Minnelli leads the march for a song for the AIDS war

POPULAR MUSIC

November 19, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

When Liza Minnelli first heard "The Day After That" -- the song she hopes will become an anthem for the fight against AIDS -- it was just another number in the Broadway musical "Kiss of the Spider Woman."

"In the show, it's about revolution," she says. But as she sat listening to it, being drawn into the melody and lyrics, she began to see that there was more to the tune than that. "The song is about the war against despair," she says. "It's about the war against this devastating plague that we're going through. And I think the song is about hope.

"Wars need songs," she adds, "and there hasn't been a song about this particular war. This is a battle cry. This is like the 'We Shall Overcome' of the movement."

At the moment, Minnelli is afire with enthusiasm, totally convinced that this song will make a difference. But when she first added the song to her own show, all she had was a hunch that others might hear what she heard in its stirring refrain. Until, that is, she got a letter from someone who'd seen her perform the song at Carnegie Hall.

"It was the first time I tried singing the song," she says, over the phone from her Los Angeles home. "I wanted to see if I was right about the song, and the best way to test that is in front of people, just take the plunge."

"He says at one point in the letter, 'Lately, Miss Minnelli, I've been feeling that there wouldn't be a cure tomorrow, or the day after that. Hope doesn't help. In May of '88 I found out I was HIV positive. Since then, I too have lost several friends to the plague of AIDS.' "

The fan added that he has so far remained healthy and asymptomatic and has helped other AIDS suffers and their families deal with the day-to-day trauma of the disease. But, he wrote, he was finding it hard to maintain his own optimism or sense of hope. And then he heard her sing "The Day After That."

" 'You helped me find my optimism once more,' " Minnelli says, the emotion rising in her voice. "And then it says, 'All I would like you to know is that you touched me personally in a very caring, human and deep-felt way, a touch that will stay with me for years to come. In the concert, I heard and saw and felt you sing that song, and I said to myself: If she can say that, and sing like that, and fight like that, then there must be a reason to hope.'

"This is when I knew I was on the right track," she says.

Minnelli wasn't about to just leave it at that, though. "This is the kind of song where you just want everybody to learn it and sing it with you, or sing it by themselves," she says. "It's rousing, and it's a march, and it's the kind of song where you think, God, I've got to do something."

What Minnelli did was get on the phone with some people at Sony Music, sang them the song, and sell them on the idea of releasing it as a single. In the process, Sony agreed to donate its services so a higher portion of the proceeds could go to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR).

But that's been typical of the kind of cooperation Minnelli has enjoyed on this project. "Everybody's been so incredible," she says. "Seventy people were supposed to be there for the recording, and 120 people showed up. And then more showed up afterward. The voices kept coming. It was wonderful."

"The Day After That" will be released on Dec. 1 -- World AIDS Day -- with versions in English, Spanish and French. Minnelli will give a special performance of the song that afternoon in the lobby of the U.N. building. And from there -- who knows.

"By that time, radio stations all over the world will have it, and with any luck the video will be done," she says. And she has no doubt the song will have an effect on people.

"See, music can do that," she says. "Sometimes when you get complacent or it hurts so much you can't even deal with it, music will get you going again. Get you angry enough or joyful enough or roused up enough to do something."

Liza Minnelli

When: Sunday at 8 p.m.

Where: Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.

Tickets: $35-$100; proceeds to benefit Lifesongs '93

Call: (410) 347-2010 for information, (410) 481-7328 for tickets

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