The story of Robert Hazard is every songwriter's fantasy:
One day, in a 15-minute burst of inspiration, he dreams up a
simple melody, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," that catches
the new-wave moment perfectly and becomes a 1983-84 megahit
for Cyndi Lauper. It becomes a pop perennial, used over and
over in movies, the soundtrack of two generations.
Its success means that Hazard, now 55, never has to work
again. At one point in the '90s, he estimated that "Girls"
had generated more than $1 million in royalties. And that's
the velvet handcuff.
"Sure, it sounds great," groans the former Philly rock
institution, sitting in one of his old haunts, Sassafras
restaurant in Old City. The singer and songwriter, who lives
in Vero Beach, Fla., is gearing up to present his first new
material in a decade - he'll perform Friday at The Point in
Bryn Mawr - and is blunt about the downside of his strange
brand of celebrity.
"Think about it: What kind of a living is that? Sooner or
later you begin to wonder what you've got to contribute. You
have to go back to work, just for yourself."
Hence Hazard's The Seventh Lake, an album of
rootsy, blues-inflected songs far different from the
nerve-jangling new wave he made with the Heroes in the late
'70s and early '80s. The album was produced by T-Bone Wolk,
and features tart Hazard meditations on information overload
("Everybody's Talkin' ") and regret ("Whole Lot of Water"),
being dazzled by his young daughter's beauty ("Pretty Little
Thing") and haunted by a strange New Jersey thoroughfare
("Route 666," the road between Tuckahoe and Berlin that
Hazard traveled frequently when he lived in the area.)
The tunes were a litmus test for Hazard, who has a second
career as an antiques dealer with shops in South Florida and
the Adirondacks. He never stopped writing and recording at
home, and during the last few years he composed a batch that
were, in his estimation, particularly strong.
"I'm my own worst critic," says Hazard, who dropped
"Girls" from his set after it became a hit for Lauper. "I
have to really like something, because you never know, you
might actually have to sing it all the time."
On Seventh Lake, Hazard says, his focus was
lyrics. He set out to tell stories, not simply riff on an
"Somewhere in the last few years, the poetry has become
really important to me," he explains, citing Bob Dylan, the
Band and Van Morrison as some of the greats that inspired
him. At times, he sounds like Scarecrow-era
Mellencamp, tapping a wide range of folk and roots styles to
spin his yarns. "I tried to really get inside the lyrics,
and sometimes it felt almost back to how I started as a
teenager, playing open-mike nights."
Hazard sent out demo versions to solicit feedback. "I
didn't trust it at first," he explains. But as friends and
trusted music associates reacted positively, Hazard got the
message he was on the right track. "T-Bone was just so
excited about the stuff. He had all these ideas about how to
do [the songs], and it ended up being a great time, making
Until Hazard finds the right label or distribution
situation, Seventh Lake will be available at his
performances and, soon, at local music shops and via the
Internet. "I know this thing isn't going to be easy," he
says of re-entering a business he left, somewhat
disgruntled, in the '80s. "But it's something I want to
pursue. I miss it, absolutely."
Asked what part he misses - the girls throwing bricks
with panties wrapped around them through his Center City
apartment window, the adulation of clubbers who packed
places like the long-gone London Victory at 10th and
Chestnut on Monday nights, or the music itself - the wry
Hazard shoots back: the music.
For a few years there, he and the Heroes were the rising
stars of Philly rock. His self-titled five-song debut EP,
issued in 1982, included an infectious number called
"Escalator of Life" that became a local hit. That got Hazard
noticed, and he was signed to RCA, which reissued the EP,
then followed it with the 1984 Wing of Fire. At the
time, the band was working constantly, Hazard recalls.
"We were together seven nights a week. If we weren't
playing, we were rehearsing, trying to create a sound. The
guys would beg for nights off, and I was always like
'Girlfriends? We don't have time for girlfriends.' "
Despite his work ethic, Hazard's album didn't catch fire
the way the label expected, and he was dropped, though the
success of "Girls" gave Hazard a certain industry cachet and
he remained a club draw. He issued his second RCA album,
Darling, in 1986, and put out his last set of new
material, Howl - an effort he describes as
ill-conceived - in 1998.
Though he's anxious to get back, Hazard has some rules.
He won't do oldies shows. And he plans to be very selective
about even performing songs from his previous incarnation as
the wiry rocker from Delaware County with the skinny necktie
and new-wave pompadour.
"This guy from Atlantic City calls," Hazard chuckles. "He
wants to do a whole Robert Hazard show, with the same
outfits, the whole thing. He was offering a lot of money,
but there was no way. I don't want to go back. That's why
I'm not going to do the old Heroes songs - I might do one,
like 'Hang Around With You.' That's it. They were part of a
different time, not now. I've moved on."