Rules are meant to be broken. Or at least that’s what Grammy-winning songwriter Cynthia Weil proposes in her latest young adult novel, I’m Glad I Did, a book that rides on the back of the Peace Train, giving voice to issues of racism, sexism and war.

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It was 1961 when Weil first walked down the street toward the Brill Building in the heart of New York City. She could not have known at the time that this was the beginning of one wild career at Aldon Music. Flanked with black marble pillars and a blazing brass edifice, Weil crossed the music building’s threshold and took those first steps into songwriting that would one day lead her to become only the third woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Weil’s new book I’m Glad I Did features “JJ,” a character with similar aspirations, crossing the same emblazoned threshold into the world of music in 1963. Her story bridges the era of civil unrest with a young character just learning about social injustice. The issues JJ faces are not unfamiliar to Weil, an award-winning lyricist with songs like “On Broadway” and “We’ve Gotta Get Out of this Place.” To reach her place in history, she had to break the rules.

Though trained as an actress and a dancer, songwriting became Weil’s great passion, and she immersed herself in a working world that didn’t accept many women. Weil made her first major strides in songwriting in the Brill Building, where “JJ” also finds herself starting her career as an assistant songwriter.

Weil, along with her husband and music partner, Barry Mann, helped create the bridge between their generation and the civil unrest that surrounded them at this time. They broke across musical genres and created a unique voice for a young generation dissatisfied with the status quo. Together they produced hit songs such as “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (recorded by The Animals), “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (recorded by The Righteous Brothers), and “Walkin’ In the Rain” (by the Ronettes). Their music became the voice of their generation.


Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

Weil said in an interview, “We never consciously shifted styles. We wrote what sounded good to us and hoped it would find a home . . . We somehow managed to live through the trends without succumbing to them.” In addition to her other accolades, Weil was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2011, the same year she would be awarded the prestigious Johnny Mercer Award.

Given Weil’s background and the turbulent time in which I’m Glad I Did It is set, it was inevitable for her protagonist, JJ, to become tangled up in societal troubles. From the perspective of a teenager, JJ offers sharp commentary on some of the most stressful moments in U.S. history. She also discovers that “trouble” is exactly where you need to be when you want to change the world.

Like Weil’s background, the book breaks across many norms and genres. JJ’s story exposes the mountains of 1963 in matters of race, feminism, and social expectations, and how music can help move these mountains. When it came to creating that music, Cynthia Weil is glad she did.