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May 11, 2007

The Love Song Writer Who Has Never Loved

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The classic Warren tune is born in a flash of inspiration, often as a title or chorus hook. The best of these are witty plays on the concept of love, such as "I don't want to fall asleep, because I'd miss you, baby" — an Aerosmith lyric that came to Warren when she heard a James Brolin quote about Barbra Streisand. As for making millions (her catalog is worth nine figures) evoking experiences she has never had, Warren compares songwriting to acting. Think about it: Julia Roberts didn't work as a hooker to do Pretty Woman. "I know what it's like to have a broken heart. I know what it's like to feel pain: When my songs don't become hits, it breaks my heart. There are a million ways to break a heart. I can relate."

Only a handful of her titles recall specific events in her life. She wrote "Numb" (recorded by the Pet Shop Boys) after her mother passed away, and recently penned Jessica Simpson's anthem of female independence, "I Belong to Me." "That's the one I really relate to," she says.

"I don't need someone to complete me; I complete myself." Otherwise, she is essentially a fiction writer.

On the second morning of my visit with Warren, country crooner Billy Ray Cyrus slides into her studio to record — what else? — a love song. Cyrus explains his career quandary. "How do you follow up 'I Want My Mullet Back'? The only thing to do is work with a class act like Diane." Cyrus is new to the Warren sphere and nervous about meeting her. "Coming here is like going over to Mozart's house and hanging," he says, and laughs. "But her looseness is why she writes such great songs. She captures the realness that people feel."

Warren emerges from "The Cave" — the writing room she hasn't cleaned in two decades that features two keyboards, 1980s posters of Cher and Michael Bolton, and towering piles of cassettes. She greets Cyrus by throwing an arm around his shoulder. Small talk turns to Valentine's Day, which is fast approaching. "I don't do much on Valentine's," she says, with a grin. "Maybe I'll write a fucking love song."

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