AOS Presents: Barry Louis Polisar, A Pioneer in the World of Books and Music for Children

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Education, Music, Music for Children, Singer-Songwriter, Sound, World Music
Barry Louis Polisar, Photo credit by Michael G. Stewart‏.

Barry Louis Polisar, Photo credit by Michael G. Stewart‏.

Architect of Sound‘ talks to Barry Louis Polisar: Musician, Award Winning Teacher, Singer-songwriter of Children songs and Author of many Children books and poems. Today we learn about Barry’s biggest Inspirations, Favourite Books and Poems, the story behind his song ‘All I Want is You’ featuring on Academy Award winning Film ‘Juno‘ and how a fan from California played tribute to Barry by releasing an album of his songs covered by over 60 Musicians and Artists from around the World!  Enjoy 🙂

Aos. When did you first realise you wanted to pursue a career as a writer of children books and music? What age did you start playing guitar and do you play any other instruments?

Barry: I went to college planning on being a teacher. I never expected to have a career as a songwriter or author. At school I picked up a guitar and began teaching myself basic chords. A student teacher saw me with the guitar and asked if I’d come to her school and do an assembly presentation for her school…at that presentation, I heard another teacher yelling at her students and realizing I could use her tirade in a song, I copied down what she said and wrote a song that night about a mean teacher. Then, teachers heard about the song and began calling, asking if I could come to their school and sing it.  The full true story is below, click on the link:


Aos. What age did you start playing guitar and do you play any other instruments? 

Barry: There was always an untuned guitar in our house missing half it’s strings. It wasn’t until I started college that I bought a guitar and began singing. I joke that I only use three chords in my first couple albums because I only knew 4 chords and didn’t want to show off. The truth is pretty close to that.

Aos. Who or What is your biggest inspiration?

Barry: I was inspired by a lot of the singer-songwriters I used to listen to:  Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Loudon Wainwright, John Prine, Mark Spoelstra, Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen.

Aos. Did you have any favourite books as a child and what are your favourite books now?

Barry: I did have favorite books and many more now. They were all simple stories that told deeper tales if you thought about them. One was called The Party Pig and another was called Five Pennies to Spend.  I talk about them at length on my web site (See link below) and last year at one of our holiday gatherings I read one of them instead of leading a traditional prayer.

Aos. Where do you get your ideas for your songs and stories?

Barry: Most ideas come from real life. From my own brothers and sisters when I was growing up; then from my kids when they were younger.

Aos. Your song ‘All I want is you’ was first released on your second album ‘My Brother thinks he’s a Banana and other provocative songs for Children’ back in 1977. It is featured in the film ‘Juno‘ Soundtrack and has since been a worldwide hit with many artists also covering it.  How did it come about? Has the worldwide exposure helped your music and writing career?

Barry: It was pretty funny to have that song discovered 30 years after I wrote it. The song was used in the film and in a lot of TV commercials world-wide which brought a lot of people to my music…but it appealed to a different audience than my children’s songs. The director of the film was looking for a song with a similar title, searched for it on iTunes and discovered my song by accident. It’s a wild story, read link and listen to song below:

Aos. I understand you visit schools and libraries all over United States of America giving author talks and playing concerts.  What has been your funniest or most unique memory during a concert or talk in all your years touring?

Barry: I’d have to say that very first school concert was the most memorable because if it wasn’t for hearing that teacher yelling at her kids, I might not have ever launched this crazy career 40 years ago…I still tour and travel all over the US and other countries—mostly in schools.

Aos. I read that you performed at the White House in Washington DC. How did that come about? Tell us about it.

Barry: I did play there. Over the years I’ve played at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Smithsonian, The National Theatre, The White House, and similar venues; they all sound impressive, but honestly, they were shows just like any other. Although it is not as glamorous or impressive sounding, I prefer singing in schools because, to paraphrase Willie Sutton*, that’s where the kids are.

