ONE TIME OFFER: IF YOU LET ME KNOW BY MIDNIGHT ON SATURDAY, I WILL SEND YOU A DIGITAL PDF COPY OF "COLD PIZZA FOR BREAKFAST: A MEM-WHA??" FOR FREE
There are no more copies of "COLD PIZZA FOR BREAKFAST: A MEM-WHA??" in the warehouse, the publisher has died, so I've been told that's that. The book won the 43 Annual ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about music, and by unbelievable coincidence, my grandfather (the one who worked in the Empire State Building) went to NYU as a young man and was classmates with Deems Taylor, who wrote many musicals that Grandpa was in while they were at NYU. At the awards ceremony I met the grandson of Deems Taylor, someone took our picture together, but then never sent it, and now I don't remember Deems Taylor's grandson's name. Someday that photo will resurface, I hope.
Here's the first chapter of "Cold Pizza" -- gives you an idea of the tenor of the book -- and yes, it's a true story. Even the jewelry-encrusted old lady on the plane was real. My late long-time-love (whom I call "Harry" in the book) told me to NEVER tell a soul what happened that night when I opened for Joan Rivers . . . but that's not my style. I must reiterate that Joan Rivers and her team were as nice as could be, but her fans? Not so much.
This offer of the PDF for free expires at midnight on New Year's Eve -- and thank you again for subscribing to my newsletter.
COLD PIZZA FOR BREAKFAST: A MEM-WHA??
I’M TRYING TO BLIND YOU ALL EQUALLY
“Pack your bags!” he panted. “This is the one we’ve been waiting for. You’re opening for Joan Rivers in West Palm Beach!”
West Palm Beach, Florida? Joan Rivers? This was the mid-1990s, and I thought, I’m just a folksinger! Joan Rivers? She’s a huge star! This is too wonderful for words. I love my agent! I’m on my way!
I flew down from New York and pulled up in front of a brand-new, state-of-the-art, cushy 1,200-seat venue in West Palm Beach where a giant marquee flashed AN EVENING WITH JOAN RIVERS. The concert promoter met me out front. I asked him if they were going to add my name up there. No, he said, but they would insert an addendum sheet to the program, so I had nothing to worry about.
Joan and her people were so kind to me during sound check; they liked what they saw and heard. Her manager told me, “Joan does a voice-over from behind the curtain to begin the show. When you hear your name, that’s your cue to walk onstage, where you’ll do thirty minutes—not a minute more. Or less.”
I went out to the lobby prior to the doors being opened to get a feel for the audience. This crowd was decidedly older—way older—than I was used to. Many of the women reminded me of someone; their outfits, their hair. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Uh-oh. Nancy Reagan. Not really my audience. No matter. The men were well dressed, a giddy rainbow of pastel pants, plaid sport jackets, white shoes, and shiny black toupees (or "hair hats," as Megon McDonough has been known to call them). I have a song called “Bald Headed Men” that I decided then and there to put in my set. Look at all these bald guys hiding their shiny domes. They’ll love this song!
The doors opened, the hall filled, and the lights went down. I peeked out at the crowd from the wings, waiting to hear my name. I saw programs in the laps of all the audience members and imagined they knew they were about to see an opening act.
Suddenly, spotlights shot this way and that over the heads of the audience, and we heard Joan Rivers’s voice. “Welcome to my concert. They say you can’t take pictures or audiotape the show, but I say oh go ahead, what do I care? And now, please welcome the best opening act I could find in my price range, Christine Lavin . . .”
With that, I confidently strode out to the middle of the stage, preparing to hit the first chord of my first song . . . but I couldn’t.
Joan was still talking.
I didn’t understand what she was saying; all I could hear was the reverberation of her voice bleating on, punctuated by the audience’s laughter. I stood there, frozen. They told me to walk out onstage when I heard my name. I heard my name. Why is she still talking?
I stood there and waited for her to stop. The only words I recognized were the final two: my name. I guess they meant I should have walked out onstage the second time my name was mentioned. Oops.
I hit the guitar chord and started my first song, “Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind”—“I am at the opera / I don’t like the opera / but he loves the opera / and I love him . . .”—accompanied by the fluttering sound of program pages flipping and the occasional murmurs of “Who?” “Who is this?” “Is that Joan?” “Joan Rivers plays the guitar?” coming from the audience.
Addendum to the program? Ha!
