Holmes comes home: Inside “Escape” writer & Rockland native Rupert Holmes’ path from Nanuet and back

Do you like piña coladas? For a long time, singer-songwriter and Nanuet native Rupert Holmes sure didn’t…but only because fans kept offering him the fruity drinks after his 1979 Billboard No. 1 hit single “Escape.” More widely known as “The Piña Colada Song,” the smash sensation branded Holmes as the artist behind what would come to be a household tune—though it almost didn’t sound the same way.

“I wrote that song the night before I recorded it,” Holmes recalled, smiling at the memory. “The vocal you hear on the record was the very first time I sang the song out loud. I liked the track and melody we had, but I didn’t like the lyrics. So the night before we had to record it, I wrote this story-song.”

“The chorus originally went, ‘Do you like Humphrey Bogart and getting caught in the rain?’” he continued. “Just when I was about to sing, I thought, Humphrey Bogart is the wrong image for the couple in this song. These people are looking for something colorful in their life, something exciting—an escape. And when you go on vacation to the tropics, you never order a beer; you order a cocktail that announces to the world that you’re on vacation…The phrase ‘piña colada’ fit the tune most mellifluously. And I went, ‘Oh, that works!’

Holmes’ History

While Holmes is certainly best known for the international success of “Escape,” it is far from the first or last piece the multifaceted artist has completed.

Born in 1947 in Cheshire, England to musical parents (his father, Leonard Eliot Goldstein, graduated from Julliard at 17, served as an infantry bandleader in World War II, and taught in six Rockland County schools), Holmes’ own musical career began when he received a clarinet at age 8 for Christmas.

Though he attended the prestigious Manhattan School of Music as a music theory major—eventually earning an honorary doctorate from the school- he initially dropped out to pursue industry gigs before graduating. As Holmes’ recalls, his Holmes’ ‘This is what I want to do moment’ came in 1963, when he  heard The Beatles for the first time at age 16.

“I suddenly knew this was where the world was going, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Holmes explained. “I heard The Beatles in England on vacation, so I knew about them before they were on Ed Sullivan. (Soon after), I formed my first rock band, The Nomads…That was sort of the beginning of my career in the music business.”

The Path to Success

From that point on, Holmes wrote, arranged, and conducted original music for the bands he was involved with, such as The Nomads and The Court Jesters, a group comprised mostly of residents from Spring Valley. While no one could deny that the young man was a working artist, his first big break came when legendary singer Barbara Streisand heard his 1974 album “Widescreen” and asked to record its songs.

“I got a call out of the blue,” said Holmes. “A voice said, ‘This is Barbara Streisand. I love your songs and I’d like to record them. I see you do your own arrangements and you conduct your own records, so you should come out here and we’ll make an album together’…So suddenly it’s 1975 and I’m a singer-songwriter, and people who are buying Barbara Streisand’s album “Lazy Afternoon” are saying, ‘Who’s this guy?’…Then other artists started buying my albums.”

These “other artists,” included legends such as Dolly Parton, Dionne Warwick, and Barry Manilow, all of whom helped catapult Holmes to his own success. Over the years, coming home to Rockland County always kept him grounded.

“Whatever amazing thing that was going on for me in Hollywood, I would come back home to be in Nanuet, the place where I grew up…Having a small town to come home to can anchor you when things get a little too dreamy,” said Holmes.

Homecoming for Holmes

Since then, Holmes has enjoyed an astonishing number of career highpoints—such as being the first person in theatrical history to solely win the Tony Awards as an author, composer and lyricist for the 1985 Broadway musical “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” as well as authoring the New York Times bestseller “Murder Your Employer.” Still, he identifies coming to his hometown on Saturday, April 13 to perform a sold-out story-session/concert at the Nanuet Public Library (his first official job) as a peak moment not just in his career, but his whole life.

“It’s really one of the most meaningful things,” Holmes told RCT. “I am so fortunate in that I do for a living what I would if no one paid me. Very few people can say that…It’s so meaningful to me to be able to have this event. Coming back to Nanuet (has always) grounded and centered me.”

When asked what he would tell young Rockland residents who yearn to follow a similar path to artistic success, Holmes was adamant on what the most important word in their vocabulary should be: ‘yes.’

“Say ‘yes’ to absolutely every opportunity, without any consideration of if they will pay you or anything,” Holmes advised. “Do the best you can with every project, no matter how lowly it may seem. You’ll be surprised with the big breaks in one’s career that will come from those directions…Always treat every undertaking with passion and respect. And persevere. That’s the main thing.”

Holmes working with legend Barbara Streisand.

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