"I loved everything about I’m Glad I Did... Not just brava, Cynthia. Bravissima!!"
—Carole King, multi-Grammy winning singer-songwriter of Tapestry and author of the New York Times bestseller A Natural Woman
New York City, summer of 1963: JJ Green is a born songwriter—a major problem, since her family thinks the music business is a cesspool of lowlifes and hustlers. Defying them, she secretly takes an internship at the Brill Building, the epicenter of a new sound called rock and roll. When she finds a writing partner in Luke Silver, a boy with mesmerizing green eyes, JJ believes she is living her dream. They’ll even be cutting their first demo with legendary singer Dulcie Brown.
But soon JJ’s dream is shattered by tragedy, and she must navigate a web of troubled pasts, hidden identities, and tangled secrets—before it snares her, too.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
There are three unbreakable rules in my family.
1. The Greens always have breakfast together.
2. The Greens always negotiate instead of arguing.
3. The Greens always become lawyers.
I’m hardly ever hungry at breakfast, and while I really love a good screaming argument (I believe it clears the air), I’ve managed to live with rules one and two. It’s rule number three that scares me, crushes my dreams and destroys my soul. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is that I do not now, nor have I ever wanted to be an attorney.
Unlike my big brother Jeffrey, I have not inherited the legal gene. Jeff—who at the age of seven suggested a contractual relationship between us regarding use of the bathroom we shared—is clearly a Green. I was four at the time, so I accepted, proof only that I seem to have been born into the wrong family. If I didn’t look so much like my mother, I’d suspect I’d been adopted, but we have the same face (heart shaped), same hair (ridiculously straight, medium brown with red highlights) and the same big feet (don’t even ask what size).
That morning in June, I had a bigger secret than my shoe size.
What I was keeping under wraps was a plan to break sacred rule number three by getting a summer job in the music business. A job that would no doubt lead to a total family flip-out. I had no intention of telling them anything about it unless I got it. Today was just an interview. I was painfully aware, though, that if anyone in my family of legal eagles thought I was hiding something, I was going to be cross-examined, so I tried to look relaxed and extremely normal as I ambled into the dining room and slid into my chair.
“Good morning, Irving,” Jeff greeted me, munching on cornflakes. “You look a little more uptight than usual. What’s up?”
So much for my acting ability. My brother has called me Irving, as in Irving Berlin, ever since I was idiot enough to tell him that I wanted to write songs.
“Stop calling your sister Irving,” my mother instructed. She was cutting off the top of her egg with my grandmother’s silver egg cutter, reading the Herald Tribune and monitoring our conversation at the same time. She was one of the few people in the world who could do three things at once and do all of them perfectly.
My mother, Janice Green—Janny—is a criminal attorney. My dad, Julius Green—Jules—is a judge. Jeff, the bathroom negotiator, is pre-law at Columbia. He’s also working at Janny’s office for the summer. Could he be more perfect? J is the family letter, given the happy coincidence of my parents’ first names. But J can also stand for lots of other things like “judgmental.” Or “joyless.” Or “just not understood.”
Janny and Jules named me Justice, and if that’s not making a point and giving a kid vocational guidance, I don’t know what is. My middle name is Jeanette after Jeanette Rankin, who was the first woman to serve in the United States Congress. Try living up to that. The only saving grace is that everyone calls me JJ. I hardly ever tell anyone my real name or why I got it. Nobody knows at Dalton where I graduated from high school last week, class of 1963. I’m sixteen, two years younger than most of my friends because I skipped a grade in elementary school and made one up in middle school rapid advance.
I mention this as proof that I am not too dumb to be a lawyer. I simply don’t want to be one. I’ve known what I wanted to be ever since I was three years old and crawled up on the piano bench in my family’s living room. Ever since I touched the keys and realized I could make my own sound. Ever since I heard the Latin music that Juana (another cruel letter J coincidence), our housekeeper, played on her radio. I’ve wanted to be a music maker, a spinner of dreams, the creator of some kind of new and beautiful noise, a poetic voice saying what others feel but can’t express.
The problem is that in the Green family, saying you want to be a songwriter is the equivalent of saying you want to be an axe murderer—or even worse, a music business lowlife who rips people off, like my Uncle Bernie.
Juana whispered, “Buenos días, cariña,” and placed my usual toasted bran muffin in front of me.
“Justice, I think you’re going a little heavy on the mascara,” Janny observed. “It makes you look unhappy.”
“It’s not mascara, Mom, they’re false eyelashes. Everyone’s wearing them.”
“You are not everyone,” Jules reminded me from behind The New York Times. He peered over the headline JFK Signs Equal Pay Act. “Your mother’s right. You look unhappy.”