That first song, one that in most situations is almost bulletproof, received what fellow singer/songwriter Cliff Eberhardt has dubbed the dreaded “golf applause,” followed by more program page-flipping. I tried a quick joke after it—“I hope no one is out there thinking, ‘She is playing folk music / I do not like folk music / but he loves folk music / and I love him,’ ”— which resulted in quizzical stares, more page-flipping, and more vocal queries from the audience. “Who the hell is this?” “Where’s Joan?” “Are we in the right place?”
I charged into my second song, “Bald Headed Men,” only to realize instantly what a mistake it was. Men wear toupees to create the illusion that there is hair up there. Did I really expect them to rip them off and toss them in the air? But I was committed to the song, so I sang it with gusto only to hear even less golf applause when it ended, and a very clear elderly voice from the front row say in a stage whisper, “That was AWFUL! I hope this part of the show doesn’t last too long. Do you think Joan knows about this?”
I glanced at my watch. Only seven minutes had gone by. As I sang the next song, I became aware that the bright stage lights were bouncing off my shiny guitar and then hitting the audience in the eyes. Some were shading their eyes with their hands, some with their programs. I tried to move in such a way that I wasn’t constantly hitting the same people in the eyes over and over again. During my next song (truthfully, I don’t remember what it was—the show was going south, and at that point I was just hanging on for dear life), I squirmed a bit here and there to avoid blinding anybody.
When that song was done, to barely any applause, I was thinking that I should explain why I was moving in such an awkward manner. This wasn’t what I wanted to say, but it’s what I said: “I know I’m moving sort of spaz-like onstage. It’s because I can see the stage lights are hitting my guitar, then hitting some of you in the eye. I’m moving like this because I am trying to blind you all equally.”
I was done for.
A man near the front yelled out, “We don’t even know who you are! We came to see Joan, and now YOU’RE BLINDING US?”
A voice from way back and up to the left in the rafters started chanting, “SPARE US! SPARE US!”
Then a voice from the right side took up the chant. “SPARE US! SPARE US!!”
“Where’s Joan? We want Joan! We want Joan!!” cascaded from the balcony, along with more “Spare us! Spare us!” (which, you have to admit, is a rather odd insult to hurl at a concert). Then, of course, it got worse: “We hate you! Why are you here? Who are you, and what have you done with Joan Rivers?!” Next there was the all-purpose classic, “Boooooo! Boooooo!,” which came from those with so little imagination yet so much disgust.
Maybe another performer would have taken the hint, but I ignored the pleas begging me to stop and continued my odd blindness-preventing spaz dance during each song.
At last I got to the finale, one of my favorites to this day: it’s a back-track with a pretend sing-along of two classic songs from the 1960s, “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” by the Everly Brothers, and “A Summer Song,” by Chad Stewart and Jeremy Clyde, which segues into marching band music where I twirl batons—first one, then two, and then the lights go out and I twirl two green neon “light-stick” batons. It’s usually a real crowd-pleaser, but all bets were off that night.
The music starts simply, but then there are intricate harmonies (my voice, prerecorded), and the audience normally joins in—very often many in the crowd don’t realize the vocals are pretaped and think they magically sound like a well-rehearsed choir. There was no chance that was going to happen that night since I knew nobody was going to sing along.
I was so relieved to have gotten to this part of the show that I sang it all smiley like I was having the best time of my life. When the marching band music faded up and I picked up the batons, there was zero reaction from the crowd. How could they not react? But they didn’t. When I picked up the first light-stick baton and cracked it so that it glowed bright green, that was the cue for the lights to instantly go out. We had rehearsed it at sound check. But the lights didn’t go out. So there I was, twirling a neon baton for all it was worth . . . in full stage light. I yelled out “Turn off the lights!” as I twirled faster, but the marching band music was loud, and the spotlight operator was soooo far away. So I yelled it again, louder, as I twirled even faster. Then I screamed again: “Please! Turn off the lights!!”
The lights stayed on.
Then I picked up the second baton and cracked it. Oh man, in that setting, on that beautiful stage, it would have looked stunning in the dark. But with the lights still on, it looked like nothing. At the very end of the music I said to myself, “what the hell,” and threw one of the batons as high as I possibly could. This baton totally defied gravity and reached for the ceiling. When it was at the very top of its trajectory, the entire stage suddenly went black. This was five seconds away from the end of the routine. Then the baton started its descent, spinning precariously back toward me onstage.
