Today is April 6, 2020 – the day that the NCAA Championship was scheduled to be played. But like virtually all sporting events in this country, March Madness has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today is also the birthday of one of my favorite people in the world, someone I am honored to call a friend — singer-songwriter, recording artist, composer, teacher, and author, David Barrett.
Now, you may not know David, but if you follow collegiate sports in any way, you are likely familiar with something he wrote — a little ditty called “One Shining Moment.” It’s the anthem of NCAA Basketball and the soundtrack to a highlight reel that every college basketball player dreams of appearing in.
The ball is tipped / And there you are
You’re running for your life / You’re a shooting star
And all the years / No one knows
Just how hard you worked / But now it shows…
In One Shining Moment, it’s all on the line
One Shining Moment, there frozen in time
Apart from David’s version, the song has been recorded by numerous Grammy Award-winning artists, including Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, Jennifer Hudson, and Ne-Yo. And who could ever forget Charles Barkley’s impassioned rendition?
One Shining Moment has inspired millions of listeners for well over three decades. Even if you aren’t a sports fan, you’d be hard-pressed to not choke up when watching a highlight video with the narrative of this song played as the backdrop. Go ahead, give it a try.
But time is short / And the road is long
In the blinking of an eye / Ah that moment’s gone
And when it’s done / Win or lose
You always did your best / Cuz inside you knew…
That One Shining Moment, you reached deep inside
One Shining Moment, you knew you were alive
I reached out to David and asked if he wouldn’t mind giving Rocket Yard readers a bit of his background and share how One Shining Moment came to be. He responded rather quickly with a stream-of-conscious flow, saying, “See if this works… I just wrote ’til I stopped.” I chuckled – such the way an artist like David would put it.
“Over 35 years ago, I wrote a song. A song amongst many, that simply changed my life.”
“It is hard to describe the circumstances properly, but suffice to say, I was a songwriter without much of an audience, living in a farm community named Haslett, outside of East Lansing, Michigan. It is also fair to say, this was not the music capital of the world, or America, or of Michigan.”
“But I lived there with my roommate, Ward Kelner, in an apartment that was, charitably put, spartan. But there was a piano, and I sure played it a lot, along with my guitar. I performed pretty much around the area, and when done with my shows, I’d come home and write songs and thematic instrumentals, many of which, after One Shining Moment gained notoriety, found their way into television network themes such as the Olympics. But I never played any of these at my gigs. They were only for myself… and occasionally, my roommate, who seemed to enjoy them as long as I didn’t wake him up in the middle of the night with them.”
“A dear friend of mine, Debby Barsky Corbitt, called me from Texas where she was living and asked me if I’d send her a few of my songs. I sang them into a cassette player that I set on the piano and then sent them to her. She called me a few weeks later and said she was truly knocked out with all eight of them, but that one song…One Shining Moment…I must record that one. At the time, I was not the happiest of songwriters, and I told her that I’d rather not. She insisted, and to this day, she has never let me forget it. Thank you, Debby…”
“The song itself came so very quickly and easily. I had written the title on a napkin after the previous night’s performance. The next morning, I jotted all the lyrics on another napkin while waiting for a friend for breakfast. When I got home, I simply sat down at that old piano and wrote the song, never coming up for air. I got up and phoned a friend and said, ‘I just wrote this amazing song.'”
“So now these many years later, I think of that charmed morning at the piano. A bolt of lightning…a song. This song…”
Yep. That’s how his email ended. He totally baited me, and probably knew it — dang, I love this guy! The cliff-hanger sucked me in. What’s really at the heart of ‘this song’ as he put it? Like a loyal blogger and friend, I took the bait and followed up with a series of questions. Here they are, and David’s respective answers, in all their raw and unedited glory…
So, what inspired One Shining Moment?
“Well, I went off to college as a basketball recruit to Albion College. I played all through high school, and it is fair to say that I got pretty good at it. Some might say that there was never a shot that I was afraid to take! (But I digress…) And I loved it right down to the marrow. It was a lifesaver to me, as for reasons not worth discussing here, there were many roads before me, and this sport, in particular, kept me on the straight & narrow. As a result, I really learned about the game and the poetry of it. So that was always in my DNA.”
