Songwriter Diane Warren’s Bold Second Act
The solid gold hitmaker talks to AARP about recording her own songs for the first time at 65
Although she’s written countless songs, none have been recorded under her name. And yet Diane Warren is such a successful songwriter that she has created a brand for herself, as in, “That’s a Diane Warren song.” Among the 32 Billboard Top 10 hits she has penned for other artists are “If I Could Turn Back Time” (performed by Cher), “Because You Loved Me” (Celine Dion) and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (Aerosmith).
Yet, even with all those accomplishments, Warren yearned for a new way to express herself. At age 65, for the first time, she has released an album under her own name. The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1 is named for the overly cluttered and messy office where she writes her songs. But it’s not a conventional solo album. “I am by no means a singer,” she says with a laugh. Instead, Warren gathered a bunch of current star singers across genres — John Legend (pop), Maren Morris (country), Luis Fonsi (Latin), Ty Dolla Sign (rap) — to work with on her new tunes. “Stylistically, it’s all over the place,” Warren says, “but I think what ties it together is that, hopefully, they’re good songs.”
AARP chatted with Warren about her impressive second act, how old she feels and why her cat is all the relationship she needs.
Was hitting the milestone age of 65 an impetus for you to take on this challenge of recording your first album?
I don’t even think about age. In my mind, I’m still 15. My theory is that, if you never grow up, you never grow old. It’s only when I look in the mirror that I go, “Oh, s---.”
The guest artists on this album don’t just span genres but also generations, from boomer stars like Carlos Santana to young rappers like G-Eazy. How do you keep up with new music?
I have to listen to what’s out there to stay current. But in general, it’s always good advice to have open ears, an open mind and an open heart. Try it!
On the other hand, you have defied modern music trends by writing most of your songs alone. Many songs today have tons of names on the writing credits. How do you feel about that?
I’m not a committee person; I call them “committee-ots.” I’ve always believed that one person, the one believer, gets it done.
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You grew up during an era ruled by singer-songwriters who worked alone, from Dylan to Joni Mitchell. Were they role models for you?
Not at all. Those writers wrote about their lives, and I don’t because my life is boring. Role models for me were the Brill Building writers like Carole King and Gerry Goffin, or the Motown writers. I’m almost like a 2021 version of a Brill Building writer. I sit in this little room and just write.
Your total focus on work reflects your decision not to be in a romantic relationship. Yet you write obsessively about love and romance in your songs. Does that part of you live through the music?
Maybe. This way, I get to live the experience, then go on to another song. Relationships are not for me. I’m with my cat and that’s enough.
You’ve been writing songs since you were a kid and you’re more prolific now than ever. Do you see yourself doing this for the rest of your life?
Oh, yeah. It’s not just a job. This is my life.
What makes a great singer?
All these singers think it’s about hitting notes. That’s not what great singing is. Cher, on her Twitter, said, “I’m not a great singer. But I can make people feel.” My response was, “That’s all that matters!”
You have won so many awards but never an Oscar, even though you’ve been nominated 12 times. Is that a goal?
Definitely. Someday it will happen ... or not. But you know what my real goal is? To keep getting better at what I’m doing.
From the number of awards on your desk, it looks like you don’t have room for an Oscar.
Oh, there’s room. For that, I’ll make room.
Jim Farber is a contributing writer who was the New York Daily News music critic for 25 years. He writes for AARP, The New York Times and The Guardian, and twice won the ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor Award for America’s best music writing.