Now you’re probably figuring I’m going to drop it, right? The light sticks will rupture and spew green goo everywhere. Everything else went wrong that night; why not this? But I didn’t drop it. Not only did I catch it, but the timing was so perfect that I caught it right on the beat, and I got a huge ROAR from the audience as the lights came up. Now, I don’t kid myself. It was a mock roar. They were thrilled that I was finished, that’s all—and maybe a bit surprised that I didn’t drop the baton. But it was a roar, and I quickly bowed, holding the batons in one hand and grabbing my guitar with the other, and dashed offstage into my dressing room, where I burst into tears.
I’m not proud of that. I should be more adult about these things. But never in my life did I have so many people hate me for an entire set. I should have locked the door to my dressing room, but who knew the promoter was going to come busting in and praise me? He was surprised to see me crying and said, “Oh, Christine . . . don’t let a few rude people ruin it for you. You were wonderful!”
Wha?? I was there. I was THERE! They hated me. Was he insane?
“Would you like to stop off at Joan’s dressing room to say hello before she goes onstage?”
I thought, Are you kidding me? I never want to show my face in front of her again. Ever. I declined.
I snuck out of the theater during Joan’s set, first stopping in the lobby to collect the CDs I had hoped would sell after the show (fat chance!). I brought everything back to my hotel room, closed the door, sat in the dark for a few minutes, and then dialed my friend Andrew Ratshin in Seattle.
Andrew is the clever songwriter behind many musical projects—the trio Uncle Bonsai, the group the Mel Cooleys, and the one-man acoustic Electric Bonsai Band. I love to share funny backstage stories with him, but this experience had reached a whole new level of backstage-story grotesqueness! By then I was over the crying part, and I gave Andrew a quick blow-by-blow account of how the show went. He was very sympathetic—but what could he say except for the occasional, “Oh, no!” and “Oh, that’s not good!” and “You’re kidding!” I had hoped that by telling him everything I would get over it quickly, but I didn’t. I didn’t sleep the entire night.
The next day my flight back to New York was scheduled for 7 p.m. I had planned to go sightseeing before leaving town, but I abandoned that idea and decided to fly standby just to get back home. I was confirmed on the 11 a.m. flight. I boarded the plane, feeling like hell. When I am well rested I am a naturally happy person, but when I am sleep deprived I am not far from what Sally Fingerett of the Four Bitchin’ Babes calls “a raving lunatic bitch of death.” I was in the darkest, blackest of moods. But I had a window seat in the back with an empty seat next to me, so things could have been worse.
The doors on the plane closed, but there was a commotion up front. One of the flight attendants announced: “Attention passengers. We have a situation. There is a traveler onboard who is a very nervous flyer. Is there anyone with an empty seat next to them who will let this woman sit next to them and hold her hand during takeoff and landing? We really don’t feel we can take off with this woman in the state she is in. If we must take her off the plane, we will be delayed. Is there anyone who can help?”
I volunteered. I had been a Girl Scout, and the truth is, at that point I was happy to find someone in a worse mental state than I was.
A teary, elderly, jewelry-encrusted woman toddled down the aisle and settled herself into the seat next to me. Her suit looked familiar and reminded me of someone: Nancy Reagan.
Her bottom lip trembled, so I took her knobby hand in mine and told her that I fly all the time; taking off is no big deal. The secret to dealing with takeoff nerves is to just lift your feet off the floor and tell yourself you are “sky surfing.”
The plane rumbled down the runway, and she giggled when we both lifted our feet as the plane gently lifted off the ground. Calmed, she settled back into her seat and started to ask me the kinds of questions strangers ask each other on planes: Where are you from? What do you do for a living?
I lied. If she was in the audience the night before, I couldn’t bear to relive it, so I told her I was a statistical typist from New York. (I had been a statistical typist once for a week, so it wasn’t a big lie.) She asked me what I was doing in West Palm Beach. I told her I flew down to work on a job. She asked me how long I had been there, and I told her one day. (Hey, I was sleep deprived. I was making it up as I went along.) She seemed incredulous. “You flew to West Palm Beach to type numbers for one day? Couldn’t they find anybody down there to do it?”
I told her I was very, very fast. “But still,” she said, “the expense of flying you in ... How odd.” I could tell I was in for a barrage of questions, so I cut to the chase. I told her it was a company controlled by the mob. The numbers were confidential, and they couldn’t risk having a local type them—if the amounts were made public, people could die. She looked at me closely, leaned in, and whispered, “Well, what’s to stop you from telling people those numbers?”
