“She’s Like the Wind” & My Story Behind the Song

Patrick Swayze, She’s Like the Wind, and Me

In 1983, an actor friend asked if I would accompany him on the piano for a musical scene he wanted to perform in his acting class, The Beverly Hills Playhouse. The scene went very well, and was followed by a spirited discussion among the teacher, the students (there were about 65 in the class), and myself about the nature of musical theater. Afterward, the class took a break, and, as I was gathering up the music, I was approached by one of the students who introduced himself as Buddy. He told me how much he liked my playing, my remarks about theater during the discussion, etc.. But he looked really familiar to me, and I told him so. He asked if I’d seen “The Outsiders,” and I said no. He asked if I’d seen “The Renegades,” still no. He mentioned a couple of other things I hadn’t seen, and I could tell he was getting annoyed. Then a woman with long blond hair came over, and he introduced her as his wife, Lisa. I said, “Now I got it – the two of you are always working on a black 240Z on La Jolla Avenue on the weekends.” They asked how I knew that, and I told them that I lived right around the block from them, two apartment houses away. Buddy was also known as Patrick Swayze.

At the time, I was living with my girlfriend, Wendy Fraser, a great singer. The four of us started hanging out – we’d talk about music, dance, acting, and we became good friends. In 1984, Buddy got one of the leads in a movie, “Grandview, USA,” along with Jamie Leigh Curtis and C. Thomas Howell. He called me one afternoon, and said that the movie was looking for songs. He told me that he had a bunch of lyrics and some music, but couldn’t get anywhere with it. Would I work on it with him? He knew Wendy and I were writing music for TV, and I knew he was very musical. He played guitar pretty well, and had been on Broadway in “Grease.” He came over that night with his guitar, and sang me what he had. He only had two chords which he played over and over, so I knew we had to go somewhere musically. But I really liked his first two lines – “She’s like the wind through my tree, she rides the night next to me.” I did not like the next two lines, however, and told him so. He got a little defensive, and asked, “Well, what would you say there?” I thought for a minute, and said, “She leads me through moonlight, only to burn me with the sun.” He made a face, and asked me what the hell that meant. I said I didn’t care, just write it down. We were off and running.

It took a few days, but we finally had something we both liked, especially after we realized that “She’s Like the Wind” was a great hook and title. We recorded a good demo – I programmed the tracks, brought in a guitarist, Buddy sang the lead vocal, and Wendy sang harmonies and a little duet with him at the end. But, ultimately, the song was not picked up for the movie. That proved to be a godsend.

The demo sat in the drawer for a couple of years. Buddy did the TV mini-series “North and South,” which made him a household name. He and Lisa bought a small horse ranch north of LA, moved away from our neighborhood, but the four of us remained close friends. I got picked up by a major agency, Triad Artists, as a composer. By coincidence, that was the same agency that represented Buddy as an actor. Around that time, Buddy and Lisa invited us to a BBQ at the ranch, and two of the guests were Eleanor Bergstein and Kenny Ortega, the screenwriter and choreographer respectively for a new low-budget movie Buddy was set to star in called “Dirty Dancing.”

After filming had been underway for a little while, Buddy called me from the set in North Carolina, telling me that he played the demo of “She’s Like the Wind” for the producers, they loved it, and wanted it for the movie. He said they were doing a soundtrack album, and the album’s executive producer, Jimmy Ienner, wanted to talk to me. I called Jimmy, he said how much he loved the song, and asked who the woman was singing with Buddy. When I told him it was my girlfriend, he asked if she was signed to a record deal. I told him no, and he said great, we’ll use her on the album version. When the deal was made by my agent, Wendy got credit for her vocal, and a point on the sales of the record. She was also featured in the black & white video for the song, which was directed by David Fincher (Social Network, Benjamin Button, etc.).

The song was recorded in the fall of 1986, with Michael Lloyd producing at his studio in Beverly Hills. He had brought in some of the top session players in LA, including Paul Leim on drums and Laurence Juber (of Paul McCartney and Wings) on guitar. Before the session started, Michael turned to me and asked if I knew what we were doing today. Puzzled, I said we’re recording “She’s Like the Wind.” He said, “No! We’re recording a major hit song!” I asked him to call my mother and tell her that, as she still didn’t believe I could make a living in music. Buddy recorded his vocals the next day, and Wendy recreated the part she did on the demo. Michael added some great touches, such as the repeated “Just a fool, she’s like the wind” for the fadeout, along with sleigh bells. It sounded great.

