Just a few years ago, veteran indie-rock musician Anthony Rossomando was battling addiction, crashing on friends’ couches and selling off his musical equipment just to survive. But this year, at age 42, he was onstage in a tuxedo at the Golden Globes, the Grammys and, most recently, the Oscars, picking up trophies for “Shallow,” the A Star Is Born theme he co-wrote with his old New York City friends Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt and Lady Gaga. It’s an against-all-odds success story even more dramatic than the rise of Star’s fictional Ally Maine, but in many ways, it’s a case of life imitating art.
“I got asked to write on the song due to the subject matter and the character, I guess,” Rossomando tells Yahoo Entertainment, still reeling from the fanfare of Oscar night (when “Shallow” won Best Original Song), as he recalls the fateful phone call he received from Gaga just one year into his sobriety. “She thought I would be a very good fit. She’d read the script and had had a couple chats with Bradley [Cooper] and had a feel for what embodied the characters, particularly Jackson. And I think she wanted to bring men in that could relate to that [addict] character. I was in the mindset of Jackson Maine. That’s why she thought I was the right candidate to write about this.”
Rossomando, who has been represented by Downtown Music Publishing Anthony since 2012, had recently reconnected with Gaga after playing guitar on her Ronson-co-produced 2016 album Joanne and giving her guitar lessons, plus he had written with Ronson and Wyatt before on “Somebody to Love Me,” a highlight of Ronson’s 2010 album, Record Collection. But long before that, Rossomando had played in indie band the Damn Personals, who were discovered by Mark Kates (a famous A&R executive who had worked with Nirvana, the Beastie Boys, Beck, Sonic Youth and Hole), followed by stints in the British garage combo the Libertines (as the replacement for the notorious Pete Doherty) and with the Libertines’ Carl Barat in Dirty Pretty Things. “I was a daily drinker at that point, and that didn’t really change obviously when I joined the Libertines,” he says. It was after Dirty Pretty Things disbanded that his life got especially dark.
“The comedown turned into a bunch of lost years … somewhere between 2012 and 2014 or ’15. I never really knew what was going on. I couldn’t even tell you where I was. I’m talking about different countries,” Rossomando confesses. “I was living like it was still the old days, but I didn’t have a band anymore. I was ‘that guy,’ living the glory days but without the glory — and without much living. From living to the living dead. My friend group dissolved a little bit, and people started to get their lives together, so I jumped into the next phase of partiers.”
Rossomando admits that he “felt shamed. I felt like a cliché as well. I had a lot of self-judgment.” But then, he hit a turning point.
“I had one guitar left. I had sold all my gear. I was selling expensive, vintage musical equipment in back alleys in London and parking lots of L.A. for cash for various purposes, just to cover my ass, just to stay in whatever place I was living,” he reveals. “God was looking after me through the kindness of others, sometimes strangers, people that really had my back, but I couldn’t see that at the time. I don’t think I could even fully see it when we wrote [“Shallow”], to be honest. I was still trying to figure out who I was. You have to find out who you are all over again.
“Basically, there was this one last moment where I was going to sell my last and favorite guitar, a 1962 Fender Jazzmaster, an absolute beauty. And this total douchebag I met on Craigslist came over. He sat in my living room playing guitar for an hour, and he could barely play. He’s wearing, like, an Opening Ceremony jacket — you know, the kind of guy who buys an Opening Ceremony jacket that says ‘Opening Ceremony’ on the back. So douchey. He pulled up in a brand-new BMW, like, ‘Yeah, I made a ton of money shooting commercials. I think it’s time for me to start my music career.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I don’t know, just this moment happened, and I was like, ‘Get the f*** out of my house.’ I’m so grateful I have that guitar still.”
Eventually, Rossomando “listened to somebody who had an ‘MD’ and ‘PhD’ after their name,” and he sought help. “I’m bipolar, and I was self-medicating for most of my life — I’m talking 20 years,” he says. “It made me feel OK. I even told some people that I felt my most calm when I was about four hours into a bender, and then for the next eight hours and somewhere over the next days, I would just be floundering. But at least I felt OK.” These experiences are reflected in the lyrics he contributed to A Star Is Born’s Oscar-winning song. “The ‘shallow,’ to me, almost could be interpreted almost as the inner thoughts of a manic-depressive, because you’ve got this pendulum swing: ‘Watch me act out, because I’m showing you on the surface that I’m actually fine and having a wild time, and look at how elated and happy and manic I am, everything’s gonna be fine! When truthfully, on the inside, I’m f***ing dying, man.’ It’s like a cry for help. Anyway, I got help. And I’m very blessed I did. Now I can live a normal life.”
By the time the A Star Is Born opportunity materialized, Rossomando was “in a really in-tune, perceptive place. I was kind of a raw nerve, and I was writing about my own struggles quite a bit, which was helping me make sense of the world. So, the timing was really spot-on when this came around. … For so many years, I was blessed with amazing collaborators, and I think I’ve always had something to add, but about a year into [sobriety] when this call came through, it was the beginning of me being able to be calm enough — and not so much literally shake. I used to have physical reactions to certain situations that I couldn’t control, that would make me act really wildly.”
The “Shallow” sessions coincided with a lot of heart-to-hearts between Rossomando and his old friend Gaga. (“We’re both Italian kids from the Tri-State area; I think there’s a similar sensibility amongst us, that family thing. I always found LG really easy to talk to.”) They were both hurting at the time, and that too lent the song grit and gravitas. “She was really going through it. I think she was really struggling with her issues via her fiancé. She was in that breakup that was lasting over a year, that dragged-out breakup thing. And I had the experience of a dragged-out version of trying to just be healthy. It’s funny to think that there’s years and years and years distilled into a three-minute song. I think that’s why the song is so powerful. Everyone’s experience is so profound, and we’re a little bit older. We’ve been through some s***. … I think it’s fairly obvious to see it wasn’t written by 20-year-olds.”
Rossomando admits he is overwhelmed by all the attention “Shallow” has received, and he still feels “very, very tentative” discussing his addiction and mental health issues. “I tend to hide from these things. The song is so f***ing massive. People know it in and out. And now I have to explain a song like this. I don’t remember Kurt Cobain explaining songs, you know what I mean? But I understand this is a different era,” he says. “And maybe this song started a national conversation. Maybe it’s opened up people to also want to surrender, because my whole story is all about surrender. If I can be a part of that conversation, then that’s incredible … And you know, without the [Oscar] statue, what’s actually tangible is the song and how it affects people, even to see entire church congregations singing it and having their own interpretation that has this healing quality to it.”
At various awards ceremonies, Rossomando has hung back with Wyatt while Gaga and Ronson have delivered the acceptance speeches, but he knows what he would have said if he’d had a moment at the podium on Oscar night. “I would’ve only said three words: ‘Love, not fear,’” he reveals. “Because I feel like that’s the choice we have every day, in so many situations that make us uncomfortable. Are you coming from a place of love or a place of fear? Fear is the thing that motivates us to not see what’s actually happening. You can’t find forgiveness in that. On that day [when we wrote “Shallow”], we were not afraid to express that.”