Words open eyes for songwriter

Singer-songwriter Dan Hill learned the importance of words at a young age.

His father asked that Hill write a logical letter whenever he wanted to do something normally forbidden, such as grow his hair long or extend his curfew, in order to plead his case.

“My parents are very articulate and very well-read. It was a well-expressed household and in order to make your mark in our house, words were our weapon,” Hill said.

Hill stopped by Centennial College’s East York campus recently to speak to journalism students. Hill, an accomplished songwriter, became famous in 1977 when he earned a Grammy nomination for his song “Sometimes When We Touch.” Since then, he has written songs for Britney Spears, Celine Dion and the Backstreet Boys.

Hill appeared in the news again, on Feb. 14 of this year, when he wrote a story for Maclean’s magazine about his son’s involvement with gangs in Toronto. Hill explains his son was trying to identify with his black culture.

“I was telling friends that there were three black kids who were staying at my house who have all been murdered in Toronto and it was a conversation-stopper,” Hill said. “I was stunned at how surprised people who were hearing the story were.”

Hill’s son David actively participated in telling this story, knowing it would open the public’s eyes to the reality of poverty, broken families and gang violence in the city.

“I wanted him to understand and help with the research in hopes that working on a project like this together would help us find a common ground,” Hill said.

Hill said that living in his own father’s shadow was not always easy for him; Hill’s father, Dr. Daniel Hill, started the Ontario Human Rights Commission in Toronto. He said his son could feel the same way and is worried his son does not have the outlets he had in songwriting.

“It was therapeutic for me and my son. Some people felt it was a dangerous thing for me to do and that it was going to piss off the bad kids in the area and there would be repercussions,” Hill said.

Hill stated that parents all worry about their kids and when they become older there is a feeling of helplessness.

“I feel that the story has enabled parents to open up to me and tell me about their kids,” Hill said.

Hill hopes to extend his discussion by writing his book about his father, called “My Father’s Son.”