You can tell everybody this is your song
By Bella English, Boston Globe
Tired of buying the woman in your life the same old chocolate, perfume, and lingerie? Tom Mahan was. So when Christmas came around in 2003, he decided to do something different for his wife of 20 years.
''After being married as long as we had, it was hard to come up with something new," says Mahan, who owns a jewelry store in Marstons Mills. He'd heard that Brian Alex, a musician who was the lead singer and guitarist with the group Entrain, had started a customized song-writing business. No way could Mahan write his own love song, so he contacted Alex and asked him to write and record one for him. Or rather, for his wife, Rita. Thus began a lengthy process, with Alex asking his client all sorts of nosy questions: How did you two meet? Tell me about the early years. Give me special dates and places. What about the kids? How would you describe your wife? What do you want to say to her?
The result was ''Fall of '83," so named because the couple was married Oct. 16, 1983.
On Christmas day, Mahan handed his wife the gift. As she unwrapped it, she thought: Oh great, just another CD. But when she put it in the stereo, she was stunned. ''Fall of '83" detailed their courtship, marriage, and kids. It was sweet. It was beautiful. It was different. She cried. He smiled. Their teenage son gawked.
''I have to say, it was the best present I've received in my life." says Rita, who, like her husband, is 50. ''My husband, like many men, is not very articulate or romantic. He wouldn't take out a billboard to advertise his emotions. I cried when I listened to it, and I still do. It's absolutely priceless."
Putting love into words
Alex, 38, grew up in Peabody, the son of a musician who loved jazz and classical piano. His mother plays piano, too. ''She sounds like Edith Bunker when she sings," he says.
At Peabody High, Alex sang and played guitar with a group called Obsession. When he graduated, he joined various bands, even playing and singing gospel for a while, then joined Entrain, a jam band based on Martha's Vineyard. But island living got old, and a few years ago he left the group, moved to Watertown, and started his business, Custom Love Songs. He advertises in publications such as Wedding Style, Avenue, and the upscale Robb Report, a magazine that focuses on luxury lifestyles.
''Finding it hard to put your love into words? Ever think of putting it to music?" This was the ad that caught the eye of a wealthy Saudi Arabian man. He wanted a song that would include a marriage proposal to his girlfriend. The result was ''Reemi," which chronicles the love the man has for a woman he first spotted in a cafe. ''In a cafe we had met though not a word was spoken yet, I had seen your eyes and could not get you off my mind," the song begins. (''Yes, she accepted his proposal," Alex says.)
Then there was the anniversary song. Neil Auricchio from Princeton, N.J., wanted the perfect evening for his fifth wedding anniversary. ''I said, how can I possibly show my love for her? I could get her this or that, but it just doesn't cut it. I thought maybe one in 10 million people would do a song," says Auricchio, a real estate consultant and investor.
There was one problem: He can't sing. Nor can he write songs. Enter Brian Alex. The two spent hours on the phone, working out the details. Alex sent a rough cut; Auricchio liked it but wanted more of a Smokey Robinson-type ending. Finally, ''The Most Beautiful Gift" was finished.
The couple was going to spend the weekend at a hotel in Richmond. Their anniversary dinner was in a private room filled with roses. At the end of the meal, the husband popped a CD in a player. The song came on, detailing their romance. It included a prayer for his wife; the two are born-again Christians. ''Lord, I just want to thank you right now for giving me the most beautiful gift any man could ever hope for."
After the song played -- several times -- Auricchio took his teary wife up to a suite filled with 100 lit candles and rose petals scattered throughout. There were chocolates on the bed and champagne by the Jacuzzi. And there was Brian Alex himself, singing the song.
''I cried off and on for three days," says Lisa Auricchio. ''Brian was like a stethoscope to my husband's heart. I was able to hear what was inside him, things I probably never would have heard. A car or a diamond would pale in comparison to this."
The most precious gift
Alex says he gets attached to each couple and their stories, and he sweats over each line. ''If the song doesn't go over well, I'm in big trouble." So far, he says, that hasn't happened. ''That would be a horrible, horrible thing," he adds, with an involuntary shudder. All of the songs are love ballads, but each tune is different. He usually accompanies on piano or acoustic guitar; sometimes, he says, he'll hire a ''better" piano player. He tries to write two songs a month.
One of his favorite stories involves a couple who lives in New Jersey. Frank Dominico was a lonely widower who spied an attractive woman at a restaurant. He was too shy to ask her out, but mutual friends kept asking her for him. She refused. ''Let him call me himself," she said. Finally he did. Their first date was on a boat docked at the Trump Marina Hotel Casino in Atlantic City.
''The rest is history. We never looked back," says Marlene Dominico. ''He was different from any man I had ever dated. He was serene, solid, comforting, loyal." They married a year after their first date.
Frank Dominico, the chief financial officer of an engineering and design company, was flipping through his Robb Report (''It's like the Sears Wish Book for me") when he saw the ad for Custom Love Songs. The couple have been married four years, and he was looking for a different sort of Christmas gift for his wife. He called Alex and told him the specifics of their courtship and marriage.
Christmas Day came along; Frank, 59, and Marlene, 55, had agreed not to give each other gifts since they had recently bought a home on the beach. With their grown children -- two each from previous marriages -- and other relatives sitting around Christmas morning, Frank put a CD in the player. ''My One and Only Love" came on. People had been opening gifts as holiday music played and were still talking. But then Marlene heard the words ''Trump Marina." Her ears perked up.
''This is where we had our first date and also where we were married, on a ship docked there," Marlene says. She listened to the rest of the song in disbelief. ''Everyone got quiet and became transfixed," she says. ''Everyone was crying buckets. This song is everything my husband would never be able to say. My husband is a man of few words. He's very, very quiet. His actions have always spoken louder than his words."
Is Frank Dominico indeed a man of few words? ''Yes," he replies.
Would he have ever been able to express himself so romantically? ''No."
Marlene is the opposite: She talks. ''My husband is very, very big on over-the-top gifts," she says. ''Every year he presents me with jewels that rival Catherine the Great's. I have more jewelry that I can wear in a lifetime. I'm talking big-time stuff, an antique emerald bracelet that Eva Peron wore. But you could take the safe in our home and empty it. . . . Nothing could top this song, nothing."
Monday night, to celebrate Valentine's Day, they will return to their favorite restaurant, where the in-house trio now knows how to play ''My One and Only Love." In fact, says Marlene, ''the whole place knows it."
Next Christmas, says Frank, he's in trouble. ''I can't top this."
'The moon, the stars'
James McPartlin, who took guitar lessons from Alex, hired him to write a song that would include a marriage proposal to his girlfriend. The couple had met as college freshmen but then broke up. A couple of years later, McPartlin asked Lori Napoleone to take him back. But her heart had been broken; he'd have to show her ''the moon, the stars, and the sun" before she would consider it.
For their first date -- second time around -- he took her to a cliff overlooking the ocean in Magnolia, on Boston's North Shore. It became their special place. When he was ready to propose, McPartlin asked Alex to help him write a song, which includes a mention of Magnolia along with the proposal: ''Know always I will adore you and now I've got a question for you: Will you be my bride?"
The wedding is June 18.
Alex has even written a song for a couple involved with other people. ''They've fallen desperately in love," he says. And who is he to judge the trajectory of Cupid's arrow?
For Valentine's Day, Alex will not be with his own love. He'll be busy serenading someone else -- a client and his wife, somewhere in the Northeast
To speak with Brian Alex about creating your Custom Love Song call or email at:
Phone: 978.590.8440. Email : email@example.com