Kenny Chesney made a special trip from his tropical island retreat to congratulate his former publicist, Holly Gleason, for her part in writing his recent hit, “Better as a Memory.” The celebration was held Monday (Nov. 24) at the BMI building in Nashville.
Gleason co-wrote the song — her first ever recorded — under the pseudonym “Lady Goodman,” and neither Chesney nor his producer, Buddy Cannon, was aware of Gleason’s role until well after they cut the song.
Sharing the spotlight with Gleason was her co-writer, Travis Hill, who also used a nom de plume, “Scooter Carusoe.” Earlier this month, he won the song of the year award for the composition from SESAC, which, like BMI, is a performance rights organization.
It wasn’t until the Nashville Songwriters Association International listed “Better as a Memory” as one of the organization’s 2008 “Songs I Wish I’d Written” and Gleason came forward to accept the honor that her contribution became public.
“I grew up writing a lot of poetry in the margins of my notebook, ” Gleason told a group of reporters who met with her before the celebration began. Despite this inclination and her work as a music critic, Gleason said she had been reluctant to try her hand at songwriting. “I didn’t want to be one of those people whose ego is bigger than their talent.”
However, she said, Hill kept asking her to write with him and finally she relented. Having heard complaints about songwriters who come to writing sessions with no ideas, Gleason said she arrived and presented Hill with the statement, “I’m better as a memory than as your girl.”
Once the two completed the song, Gleason had Hill sing a rough demo of it into his computer. She then took a copy of the recording to Chesney’s tour bus and left it on his bed, thinking, she said, that it might serve as a “lullaby” to relax him from his stage high.
Although Chesney had by this time finished recording the album that would become Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates, he decided he wanted to add “Better as a Memory.” From that point on, the song was solidly in the hit chute.
“I wanted the song to be the story,” Gleason said, in explaining why she didn’t simply tell Chesney up front that she’d co-written it. “I didn’t want Kenny to do me a favor.” She said she looked upon Chesney as her “little brother.”
Now that she has a big hit to her credit, Gleason said she has started co-writing with some of her idols, among them Rodney Crowell and Larry Stewart of Restless Heart. The alliance with Stewart, she said, might yield “the dumbest drinking song ever.”
Gleason said she will probably stick with the “Lady Goodman” pen name, which she took from a character in Cameron Crowe’s movie script for Almost Famous. “I wanted to call myself ‘Moonbeam McSwine,’” Gleason continued, alluding to a temptress in the Li’l Abner comic strip, “but Travis would have none of it.”
BMI’s Jody Williams welcomed everyone by observing they had gathered to honor “a song written by two phantoms.”
Williams called Gleason “a prime tastemaker in our industry” for her sage and enthusiastic commentaries on music. “Holly knows and appreciates quality,” he added.
After awards were handed out, Chesney spoke briefly to the crowd.
“I’ve never been around somebody who’s as passionate about music as Holly is,” he said. In a puckish reference to Gleason’s love of words, he noted, “Being around her has definitely raised my SAT score.”
Then he turned to the guest of honor and declared, “I love you — and I want another [song].