Let’s say you’re a Michigan native, born to immigrant parents. You emigrate to Israel in 1995 with no money, but you form the biggest pop band in the country’s history. Soon, you have 4 gold records and need armed security guards to walk the streets.
Back in the States you perform for Mayor Bloomberg at Gracie Mansion; write songs for P. Diddy, Usher, Paris Hilton and the Roots, and record with Jennifer Lopez, Ashanti and Ja Rule.
What’s another good subject for a song?
How about Westport?
Michael HarPaz wrote “Westport Boy” — “I’m a Westport boy from the city/Who moved out here for lawns that were green and girls that were pretty/And lots of European cars” — back in 2004. He’s performed it around the world — including Israel — and, he says, audiences appreciate it wherever they are.
The theme — work hard, have dreams, grow up, have kids, move out of the city, start a new chapter in your life, it’s not bad/just different — resonates “universally,” Michael says.
So what does a Jewish boy from the Detroit suburbs, who as the lead singer of hfive played to sold-out arenas throughout Israel, know from Westport?
Westporter Avi Kaner’s sister Celia is married to the son of Michael’s parents’ closest friend. (Of course!)
Avi — Westport’s new Board of Finance chairman — and his wife Liz moved here in 1996. They convinced Celia and her husband to follow them from San Francisco a few years later.
“Avi’s goal is to get everyone in the world to move to Westport,” Michael said by phone from Israel, where he is finishing the score for a film. “He says it’s the coolest place for a young person living in New York to move to.”
Michael didn’t take the bait, but he enjoyed spending weekends here. “It’s a very gracious community,” he said graciously. “It really is an awesome place.”
On one of those trips, Michael sat down at Avi’s grand piano. He started singing an extemporaneous song about Westport. There were lines about successful urban guys who loved New York, but got married, had kids and moved here. They bought SUVs, with PlayStations in the back and jelly beans on the floor.
“Westport Boy” — “Now we’re soccer moms and Sunday ballet dads/And so I give my kids the youth I never had” — started as “a joke,” he admitted. But he went home, developed the chorus and hook around his friends with similar backgrounds, and created “a romantic love song” about a place. “It’s kind of like Billy Joel singing about Long Island,” Michael said.
His friends “chose the executive route,” while Michael took “the artsy, bohemian way.” Those friends — scattered now in suburban Chicago, Marin County, wherever — may not know Westport exactly. But they all relate to “Westport Boy.”
“As a singer/songwriter, this is what I do,” Michael explained. “Some of the best songs just hit you.
“This is not ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or ‘Hotel California,'” he acknowledged — presumably referring to those tunes’ popularity, not their artistic merit.
“But it was the right chemistry. The right vibe.”
“I’m a Westport boy from the city/Who moved out here for lawns that were green and girls that were pretty/And lots of European cars…”
To listen to “Westport Boy,” click below:
Click below for a YouTube video of Michael performing at a Birthright event in Israel, in 2008: