Sometimes you wanna go
where everybody knows
And they’re always
glad you came
You wanna be where
you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where
everybody knows your name
By Sarah Ellen Rindsberg
This is the first half of the chorus of the theme song from “Cheers,” a popular show which debuted in 1982 and continued for 11 seasons. This catchy tune was co-authored by two-time Emmy nominee, ASCAP honoree and Chappaqua resident, Gary Portnoy.
Portnoy receives countless emails from all over the world about the song. “It imparts some sense of belonging. It seems to touch some place in people that is comforting, uplighting,” he observes. This sentiment is echoed by Dr. Jane Greer, a huge fan and supporter. “It captures the essence of what we all feel and experience,” she relates.
Shobha Vanchiswar, a friend of Portnoy’s, appreciates the empathy he shows in his writing as well as in life. When her mom passed away, he expressed his sympathy. “It was almost like he could feel my pain,” Vanchiswar says. She also highlights the reason why his songs have a universal appeal: “He tunes himself into what someone else is all about.”
How does someone “stumble” into a songwriting career as Portnoy says he did? In his case, quite simply –by being born into a “dysfunctional household.” Luckily, his grandparents had given a piano to the family. The keyboard became his “oasis.”
Musical influences include Paul Simon, James Taylor, Carole King and Elton John. He listens to his favorites while driving his jeep. “I love to crank it up with the top down,” he says.
Portnoy also acknowledges watching a lot of tv and being “inspired by early tv themes,” (what a surprise!) One of his favorites is the Mary Tyler Moore theme, “It wraps its arms around you,” he says.
When describing his work, Portnoy notes that it has undergone a tremendous evolution. “When I was young I was much more concerned with having someone sing it. It was less about me than who I was trying to get it to.” In his work for tv, the writing imparts “the needs of the script, the story line.” The script for “Cheers,” was particularly inspiring. “I knew who these people were,” he recalls. The characters were so well conceived. I felt this bunch of losers, looking for validation.” Today his work is “informed by me, my thoughts, joys, worries.” The famous theme song and others are featured on his CDs.
Portnoy’s path to Chappaqua is linked to friendship. He came to visit Bill Smiles and his wife for the first time in the late 80’s. For many years Portnoy maintained apartments in Manhattan and Nashville and continued to visit the Smiles. Then, in 2001 after “walking into walls” during the night–forgetting which place he was in, Portnoy made the move to Chappaqua. Today, he resides in “a quasi-wilderness” on the side of a hill with a rambling brook, reveling in his surroundings.
Portnoy is currently pursuing two of his passions: planting Japanese maple trees and working on his collections of British and American studio pottery. Teaching and performing are in the realm of possibilities for the future. And, of course, when inspiration hits, the writing begins.
So the next time you see a Blue Arctic Jeep Wrangler cruising through the hamlet, give a wave and say “Cheers!”
The “Cheers” theme song is having a positive effect on the dopamine levels in Sarah Ellen Rindsberg’s brain.