Burt Bacharach was never a fan of rock 'n' roll, even as the distinctive, graceful love songs he wrote with lyricist Hal David began sharing space on the frenetic '60s and early '70s pop charts. His metier wasn't blues or psychedelia but smooth drama and sophistication in songs that bounced with the energy of the time: "The Look of Love," "What's New, Pussycat?" and "Alfie."
The composer continued to score hits after the acrimonious breakup of the Bacharach-David partnership, which had propelled the likes of Dionne Warwick, Tom Jones and Celia Black into the pop stratosphere — first with then-wife Carole Bayer Sager and, more recently, Elvis Costello. His long history in popular music will be the subject of an onstage discussion between Bacharach and author Mitch Albom at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Tuesday.
The occasion is the publication of his new memoir, "Anyone Who Had a Heart: My Life and Music." Next month, PBS broadcasts the special "Burt Bacharach's Best: My Music," with many of the original singers who worked with the songwriter. Now 84, he's also planning a live musical interpretation of "Painted From Memory," his 1998 album with Costello. This week, as he rode across Manhattan, Bacharach spoke with Marquee about the book and his ongoing career.
Marquee: Any reason for the timing of the book?
Bacharach: There was no particular timing for the book. I got talked into writing this memoir six or seven years ago. I got a little push from people I respect about getting the stories down and different aspects of my life. I was less interested in looking backwards than a forward direction — and a present direction, writing more music.
Did looking back change your opinion about any events from your career?
When I decided I was going to do it, the condition I had to make with myself was that it was going to be totally open. No sugar-coating things. There's nothing in there I'm not OK with. My behavior was great at certain times with certain people, but if you're going to do something like this, go with candor.
About nine years ago, you and Ronald Isely performed an emotional show at the Wilshire Theatre in Los Angeles. Hal David was in the audience. Do you have regrets about the end of that partnership?
That was one of the real memorable concerts. A great singer, a great concert. Yes, I have regrets. It happened for all the wrong reasons — a project that had gone amiss [1973's "Lost Horizon"]. It was my kind of stubbornness, anger and frustration.
You continued to have hits even after that partnership broke up. How does a change in partnership affect what you do as a composer?
It's about music, and about having respect for the person and liking the person that you're with. It's a big one. You can take the Elvis Costello collaboration "Painted from Memory" album. Writing with Elvis was different from writing with Carole. It's all about making music together. I need somebody to come up with words.
What were the '60s like for you?
Creatively, I was going with what I heard. It was a time of rock 'n' roll and I was very anti-rock 'n' roll. I did not connect with that kind of music. I didn't like it. Once I was able to take control in the studio and get the tempo that I wanted, make sure that the arrangement was what I wanted, it became a different thing.
What led you to choose the singers you worked with?
Once we found Dionne [Warwick] she became our flagship singer. We would write specifically with Dionne and cut an album because we could see what she could do. We were writing for a lot of people.
There was a sound and personality to your songs that remained consistent, regardless of who was singing. Was that intentional?
You don't do that intentionally. I had no idea if this would be commercially successful or not commercially successful — you just do it.
People are still listening to those songs.
That always is a surprise to me — that the music from that time that I wrote had durability. I have not been able to come up with an answer why other than they were sophisticated and had more meat and substance to them than other songs from the same time. I'm very grateful.
What: An Evening with Burt Bacharach in conversation with Mitch Albom
Price: $20 to 68.
Where: Alex Theatre, 216 North Brand Blvd., Glendale
When: Tuesday, May 14, 8 p.m.
More info: (818) 243-2539, www.alextheatre.org
Follow Steve Appleford on Twitter: @TCNArts.