“I spent my 20’s writing songs, playing gigs (however humble), and learning my art & craft. Like many who pursue this ’tilting at windmills’ career, it is easy to listen to more advice than is helpful. As a consequence, it is easy to lose the thing that really inspires you. I know I did. I finally made the decision to write what I knew about.”
“One night after a performance, I was sipping a beer, watching Larry Bird on ESPN in his prime. A lovely waitress sidled up next to me, and in a panic, I tried to explain to her the poetry of basketball. It did not take long for her to leave the conversation. That said, I thought…’ hmmm, I actually know about this…’ and I jotted down the song title on a napkin and stuck it in my pocket.”
“I went home and slept on it. The next day, while waiting for a friend to show up for breakfast, I wrote out all the lyrics on another napkin. I went home, sat down at the piano, and it just all poured out in 20 minutes of inspiration.”
What is the core message of the song?
“A great question…As I mentioned, I went to college to play basketball. The coaches had come to my games to recruit me and such, which was flattering. But when I got there, I decided to actually study, which was a shock to one and all. Instead of music, I studied philosophy with the same transferred passion that I played basketball with.”
“Within those studies, it became clear to me that while there is chronological time, which is the tick-tock of our days and nights, all moments are not, in fact, equal. And every once in a while, they really shine for you if you have eyes to see. This song is about that. But also all the quiet passion and hard work it takes to lead you to this moment. But when it happens…those are the jewels, aren’t they?”
Why does the song pull the heartstrings of millions, year after year?
“I spoke to some of that above, but I think there is more to say. I’m frequently asked to explain how the song has endured these 35 years as it has. A gentleman from ESPN called it a “generational song,” which I had not thought of. But after all these years, it simply is. I have myriads of stories of friends calling friends; fathers calling sons, who now call their daughters…’n ask, “did you stay up and see OSM?”…and on it goes…”
“Obviously, the song is about basketball as a metaphor for our larger strivings. I think the heartstrings you refer to are the heartstrings that we all have beneath all the clutter that we often fill our days and nights with. Remember, I’m a philosophy major, so I’ll spare you the German existentialism. It’s just that when I used to play basketball, there were these moments when time slowed down, almost in a dreamlike ballet fashion. Where the tapestry of all that was happening seemed like it all fit together for a moment. The game was easy…and all that hard work made it so…I think that is a universal message that animates the song, whether it be basketball, or raising your family.”
What does it mean for us to not “have” One Shining Moment this year because March Madness was canceled?
“What a lovely way to put it. I love the fact that so many embrace my song in a way that is woven into the fabric of expectations for them. It seems to represent a bit of cultural “cherry on top” of this unique and wonderful tournament. And when you review all 34 years (which is fun to do), you see all these young men who are uniquely at the prime of their lives, striving without all the baggage that accumulates as you grow older. In that sense, there is still some innocence that we are celebrating as well.”
Is this an anthem we can all get behind during this trying time? How can it inspire us?
“Well, I just wrote of innocence, which belies a certain cast of mind of which I plead guilty. Not the greeting card version, but the simple kindnesses and tender mercies that get us all through. I refer to myself as a “world-weary optimist” in that the smug truth of cynicism, while often fashionable, is no match for the homemade jam that a friend gives you when you’re down and blue.”
“My daughter got her master’s degree in military history at King’s College in London. She did her master’s thesis on the London Blitz in World War II, where the Brits endured years of unrelenting bombing. They gathered themselves together with quiet dignity and took care of each other. Of course, there is no match, none…to equal Sir Winston Churchill’s oratory during that period of time. But if my song in some small way helps to have us collect our better selves, put aside our easy cynicism, and still cast an eye for moments that shine…then that’s a good day at the office I’d say.”
Feel the beat of your heart / Feel the wind in your face
It’s more than a contest / It’s more than a race…
And when it’s done / Win or lose
You always did your best / Cuz inside you knew…
That One Shining Moment, you reached for the sky
One Shining Moment, you were willing to try