“It’s her guilty look,” Jeff chimed in. “I remember it from when we shared a bathroom and she used it during my time.”
“Why are you talking about me as if I’m not here, Jeffrey?” I asked calmly. Whenever he did that, I wanted to rip out his vocal chords, but letting him know would mean he’d won. So I smoothed the skirt of my seersucker shirtwaist dress and smiled. “Don’t you think that type of behavior is rude, Mom?”
“JJ has a point, Jeffrey. You two could debate it, but it’s getting late, and I have to get to the office.”
Janny stood and slipped into her raspberry linen suit jacket. It matched her pillbox hat perfectly. My mom looked like Jackie Kennedy before Jackie did. Impossibly chic. So chic that people often took her for a model. She was also brilliant, charming, well read, successful—and one of only two women in her class at Columbia law. You might say she was a tough act to follow, or you might say it was better not to try. You might also say that trying to slip into the music business on her watch had to be a death wish.
Jules shrugged into his jacket, folded The New York Times, which he always finished before breakfast, and handed it to Janny. “Check Earl Wilson’s column,” he told her. “It appears Bernie is being called to testify in some payola scheme again.”
“What else is new?” Janny asked, biting her lip. “I say a prayer every night—”
“That no one will figure out that ‘the godfather of the music business’ is your no-goodnik brother,” Jules finished. “We know, Janny, we know.”
“I know you know. I don’t know why I’m compelled to repeat myself.” She dropped her keys into her handbag and the newspaper into her attaché. Then she turned her attention to something she actually could control: us. “Justice, as discussed, you have this week to find a summer job doing something useful, or I’ll expect you to begin filing down at my office next Monday. Being around a law office might awaken your legal instincts. Jeff, there’s a package you need to pick up at Malken, Malken and Strobe. Please get it to me before ten thirty, and then Susan will tell you what to do today. Jules, I’d like to share a cab with you if you’re ready to leave.”
And with that everyone jumped to do Janny’s bidding, as everyone usually did. I hightailed it out of her sight before she could figure out that Jeff was right on the money, that I was guilty as charged. Today I was taking a giant step toward my not-so-secret dream and my parents’ worst nightmare. Today I was sticking my toe into what Janny called “that cesspool, the music business.” Defying her was scary enough. But even more terrifying would be learning if I had any right to my dream. Today I’d be finding out if I had any songwriting talent.
I stood at the corner of West Forty-Ninth and Broadway, clutching my purse and staring up at Oz itself, the Brill Building. I silently offered up my own Janny-like prayer that I wouldn’t run into “no-goodnik” Uncle Bernie, even though I wasn’t sure we’d even recognize each other. I hadn’t seen him since I was a kid.
This was it, the Mecca of songwriting. The brass doors were flanked by black marble pillars. Above them, set into a brass niche, was the bust of a young guy. I always thought it was George Gershwin or some other famous songwriter, but I found out it was the developer’s son. The poor guy died at seventeen. His name wasn’t even Brill. The Brill brothers owned the land, and they leased it to a developer. The Brills actually had a clothing store on the main floor.
How do I know all this? I know it because I did a report on New York architecture for my art class just so I could research this location. I can also tell you more than you want to know about the New York Public Library. Like the lions out front were named Patience and Fortitude by Mayor LaGuardia in the 1930s.
A steady stream of people poured in and out of those amazing doors, and all I’d ever wanted was to have a legitimate reason to be one of them. Fumbling in my purse, I pulled out the scrap I’d torn from last week’s Cashbox:
WANTED: Good Music Publishing seeks smart assistant/ talented aspiring songwriter. Exchange office work for feedback on songs from hot publisher. Call Rona at Ju5-5253 for audition appointment.
I took a deep breath.
I belong here, I told myself for the thousandth time. This job fits me like a glove.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Growing up in a family of lawyers, Justice (known as J.J.) Green has long wished to be a songwriter, not a lawyer. After finding a summer job as directed, J.J. cuts a deal with her mom--if one of the songs she writes over the summer is picked up at Good Music (a record company), she will be able to study as she pleases, instead of heading toward a law career in the fall. The book took off in a direction I didn't expect. J.J.'s new world at the Brill Building brings a lot of secrets, revelations and a mystery to solve as the summer moves forward. I thought it would be more of an historical coming of age story. The historical touches about the summer of '63 seemed like an aside, added in for reference. J.J. is a great character, and she really kept this book going at a good pace, whether standing up to her parents, discovering a boyfriend or even a bit of Holmes/Watson like sleuthing. Some of the side stories got a little long or coincidental, but I liked it overall.
I loved this book from first page to last. I always wished I had lived in the 60s and I am a singer/songwriter so this story engaged me on many levels. If you have any interest in the music industry, the 60s or how to find the courage to follow your dreams this is for you.