-winning hit song, “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” made popular by Roberta Flack and later by The Fugees. By that time, Fox was no stranger to radio fame, having already found success with Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name” (from the 1973 films THE LAST AMERICAN HERO). But for me, Fox’s his work in television and film that has made the greatest impact on me personally. Yet, I was completely clueless as to how great an impact until I read the book.
I first heard Fox’s music as a kid watching classic Sid & Marty Kroft children’s shows like H.R. PUFNSTUF and THE BUGALOOS, though there was no such thing as a composer in my mind back then. Songs just sprang from those magical worlds. Later film work like THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, FOUL PLAY and 9 TO 5 brought him further fame and a couple of Oscar nominations, including Barry Manilow’s classic, “Ready to Take a Chance Again.” Film music fans will find Fox’s reminiscences of Jerry Goldsmith particularly moving.
But it is in his work for television where Fox’s impact has arguably been the greatest. Hit songs from classic TV shows such as HAPPY DAYS, LOVE AMERICAN STYLE (winning two Emmy awards), WONDER WOMAN, LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY, and my personal favorite, ANGIE (sung by the fabulous Maureen McGovern), brought Fox further worldwide fame, and probably some mighty nice paychecks.
The most charming and touching part of the book comes during Fox’s studies in Paris with famed teacher Nadia Boulanger, whose presence hovers over the entire book. Fox’s letters home to his parents illuminate the struggles of a young composer still finding his voice, living away from from home for the first time in a foreign country. Those of us who have studied music will enjoy his thoughts on contemporary music, and his letters bring to life the contemporary Parisian music scene at the dawn of the 1960’s, with luminaries such as Darius Milhaud, Paul Hindemith, Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez. I’m sure Mlle. Boulanger would have been particularly proud of Fox’s later success in ballet.
If you’re looking for dishy finger pointing and blame, look elsewhere. Fox doesn’t hide his disappointments over career bumps, like working with Kenny Rogers and his dismissal from the hit musical GREASE. But Fox’s breezy writing style captures a man who seems grateful for his successes and the longevity of his career, and holds few, if any, grudges over the ups and downs of the film and music industries.
Much of Fox’s film work has been in comedies and, as such, his music has never been properly given its due. But picture Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda wheeling a dead body around in 9 TO 5 to the tune of Fox’s delightful harpsichord chase music, and tell me that doesn’t put a smile on your face. Hopefully Fox’s smart and charming autobiography will send readers back to their CDs, LPs, DVDs and Nick at Nite to rediscover the work of this underrated composer. It certainly did for me.