Sing it, sister.
^^^ The New York Times, January 2, 1979
Happy new year, everyone. Please join me as I rewind to this day, 41 years ago…
On New Year’s Day, 1979, at 13, I was in an earthquake.
I was visiting my aunt, uncle, and cousins in a suburb of L.A. when the entire house began trembling. During the main event and subsequent aftershocks, some knick-knacks fell off shelves and paintings came off the walls, but fortunately none of us got hurt.
The first day of that year marked the last day of my big-girl solo trip — my aunt and uncle’s bat mitzvah present to me — and I was sad to see the week come to an end. I’d been so excited to visit my relatives, having missed them terribly since they’d moved from the east coast in ‘77.
Also, I had been certain that in L.A., I was going to get DISCOVERED. I was going to be a star.
In those days, I felt devastated that my parents wouldn’t let me go on the try-outs for movies, TV shows, musicals, and commercials that a local talent agent wanted to send me on. I knew that if I wanted to break into show business, I’d have to take matters into my own hands.
So I went to L.A. with an agenda; I told my aunt and uncle my intentions, and they took me to a piano bar/restaurant to perform. All I needed was one lucky break, just one big deal agent who might randomly venture out to a cheesy piano bar/restaurant on a Monday night to be blown away by a ‘tween belting her heart out.
^^^ Clockwise from left: Playing Lola in Damn Yankees in seventh grade; singing “Blind Date” from Funny Lady in the 1979 recital of the Long Beach Children’s Theatrical Workshop; handing out pamphlets on The Hunger Project to people waiting for the Rose Bowl Parade to begin on 1/1/79, hours before the earthquake occurred.
On the list of songs, there was only one I knew well enough to sing all the way through: Morris Albert’s “Feelings.” When my turn came, I put down my fork, stood up at my place at our table, and gave it my all.
Feeeeeeeelings. Whoa, whoah, whoa, feeeeeeeelings….🎶
I felt shaky at first, but then the world fell away, and for three-minutes-and-forty-four seconds, I…was…a…s t a a a a r. 💫✨
And then it was over. Somebody else’s turn. A guy got up and sang Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”
No cigar-chomping agent came up to me to say, “Stick with me, Kid — I’m gonna make you a star,” as I’d fantasized. My big chance never came. A couple of days later the earthquake would occur. The day after that, I’d fly back to my unglamorous life in the Long Island suburbs. Life would go on.
You might be wondering how this story relates to the subject of this newsletter, tracing my wayward career path. Here’s the connection: Recently I decided to stop beating myself up about beginning some of the 2013 book events for Goodbye to All That by, um … singing songs.
As I planned my tour, it seemed like the most natural thing to do. I somehow persuaded some generous musician friends to play with me — Chris Butler on bass, Ann Klein (<— a song called “Happy New Year”!) on guitar, my husband Brian on drums, me on ukulele and vocals. We worked on a few NYC-related songs, including LCD Sound System’s “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” and performed them at events. (We even shot a book trailer video with us playing the LCD Sound System song, but I couldn’t get the rights to it, so I put one together using a song in the public domain.)
^^^ A “band” rehearsal circa August 2013.
It didn’t occur to me to be embarrassed, or to think it unprofessional (or silly) to sing at a book event — until I learned at the last minute that one of the bigger name contributors to the anthology (someone very serious) was going to be in town to read at an event the “band” would be playing.
We went through with our performance and the audience loved it. Then a few contributors read, including the very serious one. It was a wonderful evening. But I have been cringing ever since, imagining that writer and everyone else in publishing judging me.
Well…that is until I started talking with my editor at Seal Press about the possibility of an updated edition of Goodby to All That. (More on that soon, I hope.) Reader, one of the first thoughts I had was: Oooh — what songs am I going to sing at events?!
Not because I want to be a famous singer — I gave up on that a long, long time ago — but because I freaking love to sing. And because performing is in my DNA. And where is it written that a reading can’t also have other kinds of entertainment???
So, if an updated edition of that anthology comes to fruition, expect me to open up readings warbling a tune or two. Because that’s exactly the kind of weirdo I am. I’m not going to apologize for it, or kick myself for it later. I’m just going to do it.
Hmmm… I wonder if they’d let me hold a book event at Sid Gold’s Request Room in Manhattan, another piano bar where I recently spent an evening in absolute heaven. It’s my new happy place. If it had existed when I lived in NYC, I would have been there every single night…
• If you like my anthologies and are thinking of putting together one of your own, please consider taking my anthology editing course at Catapult.
• Here’s another reminder about my new Skillshare class — an introductory level personal essay workshop. You can get two free months of Skillshare Premium if you sign up for my class.
• I’ll resume reviewing my wayward career path — starting with gossip reporting in the mid-90s — next time.