Musician Brian Gari based his latest CD on his real-life Internet dating

It seemed like love at first byte for New York City singer-songwriter Brian Gari — at least in the beginning. And at least he was able to transmute online fool’s gold into art. In 1995 the divorced Gari, 46, met ”Sarah” via an AOL romance ad. And faster than you can say ”You’ve got mail!” he fell hard for his unseen paramour. ”I felt her heart and intelligence through her e-mails,” Gari says. A tumultuous 2 1/2-year affair ensued, inspiring him to write more than 70 songs to his virtual gal pal, 15 of them included in the recently released CD Love Online (Original Cast Records, $16.99), a Beach Boys-style poperetta Gari plans to develop into a stage musical next year. (Gari wrote the music and lyrics for Late Nite Comic, which had a brief run on Broadway in ’87.) Love tells the story of Gari’s on-screen alter ego, Keith, who is seduced into an electronic romance that quickly sours — as it did in real life. ”When we arranged to meet at one of my performances,” says Gari, ”I immediately picked her out of the crowd. She was gorgeous.” Alas, there was one hitch: ”She was married with kids” — though contemplating a divorce. While Love Online‘s finale hints at reconciliation between Keith and Sarah, Gari’s offline liaison ended more abruptly. ”She’s blocked my e-mail from her account,” he says. At least she turned out to be a Sarah instead of a Sam.