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From Hollywood Hit to to Haggadah

March 27, 2008 By:
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Composer/singer/author Barry Louis Polisar awaits the DVD release of "Juno" (above, left) and the arrival of Passover.
Why was this night different from all other nights?

Because, unquestionably, Barry Louis Polisar had never been associated with an Oscar contender before.

But there he was, the author of the modern-day Haggadah, Telling the Story -- and it's quite a story he has to tell -- and, in front of him, on a sensational Sunday night, screened before millions, there was "Juno" busting out all over with Oscar nominations.

For the man who wrote the movie's opening-credits song, "All I Want Is You," it was all he could do to contain himself.

"I love my job," says the Brooklyn-born children's book writer, who also gets his jones out of being a tunesmith.

As do others: Once aspiring to be a teacher, Polisar has starred on the Learning Channel and performed at the White House, as well as Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, guitar and gumption in hand.

Not bad for a grown-up kid who got his wake-up call with The Ten O'Clock Alarm Clock, which he wrote at the age of 8. Since then, he says, time marches on ... with hundreds and hundreds of songs and books to his credit.

His musical credit card bought him even more attention this past winter, when "Juno" provided the ultimate pregnant pause of prominence: His song was part of a critically and publically acclaimed film about an unmarried teenage mother-to-be that got parental approval across the board for the way it handled its delicate tale of her delicate condition.

It was a perfect story for a man who loves storytelling. "I can't even write an e-mail without getting heavily involved in it," he kids.

How he scored the "Juno" credit is another story. The film's Oscar-nominated director, Jason Reitman, was researching another song when he downloaded Polisar's punchy number.

I-Tunes? Oy, tunes! "I got an e-mail from Jason that he had accidentally typed in my title, which is the same as a U2 number."

Et tune, Barry? "He said he fell in love with it."

Good thing Polisar hadn't been asked to contribute to "Wall Street." This gentle graduate of the '60s -- who didn't think greed was that good -- is as ungrabby a guy as Madonna is a material girl. "I didn't even want money for its use."

Not such a sound track -- musical or career -- to follow, he's advised. But Polisar did make some money off of it, although that's not the point: "I enjoy doing a mitzvah; the idea is to give people joy."

Joy to the world: This Jew knows Junos are everywhere, young kids with impulsive natures who face a lifetime of owning up to them. His sweet serenade is music infused with the innocence and wonder of childhood; better Juno should have been downloading Polisar than getting down and dirty with her boyfriend.

After all, this is a man with a song in his heart and substance in his soul and an unbesmirched career of clean air.

He's done that for over 33 years, on TV, in concert, on stage. At this stage of his life, Polisar knows the give and take of fame: He's been given the spotlight and he's taking advantage of it to help others.

Steal this book? Steal this Haggadah, the modern-day Abbie Hoffman without hip dress avers, inviting readers to take his Haggadah -- please -- for free online (www.barrylou.com/books/TellingThe StoryReviews.html).

This raises more than four questions about Polisar's sanity. But he's no bitter Herb passing over an opportunity to make his fans' seders sensational ones. "It's the '60s talking in me -- and the fact that I'm a Jewish person wanting to give back, too."

Back when he started, Polisar couldn't anticipate being the hit-maker and macher he's become, "selling more than 300,000 CDs and books," which doesn't count the more than 400,000 "Juno" soundtracks he's part of. (The DVD of "Juno" comes out April 15.)

"It's been a wow year!"

That palindrome partially imparts the importance of his paladin voyage of going from Hollywood to Haggadah. Telling the Story: A Passover Haggadah Explained explains it all to you with the artistic help of his illustrious daughter, Sierra Hannah.

Her father, the composer of "Don't Put Your Finger Up Your Nose," has never been one to pick the trendy as his way of life. Indeed, writing a Haggadah made Polisar search for his own afikomen of spirituality. "I joke about learning the Haftorah six months before I was Bar Mitzvah."

But it wasn't daily services that served him: "It was the stories my great-grandfather used to tell me."

Yet, as the story goes, Polisar found the pulse for his interests quickened in college, "where I was drawn to courses on Holocaust and Yiddish literature, as well as Jewish American writers."

The write stuff helped reshape his self-image. The kid who "once kicked my parents under the table as I asked the Four Questions because I wanted to know, 'When do we eat!' " has "gone from asking the questions to answering them."

And, had she asked, even Juno could have better understood her birthright with a little of the Polisar polish. "Juno could have learned from my work," Polisar says, "that there are no accidents in the universe."  

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