Good question. I thought for a moment, then said, “That’s why they fly me back with an empty seat next to me, as a precaution.”
She rang for the flight attendant and was moved back to her original seat. I fell asleep on the plane, woke up on the tarmac in New York, and have never been back to West Bomb Beach since.###
Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org with "GIMME MY FREE BOOK!" in the subject line, and I will send it, if you email me before midnight on Saturday. If you own a physical copy of this book, hold on to it for The Antiques Road Show. That goes for the audiobook, too.
COLD PIZZA FOR BREAKFAST: A MEM-WHA??
Winner of the 43rd Annual ASCAP Deems Taylor Award
for excellece in writing about music
1 I’m Trying to Blind You All Equally 1
2 Law & Order Gives a Shout-Out to Pete Seeger 8
3 Piglet Meets Joe Namath 17
4 The Catholic Church Introduces Me to My First Illegal Beer,
and TV Introduces Me to the Smothers Brothers 25
5 And the Award Goes to . . . This Year There Is No Winner 37
6 Damaged Goods 43
7 I Wonder Whose Underwear She’s Wearing Now 51
8 So You Want to Be a Pirate 60
9 Are You a Real Girl? 68
10 Fate Finds a Way 86
11 $250 for a Set of Guitar Strings 106
12 Nobody’s Fat in Aspen 120
13 What Was I Thinking? 128
14 Stupidly Crappy Mind-Numbing Music Business Disappointments 149
15 An Angel Sent by God 167
16 Crystal the Psychic Folksinger 174
17 Speakeasy/Fast Folk 181
18 Oh . . . C—Eh? N—Eh? D—Eh? 192
19 In Search of Dame Edna 212
20 The Birth of the Four Bitchin’ Babes 225
21 Yeah, I’m Always the First One You Think of If She’s Busy 249
22 That Part Is True. The Rest I Made Up. 256
23 Dame Edna Arrives 274
24 Fallout 286
25 If I Didn’t Have to Play Guitar Right Now, I’d Be Knitting, Too 298
26 Ervin Drake 308
27 Jim Caruso’s Cast Party at Birdland 322
28 Gettin’ Used to Leavin’ 353
Thank You! I Apologize! 366
Appendix 1: Christine Lavin Complete Discography (as of 2010) 368
Appendix 2: 1,000 Terrific Recordings I Have Played on the Radio 377
Appendix 3: Steve Wozniak: Guest DJ on a Segway 389
Let's hope 2023 is a better year for all of us. I have two gigantic multi-artist projects in the works, plus I've been working on a sequel to this book for years now -- hopefully I'll complete it in 2023.
Onwards & upwards!
- At the end of "French Toast Bread Pudding," Dame Edna pretends she's my upstairs neighbor whose "inner megastar is hungry, possum! Quick sticks!"
- I was invited to Yankee Stadium by one of the team owners, so I brought along as my +1 the most ardent Yankee fan I know: DAVID IPPOLITO
- Buskin & Batteau & Friends (Christine Lavin, John Forster, Shanna In A Dress, Marshal Rosenberg & a special surprise guest!)
- Two videos for "Buskin & Batteau & Friends" in NYC on Saturday at 2 PM, and in New England 4/21 and 4/26
- Imagine - driving to and from a live music show in NYC in DAYLIGHT
- In case you don't know this story . . .on February 2nd, someone cut a hole in the wire mesh that held Flaco captive at the Central Park Zoo. He now lives nearby in Central Park, free as a . . . well, bird!
- The silver lining of the pandemic has been families gathering via zoom -- this lovely song captures the feeling so beautifully -- I knew I had to make a video
- Tom Paxton Tribute - LIVE on FB and YT 7-10 PM Tonight Stookey/Collins/Yarrow/McCutcheon/Lavin/Eberhardt/Near/and many more
- ONE TIME OFFER: IF YOU LET ME KNOW BY MIDNIGHT ON SATURDAY, I WILL SEND YOU A DIGITAL PDF COPY OF "COLD PIZZA FOR BREAKFAST: A MEM-WHA??" FOR FREE
- Kirkus Review says, "“If the fate of the planet is in the hands of children, giving them books like this might be a wise idea.”
- Highlight reel includes Robin Batteau, Kyle Hancharick, Kate Taylor & The Ukeladies, Jane Godfrey, John Forster, Tom Toce, Ron Olesko, and a reading from Julie Gold's memoir-in-progress