New York City, 1986: One evening, on a break from my cocktail-piano job at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan—a hotel that hosts Major League baseball teams, B-list celebrities, and an annual transvestite event called Night of a Thousand Queens—I notice an odd display in a glass showcase in the lobby. Inside the large window, built into a marble wall, is a handmade village of Asparagus People. Over 200 of them inhabit the village, each skinny green stalk hand-painted, shellacked, and dressed in a little outfit.
“Did you leave anything at home?” Dad says as he heaves the first of my five suitcases into the big green taxi. “Or did you bring it all with you?”
The distance from Pittsburgh to Nantucket is 633 miles. It is the summer of 1976—the bicentennial summer. I’ve just arrived on Nantucket Island with an ancient Schwinn bicycle, two frazzled parents, a lot of music banging around in my head, and a vast amount of self confidence. Having just completed my freshman year of college, I’m looking forward to the beach, an army of Ivy League boys, and a waitressing job at a little Italian place called “Vincent’s Italian Family Restaurant.” I’m going to be a real woman and a superb waitress—sexy and sophisticated—conquering the world, one meatball at a time. On my days off I’ll frolic on the beaches of Nantucket wearing a white bikini and no sunscreen. I’ll gain my independence, make some money, have a string of boyfriends, and get a tan. This is my plan.
“What key is this in?” Bob Rawsthorne (my dad), mallets hovering his vibes, asked Johnny Costa, musical director of Mister Rogers Neighborhood as they prepared to record improvised music with complicated changes, live on tape. Playing with Costa was harrowing, inspirational, and full of surprises. Bob called the band the Kamikaze Trio. He and bassist Carl McVicker never knew what Costa would do next—he had a habit of switching keys at the last minute, causing low-level panic for his experienced sidemen. In the shoe-string budget world of public television, the trio was usually not offered more than one chance to get it right. Sink or swim.
Here I am, a blond American woman in a short skirt racing down a busy stretch of the German Autobahnat 150 kilometers an hour. I’m too busy driving to calculate the conversion, but I must be approaching 100 miles per hour. I negotiate a curve, my knuckles grip the steering wheel. I pick up speed and feel the G-force—or whatever it’s called—push me back into my seat.
I’ve been thinking a lot about aging and the music business, mainly because I’m aging and I’m in the music business. A few weeks ago, I had three age-related conversations on the same day. Meet Bob, Fred, and Jörg Achim, three of my musical heroes.
The older I get, the more I respect the tenacity required to balance prominence with virtuosity. George Benson is clearly an artist dedicated to the craft of making music, but he’s also a stalwart celebrity, keen on maintaining his judiciously-groomed notoriety. George has been walking the celebrity tightrope for decades and, aside from the current gorge irritée, has remained ready, steady, and in the game. I can’t wait to meet him. I truly admire musicians—famous or not—with careers that span decades. As my dad likes to point out: “It’s easy to have a hit; it’s much more difficult to have a career.” Not that there’s anything wrong with a hit.
I love Paris. But just once I would like to visit when it is not hot enough to fry an ouef on the sidewalk. After our 2017 fun-filled adventure with Robin Spielberg and Larry Kosson—also known as the sweat your ass offtour de prance—during which time we bravely climbed Montmartre and cheerfully joined drenched throngs of tourists dragging themselves through the scorched gardens of Versailles—I swore I would never again enter a land-locked European metropolis between the months of June and September. All the Aperol Spritz cocktails in the world could not convince me otherwise. Figures that music would lure me back into the bronzed arms of the city that doesn’t sweat, it glistens. And maybe smells a little. Camembert, you might guess, doesn’t hold up well in the heat. Neither do I.
Scrapbook: A lifetime of photos and memorabilia pasted into an album that will one day jostle for position on a crowded bookshelf, attract some attention at tense family reunions, collect dust, and—a generation or two down the line—land in a dumpster. Scrapbook to scrapheap. Not very hopeful. Still, we persist with making paper shrines to memories of lost childhoods. Show me a woman who doesn’t collect the flotsam and jetsam of her children’s lives and I’ll show you a woman with ice cubes (and possibly gin) in her veins.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Emma González and the circumstances that plunged her into the bright, white spotlight reserved for America’s budding leaders, shooting stars, and civic heroes. I applaud her valor and admire her authenticity, but I mourn for the childhood she forfeited—the easy-breezy self-consumed teenage years that were snatched from her by shameful gun laws and a mentally-ill boy with access to a bullet-spraying machine.
When I was Emma’s age I stayed busy writing bad poetry and playing the piano. My most valued possessions included a mini-skirt, a maxi-coat, and a perfect black turtleneck (who can ever forget the ‘dickie?”). My hair was shiny and long. I obsessed over shoes. I poured baby oil and iodine on my lily-white skin and baked myself, summer after summer, in an attempt to look like the mahogany Coppertone girl, the one with the puppy pulling down her swimsuit. I wrote song lyrics about sunsets and boys with brown eyes.
London, November 23rd, 2017. The prince is giving a ball. My daughter, Julia, and I are headed to Buckingham Palace, where I’ll be playing dinner music tonight for HRH, the Prince of Wales, and 250 of his guests as they celebrate the 20th Anniversary of In Kind Direct, an organization that encourages corporate giving for social good. Julia and I, trying to look relaxed and casual, are wearing our very best sound check/meet-the-tech-team outfits, and have our voluminous ball gowns, golden snakeskin sandals, extra bling, and hair spray crammed in a small trolley bag. This particular suitcase has seen a lot of swag in its years on the Piano Girl circuit, but tonight takes the royal cake.