Upon first hearing Christine Lavin back in the late 1980s, I knew I was experiencing a unique talent. Christine has a knack for writing songs about everyday things that we’ve all had occasion to ponder and question. She pounds that nail on the head again and again by citing situations we’ve all had—forgetting our computer passwords, dating someone who doesn’t share our interests, enjoying cold pizza for breakfast, being awestruck upon seeing a movie star at an unexpected moment, and on and on. I love Christine because she’s so real. I love Christine because she’s got one of the most generous spirits of anyone who I’ve ever met. I love Christine because she makes people happy. I hope you’ll love her too.
To learn more about her – and there’s a lot to know – check out her website.
Here’s a video that encapsulates Christine Lavin’s ability to capture the moment.
How did you first meet Don White? Was it a mutual admiration society at first sight?
We met at the Old Vienna in Westboro — I saw right away he was something different!
You’ve played in lots and lots of cities and towns all over the place and in lots of different types of venues. Do you have any funny anecdotes about one particular show that wasn’t exactly as you figured it would turn out to be?
Yes — I performed at a wedding — the bride and groom were really big fans of folk music, but their guests? Well, not so much. The way the sound system was set up, since it had to be plugged in they actually put me underneath a set of stairs (the benefits of being short) — so I was in the shadows — and because the staff was way behind schedule, they announced my performing at the exact moment the waiters brought out the food. So half the people had their backs to me but everybody was eating — and then to really end my performance with a bang, when I was done I turned to walk out from under the stairs and the neck of the guitar hit the mike stand and the mike — still on — crashed to the floor with a huge “boom” sound and everyone screamed. I’m laughing as I type this. Though I’m happy to report the couple is happy and have two children now.
I’ve been very impressed with how much you have embraced the art of using video to keep in touch with your fans.
I learned how to make videos to help my mother remember events in her day (she has very little short-term memory). After a while I realized I could start making videos for my songs. I’m working on one right now called, “Sinkholes!” Sinkholes scare me very much.
You have a unique relationship with the world of cabaret. What is it about this kind of entertainment that attracts and inspires you?
I went to an open mic at a jazz club called Birdland in NYC, and was instantly hooked. I love the sophisticated voicings in jazz chords — I think as we age we naturally gravitate toward more complex art forms — whether it’s film, theater, or music. I will always be a folksinger, but will always have my ear out for all kinds of music, as long as the songs tell a story.
You have an amazing ability to connect with all kinds of people and you’ve been able to expose their talents to the world–like Ray Jessel and Ervin Drake, great songwriters whose names might not be known to many. What lessons have you learned from these folks?
Ervin Drake (who wrote “It Was A Very Good Year”) changed me as a songwriter because he HATED assonant or half rhymes — like time/mind heart/park — with a website like rhymezone.com there’s no reason to have lazy rhymes in your songs. Johnny Mercer, who wrote so many classic songs, like “Moon River,” said to Ervin Drake, “If a song doesn’t rhyme exactly, it’s because you haven’t finished working on it.” Ervin said that to me. So consider it good advice coming from one of the master songwriters of all time.
If you are a songwriter, do what Ervin says to do: When a song is finished, put it away for two weeks, then take it out and look at it with an unfriendly eye. Sometimes it takes a while for flaws to make themselves known.
Ervin wrote the Broadway musical “What Makes Sammy Run” that was produced in the 1960s. In the 2000s he was still tinkering with it — there was a short run of his new version — he had cut two songs and written two new ones. Songwriting is never set in stone.
Ray Jessel made his first album at the age of 72, but gave it the title, “The First 70 Years” because it had a better ring to it. He showed me that it’s never too late to start a new career in a new field.
Do you have any dream project that you’d really love to do in the future? Think outside the box!
I am working on a multi-media version of my show that includes singing live to videos. I’ve done that just a few times — at one show I sang live to my video of “The Song Of Lucy Gayheart.” Lucy Gayheart is a book by Willa Cather that I love so much. At that performance, unbeknownst to me, were members of a book club, who informed me at the end of the night that after hearing that song that Lucy Gayheart was going to be their next book. That made me so happy.
I’m also a Downton Abbey fan and noticed during the first episode this season that during a dinner scene that I know how to fold napkins the way they did at Downton Abbey. So I have bought four linen/cotton napkins and during intermission teach audience members how to fold dinner napkins the Downton Abbey way. So far at each show there’s been an audience member who knows fancier folds than that, so I recruit them to teach us what they know.
It’s become so popular so quickly, I’m bracing myself for the day someone comes to a show and says, “I don’t care about the music — I’m here for the napkin folding!” Ha!