Almost a year went by before “Dirty Dancing” was set for its theatrical release. It was completely off my radar, and I wasn’t particularly excited about it. The word in Hollywood was the movie was terrible, it’d flop at the box office, and go straight to video after one week. The soundtrack was released before the film, along with the first single, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” and both did nothing on the charts. But then the movie came out. The first week it was #4 at the box office, the next week #2. “Time of My Life” and the soundtrack shot to #1 on the Billboard charts. “Dirty Dancing” was a monster sleeper hit, and the ground began to shift under our feet. Buddy was suddenly one of the biggest stars in the world. Michael Lloyd called to tell me I was getting a gold record for the soundtrack. That meant it sold 500,000 copies in just a few weeks. I called him about ten days later to ask when I’d get the gold record, and he said, “You’re not getting a gold record. Now you’re getting a platinum record. It sold 280,000 copies last Sunday.” He said we were riding a wave, and nobody knew where it would take us. When I finally did get my record a few weeks later, it was triple platinum, meaning it had already sold three million records.

The second single off the record was “Hungry Eyes,” which was another hit, topping out at #4 on the Hot 100 chart. The album kept steady at #1. But no one would tell me if “She’s Like the Wind” would be the next single. Around this time, Wendy and I were having a lot of problems, and, after more than seven years living and working together, we split up. She moved out Thanksgiving weekend – it’s always the holidays. I was devastated. One night in December, trying to take my mind off my new living situation, I found myself in Tower Records on Sunset Strip. I was walking along the wall where the latest single releases were posted, wondering if my song was ever going to come out. And then I saw a picture of Buddy on the sleeve of the “She’s Like the Wind” single. I blurted out loud, “Nobody tells me anything!”

The song started moving up the Billboard Hot 100 chart with a bullet, as they say. The rabbi’s 13-year-old son in the building next door was a Top 40 freak, and he would tap on my window to tell me what position it had reached that week. It peaked on the Hot 100 chart at #3 on Feb 26, 1988, and hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. It was also an international hit, as were the movie and soundtrack. In 1989, Buddy and I received  BMI TV/Film Awards and  BMI Pop Awards for the song, both as writers and publishers. The homepage photo is from the BMI Pop Awards, and that’s Gloria Estefan with us, who won Songwriter of the Year that night. The soundtrack album was eventually RIAA certified at 11-times platinum, reflecting 11,000,000 copies sold in the US alone. In 2006, a hip-hop cover by Vibekingz feat. Maliq was released in Germany. It went to #2 there, and did well across Europe. In 2007, another hip-hop cover was released in the US. It was by Lumidee feat. Tony Sunshine, and it reached #18 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40. Broadcast Music, Incorporated (BMI) presents award certificates commemorating 1,000,000 US airplays, a tremendous milestone. In 2009, they presented me two certificates, one as co-writer, one as co-publisher, commemorating the 4-millionth airplay of “She’s Like the Wind.” Ryan Adams and Natalie Prass did an unexpected cover of the song as part of their 2015 tour. I got to hear them perform it at the Ryman Auditorium. I’ve heard the song in a theater in Berlin as part of  live show, and I’ve heard it on a bus in Havana, Cuba. Buddy and I never expected what we wrote in 1984 to have a life like this – how could we?

Buddy and I remained friends until his untimely death in 2009. I spoke at his memorial service, which was hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, his co-star in “Ghost.” I sat next to Jennifer Grey, who cried for three hours straight. Lisa and I are still friends, and I went to her wedding when she remarried in 2014 (at Mar-a-Lago, of all places). One thing I said at the memorial service – I’ll always be proud that the names Patrick Swayze and Stacy Widelitz are forever linked by something we created, something that has unexpectedly touched millions of people around the world. And it’s still on the air, edging its way toward that 5,000,000 airplay award.

Watch David Fincher’s video of “She’s Like the Wind.”

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