An Interview with Dan Hill by Divorce Magazine
Grammy award-winning singer and songwriter Dan Hill has nurtured an inimitable talent for observing the fractured, raw and beautiful things that make us uniquely human, and conveying them through penetrating music and lyrics. In Dan’s latest CD “Intimate,” and his book “I Am MY Father’s Son (a memoir of love and forgiveness)” he once again demonstrated his ability to user listeners and readers towards difficult internal emotional spaces.
Divorce Magazine’s Publisher, Dan Couvrette, spoke with Dan Hill about his work and relationships.
Dan Couvrette: Do you think there might be a connection between a couples’ ability to observe their world — as opposed to just being caught up in it — regarding the possibility of their relationship lasting or not?
Dan Hill: I believe that to sustain a loving relationship both partners have to be able to step outside of their individual selves, as well as their respective roles in the world, and look at how they both interact from an almost analytical remove. That way, they can develop empathy for their partner and try to stand in the other’s shoes. The challenge for most husbands or wives is to see their partner’s point of view.
That said, for a relationship to thrive, both husband and wife have to have a strong sense of their individual selves. It’s always a balance, but in order to truly love your partner, you have to feel good about yourself; that is, love and feel secure and confident within yourself. A song from my “Intimate” CD that explores this theme is “Love Yourself.” Another song is “(Don’t Tell Me) How I Feel.” This song deals front and center with the inability of people to see beyond their own personal issues.
Dan Couvrette: How did your parents’ marriage influence how you thought a marriage should be?
Dan Hill: My father was very protective of my mom, as well as tremendously affectionate. Because there was so much mental illness among the females throughout both sides of my family, dad’s philosophy, was that “men protect women.” That men — husbands and fathers — are strong, Supermen types, while women are delicate and fragile. This theme is explored head-on at the end of the chapter that deals with my mom’s first stay in a psych ward due to her bi-polar issues (then labelled ‘manic-depressive).
However, I must add that because my dad stood by my bi-polar mom when she was ill, visiting her every day (at lunch and after dinner always armed with flowers and chocolates and love letters) despite his gruelling career (starting up the Ontario Human Rights Commission at the time), he gave me a message that unconditional love and loyalty was part of “the deal” when it came to marriage. This was a beautiful message. Touchingly, when my dad was dying, my mom stood by his side without complaint, loving him and nursing him right up until he died. Naturally, I’ve inculcated my parents’ example: that marriage is all about unconditional love and loyalty.
Dan Couvrette: Why do you think you and your wife Bev have managed to stay together over 27 years through all of the challenges that life has thrown at you?
Dan Hill: There’s a term shrinks use: assortative mating. This details how we unconsciously choose partners who are the opposite of ourselves. The idea being that our offspring inherit the best of mom and dad’s unique and different genes. For example, Bev is conservative and cautious. I’m wild, creative, and impulsive and when it comes to business, an unabashed risk taker. But our two different takes on, say, business, forces us to find a middle ground that has enabled us to build a virtual music publishing empire that earns more than a lot of music publishing companies that have dozens of songwriters.
Of course, the key is for a man and woman to have different genetic wirings and yet share the same core values: unconditional love, loyalty, love of physical exercise, reading, and a visceral repulsion at unnecessary cruelty and violence. Because I’m a performer/entertainer, which means I have to travel a lot (99% of my income comes outside of Canada), we have suffered, frequently, from too much time apart. We’ve also had brutal fights, as all couples do, but through the years we have learned to argue “respectfully,” whereas 25 years ago we fought “dirty” — which is destructive and can kill a relationship.
Dan Couvrette: Do you think the challenges have actually helped you stay together and make you stronger? And has it influenced your songwriting in any way?
Dan Hill: Yes, the challenges made us stronger. For example, Bev and I had a huge fight and I could hear her complaining about me being a jerk to her friend over the phone. While hearing that I wrote “Can’t We Try” Bev came into the piano room, I played her the song, and she said: “well, I think the woman should say this.” I threw her words into “Can’t We Try” and it became a smash in the U.S., and was the Billboard #1 adult contemporary record of the year, beating out Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.
Divorce Magazine: Other than your parents’ marriage, have there been any other significant influences on how you hold marriage and relationships?
Dan Hill: I’ve read a lot about male depression, something I have suffered off and on with my entire adult life. Terence Real’s “I Don’t Want to Talk about It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression” has taught me a lot about my “issues,” and about how depression, among males, is passed down, from one generation to the next. After reading this book, I set about breaking the pattern of the archetypal dad passing down depression and repressed rage to his son.
Dan Couvrette: How have you used your challenges with depression in your songwriting?
Dan Hill: One time, I had a huge fight with my wife, Bev, and I could hear her complaining about me being a jerk to her friend over the phone. While hearing that I wrote “Can’t We Try” Bev came into the piano room, I played her the song, and she said: “well, I think the woman should say this.” I threw her words into “Can’t We Try” and it became a smash in the U.S., and was the Billboard #1 adult contemporary record of the year, beating out Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.
Because I have spent 35 years writing songs with the worlds’ greatest and most successful artists and songwriters, I have learned a lot about relationships. As songwriters, we usually start a “writing session” by talking about our individual issues, with ourselves, our children, our partners. Then BAM, out of this conversation, a song explodes. For example: “I Do Cherish You” (#1 country song for Mark Wills, #3 pop single for 98 Degrees, and on my “intimate” CD with my unplugged version) came out of Keith Stegall (my writing partner) and I discussing our marriages. As well, the song I wrote for the Backstreet Boys – “I Promise You (With Everything I Am)” — came as a result of my best friend leaving his wife, and my wife fearing I would follow suit. So I wrote “I Promise You…” (which I’ve recorded as a duet on “Intimate”), to reassure Bev that I, like my dad with my mom, would always love her. No matter what.
Divorce Magazine: Many therapists say that divorcing people need to forgive themselves and their spouses before they can truly be complete, whole and ready to move on with their life. Would you agree or disagree based on your relationships (girlfriends, father, mother, siblings, wife, yourself, etc.)?
Dan Hill: Ahhh, forgiveness is the only chance we have of overcoming our inner rage, depression, and any range of toxic emotions. I have sat in on many AA meetings (as a friend of an alcoholic, not as an alcoholic), and the first thing you learn is about forgiving yourself. That you can’t change what you’ve done in the past. You have to deal with, live in “the now.” Learning to forgive my father was the underlying theme of my book. After all, my book “I Am My Father’s Son” was written after I wrote the song “My Father’s Son.” Here are the song’s bridge lyrics:
My wife and I have had to forgive each other for many of the hurtful things we’ve visited upon the other over our 27 years of marriage. It was not until we apologized, took responsibility for our mistakes, and decided to move on…that our marriage broke into new, deeper, and more intimate territory.
Dan Couvrette: How has the topic of divorce influenced your songwriting?
Dan Hill: My friend Keith went through a wrenching divorce with his first wife, and as a result the two of us wrote “Back Before the War,” which Reba McEntire first cut on her platinum CD. I have cut “Back Before the War” on my new CD. I don’t think there’s another song that deals so frankly, and brutally, with the wrenching sadness of divorce.
Here’s the first verse:
To download Dan Hill’s songs from his latest CD “Intimate”, please visit his website: http://www.DanHill.com.