The White House show was interesting because I was invited there to sing for kids around the same time a nearby school district in my own home state attempted to ban me from singing my songs in the schools (See Censorship link below) So, here was this school district who announced my songs were inappropriate for children, while I was being invited to sing the same songs at The White House.  I love life’s little ironies, don’t you?

*noted bank robber who when asked why he concentrated on robbing banks, said, “that’s where the money is.” 

Aos. What is your favourite poem?

Barry: I like a lot of the animal poems I wrote. They are short and pithy (and hopefully funny) and many reveal another layer if you think about them…especially the poems in “Something Fishy” and “Curious Creatures.” See links below:

“Something Fishy”: 

“Curious Creatures”

Aos. My favourite song of yours is ‘Don’t put your finger up your nose’. What is your favourite song you like to play and sing?

Barry: That is always my swan song at my concerts. I often say it used to be the song I was best known for until JUNO popularized “All I Want is You” and “Me and You.”  Another real fun one is “Underwear.”

AosWhat Music do you listen too?

Barry: I still listen to all of the pantheon songwriters I mentioned as influences, plus a lot of other singer-songwriters I have heard since. I’ve always liked a good story—in book, poetry, or musical form.

AosWhat was the last CD you bought?

Barry: I heard Krishna Das’ cover version of the Yardbirds song “For Yor Love” at the Grammy telecast a few years ago and loved the way he reinvented the song and made it his. I bought the album and love the timbre in his voice. John Fullbright’s debut album “From the Ground Up” is great and I love the songs he has written. And of course, being an old Zeppelin fan, I always buy the latest incarnation from Robert Plant from the “Raising Sand”collaboration he did with Allion Krauss to his more recent “Band of Joy.”

I’ve also been enjoying various tribute albums of favorite artists and I was fortunate to have a fan from California actually produce a double CD of my songs that were interpreted and re-imagined by over 60 different artists. The album —called “We’re Not Kidding!” came out a couple years ago and most of the 60 artists who did covers of my songs had my albums when they were kids. As good as JUNO and all the subsequent commercial ads have been, nothing could ever top this tribute album in terms of personal satisfaction for me. Every cover is a gem.  See link to ‘Tribute Album’ below:

'We're not kidding' A tribute to Barry Louis Polisar.

‘We’re not kidding’ A tribute to Barry Louis Polisar.

AosIf you could collaborate with a Musician/artist on one of your songs who would you pick?

Barry: I’ve never been great collaborating, though I had an older relative—Sheldon Biber—who was a poet and humorist and a big influence on my life personally. He not only took me to my first music concert, bought me my first guitar songbook which I used when learning to play, and supported my early writings…but in later years he acted as an editor, reading my poems, stories, and songs and making suggestions on where my writing could be better. I’ve never considered myself a great musician, so picking an artist to collaborate with would be an interesting idea.  My songs and poems have often been compared to Shel Silverstein and I am honored by the comparison.

Aos. What does the future hold for Barry Louis Polisar? Any projects, books or albums we should all keep an eye out for?

Barry: I have a few book ideas percolating. The last book I put out was totally different than anything else I’ve ever written. I took 13 stories from the book of Genesis and retold them from a secondary characters point of view. The book hasn’t done too well because people don’t know what to think about it. It’s kind of biblical…but it’s also a little edgy…and it certainly isn’t for kids…so people don’t know where to place it…but I’ve always tried to write about characters who don’t get to have their say. I think that is what made my first songs for kids unique; I was giving voice to the thoughts, emotions, and feelings that kids often could not express. In the new book, I let secondary characters tell their side of the story.  Read link below:

Thanks to Barry Louis Polisar for Contributing, Sharing and Talking toAOS.  We wish him all the very best with his future projects.

To learn more about Barry Louis Polisar and his Music, Books and Poems for Children or maybe you wish to arrange a school visit from Barry, Please click on his website link below for more details.

Barry Louis Polisar singing, Photo credit by Michael G. Stewart‏.

Barry Louis Polisar singing, Photo credit by Michael G. Stewart‏.

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