I stopped drinking a year ago. Those of you familiar with my tales of debauchery and hijinks from the piano lounge might find it hard to believe that I could soldier through a five-hour solo piano gig without a glass of Sancerre on the little marble table next to the Steinway. But here we are—Piano Girl 2.0, steady and secure in my newfound sobriety. Hold the sauvignon blanc. Pass the lemongrass-infused green tea, please. Shoot me now.
1972. As a teenager, I was keen on seeing the world outside the confines of Pittsburgh, PA—a fine city in the seventies for football (go Steelers), hockey (go Penguins) and Baseball (go Pirates). We had a symphony orchestra (go Mahler), a handful of respected universities, and a rich cultural heritage that rode on the flashy black and gold coattails of steel and oil barons, the savory scent of pierogi, and a peculiar Pittsburgh-ese dialect that caused most of us to sound like second-rate hillbillies crossed with Scottish nobility.
We are the crooners, the head-bangers, concert stage artists, beer hall grinders, swinging jazz trios, choir accompanists, big band soldiers, hotel ambient players, Broadway pit veterans. We are the buskers, boppers, and bewildered career performers currently pivoting on the precipice of a new era.
Mother-son road trip. It’s mid-summer and I’m on a jam-packed Condor Airlines flight, headed to Pittsburgh (my hometown) with my twenty-six-year old son. Just when I thought my days of traveling with kids had come to a grinding halt, here I am, in Economy Premium—the poor woman’s business class—sipping champagne from a paper cup (sneaked […]
It’s September 20th, 2014. I have two big events today, neither of which I anticipate with glee. This morning, I’m driving our twenty-year-old son, who has been educated here in Germany, to the Düsseldorf airport. He’s headed to California for a senior-year university exchange semester at UC Riverside. After I drop him off and drive back home, I must shift gears, turn around and drive two hours to play a concert in a chapel at a funeral home. Not a memorial service, but an actual concert. Who plays a concert at a funeral home?
“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.
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.
I arrive in Charleston, South Carolina, on a balmy February evening after a fifteen-hour travel extravaganza that has led me from Frankfurt, Germany, through Detroit, and into the cushioned arms of Low Country hospitality. I’m here to play a couple of solo piano concerts. My host, a southern gentleman who works as a church organist, concert promoter, and hotel pianist, greets me at the airport. His name is Tom Bailey. I know from emails and phone calls he is neither an ax murderer nor a Trump supporter, but still, I worry. I’m tired enough that most of my trust issues evaporate into the salty night without a second thought as Tom, a dapper guy in a gorgeous suit, grabs my suitcase. We hop in his Nissan, and away we go.
You’re in Boston, Chicago, on the Jersey Shore. I’m in Hamburg, or Paris; last week was Singapore. I’m missing you, the world feels blue tonight.